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Commentary: The 'ayes' of Texas are upon us

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, May 7, 2009 - The good news is that the latest Rasmussen poll on the subject indicates that 75 percent of Texas voters would like to remain citizens of the United States.

The bad news is two-fold: 1. the same poll reflects that 18 percent of the Lone Star electorate would prefer to secede from the Union, while 7 percent are "not sure" and 2. that the question even had to be asked in the first place.

By the way, 31 percent of respondents believe that Texas has a right to withdraw and become an independent country should a majority of its citizens choose to do so.

The poll was prompted by the following remarks made recently by Texas Gov. Rick Perry, which I am not making up:

"When we came into the Union in 1845, one of the issues was that we would be able to leave if we decided to do that. My hope is that America, and Washington in particular, pay attention (sic).

"We've got a great Union. There's absolutely no reason to dissolve it. But if Washington continues to thumb their nose (sic) at the American people, who knows what may become of that?"

So, there you have it -- the CEO of Texas makes a not so veiled threat to suborn treason and nearly 1 in 3 of his constituents believes that he is within his rights while just less than 1 in 5 think it's a good idea. Is this a great country, or what?

In fairness, there's a certain historical underpinning to Perry's remarkable comments. Texas is the only state that was -- briefly -- an independent republic before joining the Union. (Remember the Alamo?) According to the black helicopter crowd, that curiosity confers a unique extra-constitutional status upon the state, allowing it to secede at will.

As those of us who were fortunate enough to complete the eighth grade may recall, Texas once attempted to exercise this supposed prerogative with disastrous results. In 1861, it joined the Confederacy and left the Union. The ensuing four years of bloodshed and terror illustrated the downside of that decision.

Before unleashing his army on South Carolina, Gen. Sherman told his troops, "It was here that the treason began and it is here that the treason will end." He then proceeded to do a job on that rebel stronghold that made his legendary march through Georgia look like a school picnic parade. The historical verdict is thus clear: secession = treason and is punishable as such.

Further, Perry's assertion of a mythical special status for Texas is easily refuted by a cursory review of the facts. In October 1845, Texans voted overwhelmingly to accept a congressional offer of annexation over a Mexican offer of diplomatic recognition as an independent nation. The former republic was subsequently admitted to the Union as a state, rather than a territory. Once in, however, it became an equal among equals devoid of any unique rights or privileges.

That said, there remains the interesting legal question of whether Mr. Lincoln exceeded his authority by waging the Civil War. Did the commander-in-chief have legitimate authority to use force of arms to compel sovereign states to remain in the Union?

When South Carolina seceded, there was considerable sentiment in the North as well as the South that all states enjoyed an implicit right to quit the Union, should they choose to do so. In fact, the sitting president at the time of the secession, James Buchanan, took no military action whatsoever against the rebels. He believed that secession was illegal but thought that waging war to stop it was also illegal.

The Constitution, itself, is silent on the issue. Though it defines treason as "making war against" the nation, or granting "aid and comfort" to its enemies, it neither specifies grounds or procedures for simply leaving, nor does it preclude them. It is, in essence, a wedding compact without benefit of a pre-nuptial agreement in case of divorce.

The only precedent we have comes from Mr. Lincoln who -- like Jackson before him -- believed preservation of the Union to be the supreme imperative for the chief executive. That premise, although firmly and eloquently asserted, can be found nowhere in the original contract. Lincoln's words, like the romantic musings of courtship, are seductive in their appeal but not necessarily legally binding.

As a matter of fact, the language of the Declaration of Independence tends to favor the rebel position. When you obtain "the consent of the governed" at the point of a bayonet, it raises questions as to the legitimacy of the consent obtained. Had they foreseen the prospect of the Civil War, would the founders -- ever distrustful of centralized power -- still have voted to ratify the Constitution? We'll never know the answer to that one.

Any school child can tell you that Lincoln saved the Union. Indeed he did. But he did so not as a constitutionally limited executive, but as a towering historical figure who refused to see his nation rent asunder, regardless of the terrible price of its salvation.

With separatist Hispanics mounting a "Reconquista" movement in the American Southwest, a separatist party claiming ties to Sarah Palin active in Alaska, and now a Texas governor hinting darkly at secession, perhaps we'll some day learn whether a modern president can muster Abe's resolve.

The possibility is hardly imminent, but not unimaginable. After all, marriage counselors consistently cite money problems as a leading cause of divorce -- and we've certainly got plenty of those. To make matters worse, our ideological differences may be approaching the irreconcilable.

The good news is that we haven't had a civil war in 144 years. The bad news is that was also the last time we had a former Illinois legislator in the White House.

M.W. Guzy is a retired St. Louis cop who currently works for the city Sheriff's Department. His column appears weekly in the Beacon.