Alaska governor and John McCain running mate pick Sarah Palin is raising eyebrows over her ties to the Alaska Independence Party. The AIP wants to put Alaska statehood up for a public vote. Some party members would like Alaska to secede from the United States. Whether Palin was once a party member, supporter, or merely sympathetic to the states' rights cause, she would not be the first pro-secession politician from the Northwest to run for vice president on a major party ticket. It has happened before.
As befits an election in which the name and image of Abraham Lincoln have been so frequently evoked because of Barrack Obama's candidacy, dial the way-back machine to 1860. The nation and political parties were in turmoil. The GOP was new and in contention with their lanky, inexperienced lawyer from Illinois. The Democratic party split in two, and both halves ran a slate. The northern moderates backed Stephen Douglas for president. The pro-southern, pro-slavery crowd backed then-Vice President John C. Breckinridge of Kentucky. His own VP running mate: Senator Joseph Lane of the brand-new state of Oregon. He needed a fresh face who could make the case for the rights of frontier expansion, especially expansion friendly to extending slavery beyond the South.
Lane, a former Mexican War general and Oregon's former Territorial Governor, backed in principle the extension of slavery, and he believed states had the right to secede from the Union if they so chose. He was the first major Northwest politician on the national stage, and his sympathies and principles were solidly with the deep South. The soon-to-be-Confederate states voted for Democrats Breckinridge and Lane, and their ticket came in second in the electoral college to Lincoln (Douglas was runner up in the popular vote). Because the Democratic vote split between northern and southern tickets, Lane failed to carry his home state, where a plurality went for Lincoln.
Lane subsequently warned that Lincoln's election would cause the country to break up, and later railed against anyone who would stand in the way of states leaving the union. Referring to Lincoln, he said:
That man who shall inaugurate civil war by undertaking to hold it together by force, will be the greatest murderer that ever disgraced the form of man, and will go down to his grave covered with the curses of Heaven from his head to his heels....
Both Breckinridge and Lane backed the secession of the South after the election. Breckinridge became a Confederate General. But Lane was out of step with his Northwest constituents, most of whom were pro-Union. Lane arrived home in Oregon on the same steamer that brought news of the attack on Fort Sumter. There were rumors that he would attempt to take Oregon out of the Union as part of the effort to create a Pacific Republic. That didn't happen. The war put Lane on the political margins, and he retreated into obscurity at his home in the Willamette Valley.