In this excerpt of Protestants: The Birth of a Revolution, Steven Ozment discusses the reasoning behind the reformation movement in the 1520s, why lay people were angry with the Roman church, why they converted to Protestantism, and why German magistrates and princes picked up the movement and made it successful.
Many Germans were angry with the Catholic church for the corruption that ran so rampantly throughout the clergy. Some of the common complaints include:
- The papacy was conducting frequent lawsuits against lay people with the threat of excommunication
- High church positions were being sold by the Pope to the highest bidder
- The Pope reserved high sins and crimes. Meaning they could only be absolved if one would go to Rome and pay in gold; thus ensuring that the poor were stuck with sins while the rich could do whatever they wanted and get away with it
- The clergy were sworn to celibacy, yet many lived with women and fathered children (This complaint was controversial, as some despised the priests and women while others believed it humanized the priests and made them more relatable)
- The largest complaint was the sale of indulgences, where one would pay to absolve sins after death so that they would not be stuck in purgatory.
Ozment claims that the protestant movement was as political as it was spiritual. He goes on to tell us that there were two opposing forces, the emerging territorial states of Europe, and the small, self-governing towns and villages. The reason the reformation gained its initial popularity was because the lay people in these small self-governing communes saw the protestant movement as a way to remain free and independent from the rising powers around them. Those who were strong opponents of government authority advocated for the reformation, such as the printers’ guild, who printed much of the protestant propaganda.
The major reformers knew that their movement was political as well as spiritual, yet they did not support the lay peoples’ actions such as the peasant revolt of 1525. Rather, they knew that in order for their movement to be successful, they would have to win over the hearts of the magistrates and princes. Many of which soon converted to Protestantism because they believed the reforms would strengthen their power and ensure their independence from other authorities. With the support of the princes and magistrates, the protestant reformation began to appear in the political ordinances of the 1530s and 1540s: Service was done in the vernacular, people read the new testament in their own homes, the clergy could marry, people were not to venerate saints in public, and indulgences were no longer sold.
In the most South-Western county of Missouri lies the town of Noel. Today this town is the home of only 1,832 people, a fact that belies its history. During the Spring of 1961, Noel was the capital of its own independent political entity; the McDonald Territory.
The causes of the secession of McDonald County from the State of Missouri were unique when compared the many secessionist movements of American history. The roots of this movement can be traced to the decision of the Missouri State Highway Commission to omit Noel, and most other McDonald County towns, from its “Family Vacationland” map in 1961. This was detrimental to the tourist industry, an important source of income for the county, and therefore angered many of its citizens.
In response to this apparent slight against the county by the state government, the people of McDonald County decided to establish their independence from Missouri. They even went so far as to establish border control with a territorial militia, as well as issuing visas to non-residents who entered the territory. In addition to establishing a militia, the people of McDonald Territory established a seat of government at Noel, not the traditional county seat at Pineville, with the new government being run by elected officials. Amongst these officials there was talk of McDonald Territory becoming the fifty-first state of the United States or joining the states of Arkansas or Oklahoma.
The secessionist movement eventually came to an end in the summer of 1961 when the Missouri government proclaimed that if the secessionist movement were not put to an end, all state employee retirement pensions would be suspended, all state employees would be fired, and all state funding would be withheld. The movement officially ended as Missouri Supreme Court Justice Mary Russell read a letter from the Missouri House of representatives asking McDOnald County to stay with Missouri, promising that it would be put back on the map. The citizens were thus pleased, and showing no more objections, reunited with the state of Missouri.
We hope to bring more awareness to this often forgotten piece of Missouri history through our course website. Through exploring the McDonald County archives, obtaining oral histories, and the State Archives in Jefferson City.
Jason Sorens defines secession in his book as “the withdrawal of territory and the people on that territory from the sovereignty of an existing state and the establishment of a newly independent state with sovereignty over that territory and its people.” He also makes it clear that secession is relatively rare, while secessionist political parties or groups are much more common. Secessionist movements, as defined by Sorens, are groups that: 1. “support at least internal sovereignty covering a wide range of policy areas for a territory that does not yet possess it. and 2. does not explicitly oppose the eventual attainment of external sovereignty as well.
This actually caught be by surprise, as I had always assumed that when a state or group wished to secede, that they were seeking independence from the central government. However, Sorens says that this is not the case. One can be self governing, but not independent. Sorens uses the example of the Isle of Man, which deals with its own taxes, budget, and laws, yet cannot sign treaties or declare war, as Britain is in charge of that. Similar to how the states in the USA are sovereign over their own territory but they are not independent because the central government is actually in charge of other issues.
Governments tend to have two ways of responding to secessionist movements. They either attempt peaceful resolutions through compromise as they know that using military force may stir the secessionists to be more violent; Or they end up using their military to quell the movement because they know the secessionists are in the minority and it also displays their might to foreigners.
Because violence can erupt from secessionist rebellions, Sorens advocates for a constitutional right of secession. He believes this would decrease the violence, as secession would be quasi-legal, and it wouldn’t significantly increase the risk of states breaking up. I disagree. I think that if you give them the right to secede in the constitution, people will be more likely to use it and the government would not be able to do anything to stop it. I believe the best way to avoid secession and ethnic violence would be to hear out the minority and come to a compromise. This is supported by Ted Gurr’s claim that ethnopolitical rebellion has declined since the 90s because many nations negotiated autonomy and power-sharing settlements.
Even if the government is able to negotiate peacefully with the secessionists, there is still a risk that the group will continue to fight for more independence until they are no longer a part of the state. This is a greater risk for territories with larger amounts of natural resources, a culturally similar population, sea access, as well as other geographical and political causes.
My name is Kodey Springate. I’m from Independence, Missouri and am a Senior at Truman State University. I’m a history major, sociology minor, and hope to get into the Masters of Art and Education (MAE) program at Truman after I graduate. I plan on teaching high school history and sociology. I have always had an interest in secession and separatist movements and look forward to having this class with you all.
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