Jerry Falwell, Jr, president of Liberty University, appeared on Fox and Friends on 13 March 2020, being interviewed about, among other things, "Vexit", a plan proposed by some West Virginians and Virginians to have part of western Virginia leave and become part of West Virginia

Youtube link here - go to 3:07 if the time link does not work, the first three minutes are not regarding Vexit.

In this interview he claims

Thomas Jefferson wrote the Virginia Constitution so that counties, communities, cities, could leave Virginia, go to another state, without a war, because he didn't want the Revolutionary War to have to happen again, for people to escape tyranny.

Is there any truth to this claim?

  • 2
    My understanding is that there is some precedence for this, e.g. how West Virginia was created in the first place
    – PC Luddite
    Mar 13 '20 at 17:18
  • 1
    @PCLuddite I understand that, but that was also an extraordinary time in the country. The wiki article on West Virginia does not specify anything to the effect of what Falwell is claiming
    – DenisS
    Mar 13 '20 at 17:23
  • 1
    Would Legal.SE be a better place for this? Mar 13 '20 at 23:35
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    It seems there are actually two claims here: that the Virginia Constitution allows secession, and that Jefferson wrote it. (Or perhaps Falwell is referring to a famous draft of the Virginia Constitution that Jefferson wrote, but that [citation-needed] wasn't used, rather than the enacted constitution.) Mar 14 '20 at 0:09
  • 1
    @user6726: I think the key question is whether the Virginia Constitution allows for it, whatever the intent. Whether Jefferson wrote it or not is a side question that you might choose to address or not. (But I am not a Law.SE regular, so I am may not fully understand how things are done here.) Mar 15 '20 at 4:09

Short answer:

I don't know. Some of the clauses in the US constitution make me think that unilateral secession from a state was not allowed in any state constitution in 1787.

Long Answer:

Another factor to consider in relation to the transfer of counties from Virginia to West Virginia is Article Four, Section 3 of the United States Constitution adopted in 1788.

Section. 3. New States may be admitted by the Congress into this Union; but no new State shall be formed or erected within the Jurisdiction of any other State; nor any State be formed by the Junction of two or more States, or Parts of States, without the Consent of the Legislatures of the States concerned as well as of the Congress.

The Congress shall have Power to dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the United States; and nothing in this Constitution shall be so construed as to Prejudice any Claims of the United States, or of any particular State.


So the Federal Constitution of 1788 would seem to override the Virginia constitution of 1776.

Note that Article Four, Section 2 says:

Section. 2. The Citizens of each State shall be entitled to all Privileges and Immunities of Citizens in the several States.

So if citizens of Virginia had the right to unilateral secesssion from Virginia, the citizens of every other state would have the right to unilateral secession from that state.

And Article VI says:

This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.


This indicates that if the Virginia constitution made unilateral secession from Virginia legal, Article Four, Section 3 would override it and make unilateral secession from Virginia unconstitutional.

So if unilateral secession from Virginia (or any other state) was constitutional according to that state's constitution in 1787-1789, Article Four, Section 2 would make it constitutional in every other state, while Article Six and Article Four, Section 3 would forbid unilateral secession from any state.

So I deduce that if the constitution of any state in 1787-89 made unilateral secession from that state legal, the United States Constitution that was written and adopted in 1787-1789 would have contained contradictory clauses. I find it a little hard to believe that a bunch of politicians familiar with the constitutions of their respective states would have overlooked any contradictions in those articles in the US constitution they were writing.

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    No, Article IV, Section 2 (the "Privileges and Immunities Clause") does not mean that the Virginia Constitution can give citizens of other states the right to secede from their states; it means that states can't discriminate against citizens of other states.
    – jwodder
    Mar 14 '20 at 23:41
  • The Virginian constitution predates the US constitution by a decade, so it could well be that the claim is correct - that is how the Virginian constitution was written, but later context changes made it moot. Mar 15 '20 at 1:16
  • Put another way. Even if it said that when adopted, it is of purely historical interest today since the U.S. Constitution forbids Virginia from doing so and has imposed this limitation since 1789.
    – ohwilleke
    Mar 18 '20 at 1:57

Re. The only state in the union that can secede is Texas, who joined 1845 and it was written into the Texas State Constitution. That's the way it was, dont know if it changed. Least it was that way when I grew up in Texas and studied Texas history.

Re Virginia. The problem in Va is that the southern half all the way to Norfolk is conservative. The Northern,Va area which has the counties of Arlington, Alexandria in Fairfax county, Fairfax county in its entirety, Prince William,Falcquier are densely populated with liberals. West Va is more conservative. Consequently, the southern area to the east coast, Chesapeake bay areas are always out voted by the liberals. It could be a powerful move for the Commonwealth of Va to split the state,but would finally give those people a vote in elections if they ceded to WVa. Doubt if Richmond State Capitol, Congressmen, state legumes would ever let this happen. Lived there forty yrs.

  • 2
    Arguably, Texas can divide into as many as five states - that law has never been repealed.
    – Dale M
    Mar 18 '20 at 5:50

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