The people's voice of reason

The Resumption Clauses

The discordant views in modern America mirror much of the animosity of the 1700s and 1800s. Unfortunately, there is presently a dearth of individuals who possess the wisdom and historical perspective of the Founding generation.

The great secession document known as the Declaration of Independence spelled out the colonies’ grievances and asserted the God-given right of representative government. Many in Great Britain viewed colonial secession as treasonous since the colonies were part of an empire -- not a voluntary union. Patrick Henry’s perspective was: “If this be treason, make the most of it.” Perhaps as a reflection of modern apathy, the unfair taxation that spurred the independence movement is trivial compared to current levels.

After winning their independence, the “free, sovereign and independent States” created a federal government and assigned to it specific duties best administered on a general level, e.g., creating a common currency, conducting foreign policy, protecting the borders of the States/country, etc. The first government was The Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union (Perpetual in the sense there was no predetermined expiration date). Article II references the sovereignty of the States, echoing the 1783 Treaty of Paris.

Over time, the centralizers pushed for another constitution that granted more power to the federal government. The proponents of the U.S. Constitution insisted this new general government would still recognize State sovereignty; even nationalists like Alexander Hamilton described it as a compact between the States. Patrick Henry warned the Southern States to reject the Constitution, largely due to the avaricious nature of some of the “Puritans” in the North. Henry said that once they gained the majority, the South would be relegated to virtual colonial status. Nonetheless, the requisite number (9) of States “seceded” from the Articles and the U.S. Constitution became valid.

Reflecting foresight and historical perspective, three States--Virginia, New York, and Rhode Island--included Resumption Clauses as a condition of joining the U.S. Constitution.

Virginia’s ratification included the following language: “Do in the name and in behalf of the People of Virginia declare and make known that the powers granted under the Constitution being derived from the People of the United States may be resumed by them whensoever the same shall be perverted to their injury or oppression and that every power not granted thereby remains with them and at their will.”

New York’s resumption clause stated: ““That the Powers of Government may be resumed by the People, whensoever it shall become necessary to their Happiness; that every Power, Jurisdiction and right which is not by the said Constitution clearly delegated to the Congress of the United States, or the departments of the government thereof, remains to the People of the several States, or to their respective State Governments to whom they may have granted the same……”

Lastly, Rhode Island’s provision stated: “That the powers of government may be resumed by the people, whensoever it shall become necessary to their happiness: That the rights of the States respectively to nominate and appoint all State Officers, and every other power, jurisdiction and right, which is not by the said constitution clearly delegated to the Congress of the United States or to the departments of government thereof, remain to the people of the several states, or their respective State Governments to whom they may have granted the same……..”

On February 5, 1861, Judah P. Benjamin stated: “The rights of Louisiana as a sovereign state are those of Virginia – no more, no less.” The simple fact is that all States possess the same rights of sovereignty.

The perceptiveness of these clauses surfaced as numerous regional disagreements arose after the Constitution was ratified. Animosities came to a head in the late 1820s/early 1830s via the Tariff of Abominations. This punitive tariff, that financially aided “favored” Northern industries and banks and severely harmed the agricultural South, was also viewed as a violation of the constitution’s uniformity clause (Article I, Section 8, Clause 1). South Carolina nullified this discriminatory tariff. This led to a Force Bill giving Andrew Jackson the power to have the military collect import duties. Cooler heads prevailed, war was avoided, and the tariff was lowered over time. However, this was a foreboding of future sectional arguments over tariffs, expansion of slavery, States’ Rights, etc.

As we celebrate July 4th and American Independence, it is wise to remember that the Founders understood the experimental nature of the government they created. History shows republics typically last about 200-250 years before collapsing and that decentralization of power is the remedy. However, if any State or States were to now seek independence via the “resumption clauses” it is likely a new Lincoln would again claim the union is “indivisible.” Any entity seeking self-determination should then prepare to be invaded.

Sources: Union At All Costs: From Confederation to Consolidation, by John M. Taylor; “Patrick Henry,” A-Z Quotes, at:; “This Thing We Call Sovereignty,” (February 20, 2019) and “The Right of Secession, as Reserved by the States in Their Ratification of the U.S. Constitution,” (June 1, 2018) by Diane Ruffino, from For Love of God and Country, Tenth Amendment Movement. Much of Ruffino’s work used the following sources: Gene Kizer Jr., “The Right of Secession,” and “Slavery Was Not the Cause of the War Between the States,” Charleston Athenaeum Press; Albert Taylor Bledsoe, Is Jefferson Davis a Traitor? (1865). Reprinted by Forgotten Books (2012); Dave Benner, “Can States Secede from the United States?”,, March 7, 2017; Donald W. Livingston, “The Secession Tradition in America,” 1998; and “Ratification of the Constitution by the State of Virginia; June 26, 1788,” The Avalon Project (Yale Law School).



Reader Comments(0)