Wisconsin Republicans put the S-word on the table

Wisconsin Republicans aren’t proposing to secede, they’re just asserting that they have the right to do so.

Writing for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Daniel Bice reports that the Resolutions Committee of the Wisconsin Republican Party has “voted in favor of a proposal that says the state party ‘supports legislation that upholds Wisconsin’s right, under extreme circumstances, to secede.'”

You might think the Civil War settled that question, but it didn’t really do so as a matter of law. The U.S. Constitution is silent on the question. States had to opt in to join the new version of the Union created by the Constitution in the 1787-88 period. But the Constitution doesn’t say whether they retain the right to opt out, which the southern states obviously thought they did in 1861. President Lincoln took the position that this was impossible. (Here is a summary of Lincoln’s legal arguments.) But the issue was settled by force of arms, not by law.

The 10th Amendment says that states retain “the powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States.” Building on that, the Wisconsin Republican Resolutions Committee voted in favor of a proposal that says the state party “supports legislation that upholds Wisconsin’s right, under extreme circumstances, to secede.”

They aren’t proposing to secede, just asserting that they have the right to do so.

Top party leaders, understanding how it might strike some people, tried to kill the proposal but the Resolutions Committee adopted it, which means it will come to a vote at the state convention May 2-4 in Milwaukee.

Repub Gov. Scott Walker, a potential candidate fvor the 2016 presidential nomination, said Friday of the right-to-secede resolution: “I don’t think that one aligns with where most Republican officials are in the state of Wisconsin — certainly not with me.”

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Comments (14)

  1. Submitted by Gerald Abrahamson on 04/15/2014 - 09:18 am.

    Rob Ford calling Walker

    I’d recommend putting the two of them on an island–and then walling in the island. Two problems solved in two countries with one decisive action.

  2. Submitted by Peder DeFor on 04/15/2014 - 09:40 am.


    I don’t think it’s all that helpful for legislators to be voting on this. I’m sure Wisconsin has better things to occupy their time with than this. I’m betting that Scott Walker is right. (Btw, nice eliminationist rhetoric about walling people up if we don’t agree with them!)

    The question of legality is interesting though if we can step back from any foreseeable scenario and take a look at the question on its own. Pretty much every government thinks it’s illegal to break away from it. If the British government had beaten Washington & co., they most likely would have been charged as traitors and criminals.
    There is quite a bit of writing that was done during the English Civil wars of the 1600’s where people tried to figure out when it was ok for a people to revolt. This comes to flower and is expressed in the Declaration of Independence: “Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”
    So yes, there is a right (and sometimes an obligation) but unless conditions are really, really bad, it probably is counter productive to spend too much time dwelling on it.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 04/15/2014 - 10:16 am.


      Very interesting discussion. I would only point out that, before the Declaration of Independence, the idea of an “appeal to heaven” when the people “have no other remedy in this, as in all other cases where they have no judge on earth” was borrowed from John Locke’s Second Treatise of Civil Government, published in (I think) 1690.

      The “appeal to heaven” was a motto on the early American “Pine Tree” flag. It doesn’t have the in-your-face quality of “don’t tread on me,” so it isn’t much in vogue anymore.

  3. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 04/15/2014 - 10:07 am.

    It is awkward to run for the office of President of the country you want to secede from.

  4. Submitted by Michael Kellen on 04/15/2014 - 10:25 am.

    Ruling Already Exists

    The issue of secession has already been settled by the Supreme Court in Texas v. White.

    “Considered therefore as transactions under the Constitution, the ordinance of secession, adopted by the convention and ratified by a majority of the citizens of Texas, and all the acts of her legislature intended to give effect to that ordinance, were absolutely null. They were utterly without operation in law.”

    Not that they will let a pesky thing like being unconstitutional stop them from wasting more taxpayer money.


    • Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 04/17/2014 - 08:51 am.

      Precedent, Schmecedent!

      RE Texas v. White, we must remember that the “conservative” majority on the Roberts court has long since decided that the Constitutions says whatever they WANT it to mean; precedent be damned!

      With the Roberts court, there’s no such thing as “settled” law, especially if there are advantages to our nation’s wealthiest citizens, corporations, and the GOP in casting aside the inconvenient decisions of past courts which threaten to stand in their way.

      If Sheldon Adelson decides he wants Nevada to secede from the union, all bets are off.

  5. Submitted by Kevin Wynn on 04/15/2014 - 11:02 am.

    Didn’t Tom Emmer make a secession comment in the early days…

    Of his run for governor? I can’t find the reference but I distinctly remember it. I only saw it once and it disappeared from his public commentary. It would be nice to remind of that again.

  6. Submitted by David Frenkel on 04/15/2014 - 02:00 pm.

    not practical

    Every time Quebec talks about succeeding from Canada the same issues come up that from a practical stand point it is a silly discussion. Countries have all kinds of treaties for trade that a new country would not have, all the US government contracting and employees would be gone. Not sure what economy there would be to survive off of not to mention rebuilding the infrastructure. Good luck.

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 04/15/2014 - 03:54 pm.


      If Wisconsin seceded, we could put a tariff on Wisconsin dairy products.
      Would do wonders for the Minnesota economy.
      I wonder if there’s a Lake Superior port for Wisconsin to ship its products to China?
      Of course, if Wisconsin secedes from the U.S., Madison would probably secede from Wisconsin.

  7. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 04/15/2014 - 03:54 pm.

    Frustrated children

    Wisconsin Republicans are playing the role – and fairly well – of your typical frustrated 5-year-old.

    “Nuh-Uh… I do TOO have the right to secede, no matter what your dumb old Supreme Court says! And Mr. Lincoln is a potty-head!”

    It might be interesting for someone to ask Mr. Emmer about this question at a public forum during the 6th District campaign.

    Messrs. DeFor, Holbrook, Rovick and Kellen all seem on the mark. I don’t know that I have anything constructive to add, but it IS an interesting discussion, and as Dave Frenkel suggests, I doubt the firebrands pushing this notion have, as they say, “thought it through.”

  8. Submitted by Todd Hintz on 04/15/2014 - 04:40 pm.


    It seems the Wisconsin Republicans are very un-American. They need to go back to the drawing table and find a better solutions to problems than the one they’re currently proposing.

  9. Submitted by Peder DeFor on 04/15/2014 - 11:47 pm.

    Let’s Not Overreact

    From the comments here it seems that there is some misunderstanding as to what has happened. Scott Walker isn’t pushing this nor are elected Republican officials. From the linked article: “A version of the so-called “state sovereignty” resolution was first OK’d last month by one of the state GOP’s eight regional caucuses as an assertion of the state’s 10th Amendment rights. The measure also calls for ending all mandates that go “beyond the scope of the constitutionally delegated powers of the federal government.”

    This means that the proposal was put forth at a caucus and the rules committee will let people vote on it at the state convention. That’s a far cry from wasteful legislation and miles away from Walker try to pull Wisconsin out of the union.
    As I said earlier, it’s an interesting question. I hope that we don’t get beyond the interesting discussion part.

  10. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 04/16/2014 - 09:49 am.

    This is why the party is doomed

    If it weren’t for bad ideas the Republicans would have no ideas at all. You just go down the list from climate change to health care and transportation and it’s clear that they haven’t the intellectual capacity or integrity to address community issues, on any scale local or national. They’re gonna run on a repealing everything from health care to minimum wage while advancing ideas like secession. They’re doomed. They may have some better years than others electorally but US electorate as grown tired of this irrelevancy and I don’t think the Koch brothers can save them even with the supreme court on their side. In fact, in the long run all of these bad pro republican supreme court decisions will probably backfire. Two years ago no one knew who the Koch brothers were.

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