Hank Hill, a resident of Arlen, Texas, works as a salesman selling propane and propane accessories.  Extremely unhappy with the results of the recent presidential election, Hill initiates a petition for Texas to secede from the United States.  Hill claims that Texas was a sovereign nation when it joined the Union in 1845 and that it specifically reserved the right to secede as part of its Constitution.  Is Hill right?

Constitutional Secession is an Urban Legend

No.  Nothing in the Texas Constitution expressly gives Texas the right to secede.  Despite urban legends to the contrary, Texas has no more of a right to secede than any of the other 49 states.  The U.S. Constitution is also silent on the issue of secession.   As the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution reserves all powers to the states that are not specifically granted to the U.S. by the Constitution, one could argue that all states technically have the right to secede*.

Although the U.S. Constitution may be silent on the issue, constitutional scholars point to the U.S. Supreme Court case of Texas v. White (1869) for the proposition that states may not secede.  In that opinion, the Court found that Texas remained a state during the Civil War because when it joined the United States, it entered into an “indissoluble relation” and that “The Constitution, in all its provisions, looks to an indestructible Union, composed of indestructible States.” Texans favoring secession might quickly point out that the White decision was a 4-3 vote of the Supremes with strong dissent, and that it was decided by the winners of the war – not a surprising result!

Breaking into Five States was Retained

Although Hill’s plan to make Texas its own country (by the way, Texas would be the world’s 14th largest economy and the 10th largest country in terms of land mass) would be unsuccessful, all is not lost.  Texas did preserve the very unique right, pursuant to the 1845 Annexation Agreement with the United States, to split itself into as many as five separate states.  Specifically, the Annexation Agreement provides that:

New States of convenient size not exceeding four in number, in addition to said State of Texas and having sufficient population, may, hereafter by the consent of said State, be formed out of the territory thereof, which shall be entitled to admission under the provisions of the Federal Constitution.

If Texas exercised this right, it could dramatically shift the Congressional balance of power as its number of senators would increase from two to ten!

*Our country’s most notable secession movement occurred during the American Civil War when eleven of the fifteen southern states declared their secession from the United States and joined together as the Confederate States of America.  That attempt at secession collapsed in 1865 after losing the war to the North.