Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Secession - and the 'Ulster Month' of 1922

Secession petition
The news channels are ablaze with the latest opinion polls which indicate that a majority of Scots might well vote 'Yes' for independence, to secede from the Union of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Presbyterianism in Scotland and Ireland has had a number of secessions, because of theological or church government differences, when congregations decided they could no longer continue as members of the wider denomination they then decided to go it alone as 'Seceders'. Scottish church secessions soon reverberated over here - once again, the vote in Scotland has implications for us on this side of the water too.
On December 20, 1860, seven of the southern states of America voted to secede from their Union, the United States. Six months later 4 more states joined them, eventually totalling 13. Some people I have met and spoken to from those southern states insist to this day that slavery was not the core issue at stake (which has become the orthodox narrative) but in fact 'states rights' was at least just as important - federal government had become too powerful and was imposing itself on the individual states. Here is a balanced article on the subject, but Google away for yourselves. In Waynesboro, Virginia, in 1997, a young man in a musical instrument shop told me 'the South will rise again, and next time we'll win.' I had a similar conversation in a genteel college town in Kentucky. Tennessee was divided on the issue and the state itself nearly broke into two separate states, following the East Tennessee Convention of 1861.
Few people appreciate that Northern Ireland also seceded, from the Irish Free State, which had been effectively formed by a Treaty on 6 December 1921. A year later it had been adopted. During the following four weeks of 1922 - known as 'The Ulster Month' - provision was allowed for the Houses of Parliament of Northern Ireland to opt out of the new state. The inevitable happened - an address was presented to the King the next day which said:
"... MOST GRACIOUS SOVEREIGN, We, your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Senators and Commons of Northern Ireland in Parliament assembled, having learnt of the passing of the Irish Free State Constitution Act, 1922, being the Act of Parliament for the ratification of the Articles of Agreement for a Treaty between Great Britain and Ireland, do, by this humble Address, pray your Majesty that the powers of the Parliament and Government of the Irish Free State shall no longer extend to Northern Ireland ..."
The King's response on 8th December 1922 was:
"... I have received the Address presented to me by both Houses of the Parliament of Northern Ireland in pursuance of Article 12 of the Articles of Agreement set forth in the Schedule to the Irish Free State (Agreement) Act, 1922, and of Section 5 of the Irish Free State Constitution Act, 1922, and I have caused my Ministers and the Irish Free State Government to be so informed ...'.
(The vote in the Northern Ireland Houses of Parliament had been 40 for secession to 12 against. A full list of MPs who had been elected in 1921 is online here. One of them who would have supported the secession was  William John Twaddell, but he had been murdered by the IRA on 22 May 1922 at around 40 years of age. Twaddell Avenue in Belfast was named after him.)
I find that very few people in Northern Ireland today understand that our state was brought about by an act of secession. Most think that the 26 counties which comprise today's Republic of Ireland opted to leave the UK. In fact, the 6 counties opted to separate from the 26. That's a wholly different dynamic. "Occupied Six Counties" suddenly looks questionable. Regardless of what our views about it are today, at the time a democratic majority decided to withdraw from the larger entity of the Irish Free State. With secession part of our history and psyche, we can hardly deny our Scottish kinsfolk the same right if they wish to exercise it.
But, because we are kinsfolk, whatever the outcome next week, the historical and cultural ties between Ulster and Scotland will be unchanged. Malachi O'Doherty had an excellent article in the Belfast Telegraph just yesterday on this very point. In fact, the cultural future might be enhanced by closer co-operation than has been the case for many generations.
During my time as Chair of the Ulster-Scots Agency, I know full well of how bureaucrats on our side of the water worked to prevent constructive links with Scotland being set up. They had their reasons, they always do.
PS - US readers, please feel free to comment below on the states rights issue. It is raising its head here in the UK with demands for a referendum on our continuing membership of the European Union.
(Below - 1914 map of the suggested partition/secession of Ulster and Ireland. It would be interesting to compare this with 2014 electoral demographics)1914 map


Jenny said...

For what it's worth, you'll find more rebel flags in East Tennessee today than you ever would have in 1861. It leaned Union back when, but 150 years of Federal domination and "make fun of the hillbillies" orthodoxy has soured a lot of folk.

Mark Thompson said...

Hi Jenny - nice to hear from you again! The regions of the UK are definitely suffering from our own federal dominations, either from London or 'higher up' from Brussels. Both are very detached from the lives of everyday folk. What is your opinion on 'states rights'?

Jenny said...

Been away from blogger too long. :)

re: The Late Unpleasantness -
I think the Confederate States did the right thing for the wrong reason - the USA the reverse.

It's not for nothing that a foreigner visiting our shores - forgive me, I forget his nationality - was told that war then underway was the process of "Massachusetts conquering America."

re: States Rights as a more general concept -
James Madison - I think in Federalist 10 - talks about the smoothing effect of federal power.

As an example- Pot smoking hippies are a minority in Texas. Christian gun owners likewise in Massachusetts. But b/c Texas and Mass both have significant federal voices, there's a limit to how far Texans can harass hippies, or Massachusetts folk can harass gun owners.

At least, that's the ideal. In practice I think it's come to a point we'd all be better off with an amiable divorce.

Finally - The world would be I submit a more dangerous place without the Anglo-American hegemony of the seas we've both enjoyed the last 300 years, and I don't think that's a power that should be so lightly tossed aside.

However, since our elites are helping themselves to the trough while negligently away everything that made this forced marriage worthwhile, well.. to quote a damn Yankee-

"Good fences make good neighbors."

I think we'd all be a lot happier with a cultural divorce that lets us each live as we wish, without having to wage a constant war over the federal machine just to live unmolested.

Jenny said...

Ah! And I don't think I answered your question re: states rights / secession as regards the UK.

As an American traditionalist with fond romantic notions of our old mother country in her glory days, I'm sorry to see her split still more.

As a Southerner with a romantic attachment to stubborn independence I'm happy to see Scotland is no tame subordinate, but keeps her own culture and identity - and if the Scots choose to break away, yeehaw!

Being very dubious of left wing economics, I suspect Scots won't find the prosperity they expect after a divorce.

But mostly, as liberty-minded American I think "not my playground - y'all do what you want."


Mark Thompson said...

Fascinating thoughts Jenny. From the other side of the pond there has been a generational, and institutionalised, disdain for the achievements of previous centuries - usually because of colonial guilt etc. And ordinary folk in Britain and Ireland were probably exploited by those elites just as much as the ordinary folk in the various colonies. Our present-day metropolitan elites still like to exploit and mock the working classes, as demonstrated in England just a few days ago by a politico/media figure called Matthew Parris.

Is there still a sense of North v South in the US, or has it become powerful v powerless, across the whole nation?

Jenny said...

"Is there still a sense of North v South in the US, or has it become powerful v powerless, across the whole nation?"

In the south - the scars are very deep, and still remembered. From 1865-1980 or so we had I think a shaky truce of narrative. Both sides had heroes, both sides had villains, it was a tragic wound in our common history, but we were a stronger, better people together than apart.

The establishment generation *after* the Civil Rights era chose instead a "rub those ignorant southern noses in it" approach, and began a steady attack on southern culture in all its manifestations.. That's led to most of the southern resentment you probably noted on your trip.

The latter part of this essay captures it well -


Outside the south, it's a different story. The West was settled largely after the war, was little touched by it, and there aren't deep memories of it. Once you pass Nebraska, history seems to start with the cowboys. :)

The northeast .. is a mixed bag. The late 19th/early 20th c. immigration brought in lots of folks with no dog in the old fight, and who mostly just don't care/think about it.

The old Boston Brahmans over the course of the 20th caught the new wave, and at some point lost their religion but kept their messianic fervor. Add in a sort of cynical despair after the Great Society never delivered on its promise, and you get the "Bright" / collectivist / scolding / snarky vibe you see on the "Commanding Heights" of American culture today.

"Powerful vs Powerless"... is a tricky dichotomy, b/c our left and right are culturally more antipathetic to each other than we have been in decades, and thanks to the cultural bubbles of online news as opposed to a common broadcast-era culture are moving apart daily.

The reasonable middle of each side sees only the elites and the dregs of the other. BOTH sides see themselves powerless, victims of arrogant elites manipulating dull stooges on the other side.. and both are kinda right in that.

Both would love to get out from under the elites of both parties.. but neither wants to live in a world made by the other. Law and politicking have become weapons of cultural conquest and internal warfare.

I've heard the state of America today called a "Cold Civil War" and I think that's true.

Maybe it's always been like this and I didn't notice as a teen, maybe it comes and goes in waves, I don't know... but I know it feels worse to be now than any time in my lifetime.

Anon said...

As a native Middle Tennessean (and a person of Scotch-Irish ancestry), I need to point out a small error in your article.

Only eleven states actually went through the formality of secession. Kentucky and Missouri never formally left the Union, but elements in both states set up Confederate governments in opposition to the standing state governments. These were recognized by the Confederacy and that is the reason you have thirteen stars on the Battle Flag.