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States Rights


The Right of Secession Defended by Northern Writers
by George L. Christian

The Nature of the Constitution as a Compact
by J.L.M. Curry

On the Permanence of the Union
by William Rawle

The Sovereignty of the American States
by Bernard Janin Sage

The Constitutional Right of Secession
by James Spence

What Were Abraham Lincoln's Earlier Views on Secession?

While a Representative of the State of Illinois, Abraham Lincoln stated:

Any people anywhere, being inclined and having the power, have the right to rise up and shake off the existing government, and form a new one that suits them better. This is a most valuable, a most sacred right a right which we hope and believe is to liberate the world. Nor is this right confined to cases in which the whole people of an existing government may choose to exercise it. Any portion of such people, that can, may revolutionize, and make their own of so much of the territory as they inhabit (excerpt from a speech delivered in the U.S. House of Representatives on 12 January 1848; Congressional Globe, Volume XIX, page 94).

Technically, Lincoln was referring to the "right of revolution" stated in the Declaration of Independence rather than the right of a State under the Constitution to secede from the Union. This was just one of the many times he displayed his bent for inconsistencies. If the thirteen colonies had a right to secede from the British Crown to whom they were subject, why did not the thirteen Southern States have the right to peacefully withdraw from their sister States with whom they were co-equals? If the political condition of the States in 1861 was more mature than it had been in 1776, then so was their right of secession. If the right of secession existed under the royal charters which gave them existence, then it also existed under a Constitution which they, by an act of their sovereign ratification, had brought into existence. The logic is inescapable even though it was later lost on Lincoln when he was President.

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