Secession Again?

Secession is in the air again, ironically for the same reason the South seceded in 1860—dissatisfaction with the results of the presidential election. In 1860 it was Abe Lincoln; in 2016 it’s Donald Trump. And it’s not the South this time (which seems quite happy with the result), it’s California, which is not. Just as the Unionism of many in the South was overridden by a small group of rich planters, the would-be secessionists are a small group of rich Californians, mostly in Silicon Valley.

Silicon Valley won’t take this sitting down. Shervin Pishevar, co-founder of transportation startup Hyperloop One, has promised to fund a campaign for California to become its own nation. Supporters are working on an initiative to put a referendum for California secession on the 2018 ballot. On Wednesday, residents gathered in front of the capitol building in Sacramento to rally for independence.

Of course since California is in the process of banning all “military-style” weapons, this could be a problem. But perhaps those wizards in Silicon Valley are working on an app for it.

Balaji Srinivasan, a partner at venture-capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, suggests that the tech industry might not even need a physical exodus, but can build technology to opt out of undesirable policies: “It could be something as simple as allowing people in the middle class to make tax shelters.” Maybe Silicon Valley will disrupt government with a civil disobedience app.

Jeff Davis, call your office!

The piece’s author, Elaine Ou, points out a few more practical difficulties.

Secessionists point out that California receives only 94 cents in federal spending for every dollar it pays in income tax. Yet leaving could sever crucial ties to the rest of the country. Southern California gets most of its water from the Colorado River in Arizona, and the entire state’s natural gas and oil supply arrives through pipelines coming from Texas. Many California-based companies are incorporated in Delaware, for the lower tax rates.

So we’ll see, but don’t hold your breath.

In another article Peter Turchin pins much of civil unrest of what he calls “overproduction of elites.” He cites, among other things, the overproduction of law degrees.

From the mid-1970s to 2011, according to the American Bar Association, the number of lawyers tripled to 1.2 million from 400,000. Meanwhile, the population grew by only 45 percent. Economic Modeling Specialists Intl. recently estimated that twice as many law graduates pass the bar exam as there are job openings for them. In other words, every year U.S. law schools churn out about 25,000 “surplus” lawyers, many of whom are in debt. A large number of them go to law school with an ambition to enter politics someday.

I have seen this these advanced for the unrest in Europe in the 1840s culminating in the revolutions of 1848, which shook society there to its core. The causes were many and complex, but one (according to the theory) was the overproduction of university graduates with no prospect of employment. Those revolutions had a direct effect on this country, since many of the failed revolutionaries fled to the United States. Some, like Carl Shurz, attained high positions in both the Union army during the civil war and later in civilian life. Others included Franz Sigel, Alexander Schimmelfennig, Fritz Anneke, Friedrich Beust, Ludwig Blenker. In short, post Civil War America had more room for a new elite than did Europe.

But, notes Turchin that war itself was in part touched off by a new group of would-be elites.

From 1830 to 1860 the number of New Yorkers and Bostonians with fortunes of at least $100,000 (they would be multimillionaires today) increased fivefold. Many of these new rich (or their sons) had political ambitions. But the government, especially the presidency, Senate and Supreme Court, was dominated by the Southern elites. As many Northerners became frustrated and embittered, the Southerners also felt the pressure and became increasingly defensive.

Although slavery was the defining issue, the elites “also differed over tariffs and cultural attitudes toward immigration.” And were armed. He quotes a US senator as saying “The only persons who do not have a revolver and a knife are those who have two revolvers.” He concludes:

Slavery was an absolute evil and was going to be abolished, sooner or later. But its abolition didn’t need to result in hundreds of thousands of Civil War deaths.

How true. When the smoke cleared the Southerners had been dispossessed, and it would take them a hundred years to regain their place in the elites.

Anyway, interesting article whether you agree with it or not.

UPDATE: As long as I’m on the subject of secession, I should mention that there is also a secession effort within California. The State of Jefferson has been floated since the 1940s and would include Northern California and Southern Oregon. These regions, largely rural, feel with some justification that they’ve been totally overlooked by the more populous regions. Thus their flag contains two Xs to signify the double cross. It seems to have bubbled to the surface again and in January activists held a rally to promote secession. Unlike “Calexit” there is a legal way to partition states, but both Congress and the states affected have to agree, which I consider unlikely.

As it turns out California has a long history of partition and attempted secession, although none have succeeded recently.

And finally, they’ve come for Thomas Jefferson, and on his own campus no less. Yes, it now seems that quoting his words, if not quite a hate crime (yet) creates a hostile environment. As I said when all this started, the Confederates were only the appetizer. How long before they remove his state and all mentions of his name?






7 responses to “Secession Again?”

  1. Shoshana Bee Avatar
    Shoshana Bee

    One of the *fringe benefits* from this election has been the entertaining conversations taking place in the coffee shop. I live here in California, and indeed, I have heard some crazy making conversations — especially the closer I get to the coa$t. I have heard Secession, Civil War, Rebellion, Revolution — you name it. Too bad that none of the participants in these rants know anything of which they speak in a historical sense, otherwise my interest might be piqued to listen closer.

  2. LetUsHavePeace Avatar

    “When the smoke cleared the Southerners had been dispossessed, and it would take them a hundred years to regain their place in the elites.”

    Calling the Confederates “Southerners” implies that only people south of the Mason-Dixon line supported the social superiority of “white” people on racial grounds. As we all know, this was hardly the case. Supporters of racial equality were always a minority in Congress. It was only because the Confederates were so blatant in their refusal to accept the terms of surrender that this minority was able to have the 14th and 15th Amendments passed.
    “The elites” in the Southern states regained their national authority within 2 decades. They were, by 1880, effectively in charge of the Democratic Party. It would be nice ot believe that the secessionists paid a price politically; but the success of segregation, as law, and the national tolerance for it prove otherwise. It is always useful to remember that, to this day, the Pentagon’s surplus of bathrooms is a result of the fact that it was designed for a segregated workforce.

    1. Phil Leigh Avatar

      There are about twenty countries in “the Americas,” but when people from the United States go to another continent they refer to themselves as “Americans.” The term is conventionally accepted as representing anyone from the United States.

      The situation is similar with the term “Southerner.” It has traditionally been recognized as representing white Southerners. It is, therefore, no more presumptuous for anyone to use the term to apply to white Southerners than it is for anyone from the United States to refer to themselves as “American.”

  3. jackie martin Avatar

    and yet another aspect of this whole bizarre campaign but this article was very interesting. Being a Civil War aficionado, I was also likening California’s bitterness and threats of secession to the chaos and frenzy brought on by the southern elites in the 1860s. Again very interesting!!

  4. Bryce a Suderow Avatar
    Bryce a Suderow

    I got my Masters degree in California and lived there for 13 years. In many ways, I still think of myself as a California. Therefore, I think I am qualified to say That Californians are always threatening to break into two states (northern and southern), or similar nonsense – – and it’s all just big talk.

  5. Bob Ruth Avatar
    Bob Ruth


    I agree with much of what you wrote, with one major exception – your agreement with Turchin that slavery would have been abolished, even without the Civil War. I’ve heard this one again and again, mostly from Lost Causers. But where’s the proof?

    A growing number of historians in recent years have noted that slavery and the cotton industry it produced were thriving in 1860 in the South. Southern slavery was extremely profitable, producing more millionaires that any other region in the country. Slave masters, who controlled state governments throughout the South, surely weren’t talking about the eventual abolition of human bondage. Just the opposite.

    The Southern elite believed in the future success of slavery so much that they seceded from the Union and raised huge armies to defend slavery.

  6. Josh Liller Avatar
    Josh Liller

    I take the 2016 secession talk in CA about as seriously as I took the 2012 secession talk in TX.

    Secession in 1860 followed a serious threat of secession in 1856 and other secession threats in 1850 and on back to the creation of the US Constitution.

    I would very much favor splitting CA (and TX) into two states each. Both states have too much area and too many people to reasonably remain single states.

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