Well, no one has asked me for my pick (why would they?), but since that seems to be one of the preferred topics at Reactionary Radicals these days I will offer my submission for anyone who might be interested. I am biased towards my pick, however, since he is a distant relation on my father’s side (he was born in Newburyport, Mass., the town our common ancestor founded in the 17th century).

After I finished Bill Kauffman’s book last night, the name came to mind: William Plumer of New Hampshire, Senator and then Governor of the same. Students of American history will probably recognise the name, though not usually for his most intriguing contribution to American political history. He is better known as the only one not to cast his state’s electoral vote for James Monroe’s re-election, preferring instead to cast his vote for John Quincy Adams. The legend grew up around this act that Plumer had wanted to prevent any other president after Washington from receiving a unanimous vote, but as I understand it he simply preferred Adams, in keeping with his long tradition of naysaying the Democratic-Republicans. Still, this last famous dissent was not the most interesting thing about Plumer’s career.

Lost in the haze of Jeffersonian myth-making and Lewis and Clark nostalgia was the absolutely correct and principled opposition of my cousin William to the Louisiana Purchase. The Purchase was only one of the many occasions when Jefferson would prove to be less of a Jeffersonian in interpreting the Constitution than his opponents were while he was in office.

Sen. Plumer considered the Purchase illegal, as the President had had no authority to make such a deal, and worse yet it had been done in secret. Monocracy was rearing its ugly head, all right, and William was having none of it. So in 1803-04 he duly set about organising the first New England secessionist movement. It was, of course, something of a monumental failure, and as I recall the Federalists actually lost seats in 1804. But it did provide the precedent for the later Hartford Convention (which, for whatever it’s worth, Plumer vehemently opposed during the war) and maintained the principle of the right to secession (which no one at the time denied in principle). He was America’s first real secessionist. He continued as Senator until 1807, and then returned home to New Hampshire where he served twice as Governor before retiring from politics. A true constitutionalist and something of a localist, he was also the founder of the New Hampshire Historical Society.