What lengths (if any) would you support to prevent part of your country from seceding?

Imagine part of your country wanted to secede to form its own country, or to join with a neighboring country. The secession is the result of a parting of ways over some significant but non-criminal, non-anti-human rights matter (ie, the rebellious territory does not want to form a theocracy or dictatorship, does not want to legalize slavery or run drugs, etc) and the new country will not be formed to be militarily antagonistic towards its mother country. A clear majority of the population of the seceding region have, for a significant period of time, been in favor of secession. Americans - imagine, for example, that the New England states decided they wanted to secede and join Canada, or that Texas decided it could manage its affairs better if it were its own country again.

Would you care? Why or why not? What lengths - if any - would you support to prevent this from happening? Would you back military intervention, or even be willing to take up arms yourself to protect the union of your country?

For my part I would certainly care if part of the US wanted to secede, and would probably vote against it if given the chance, but I would never support military measures to prevent it, so long as the legal proceedings of dissolution appeared to be happening in an honest, careful, well-thought out way.
Bonus question for EU dopers: is your response any different at the idea of one country - or a bloc of countries - breaking off from the EU?

It’s a very real possibility for lots of EU countries which now, with the common safety net of the EU, can secede without the risk of a foreign neighbour snatching them up. There’s been a lot of noise from Scotland about them becoming independent from the UK and to be honest I with they’d fucking well just get on with it - I don’t see what we get from them and they get a lot from us in terms of tax subsidies. Seems like a good trade for the rest of us. Should this ever occur it would be engineered that Scotland would accede to the EU the day it separated from the UK, so I’m not entirely sure what Scotland would be gaining from all of this as it wouldn’t be “free” then either.

Stupid Scots.

Heh. I’m going (figuratively) to join Illuminatiprimus by saying that if the nut-job settlers in Judea and Samaria want to try and secede from Israel (and duke it out for the dunams with the Palestinian Authority :eek: ), then I, for one, will go so far as to demonstrate and sign petitions for their right to do so.

and good riddance…

This is a real live issue here in Canada, and has been for ages. So far I personally have done little beyond singing the french version of O Canada - badly- and being nice to Quebecoise, and voting for the parties that want to keep the country in one piece.

Fortunately the feds have done a bit more.

When a referendum comes up I vote “hell no” for separation. But that’s because I live(d) in Quebec and didn’t want to split from Canada. If, say, New Brunswick wanted to go off and do its own thing, I don’t think I’d care. As for military action? What’s the point? If it’s done on the up-and-up and the people of that region want to split, and it’s put to a vote, I don’t see that anyone is really justified in stopping them.

I am definitely Secesh, so I would probably try to move there and help out, if needed.


I think Texas shoul secede, as it’s governor threatened to do.

I do not believe that Texas would be better off, but the rest of the US would be.

Given the provisos of the OP, I’m fine with succession. I would care if the motive was to set up a slave state or some such.

In the case of Canada, having Quebec secede would split the Atlantic Provinces off from the west, in that there would be a foreign country in the middle, so they would be halfway to being seceded as well. In my head, I always figure if Quebec were to go, the Atlantic Provinces would become states within a few decades - at least the Maritime Provinces. Newfoundland might be [del] crazy [/del] independent minded enough to become a republic - especially in light of their history.

Michael Ignatieff wrote an interesting book, Blood and Belonging that certainly effected my thinking on this. Curiously, at the time I read it, I had just moved to Canada, and did not know that he was a politician.

Now wearing my US hat, I’d say: “Texas? let 'em go.”

Interestingly, Canada has officially examined this kind of question. In the late 90s, and in the wake of the 1995 Quebec Referendum (where a slim majority of Quebecers opted to stay in Canada), the Supreme Court of Canada issued its Reference re Secession of Quebec [1998] 2 SCR 217. The Reference is rather long and complicated, but the Wikipedia link seems to sum up one of the Court’s most important findings quite well:

In a nutshell, the Court basically stated that Quebec (and by extension, any province) could secede from Canada if a referendum indicated that a clear majority of people wanted it, but that negotiations would then occur between the province and the federal government in order to define the terms, and that the negotiations would need to keep in mind the four fundamental tenets that the Court identified. Overall, it seems clear from the Court’s decision, that if a referendum occurred today, independence could not be declared tomorrow–it would be a lengthy process in which nothing was done rashly.

The issue was further shaped and defined by the federal Clarity Act, which laid down various provisions for referendums on secession.

In short, Canada seems to have legal mechanisms in place to deal with secession. Given that (and finally addressing the OP’s question), I don’t think I’d take any steps at all. I’d let the legal process work to decide the issue.

And take Gordon Sodding Brown with 'em


I think we all know that his position as a Scotsman is pretty much the only reason that we a) still are dealing with the West Lothian Question and b) haven’t actually allowed Scotland to have this referendum they seem so keen on. I can’t think of anyone who didn’t have such a personal stake in the status quo being so opposed to either being sorted out.

I’ve always heard that having the Atlantic provinces cut off would end up separating them from Canada as well, but I never quite believed it - there’s a big foreign country separating Alaska from the 48 contiguous states, and (Todd Palin’s desires aside) there’s been no real risk of losing Alaska. That said, I’d be happy for the US to take in any of the Canadian provinces that wanted to join.

As you seem to be intuiting, the question grew out of discussions I’ve had recently about the American Civil War. I never quite understood the fetish for “preserving the Union” (what kind of rallying cry is that? fighting slavery and oppression is much more worthwhile), though arguments about how a split US might have been overrun by France or Britain make some kind of sense. What surprised me was talking to a friend who declared himself to be against secession for any reason, ever, even in the kind of best-case, modern-day situation I outlined in the OP. “You may as well try to cut off my arm as split up my country,” he declared as I gave him the hypotheticals described above. Totally baffling to my POV - not to mention rather bullying and totalitarian at worst.

I have to admit that from a purely libertarian point of view, the South had a valid point: if a supermajority of southerners did not want to be part of the United States anymore, how could a democracy force them to be? If the Lost Cause had been about anything less morally repugnant than slavery, the Confederacy would be remembered wistfully as the last hurrah of pure Jeffersonian democracy and the Union as the embodiment of brutal realpoltik.

That said however, the Union’s point was this: in a democracy it is imperative that when a free and fair vote is taken, the losing side has to gracefully submit. If any section of a federal union has the unilateral right to seceed any time it doesn’t get its way, what happens to democracy? That was Lincoln’s point in the Gettysburg address when he said that the current war was about whether “any nation, so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure”. This issue wasn’t unique to the American Civil War either; the Swiss Confederacy also had a civil war.

Furthermore there was the issue that prior to the American Civil War, it was unclear whether the federal government had an independent existence, or whether it was simply the embodiment of the mutual agreement of the states to be one country. In the former case secession meant defiance of the federal government’s rightful authority and in the latter case it meant the delegitimatization of the federal government. As the Union supporters saw it, they were fighting for the preservation of their country as much as the Confederacy claimed to be doing.

BTW: during the war, the Union bent over backwards to claim that the war was NOT a crusade to abolish slavery, in order not to even further alienate support for the Union cause. Abolition only became an issue late in the game when it became clear that abolishing slavery would remove any possible impetus for a further rebellion. It was pretty much only after the war was over that afterwards it was claimed that northerners had fought to abolish slavery while southerners had fought for states’ rights. In other words, it was claimed that each side fought for what the other side was really fighting against. :stuck_out_tongue:

Maybe we could work out a trade…

For me, if Michigan wanted to leave and join Canada, I personally wouldn’t be upset; I have a generally favorable opinion of Canada and Canadians. I watch hockey, and even curling sometimes.

My employer has a lot of US Govt. contracts, though, so that could be a big issue.

Given all that, which side would you fall on in a situation as outlined in the OP (modern day, with no issue of slavery, etc.)? To complicate the matter, imagine that the New England states wanted to secede, a strong majority of New Englanders wanted to do so, but in a national referendum, a strong majority of people in the rest of the country did not want them to do so. The New Englanders decide they have a right to govern themselves, the rest of the country be damned, and they make moves to guard their borders, set up their own government, etc. Does the imperative of the losing side to gracefully submit to the results of the free and fair national referendum mean you’d support sending troops to stop them?

Multiple answers for me.

  1. While I may not think Quebec separating from Canada is a very good idea, if we ever get to the point where it is politically feasible to hold another referendum, I will almost certainly vote in favour. This is because the political evolution necessary for making it feasible would almost certainly demonstrate to me that Canada as it exists now simply cannot work. I’m not hoping to have this demonstrated to me, actually I’d prefer we found a way to build a new Canada in which every Canadian, including me, would recognize themselves, but I don’t know if it’s possible.

And say what you want, but there is something emotionally compelling about being allowed to vote to finally build your own country. One that is truly yours, and in which you don’t feel like your fellow countrymen are permanently thinking of you as they’d think of a bratty, immature, ungrateful and possibly dangerous child. This said, I don’t expect anything new in the political discourse in the near future: our current crop of politicians is thoroughly unimpressive. No real statesman among them. This is actually the main problem that we’ll have to solve.

  1. If another Canadian province wants to get its independence from Canada, I will look at the debate with very interested eyes, but I probably won’t do anything one way or the other. If the residents of this province feel their interests are not adequately served by the Canadian federation, or more especially if they feel other Canadians have backed away from the guarantees they were offered when they joined the federation (that is IMO the main cause of separatist movements in Canada), it is not up to me to judge their decision. I’ll probably try to make up my mind regarding whether they’re right or not, and I may secretly hope the Yes side wins in order to shake up things, but I won’t intervene in the debate except maybe on blogs and message boards.

  2. If some group wants to split away from Quebec, I won’t be happy. What I do depends on what group it is. If it’s some First Nation group (probably the Mohawks or Cree, who seem to be the most unhappy with us, as opposed to say the Hurons or Montagnais), I’ll mostly deplore the risk of losing territory and resources – in the case of the Cree, mostly hydraulic resources; as for the Mohawks the problem is that their territory consists of a few enclaves right in southern Quebec that are quite hard to split off from the rest of the province – but I’ll also recognize that as clearly separate peoples or nations, they probably do have the right to self-determination. I’ll probably vote for candidates who’ll try to offer them some sort of federal or devoluted status, sort of what has been offered to the Inuit in Nunavik in Northern Quebec. After all, they can govern themselves much better than someone else could govern them. If it doesn’t work… well, I don’t know. I guess I’d have to accept the new reality.

On the other hand, if Quebec’s anglophones – or let’s say a few mainly English-speaking municipalities – want to split off from the province, I won’t recognize them the right to self-determination. I don’t consider them a distinct people; they are a linguistic minority in Quebec and if they’re not happy with this status there’s nine other provinces in which they can live and where they wouldn’t have to be a minority. I’d try to fight it, but what this means I don’t know since it would probably be the courts who would decide who’s right. Maybe I’d support a movement to move to the secessionist municipalities and “reclaim” them; push the vote back against separation. This said, once again I can say that the political situation where this would become feasible is very different from the current one, so who knows what people would actually do.

My emphasis added in the quote.

Why would you say the “losing side” is the side the loses a national referendum? In the case of Quebec, the referendum that only narrowly voted against secession was a provincial referendum, not national; the rest of Canada didn’t get a vote. I think that the residents of the area who wish to secede should “gracefully submit” if a clear majority of the residents wish to stay with the country, but I don’t see why they would (or should) submit to the wishes of the population of the rest of the country, who may greatly outnumber them depending on which area wishes to secede.

Yeah, me neither. Is there any current secessionist movement active in the Atlantic provinces? There’s Newfoundland who’s acutely aware of its difference from the rest of the country, and who has a government that doesn’t bow down before the federal government or any other province to say the least, but even there I don’t feel support for independence is very strong. But then again Newfoundland is an island (there aren’t many people living in Labrador), so it’s not like they could be more cut off from Canada than they currently are.

In any case, if relationships between an independent Quebec and the rest of Canada remain good, as we can certainly hope they would, it’s not like the Maritime provinces would be “cut off” either.

What is this horrible word? I of course meant “devolved”, but I was too late to edit.