Secession: Should the American Revolutionaries Have Quit to Appease the Loyalists?
When advocates of secession in the United States bring up “national divorce,” a common objection we hear is that secession can’t be allowed because it would make some people worse off. For example, we’re told that if, say, a majority of Floridians voted to secede, that still can’t be allowed because there would still be a minority that opposes secession. We especially hear this in the context of so-called red states—where, presumably, a majority of residents are some sort of conservative or Republican. It is assumed that if those states seceded, “progressives” or Democrats would be worse off. But this works in the other direction also. Several years ago, when the topic of California secession was in the news, we were told that if the presumably left-wing state of California were allowed to secede, that would harm the conservative minority. Thus, California secession cannot be allowed even from the “red state” perspective.
Sometimes, advocates of secession respond to this objection by suggesting that the borders of the seceding region could be redrawn to account for variations in demographics within the population. For example, this might mean splitting Illinois between the “blue” Chicago area and the “red” southern part of the state. Opponents of secession are ready for this one, too: we’re told that doesn’t work because there are likely to be no clean lines of demarcation between population groups on both sides of the secession question. Even when the majority supports secession, opponents are likely to live alongside secessionists, and the antisecession minority’s wishes must not be disregarded. This “minority rights” position, we are told, makes secession an impossibility. After all, there will always be some minority population that opposes secession everywhere.
For some insight into this reality, we need look no farther than the American Revolution itself. The United States is the product of a secession movement in which there was a sizable minority population on the losing side. This minority is known today as the Loyalists, and they failed to prevent secession in spite of the fact that they numbered perhaps as much as half the population in some parts of the colonies during the secession crisis that began in 1775. In other words, the Americans who voted for the Declaration of Independence in 1776 ignored the Loyalist opposition and doubled down on their secessionist position anyway. In the end, many Loyalists emigrated to avoid living under the new republican governments. This was all exacerbated by the fact the British government chose war over negotiation. The war empowered the most fanatical and violent segments of the secessionist population, and this led to more reprisals against Loyalists. (This was not inevitable, of course. Secession is not in itself a violent act, but only brings violence when the established regime chooses violence to prevent separation.)
Yet even if a peaceful transition had been allowed, this leaves us with an important question: Should the American secessionists—people like Thomas Jefferson and John Adams—have let the Loyalists veto the Declaration of Independence? If we accept the claim that the presence of antsecessionist minorities in Florida, California, or any other state today renders secession a nonstarter, then the answer must be yes. We must conclude that the Continental Congress should have listened to the Loyalists and scrapped the idea of American independence.
Even today, however, most Americans apparently disagree. In a recent YouGov survey, only 5
Article from Mises Wire