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Did the Supreme Court Ever Rule on the Legality of Secession?

Originally published under Ask Mr. History. Published Online: November 26, 2013 
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Was the legality of secession ever brought before the Supreme Court? If not, why?

–SH

? ? ?

Dear SH:
 
The only time the legality of secession was brought before the Supreme Court occurred in December 1868, when the reconstruction government in Texas claimed that bonds owned by Texas since 1850 had been illegally sold by the Confederate State Legislature during the war—a matter in which the legality of Texas' secession became a factor. On April 15, 1869, Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase announced a ruling in favor of Texas on the grounds that the Confederate government had no legal existence, and that Texas, since its admission in 1845, was part of "an indestructible union, composed of indestructible states. Although the ruling conceded that divisibility was possible "through revolution or through consent of the states," it declared the ordinances of secession, as applied to Texas in 1861, "absolutely null."

Sincerely,

 

Jon Guttman
Research Director
Weider History Group
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