One of the more notable deaths of 2012 which went unnoticed was that Thomas Naylor. The Mississippi-born Naylor who was an economics professor at Duke, started an organization entitled “The Second Vermont Republic” an organization dedicated to restore Vermont as an independent county as it was after Revolutionary War until 1795. Naylor started SVR in 2003 in the wake of the Iraq War and with the Help of Kirkpatrick Sale accomplished making secession being more than something “Southern”. Secessionist history and movement and independent republics have existed throughout American history in all corners of the country.
Naylor’s recent death may very well deflate the SVR movement, as per usual when original and charismatic persons pass away. While there are persons ready to take Naylor’s place who believe in the SVR cause, politically it remains impotent and doesn’t have very many activists. It’s growth took place during the Bush II Administration when there was some thought of a “permanent” Republican majority might have made some leftist Vermonters to wonder if breaking away from the U.S. was a feasible idea. Since Obama took over, forget about it. As one wag put it “What’s the worst nightmare of a SVR member? An Obama presidency.”
Of course as SVR member will point out not a lot has changed between the previous two administrations but to the kind of Vermonter the group had to convince to join that doesn’t matter. Our gang is in power, everything else is just gravy. And the same goes to the opposite end of the political spectrum. Talk to me all you want about all these secession petitions given over the White House web site but in terms of raw numbers it doesn’t mean much in comparison to the number of registered voters in each state. Even in Texas, which had the highest amount of petitions, the totals are but a drop in the bucket compared to the state’s population. Obama’s Administration really hasn’t sparked secessionists movements. Southern Republicans dream about taking back the whole country, not how they’re going to break away from it lest they might have to pay the full costs for all the goodies they get back from the Feds. Even in Europe where there are strong nationalist and secessionist parties and serious movements, the results are still disappointing. Scotland will hold a referendum soon but few think it will pass and Catlans couldn’t figure out which independence party they wanted to back, during recent local elections and their cause has been put into some doubt, and this amid the worst economic crisis since the depression.
However, it should be pointed out secession has ceased being the taboo subject it was perhaps 20 to 30 years ago. It has happened around the world, peacefully in some cases (Czech Republic and Slovakia) and violently in others (Sudan, East Timor). A West which basically tore the old Yugoslavia asunder can’t claim secession is illegitimate cause. Even in the U.S., the fact that Rick Perry revived his political career in 2009 just by mouthing such sentiments shows the same to be true. As I said the work of people like Naylor has helped in this regard and will be his legacy.
Even so don’t hold your breath to see it happening in the U.S. anytime soon. Not because it would be necessarily politically unpopular but because we know what the response of the central government will be, and that’s violent coercion. And it doesn’t matter who occupies the Oval Office. Slave holder Andrew Jackson threatened to level Charleston harbor during the Nullification Crisis and knowing him he would have too if things came to blows. And of course we can’t forget the Cult of Lincoln, who to many is the real Founding Father of the country. The critical acclaim the movie Lincoln shows there’s a powerful nationalist Left in the nation and with their allies in the nationalist Right make it almost impossible for any secessionist or independence movement to exist outside ideology as SVR has found out. Any time Naylor would conduct meetings of secessionist groups across the country he come under vicious attack by Vermont leftists because those meetings would include the League of the South. Such attacks caused splits in the movement which only served to weaken it.
Perhaps a more obtainable and realistic goal than political secession is cultural secession. The Scots, Catlans and Quebeceois have already achieved this in being seen as a distinct people and Southerners have the meas to do this as well (after all, the League of the South declared cultural secession from the U.S. back when the group was first formed in the early 1990s). A people have to be created first before any talk can begin of self-government. Anything less just leads to disaster as Italy found out early in its history.
Tom Naylor did a lot of good work changing people’s perception of secession. But his dream can only be realized if Vermonters see themselves as a distinct from being Americans and what they value and believe in and do is distinct and separate from the rest of the country. Secession is as much a cultural act as a political act and those advocating it can’t lose sight of this fact.