Every State shall abide by the determination of the United States in Congress assembled, on all questions which by this confederation are submitted to them. And the Articles of this Confederation shall be inviolably observed by every State, and the Union shall be perpetual; nor shall any alteration at any time hereafter be made in any of them; unless such alteration be agreed to in a Congress of the United States, and be afterwards confirmed by the legislatures of every State.
And Whereas it hath pleased the Great Governor of the World to incline the hearts of the legislatures we respectively represent in Congress, to approve of, and to authorize us to ratify the said Articles of Confederation and perpetual Union. Know Ye that we the undersigned delegates, by virtue of the power and authority to us given for that purpose, do by these presents, in the name and in behalf of our respective constituents, fully and entirely ratify and confirm each and every of the said Articles of Confederation and perpetual Union, and all and singular the matters and things therein contained: And we do further solemnly plight and engage the faith of our respective constituents, that they shall abide by the determinations of the United States in Congress assembled, on all questions, which by the said Confederation are submitted to them. And that the Articles thereof shall be inviolably observed by the States we respectively represent, and that the Union shall be perpetual.
This article was cited by the Supreme Court when it finally considered secession as a legal principle in the 1869 case Texas vs. White. From Salmon Chase’s majority opinion:
The Union of the States never was a purely artificial and arbitrary relation. It began among the Colonies, and grew out of common origin, mutual sympathies, kindred principles, similar interests, and geographical relations. It was confirmed and strengthened by the necessities of war, and received definite form and character and sanction from the Articles of Confederation. By these, the Union was solemnly declared to 'be perpetual.' And when these Articles were found to be inadequate to the exigencies of the country, the Constitution was ordained 'to form a more perfect Union.' It is difficult to convey the idea of indissoluble unity more clearly than by these words. What can be indissoluble if a perpetual Union, made more perfect, is not?
When, therefore, Texas became one of the United States, she entered into an indissoluble relation. All the obligations of perpetual union, and all the guaranties of republican government in the Union, attached at once to the State. The act which consummated her admission into the Union was something more than a compact; it was the incorporation of a new member into the political body. And it was final. The union between Texas and the other States was as complete, as perpetual, and as indissoluble as the union between the original States. There was no place for reconsideration or revocation, except through revolution or through consent of the States.
Though of course redundant in that the matter of secession had already been decided by force of arms, it is difficult to find fault with Chase’s reasoning as an historical and legal matter. I still argue that, as a matter of first principles, the Southern states had as much a moral entitlement to self-government as the Thirteen Colonies. But it would be incorrect to assert as I did that the States had preserved the right of unilateral secession under the existing political arrangements any more than the Thirteen had a legal right to unilaterally repudiate their colonial charters. Article XIII, unlike “we the people,” is no mere rhetorical flourish, and in that context, neither is “a more perfect union”: the several States really had committed themselves to a “perpetual”, i.e. permanent, national government. Again, as a matter of history, I find this argument so compelling that I can’t help but wonder why, amidst all the ink spilled on this subject from Mill to Volokh, I had to find out about it almost literally by accident.
It is instructive to imagine an alternative history in which a more conciliatory Southern congressional delegation had joined with such Northerners eager to be quit of them and their stranglehold on the Legislative Branch and formed a working majority in favor of an amicable separation; this instead of walking out in a huff. But then, the huffiness was of a piece with the South’s badly constrained militancy and overreach on the subject of slavery. I hasten to add that the South was not alone in its militancy; the atrocities of John Brown and Nat Turner, coupled with the South’s characterization in the Northern press as evil merely for having inherited an institution as old as civilization itself, certainly played their role in provoking that militancy. But if the South would assert its own “separate and equal station”, it must assume separate and equal responsibility for its own actions.