Alan Keyes
The true right to secede comes from God, not the Constitution
By Alan Keyes
December 3, 2012

In an article I saw this week at WND, Pat Buchanan writes of the Declaration of Independence:
    The declaration was signed by 56 angry old white guys who had had enough of what the Cousins were doing to them. In seceding from the mother country, these patriots put their lives, fortunes and honor on the line.

    Four score and five years later, 11 states invoked the same right "to dissolve the political bands" of the Union and form a new nation. After 620,000 had perished, the issue of a state's right to secede was settled at Appomattox. If that right had existed, it no longer did.
I have no idea why Buchanan refers to the signers as "old." The mean average age of the men who signed the Declaration was 44.5. The oldest signer was Benjamin Franklin at 70 (though given his personality his colleagues, and the ladies at the Court of France, would probably have pegged it considerably lower). The youngest signers were Thomas Lynch Jr. and Edward Rutledge, at 26. Nearly two-thirds of the signers were in their 30's or 40's. Unless he accepts the silly notion that anyone over thirty is old (even less true today than when it was in vogue back in the 60's), calling the signers "old men" leaves rather a false impression.

Not being a leftist, or one of the dubiously self-professed "conservatives" who regrets the outcome of the War between the States, I see no reason even subtly to denigrate the physical or mental acuity of the people who signed the Declaration. Yet I can't agree with Buchanan that the right to secede was settled at Appomattox. Buchanan's statement to that effect reflects the inadequate thinking that results when people use the word "right" as though it's synonymous with "freedom." Every right is a use of freedom; but not every use of freedom is a right. The distinction rests on whether the use of freedom satisfies or violates the standard that justifies the assertion of right.

People with sufficient power may successfully use it to enslave others. But given the self-evident truths set out in the Declaration of Independence, such use of their freedom violates the standard of right which impelled the people of the United States "to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them." The Civil War was therefore not about the right to secede. It was about whether some of the States, frustrated in their efforts to compel the others to enforce and extend their wrongdoing, should be allowed violently to disrupt and attack the government justly ordained and established by the consent of the whole people of the United States, including their own.

President Lincoln clearly anticipated war. But he carefully refrained from authorizing any military initiative against the Confederacy until a facility of the Constitutional government came under violent attack. He then acted to suppress armed insurrection against the Constitutionally-established government of the United States. This was Constitutionally his duty as President of the United States.

Lincoln's restraint demonstrated his understanding of the issue at stake in the Civil War. In light of that understanding, the outcome of the war did not decide the issue of a state's right to secede, because the Confederate States were not exercising a right. They were engaged in wrongdoing. Their actions were wrong in principle (i.e., according to the Declaration's principles of God-endowed justice); and in terms of the U.S. Constitution. The latter requires the President, by oath, to "preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States." It nowhere requires or authorizes the States (or any of their officers) to use force to attack the Constitutionally-established government of the United States.

This does not mean that there is no right to secede. It means that secession involves an issue of right that cannot be decided under the U.S. Constitution. The Constitution is an instrument of government. Like any other human instrument, it can be used for good or ill. Unlike some of its pretended advocates today, the Federalists who supported the Constitution suffered no foolish delusion in this respect. That's why Jefferson said, in the context of describing American slavery, "I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that his justice cannot sleep forever." The issue of slavery is an issue of God-endowed right, not Constitutional law. As the Declaration explicitly states, when any government systematically violates God-endowed right, people are obliged by right to alter or abolish it.

No merely human law can remove this obligation. Therefore no merely human agreement or convention can alienate this right, not even the Constitution of the United States. Like every other God-endowed unalienable right, it remains intact as a responsibility of the people — as individuals in their respective states and communities, and as a whole. In acquitting this responsibility, they are answerable first, and above all else, to God. To His will and His law they may appeal; upon His will and His law they may stand, come what may, whenever in good conscience they conclude that in their prudent exertions for justice they have exhausted every manner of appeal to human will and human law.

In America today, it should be obvious to all that we have not reached this point of exhaustion, however clear the signs that it's approaching. People without the courage and will to secede from political parties that no longer justly represent them have obviously not exhausted every appeal for justice the Constitution allows. For, under the U.S. Constitution, the last court of appeal is the people. But in the critically-needed effort to withdraw from and defeat the elitist faction's subversion of their right of self-government, Americans of good faith have by no means exhausted themselves.

If they are, in truth, determined to stand upon God-endowed unalienable right, why make that stand in order to dissolve the Union that exists, in principle, to safeguard it? Why not come together, instead, to renew in our politics the Union in principle that is now being systematically dissolved by the irretrievably corrupted political faction that controls the GOP/Democrat party system. That faction has effectively agreed amongst themselves to banish respect for God's authority from politics. They want us to forget that our national Union was based upon that respect. They want us to forget that upon it, the people stake their claim to have any unalienable rights at all.

In its origins and history, as well as by its most striking national and international achievements, the union formed by the people of the United States has affirmed, in act and principle, our God-endowed rights and those of all humanity. By abandoning, it we will assure the eventual triumph, in every state, of the elitist faction that, in practice, aims to destroy all right. A factional clique strong enough to corrupt the politics of the nation as a whole will surely have the means eventually to subvert or subdue us once we have fallen to pieces. And this is precisely what they intend.

But what if, instead, we unite in order to implement a politics of principle that respects the God-endowed unalienable rights of the people? Then we could work to remove from the people, as individuals and in their respective States, the deadening weight of national, socialist tyranny. We could work to restore the moral energy, responsibility, and confident self-respect that are the keys to America's moral identity and true prosperity. Instead of co-operating with the elitist faction's plan of dissolution, we could work to uphold the better plan of righteous liberty that was and is the hope our nation is meant to offer to all people, not just the elitist few. After so many generations which endured risk and war and sacrifice to sustain that hope, shall we now fail, and let our country fail, because we lack the strength of heart, the God-dependent spiritual strength, to exert a righteous political will?

To see more articles by Dr. Keyes, visit his blog at and his commentary at and

© Alan Keyes


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Alan Keyes

Dr. Keyes holds the distinction of being the only person ever to run against Barack Obama in a truly contested election – featuring authentic moral conservatism vs. progressive liberalism – when they challenged each other for the open U.S. Senate seat from Illinois in 2004... (more)


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