Here at the Yes California Calexit Campaign, we often hear people rhetorically ask us if we remember the Civil War. Others insist the issue of secession was decided by that war 150 years ago. While the North indeed won the war and the Union was preserved, it is wrong to tie a state’s unilateral secession to the outbreak of civil war in the 1860s and by extension it is also wrong to assume that upcoming California’s unilateral declaration of independence would cause another American Civil War.
The American Civil War started on April 12, 1861 when Confederate military forces attacked Americans at Fort Sumter. That is when the fighting began. It did not begin on December 20, 1860 when South Carolina passed its ordinance of secession and declared the union between it and the other states dissolved. The fighting did not begin four days later on December 24, 1860 when South Carolina issued a proclamation entitled the “Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union.” In fact, four days after that, President James Buchanan met with delegates from South Carolina at the White House.
Nor did fighting ensue in the month of January, 1861 when Mississippi, Florida, and Alabama seceded from the Union January 9, 10, and 11, respectively. By the second week of 1861, four states had declared their unilateral secession from the Union, and yet there was no Civil War. Throughout the month of January, politicians in Washington tried to sooth things over but, as you could expect, only made things worse. Meanwhile, Georgia and Louisiana unilaterally seceded on January 19, and 26, respectively, and Texas followed suit on February 1 that year.
A conference was called and it convened in Washington on February 4, 1861 at the Willard Hotel. Representatives of 21 of the nation’s 33 states at the time attended to negotiate. California did not participate in the conference, and it ultimately failed to produce any results. More than two months later, and 114 days after the first state declared its independence, Confederate forces attacked Fort Sumter, and the Civil War began.
California’s independence referendum, which we plan to hold on November 3, 2020, and the subsequent declaration of independence, will not cause a civil war, just as it didn’t in 1860 when South Carolina proclaimed its union with the other states dissolved. What will happen, if history is to repeat itself, is a delegation of Californians may be welcomed to the White House to discuss the issue, the politicians in Congress will likely discuss and debate the issue, and perhaps another conference will be convened to open negotiations between California and the United States. What will not happen is California won’t attack Camp Pendleton, or some other American military institution, sparking another Civil War.