Occasionally, the suggestion of Texas’ and California’s potential secessions makes its way through the media. Whenever state and federal powers clash, the question to separate from the United States reemerges, as do deep-rooted sentiments of self-determination to transcend the limitations of statehood. However, the secession of New England, a movement predating those of both Texas and California, has been neglected and deserves to take up just as much headspace in the minds of New Englanders as it does in those of Californians and Texans.
The story of New England independence begins in 1686 when King James II of England sought to increase authority over the region, detecting the accumulating momentum in the colonies to separate from the Crown. This period also marks the first noted use of the flag of New England — the altered Naval British Ensign defaced by the iconic pine tree. This flag, representing the defense of autonomous liberties and New England’s distinct culture, is still flaunted sporadically throughout the region.
The momentum toward independence continued at the 1814 Hartford Convention. The United States’ engagement in the War of 1812 was strongly disapproved of in New England and further aggravated the region’s economic turmoil, leading New England to resist federal control of its armed forces to fight in the war. The threat of disunion by New England became serious enough that the federal government positioned military forces in Albany to maintain its authority and reinforce New England’s participation in the Union. However, the convention was not able to conclude with any possibility of New England seceding since the war came to an end, quenching popular support for separatism.
Today, the idea of New England independence is once again awakening and the imminent circumstances expose the legitimacy of this future. The current political climate implores New England to begin its own self-determined governance liberated from the federal authority and the implicit consequences that impact economic, political and social life in New England. The recently founded New England Independence Campaign is a proponent of this long-lived movement, advocating the necessity for New England to begin prioritizing its own region and culture over national interests.
In my correspondence with the NEIC, they explained how partisanship in the modern political system is unsustainable. The way the modern political body behaves “makes a country the size of the United States virtually ungovernable.” The expanding economy and population of the United States reduces the federal government’s ability to manage and exert authority over the many domestic regions and states, as well as to maintain its broad international influence. The role of the presidency in our political system especially distracts from more important regional politics. President Biden’s administration prioritizes “taxing blue states to subsidize red states,” which “hurts New England,” said the NEIC. “The country has recently faces disastrous governance, shockingly poor response to the COVID-19 pandemic, out-of-control deficit spending, endless foreign wars, corporate welfare, increasing cultural polarization and vitriol in public discourse. Other nations fight problems such as budget shortfalls or covid pandemics. America only hurts itself.”
The political and economic arguments for New England’s continued membership in the United States are not unconvincing. If New England were to secede it would be the 14th strongest economy in the world. The region has a GDP of $1.2 trillion, which is similar to the wealth of countries like Mexico and Australia, with GDPs of $1.2 trillion and $1.6 trillion, respectively. “Control of our own economy is vital. The American economy serves large corporations. A New England economy would serve people and families … We can chart our own future,” said the NEIC.
Given current political and economic affairs, the thought of New England secession can be difficult to perceive. However, the potential expansion of New England’s states’ rights and autonomy ought not to be diminished. The American economic hegemony is the only true binding agent of New England to the rest of the Union. In the future, if this nation were to exist, New England would of course still be economically tied to the U.S. “no different than Canada is tied to the U.S.,” the NEIC said, while still possessing autonomous authority as an independent nation.
Arguing the current economic dependencies to subvert the idea of New England independence is a distraction from the larger motives of the movement, which seeks to solve the deep existential issues in the relationship between the United States and New England. As the United States government carelessly engaged in the War of 1812, bringing despair and turmoil to New England, the iniquities of Washington, D.C. continue to bring depravity to the region today. The NEIC wondered, “Why should we be weighed down by allegiance to a government that disregards our well-being while bleeding us dry financially?”
The NEIC believes the movement is vital to see political improvements in New England, like ranked-choice voting and proportional representation in its own election process and congress, unlike what exists presently in the United States. New England should “create regional partnerships to provide services … something akin to how New England came together in April of 2020 to coordinate a COVID-19 response. A regional healthcare system or other policy solution popular in New England but a nonstarter in the rest of the US might be a starting place. After that, a demand for more home rule like Scotland has currently would move us more towards outright independence.”
New England independence offers many benefits to its citizens. According to the NEIC, if one is to “simply look at New England vs. the U.S. Economically, culturally, medically, politically, New England is sustainable and operating at a higher level,” said the NEIC. As Texas and California realize, New England is also encumbered by the rest of the country and deserves to act as its own independent body. Though New England independence may only serve as an alternate historical fantasy, its larger reception in the public’s political consciousness should not be dismissed. The need for strengthening states’ rights and leveraging the merits of an increasingly independent New England, unified by our history and culture seeking a better future under our own flag, ought to be on the forefront of New Englanders’ minds.