Articles of Secession

Hypothetical: A state has petitioned Congress and its fellow states to be allowed to leave the union. What conditions should be required of both the seceding state and the United States?

A couple of friends and I were kicked the question around a few nights ago, and we came up with a few suggestions (not that any of us believe that a secession is going to happen any time soon). This is all very ad hoc, of course.


  1. The seceding state will agree to reimburse the federal government for all infrastructure built by the federal government within that state’s borders.

  2. The seceding state will assume its fair share of the national debt, to be determined on a per capita basis. From the date of secession (i.e. the date a formal secession is signed by both parties), the seceding state will not be responsible for any debts or obligations of the United States, and the United States will not be responsible for any debts or obligations of the seceding state.

  3. All debts, contracts, and other legal obligations between citizens of the seceding state and citizens of the United States will remain binding. The courts of the seceding state will have jurisdiction in all disputes over such debts, contracts and obligations.

  4. The United States will not in any way seek to impede or restrain trade between the seceding state and other nations.

  5. Citizens of the seceding state will have no claim on Social Security, military or other federal pensions, etc., and all persons in the seceding state will cease to receive any such payments. The seceding state will no longer receive any subsidies, payments, loans or other financial transfers from the United States either to the state itself or to its citizens. The United States will have no power of taxation in the seceding state or any claim on the state’s revenues not allowed for by treaty.

  6. The seceding state will be required to acknowledge and protect all rights enumerated in the Bill of Rights. Reversion to serfdom, chattel slavery or any other form of bondage in the seceding state will be strictly forbidden.

  7. Both the seceding state and the United States will maintain a common agency to coordinate environmental protection and water management. Likewise, a common agency will be established to manage broadcast frequencies.

  8. The seceding state shall maintain a military alliance with the United States and not allow any foreign power to maintain significant military forces within its borders.

  9. For a period of one year following the date of secession, any citizen of the seceding state will be allowed to resettle in the United States, and any citizen of the United States will be allowed to resettle in the seceding state without restriction. Such resettlement will not require permission of any sort from either government other than the requirement of sufficient documentation to establish identity. On the first anniversary of the secession, all persons in permanent residence of the seceding state will become citizens of the seceding state, and all persons having resettled in the United States will become citizens of the United States. Resettling will be defined as taking up permanent residence. After the first anniversary of secession, only immediate family (spouse, parents, siblings and immediate offspring) will be allowed the right to reside in either the seceding state or the United States but will not be granted automatic citizenship.

  10. Military personnel from the seceding state will complete their enlistments and will be required to return to the seceding state unless they declare their intention to retain United States citizenship before the first anniversary of the secession.


Comments? Criticisms? Anything that needs to be added, modified or dropped altogether? Let’s see how many of these will stand up to scrutiny.

It’s pretty much designed to ensure that no state would ever attempt secession. It’s a one sided agreement with the state getting the short end of the stick.

I am curious as to what were the terms on American-funded construction in the Philippines when it moved from commonwealth status to independence in 1946. Not quite on all fours, but a similar precedent to take into account.

No state would ever agree to 1) and 5), especially in light of 2)

Why? The State’s been paying federal taxes.

Doesn’t the US Government currently pay out to non-citizens?

How can the US enforce that?

States pay federal taxes? Huh!

I think point 1 is basically what the Fort Sumter fight was about.

Why? If the contract has a jurisdictional provision already in it, why should this be waived?

I could see a deal being struck where the Social Security paid in by citizens would be used to pay down the State’s debt for the Federal deficit and infrastructure debts.

Dunno how it would balance out but would mitigate the cost at least.

Beats me how you get them to buy into (6). The whole point of secession, I thought, was so the new nation could define its own constitution and laws.

Well, I think in order to get the federal government to go along with it #6 would make the Feds feel they are not bailing on its citizens who currently enjoy those freedoms. As such the state would be promising to include those bits in whatever new constitution it writes as a condition to be allowed to secede.

Number (6) confuses me.

As presented, it looks like the second sentence explicates the first.

But the elimination of chattel slavery isn’t a part of the Bill of Rights.

I don’t think citizenship should be based on settlement (it’s not that easy to just pick up and move!) but rather simply on a declaration of intent. Someone in the state can say “I don’t agree to be a citizen of this state” and then acquires the legal status of a foreigner in that state once the secession happens.

And what happens if on Day 2 (or Day 2000) the new nation drafts a constitution in which it declares itself the sole arbiter of what will appear in its constitution, unbeholden to any foreign power?

I think the OP has in mind a kind of casus belli clause in the secession agreement.

What travel rights does the seceding state have? If say, South Dakota wants to secede it is pretty well landlocked, isn’t it? Do its people/good have the right to travel thru/over the US to get to another foreign nation?

I agree with Frylock’s casus belli notion. I also could see the Feds requiring a constitution already be written before allowing secession. Basically the state seceding writes a new constitution and ratifies it with a law in there that it becomes effective as soon as secession is formally achieved.

Points 1 and 5 are inconsistent with 2. If the state is receiving a share of the national debt, why should it not also receive a share of national assets?

Further on point 5, I suppose I can see cutting off Social Security, since it’s pay-as-you-go and not really a retirement fund, but what rationale would there be for not paying federal pensions that have already vested? Those are essentially contractual obligations between the US Government and particular individuals, and I don’t see why they should be voided by the fact that the individual is now living in a different country and under different citizenship.

3, 6, 7, 8, and 9 seem unenforceable going forward, short of the use of force or sanctions of some kind.

But the very nature of a living constitution is that it doesn’t contain anything that is not subject to later amendment, even if the burden to amendment is set quite high. Does the new nation require U.S. approval to amend its constitution? If so, I’m not sure that it’s an independent state by definition.

Heck, technically Canada wasn’t wholly independent until 1982.

These destroy any pretense of fairness. If you’re going to have #1, the federal government should also be required to return all federal taxes collected from residents of the seceding state. And there’s no justification for #5 at all.

If you’re going to use #2, I’d suggest that instead of reassigning a share of the federal government’s debt to the state (which you cannot do without the consent of the groups who are owed the money), you leave the debt as-is, and have the state owe this amount to the federal government, who then owes it to their creditors.

No, because that assumes the taxes collected were spent in entirety on infrastructure built within that state.

No money should be returned for “current” expenditure as the benefit of that has already been received. Also, you could make an argument for looking at the flow of federal funding - if over the years the state has been a net recipient of federal largess (as seems to be likely), then it could be presented with a tab.