Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Referendum is better way to resolve secession issue

On Thursday, the people of Scotland get to vote on secession. They will decide whether to remain a part of Great Britain, and the British, who conquered Scotland centuries ago, will go along with their decision.

How much more civilized than the secession crisis the United States underwent 150 years ago! Suppose South Carolina and the other Confederate states had opted for a peaceful referendum on secession instead of bombarding a fort occupied by what the S.C. secessionists considered a "foreign power"? And what if newly elected President Abraham Lincoln had not taken the bait and declared, instead, that the United States would respect the decision of the Southerners to decide their own destiny and "dissolve the political bonds that have connected them with another" (in the words of the Declaration of Independence). Could a disastrous civil war have been prevented? Would other Southern states follow South Carolina's lead and joined the Confederacy? It seems likely that North Carolina, which initially rejected secession, might have remained with the Union and not lost tens of thousands of its young men and much of its wealth to four years of war.

What if this dispute had been settled by a referendum instead of half a million deaths and the utter destruction from which the South, where most of the battles were fought, did not recover for 100 years? Not everything about this scenario is appealing. Slavery would have persisted in the Confederate States, but that "peculiar institution" could not have long survived the global revulsion toward such an inhumane system. Perhaps a peaceful settlement would have allowed for compensation of slaveholders for loss of their valuable property and compensation of slaves for their generations of bondage and uncompensated labor. The expense would have been tremendous, but probably no more costly than a war that nearly bankrupted the United States and made Confederate states destitute and feeble for decades.

If political ties must be severed, surely the better, more civilized way is through a binding referendum. My Scottish and Scot-Irish ancestors might disagree, but I hope Scotland remains a part of Great Britain. 

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