By Shayne O’Loughlin
Your American History class probably taught you about the evils of the Confederate States of America, a secessionist government comprised of 11 US states hellbent on maintaining the institution of slavery. After their opponents’ surrender at Appomattox, the Union took on the task of reconstruction and reintegration. Even 150 years later, relations between the North and South are still influenced by the American Civil War.
However, scars heal, and with the increasing polarization in the past two decades alone within American politics, the term ‘National Divorce’ has been seriously considered. Supporters have different visions of how a peaceful divorce would take place, with some suggesting a multilayered process starting first with separating “red” and “blue” states, and then becoming minute to the point of division along county lines and natural geography. While the maps you can find online are fun to speculate about, this article will take a closer look at some of the more popular contemporary secession movements throughout the United States, and their relative chances of success within the near future.
This has to be first on the list. Texas has a long history of independence that has permeated popular culture, beginning with their state’s origin.
Due to the influx of American expatriates who saw the danger to their livelihoods following the abolition of slavery in Mexico, the Texans were able to capitalize on the power vacuum caused by a coup led by Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna. The battles fought among Texas and Mexico would be called the Texas Revolution (1835-1836), the most famous of which was at the Alamo, where around 200 Texans held out in a siege for thirteen days against the Mexican army. The battle still captivates the popular consciousness nearly 200 years later in the rallying cry, “Remember the Alamo”.
The result of the Revolution was the short-lived Republic of Texas. Although admittance into the US was popular among Texans, its pro-slavery status initially turned away both the Democrats and the Whigs who wanted to maintain the status quo between free and slave states. It would take until 1846 for the Republic to be annexed as the 28th state, a move which precipitated the Mexican-American War. Texas was later one of the states that rebelled against the US during the Civil War, and holds the dubious honor of being the last state readmitted afterwards.
In 1995, an organization called the Republic of Texas formed, claiming to have set up a provisional government for secession. In the following years, the organization factionalized into smaller groups, the most pertinent of which being the Texas Nationalist Movement, which has since distanced itself from its more militant forebears. On the movement’s website, they give plenty of information about a theoretical independent Texas: under the tab “TEXIT” (a play on words of Texas and Exit in the style of the UK’s own Brexit movement), one can find the process that they claim would lead to independence: a referendum styled after both the UK and Scottish referendums of 2016 and 2014 respectively.
What is the chance that this movement accomplishes its ends? Many research polls seem to indicate a trajectory towards moderate support. A poll by Research 2000 in April 2009 showed that 35% of likely voters thought Texas would be “better off as an independent nation”, but that 35% was comprised of 48% of Republicans, 40% of Independents, and 15% of Democrats. A Reuters poll in 2014 showed that 54% of Republicans, 49% of Independents, and 35% of Democrats thought that “Texas should leave the Union”. In a poll by Public Policy Polling in 2016, they asked the same group of 944 people whether they supported or opposed secession. 26% supported, 59% opposed, and 15% were undecided. However, when given the hypothetical that Hillary Clinton were to win the 2016 election, the same sample showed 40% supported, 48% opposed, and 12% were undecided.
In January, 2021, Representative Kyle Biedermann of Texas’s 73rd District introduced HB1359, called the Texas Independence Referendum Act, which was tabled. At the Texas GOP’s Convention, two planks were added to their platform, one reaffirming state sovereignty (Plank 33) and one calling for “the Texas Legislature to pass a bill in its next session requiring a referendum in the 2023 general election… to determine whether or not Texas should reassert itself as an independent nation,” (Plank 225) receiving 88.64% and 80.17% delegate approval respectively.
The most recent poll from July may be the most telling. SurveyUSA conducted the poll in eight states, measuring secessionist sentiment by state and political party; Texas polled the highest of the bunch, with 66% of regular voters supporting secession. 69% supported a referendum for secession, 81% of them being Republicans. Both the promises of the GOP and polling data suggest that a referendum for Texan independence may soon take place, but the better question now may be about the complicated process of legal secession, something which the United States has never dealt with before.
With the motto, “Live Free or Die,” New Hampshire embodies a libertarian mindset on most everything: it lacks seatbelt laws, helmet laws, state income tax, sales tax, and it has lax gun laws, being one of many states to now support constitutional carry (i.e. permitless gun carrying in public, whether open or concealed). It’s no wonder this motto has survived as long as it has in their culture, as it was the first state to declare independence from the British during the American Revolution. This spirit has culminated in some impressive accolades: New Hampshire has been heralded by the Cato Institute as the freest state since 2016, based on such statistics as having the 4th highest quality of life, the 2nd lowest tax burden, and having the 5th greatest educational freedom. It also has the largest state legislature in the US.
These statistics attracted a group of libertarians, called the Free State Project, to migrate to the state and encourage others to do the same, in what is called a “political migration movement.” The Free State Project sets out to influence policy in the low-population state by attracting libertarians from across the world, with the goal of eventually moving 20,000 to New Hampshire. As of 2022, 6,232 libertarians have migrated. While not officially a secessionist group, many members have sympathies with independence.
One such organization is the Foundation for New Hampshire Independence, which has formed their own portmanteau, “NHExit.” They cite the aforementioned SurveyUSA poll that we considered for Texas, wherein New Hampshirites were 29% in favor of sovereignty, including 52% of Republicans. 42% of correspondents support a referendum, with 47% against. While these numbers may seem promising for the secessionists, one should keep in mind that 58% did not support immediate secession. As such, the New Hampshire secession movement still seems to have a long way to go.
For hundreds of years, the Polynesians who settled on the Hawaiian islands enjoyed relative prosperity, bound only to their material limits. Sometime in the 1200s, Tahitians settled the islands and brought with them Eastern Polynesian language and culture. In 1778, a British explorer, James Cook, landed on the island, and in the proceeding 75 years, the population of Hawaii halved after the introduction of new diseases. Kamehameha the Great established his dynasty in 1795 after officially uniting the islands.
The islands faced change at a harrowing pace: in only a century, Hawaii became a kingdom, opened trade with the western world, brought in huge profits from whaling and sugar harvesting, saw its population fall from disease, made multiple constitutional changes following troubled succession, and witnessed the fall of their monarchy in a coup in 1893 (with some American involvement).
A four-day revolt in 1895 was quelled and led to the official abdication of the throne by Queen Lili’uokalani, and McKinley would sign the Newlands Resolution in 1897, making Hawaii a territory of the United States. The importance of the military base in Hawaii at Pearl Harbor is established in every US History class, after an attack on it on December 7th, 1941 convinced the US public to go to war against the Japanese in World War II.
Despite the rapid westernization of Hawaii (or maybe because of it), indigineous culture still remains to this day among the locals. Even in the contiguous US, it’s not uncommon to hear of schools having Hawaiian-themed holidays where children wear leis and colorful tropical shirts. In the state itself, the Royal Order of Kamehameha I still participates in important local ceremonies.
During the cultural leftist movements of the 1960s and 70s, the rise of Native American and Indigenous People’s movements spread throughout reservations and communities, where discussion over the colonial efforts of the United States were seriously debated. Hawaii was not free of this discussion. An organization known as the Aborigional Lands of Hawaiian Ancestry (ALOHA) hit its stride during this era, supporting a bill that would give reparations to the Hawaiian people. The organization saw mild success, influencing Congress to form a study by historians to determine the degree to which the U.S. participated in the 1893 coup. Another important organization in the fight for Hawaiian secession is the Nation of Hawaii, which posits that Hawaii should reinstate its monarchy with Dennis Puʻuhonua Kanahele, a distant descendant of Kamehameha I.
In 1993, a full century after the coup, the U.S. Congress acknowledged that the American involvement in the coup was illegal, in what was called the Apology Resolution. It received two-thirds support from both chambers of Congress, in a moment that vindicated the broader movement.
Recent criticisms of the Hawaiian independence movement consider how native control would exist within a free Hawaii: If the US were to “return” power to the people of Hawaii, one would have to acknowledge the demographic changes within Hawaii itself. As of 2021, only 10% of the state’s 1.4 million citizens considered themselves native Hawaiians. If the impetus of the movement is the reestablishment of the Hawaiian monarchy and control of the government under the natives of Hawaii, then such a government would need to receive a nigh-unachievable majority support.
If the “National Divorce” were to come to fruition as many propound, it will come down to the movements begun within the states themselves to start the domino effect of secession. In this future, the best case scenario is for these states to set an example of the peaceful transition of power from the federal government to the new nations in question, a process unprecedented in American history.