Secessionists have lain virtually dormant since the Civil War era, but a group of Vermonters, led by a former Duke professor, have decided to revive the rebel yell once again.
In 2003, Thomas Naylor, a former Duke economics professor, founded a group of secessionists with the goal of creating an independent country—Second Vermont Republic. The movement gained new momentum Jan. 15 when nine candidates running for state positions met and declared that they officially wanted to secede from the United States.
The secessionists’ grievances are rooted in U.S. involvement in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as in its support for Israel, Naylor said. The group also believes that the United States—or what they call the “empire”—is owned and operated by Wall Street.
“In our view, the empire has lost moral authority,” Naylor said. “So the question is, ‘Do you go down with the Titanic or seek other options on the table?’”
Naylor, whose book, “The Vermont Manifesto,” outlines the foundations of the secessionist movement, also said that Vermont would be able to sustain itself economically if it became an independent nation.
“We are not advocating economic isolationism,” Naylor said. “We might actually thrive as an independent nation because it would free up entrepreneurial forces, and free us from the yoke of the federal government.”
Naylor cited Japan as an example of a nation that depends on imports for both food and oil supply, yet is still one of the richest countries in the world.
Dennis Steele, who runs Free Vermont Radio and is Second Vermont’s candidate for the state’s gubernatorial election this November, also believes that Vermont has a strong economic base. He said the current economic downturn is the result of imprudent practices on Wall Street.
“Our government is owned and operated by corporate America and doesn’t answer [to] the people any more,” Steele said. “The population is too big and ungovernable—secession is the only alternative.”
An independent Vermont could sustain itself on its local agriculture, a sector in which the state is ahead of the United States by about 20 years technologically, Steele said.
In terms of defense, the secessionist leaders do not foresee a need for an army to protect an independent Vermont, noting that Vermont is currently the only state in the nation with no permanent military base.
“I don’t think we would have any threats to our borders because we have no strategic value,” Steele said. “I mean, what are they going to do? Come and attack our cows and maple trees?”
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Although the leaders of the group do not believe their secession would violate the U.S. Constitution, other political scholars disagree. Michael Munger, chair of the political science department, said secession has not been constitutional since the Civil War.
“No state can secede from the Union because it would be a rebellion and the U.S. would have to invade,” Munger said. “If somebody robs a liquor store, even if it has no value for us, we would arrest them because it’s the law.”
Munger added that Vermont’s secession attempt has little hope of success in light of the United States’ superior military standing.
Steele and Naylor did not deny that the secession movement would have its obstacles. In a 2007 poll, 13 percent of voters supported the movement, but Vermont’s congressional delegation, including Senators Bernie Sanders and Patrick Leahy, continue to support U.S. policy.
“The predominant political ideology of Vermont is that we believe only the U.S. government can solve all our problems,” Naylor said. “Our challenge is overcoming this ideology.”