SALISBURY, NC (WBTV) - Cabarrus County lawmaker Larry Pittman (R-NC03) is the co-sponsor of a bill filed on Tuesday that would give North Carolina the right to secede from the Union by removing an obstacle to secession that was built into the state constitution 148 years ago.
House Bill 147 was filed by representatives Michael Speciale, George G. Cleveland, Pittman, and Bert Jones. All four men are Republican lawmakers.
The bill seeks to repeal Section 4 of Article I of the North Carolina Constitution, which states:
Sec. 4. Secession prohibited.
This State shall ever remain a member of the American Union; the people thereof are part of the American nation; there is no right on the part of this State to secede; and all attempts, from whatever source or upon whatever pretext, to dissolve this Union or to sever this Nation, shall be resisted with the whole power of the State.
According to HB147, the sponsors want to put the repeal up on the ballot during the general election in November 2018. They say if the voters approve the amendment, it should be made law.
"Just to be clear, this is not a bill to secede," Representative Speciale said in a statement to WBTV Tuesday night. "It is a bill to remove the provision in our state constitution that says that we cannot, ever."
"The federal government is a creation of the states, not the other way around," he continued. "Therefore we should always retain the right to leave the union if the federal government becomes so out of control as to be tyrannical."
North Carolina did secede from the Union in 1861, joining other southern states to form the Confederate States of America. On May 1, 1861, the legislature voted that counties should elect delegates who would then decide whether North Carolina would remain in the Union. In Raleigh on May 20, 1861, those delegates voted unanimously that North Carolina would no longer be a part of the United States of America.
North Carolina was the last southern state to secede and join the Confederacy.
North Carolina was readmitted to the Union following the Civil War, and as part of that process, the state constitution contained specific language prohibiting secession.
"Well, as we are prone to say in history, here we go again," said Dr. Michael Bitzer, a historian, political scientist, and provost at Catawba College in Salisbury. "Most scholars would immediately point to his belief that the federal government was created by the states under the 1787 constitution as wrong; in fact, reading the preamble to the U.S. Constitution notes where the constitutional and federal system derives its power from: "We the People." The people, not the states, constituted the framework of our system of government authority and sovereignty. The previous constitutional system before the 1787 constitution was the Articles of Confederation, and that was a system where the states held the power and the national government derived its authority from the states. That's the not the case under our current system."
"There is also some issue of whether this would be a constitutionally viable option to 'secede' from the union, of which we have already had one conflict over that perceived 'right of the states,' called the Civil War," Bitzer added. "In my judgment as a historian and political scientist, this reads as another call from the political theory of 'states rights' and how the states and federal government interact when it comes to governing power. This is a constant refrain in our history of governing, and I think in our current hyper-polarized environment, we are seeing both on a conservative side and a liberal side the calls for disunity of our federal system; for example, there is a movement for California to break away and be an independent nation as well."