Disgruntled voters petition White House for their states to secede from the Union

Posted: November 15, 2012

The petitions on the White House website won't be granted. They're the aftereffects of a heated presidential election season, folks simply blowing off steam, historians and scholars say.

Hundreds of thousands of Americans unhappy with the result of last week's voting have signed petitions on behalf of at least 35 states, including Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware.

What do they want?

For the Obama administration to "peacefully grant" the states permission to "withdraw from the United States of America" and create new governments.

Secession.

"We did fight a Civil War over this issue," said Perry Dane, a professor at the Rutgers School of Law in Camden who clerked at the U.S. Supreme Court. "The White House will respond and will say as considerately as it can that secession is off the table.

"You win some, you lose some," he said.

The petitions, located on the White House's "We the People" website ( https://petitions.whitehouse.gov), are "very likely an expression of alienation and frustration," said Randall Miller, a professor of history at St. Joseph's University. "People question the legitimacy of the election and it's their way of saying, 'I'm taking myself out of this.' "

By late Tuesday, a total of more than 13,000 people had signed two petitions seeking nation status for Pennsylvania, where Obama defeated Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney by a 52-47 percentage ratio. For the more Democratic-leaning New Jersey, nearly 11,000 had signed a similar petition. At least 5,400 others had signed one for Delaware, where Obama also was the victor. The number of signatures had doubled, even tripled, since the beginning of the week.

Texas and Louisiana - where Romney won - had about 82,000 and 30,000 signatures, respectively. Petitions that attract 25,000 signatures in 30 days will receive a "response" from the White House, the website says.

On the flip side, there are petitions on the White House site that call for the Obama administration to deport or exile everyone who has signed a secession petition.

One asks the administration to permit the left-leaning city of Austin to secede from Texas but remain part of the United States.

"The Internet allows you to find like-minded people. And in this faceless anonymity, you can egg each other on," said Andrew Shankman, an associate professor of history at Rutgers-Camden. "It doesn't take much to sign a petition."

The secession petitions are "not a serious political proposal," he said. "This is the last expression of rage because [the petitioners] didn't get what they wanted on Election Day. They're sounding off."

The "We the People" website allows citizens to create and sign petitions. They provide first names but not the last, just initials.

Many - like one created by Karen G. of Hazleton, Pa., and another by Joe. R. of Sewell - quote from the Declaration of Independence: "When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands . . . "

Others, such as a petition seeking Oregon's secession, take another tack: "The people of Oregon would like the chance to vote on leaving the Union immediately. The Federal Government has imposed policies on Oregon that are not in Oregon's best interests, and we as citizens would respectively [sic] and peaceably separate ourselves from a tyrannical Government. . . . "

The White House lacks constitutional authority to let states secede, but that hasn't stopped disgruntled voters.

The issue of secession was not confined to the Civil War. New Jersey grappled with it about 40 years ago, when the southern part of the state attempted to split from the north.

"There was a big movement, with petitions drawn," said Paul Schopp, a historian who lives in Riverton. "The south was upset that most of the tax dollars were going to the north."

The postelection petitions are "an effort by average citizens to exercise their constitutional rights," he said. "It's a peaceful form of redress."

Other countries have faced similar issues. A referendum will be held in 2014 to determine whether the people of Scotland wish to withdraw from the United Kingdom, Dane said. Quebec has occasionally sought to secede from Canada and the country's Supreme Court has said that's not out of the question.

In Texas, Republican Gov. Rick Perry, who often has expressed frustration with the federal government, did not endorse the secession petitions and has said he did not want the Lone Star State to break away.

"The Civil War showed once and for all and forever that secession is illegal," said Andy Waskie, a Temple University professor, historian, and author. "The combat, effusion of blood, and sacrifice ended that question."

Citizens "have to seek other means of redressing their grievances," he said. "The Union is permanent."


Contact Edward Colimore at 856-779-3833 or ecolimore@phillynews.com.


 

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