Don’t Leave the Rodeo Just Yet: The (Non) Issue of Texas Secession

In the few months since the November 2012 presidential election, the state of Texas has been ablaze with that ages-old and quintessentially Texan question—to secede, or not to secede?  Deeply frustrated by the re-election of President Obama, many conservative and Republican Texans have been throwing around the idea more and more seriously, citing the supposed right of the state to leave the United States and form its own nation. Having once been an independent country, and with a relatively thriving economy, they say secession would be far more suitable a solution than remaining in a country that they feel is progressing in an undesirable political and social direction.

As someone who has lived in various parts of Texas for almost my entire lifetime, I find myself observing the flurry of petitions, blog posts, Internet articles, and heated arguments with a great deal of cynicism and just a touch of quiet amusement. Do the proponents of secession from Texas (not to mention the many other states who have filed petitions to leave the US) even have the popular support and legal grounds to warrant the uproar, concern, hope, and fear they have currently inspired? More than that, have they stopped to think about what would happen if they did, somehow, manage to remove themselves from the country?

Unfortunately for those involved in the debate, arguments both for and against secession are prolific, stubbornly argued, and based on materials that are somewhat subject to interpretation.  Most advocates against secession cite two specific details of US-Texan history to support their claim. The first is the presidential proclamation given out immediately after the Civil War, which expressly removes the right of states in the union to legally secede. Since presidential proclamations carry roughly the same legal weight as executive orders, most experts hold this removal to be final and definitive. Secondly, the Supreme Court case of Texas v. White ended in the ruling that when Texas originally joined the US, it entered into an “indissoluble relation” with the rest of the union of states, and therefore relinquished its right to secede.

However, most supporters of secession—many of whom are ardent states’ rights proponents—argue that neither the Constitution of the United States nor the Texas Constitution explicitly allow or disallow secession, and that both Texas v. White and the presidential proclamation rely on a definition of executive power far more heavy-handed than they (the states’-righters) will admit to being valid. While the consensus of most experts is that Texas and other states in the nation do not, in fact, have the right to secede, the arguments to the contrary strike a powerful chord with many of the more conservative Americans and others frustrated with feelings of powerlessness and political underrepresentation, making it difficult to quell the popular enthusiasm for secessionist dialogues among those populations.

In addition to the dubious legal precedent for Texan secession, the fact remains that there is so far simply not enough popular approval for it. A great deal is made of the fact that the Texas petition has garnered over 100,000 signatures (118,244 as it stands today), but most people don’t take into account the sheer size of Texas and its population when contemplating this statistic.  There are, according to the 2011 census, 25,674,681 people officially documented in the state; by these figures, the number of people desiring secession in Texas are roughly .46% of the population—not exactly a representative majority of the citizens. The metropolitan area of my hometown, San Antonio, contains 2.2 million officially documented people, a figure more than seventeen times larger than the number of signatures.  To further convince petitioners that their cause is not supported by many, people in a number of cities—such as Austin and Houston—have created counter-petitions to remain inside the US if Texas were to secede.

While many in favor of secession cite a desire to better self-determine the governing of their state, maintain individual liberties, and avoid the worst of the larger US’s economic difficulties (which many places in Texas have successfully rode out since the beginning of the recession), many skeptics point out that there is nothing preventing politicians in Texas from becoming just as bad as petitioners perceive those in Washington to be. There is nothing that guarantees Texans to be angels, although sometimes we might like to think of Texas as having heavenly aspects.  And what about those people within Texas who already feel underrepresented and marginalized within the political systems of the state? Would a Texan government do more or less to guarantee their individual liberties?

Then there is the question of public universities and institutions across the state, which receive government funding—would they be left in the lurch, or would special dispensations be made for them to receive “foreign” aid?  What about infrastructure, education, transportation via national roads, and the economy?  The state may be good at balancing its budget, but in this age of global, let alone inter-state, commerce, how self-sufficient would Texas, or any other seceding states, really be?  If one thing is for certain, there’s nothing that would legally obligate the United States to maintain trade with its errant offspring.  And let’s not forget that we couldn’t exactly skip out on any debts we still had with the broader country.  Truth be told—although this is just the personal opinion of a rather tired Texan—I simply don’t think that the idea of Texan secession would be workable, even if it were certifiably legal.  We are a much bigger, more complicated, more interesting place than we were in the days of Sam Houston and Stephen F. Austin.  All I can hope is that if by some extraordinary turn of events the state were to secede, I would be able to successfully lodge my own petition—to Vanderbilt, for International Student scholarships.

-Ames Sanders is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences and can be reached at amethyst.w.sanders@vanderbilt.edu.

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