Richard Henry Lee, leading Antifederalist
One of the most exciting political developments in recent years has been the secessionist movement which has flourished among a number of American states and across the globe in places such as Venice and Scotland. The common thread in nearly all these movements has been opposition to the modern nation state which secessionists believe has become totalitarian and now hopelessly bankrupt.
Many secessionist groups draw their inspiration from American history in particular the country’s founding document, the Declaration of Independence, and the southern states’ valiant attempt to secede from the Union in the 1860s. While secessionists have pointed to America’s past for much of their inspiration, one group which they seem to have ignored, has been the Antifederalists.
The “Antifederalists” was the term given to those opposed to the ratification of the U.S. Constitution. They were not an insignificant segment of the population and consisted of such luminaries as Sam Adams, Patrick Henry, George Mason, and Richard Henry Lee, who wrote under the pseudonym of the “Federal Farmer.” Still under-appreciated to this day, Lee’s political thought equaled, if not surpassed, those of the more celebrated Founding Fathers.
The Antifederalists correctly predicted that the Constitution would usurp the sovereignty of the individual states and become a highly centralized national state. Moreover, they saw that it granted too much power to the executive branch.
A number of historians believe that at the time most Americans opposed ratification and had it not been for some shrewd and, quite frankly, underhanded tactics by their opponents, the Federalists, the Constitution would not have been ratified. Patrick Henry certainly thought so when he wrote: “Let me say, sir, that a great majority of the people even in the adopting states have been shockingly misled.”*
More than two centuries later their fears have turned into grim reality. History, however, is written by the victors and the Antifederalists and their perspicacious views have been largely forgotten.
For secessionists, the Antifederalist literature should be a prime reference point to be repeatedly invoked to justify their cause. For secessionists to succeed, the battle of ideas must be first won, and the writings of the Antifederalists provide ample ammunition for those who seek to break away from the corrupt and tyrannical nation states which dominate the globe.
The future of human liberty and economic well being depends on the success of the secessionist movements. The political parties of the world be they “liberal” or “conservative” have no interest in scaling back the size and scope of the state. Any chance of real reform through the current political system is hopeless since it is rigged to enrich the power and pocketbooks of the political elites.
Thus, all efforts – whether on a practical or an “intellectual” basis, which strengthen the secessionist cause – need to be encouraged and supported by those concerned about the future of freedom. Participation in politics or the electoral process is futile and counterproductive as the Antifederalists long ago recognized: “But, remember, when the people once part with power, they can seldom or never resume it again by force. Many instances can be produced in which the people have voluntarily increased the powers of their rulers; but few, if any in which rulers have willingly abridged their authority.”**
The globe’s ruling regimes will simply not allow their power to be undermined. Most likely, if secession becomes a reality, it will come only by the use of force and loss of life. The powers-that-be will not relinquish their control peacefully.
However, as daunting as state power appears to be, it can be negated by a coterie of committed and dedicated individuals. The advantage that secessionists possess is that they do not seek conquest, but simply wish to be left alone, free from tyrannical rule. Such a position is appealing and, if properly articulated, will garner public sympathy and support.
For those across the globe who are contemplating the weighty and possibly dangerous action of secession, the words of one of the Antifederalists’ mentors should be remembered:
Whenever any . . . Government becomes destructive
of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or
to abolish it; and to institute new Government, laying
its foundation on such principles and organizing its
powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely
to effect their Safety and Happiness.
[From the Declaration of Independence]
*Paul Douglas Boyer. The Original Counter-Argument: The Founders’ Case Against the Ratification of the Constitution Adapted for the 21st Century. Copyright Paul Douglas Boyer, 2013, p. 250
**Kenneth W. Royce. Hologram of Liberty: The Constitution’s Shocking Alliance with Big Government. Javelin Press, 2012, p. 63