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(The Abbeville Institute) – In today’s parlance, the concept of secession not only connotes insurrection but even treason. However, in 1789, when the Constitution became the governing law of the United States, the right of secession was a hotly debated subject. Even during the two-year period of the document’s drafting and ratification, the seeds of secession were sown when some states demanded an amendment to the Constitution that would allow the people to return sovereignty to their state if conditions should ever demand it. Examples of this could be seen in resolutions proposed by New York and Rhode Island that requested, in part, that “the power of government may be reassumed by the people whenever it shall become necessary.”
Even though the resolutions which would allow secession were ultimately rejected, with the Tenth Amendment put in their place, the Constitution that was finally ratified by all the thirteen states contained no section prohibiting secession. The first test of a state’s right in this regard took place only a decade later in response to the Alien and Sedition Act of 1798.
In 1798 and the following year, Kentucky and Virginia offered resolutions written by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison declaring that since the Alien and Sedition Act was deemed unconstitutional, the states had the right to declare it so and nullify the Act. John Taylor and other members of the Virginia House of Representatives took the matter s step further when they proposed that if the Act was not repealed, Virginia should secede from the United States. Even Vice President Jefferson tended to agree with…