A View of the Constitution

Today, we take it for granted that secession is in some way unlawful or beyond the pale. Which is a good thing. Imagine the stock market if secession was bandied about whenever there was fussing over the national budget, or whenever there was a pandemic. But, it was not always assumed that secession or adjustment of the “united” states was beyond the pale. In William Rawle’s A View of the Constitution, (1829 2d Ed.), the author prescribed how to effect a secession in a lawful, binding way. Mr. Rawle, a well-trained lawyer for his day, lays out the requirements for a stable, effective secession:

… the secession must in such case be distinctly and peremptorily declared to take place on that event, and in such case — as in the case of unconditional secession — the previous ligament with the Union, would be legitimately and fairly destroyed. But, in either case [of a conditional or unconditional secession] the people is [sic] the only moving power

A View, p. 303

Mr. Rawle explains that by making clear the conditions for a secession, a state may secede and break that “ligament.” His book on the Constitution remained the pre-eminent text on the U.S. Constitution through the 1850’s. It remains today a primary source of information in court cases concerning the right to bear arms and the Constitutional role of militias. His views have been cited numerous times in various court cases concerning the Second Amendment, a President’s recess appointments and other Constitutional questions. Mr. Rawle was a prominent lawyer who had been a member of the Pennsylvania Assembly that ratified the Bill of Rights. See, e.g.District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570, 128 S.Ct. 2783, at 2805 (2008). You can read his book here.

Those crazy Southerners who viewed human chattel so important, were apparently not so crazy, after all.

One thought on “A View of the Constitution

  1. If it wasn’t for the issue of slavery, I’d have some sympathy with the notion that the confederate states had the right to break away from the union

    Like

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