In his underrated classic The Cousins’ Wars, Kevin Phillips proves something most Americans would not like to contemplate. Rather than just a one-off conflict over slavery, the Civil War was actually the third phase of a massive conflict among British people and their descendants. The English Civil War laid the groundwork for the American Revolution—which, in most states, was a civil war of its own, played out county by county—and the American Revolution laid the groundwork for the U.S. Civil War.
The patterns of thought shaped through centuries of this ethnic and religious conflict live on, as Scotland’s recent bid for independence reminds us. And here in America, the spirit of secession is gaining strength too. As modern social and cultural forces continue to make most of us more interchangeable, interest in leaving the Union has spread out from coast to coast with remarkable regularity.
As a rigorous new Reuters poll reveals, at least 19 percent of respondents in America’s eight major regions support the idea of their state “peacefully withdrawing from the United States of America and the federal government.” In the Great Lakes, Mid-Atlantic, Plains, and Far West, secession sympathizers top out at 22 percent of the population. In the Southeast, the group counts 1 of every 4 respondents. In the Rockies, the number climbs to 26 percent, and in the Southwest, fully a third are on board.
Perhaps predictably, support is stronger among Republicans than Democrats, and among Tea Party respondents, support for secession hit 53 percent. But those details pale in comparison to the conclusions drawn by Reuters analysts themselves.
“Those we spoke to seemed to have answered as they did as a form of protest that was neither red nor blue but a polychromatic riot,” Reuters’ Jim Gaines explains. Respondents vented their grevances, he wrote, “against a recovery that has yet to produce jobs, against jobs that don’t pay, against mistreatment of veterans, against war, against deficits, against hyper-partisanship, against political corruption, against illegal immigration, against the assault on marriage, against the assault on same-sex marriage, against government in the bedroom, against government in general—the president, Congress, the courts and both political parties.”
These grudges are not new to us. But very few of us have imagined that they could fuel a generalized positive view of secession. We like to think that the Civil War and its aftermath limited secessionism to a narrow, backward, and most of all shrinking population of ingrate Southern nostalgists. What a quaint myth that turns out to be.
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