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Web letter by Bruce Braden: ‘One nation, indivisible’ has endured waves of secessionist sentiment

Regarding today’s secessionists, I can understand somewhat how they feel. Many people, following George W. Bush’s 2000 victory, would have liked to secede in revolt against him as well. But they didn’t. And, if one reads about elections in America, we have a history of secessionist movements predating and post-dating the secessionist movements that brought on the Civil War.

For instance, in 1804 and 1812-15, we had the Essex Junto and the Hartford Convention considering New England’s secession over the elections and policies of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. Some report that Federalist Party support for these movements of secession and disunion helped destroy the party.

Yet today’s secessionists tout the Declaration of Independence as their mantra for dissolving governments or disobeying them when displeased. They think they have all Founders’ support for their breaking up the union. But they forget that the one task held dear by some Founders was to hold the union together by putting down early rebellions over taxes and federal policies. Hence, President George Washington and Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton were prepared to lead a 15,000-man army into western Pennsylvania to quell the Whiskey Rebellion. On Aug. 7, 1794, Washington declared in proclamation:

“Whereas by a law of the United States entitled ‘An act to provide for the calling forth the militia to execute the laws of the Union, suppress insurrections,’ ... it is in my judgment necessary ... to take measures for calling forth the militia in order to suppress the combinations aforesaid, and to cause the laws to be duly executed. I have accordingly determined to do so, feeling the deepest regret for the occasion, but withal the most solemn conviction that the essential interests of the Union demand it, that the very existence of government and fundamental principles of social order are materially involved in the issue, and that patriotism and firmness of all good citizens are seriously called upon aid in the effectual suppression of so fatal a spirit.”

Washington and Hamilton had not fought a war to install a government, a union, that could be overthrown or withdrawn from anytime and every time someone took offense to an election or a law.

After the bitterly contentious 1800 election, Thomas Jefferson put it simply in his inaugural address: “This (election) being now decided by the voice of the nation, announced according to the rules of the Constitution, all will, of course, arrange themselves under the will of the law, and unite in common efforts for the common good.”

Are we “one nation, indivisible” or not?