A separation, if we can keep it
The troubles within our country have created a fractured union that is on the verge of dissolution. Serious discussions about secession have become common, with people predicting a second civil war. While it may be unthinkable to have another war between brothers and neighbors, there are those who see it as a possibility and are preparing for what they hope never happens.
Whatever happens, our current course appears unworkable. We have too many differences, and they appear irreconcilable. This is why the unthinkable solutions are beginning to sound almost reasonable.
Those actively breaking down the social order to create a new definition of what our country will be are telling the rest to surrender. Just go along; do as you are told; accept the inevitable. You will assimilate. It will be less painful that way.
Should we decide that surrender is not an option, what does a separation by secession look like? We could divide geographically, but that is some form of a contentious two-state or three-state solution. Our differences described geographically are West Coast, Northeast, and Central. We could establish neutral zones to facilitate movement and transportation with treaties for travel and trade and let it ride.
A county-by-county examination shows why this is likely unworkable. Our fundamental division is urban-rural. The sliver of coastal urbanization in the west and the east coast megalopolis extending from the coast of New Hampshire to southeast Virginia would be two well defined divisions. The rest of the county would be a mess. The pockets of urbanization would create contentious zones of potential separation throughout the central geographic area.
That cheek-by-jowl quality is the reason civil war seems possible. In our first civil war, the enemies were mostly defined state by state. However, in places like Kentucky, it was truly brother against brother. This civil war would be like Kentucky, but across the nation, with enemies defined by political belief, not geography. While neighbors and families already are becoming enemies, we are not defending our politics with violence. We are close, but we are not quite there.
We were actually meant to be separate. Our founders were brilliant men who foresaw that we would always have political disagreements across vast regions and borders. They designed a purposefully separated system. Even though they named our union "The United States," we were really united in only a few simple ways and united around defined separations in many more. One could say we were united in our desire to create a designed separation.
Our federal government was created with limited enumerated powers. The things it could do were limited and defined in our Constitution, Article I, Section 8. The states established a separation in what the federal government could do.
There was an understanding that powers enumerated for the federal government were powers the states had surrendered. This was clarified in the 10th Amendment. "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people." This is a defined separation between the states and the newly created federal government.
While the enumerated powers defined what the federal government could do, the first eight amendments specified several things the federal government could not do. The 9th Amendment states that this list is not a comprehensive list of rights inherent in the people, not the federal government. The new government had only the powers that had been enumerated; the states and people had everything else. It was a defined separation.
The Constitution also separates the three branches of government, with each having unique powers specifically defined in the Constitution. For most of our history, the separate branches used aggressive self-protection to maintain and enforce their powers. The Executive and Judicial Branches could not legislate. Congress was not a court. The president was the commander and chief, but only Congress could declare war. Defined separations were the order of the day. There were many more.
The Founders further secured these separations with the different ways our leaders were elected. The president would be selected by a system in which electors representing each state would have a proportional vote. The House of Representatives would be the house of the people and elected by them directly from defined geographical districts. The Senate was a body selected by the state legislatures. The election process was to be defined by state legislatures and only state legislatures, another defined separation.
If we had maintained this designed separation, we would not be on the precipice of secession or civil war. The separate values in each state would have prevented radical factions from taking control of vast parts of the government.
Our Framers gave us this brilliantly designed separation. As Ben Franklin ominously warned might happen, we did not keep it.
Image: The United States of America in 1783. Library of Congress; public domain.
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