An American Breakup – The American Conservative
Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “The God who made New Hampshire taunted the lofty land with little men.” He was from Massachusetts.
Truth be told, our two states have always hated each other. Massachusetts thinks New Hampshire is full of bumpkins and yokels; New Hampshire thinks Massachusetts is full of snobs and prigs. It’s something of a tradition. According to the great Alan Taylor, when the Puritans began to spread north from Boston, they found the New Hampshire seacoast already settled by “fishing folk, nominal Anglicans,” with whom they “mingled uneasily.” I’m sure that’s putting it mildly.
Fast forward to the 1850s and we find Mr. Emerson, the puritanical progressive, still seething.
The “little men” line had to do with New Hampshire’s stance on slavery. Of course, most Granite Staters were abolitionists. Franklin Pierce, New Hampshire’s only president, was even called a “wicked free-soiler” by Abraham Lincoln. (As it happens, Pierce made a name for himself as a hero of the Mexican-American War. That’s part of the reason Emerson hated him and, by extension, New Hampshire. Back then, Massachusetts liberals thought Texas should belong to the Mexicans. If you can believe such a thing.)
Then as now, Massachusetts was more urban and progressive; New Hampshire was rural and conservative. You might assume that Massachusetts was therefore more committed to emancipation, but that isn’t true. The two states differed on means, not ends. Farm-folk like Pierce were afraid that, if slavery was abolished in the wrong way, it would ruin the South’s agrarian economy and plunge everyone, black and white, into poverty. Emerson didn’t care about that. He considered farm work stifling and degrading. If it collapsed along with chattel slavery, Emerson wouldn’t mourn it.
(You might be asking yourself, “How did he expect to feed those Southerners, then? He must have had some new scheme.” Well, he didn’t. If that seems far-fetched, I’ll channel my inner Fox News Dad and ask you how President Biden plans to pay for his Build Back Better Plan. Sometimes liberals spend money they don’t have. It’s a whole thing.)
Emerson’s circle became so unhinged that one of its core members, Orestes Brownson, not only abandoned the Transcendentalist movement but defected to the Catholic Church. Brownson, like Pierce, was both a staunch abolitionist and a conservative. He was a son of Vermont farmers; Vermont, like New Hampshire, always chafed under the Massachusetts hegemon.
In one essay, Brownson lambasts a certain kind of Yankee radical, a fellow who’s
always seeking to make all the world like himself, or as uneasy as himself… He is philanthropic, but makes his philanthropy his excuse for meddling with everybody’s business as if it were his own, and under pretense of promoting religion and morality, he wars against every generous and natural instinct, and aggravates the very evils he seeks to cure.
Of course, he was talking about Emerson.
No doubt he meant Emerson, too, when he decried those “madmen amongst us who talk of exterminating the Southern leaders, and of New Englandizing the South.” But when push came to shove, both Brownson and Pierce threw in their lot with the Union. And I think they were right to do so.
Why do I bring all of this up? Because given what I’m about to say I want to make it clear that I’m not trying to rehash the Civil War. On the contrary. My ancestors came to New England in the 1630s. They fought for the Union, and I’m proud of their service. I’m not a “neo-Confederate” by any stretch. And neither are the 47 percent of Americans who agree with me.
Yes, 47 percent. According to a University of Virginia poll published this September, 41 percent of Biden voters and 52 percent of Trump voters say “it’s time to split the country, favoring blue/red states seceding from the Union.” No poll has caused the pundit class so much anxiety since the denizens of NoVa voted to rename their football team the Washington Palefaces. Yet it’s a perfectly sensible solution to a problem that’s been dragging on far too long now. By the time North and South got to fighting, the civil war in New England had already been raging for 200 years.
I’m a citizen of New Hampshire. Ask me if I want to break with Texas or South Carolina and my answer is no. Long live the Union, etc. But ask me if I want to secede from Massachusetts and you can call me Johnny Reb.
The best reason for breaking up the states is also the most obvious: there’s way too many of them. The idea that one government can effectively govern 300 million people spread over 4 million square miles and worth about $23 trillion is absurd. There’s no way the interests of Maine, Kentucky, New Mexico, Alaska, and Hawaii align even half the time. Give statehood to Puerto Rico and it becomes even more ridiculous.
It’s not that we’re hostile to each other. We don’t even know each other. Why does some putz in Chicago get a say in how much I pay for taxes? And why should I get a say in what his kids learn at school? Actually, Chicago has twice the population of New Hampshire. That one city not only makes my state irrelevant: it buries us. How is that fair?
The numbers just don’t work out. California has as many eligible voters as Utah, Nevada, Iowa, Alaska, Mississippi, Kansas, New Mexico, Nebraska, Idaho, West Virginia, Hawaii, New Hampshire, Maine, Montana, Rhode Island, Delaware, North Dakota, South Dakota, Alaska, Vermont, and Wyoming put together. The ten most populous states contain more people than the other 40. And despite the Electoral College (long to reign over us), those big states still manage to bully the little ’uns. That’s why, if you’re a Democrat, you’d better be a San Francisco Democrat. That’s also why the GOP is chronically saddled with mediocre Texans like Bush Jr. and Ted Cruz, though mediocre Floridians also seem to be having a moment.
And here we come to our second point. There’s too much freedom of movement within the United States. As we speak, thousands of Boston commuters are moving to New Hampshire, not because they love the Granite State but because they can’t afford the Bay State. The North Shore of Massachusetts is too expensive, and the suburbs are too dangerous. They come here, where property is a bit cheaper and taxes are much lower (especially for renters).
But, naturally, this influx of white-collar office workers is driving up real estate costs. Farming communities like Hollis are being leveled by developers. Whole forests are mowed down, with row after row of condos and McMansions sown in their place.
Naturally, these newcomers are bringing their liberal values with them. In just a couple of election cycles, New Hampshire has gone from a libertarian stronghold to fielding an all-Democratic congressional delegation. Our governor is a moderate, small-government Republican, but he has to keep vetoing legislation that would create New Hampshire’s first-ever income tax. (New Hampshire has the lowest poverty rate in the country.) Since the whole Rittenhouse affair, Democrats have also been trying to enact our first-ever open carry ban. (New Hampshire also has the lowest homicide rate in the country.)
These days, Massachusetts isn’t just browbeating New Hampshire. It’s colonizing us.
The same thing is happening all over the country. Liberals have destroyed their own states, so now they’re moving to prosperous red states, turning them blue, and wrecking them, too. Most famous is the California-to-Texas pipeline, which has formed as progressives flee the literal shitholes they’ve created in Los Angeles and San Francisco. A friend of mine just went to visit family in Sacramento. When I asked him how it was, he said, “It rained the night before we flew in so there wasn’t as much feces on the sidewalk as last year.” That’s a good day in the Golden State.
But what if I like New Hampshire the way it is? What if I want to keep the guns, the low taxes, and the family farms? And what if Texans don’t want their state to become another California? What if they don’t want their kids to see a bunch of half-naked, leather-clad BDSM freaks marching down the street during the town’s weekly Pride Parade? “Listen, pardner: ’round here, we wear Levi’s under our chaps.”
This is why states’ rights matter, and I don’t want to hear any of that smarmy APUSH crap. Try to make a nuanced point and some genius will say, “Oh, sure. The Civil War was only fighting for states’ rights—to own slaves.” Then he’ll dance around the room like it’s the cleverest thing he’s ever said, probably because it is. Now flash-forward 160 years. Texans have to sit on their hands while Californians migrate to their state en masse, shoot heroin at the bus stop, take a dump on the sidewalk, and use tax dollars to pay for their kid’s sex change. That’s wrong.
It’s wrong because red states shouldn’t have those failed, blue-state policies imposed on them. But it’s also wrong because liberals should be made to live with the consequences of their own bad policies. If they did, they wouldn’t enact those policies. As it stands, they’re just going to keep defraying the economic, social, and cultural cost across the entire country. They won’t stop until every town in America is as rich as Detroit, as safe as Chicago, as clean as New York City.
There are nonpolitical arguments for secession. For instance, all culture is ultimately rooted in the local, and that includes agriculture. The interstate supply chain can guarantee Maine blueberries in Louisiana and Florida oranges to Colorado, but all that shipping wreaks havoc on the environment. Besides, as everyone knows, preservatives make our food less healthy. In addition to making everything taste funny, flash-freezing also reduces the vitamin content. In fact, any produce grown on an industrial farm is going to come from nutrient-depleted soil, which practically eliminates the health benefits of eating fruits and veggies.
Small-scale, organic, bioregional farming is also better for our economy. It creates more resilient markets that are far less likely to be disrupted by war or fluctuations in the stock market. Within living memory, upwards of 25 percent of the U.S. workforce consisted of independent farmers. Farming is (or can be) a terrific career for those who want to own property and make a comfortable living without the need for much formal education.
But we can’t have local, sustainable, and affordable agriculture, because independent farmers can’t compete with Big Ag. It’s very difficult for individual states to act against corporate farming monopolies. Why? In part, because the jurisprudence around the Commerce Clause has been expanded to say that only the federal government can deal with national and multinational companies. And since Big Ag has one of the most powerful lobbies on Capitol Hill, rural states are totally unable to stand up for their farmers.
Besides all that, I don’t think we’re even aware of how much biodiversity has been sacrificed for our insane desire to have bananas in January. For instance, my father-in-law is a connoisseur of apples. This Thanksgiving, we had nod head apples, which are indigenous to New Hampshire. They’re named after a local farmer (some say minister) from the 1800s named Samuel Jewett, who was known for nodding his head when he walked. Nod heads beat galas or granny smiths like a gong. And yet I’d never heard of them before. Nor have 99 percent of New Hampshiremen, I’d bet. But they have bananas in January.
Of course, there are pockets of resistance to this homogenizing, stultifying globalism. The craze for craft beers and “microbrews” is heartening. Here in the Granite State, we’ve progressed from thirty IPAs to sixty APAs to 120 NHPAs. But it’s worth pointing out that, until the 1950s, pretty much every brew was a microbrew. Once again, it was the federal government that helped Big Suds establish a monopoly—and just after the end of Prohibition, too.
The modern union is totally alien to what the Founding Fathers envisioned. The notion of Manifest Destiny, of a transcontinental empire, has nothing to do with “just Powers from the Consent of the Governed.” The Declaration also declares that ours is a union of “Free and Independent States,” but that’s hard to square with the annexation of independent republics like Texas (1845) and California (1846), never mind the Kingdom of Hawaii (1893).
And that’s another thing. If an American is just someone that Washington feels entitled to boss around, then it’s really no surprise our government has plunged itself into so many foreign wars. Our message to Vietnam and Syria is the same as our message to Texas and Hawaii: “We’re going to liberate you, whether you like it or not.”
History tells us nothing if not this: when small, virtuous, freedom-loving nations get too big, they inevitably kill themselves with a deadly mixture of ambition and decadence. They’re too greedy to be content but too lazy to feed their avarice, so they end up devouring themselves. It happened to the British Empire, and the Roman Empire before it. No doubt it will happen to the American Empire in due course.
It doesn’t have to be that way.
The various “exit” movements, from Brexit to Calexit, show that the cracks run deeper than we may have expected. You might say that Westerners, both on the Right and the Left, are getting tired of trying to force themselves on one other.
It’s not that we hate each other. On the contrary. It’s that we love each other enough to try salvaging what’s left of our relationship. Friends don’t always make good housemates. Sometimes, they make the very worst housemates. Maybe we all just need a little space.
A wise man once said, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” But “Good fences make good neighbors,” said another.
I don’t know about you but, at the end of the day, that’s what I want more than anything. I’m not really a secessionist, I’m an Anti-Federalist. I only want to do what the Founding Fathers did: to “throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”
Forget about making America great again for a minute. Let’s all go our separate ways and see what happens. Maine and Hawaii might not get back together again, but who knows? Absence makes the heart grow fonder. Texas may let Oklahoma and New Mexico join its new Lone Star Republic. I hope the northeast would reorganize itself into a Commonwealth of New England—though, at this point, New York may as well take Connecticut.
At the very least, it would give the states a chance to reshuffle. NorCal and southern Oregon could form their State of Jefferson. They could team up with northern Idaho and eastern Washington, otherwise known as the State of Lincoln. And wouldn’t it be easier if there was just one Dakota?
I’m just spitballing. The point is to maximize freedom for individual Americans while creating a more efficient and accountable government. It’s to preserve and to celebrate our nation’s incredible diversity—its many histories and geographies, traditions and folkways. Really, there’s nothing special about the United States of America, but there’s something extraordinary about each of the fifty states that make up our republic. To blend them all together would be such a waste.
New York gave us Teddy Roosevelt. Texas gave us Sam Houston. California gave us John Muir. Massachusetts gave us Emerson, though it wasn’t all bad. What has New Texafornichusetts given us? Donald Trump and Meghan Markle. That’s not so great.
In the year 2021, if we want to make America great again, we all need a little time to ourselves. Because you can’t love a forest if you’ve never loved a tree, and you can’t love the United States until you’ve learned to love a state. Namely, your state: the little slice of America you call home, and the people you call neighbors.
Once we’ve relearned those loves, maybe then we can get the band back together. Just as long as our loyalty belongs to America first and the Union second. Just as long as we love our country—and our countrymen—more than our government. That’s how the Founding Fathers wanted it. And, you know, they were a lot smarter than we give them credit for.
Michael Warren Davis is author of The Reactionary Mind (Regnery, 2021) and the newsletter “The Common Man” on Substack.