Weider History Group and Secession: The Proper Way to Handle A Mistake

My search continues (off and on of course, I’m working on a thesis) to find a solid explanation as to why anyone should call the American Revolution an act of secession.  In this search, I decided the most direct approach was to find a credible website that argues that the colonies seceded from Great Britain, and then email the author for the scholarship validating such a claim. I used this same tactic recently after a couple of Southern Heritage defenders pointed out this essay at Monticello.org. Although I did receive a response, the explanations as to “why?”, used little scholarship and contained very inaccurate information. Regardless, the information I did receive, and the subsequent comments and posts, lead to a decent amount of conversation. So, here goes round two in the hopes of that continued discussion. 

After doing a few searches, I came across the Weider History Group’s website, Historynet.com. The Weider History Group is one of the largest publishers of history related magazines in the world, including such titles as “America’s Civil War”, “Civil War Times”, and “Military History.” You might recall Kevin Levin’s article on Silas Chandler in the “Civil War Times” two years ago. It’s safe to say, this is fairly reputable group. Historynet.com also has numerous articles and essays dealing with a plethora of historical topics. Luckily for me, I found what I was looking for.

One of the articles I found dealt with the topic of secession. In that article, the author makes the claim that the American Revolution represented an act of secession.

From Articles of Confederation to “A More Perfect Union. Arguably, the act of secession lies deep within the American psyche. When the 13 colonies rebelled against Great Britain in the War for American Independence, it was an act of secession, one that is celebrated by Americans to this day.

Sadly, I cannot provide the original image of the text, the above quote is a copy and paste from my email. I will explain why later.  The above text, in particular the line, “it was an act of secession, one that is celebrated by Americans to this day.” was the argument I was looking for. I immediately emailed an inquiry stating:

In the article about Secession (found here:http://www.historynet.com/secession), there is this statement.

“From Articles of Confederation to “A More Perfect Union.” Arguably, the act of secession lies deep within the American psyche. When the 13 colonies rebelled against Great Britain in the War for American Independence, it was an act of secession, one that is celebrated by Americans to this day.”

I’ve found little scholarship to support the American Revolution as being an act of secession. I was wondering if the article’s author could provide citation for such a conclusion. Thanks.

Inside of one business day, I received a response.

Mr. Baker,

You make a good point, but the reality is that many Americans, particularly in the South, regard the actions of 1775-76 and those of 1860-1861 as identical, That was true in the 1860s and is still true today. I do think, however, that the wording in our article should reflect the fact that there are conflicting beliefs on the matter rather than asserting the AWI was an act of secession. I’ve edited the passage as follows (second paragraph is unchanged; I’m including it to let you see the flow from paragraph one to paragraph two):

Many people, especially those wishing to support the South’s right to secede in 1860–61, have said that when 13 American colonies rebelled against Great Britain in 1776, it was an act of secession. Others say the two situations were different and the colonies’ revolt was a revolution. The war resulting from that colonial revolt is known as the American Revolution or the American War for Independence.

During that war, each of the rebelling colonies regarded itself as a sovereign nation that was cooperating with a dozen other sovereigns in a relationship of convenience to achieve shared goals, the most immediate being independence from Britain. On Nov. 15, 1777, the Continental Congress passed the Articles of Confederation—”Certain Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union”—to create “The United States of America.” That document asserted that “Each State retains is sovereignty, freedom and independence” while entering into “a firm league of friendship with each other” for their common defense and to secure their liberties, as well as to provide for “their mutual and general welfare.”

Thank you for taking time to write and call this to my attention.
Gerald Swick
Senior Editor for Digital Media
Weider History Group

I must say, Mr. Swick acted as a true professional in his response; much better than the reaction I received from the Thomas Jefferson Foundation. If it is not apparent, the reasons I could not provide an image for the original document is because Mr. Swick edited the article before I ever had a chance to screen capture it. Here is the article in its current entirety.  So the search continues, though I doubt I will ever come across a legitimate document that provides proof of the great American Secession of 1776.

6 thoughts on “Weider History Group and Secession: The Proper Way to Handle A Mistake

  1. I think what we’re going to see with this use of the word secession, Rob, is its use in saying the colonies left Great Britain. I think we’re really seeing nothing more than semantics with the word. Under no circumstances can the American Revolution be linked with the Civil War as the same type of event. They were drastically different and had very different origins. Those that try to link the Revolution to the Confederacy do nothing but attempt to give the Confederates legitimacy and validation and that is impossible due to the vast differences between the events.

    You are correct in stating the Mr. Swick acted as a true professional. I too am pleased to see the rewording of the article. It is important that we get these things as accurate as possible. Unfortunately, using the word secession in the context of the colonies leaving Britain seems to invite comparisons between that event and the Civil War. My research has yet to show me that what Thomas Jefferson and George Wythe believed as the political history of Britain and the colonies was that of John Adams and many others. There just were a lot of competing ideas in 1776.

    We also have to understand that independence was the result of Britain driving the colonists from the empire by Parliament’s actions which was a clear cut example of government tyranny. This was not the case with the secession of the southern states in 1860-61 despite the claims made by some. There was no tyranny in 1860-61. Independence in 1776 was arrived at reluctantly and became the final choice because the British government refused to do anything to work with the Americans during that time while in 1860-61 the federal government was bending over backwards to accommodate the secessionists short of declaring Lincoln’s election void. No, there is a huge difference between those two events.

    1. I agree it is an argument of semantics Jimmy, but I think it has become an important argument. The rhetoric used by some Southerners at that time, and certain advocates today, is that the two events parallel. Like you said, they are not comparable events. The word secession was and is thrown around to vindicate the rebellion of a people against a ‘great usurper.’ I believe it is important that the distinction is made. The Confederacy attempted to secede, the colonies did not. The rebellions are different, the mechanics are different, the reasons are drastically different and the outcomes were also different.

    1. Numerous events, throughout history, are about independence. But they each contain their own contingencies that must be identified. To blend one with the other leads to a misunderstanding of both.

      1. Absolutely right, Rob. Claiming they were the same because each was about independence is as superficial as sampling icing on two cakes and saying they are both vanilla cakes when under the icing of one of them is a chocolate cake and the other is a strawberry cake.

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