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Friday, February 17, 2006

Smokey Briggs

Sage Views

By Smokey Briggs

Could the U. S. legally
leave the U. N. ?

I received a phone call this week regarding my last column. That column dealt with the issue of displaying flags associated with the Confederate States of America.

The main point of the last column was fairly simple - the flags of the South hold different messages for different people. Some see slavery and racism. Others see the last stand of Jefforsonian self-government.

Anyway, the caller and I are friends but do not always see eye-to-eye on every issue (he is a lot nicer than me).

His first point was simply that the War Between the States was ancient history and better left buried in all ways.

Obviously I do not agree. First and foremost I disagree because all of history should be studied and talked about, both from the standpoints of those we favor and those we dislike.

It should be studied continuously by all, because in the pages of history we can often find our future - or better yet maybe we can avoid our future.

The disagreements that brought our ancestors into a war that cost at least half a million lives is worth studying and debating, if for no other reason than avoiding a repeat.

The core issues of the War Between the States are issues we deal with everyday in modern America - taxation, redistribution of wealth, governmental spending, and the ratio of power between individuals, the states and the federal government.

The end of the war did not bury these disagreements.

My friend’s second point was this: “The South committed treason when it seceded from the union. Treason negates any supposedly noble principles the southern states claimed.”

In short, he said that the southern states had no legal right to leave the Union.

Now, I enjoy a good fight, and verbal jousting is a great pastime as far as I am concerned.

“You cannot see it, but I’m smiling,” I said.


“Because you just lost this argument but you do not know it yet,” I chuckled.

“Now, I know you have read the Constitution as it was written before the war, right?” I asked.

“Of course.”

“Okay, then tell me where it says that a state cannot leave the union that it voluntarily joined?”

“You know it does not say that,” my friend said. “You also know that by signing the Constitution the states gave up any right to later leave, simply by implication. A country where any state could leave, whenever it felt like it, is not a country at all. The Constitution neither prohibits or allows for secession,” he said.

“I’ll give you that point for the moment,” I said. “If I understand what you are saying, it is that the states gave up their right to leave the union when they signed the Constitution - simply because it would not make sense to form such a union if the states could leave whenever they did not like the way things were going? Am I correct?”

“Yes. It would defy common sense for the states to be able to come and go as they please,” he said.

Now, I also know that my Republican friend is no great fan of the United Nations. When our new ambassador was quoted as saying we should shove the U. N. building off into the ocean, he cheered (we agree on that point, by the way).

“So,” I said, “you have given up your hope that one day the United States will walk out of the United Nations?”

“No. What has that got to do with the Civil War?” he asked.

“Well, if you read the constitution of the United Nations you will find that it neither allows for, nor prohibits, a member nation from leaving,” I said. “By your logic, now that we have signed that charter, we cannot leave. We have given up our status as a sovereign nation and become one of the states of the U. N.”

“By your own argument, if the United States left the U. N. the U. N. would have the legal right to send bands of blue-bereted Germans and Italians and Brazilians to invade and force us back into the United Nations.”

“That is not the same thing and you know it,” my friend said. “The U.N. is made up of sovereign nations, not states.”

“Well, weren’t the original 13 states sovereign nations after the American Revolution? When they came together to rebel and commit treason against their English countrymen, they came together as separate, sovereign nations. None had power over the other, and no other country had power over them or claimed any after the war was over.”

“It is not the same thing,” my friend said.

“If you think about it, it really is. After the war those 13 sovereign nations came together and first formed a union under the Articles of Confederation. Later some members withdrew from that confederation and it was scrapped. Those 13 nations tried again with the Constitution. Signing was voluntary and no state had to sign, even if all the other states signed. If South Carolina or Rhode Island had not signed the Constitution, there would now be a separate little nation where that state exists today.”

“They were sovereign nations that entered into an agreement - just like the United States entered into the U. N. charter - and there is no mention of a right to leave in either the charter or our Constitution.”

“By your argument we cannot leave and if we attempt to, the U. N. has the legal right to invade and kick us back into the U. N.,” I said.

The phone line was very quiet.

“Look,” I said. “You’ve studied the development of the Constitution. Ask yourself this, ‘Would the Constitution have been ratified if there had been a 11th Amendment that read as follows: Amendment XI (imaginary)

Section 1. Notwithstanding the Guarantee Clause and the 9th and 10th Amendments, no State may ever secede from the Union for any reason.

Section 2. If any State attempts to secede without authorization by the Federal Government, the Federal Government shall invade such State with military force and suppress the attempted secession.

Section 3. The Federal Government may require the militias of all States to join in the use of force against the seceding State.

Section 4. After suppressing the secession the Federal Government shall rule said State with martial law until that State accepts permanent federal supremacy.

Section 5. After suppressing the secession, the Federal Government shall force said State to ratify a new Constitutional Amendment which gives the federal government the right to police the States whenever it believes those States are violating the rights of their citizens.

Section 6. The President may, of his own authority, suspend the operation of the Bill of Rights and the writ of habeas corpus, in a seceding State, or a loyal State, if in his sole judgment such is necessary to preserve the Union.’”

“Do you think the 13 states would have ratified the Constitution if that had been the 11th Amendment?” I asked.

“Tell me you did not just make that up,” my friend said. “If you did you are bigger geek than I ever suspected.” It was his term to laugh.

“No, I stole it from an essay I read in law school by a guy named James Ostrowski,” I confided.

My friend eventually agreed that no, the states would never have agreed to such an Amendment and the Constitution and the United States would never have come into being.

And, no intellectually honest historian could say different. The guy proposing such an amendment would have been lucky to escape the Constitutional Convention with his life.

But, that hypothetical 11th Amendment would be the only way the North could have legally justified its actions regarding the states that left the Union. And, such an amendment would be the only way the U.N. could legally attempt to block the United States’ secession.

The U. S. obviously has the right to leave the U. N.

And, the Southern States, no matter how you feel about the South, had the legal right to leave the Union as well.

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