Play That Old Secessionist Music

An op-ed in the Burlington Free Press yesterday has roused quite the “civil discourse” among commenters—the internet version of country-store gossip leading to pitchforks and torches down Main Street.

The column belongs to Rob Williams, editor of Vermont Commons: Voice of Independence, a journal and website advocating (what you may or may not call) progressive platforms such as localism and government decentralization, chiefly to do with Vermont’s own self-reliance and, if Mr. Williams succeeds, the state’s eventual secession from these United States.

But maybe whole-state secession isn’t the right solution. What about inter-state secession? Those of us who live in the VT/NH borderland known as the Upper Connecticut River Valley (or, just “Upper Valley,” if you’re local) could easily identify with a Republic of Verhampshire (“Live Free fer Damn Sure”?) that finally puts to rest those vital disagreements over whose hiking trails have better lookouts onto whose mountains. Because at umpteen-hundred feet, it’s all the beautiful same!

We wouldn’t have been the first inter-state to try this, though. In fact, as we were reading up on to-see-and-do in southern Oregon (in, ahem, our new 3rd edition of Oregon: An Explorer’s Guide), we found out about a movement begun in 1941 by a group of residents in northern California and southwestern Oregon who “were fed up with their respective legislatures’ unfulfilled promises to improve roads (which were indeed abysmal) through the area.” Because timber and minerals (e.g. “thar be gold”) were untrade-able without transport, they decided to take matters into their own hands. They drew up the paperwork, seceded, and formed the State of Jefferson. Author Denise Fainberg describes the transition of power:

Every Thursday they would “secede” from the Union. Border controls were set up in Yreka (CA), where motorists received pamphlets about the movement.

All right, obviously Jefferson didn’t quite succeed at seceding…unless you believe a current website devoted to the still-active movement and Jefferson’s very own NPR affiliate are sure signs of legitimacy. We’re not so…unsure, ourselves.

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