There can be no doubt that the sovereignty of the individual is paramount in a free society, despite government attempts to obfuscate this truth. Our natural rights notwithstanding, a people, or a society, have an inherent right to determine the direction that their society may take so long as this direction does not usurp the natural rights of either themselves or a separate people. It should be implied that the American spirit is one of self-determination, and as such, we deserve to pursue our own happiness and destiny together in whatever manner we see fit. However, America is not an entirely united nation; we are, at present, a divided people with very distinct opinions and politics from one another. When a minority exists under the authority of an oppressive majority, in any national, state, or provincial government, they have an inherent right as a majority of their own opinion to break away from their existing authorities and institute for themselves a new sovereign state. Along that same vein, a people have the right to remove themselves from one authority and adhere to another, if in so doing they are exercising their right to better pursue and attain happiness for themselves as their sovereign will dictates.
This very situation is playing out today in our state of Oregon; for years now, many of Oregon’s conservative easternmost counties have found themselves to be at the political mercy of the state’s radical progressive (or rather, regressive) western counties and cities. As a result of this great political divide between these two regions, many eastern Oregonians would rather redraw their county lines and join with Idaho, a state which is far more politically aligned with their beliefs than Western Oregon. Recent movements, such as the Greater Idaho Movement, have been started as an attempt to bring this vision to the ballot in both the Oregon and Idaho sate legislatures. Should both legislatures, and Congress, agree, then the counties wishing to leave Oregon and join Idaho should be able to do so without incident. Afterall, this wouldn’t be the first time in our nation’s history that such a change in state borders has occurred. In 1792, Kentucky split away from Virginia after separatists convened, drafted a formal Constitution, and won independent statehood for themselves. There was also West Virginia’s secession from Virgina in 1861, and its subsequent admission into the Union on June 20th, 1863 as an independent state. Both of these events resulted from an exercise of sovereignty by the citizens residing within these regions.
Towards the end of his Essay on Sovereignty (1835), James Madison explores the issue of sovereignty within our newfound nation, and cites Kentuckian John Rowan, who concluded that both State and Union sovereignty, each a “moral person”, is equal under our Constitutional compact, however noting that our Union’s sovereign power is expected to be exerted abroad, and a State’s sovereign power is expected to be exerted domestically:
“It is so difficult to argue intelligibly concerning the compound System of Govt. in the U. S. without admitting the divisibility of Sovereignty, that the idea of sovereignty as divided between the Union and the members composing the Union, forces itself into the view and even into the language of those most strenuously contending for the unity & indivizibility, of the moral being created formed by the Social compact. “For security agst. oppression from abroad we look to the Sovereign power of the U. S. to be exerted according to the compact of Union; for security agst. oppression from within, or domestic oppression, we look to the sovereign power of the State. Now all Sovereigns are equal; the Sovereignty of the State is equal to that of the Union; for the Sovereignty of each is but a moral person. That of the State and that of the Union are each a moral person; & in that respect precisely equal”. These are the words, in a speech which more than any other, has analized & elaborated this particular subject; and they express the view of it finally taken by the Speaker*, notwithstanding the previous introductory one, in which he says, “The States whilst the Constitution of the U. S. was forming, were not even shorn of any of their Sovereign power by that process” Tellegraph Mar. 23. 1834 or 3 et sequent in the Enquirer of Apl. 20.
*Mr. Rowan of Kentucky
-James Madison, Essay on Sovereignty, December 1835
Earlier in his same Essay, we see Madison delving into the ultimate origin of both State and Federal sovereignty, being thus derived from a society’s majority, although this sovereign authority isn’t to be confused with, nor can it supplant, individual rights:
“What ever be the hypothesis, of the origin of the lex majoris partis, it is evident that it operates as a plenary substitute of the will of the majority of the Society, for the will of the whole Society; and that the Sovereignty of the Society as vested in & exerciseable by the majority, may do any thing that could be rightfully done, by the unanimous concurrence of the members; the reserved rights of individuals (of Conscience for example), in becoming parties to the original compact, being beyond the legitimate reach of Sovereignty, wherever vested or however viewed.
The question then presents itself how far the will of a majority of the Society, by virtue of its identity with the will of the Society, can divide, modify or dispose of the Sovereignty of the Society. And quitting the theoretic guide, a more satisfactory one will perhaps be found 1. in what a majority of a Society has done and been universally regarded as having had a right to do 2. what it is universally admitted that a majority by virtue of its sovereignty might do, if it chose to do <it>
1. The majority has divided the Sovereignty of the Society, by actually dividing the Society itself into distinct Societies, equally Sovereign. Of this operation, we have before us examples in the separation of Kentucky from Virginia; and of Maine from Massachusetts; events wch. were never supposed to require a unanimous consent of the individuals concerned. In the case of naturalization a new member is added to the Social compact, not only without a unanimous consent of the members but by a majority of the governing body deriving its powers from a majority of the individual parties to the social compact.”
-James Madison, Essay on Sovereignty, December 1835
Madison asserts here that the sovereignty of a society is vested and exercisable by its majority, with only the “reserved rights of individuals” being beyond the legitimate reach of a sovereign, and that sovereign majorities within society may choose to divide that society into distinct societies, each of which being equally sovereign to each other. It is this equality of sovereignty, therefore, which our United States should enjoy. It can thus be argued along Madison’s lines that a political minority residing within an oppressive state, however constituting a political majority within their unique regions inside that state, may choose to freely break away from said oppressor and either form a new state for themselves, or join with an existing state whose local government will better protect their rights and society, with society being equated in this instance to their “way of life.”
Although the U.S. Constitution allows for a procedure such as what the Greater Idaho group is seeking to occur, assuming an agreement between both state legislatures is reached, and approval by our Federal Congress is obtained, any people trapped in oppression shouldn’t have to deal with red tape and semantics when their essential liberty is in jeopardy. Purely political, rather than geographic, delineations are the only lines barring Eastern Oregonians from uniting with their brethren in Idaho, and freeing themselves from the tyrannical majority residing in their state’s anarchy-adjacent, and rapidly deteriorating coastal cities. Should their efforts fail to secure the votes of either state legislature, or the approval of our Federal Congress, to join the state of Idaho, it is the right of the Eastern Oregonians to declare themselves free and independent peoples, and ignore/nullify any law or ordinance that seeks to deprive them of their essential liberty and unique sovereignty as a group. The sovereignty exercised by Oregon’s state government cannot triumph over the rights of the individuals residing therein, regardless of their status as a political majority or minority. By the laws and precedents set forth by our nation’s founders, it is the duty of any free people to reject oppressive advances, and declare autonomy in the face of a tyrant.
Any government that would abridge or otherwise usurp the natural, God-given rights of the people is operating illegally. May the sovereign denizens of East-Oregon succeed in their quest to join Idaho, and may the rights of the people remain unabridged for now and forevermore!