Published — September 3, 2008 Updated — May 19, 2014 at 12:19 pm ET

The need to secede


So there was something of a hullabaloo this weekend when rumors came down that GOP VP nominee Sarah Palin was once a member of the Alaskan Independence Party. The party with the motto “Alaska First – Alaska Always” has a reputation as a secessionist organization (though that overstates the case a bit — they merely want Alaskans to have a vote to determine if they will remain in the union). The McCain camp has since shot back that Palin has never been anything but a card-carrying Republican (though there are reports that her husband was an AIP member for most of the period between 1995 and 2002).

What’s lost in the hubbub is the fact that America has an old tradition of electing vice presidents with secessionist bents. Some of our favorites:

  • John C. Breckenridge (1857-1861, served under James Buchanan). When Lincoln followed Buchanan into the presidency and refused to guarantee the rights of slaveholders, Breckenridge advocated that his home state of Kentucky join the Confederacy. When the bluegrass state chose, instead, to stick with the Union, he helped organize a rival state government loyal to the Confederacy.
  • Aaron Burr (1801-1805, served under Thomas Jefferson). After he infamously killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel, Burr fled west and bought a large chunk of land, laying the groundwork for what would eventually be known as the “Burr Conspiracy.” His goal; creating an independent nation in the center of North America.
  • John C. Calhoun (1828-1832, served under John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson). During the 1832 Nullification Crisis when South Carolina declared itself exempt from federal legislation and Jackson was forced to send in the military, Calhoun called upon South Carolina to resist — essentially arguing for an armed revolt against his own administration.
  • Alexander Stephens (1861-1865, served under Jefferson Davis).The first and only vice president of the Confederate States of America. Enough said.

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