Catholic Candle note: Catholic Candle normally examines particular issues thoroughly, at length, using the teachings of St. Thomas Aquinas and the other Doctors of the Church. By contrast, our feature CC in brief, gives an extremely short answer to a reader’s question. We invite readers to submit their own questions.
CC in brief
Q. My husband says it was wrong for the Southern States of the U.S. to attempt to secede – that is, to revolt – from the Federal, national government, in the civil war of the 1860s. Is my husband correct?
A. There are many things to consider in assessing whether the Southern States were permitted to secede from the Union. For example, was it prudent to secede based on the chances of success? However, in this short CC in Brief, we leave such other considerations aside. Although it is true that revolution is always evil, nonetheless, the question arises whether the Southern States’ secession was revolution or was it the exercise of a right given by the Union’s founding agreement.
The U.S. Constitution is the agreement between the states which governed their mutual relationship. That agreement is silent on this issue, unlike, e.g., the European Union’s charter which explicitly allowed for a country to exit the EU as Britain did.
One could suppose that the fact that the original 13 American colonies revolted against Britain implies that the U.S. Constitution might implicitly allow secession of any states which chose to sever ties with the U.S. federal government, just as those colonies severed ties with England. Further, it certainly seems that there could be an element of hypocrisy in the successors of the American revolutionaries refusing to allow secession from their own Union, although they demanded this secession from England. Nonetheless, the Southern States’ right to secede (or not) would “boil down” to whether secession was implicitly allowed (or implicitly forbidden) under the U.S. Constitution.