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Cries for Independence in US States Sometimes Stir Local Passions

One of the interesting diversions related to the nomination of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as the Republican vice-presidential candidate is the revelation that she had been sympathetic to, and possibly even involved in, a secessionist, or independence, movement in her home state. She has addressed two conventions of the Alaskan Independence Party, which wants Alaskans to vote on breaking the far-northern state away from the American Union. The leader of that party says Palin was a member in the 1990s. She denies it, but Palin's husband Todd was a member for seven years beginning in 1995.

This caused a minor stir, and it called to mind other breakaway movements in U.S. history that never went anywhere.

The most notable secession effort was mounted by 10 southern slaveholding states in the mid-1800s. It resulted in their defeat in a bloody, four-year-long Civil War.

In 1939, some wealthy citizens on the prairie that spills across parts of the western states of Wyoming, Montana, and South Dakota fanned the idea of creating a new state called Absaroka. [Absaroka is a native name for the Crow Indian tribe, one of the Plains tribes. It is now centered primarily in Montana.]

These independence-minded westerners were angry because other parts of their three states got railroad lines that brought some prosperity at the height of the Great Depression, while the railroad passed the Absaroka region by. A. R. Swickard, a street commissioner in the town of Sheridan, Wyoming, even proclaimed himself governor of Absaroka, and someone issued Absarokan license plates for automobiles.

A New York Times account notes that Absaroka even got a state visit from the king of Norway, who was traveling in the area. Nothing became of the independent Absaroka idea, and its rump governor left Sheridan and moved to Arizona.

In our own times in the New England state of Vermont, which was briefly an independent republic before becoming the nation's 14th state, there's talk of a "Second Vermont Republic." Supporters, who don't think much of U.S. corporations or meddling by the federal government in Vermont affairs have held meetings and adopted a flag. But all indications are that independence for Vermont is a distant, if not irrational, possibility.

Other secession movements that have popped up in unlikely places have withered and died because they couldn't demonstrate how a little corner of Kansas, or some disgruntled community in Colorado, could make a go of it all by itself, surrounded by an enormous and unsympathetic United States.