Are they just sore losers? Or are they, rather, champions of free speech exercising their right of protest against a president they didn't vote for?
The answer, like the outcome of the 2012 election itself, may lie in the eye of the beholder. Either way, an attention-getting, post-election petition drive is under way online from people in 30 states who say they want their state to secede from the Union. Most come from states that went for GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney in the election, with Texas leading the way.
So far, they've flooded the White House website with their petitions – a move calculated to provoke some kind of reply from the executive branch. So far, the White House has said nothing.
Secession, of course, has been tried before (the Civil War springs to mind) and is outlawed by the 14th Amendment of the Constitution. That's probably not the real intent of most petitioners, says James Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas in Austin.
“It’s a form of acting out in which people are expressing deep antipathy toward the president and his policies and him as a person," he says, "and things like this do resonate among traditionalists in Texas who are very wrapped up in Texas history and a sense of Texas independence and a sense of Texas exceptionalism.”
Most of the petitions feature identical wording for each state, and ask the Obama administration to allow the states to create a new government that would operate independently of the United States. They cite what they perceive as the federal government’s failure to reduce spending and its unspecified attack on civil rights.
“Given that the state of Texas maintains a balanced budget and is the 15th largest economy in the world, it is practically feasible for Texas to withdraw from the union, and to do so would protect it's [sic] citizens' standard of living and re-secure their rights and liberties in accordance with the original ideas and beliefs of our founding fathers which are no longer being reflected by the federal government,” reads the petition for Texas, which at time of writing had garnered 72,558 signatures, the most of any state. An individual in Arlington, Texas, created the petition on Nov. 9, three days after the presidential election.
According to the White House, petitions that are signed by at least 25,000 people are reviewed, and the White House will eventually e-mail a reply to every signatory. So far, that has not happened.
Of course, no state would launch a plan to secede on the whim of signatories to an online petition. Besides, the 14th Amendment, crafted after the Civil War, forbids states from declaring independence from the Union. A state cannot “abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States,” it states.
“The 14th creates a national model of citizenship and how it is enforced, and it’s not been seriously questioned since [the Civil War],” says Mr. Henson. “The notion of citizenship is state-driven, but the 14th, in law and in constitutional thought, and the Civil War in action, really settled the question,” he says.
The Obama administration introduced “We the People,” at petitions.whitehouse.gov, in September 2011 in a bid to create “an unprecedented level of openness in government,” according to the website. Signatories need leave only their first names, the first initial of their last names, and the names of their locations.
Similar petitions are also posted on Change.org, but the number of supporters for each is minimal.
Besides Texas, other states represented in the secession drive are Louisiana, Utah, Ohio, West Virginia, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, Kansas, Oklahoma, Wyoming, California, New York, Delaware, Arizona, North Carolina, South Carolina, Arkansas, Georgia, Missouri, Michigan, Tennessee, Colorado, New Jersey, Montana, Indiana, Mississippi, Kentucky, and Florida.
The secession furor on the White House site has been met with opponents who offer petitions of their own: “Strip the citizenship from everyone who signed a petition to secede and exile them" (1,796 signatures) and “Deport everyone that signed a petition to withdraw their state from the United States of America) (2,347 signatures).
The high volume of signatories for the Texas petition prompted a spokeswoman for Gov. Rick Perry (R) to say in a statement to the Dallas Morning News Monday that the governor does not support the drive.
“Governor Perry believes in the greatness of our Union and nothing should be done to change it. But he also shares the frustrations many Americans have with our federal government. Now more than ever our country needs strong leadership from states like Texas,” said spokeswoman Catherine Frazier.
In April 2009, Perry raised the secession issue in a speech, saying, “Texas is a unique place. When we came into the Union in 1845, one of the issues was that we would be able to leave if we decided to do that.… We’ve got a great Union. There's absolutely no reason to dissolve it. But if Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people, who knows what may come of that.”