One hundred and fifty years ago today, delegates from around the Virginia voted to withdraw the state from the United States of America.
Now, unlike the states of the Deep South, Virginia did not leave the Union once Abraham Lincoln was elected President. Instead, it first sought a nonviolent solution to the disagreements plaguing the nation through the Peace Conference of 1861. However, the conference proved to be a failure, as it did not satisfy hardliners in either the North or the South.
Although it might come as surprising news, the first time Virginia delegates met to consider the question of secession, on April 4th, 1861, the idea failed by a vote of 45 in favor with 90 opposed. Later events changed public opinion. With the capture of Fort Sumter on April 13th, Lincoln called for troops from each loyal state to crush the rebellion. According to D.C., Virginia’s commitment to the war effort was to be 2,340 men, but Governor Letcher refused to honor this request/demand. Taking in mind these new developments, by a vote of 88 to 55, state delegates adopted the ordinance of secession. On May 23rd of that same year, Virginia voters overwhelming approved the idea with 132,201 in favor and 37,451 against.
Although Virginia did not choose to withdraw from the Union in late 1860 or early 1861, they clearly recognized the right of their southern brethren to do so. Only when asked to take up arms against the states of South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas, did they finally reject the Union. Although we are free to argue about the motives of Virginians, perhaps they realized that a nation tyrannically held together through the force of arms destroyed the concepts of the Republic, the freedoms they cherished, and the original purpose of the war of independence from Great Britain.
With the anniversary of this document, I believe it would serve all Virginians to reflect upon it. Not only should one pause to consider the causes of secession, but also the causes and terrible costs of the resulting war.
Given that the original is a bit difficult to read here, the text is as follows:
To Repeal the ratification of the Constitution of the United States of America, by the State of Virginia, and to resume all the rights and powers granted under said Constitution:
The people of Virginia, in their ratification of the Constitution of the United States of America, adopted by them in Convention, on the 25th day of June, in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and eight-eight, having declared that the powers granted them under the said Constitution were derived from the people of the United States, and might be resumed whensoever the same should be perverted to their injury and oppression, and the Federal Government having perverted said powers, not only to the injury of the people of Virginia, but to the oppression of the Southern slaveholding States.
Now, therefore, we, the people of Virginia, do declare and ordain that the Ordinance adopted by the people of this State in Convention, on the twenty-fifth day of June, in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and seventy-eight, whereby the Constitution of the United States of America was ratified, and all acts of the General Assembly of this State, ratifying or adopting amendments to said Constitution, are hereby repealed and abrogated; that the union between the State of Virginia and the other States under the Constitution aforesaid, is hereby dissolved, and that the State of Virginia is in the full possession and exercise of all the rights of sovereignty which belong to a free and independent State. And they do further declare that the said Constitution of the United State of America is no longer binding on any of the citizens of this State.
This Ordinance shall take effect and be an act of this day when ratified by a majority of the votes of the people of this State, cast at a poll to be taken thereon on the fourth Thursday in May next, in pursuance of a schedule hereafter to be enacted.
Done in Convention, in the city of Richmond, on the seventeenth day of April, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-one, and in the eighty-fifth year of the Commonwealth of Virginia
JNO. L. EUBANK,
Sec’y of Convention.