The push by 50 western Virginia counties to secede in 1863, forming West Virginia at the height of the Civil War, was led by a charismatic store-clerk-turned-lawyer who famously urged his supporters: “Cut the knot now! Cut it now! Apply the knife.”
West Virginia was the last state to break off from another. Now, 150 years later, a 49-year-old information technology consultant wants to apply the knife to Maryland’s five western counties. “The people are the sovereign,” says Scott Strzelczyk, leader of the fledgling Western Maryland Initiative, and the western sovereigns are fed up with Annapolis’s liberal majority, elected by the state’s other sovereigns.
“If you think you have a long list of grievances and it’s been going on for decades, and you can’t get it resolved, ultimately this is what you have to do,” says Strzelczyk, who lives in New Windsor, a historic town of 1,400 people in Carroll County. “Otherwise you are trapped.”
Strzelczyk’s effort is one of several across the country to separate significant portions of states from, as he puts it, “the dominant ruling class.” Nearly a dozen northern Colorado counties are the furthest along, with nonbinding referendums set for November ballots. The Upper Peninsula of Michigan is making a move to join with parts of Wisconsin. Northern California counties want to form a state called Jefferson.