As I sit at my keyboard, my mind wanders to national events. What’s going on? Will our president be the president by the holidays? How will the stock market be?
I haven’t lived in such uncertain times since the early ’70s, when I lived in Washington, D.C. Day after day, Washington Post headlines bore the latest bad news from a shadow figure named Deep Throat. Bad news about Richard Nixon, who I had voted for. Finally, Republican leadership went to the president and told him he must resign, or he would certainly become the first president ever removed from office.
Times are very different now, it seems to me. Today, most put their own party members first above all else. Reds and blues are like armed camps. TV news media tell us different stories about the same events.
Happily, it seems our friendly Boulder City folks have largely risen above that. I know lots of people around town, but mostly I couldn’t tell you which camp their spears are resting in. They do have opinions, but they don’t air them with neighbors. That is the main reason I’ve never talked here about state or national politics.
I can’t see how we will ever come to peace. Every new revelation causes the offended side to cry “fake news.” If we refuse to believe, then we can never agree.
Recently, I’ve been thinking about an unthinkable word. Secession. I know. Crazy, right? But look at a color-coded map of the red states from recent elections; compare this to a map of the seceding states in 1861. Ignoring some states that were not states back then, the maps are virtually identical. The mindsets of North and South were fundamentally different back then, and they still are 160 years later.
I wonder if we won’t start hearing that unthinkable word soon from those who lose the current battle. I’m not predicting that, just wondering if it might loom its ugly head. I am most certainly not wishing for it. Since I have lived nearly eight decades in five Northern states and am within weeks of calling the former Confederacy my home for life, this would be an insane time for me to advocate secession.
I did a Wiktionary on the word “secession” to be sure I spelled it right. I was shocked. Secession is like a dirty word in American English. A totally unused term. The computer wanted to redirect me to the word “succession.”
But Wikipedia gives the word plenty of text, and I learned two things that had never occurred to me in my entire Yankee-born and educated life.
President Thomas Jefferson, in 1816, said: “If any state in the union will declare that it prefers separation … to a continuance in union, I have no hesitation in saying, ‘let us separate.’ I would rather the states should withdraw.”
Then President James Buchanan, in a message to Congress just four months before the attack on Fort Sumter, said, “The fact is that our Union rests upon public opinion, and can never be cemented by the blood of its citizens shed in civil war. If it cannot live in the affections of the people, it must one day perish. … The sword was not placed in their (Congress) hand to preserve it by force.”
Here is another lesson I never bothered to learn in Northern schools. Buchanan did not run for a second term in the 1860 election. After Abraham Lincoln won but had not yet taken office, President Buchanan never once contested the state’s right to secede.
If either Jefferson or Buchanan had been president in 1861, it is very likely the seven Confederate states would have formed a separate nation without the shedding of 700,000 American lives. It was the new president’s choice to take up the sword.
Had the South been allowed to secede peacefully, the primary divisive issue of slavery could not have long survived. Human bondage was outlawed in virtually every part of the world ages ago. Then, would the states have reunited? Or would we have remained divided over some of the other deep cultural differences that still seem to lie between us?
Dave Nelson retired to Boulder City in 2003 after a career with the FICO score company. He is vice president for the local Sons of Norway.