All for show?
White House website petitions are largely a symbolic measure. Serious observers don’t expect the federal government to allow any state to withdraw from the U.S. on the basis of electronic “yes” votes from — in Louisiana’s case — less than one-half of one percent of residents.
Any realistic effort to turn 50 states into 49 would have to originate from a state’s government — not from the White House or its website. And the U.S. Constitution is silent on the legality of any state declaring itself independent.
The Civil War, of course, saw several such efforts, the last one by North Carolina in 1861.
But Middlebury College in Vermont — ironically one of the few states not involved in the current website politicking — held nationwide secessionist meetings in 2006 and 2007, drawing delegations from at least ten states. One Vermont group, the “Second Vermont Republic,” says its goal is “to extricate Vermont peacefully from the United States as soon as possible.”
In a 2006 case, the Alaska Supreme Court ruled that it’s illegal for the state to secede from the U.S., blocking a ballot initiative’s organizers from putting their measure to a vote in that year’s elections.
Texans, however, raise more threats of secession than Americans anywhere else, because an urban myth holds that the Republic of Texas retained the option of withdrawing from the U.S. when it joined the Union in 1845.
While Texas has no special power to leave the United States, it may have an option no other state can boast: In the resolution that Texas passed authorizing the U.S. to annex its territory, it specifically spelled out how Texas could be divided into as many as five separate territories. Each one, the agreement read, would be “entitled to admission” as a new U.S. state.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s office did not immediately respond to an inquiry asking what would happen if Texas, subdivided into five states, were suddenly entitled to 10 U.S. Senators instead of two.