1

In the 1869 case of Texas v. White, the US Supreme Court ruled that states did not have the constitutional right to unilaterally secede from the Union. Writing for the majority opinion, Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase made the following argument (which had also been Lincoln's argument):

The Union of the States never was a purely artificial and arbitrary relation. It began among the Colonies, and grew out of common origin, mutual sympathies, kindred principles, similar interests, and geographical relations. It was confirmed and strengthened by the necessities of war, and received definite form and character and sanction from the Articles of Confederation. By these, the Union was solemnly declared to "be perpetual". And when these Articles were found to be inadequate to the exigencies of the country, the Constitution was ordained "to form a more perfect Union". It is difficult to convey the idea of indissoluble unity more clearly than by these words. What can be indissoluble if a perpetual Union, made more perfect, is not?...

When, therefore, Texas became one of the United States, she entered into an indissoluble relation. All the obligations of perpetual union, and all the guaranties of republican government in the Union, attached at once to the State. The act which consummated her admission into the Union was something more than a compact; it was the incorporation of a new member into the political body. And it was final. The union between Texas and the other States was as complete, as perpetual, and as indissoluble as the union between the original States. There was no place for reconsideration or revocation, except through revolution or through consent of the States.

What did Justice Chase mean here by "consent of the States?" Did he literally mean that every other state would have to agree to let a state secede? Or did he mean that only three-fourths of the states would have to agree since that's what's required in order to amend the Constitution?

1 Answer 1

6

Presumably, if the Constitution is the basis of the justice's reasoning (the Constitution and the Articles of Confederation before that), a solution would be to amend the Constitution. And in that process, the States have a role to play, by three-fourths of them ratifying the amendment before it goes into effect.

That, and the final provision of Article 5 which, by saying that even with a constitutional amendment "no state, without its consent, shall be deprived of its equal suffrage in the Senate", effectively means that a State would need to consent to leaving the Union (in addition to the three-fourth requirement), since leaving the Union would mean relinquishing the two Senate seats.

I don't see any basis for requiring unanimity between the states, except possibly to the idea of dissolving the Union: since every state would lose its seats in the Senate, every state would have to consent.

1
  • 1
    FWIW, while Justice Chase contemplated that there might be another option than revolution, he didn't specifically identify any particular path, which was appropriate since any ruling on that issue would in any case have been "dicta" addressing an issue not before the court in that case.
    – ohwilleke
    Jul 6, 2023 at 0:23

You must log in to answer this question.

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