Wednesday, April 23, 2014

 10 American Secession Movements You've Never Heard Of

Recently the city of Venice held an unofficial poll to decide if they should secede from Italy. Over 2 million residents voted, and an astonishing 89 percent agreed that they wanted the province of Veneto to become its own country. What's amazing is that this movement didn't start out with such an overwhelming majority. It started as a small fringe organization like most secession movements do. Most movements fail, and a few will succeed, but they almost always start out as small irate minorities.

As an American, I can't help but notice the numerous secession movements that have sprung up in the United States. For the most part they are all small groups with big dreams. Though none have had mainstream success, don't think for a moment that they won't someday. National boundaries change all the time, and all you have to do is look at an old map to see that history is nothing but shifting borders and new nations. Dozens of  nations have formed just in the past 100 years. So below are a list of 10 American secession movements, past and present, that you've probably never heard of. Don't be surprised if some of them are turning heads in your lifetime.

10 Alaska Independence Party

With over 16,000 registered voters the Alaska Independence party claims that Alaska's statehood is a fraud. They believe that according to international law, they were supposed to receive a referendum that offered the choice of becoming an independent nation. The party has a lot of influence in Alaska, and actually managed to elect a governor in 1990. They were briefly in the news during the 2008 presidential election, when it was revealed that Sarah Palin's husband was a registered member in 1995 and 2000. While the McCain campaign tried to distance itself from this fact, Sarah Palin did address the party's convention in 2008.

9 The Bear Flag Revolt

In early 1846, conflict was brewing between The United States and Mexico. After hearing growing rumors of the impending war, John C. Fremont decided to start a rebellion against the Mexican authorities in California. Officially he was only in the region on a map making survey, accompanied with a couple dozen soldiers from the U.S. Army. At the time, numerous Americans had immigrated to the area and were fed up with Mexican rule. Fremont's army grew as he recruited these settlers into his growing force. Then in June of 1846, under the support of Fremont a small group of settlers took over a Mexican outpost in Sonoma, and met up with retired General Mariano Vallejo. Despite supporting the decision to rebel against the Mexican government, he and his family were promptly arrested (it's kind of a bizarre right? Historians still aren't sure why he was incarcerated)

There, Fremont and his forces drew up a crude flag of a bear, and declared independence. From then on the movement was referred to as the Bear Flag Revolt. Fremont went on to win several skirmishes with Mexican forces, and managed to occupy San Francisco on July 1st. Only a few days later, Fremont learned that the Americans had taken Monterrey and declared California to be United States territory. Up until that point, news of the Mexican-American war hadn't even reached Fremont. Since his entire force consisted of Americans they no longer felt the revolt was necessary, and ceded their revolutionary claim to the United States. The Bear Flag Republic was no more.

Several members of the revolt would eventually become quite influential. John C. Fremont became California's first senator after statehood, and would later become the first Republican presidential candidate. Other notable figures include Kit Carson who led a small force of settlers, and William Todd, nephew of Mary Todd Lincoln. Todd designed the bear-flag, which would later become the official state flag of California (though his flag was horribly drawn, with the bear resembling more of a pig)

8 Hawaii Sovereignty Movement

As early as the 1820's, American farmers and missionaries had settled the Hawaiian Islands. They were welcomed by the natives as they expanded the sugar industry and brought in quite a bit of wealth to the islands. When the United States placed tariffs on imported sugar, it destroyed the local economy. After figuring out they could get by the tariffs by becoming a U.S. Territory, the American settlers staged a coup against Queen Liliuokalani in 1893. They requested military help from the United States, and 300 Marines were sent to the islands without presidential approval. The stars and stripes were raised over the islands, and the sugar farmers requested to be annexed by the United States.

President Grover Cleveland wasn't interested in foreign intervention, and felt the whole thing was highly illegal and unfair. After he left office the Spanish-American war erupted, and the United States realized the strategic value of the islands. They promptly annexed them in 1898, and Hawaii became a state in 1959. Numerous sovereignty movements have sprung up since the early 1900's, and the issue has never been forgotten by Hawaiian natives. Proposals range from setting aside land as a reservation for the natives, to outright Independence for the islands. Time will tell if the islands will ever say “aloha” to the mainland.

7 League of the South

Ever since the Civil War ended disastrously for the South, secession sentiments never fully died. Southern culture always considered itself separate and unique from the rest of America, and the memories of the devastation brought down on the region during the war have never been forgotten. Despite this, there was never an official secession movement until the 1990s. Leading this movement has been the League of the South. The Southern Poverty Law Center considers them to be a hate group with the goal of a white dominated society and a theocratic government. The League on the other hand consider themselves to be a legitimate peaceful organization with no racial bias.

They initially started out with the goal of celebrating and preserving Southern culture. Later they expanded their goals to full on secession from the United States. Like many Southerners, they don't believe the Civil War was fought over slavery, but was about states rights and taxes. They consider the South to be a captive and conquered nation that must secede if it wants to preserve its culture. But don't you yankees get riled up yet. Secession isn't just a Southern thing.

6 New England

In the early 19th century, a growing faction of politicians in New England felt marginalized by the Southern states, which held far more political power than the North. The events leading to the War of 1812 devastated the New England economy, and there were several calls to secede from the United States. As Britain and France went to war in 1807, Britain decided it would punish American trade with France by kidnapping sailors from American trade ships, and force them into the Royal Navy. Jefferson responded to this by placing an embargo on his own nation. No state was allowed to trade with Britain or France. Since New England was highly dependent on trade, this devastated their economy. Though the embargo was lifted in 1809, war was declared against Britain in 1812 bringing the economic sanctions back against New England.

In December of 1814, 26 delegates from various New England states met to discuss new amendments for the Constitution, and the possibility of seceding from the United States. Secession sentiment was running high among the public and politicians, but at the end of the day most members of the convention ended up being moderates and career politicians uninterested in secession. By the time the convention ended, so had the war, which ended the desire for independence in New England.

5 Republic of Lakota

Beginning in 2007 members of the Lakota-Sioux tribe led by actor Russel Means, declared independence from the United States. They claimed a territory spread out over the states of Nebraska, Montana, Wyoming, North and South Dakota. The movement doesn't plan to kick out whites that live in those areas, but wants them to live in decentralized communities within the Lakota territory. In an effort to be recognized, Russel Means attempted to reach several South American embassies, but failed to receive international support. The main problem with finding this recognition, is that while the movement has some popularity, it isn't recognized by tribal leadership.

One thing that gives this movement a better legal chance than other secession movements, is that it isn't technically a secession movement. They're making the case that the Lakota tribe never stopped being it's own nation. Rather than pleading with the United States government to allow them to leave, they want to simply withdraw from all treaties with the government (which the U.S.  has repeatedly violated for over a hundred and fifty years). Doing so would supposedly return their tribe to its original status and territory.

4 Cascadia

When the first American outpost was being proposed in what is now Oregon, Thomas Jefferson wrote “I view it as the germ of a great, free, and independent empire on that side of our continent” This has become the rallying cry of the Cascadia movement, which seeks to create a new nation on the west coast. If they have their way, it will span from British Columbia to Washington and Oregon. The main goals are to create a nation based around environmentalism, civil rights, and decentralized government. The movement has grown in popularity recently, and appears to come in two different varieties. Some wish to separate from the U.S. while others view the movement as more of a cultural identity that spans all up and down the west coast. Cascadia has had explosive growth compared to other secession movements, and has become a part of pop culture in the region spawning Cascadian Dark Ale, The Cascadian Cup, and Cascadian Black Metal.

3 Rough and Ready

Let's go back to California for a moment, and appreciate one of the more hilarious secession movements in history. The town of Rough and Ready is situated in Nevada County, California. Miners settled the area in September of 1849, and were led by Captain A.A. Townsend. Townsend named the camp “Rough and Ready” in honor of retired general and president Zachary Taylor, who shared the same nickname. Townsend had served under Taylor in the Mexican-American War.

Trouble came later that year when the state tried taxing the mining claims, but in return provided poor security to the miners. Deciding to take back law and order in their town, the miners voted to secede from California and the United States. They elected a president and declared themselves the “Republic of Rough and Ready” in April of 1850. However, the tiny nation wasn't long for this world. As summer neared, the miners realized they couldn't celebrate the 4th of July. To make things worst, nearby cities refused to sell them alcohol on the basis that they “don't sell liquor to foreigners” The miners immediately voted themselves back into the United States.

Though technically the secession didn't end there. After searching through the towns records in 1948, residents realized the town had never been formally allowed back into the union. They requested as much, and received a letter from Assistant U.S. Attorney T. Vincent Quinn, finally allowing them back into the United States.

2 Puerto Rico

It's somewhat surprising that Puerto Rico hasn't gained independence yet. The island was passed onto the United States after winning the Spanish-American war. For over a hundred years it's been treated as nothing more than a colony. While residents have U.S. citizenship, they can't vote in any national election. The island has a long history of having its economy exploited and its independence movements squashed, sometimes violently. Puerto Rico has been steeped in poverty, and the wealth of the common person has never reached the same level as the rest of America.

Despite a recent vote for statehood showing that a majority of the population is in favor of becoming a state (link34) it's unlikely to pan out that way. There are numerous courses for the island to take, and none would gain a majority vote if given the chance (plus it's unlikely that a Republican Congress would grant statehood to a Democratic leaning territory).

That said, there has been resistance to foreign rule since the Spanish first arrived in Puerto Rico. The Taino natives fought the Spanish for decades. African slaves rebelled numerous times, and there was a short lived rebellion in 1868 that declared the island “The Republic of Puerto Rico”. Once the Americans arrived, it was out with old boss and in with the new. The nationalism movement tried again during the Great Depression but was violently put down by the FBI. Since then, there hasn't been a significant move to separate. Given political divisions in Puerto Rico, they will likely remain in limbo for as long as the United States is around.

1 Second Vermont Republic

Vermont is the last place people think of when they hear the word “secession”. In fact, it has one of the most active secession movements in the United States, and a history of independence that rivals Texas. Shortly after the Declaration of Independence was signed, settlers in upstate New York made their voices heard as well. After years of poor representation from the colonial government, the settlers signed their own declaration in June of 1777. Initially called the state of New Connecticut, the province seceded from New York and Great Britain. They drafted the first constitution in North America, that included the first prohibition of slavery, and was also the first to allow all adult males the right to vote. The tiny republic was later renamed Vermont, and remained independent for 14 years before becoming a state in 1791.

Fast forward to 2003, when the “Second Vermont Republic” movement was founded by Thomas Naylor. The goal was to create a kind of North American Switzerland that could stay out of America's wars and corporate domination. This liberal movement experienced explosive growth during the peak of the Bush administration. Though there hasn't been much news on the movement since the death of Thomas Naylor in 2012, at its height the Second Vermont Republic sported a 13 percent approval rating and several candidates running for local office. Numbers like those put the likelihood of Vermont seceding well ahead of any other American movement today.

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