Most Americans today agree that in 1776 the American states had good reason to “dissolve the political bands” connecting them with England and that in 1861 the Confederate states that seceded from the union did not. No state has seceded from the Union since the Civil War, and the term “states’ rights” is still tainted for some because it was used to defend slavery and then segregation.
But states do have rights and states do bring to the union different populations and different ideas. The tension between unity and diversity has existed throughout American history, and continues to manifest itself in debates over whether the federal or state governments have the final say on issues ranging from the death penalty to health care.
In 2009, Texas Governor Rick Perry warned, “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. “ Polls have indicated significant percentages (though not a majority) of Texans think their state would be better off independent.
The question of secession also affects America’s foreign affairs. Last year, for example, the United States announced it would recognize the newly independent Southern Sudan.
When—if ever—is secession justified?
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