Bye, Bye, Miss American Empire

Illustrated by Linda Zacks

In the wake of George W. Bush’s re-election in 2004, frustrated liberals talked secession back to within hailing distance of the margins of national debate — a place it had not occupied since 1861. With their praise of self-rule and the devolution of power, they sounded not unlike many conservatives had in the days before Bush & Cheney & Limbaugh wedded the American Right to the American Empire. While certain proponents of the renascent secessionism were motivated by spite or pixilated by whimsy or driven by the simple-minded belief that the United States can be divided into blue and red — as though our lovely land can be painted in only two hues! — others argued with cogency and passion for a disunionist position that bordered on the, well, seditious. Emphasizing both culture (“Now that slavery is taken care of, I’m for letting the South form its own nation,” said Democratic operative Bob Beckel) and economics (Democratic pundit Lawrence O’Donnell noted that “ninety percent of the red states are welfare clients of the federal government”), writing in forums of neoliberalism (Slate) and paleoliberalism (The Nation), liberals helped to disinter a body of thought that had been buried at Appomattox. And — surprise! — three years later, the corpse has legs.

Secession is the next radical idea poised to enter mainstream discourse — or at least the realm of the conceivable. You can’t bloat a modest republic into a crapulent empire without sparking one hell of a centrifugal reaction. And the prospect of breaking away from a union once consecrated to liberty and justice but now degenerating into imperial putrefaction will only grow in appeal as we go marching with our Patriot Acts and National Security Strategies through Iraq, Iran, and all the frightful signposts on our road to nowhere.

Some of the contemporary secessionists are puckish and playful; others are dead serious. Some seek to separate from the main body of a state and add a fifty-first star to the American flag while others wish to leave the United States altogether. Some proposals are so sensible (the division of California into two or three states) that in a just world they would be inevitable; others are so radical (the independent republic of Vermont) as to seem risibly implausible — until you meet the activists and theoreticians preparing these new declarations of independence.

For these movements are, in the main, hopeful and creative (if utopian) responses to the Current Mess engulfing our land. They are the political antidote to the disease of giantism. We are a nation born in secession, after all, and of rebellion against faraway rulers. Ruptures, crackups, and the splintering of overlarge states into polities of more manageable size, closer to the human scale, are as American as runaway slaves and draft resisters.

“SECESSION,” SAYS ROB WILLIAMS — Vermont filmmaker, radio host, Champlain College professor, and singer-songwriter of the ought-to-be classic “Kill Your Television” — “is every American’s birthright.”

It’s been almost a century and a half since any significant number of Americans believed that, but last November Williams’s verdantly democratic state hosted the first-ever nationwide conference of those who wish to make the nation a little less wide.

Yeah, sure, I know: breaking away is impossible. Quixotic. Hopeless. So was dancing on the Berlin Wall.

The Vermont gathering was convened by Kirkpatrick Sale, founder of the Middlebury Institute, a secessionist clearinghouse whose “ultimate task” is “the peaceful dissolution of the American empire.” Sale is the author of the decentralist compendium Human Scale and books on the Luddites and Students for a Democratic Society. So that agents of the Department of Homeland Security won’t have to pore over his works, he offers this description of his political vision: “I am an anarchist who wants to see society organized on a small, human scale, based on self-determining communities.”

Sale scheduled the confab just three days before the 2006 election, not for any symbolic reason but because it was “the first cheap weekend after the fall foliage season.” So upon Burlington converged the divergent. Forty-three delegates from eighteen states met around a long table in the Lake Champlain Salon of the Wyndham Burlington. I saw ponytails and suits, turtlenecks and sneakers, an Alaskan gold miner and one delegate from the neo-Confederate League of the South who wore a grey greatcoat, as if sitting for a daguerreotype just before the battle.

The location might seem, at first, thuddingly inappropriate. Secession talk in New England, cradle of Unionism, bête noire of the Confederacy, source of the “Battle Hymn of the (indivisible!) Republic”? Yet no region of the country has been as fertile a ground for secessionist thought as New England.

Yankees threatened to leave the Union in 1803 when Jefferson doubled the American realm with his constitutionally dubious Louisiana Purchase, and the cries of separation once again rang through the Northeast in 1814, when New Englanders, appalled by the War of 1812, met at the Hartford Convention to discuss going their own way. The Massachusetts Federalist Timothy Pickering heard “no magic in the sound of Union. If the great objects of union are utterly abandoned . . . let the union be severed. Such a severance presents no Terrors for me.” The subject of an amicable divorce was raised in the 1840s during the debates over the annexation of Texas and the Mexican War. In each instance New England had a strong moral case for secession — and a practical one, too: the country had gotten too damn big to govern from a swamp on the Potomac. Daniel Webster, the God-like Daniel (on his good days), argued in 1846 that “there must be some limit to the extent of our territory, if we are to make our institutions permanent. The Government is very likely to be endangered . . . by a further enlargement of its already vast territorial surface.”

By the 1850s, with its courageous defiance of the Fugitive Slave Act, New England had become the epicenter of states’ rights — the logical end of which is secession — and of localist defiance of tyrannical central government. Yes, yes, a century hence racist governors would take possession of the phrase, but why should the fact that some southern politicians used “states’ rights” to justify segregation in the 1950s forever discredit the philosophy of Thomas Jefferson and Patrick Henry? I mean, look: George W. Bush uses the word “freedom” as often as a pimpled mall-rat says “fuck.” Does that mean we ought to junk “freedom”? Or should we reclaim it?

In its latest incarnation, secession has something of a greenish cast. It is reaching its fullest flower in Vermont, and if the idea of breaking away from the United States has not yet proven as exportable as, say, Vermont Teddy Bears or Cherry Garcia, give it time.

Thomas Naylor is the gentle godfather of the Vermont independence movement. Naylor taught economics at Duke for thirty years before, in best contrarian fashion, he and his wife Magdalena did a reverse snowbird and moved north in retirement to Charlotte, Vermont. In October 2003 he founded the hopefully named Second Vermont Republic (SVR). (The first one lasted from 1777-1791, before the Green Mountain Boys threw in with the United States.) Naylor proposed separating from the U.S., he says, almost as an afterthought. He was delivering an anti-war speech when he said, “If we stop this war there will only be another one. Whenever Bush or Slick Willie or Reagan need to improve their popularity they’ll bomb someone.” He came to a realization: A citizen of an independent Vermont might hope to live in a free and peaceful republic; a subject of the American Empire is doomed to watch helplessly as her taxes feed an unquenchable war machine. So why not leave the empire and pledge allegiance to Vermont? Naylor’s call struck a chord. A minor chord, perhaps, but a chord that has reverberated since 1776.

Because the Vermont secessionists were not sallow ideologues but rather men and women deeply in love with their state, they gained a foothold. The state has, perhaps, the most well-developed sense of itself of any state in the lower 48, and the SVR is awash in Vermontishness, from maple syrup to Robert Frost.

Member Jim Hogue frequently dresses as the state’s rollicking founder, Ethan Allen, and delivers hortatory speeches. Rob Williams, editor of the SVR quarterly Vermont Commons, seeks to “create a visual iconography of Vermont secession” as a means of making secession “sexy — an attractive, interesting, viable political option.”

Vermont Commons is a gem: a literate, polemical, thought-provoking, radical newspaper that has featured contributions from the likes of Wendell Berry, Bill McKibben, James Howard Kunstler, Burlington mayor Peter Clavelle, and a cast of politically uncategorizable Vermonters. For the stream of secession is fed by many American springs: the participatory democracy dreams of the New Left, the small-is-beautiful ethos of the greens, the traditional conservative suspicion (fading fast under the Bush eraser) of big government and remote bureaucracy, and that old-fashioned American blend of don’t-tread-on-me libertarianism with I’ll-give-you-the-shirt-off-my-back communalism.

The Vermont Commons contributors ask and sometimes even answer the hard questions about secession: How would a local currency work? How do we revive town meeting democracy? How does Vermont achieve “a sustainable food system”? How does it encourage community supported agriculture, organic farms, co-ops, roadside markets, and backyard gardening? What would an independent Vermont energy policy look like?

In October 2005, the SVR hosted 250 Vermont secessionists at a statewide conference in the capitol building in Montpelier (rent: $35). It was richly symbolic, messily democratic, and sweetly audacious. You can do that in Vermont. (California is another story.) The group’s next goal is “200 towns by 2012”: that is, using the venerable direct-democracy institution of town meeting, the SVR hopes by 2012 to persuade 200 of Vermont’s 237 towns to call for a convention at which Vermonters can debate the merits of independence. Scoff if you will, but remember that the front-runners for the Democratic and Republican presidential nominations of 2008 supported the Iraq war and the Patriot Act. In 2012, a decade into a nightmarish “war on terror” that our rulers have assured us will last our lifetimes, will Americans be content with a status quo of perpetual war and profligate empire?

MY SYMPATHY FOR THE SECESSIONISTS bleeds all over the page. I am, after all, native to and still citizen of rural western New York, which is about as close as one can find to a powerless colony.

Still, a state of West New York would be a new star on Old Glory. So would proposed fissioned states in northern California and southern Oregon (which would combine to form the felicitously named State of Jefferson) and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. On the other hand, the secessionists assembled at Kirk Sale’s Burlington convention wanted, for the most part, out of the Union altogether. They wish to be lone stars. Or if that sounds too grand — for a star, up close, is burning and blinding and unfit to love — maybe we should just say that they want to be, like demoted demotic Pluto, “dwarf planets” whom the giants disdain to notice. Or attack.

“This isn’t right or left,” said one advocate of an independent New Hampshire. Peaceful hippies, good-naturedly radical Vermonters, and anticorporate leftists broke bread with southern Christians and men wearing Confederate flag lapel pins, and the skies did not darken nor the earth crack. In fact, the most striking feature of the conference was that if an auditor closed his eyes and blocked out the accents, it was hard to tell who was the leftist and who was the arch-conservative.

I heard mentioned, as heroes, Martin Luther King Jr., Robert E. Lee, community organizer Saul Alinsky, Thomas Jefferson, and the strategist of nonviolence Gene Sharp. Denunciations were made of “corporate greed,” “federal empire,” television, the Iraq war, and the Patriot Act.

Were there fruits and nuts? Sure, a few. But just as cranks keep this country turning, so too are fruits and nuts a sapid alternative to Wonder Bread. The furry, troll-like man who proclaims himself King of Kansas is imaginative and harmless; the shaven men in tailored suits who call themselves President of the United States have been, of late, unimaginative and grossly harmful. I’ll take the King of Kansas, thank you very much. If some secessionists are wool-gathering gnomes, the best of them are patriots in the truest sense: they cherish the music, literature, accents, agriculture, history, and quirks of their places.

Secessionists — most of them, anyway — are all too aware that what they seek (the dissolution of the mightiest empire on the planet Earth) borders the inconceivable. But they have made peace with its implausibility and moved on. Reform they scorn; he who works within the system is swallowed by the system. Taking up arms is madness. “Rebellion and revolution are useless,” says Sale. “You would be crushed.” If you want out of a bloated empire and dehumanizing system, secession is the path.

“The left-right thing has got to go,” declares Ian Baldwin, cofounder of Chelsea Green Publishing and publisher of Vermont Commons. “We’re decentralists and we are up against a monster.”

What might replace left and right, liberal and conservative, as useful political bipolarities? Globalist and localist, perhaps, or placeless versus placeist. Baldwin argues that “peak oil and climate change are linked and irreversible events that will within a generation change how human beings live. The world economy will relocalize.” He dismisses homeland security as “fatherland security” — for “homeland,” with its Nazi-Soviet echoes, has never been what Americans call their country. What we need, says Baldwin, is “homestead security”: sustainable agriculture, small shops, a revival of craftsmanship, local citizenship, communal spirit. The vision is one of self-government. Independence from the empire but interdependence at the grassroots. Neighborliness. The other American Dream.

Why should Vermont (or Kansas or Mississippi) be compelled by strangers in Washington to implant computer chips in its cattle and send its state militia (now known as the National Guard) to fight in overseas wars and register its firearms and subject its children to standardized tests and participate in federal farm programs that privilege corporate agribusiness? Aren’t Vermonters, guided by their intimate knowledge of local conditions, capable of fashioning their own laws (or non-laws) on such matters?

Step back and it sounds fantastical: little Vermont wanting out of the United States. But secessionists are fond of the Soviet example. If, in 1985, you had stood on a platform and predicted that within a lustrum the Soviet Union would be all but dissolved, the snickers would have filled a candy factory. Sale also likes to point out that the United Nations, founded with 51 members in 1945, now has 192. Why not 193?

Still, the S-word has, to some, a treasonous taint. It’s not that Americans see it as a black-and-white issue; no, they see it through a haze of blue and gray. “Abraham Lincoln really did a number on us,” admits Naylor. “He convinced the vast majority of Americans that secession is illegal, immoral, and unconstitutional.”

Naylor’s frustration over Lincoln’s giant shadow is shared by Donald Livingston, a philosopher at Emory University and the “guru” of the new secessionists, as Naylor calls him. “Historiography in America is based on the fundamental postulate that the Union should have been preserved at all costs,” says Livingston. He proposes to challenge that assumption, to inspire students and colleagues and those tired of the consolidationist consensus to write history from a decentralist perspective. Livingston’s educational foundation, the Abbeville Institute, takes as its motto, “Divided We Stand; United We Fall.” The U.S.A., he believes, no longer works; why not try the Disunited States of America?

Critics of secession wonder if devolving power might not empower local tyrannies. For instance, the Vermonters have taken flak for cooperating with the League of the South, which is either a southern cultural organization with an official commitment to equality before the law or an unsavory group nostalgic for the Confederacy, depending upon whom you believe. Yet the range and potential of oppressive government has natural limits in a small jurisdiction. If a town in Alabama — or an upscale precinct in Manhattan — falls under the sway of knaves or crooks, abused minorities can remonstrate, face to face, with the authorities. They can organize resistance on a human scale. Or, if all else fails, they can leave. Even at the state level, redress is not impossible. Subjects of a large empire have no such option (other than expatriating). And unlike the Alabama town or Manhattan block, the U.S. government can wage wars, fill prisons, and curtail liberties on a scale undreamt of by petty tyrants. I suppose it comes down to this: Do you trust your neighbors, or do you trust George W. Bush and Hillary Clinton?

THE CRIMES AND FOLLIES OF THE Bush-Cheney administration have boosted secessionists’ fortunes, but when Bush-Cheney, like all things, passes, the case for radical devolution loses none of its cogency. The problem with the U.S. is one of scale, and it cannot be solved by electing new or different or better people to public offices. As Donald Livingston says, “The public corporation known as the United States has simply grown too large for the purposes of self-government, in the same way that a committee of three hundred people would be too large for the purposes of a committee. There needs to be a public debate on the out-of-scale character of the regime and what can be done about it.”

The average congressional district now contains 647,000 persons. And this is the “people’s house,” thought by the Founders to be the most responsive and grassroots of federal institutions. How is anything like representative government possible on such an enormous and impersonal scale?

Decentralizing power would have the additional virtue of localizing those coalition-splitters known as “social issues.” Case in point: When one of the southern delegates at the Burlington convention calls abortion a heinous crime, I sit back to watch the fireworks. They are doused in the fresh waters of federalism. There is general agreement on a mind-your-own-damn-business principle. If Marin County wants to serve joints with school lunches and Tupelo, Mississippi, wants the Ten Commandments in the classroom, well, that’s up to the people of Marin and Tupelo. Ain’t none of my business. Yours, either.

Let Utah be Utah, and let San Francisco be San Francisco. The policy will drive busybodies mad with frustration, but for the rest of us, it just might be the beginning of tolerance.

There is no reason why this kind of hands-off mutuality requires secession — they didn’t used to call the U.S. system “federalism” for nothing — but the urge to intervene is so irresistible to Dobsonian conservatives and Clintonian liberals that states and cities and towns have been deprived of the right to make their own laws, shaped by local circumstances, on such matters as the legality of marijuana and abortion and the proper way (if any) to define marriage. Does anyone really think that the Christian Right or feminist left will ever agree to denationalize such issues and trust local people to make their own laws?

Trust local people. That, really, is the soul of the case for secession. Bringing it all back home, as a small-town Minnesota boy who took the name Bob Dylan once wrote. For home is where secession must be rooted. Ideology of any sort is not so much a dead end as it is a road without end that carries the enthusiast far from any place resembling home. It unmoors him, it leaves her without anchorage, quick to blame societal ills on outsiders, on dark alien forces. I know: we live in the seventh year of the bloody and imperial Bush Octennium. If Dick Cheney isn’t a dark alien force I don’t know what is. But a healthy secessionist movement must be founded in love: love of a particular place, its people (of all ethnicities and colors), its culture, its language and books and music and baseball teams and, yes, its beer and flowers and punk rock clubs.

Maybe the Burlington conference was a sideshow, an amusing tour of the more outré precincts of American politics. Or maybe it was a harbinger.

Think what you will. This is radicalism deep-dyed in the American grain. “The military-industrial-energy-media complex is running an empire on the ruins of the republic,” says Rob Williams, who does not think that merely putting Democratic hands on the levers of power will solve anything. It’s the levers themselves that have to be removed.

Would the union miss Vermont? Sure. But as a young John Quincy Adams said, “I love the Union as I love my wife. But if my wife should ask for and insist upon a separation, she should have it, though it broke my heart.”

Besides, Vermont’s not going anywhere. Even if she were to secede, the Green Mountains will not be moved, the sap will still flow, the novels of Howard Frank Mosher and Dorothy Canfield Fisher will remain; hell, even Ben & Jerry’s will keep dishing it out. But why shouldn’t Vermonters run Vermont? Why should, say, Senator Hillary Clinton or Senator John McCain or Speaker Nancy Pelosi or President George W. Bush have even a whisper of a say in how Vermont orders her affairs?

“I want to leave my country,” says Kirk Sale, “without leaving my home.” That line packs a jolt, at least for this Little American. My home comes first. Yet I also want my country. I’m not sure what I think about leaving the U.S.A. But isn’t it time that we gave the matter some thought?

Bill Kauffman’s book called Bye Bye Miss American Empire was published in summer, 2010, by Chelsea Green. He lives in Elba, New York.


  1. Some Americans are talking about Secession even as others talk about more overseas adventures. We like to think of Theodore Roosevelt with admiration because of his Conservation, Pure Foods, and Fair Labor activities. But there was also alarm over “Manifest Destiny” and anti-imperialists also sponsored rumblings of secession. Now, 100 years later, they rear their heads again, and for the same reasons.

  2. Bill Kauffman misses the point behind secession– i.e. the national nature of a state’s popular sovereignty under international law, which means that every state is literally a separate country and the Constitution is merely a compact between them. This was never disproven, only supressed by totalitarian means; since virtually all scholars have dogmatically refused to discuss the issue– a clear abdication of duty to vigilance over government. This is why we live under empire, since government was allowed to use force without ever accounting to the people for such, but rather suppressing them until they accepted it.
    The option of Nullification and secession is absolutely essential as the final check on federal abuses, as Jefferson and Madison made clear in the Resolutions; since these were destroyed along with state sovereignty, freedoms have fallen worldwide as US imperialism migrated beyond the states to the world.
    The issue isn’t “re-emerging,” it was just NEVER SETTLED– murder doesn’t settle legal issues anymore than a Canadian officer can shoot a US citizen in New York and be presumed innocent.
    I can’t believe anyone can continue to ignore this supremely important issue.

  3. Johm Miller is right. There will be those many interests and factions that Madison wrote of, agitating for their policies. But McCandlies is wrong. The issue was settled well before the South went to war. It was settled in the Nullification Crisis, where Madison refuted Galhoun’s arguments for secession. It was settled by Jefferson in the election of 1800, when the attempts to take America back to the Articles came to an end.
    But they have the same flaws as the older ones, not the least of which was the connection of slavery to secession by Taylor(of caroline) and Calhoun.
    But, as Madison noted, an excees of liberty is as dangerous as an excess of power. People become a litle too impressed with their own interests, and feel free to place their interests above everyone else’s. That’s a faction. Factions are what America is made of. Secession will not remove the factions nor improve the situation, it will make the problem worse, as those living under the Articles found out.

  4. No,Richard Burnette is wrong– at every turn, and is simply repeating popular myths which don’t bear up under the slightest scrutiny. Madison was not at liberty to interpret or change the Constitution at whim, but only by the original terms; and he made these clear in the 1798 Virginia Resolutions regarding Nullifcation; if he was claiming that the federal government was the final judge of constitutionality of a particular nullification act then he was contradicting himself. Jackson likewise attempted to likewise revise history by claiming– like Lincoln– that the union predated the Constitution, however this is patently false in that each state ratified it out of its respective sovereignty– and on the terms that each state would remain popularly sovereign.
    However Lincoln likewise denied sovereignty out of such false considerations, and so the issue was supressed by totalitarian means rather than legally proven– since any attempt at proof would reveal the lack of such; the current Union commenced on exactly June 21, 1788– not a day before; and with only nine states, not thirteen. If states signed away their sovereignty via ratification then it has yet to be proven in any document.
    Again, this is no more “settled” than a case of a New York shooting by a Toronto officer; just because people look the other way doesn’t make it legal.

  5. In researching my book Declarations of Independence (an enyclopedia of American secessionist movements and independent governments from before the Revolution to the present day), I have consistently found that secessionism gains ground under one set of circumstances: a group of people (whether a state like Vermont, an ethnic group like the Oglala Dakota or a community like Key West) believe that their interests and ideals cannot be reconciled with those of the federal government.

    Vermonters today are understandably nostalgic about their brief independence, and many disagree with the current state of national affairs. However, secessionism will never gain ground based solely on localism.

    Unless Vermonters come to believe that their ideals are fundamentally at odds with those of the nation as a whole, and that there is no possibility that the pendulum will swing back in their direction, Vermont’s secessionism is a dead letter.

  6. There is an alternative route to achieve autonomy and that is via an Article V Convention. Presently there is an effort to bring about such a Convention. The ultimate aim, as envisioned will be the dismantlement of the federal government in its present configuration, and then reassemblement at the regional level. In essence, 10(# flexible independent republics will be created on American soil(state borders intact), each having the Constitution and Bill of Rights as the basis of their new governments. Liken this to the breakup of AT&T into the baby bells some years back. This action has become necessary to diffuse the power of the oligarchy which has hijacked our federal government. It’s time for AUTONOMOUS REGIONAL GOVERNMENT!!

  7. Click on my name in previous post to link to my yahoo group.

  8. The reasons as to why I am a supporter of Second Vermont Republic/Middlebury Institute do not match the points discussed by Bill Kauffman in his Orion magazine article. My reasons have little to do with Marin County posting the ten commandments in public school doorways or in Nancy Pelosi drafting legislation about Vermont farmers processing maple syrup.

    My reasons for supporting Thomas Naylor and his SVR team has to do more with restraining this selfish, wasteful, destructive, bullying, arrogant, conscienceless, behemoth known as the USA. It has become a danger to the entire planet as well as a danger to its own people. The human capital, the soils, the structures, the machines, dynamic and structural parts of the behemoth together making up its multidimensional strength have all together gone way out of control. If not for all of these pieces contributing their energies, their strength, their knowledge their human capital, Bush, Cheney and Olmert would not casually drop cluster bombs or threaten to nuke anyone they so please without fear of reprisal

    Although I live far from Vermont I modestly contribute because I believe and trust in the intent and knowledge of SVR/Middlebury team; that they will develop plans for decoupling the parts of the behemoth in such a way that its powers are slowly and carefully reduced without excessive and permanent destruction to humans and related social systems. Many years have passed since I read Arthur Clarke’s “2001- A Space Odyssey” or viewed the movie, still I recall the scene where the one living astronaut begins to remove, piece-by-piece, the logic modules from the sweet-talking , deceitful “Hal” gradually reducing its powers. The patient and intelligent disassembly of the empire’s many parts and likewise reassembling is what I seek and is why I support the work of Thomas Naylor and Kirkpatrick Sale.

    One other point not addressed in Kauffman’s article concerns process and strategy. Nearly forty years ago while engaged in early parts of my dissertation research one of my faculty advisors felt that I was excessively rambling about, unfocused. He stated an aphorism that it is always better to do a small amount of the right thing and do it well rather than doing a lot of other stuff and doing it poorly. Being a supporter of SVR and Middlebury I’ll use my privilege (?) at this stage to suggest that the time is approaching where some refocusing is needed, specifically focusing on only one state which has active secession organization. And that state should be where the likelihood of successful secession is the highest. In my humble opinion that choice is — not Vermont — but Hawaii. If such a decoupling is done with meticulous care and in timely fashion the results would be of invaluable benefit to the planet as well as to other state secession movements.

  9. Thanks for taking the time to share your different perspectives here, friends.

    We at “Vermont Commons” are always interested in publishing your views, supportive or otherwise.

    Free Vermont, long live the “Untied States” –

    Rob Williams
    Editor, Vermont Commons

  10. With respect to Mr. Keyser’s previous remarks pertaining to Hawaii being the place where the greatest chance of secession is, I’m well aware of the strong grassroots effort there. However, there is one financial reality that may make it a hard sell. And that is the fact that for every dollar that Hawaii pays in federal taxes, it gets back $1.60 in federal spending.(2004 figure, source:Tax Foundation). If I recall, Vermont gets back something like $1.12.

  11. Greetings Eric –

    Indeed, out of all the fifty states, Vermont is the one (other than Mississippi, I believe) with the least to lose by removing itself from the US, now an Empire.

    We get somewhere on the order of $1.13 back from the feds for every $1.00 we pay in taxes, but much of the time, we don’t have much say, of course, in how the money for these often under-funded and over-prescribed mandates is actually spent.

    UVM political scientist and town meeting scholar Frank Bryan wrote a throughtful essay for us last winter on this very topic – you can read it at

    I am enjoying the conversation here.

    Free Vermont,


  12. the best idea I have heard in my 71 years. I am so ready to get out and get away from the blind stupidity. I can see the land price of Vermont sky rocket when half the nation moves up there to get some freedom back. count me in, the only reason I am still in the U.S. is family ties.
    I am so tired of rules like NAIS building codes, seat belts manditory booster seats under 4ft 9
    are we that stupid that we can not deside for ourselves. count me in. I read the submited comments and they are just as full of shit as most every thing else, with the deep meaning and big words, come on folks come on back home and get something done. I am just a simple guy that wants some freedom back.

  13. I honestly don’t see a state populous of organically well fed, Subaru driving, relaxed fit pants and Birkenstock wearing yuppie WASPs rising up to form an independent nation. It would require a bravery and selflessness that I have rarely seen in most Vermont residents. (I do, however, hope my impressions of the Green mountain state are proved incorrect.)

  14. Green Mountain greetings, Eli –

    You are dangling your stereotypes in public.

    Come visit and spend some time with us.

    Free Vermont,


  15. When Jefferson wrote It is the duty of the informed to throw off tyranny he meant us. We citizens of the USA have failed in our duty. I support Vermont citizens to reclaim their sovereignty. Since it is not expressly forbidden in the constitution, the right to do so remains with the states and the people.

  16. Greetings Michael,

    I would agree.

    Indeed, the US has become the very Leviathan Jefferson and the patriots of 1776 feared – the richest and most powerful empire in the world.

    And secession is not only our constitutional right, but our obligation and duty to exercise, as citizen patriots, if we choose.

    The tricky thing – we’ve gotten used to all the short term material benefits wrought by IOTA (Imperial Oil Tanker America) – how many creature comforts are we willing to give up to ensure our sovereignty in this new century?

    I think about this question daily.

    Thanks for wiring,


  17. The Declaration of Independence is the founding document of this country. The Constitution, creating a much stronger federal state, came into being and was accepted by a majority of white male property owners by what some refer to as a bloodless coup d’etat. The reasons in retrospect have to do with economics, financial and property accumulation, the protection of such, and military power world wide. All of which we are still dealing with today in, referring to Henry Adams’s metaphor, an every faster narrowing spiral.
    The Declaration charges us with a moral as well political obligation. “..whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends (the self evident truths), it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it…”
    As prison populations grow and grow, young Americans are sacrificed or maimed for truths self evident or otherwise which have long ceased to be recognized by our own state, (life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, all men are created equal), when political representatives have more concern for their personal well being and following party mandates than representing those whom elected them, when the well being of this country’s citizenry have been treated with disrespect and in fact endangered by the actions of this very state and those who control it, it is time for a change. Please dont speak to me of reforms or other parties.

  18. A well written, level and thought provoking essay by Mr. Kauffman. Though, as my take sensed, Tommy Jefferson was at least marginally maligned, Thomas did write, essentially, that NO ONE living beyond twenty miles from a community of folk, could even remotely hope to govern compassionately. Old problems are never repaired by the similar means and techniques that created those problems. I likt it! Yes, a harbinger indeed. Go Patriots, GO!

  19. Indeed, Mr MacIagan –

    Our argument is simple at its core – the US is an overgrown Empire that needs to be “downsized” – too large, too corrupt, to centralized for anyone’s good, except for those elite few who run the show.

    So – come join us.

    God bless the Untied States,


    Dr. Rob Williams
    (Web)Editor, Vermont Commons

  20. If a state such as Vermont were to become independant as outlined in Mr. Kauffman’s article, I would support it fully. I’d even try and relocate there.

    It seems self-evident to me that the most effective form of government is a local one.

  21. Dear Rob and Dominic, Indeed, I do wish to join forces. I’ve been to Vermont once. Burlington, Ethan Allen AFB. I truly enjoyed the township, the chill air and the community. I was part of an Air Force team from Germany in transit to Florida for an airborne missile shoot contest, then called, William Tell. I received a rather quick education in ‘blue laws and found that quaint. Dominic, I too would endeavor to move to Vermont.

  22. Our present states already have many of the tools needed to resist the wishes of the national government. Some states have turned down federal school funding, preferring to set their own standards. I’m not sure if this is altogether a good thing; states might choose to re-segregate schools or they might continue to offer unequal educational opportunities to low-income communities. Yet the option is there for states.

    Another example, this time on the city level rather than the state level, is the nuclear-free zone concept. Where I live, in Sebastopol, CA, the tiny city’s nuclear-free status is largely symbolic. However, in Berkeley, CA, the city council has tried to enforce a ban on weapons-related nuclear research projects. It’s tough for a city to oppose a well-funded federal research institution: a lot energy goes into semantic battles where “government” scientists insist that they have the final word on whether their research can be defined as weapons-related.

    However, the tools that cities and states currently have are somewhat haphazard. Prying the national government’s fingers off small fragments of the social and economic functions of a community can empower segments of that community, but overall the city and state must still function within a national framework that robs control from local entities.

    In California, you can look at some great examples of what’s been done with former military bases. Fort Ord is now a college campus, and the Presidio is a park. Closer to my home, at the site of the former Hamilton Air Force Base, the runways will soon be flooded and allowed to revert to wetlands. This is an effort where regional, state, and federal agencies have cooperated. Projects like this have typically depended on leadership at the national level. In the case of the base closures, the Clinton administration policies accelerated a process that began in the 1960’s. Of course some cities and states bitterly opposed base closings!

    Would my home state, California, be better off without the national government? Should we once more be known as the Bear Flag Republic? It’s summer now, and it sure would be nice to have all those California National Guard units back here at home to help out during fire season. Or how about those Sacramento Delta levees? Will the US Army Corps of Engineers be available to fix them before global warming radically changes our precipitation patterns? We already know that we shouldn’t depend on a national entity to ensure our basic security and safety.

    Many states already have improved their health care, education, environmental, and other services by taking action on their own, instead of waiting for the national lawmakers to provide leadership. Secession no longer looks like a crazy notion. In some cases, it would just be an acknowledgement that we can do a much better job of taking care of ourselves, right here close to home. So, to our friends in Vermont, thanks for bringing this to our attention!

  23. Catherine,

    Thanks for providing some important examples of state push back on federal power, as well as some compelling “transformational” examples re: our out-of-control military-industrial-media-energy complex: bases into schools – now there’s an idea.

    All best to the once and future Bear Flag Republic,

    Rob Williams
    Editor, Vermont Commons

  24. Kudos to Kauffman for his thoughtful discussion. It seems a growing number of folks – particularly those like Grace Lee Boggs who have a long, long history of social and economic justice activism – are coming to similar conclusions. While I do not tend to think of the matter in the context of succession, that perspective does allow one to get to the core of the matter – social and political structures on a “human scale” as Kauffman characterized it.

    It seems abundantly clear that when humans have sought to organize on massive scale, the concentrations of power led inevitably to corruption, oppression, aggression and ultimately collapse.

    Kauffman quotes Ian Baldwin as he offers that peak oil and global climate change will necessitate “relocalizing” societies. Perhaps; that would certainly be the rational approach. However, that will not likely occur as a natural consequence of increasing scarcity and cost of energy or the wide ranging disruption that will almost certainly result from irreversible changes in the planet’s climate. The war crimes being committed by the US and other nation states (Israel, Russia, China to mention a few) are a reflection of the power elite’s response to the certain knowledge of these global changes. That course leads in the direction of greater domestic control and suppression, not less.

    The choices to be made and actions taken are not those which can be obtained through electoral politics, that much is certain. What a successful course to that goal of sustainably sized societies will look like is certainly unclear to me. Rather than a legalistic debate about succession, I hope the dialogue can turn to what that course might look like.

  25. Congratulations to Mr Kauffman for writing about an issue that should be discussed for the long-term health of the body politic. Several years back, I realized that none of us, as individuals, owe absolute loyalty to any political entity, no matter how large or small. (However, I do believe that patriotism can be healthy when it encourages the individual to pursue actions that serve the common good.)

    Anyone growing up in South Carolina (as I did) and having any snse of history is well aware of secession. Columbia, SC, where I now live, largely burned to the ground when a United States army passed through in February 1865. (There are places in SC where there are only ruins that predate 1865.) Mr. Lincoln built an altar to the Union and, besides whole cities, sacrificed 600,000 lives to the Union. Any rational person would have to question this cost, particularly when over half of these lives were young men in their prime from the United States. Now, was secession wise or unwise then (or is it now, for that matter)? That is a question that can be rationally debated without going to war.

    As to what the future will bring, who knows? But let me tell a personal story about secession. I grew up in western South Carolina 13 miles from Abbeville. In 1960, when I was 12, I was taken to the 100 year reenactment in Abbeville of a meeting that took place after Lincoln’s election in 1860. The meeting was held at a place now called Seceesion Hill, and it led to the SC Secession Convention in December 1860. All that I can remember form the 1860 speeches was that Lincoln and the Republican Party, to put it mildly, were not very popular in that part of the country in 1860. If you could tell the 1860 participants (and possibly the 1960 ones) that the Republican Party would now be the dominant party in the region, they would probably think you were nuts! History has a way of throwing curve balls.

  26. As a community, from top to bottom, we have to find ways to succeed in talking about the vital issues of our time, the tabooed ones which are socially unpopular, politically incorrect and economically inexpedient.

    We have noted in many places the ominously looming global challenges that array themselves before humanity on the far horizon. Because these challenges appear to be derived for certain overgrowth activities of the human species, it seems to me that human beings are called upon TO ADAPT by changing our behavior, according to the practical requirements of biophysical reality.

    Of all the things I perceive as threats to human and environmental health, there is nothing I fear more than SILENCE. It is the abject failure of leadership within the human community to break the pernicious silence that keeps our brothers and sisters from recognizing clear and soon to be present perils…and then responding ably. Leaders seem to be turning their backs, or placing their heads in the sand, or suffering from hysterical blindness, willful deafness and elective mutism. Take your pick. We are denying good science, reason and common sense.

    The silence will be broken…..hopefully sooner rather than later. At least to me, it does not appear that time or current circumstances favor those who care for the future of life as we know it on Earth. The self-proclaimed masters of the universe, these children of men, are in possession of some considerable sources of power. Thankfully, all of these heirs of Ozymandias, taken together, are not in control of all the sources of power, as they suppose.

    The times, they are changing.

  27. —–
    And that is the fact that for every dollar that Hawaii pays in federal taxes, it gets back $1.60 in federal spending.(2004 figure, source:Tax Foundation). If I recall, Vermont gets back something like $1.12.

    11 Rob Williams

    Don’t forget that they “get the $1.60 back” in the form of programs which are destructive to their freedom, to their economy, and to their very lives.

    What we pay in taxes is not the worst part of our out-of-control Federal government, although a taxpayer is simply a part-time slave, forced to work to advance agendas he does not support. The worst part of our out-of-control Federal government is the damage they do with the money they take.

    Whether it’s forcing farmers onto paths they would never have chosen in a free market, or killing and imprisoning pot smokers, or enforcing “legal tender” laws that require us to trade in worthless paper, rather than something of value, the damage their regulations do far exceed the cost of forcing them upon us.

  28. I’ll leave you with a thought from Samuel Adams:

    “If ye love wealth better than liberty, the tranquillity of servitude than the animating contest of freedom, — go from us in peace. We ask not your counsels or arms. Crouch down and lick the hands which feed you. May your chains sit lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen!”


    — New Hampshire Shall Be Free

  29. There is no question that our government has become tyrannical and harmful to the well-being of the American people in every way possible. Decentrlizing power and returning to a more local and sustainable way of living is definitely the solution to many of our current problems. I applaud these Vermont secessionists for offering their community an alternative to the current tragedy which is unfolding daily before our very eyes. And for those who consider their solution to be unviable, we would all do well to remember that many past ideas born without popularity eventually worked their way into the mainstream. Besides, how much longer can we really continue on with the current status quo?

  30. Wow, this was full of anything but real information. I have read a breif part and I am surprised anyone can write about “Seperation” when they clearly contributors to this epidemic. I understand our nation has made mistakes, but every nation does and will again. This is not a sign of the falling from grace that seems to be outlined here it seems to me that that is human nature, we learn from a mistake and then repeat that same mistake later. Is this learning to grow by taking on a challenge previouslt lost or simply a lack of focus while moving forward Im not sure. But I would love to see any facts you have regaurding the split of california into three states other than a singer that predicts it would be nice. Any elected officials speak on this matter of even suggest it? I apologize if I stopped reading and am misunderstanding this whole article and I indeed hope that is the case.

  31. Sorry, I see many errors in spelling and that can be disracting when reading. As you can tell I type fast and submit even faster 🙂

  32. I have just recently reread Kauffman’s article. Personally,
    I found it both intriguing and hopeful that the “secessionist”
    movement is still alive. Not because of its alliance with the old South to keep slavey going….but because the
    federal government is a behemoth
    stewing away in the juices of its
    own reckless and imperial doings.
    But I like the idea of “secession” for another reason. We are now heading to “Going Local” thru the economic mess Bush left us. To make it thru the hard times.local communities are going to have take care of their own.
    I have hopes that after some years
    of that, Democracy can emerge in
    a real Re/Naissance. I believe that the 300 million citizens we now have are simply too many for a
    real democracy…we have become the behemoth with a federal head.
    Real Democracy is
    organic and flourishes in the soil of citizen participation.This could be a positive outcome of hard times.
    I really like Spencer Beebe’s
    “Salmon Nation” concept. If we fit ourselves locally into a particular
    environment whose “borders” are defined by the species of plants and animals who live there… that is an organic way to live. Then that is our home. “Salmon Nation”
    can merge into “Bear” nation; into
    Condor “nation” into “Gila” nation, etc. Certainly, indigenous peoples have long led the way in how the two-leggeds are interdependent with their environment.
    It is possible that this “Returning Home” strategy could unfold naturally…fueled by a failed economy. If so, then there will be de facto local governance.
    It is possible that Natural regions
    could replace state borders(in fact, many rivers and other topography have formed state borders), and it could evolve, naturally, into a Confederation
    of United Regions with more local control than Federal. We would not have to feed(humans) and funds into a war machine. And the Constitution could actually “rule”
    and be used when local powers get heavy-handed.

    As the Boy King has just flown away to nevernever land, let’s see what Obama brings. If he really follows thru on his galvanizing citizen participation…then maybe things will change within the “nation” construct.
    Georgeann Johnson

  33. No secession allowed without a bloodbath! That is the legacy of our 200-year-old secular saint, Abraham Lincoln. If the South had been allowed to separate or had won the Civil War, the power of the nascent American empire would have been greatly reduced, both then and into the future. Imagine the ramifications: The US half as powerful would have been half as evil as an Empire. One’s evaluation of President Lincoln’s greatness is intrinsically related to one’s opinion of the value to the rest of the world of the current United States. If you think the emergence of this hegemonic superpower has been a wonderful thing for mankind, as our national mythology holds, then you probably think old Abe was a pretty wonderful guy for saving the Union, even given the incredible cost in blood. But conversely, if you believe that the USA has been an “evil empire” bent on world domination, then Lincoln becomes the enabler of a catastrophic historical occurrence, whether he intended this outcome or not. Such a take on the Great Emancipator is a provocative and under-explored part of his legacy. Even anti-Lincoln biographies that attack him as being a tyrant do not embrace this view of the man, probably because the Lost Cause authors who penned them, whatever their libertarian or even racist beliefs, still at their core believe in the greatness of the United States. Without the Civil War, slavery would have ended in the South before the end of the 19th Century, as it did in every other part of the hemisphere. But only a coercive Civil War that made joining the Union like joining the mafia–no quitting allowed!–permitted our Thirteen Colonies’ decentralized experiment in democracy to morph into a world empire.

  34. Greetings & reverence to our neighbors to the east.

    Vermont is not the only piece of the empire that needs freedom. There is a growing Cascadia bioregional secessionist movement as well. Speaking as a Cascadian, we support Vermonts desire for independence, and self-governance. Only through re-localization, of both economies, and power, will we find that we are too diverse to be headed up by a small few, so far away.

  35. Human treasures like Thomas Berry and Arne Naess have recently vanished from our midst. All the while, thieves of the highest order fill their pockets with filthy lucre and ravage the Earth Arne Naess and Thomas Berry have valiantly toiled to protect and preserve.

    Some greater wisdom will have to explain why the self-proclaimed Masters of the Universe among us are permitted to extirpate biodiversity, relentlessly degrade the environment, recklessly dissipate Earth’s resources, duplicitously endanger the children and ultimately threaten the very existence of coming generations. And for what purposes? Pin-striped suits, a fleet of cars, a chauffeur, a private jet, a yacht, at least one McMansion, distant hideaways and exclusive clubs…… all “signatures” of success in a culture promoted by the presumptive goodness of greed?

    Consider for a moment what perversity the greedy among us have wrought.

    What are we, at the behest of these avaricious leaders, doing? What is likely to become of our children and coming generations?

    Our children’s future is currently being mortgaged and coming generations’ very existence put at risk by leaders in my not-so-great generation of elders. Is there no end to the arrogance and adamant avarice of these shameless little kings of wealth accumulation and concentration?

    Somehow the adult members of the family of humanity and our children have got to find more effective ways of communicating about threats to human wellbeing and environmental health that are being perpetrated before our eyes by the self-proclaimed Masters of the Universe.

    Good and able people are not saying loudly, clearly and often enough what they know to be true….not speaking truth to power.

    Many too many bought-and-paid-for politicians are posing for the public and pandering to those with great wealth. Too many economic powerbrokers are engineering dodgy financial instruments and pyramid schemes, skimming millions for themselves and threatening the real global economy. And what do talking heads in the mass media do? Turn deaf ears and blinkered eyes to the entire mess.

    Such woefully inadequate leadership needs to be named, shamed and replaced, I suppose.

    Perhaps more people will stand up, remain standing, and speak out loudly, clearly and often about what they see and know to be happening in our time.

    Otherwise, our children could soon be confronted with a colossal ecological wreckage of an unimaginable kind because so many people are not reasonably, sensibly and responsibly communicating openly and honestly with one another now. Because of our silence, the chances for taking the measure of certain ominously looming ecological challenges and finding adequate solutions to them appear to be diminishing day by day.

    Perhaps some questions are worthy of consideration by young people and adults in the human family.

    Is it possible that the wondrous planetary home we inhabit was given unto the stewardship of humankind simply for the purpose of allowing the greediest people on the planet to fulfill their unbridled wishes and insatiable desires… come what may for their own children, coming generations, billions of less fortunate people in the family of humanity, global biodiversity, Earth’s body and environment? Are the greedy kings of conspicuous consumption and excessive hoarding and their pocketed politicians, who devour and confiscate a lion’s share of the world’s wealth, the only people who matter? Are the most selfish among us, the ones who are being bailed out and who risk nothing by their avaricious behavior, supposed to be source of our primary concern?

    Is it not yet crystal clear how a few people have stolen so much from so many others?

    Not ever in the course of human history have so few humans so greedily commandeered, consumed or hoarded so much wealth that rightfully could be shared with so many less fortunate people.

    Clearly, evidently, the colossal global economy is an ever-expanding, artificially designed, manmade construction. For what does the world’s human economy exist: to fulfill the insatiable desires of those with ill-gotten gains; to provide profane satisfactions for the greediest among us?

    And, of all things, many too many leaders among our leading elders choose to extoll the virtues of their unbridled avariciousness and applaud each other by passing out awards and bonuses to one another in recognition of the triumph of their greed. All of this is plainly outrageous.

    In light of what is occurring in the both the collapsing financial system and the cratering real global economy, can someone please explain what the terms “fairness” and “equity” mean? Can anyone find examples of these phenomena in the distribution of wealth of the world’s human economy today?

    Who knows, perhaps necessary change toward common sense, fair play, self-limiting behavior and values of Thomas Berry and Arne Naess is in the offing.

  36. Any secession movement is only as valid as the ability of the secessionists in question to overcome the existing power structure.

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