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Rants from the Hill: Most likely to secede

Cross-posted from High Country News It is less than 90 miles, as the raven flies, from the Ranting Hill to Rough and Ready, California, a western Sierra foothills town that holds special meaning for a reclusive curmudgeon like me. Rough and Ready was settled as a miners’ outpost in 1849, after which it quickly grew to be a boomtown of 3,000. Just a year or so after its settlement, though, the people of Rough and Ready decided they were already fed up with the constraints of citizenship, and so held a gathering at which they voted resoundingly to withdraw from the Territory of California and secede from the United States. On April 7, 1850, the Great Republic of Rough and Ready was established, and for several months it made out just fine as one of the tiniest and most independent nations in the world. However, on July 4th of that same year, so the story goes, the men of Rough and Ready ran into trouble when they rode the four miles to nearby Grass Valley to get good and drunk. (During the mid-nineteenth century Americans were both more patriotic and more inebriated than they are today, and even temperance societies offered their members a reprieve from the sobriety pledge for the 4th of July.) But, to their dismay, the thirsty men of Rough and Ready reached the Grass Valley saloon only to be told that they were now considered “foreigners,” and thus would be served no hooch—especially not on the day set aside to celebrate the great nation from which they had chosen to secede. Sticking to the principles most important to true patriots, the men quickly convened another meeting, resoundingly voted to immediately rejoin the United States, and then returned to the Grass Valley saloon, where cheers went up as the newly reassimilated Americans set to patriotically hammering corn liquor just like everybody else. The tale of the Great Republic of Rough and Ready has a curious addendum. Just after World War II the U.S. Postal Service discovered that Rough and Ready had never formally been readmitted to the union, and so had been essentially operating as a rogue state for nearly a century. A few forms were filled out, and on June 16, 1948, Rough and Ready formally rejoined the U.S. No doubt there was more drinking to celebrate the occasion. These days Rough and Ready has a population of about 900 folks, approximately 700 of whom would shoot you just for stepping onto their porch; the other 200 are telecommuting Bay Area software designers, which is far worse. But I do love to think of the century during which Rough and Ready existed both within and outside the nation that did and did not quite contain it. There is in fact a long tradition of secessionist movements in America, a nation itself born through secession. Though we often associate secession with the southern states that confederated against the union during the Civil War, folks all over the country have been talking about getting out ever since they got in. Texas was once a free country (though it seceded from Mexico rather than the U.S.), eight counties of western North Carolina existed briefly as the State of Franklin, Maine was born when it seceded from Massachusetts, and both Kentucky and West Virginia were formed through secession from Virginia. There have been a whole slew of 51st state proposals, from folks in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula wanting to become a state modestly named “Superior,” to Long Islanders whose inherent sense of superiority motivated them to try to avoid slumming with the rest of New York. Northern California has been trying to declare itself free of southern California since before the establishment of Rough and Ready, and has in fact never stopped trying. A number of entire states have attempted to remove themselves from the country—the usual suspects, including Vermont, Alaska, Hawaii, Texas, and California. The citizens of countless cities and counties have also followed Rough and Ready in attempting to sever themselves from the United States. And following the 2012 presidential election, secession petitions were filed from every state in the country. Read more at High Country News.