One week after an election that disheartened many conservatives, citizens from 34 states are petitioning the White House to secede from the Union, and Texas is leading the rebellious pack with more than 103,000 online signatures.
The request from Texans “to withdraw from the United States of America and create its own NEW government,” follows a long tradition of wishful and independent thinking in a state that once was its own nation.
From the ill-fated Republic of Texas rebellion of 1997 to the never-say-die Texas Nationalist Movement, the notion of Lone Star independence doesn’t seem to go away.
The issue resurfaced just three years ago when a crowd chanted “secede, secede, secede,” to Gov. Rick Perry at a political rally. Perry did not disavow the ultimate Texas option of telling the feds to shove it.
“If Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people, who knows what might come out of that? Texas is a very unique place, and we’re a pretty independent lot to boot,” he said.
On the same “We the People” website Tuesday, a petition was posted for Austin to secede from Texas and become a state in the Union, if Texas succeeds in its efforts. The city suffers “difficulties stemming from the lack of civil, religious, and political freedoms imposed upon the city by less liberally minded Texans,” it reads. And its authors note: “We would also like to annex Dublin, Texas, Lockhart, Texas, and Shiner, Texas.”
The Austin petition had logged more than 6,000 signatures Wednesday evening.
As the latest expression of a secession sentiment gains bemused attention nationally, even Perry is joining Texas academics, tea party members and others in disowning the post-election impulse to separate.
“It’s a tantrum. It has no value. No legitimacy,” Mac McDowell, 55, a San Antonio tea party member, said of the online petition.
“Secession worked out very poorly for everyone in the South the last time it was tried,” said McDowell, who emphasized he was speaking for himself, not the party.
While he shares some of the sentiments of the petition signers, he said there are constructive, constitutional means by which citizens and states can seek relief from an overly intrusive federal government and the burden of an ever-increasing national debt.
“The idea of secession has been tested on the field of battle, but never in court,” he added.
Jon Kaplan, 63, another local tea party member, said the petitions reflect the extreme polarization of America, and a gut reaction to the re-election of President Barack Obama.
“Most of us would not have imagined we’d see a call for secession in our lifetimes. We might have thought it was a kooky movement, but we’ve reached the point where a significant number of people are taking this seriously,” he said. “People wonder, ‘Have we lost the country?’”
James Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin, said the latest secession impulse follows a long Texas tradition.
“There is this idealization of Texas nationalism and Texas political history that resonates and is amplified by opposition in Texas to the president,” he said.
Because of the tools of the electronic age, he said, the anger of a tiny minority of Texans is being exaggerated.
But, Henson said, it’s unlikely to have even temporary, much less lasting significance.
“It has no policy relevance whatsoever. While the notion of national citizenship in the United States was not universally accepted in the early days of the country, the issue was settled by the Civil War and the 14th amendment. People might float an alternative concept, but it has no basis in legal or political reality,” he said.
David Crockett, a political science professor at Trinity University, likewise predicted a swift disappearance of the secession bubble.
“This is just a link the White House put on its website to show the government is being transparent. It’s a way for people to contact their government. Ho, ho, ho,” he said with a sarcastic chuckle.
Crockett said that, while creating online secession petitions is an “amusing and conspicuous way to vent,” it does little to advance the political cause or broaden the conversation.
“You get back out there and make your causes more palatable to people. You fight harder. You get better candidates, as opposed to doing something like this,” he said. “I’m not saying you don’t have the right to do this, but it’s just blowing off steam.”