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This question is a follow-up to the Founding Fathers and the Civil War question.

Although the Constitution dictates how a state may join the Union, there is no written provision for secession. Did the Founding Fathers, or even some, ever discuss whether states had the right to secede if they wanted? Did they ever discuss whether the national government or the other states had the duty or power to prevent states from seceding?

If the Founding Fathers did not discuss this, when do we first see political debate in the United States on these questions?

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possible duplicate of Was the secession of the Confederate states illegal? –  Mark C. Wallace Jul 31 at 16:17
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@MarkC.Wallace I really like the discussion you say is duplicate, but I think that they are complementary as even the Supreme Court, in the Texas case, did not even cite the views of the Founding Fathers as the decision was not decided by our own Justice Scalia. There may be nothing in the written works of the Founding Fathers that adds to the discussion, but if there is, then it would be most interesting (and of relevance should the issue ever come to Justice Scalia). –  Bruce James Jul 31 at 16:36
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Easily answered on the relevant Wikipedia page: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Secession_in_the_United_States –  Comintern Jul 31 at 22:53
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Depends on your definition of "duplicate". My answer to this question would certainly be an exact duplicate of my answer to the other one. –  T.E.D. Aug 1 at 7:04

1 Answer 1

In the secret debates of the Federal Convention of 1787 it was argued that only the consensus of all the states should dissolve the union and that no minority of states should be able to dissolve it. This was significant because at the time several states were opposing the idea of a union, particularly in preference to the Virginia plan, but those states did indeed ultimately sign the Constitution.

The Supreme Court ruled in 1845 that all states were bound by the terms of the Constitution and this implied their subjection to Congress.

Article V of the Constitution allows any convention of states to ammend the Constitution in any way with a majority of 3/4ths. This means that 3/4ths of the states constitute a quorum to dissolve the Union (or alter it in any way they choose) by right and by law.

The most important of the founding fathers, John Adams, was a unionist who believed in the paramount power of the federal entity. He appointed John Marshall as Supreme Court justice. Marshall held the same views and set the tone in the court that the federal power was paramount. This was in contradiction to the Virginia faction, led by Thomas Jefferson who believed the individual states should have the decisive power, and the Union should be at the convenience of the several states.

James Madison, also of the Virginia faction, was the most outspoken of the founding fathers. He, after the fact, published abstracts of the constitutional debates which had originally been secret. He opposed Adams, and in particular fought the Alien and Sedition Acts of Adams as a challenge to state sovereignty.

Nevertheless, Madison considered that actual nullification required the expressed will of the nation. The idea that a single state could nullify a federal law was denied by Madison: "For this preposterous and anarchical pretension there is not a shadow of countenance in the Constitution."

This written statement by Madison perhaps sums up in nutshell the consensus of the founding fathers as a whole. The 3/4ths requirement of the Constitution itself probably reflects what majority Madison and others considered to be the "will of the nation".

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I'd say a state leaving the union does not constitute the dissolution of the union... –  jwenting Aug 1 at 14:33

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