The Dissolution of the USA

Is it possible to legally dissolve the entity comprising 50 states primarily located in North America?

Could 35 states vote an amendment to break up?

Damn ! I must have miss-clicked to the wrong forum.

If a mod could please? GQ perhaps?


Off to GQ.

Presumably a state could, hypothetically, leave the union with the consent of Congress.

You could argue over whether that’s one state leaving the existing union, or the dissolution of the existing union and the reconstitution of a new union of 49 states. Probably the former. But if enough states left the union in this way, it would become increasingly difficult to maintain that the rump of remaining states was the same union. (Yugoslavia springs to mind.)

In any event, since no part of the US constitution is entrenched beyond amendment, there’s nothing to stop congress plus the necessary majority of states adopting an amendment providing for the dissolution of the union. That would be perfectly legal, wouldn’t it?

Even with the consent of Congress, it presents quite a legal pickle. It’s been well established for a while now that states do not have the right of secession, and the Constitution provides for no procedure to voluntarily allow a state to withdraw. (Unlike the procedure for admitting new states, which is quite clearly described.)

Now, if we ratified a Constitutional amendment that said, “Secession is allowed, and this is how you do it,” then all would be peachy.

I guess so.

Didn’t a bunch of southern states try that in the 1860’s? I think I saw something on PBS. :smiley:

The Federal Government could dissolve itself, but each separate state has its own Constitution, and would effectively become a separate nation.

I don’t really even think you’d need 35 states, as long as the states that agreed were politically or militarily powerful enough to avoid losing another Civil War. Recall that the current Constitution was adopted “illegally” under the Articles. If a new charter document were drawn up and was legal according to its own terms, then the question becomes “Is it generally accepted?”, not whether it’s legal according to the terms of the previous charter.


I can’t imagine a second Civil War happening today. The country today is much more unified culturally than it was in the 1860’s. Back then, the North and South were so different that they might as well have been different countries. Today, we are all Americans first and foremost, which makes it far more difficult to justify going in and killing a bunch of people.

Plus, this is the media age: TV news programs would be filled with pictures of dead bodies, every one of them an American. Every channel would have 24-hour wall-to-wall coverage of the carnage that was being wrought in our own city streets. Public support for a civil war would evaporate after the first major battle.

I read somewhere, maybe even here, that New Mexico’s legislature ratified a proposal that would have them secede from the Union in the event of the federal government declaring marshall law or suspending the bill of rights. Not sure if I can find a cite.

Just because the states have their own consititutions does not mean that they can be used to establish each state as a sovereign entity. They would all have to be rewritten because each one contains clauses which refer to Federal law in some way.

Article I, Sec. 7 of the Calfornia Constitution makes reference to the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause for instance. I’m sure there are dozens if not hundreds or more references.

And New Mexico way wish to hold on to the belief that it can secede if martial law is imposed, but I would really like to see the state try that.

Finally, you would need at least 38 states to amend the Constitution. You could get 35 together, but you couldn’t force a legal change, but instead you would have to refight the Civil War, which would be entirely pointless since all the states are so interconnected now economically that it would be folly.

Pardon my ignorance, but would you mind clarifying this? I’ve never heard it before.

The Articles didn’t provide for their own dissolution; indeed, on their face they required that the Union constituted thereby be perpetual and that every state observe the Articles inviobly. Therefore, any document which purported to supplant the Articles was illegal just as much as it would be if Congress today decided by a majority vote to 86 the Constitution.

The Articles did allow amendment (Article XIII), but only if such amendment were confirmed by the Legislature of every state, of which there were then thirteen. The Constitution, by contrast, states that it would become effective when ratified by nine states. After the ninth state ratified (New Hampshire), those in charge considered the Constitution to have been enacted, the sitting Congress under the Articles dissolved itself, the First Congress (under the Constitution) was elected and seated, and George Washington was inagurated as the first president. This all went on despite the fact that at least one state (Rhode Island) had not ratified the Constitution (as would have been necessary were it an amendment). Also, according to the process developed by the Constitutional Convention which drafted the Constitution, the states created ratifying conventions to decide whether to ratify, which means that they’d probably have been ineffective to ratify an amendment, as Article XIII required that amendments be ratified by state legislatures, not separately constituted conventions.


The Supreme Court in Owings v. Speed in 1820, touched on the ratification issue a bit.

Since nobody cared about the old Congress under the Confederation anymore and no one in the country recognized its authority, the new Congress got the nod.

Or in other words, the new Constitution became the supreme law of the land because everybody else said so.

There are no reports of any Framers jumping off a cliff because everybody else did it however. :slight_smile:

WOW!! !! There is a lot of confusion on this subject, but cliffy is closest to the point but still not quite right. The articles of confederation used the term ‘in perpetuity’ many times to refer to the bond that was being formed by the 13 states. there was no provision for dissolution because of this. Now, in order to create a new constitution, they went through the same process of continental congress and created an additional government, or contract, which the states would then agree to. Because the Articles of Confederation were never revoked or voided in any way, we have continued to have two United States governments on the books. this is clear when observing rhode island being separate from the one US, but not separate from the other US, before it finally joined. Yet the second government’s rules have been laid over the Articles. In fact instead of voiding the Articles, they instead created rules in the second constitution which were contradictory to the Articles’ rules, which since they were ratified in the same way, were thought to be an equally valid contract and since done more recently, took precedent. the only rules in the Articles that were not discussed, and therefore not overlaid, was the repeated insistence that the US is bonded in perpetuity. and since this provision was not altered, it cannot be said that the Articles have been voided or overlaid completely. So The Articles are still on the books but they only apply to the original 13 states, so none of the 13 states can secede from the United States.

But can the other states? We need to look at the definition of “State” for an answer. It has been recognized numerous times by the Supreme court since the beginning that State is the same word as Nation. This is why states claim to be sovereign. The Federal Government is a treaty between sovereign nations to abide by additional rules that they collectively agree upon, and thus give up jurisdiction in specific areas (such as navigable waterways and shores). The constitution is a treaty or a contract that was ratified by the legislature, or treaty-making body of each ‘nation’. Nowhere in the treaty did any state give up it’s right to un-ratify the treaty or withdraw from a treaty. In international treaties a sovereign state has the right to withdraw from a treaty. So it is that all states except the original 13 can secede if the legislature and governor approve the withdrawal. The federal government (which can be considered the 51st state) will retain all property that it owns such as military bases and national parks that the state had ceded to it.

The civil war did not set any legal precedents. the whole thing was illegal on both sides. first, several of the 13 seceded. then everyone started shooting each other. that was not legal. also, secession would not be grounds for the US to attack a state–this would be paramount to an act of aggression against another sovereign, although it would make the government mighty mad since it would lose tax revenue.

so once again, the civil war did not establish any precedents; there was no ruling on how legal that affair was; Lincoln even admitted to breaking the constitution ‘in order to save it’. just because there is no procedure for a state seceding, that is not at all evidence that it cannot be done–which was cited by another commenter. The reason there is no procedure is because that procedure is left up to the state to do and the federal government should not have jurisdiction over that process because jurisdiction over that process was not granted to it in the constitution.
so that’s that.
So can the Federal government be dissolved?
It is feasible, theoretically, for the US to add an amendment to the constitution which would overlay the Articles’ pronouncement of perpetuity, and so, if that happened the Federal government could be dissolved completely after all the states seceded.
an interesting aside: the Federal Government owns a lot of property-- A LOT; it could dissolve but probably wouldn’t. even if every state seceded, it would still hold sovereign power over the district of Columbia and the virgin islands and Guam and american samoa, and puerto rico etc. etc. If the states did not dictate the dissolution of these properties before seceding, the United States could continue to be a powerful force in the world without having anything to do with the 50 states.

There certainly is a lot of confusion on the topic, but rather more since your largely-inaccurate post. I’d like to see one cite from a trustworthy source that states the Articles are still in force w/r/t the original 13 states. The Articles were supplanted by the Constitution – although I agree that the Union which was governed by both documents (and preceded them) did and does remain in force. Indeed, your statement about Rhode Islands proves too much – the state was bound by the Constitution when that document went into effect despite the fact that the state had not yet ratified it.

While the issue of the States’ sovereignity still has some open questions 'round the edges, the 50 states are inarguably not sovereign nations (whether they once were or not), and they clearly do not have the power to secede from the Union – unless and until the seceding State has the military or political power to enforce its wishes. But that would be extra-Constitutional, of course.


I have been attempting to reply to this quote for days without sucess. Since it seems I can make short posts I am going to try to divide it up. Hopefully my response will follow shortly.

You had me until here. It seems to me that there is a seperation between a first Union ( from the Articles of Association through the Declaration of Independence and the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union ) and a 2nd begun when the current constitution was ratified. I’d like to see some evidence that Rhode Island ( and North Carolina for that matter ) was indeed bound to the government under the new constitution they hadn’t yet ratified. My understanding is that everyone’s favorite whipping boy ( “Rogue Island” ) was brought into the Union not by threats of enforcing the Constitution within that state ( politics ) but rather with diplomacy ( threats of trade sanctions ). Lacking that I see no reason to abandon my own understanding that a new and seperate union was formed in theory when New York ratified and in reality when the new Congress attained a quorum to announce GW was President.


Rhode Island and North Carolina were bound to the United States of America as they were constituted under the Articles of Confederation, but had not yet ratified the new Constitution which furnished the replacement framework under which the United States were governed. (The plural verbs are intentional, because of the federative nature of the Articles.)

In any case, North Carolina never seriously intended not to join, but used its threat not to ratify to help in forcing through the Bill of Rights, the condition it set for ratification. (We were not the only or even the determining factor, but the pressure we were able to exert was significant in advancing their passage.)