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Governor not signing Tennessee's secession petition

11:10 AM, Nov 14, 2012   |    comments
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By Heidi Hall and Brian Haas | The Tennessean

Apparently, one secession for Tennessee is enough.

In one of those loopy online campaigns that tend to spring up in the age of the Internet, thousands of people disappointed by the election results broached the idea of breaking with the U.S. government through an online petition to a White House website.

State officials don't expect it to get much traction.

People from at least 37 states had filed petitions on the White House's We the People website by late Tuesday, asking to peacefully withdraw from the U.S. and start their own governments. They began springing up immediately after President Barack Obama won a second term last week.

Gov. Bill Haslam said Tuesday he'd heard about Tennessee's petition. He's not a fan.

"I don't think that's a valid option for Tennessee," he said. "I don't think we'll be seceding."

Petitions.whitehouse.gov allows anyone over age 13 to set up an online petition for the administration's review. If it gets at least 25,000 virtual signatures in 30 days, someone will respond. The site doesn't explain how or in what form, and the White House didn't answer that question late Tuesday, even though Texas and Louisiana's petitions garnered well over the minimum.

Tennessee's petition, launched Saturday, had more than 22,000 signatures.

Secession wasn't good for Tennessee after voters approved it 2-to-1 in 1861, and it probably wouldn't work out too well now, either, historians said.

"It was hell," said Jim Hoobler, senior curator of art and architecture for the state. "I mean, there was a massive invasion, occupation and defeat."

But today's political interactions aren't so different than those preceding the Civil War, Hoobler said. To avoid war back then, "they would have had to communicate with each other and negotiate, and sort of like now, there's not a lot of that going on."

And secession isn't as simple as point-and-click. John R. Vile, political science professor and dean of the University Honors College at Middle Tennessee State University, said a majority of each state's residents would have to vote to secede. For that to happen, they'd need an issue like slavery -- the reason the Confederacy seceded -- to galvanize them, he said.

Then the president would have to interpret the U.S. Constitution in a way that allowed those states to go.

"You'd have to work out your issues. Are you still expecting to be defended?" Vile said. "If Florida is attacked, do you expect the U.S. military to respond? Are you taking your share of the debt with you?"

Of course, most people see the petitions as a symbolic way to express displeasure with the presidential election's outcome, Vile said. But even as a Romney supporter disappointed in the vote, he said, he finds the petitions a distasteful insult to veterans who fought for the nation.

Even the president of the Nashville Tea Party, heavily opposed to Obama's reelection, said he wouldn't sign.

"I think it's just people showing their displeasure, especially those of us on the losing side of this election," Ben Cunningham said. "People are just kind of dispirited and wanting to take some kind of symbolic stance. Of course it's not a serious movement."

Not everyone thinks the petitions are symbolic.

Lochlainn Seabrook, a writer from Williamson County resident who penned several Civil War books from a Confederate perspective, said he and many others are serious about seceding from the United States. He said the North has historically worked to dominate the South, particularly through larger government.

"It is true that the act of secession is not mentioned by name in the U.S. Constitution," he said. "This is because it was so well known and well understood by both politicians and by the people at the time, they didn't think it was necessary.

"After all, if a state could accede to the Union, it could secede as well."

Josh Brown also contributed to this report. Contact Heidi Hall at hhall@tennessean.com or 615-726-5977, or follow her on Twitter @HeidiHallTN.

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