October 28, 1945 Re-Union

It may be the greatest trivia question that ever was: “Who was last to rejoin the Union, following the Civil War?“ It wasn’t who you think…

By the early 1830s, cotton exceeded the value of all other American exports, combined. As secession loomed over the Union, one Chicago Daily Times editorial warned that if the South left “in one single blow, our foreign commerce must be reduced to less than one half of what it is now”.

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South Carolina was the first to leave, formally departing the Union in December 1860. The world waited to see who would be next.

Anyone can tell you it was Mississippi who actually did it but the next to openly discuss secession was New York City, when Mayor Fernando Wood addressed the city’s governing body on January 6: When Disunion has become a fixed and certain fact”, Wood began, “why may not New York disrupt the bands which bind her to a venal and corrupt master…and destroyed the Confederacy of which she was the proud Empire City?”

Economic ties with the south ran deep in New York city and New York state, alike. 40¢ of every dollar paid for southern cotton stayed in New York in the form of insurance, shipping, warehouse fees and profits.

30 minutes’ east of Buffalo, the village of Lancaster contemplated staying with the Union. 500 miles from the nearest Confederate state, George Huber remembered the time. “When war was declared, Lancaster seethed with the news, and many were the nights we stayed up as late as 12 o’clock to talk things out. I was twelve years old at the time, but I remember the stern faces of the elders and the storm of passionate and angry discussion. Soon the town split into two factions, it was a very tense situation…Often the excitement ran so high that if a man in either group had made the slightest sign, neighbors would have been at each other’s throats and fists would have taken the place of words.

town line courthouse
The old blacksmith shop

“Town Line”, a hamlet on the village’s eastern boundary, put the matter to a vote. In the fall of 1861, residents gathered in the old schoolhouse-turned blacksmith’s shop. By a margin of 85 to 40, Town Line voted to secede from the Union.

There was angry talk of arresting “Copperheads” for sedition, as casualty reports came back from the front. “Seceders” became quiet, afraid to meet in public amidst angry talk of lynching. A half-dozen or so more ardent secessionists went south to fight for the Confederacy. Others quietly moved north, to Canada. Outside of Lancaster, no one seemed to notice. Taxes continued to be paid. No federal force ever arrived to enforce the loyalty of the small village.

A rumor went around in 1864 that a large Confederate army was building in Canada, poised to invade from the north. Town Line became a dangerous place for the few southern sympathizers left. Most of those remaining moved to Canada and, once again, Lancaster became the quiet little village in upstate New York, that nobody ever heard of.

Impatient to get on with it, Dade County “symbolically” seceded both from Georgia as well as the Union back in 1860. Officially, Dade County seceded with Georgia in 1861, and rejoined with the rest of the state in 1870, but the deal was sealed on July 4, 1945, when a telegram from President Harry S. Truman was read at a celebration marking the County’s “rejoining”, of the Union.

The “Confederate Gibraltar”, Vicksburg Mississippi, fell on July 4, 1863.  The city wouldn’t celebrate another Independence Day for 80 years.

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In 2011, the residents of Town Line, New York dressed up to mark the town’s sesquicentennial of secession from the Union

By October 1945 there legally remained but one part of the former Confederate States of America. The tiny little hamlet of Town Line, New York.

Even Georgians couldn’t help themselves, from commenting. 97-year-old Confederate General T.W. Dowling said: “We been rather pleased with the results since we rejoined the Union. Town Line ought to give the United States another try“. Judge A.L. Townsend of Trenton Georgia commented “Town Line ought to give the United States a good second chance“.

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A courier express note arrived on October 7, 1945. “There are few controversies that are not susceptible to a peace time resolution” read the note, “if examined in an atmosphere of tranquility and calm rather than strife and turmoil. I would suggest the possibility of roast veal as a vehicle of peace. Why don’t you run down the fattest calf in Erie County, barbecue it and serve it with fixin’s in the old blacksmith shop where the ruckus started? Who can tell? The dissidents might decide to resume citizenship.”

The note was signed “Very Sincerely Yours, Harry Truman”.

Fireman’s Hall was the site of the barbecue, “The old blacksmith shop where the ruckus started” being too small for the assembled crowd. On October 28, 1945 residents adopted a resolution suspending the 1861 ordinance of secession by a vote of 90-23. The Stars and Bars of the Confederate States of America was lowered for the last time, outside the old blacksmith shop.

Alabama member of the United States House of Representatives John Jackson Sparkman, may have had the last word when he quipped: “As one reconstructed rebel to another, let me say that I find much comfort in the fact that you good people so far up in Yankee land have held out during the years. However, I suppose we grow soft as we grow older.”

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April 23, 1982, Conch Republic

The Mayor’s response could best be summed up in the words of Bugs Bunny: “Of course you know, this means war!”

Except for the Naval Air Station at Boca Chica and Coast Guard installations in Key West, Marathon and Islamorada, most if not all economic activity in the Florida Keys comes from tourism. It’s no wonder then, that when the federal government shuts down the only road into town, the locals are going to get cranky.

On April 18, 1982, the Mariel boatlift was a mere two years in the past, and very much in the public memory. The United States still had a border in those days, or at least a federal government that tried to enforce it. Border Patrol set up a roadblock in front of Skeeter’s Last Chance Saloon in Florida City, blocking Rt.1, the only road into the Keys. Originally intended to intercept illegals entering the country, the roadblock soon morphed into a hunt for illegal drugs, as well.Conch Republic Flag

Cars waited for hours, in lines that stretched for 19 miles. Predictably, the attitude of federal officials was one of towering indifference, but not so local business owners. Robert Kerstein wrote in his Key West on the Edge — Inventing the Conch Republic, “No one in Key West doubted that drugs were trafficked widely in the Keys by road and by boat. But tourism’s boosters had little tolerance for interruptions to their business.”

Dennis Wardlow, then-mayor of Key West, contacted the chief of police, the Monroe County sheriff, and his State Rep, as well as Governor Bob Graham, demanding the roadblock’s removal. With none of the above having any knowledge of the barrier and lacking the authority to pull it down, Wardlow contacted INS directly. When the Border Patrol told him it was “none of his business,” the Mayor’s response could best be summed up in the words of Bugs Bunny: “Of course you know, this means war!”Key West Review Feb 2014 011

Suffering a blizzard of hotel cancellations, this “attack on Key West’s sovereignty” could not stand. On April 22, Mayor Wardlow, local attorney & pilot David Horan and Old Town Trolley Tours operator Ed Swift flew to Miami seeking legal relief. When District Court Judge C. Clyde Atkins failed to issue an injunction, the Key West delegation took to the courthouse steps.

“What are you going to do, Mr. Mayor”, asked the assembled media. Swift leaned over and whispered into the Mayor’s ear, “Tell them we are going to go home and secede” “We are going to go home and secede!”, said Wardlow, and that’s what they did.

Over the next 24 hours, a group of secessionist co-conspirators worked feverishly to form the new government, filling cabinet positions such as “Secretary of Underwater Affairs” and “Minister of Nutrition”.

Old Customs Building, Key West
Old Customs Building, Key West

On April 23, with federal agents on scene to monitor the proceedings, a crowd gathered before the old customs building. Mayor Wardlow and a gaggle of allies mounted the back of a flatbed truck to read the proclamation of secession. “We serve notice on the government in Washington”, it read, “to remove the roadblock or get ready to put up a permanent border to a new foreign land. We as a people, may have suffered in the past, but we have no intention of suffering in the future at the hands of fools and bureaucrats”.

Battle of the Conch Republic
“Great Battle of the Conch Republic”

With that, Mayor Wardlow declared “war” on the United States.  The “Great Battle of the Conch Republic” broke out in the harbor, when the Schooner Western Union commanded by Captain John Kraus, attacked the Coast Guard Cutter Diligence with water balloons, Conch fritters and toilet paper.  Diligence fought back with water hoses, as the new “Prime Minister” broke a loaf of stale Cuban bread over the head of a man dressed in a Navy uniform. Others launched stale bread and conch fritters at federal agents, Navy sailors and Coast Guard personnel in attendance.

Conch Republic PassportsOne minute after declaring his “verbal shot” at the feds, Wardlow “surrendered” to a nearby naval officer, demanding a billion dollars in “foreign aid” in compensation for “the long federal siege.”

Apparently, that’s what it takes to get the attention of a federal bureaucrat. The roadblock lifted, and soon the restaurants, stores and hotels of the Keys were once again filled with smiling tourists. Key West never got their “foreign aid”, but they never received so much as a letter saying they couldn’t secede, either.

So it is that Key West celebrates its independence this day, April 23. The “Conch Republic’ issues its own passports, and sells t-shirts and bumper stickers with the slogan “We seceded where others failed”. And if the federal government ever comes back to mess with the micro-nation, they’d better be prepared to deal with the Conch Republic’s very own “Special Forces”, whose motto is “Sanctus Merda”.  “Holy Shit”.

 

Tip of the hat to

“Conch Republic Military Forces

The Official Site of the Conch Republic Military”

Linked Here

for the “Conch Battle Hymn of the Republic”

words by First Sea Lord, Admiral Finbar Gittelman • October 14, 2012 © Finbar Gittelman

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the sunshine and the sea
Right here upon our islands, where we love to live so free
But in April 1982, the peace was not to be
And we went rolling on

CHORUS
Glory glory Conch Republic
Glory glory Conch Republic
Glory glory Conch Republic
From Key to shining Key

They were setting up a check point, tween the mainland and the Keys
They had put a US Border, where it shouldn’t ‘oughta’ be
So that’s when we seceded, and declared our sovereignty
And the fun had just begun

(CHORUS)

We went forth into the harbor and a cutter we did spy
And we sailed up along side her and we took her by surprise
We hoisted up our battle flag, so proudly and so high
And we went sailing on

(CHORUS)

The water and Conch fritters and the Cuban bread did fly
Our bombers, they were raining toilet paper from the sky
Our cannons they did thunder to proclaim our victory
And we fought bravely on

(CHORUS)

We have faced the silly forces of misguided zealotry
We have stood up to their foolishness for all the world to see
And we’ve showed the other nations what America can be From
Key to shining Key

(CHORUS)

 

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