21

Whilst reading a list of minor (compared to the big two) US parties, I noticed there's an Alaskan Independence Party.

Given that the US bought Alaska from Russia, would they legally be free to leave, or is Alaska property?

  • 9
    Didn't the Civil War answer this question? – Tab Alleman Apr 7 '16 at 19:53
  • A more interesting case might be Hawaii – RedGrittyBrick Apr 8 '16 at 9:52
  • 2
    "would they legally be free to leave" -- "would" introduces a hypothetical, but what's the hypothetical? Free to leave if what happened? If the Alaskan Independence Party won the governorship? Controlled the state legislature? Won a US Presidential election (because everyone else wants Alaska to leave too)? Controlled both houses of the US Congress? Had a supermajority of both houses of the US Congress? – Steve Jessop Apr 9 '16 at 14:02
35

First, the case of Alaska is far from exceptional. Many states are in territories bought from other states, conquered from other states (which, if you think of it, is just other kind of deal), exchanged for the lives of their previous rulers or just expropiated from their native inhabitants.

The important fact is that the people in these territories organized themselves as states and asked for admission in the USA. From this point on, all of those states were equal to any other state of the USA.

At some point in its history, there was some kind of debate(1) in the USA about whether the states could leave the USA after they had joined it, and the people who said that it was not possible finally convinced the other people. Since then, there have been no changes to the USA Constitution addressing the issue, so that decision stands.

So no, Alaska cannot buy itself from the USA because it is not for sale, Spain has no repurchase option for the Southwest, Mexico cannot claim that the war was unfair, and even if you replace all the people in North Dakota with Native Americans they cannot decide to leave the union.

To further illustrate the point, this video, even when refering to Texas (which at least was an independent entity for ten years), applies to Alaska (as explained above).

Of course, all that is about the current political situation. Make a large part of the population (and I do not mean just 50%) seriously compromised (as in refusing to pay taxes, join the military or the police, etc.) for a time long enough and the political pressure might cause changes to be made to the laws to allow for secession. But success is far from granted and it would be a long and hard struggle.

1 I heard they went to the sea and had a bonfire in a city, so I guess it was some kind of vacation.

  • 2
    +1, but to be pedantic, Alaska (and all the other states) could leave if the Federal government were dissolved for some reason (in other words, if the United States of America ceased to be a country). But no individual state can make that choice on their own. – phyrfox Apr 6 '16 at 18:47
  • 1
    @phyrfox They could also leave if the Constitution were amended to add a provision for allowing such a thing. Or if they just decided to do it. I rather doubt that the federal government would really attack Alaska if they decided to leave the country or that most of the military would obey that order if it were given. Instead, it would more likely prompt about 35 other states to also leave, leaving the coasts by themselves. This is not 1860 and there's no slavery issue to bolster the cause. – reirab Apr 6 '16 at 21:08
  • 11
    @phyrfox Another option would be to simply get Congress to approve it. An amendment wouldn't technically be necessary, since the Constitution never disallowed it in the first place, only Congress. – reirab Apr 6 '16 at 21:14
  • 1
    @reirab South Carolina's Declaration of Secession mentions 'slave' 18 times in direct reference to why they joined the Union and US Constitution to begin with. So although the North wanted to regain compliance of states and eventually latched onto the timeliness of an abolition movement to garner support for its ground war, the South's quest for having its "state rights" respected was not mutually exclusive of slavery in any regard. – CQM Apr 8 '16 at 0:12
  • 2
    @reirab Ask the Branch Davidians, Randy Weaver, and Robert Finicum how the Federal Government deals with people who just want to be left alone in defiance of Federal law and the willingness of Federal officers to go along with the treatment. A heavily populated state like California might be a different story. But it wouldn't take much firepower to keep Juneau from maintaining independence. – Readin Apr 8 '16 at 4:18
17

Power comes from the barrel of a gun. And the will to use it.

In this case, if Alaska as a state chose to leave, are there people with guns (and other tools) willing to stop them? Will they convince, force, or kill everyone who disagrees, or enough to make it a moot point? If so, Alaska will not have left.

Laws and Constitutions are worth the paper they are written on, and the hearts of those who defend them.

Presuming we play within the laws and constitution of the USA: Under Texas v White the US supreme court held that unilateral secession from the USA was not legal under US law or the constitution.

However, the US constitution can be amended. It is a long, drawn-out process. Adding a means of secession that is clear could be done, thereby nullifying Texas v White.

The process invented by modifying the constitution, or that some secessionists use to convince the USA that they should be allowed to go, may or may not involve repaying the money spent on buying Alaska from Russia.

  • 10
    The only court case that matters is Lee v. Grant, decided not at the Supreme Court, but at the Appomattox Courthouse. – Monty Harder Apr 6 '16 at 20:23
  • +1 although I'd add that in reality it probably would not come down to violence: if the people of Alaska demonstrated an overwhelming desire for independence, it would be politically very difficult for the rest of the Union to refuse. – eggyal Apr 8 '16 at 2:08
  • In theory, the Supreme Court could overturn Texas vs White, though it's highly unlikely they would do so. – barrycarter Apr 8 '16 at 5:29
9

The question of the right to secession has been conclusively resolved in 1865, and distils down to "NO" .

A bit longer legal analysis is at https://www.alaskabar.org/servlet/content/secession__another_dream_dashed_by_the_court.html

0

Well, in point of fact, the US did not buy Alaska from Russia. They gave Russia a cheque for a specious claim and threatened Britain to secede its claim just a few months prior to Canadian Confederation. The cheque did not buy the land. To be clear, it was a gift to Russia in exchange for a political justification to a land claim.

The Brits gave up rights when the US pressed a claim which was not valid. If the US had not arranged a bogus purchase then Alaska would have been a part of Canada and a new war would have resulted if the US pushed a claim after confederation.

That said, Alaska is now undeniably a state of the US, just as Hawaii is. The issue of independence is not about money. People in Alaska and Hawaii want more local autonomy just as the provinces of Alberta, BC, and Quebec do. As a Canadian living in Alberta, I'm of the opinion that the structure of politics and autonomy in Canada needs to change.

I suspect many of the people of Alaska and Hawaii think in the same way. Unfortunately I don't see how they can press their claim without personal cost.

  • 3
    This doesn't seem to answer the question. Only one sentence seems truly relevant: "That said, Alaska is now undeniably a state of the US, just as Hawaii is." But that doesn't add anything to the other answers. – Brythan Apr 7 '16 at 2:31
  • 1
    Ok, I'll connect the dots. The US never bought Alaska, they sent Russia a gift. Therefore Alaska cannot be property of the US. But Alaska is not free to leave because it is a state, so regardless, it can't buy its way out. To a Canadian what I said is all truly relevant, and of course politics extends beyond the borders of the US. – r3mnant Apr 8 '16 at 5:54
  • 1
    Can you explain what "threatened Britain to secede its claim" means? – PoloHoleSet Oct 12 '17 at 21:51
0

Alaska is a state, not a property of the US. It has been part of the USA since January 3, 1959. As such, it cannot secede (withdraw). There is no question of this. The War Between the States was fought over the concept of secession and the Union side won.

  • 4
    Quebec and Scotland are also tied to Canada and the UK respectively. Nevertheless, they holded referendum to consider an independence. Yugoslavia was unique country. Nevertheless it is now split in many different ones. It's not because there isn't a written way to achieve it that it can't be done. – clem steredenn Apr 7 '16 at 7:43
  • 1
    -1 Alaska was part of the US way before 1959. In 1959 when it was granted statehood, but before it was an US territory named Department of Alaska, District of Alaska. or Alaska Territory. – Quora Feans Apr 7 '16 at 18:03
  • 1
    @bilbo_pingouin Not to mention that the U.S. itself was part of Britain and left to become a separate country. The concept of the people of an area deciding to leave a country and form their own was not foreign to the creators of the U.S. Constitution... they themselves had done exactly that only a few years earlier. Furthermore, they had explicitly declared this to be an innate right of humanity in the Declaration of Independence. – reirab Apr 7 '16 at 21:27
  • Also, Alaska has been part of the U.S. since 1867. – reirab Apr 7 '16 at 21:29
  • There might be a few counter-examples, but I think that when countries divide they pretty much never do so via any long-standing constitutional allowance for seceding. They either have a civil war, or else they invent whatever legislation they need in order to achieve the separation or to hold a binding referendum. Or both. So asking "can Alaska leave?" is in some sense akin to asking, "can Alaska re-introduce slavery?". One can always answer, "yes, of course, if the US constitution is amended to permit it then a state can legally do absolutely anything" :-) – Steve Jessop Apr 9 '16 at 13:57
0

The short answer is no, Alaska nor any other state (with the possible exception of Texas) has any right to secede from the United States. This was settled both legally and effectively by the Civil War.

From a practical stand point Alaska can't leave the union. There are simply not enough people or resources to make it happen. Bluntly, even if another country tried to absorb or annex Alaska, even if there was a popular referendum from Alaskans passed unanimously, no country, at this time, has either the economic or military power to make that annexation stick. It's not a fight that anyone is willing to pick and with the amount of military assets stationed there, not to mention the natural resources, there is no way that the US would let them even try.

  • What does this add that other answers haven't already addressed? – indigochild Oct 13 '17 at 14:12
  • It makes the point that it even if the political will was there, it isn't, it would be militarily and economically impractical for Alaska to secede, not just illegal. – Haendler Oct 13 '17 at 14:16
  • Gotcha. That being the case, you should back-up that claim. Right now it sounds speculative, rather than factual. Have any officials made this kind of statement? Has the state done any kind of analysis of this topic? Is there academic research? – indigochild Oct 13 '17 at 17:03
  • Fair enough. I'll try to flesh it out tonight. – Haendler Oct 13 '17 at 17:05

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .