Breakin’ Up Is Hard To Do: 5 Other American Secession Attempts

The following is an article from the book Uncle John’s Perpetually Pleasing Bathroom Reader.

The American Civil War was sparked when eleven slave states tried to secede from the Union. They failed, and they’re not the only ones. Here are some other lesser-known secessionist movements.


Seceded from: The United States, in April 1850

Details: At least two reasons have been cited for why the tiny mining town of Rough and Ready, in California’s gold country, decided to secede from the Union. One was anger over the imposition of a tax on mining claims, and the other involved a man known as the “Boston Ravine Slicker,” who swindled a popular miner named Joe Swiegart out of $ 200. When a local judge refused to prosecute the Slicker on the grounds that he hadn’t actually broken any laws, Rough and Ready seceded from the United States and “the next morning rescued what was left of Joe’s money and took the Slicker to the edge of town with instructions never to return,” writes Fay Dunbar of the Nevada County Historical Society. (Another version of the story says the Slicker was hanged.)

What Happened: Whatever the case, the Great Republic of Rough and Ready voted to rejoin the Union in time to celebrate the 4th of July, perhaps hurried along by the refusal of saloons in nearby Nevada City and Grass Valley to sell liquor to Rough and Ready’s “foreign miners.”


Seceded from: Tennessee, in June 1861

Details: Tennessee was divided over whether to secede from the Union and was the last state to do so, about two months after the Civil War started. The citizens of Scott County, in northeastern Tennessee, voted against secession by the greatest margin of any county in the state. When Tennessee left the Union, the Scott County Assembly voted to leave Tennessee. A messenger was sent to Nashville to inform the state that the county was “henceforth to be known as the Free and Independent State of Scott.”

(Image credit: Brian Stansberry)

What Happened: Not much— Scott County was of little strategic value to either the Union or the Confederacy. Both sides ignored the secession, and no major Civil War battles were fought there. But Scott County didn’t formally rejoin the state until 1986, when Governor Lamar Alexander signed a resolution declaring the State of Scott “dissolved and disbanded… after 125 years of independence.”


Seceded from: The United States, in July 1977

(Image credit: Republic of Kinney)

Details: When the water system in Kinney, Minnesota, began to fail in the mid-1970s, the village of 325 people couldn’t afford the $186,000 price tag to replace it. And when it applied for funding from various state and federal agencies, the request got bogged down in red tape. So in July 1977, perhaps inspired by the 1959 film The Mouse that Roared, the village council announced their intention to secede from the U.S. and apply for foreign aid. “It is much easier to get assistance as a foreign country, which we need badly, and there is no paperwork to worry about,” the council wrote in a letter to Secretary of State Cyrus Vance, adding that “if necessary, we will be glad to declare war and lose. However, if this is a requirement, we would appreciate being able to surrender real quick, as our Mayor works as a nurse in a hospital, and most of our council members work in a nearby mine and cannot get much time off from work.”

What Happened: The publicity stunt landed Kinney on the NBC Nightly News and helped it do a brisk business in Republic of Kinney “passports,” T-shirts, bumper stickers, and other items. But it didn’t speed up the bureaucratic process much: The funding for their water system didn’t come through until November 1978.


Attempted to Secede from: Utah, in 2002

(Image credit: Famartin)

Details: Wendover makes up half of the metropolitan area that it shares with West Wendover, across the state line in Nevada. The difference between the two cites is stark: West Wendover’s economy is buoyed by Nevada’s legalized gambling and its casinos attract nearly two million visitors each year. Wendover, by comparison, is a veritable ghost town, thanks to no gambling, and some of the strictest state liquor laws in the country. Allowing Wendover to leave Utah and join West Wendover in Nevada would give its struggling economy a boost and allow the cities to combine police and fire departments and other public services that are needlessly duplicated. The citizens of both cities approved the secession/ annexation in a nonbinding referendum in November 2002.

What Happened: In order for a city to leave one state and join another, the U.S. Constitution requires that the legislatures of both states and the U.S. Congress approve the move. The first constitutional hurdle was passed in 2002, when the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously approved a bill permitting succession. But the bill died in the Senate, thanks to opposition from Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, who never gave a reason for why he killed the bill.


Attempted to Secede from: Vermont, in 2004

Details: This upscale resort town is home to the Mt. Killington ski area. When Vermont changed the way it pays for public education in 1997, creating a statewide pool of funds to replace the old system of local funding, towns like Killington with high-priced vacation homes and few schools saw their property taxes quadruple. Property taxes in next-door New Hampshire were lower, and there was no state sales tax or income tax, either. Suddenly being in Vermont didn’t seem very attractive. At packed town meetings in 2004 and ’05, the residents voted overwhelmingly to secede from the state and join New Hampshire.

(Image credit: © Jared C. Benedict)

What Happened: Killington is still part of Vermont, and probably always will be. For one thing, unlike Wendover, Utah, which is right on the border, Killington is smack in the middle of the state, 35 miles from the New Hampshire line. Attempts to create a “corridor” of secessionist towns all the way to the border have failed. And the state of Vermont, which must approve secession, has shown no signs of being willing to do so. In 2005, three state legislators introduced legislation to slap Killington with crippling “exit fees” if it ever did leave the state. So in 2006, the town abandoned its plans for secession… but it’s still lobbying to change the property tax laws.


The article above is reprinted with permission from Uncle John’s Perpetually Pleasing Bathroom Reader. The 26th annual edition of Uncle John’s wildly successful series is all-new and jam-packed with the BRI’s patented mix of fun and information.

Since 1988, the Bathroom Reader Institute had published a series of popular books containing irresistible bits of trivia and obscure yet fascinating facts. If you like Neatorama, you'll love the Bathroom Reader Institute's books - go ahead and check 'em out!

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Way back in 1977, I was part of a hilariously failed secession effort.
I was working as an Assistant/Sidekick to the oddly-named radio personality 'Sweet' Dick Whittington, who was doing mornings at a station based in the San Fernando Valley suburb of L.A. There were people at the time championing having The Valley secede from Los Angeles and form its own city. In a loose monologue, he jumped on the idea and took it to an extreme and absurd conclusion: have The Valley secede from the United States and give itself back to the British. (But that part of the country never belonged to Britain, you say, yes, that's where the absurd comes in) But when audience reaction prompted him to take the absurdity seriously, it ended up with over a dozen people from the radio station (plus the writer who wrote the above article) for a 3-day trip to London on the 4th of July. The highlight of the radio career of the Sidekick Formerly Known as Wendell, even if that picture of me hiding the tape recorder was unflattering.
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