The other day I had an brief but stimulating conversation with somebody — on IRC of all places! — about President Lincoln and the Civil War. He pointed out that Lincoln had suspended the writ of habeas corpus during the war, which was “shameful.” I agreed but was willing to cut Lincoln slack because he had held the nation together. Then he pointed out, rightly, that Lincoln had not held the nation together because the South did secede. Lincoln had to defeat the South in order to restore the fractured Union. That’s why some call the Civil War “The War of Northern Aggression.” He also pointed out that there was a strong economic impetus for the North to restore the South to the Union. And, the southern states freely entered into the Union, so they should have been allowed to freely leave. He seemed to be implying that the Civil War was possibly an unjust war.
Of course, I disagreed. I think the Civil War was a just war, and any economic impetus does not necessarily negate the justness of a war. I do believe with a little bit of work one can show there was an economic impetus to all of our wars. Indeed there probably will always be a degree of economic impetus to all wars. The point that the southern states came into the Union freely is probably the strongest argument for why the Civil War was an unjust war. Personally, I am not persuaded by it becuase I think even though they came in freely it doesn’t mean they could leave freely. We see situations like this played out all the time. People enter into contracts and other agreements on their own accord, but they surely are not free to leave. By joining the Union, the States entered into a contract, a social contract if you will, that was binding to all parties, united as a single sovereign nation.
Now, the question I have, regardless of the merits of either arguments, is what do you think would happen if a single state or a group of states seceded today? Let’s say Arnold, desperate to become the President but knowing he can’t be President of the United States, secedes California from the Union. What would we do? Or perhaps if a larger group of states seceded? Or what if a state nobody cared about, like Nebraska, seceded? In all seriousness, I don’t believe we have it in our collective will to stop states from seceding. In this day and age where apathy seems to rule and meddling in other people’s affairs is so maligned, I find it hard to imagine a forcible reconstitution of the Union.
Thoughts? Am I just too pessimistic? Would it be just to force a state or a group of states back into the Union in this modern age? Would we even have the gumption to do that?