Virginia Memory, Library of Virginia


An exhibition at the Library of Virginia | December 6, 2010 — October 29, 2011

What were Virginians thinking and discussing as the first Southern states withdrew from the United States following the election of Abraham Lincoln in November 1860? Why was Virginia’s decision critical to America’s fate in 1861 and key to the ultimate course and outcome of the sectional crisis?

Virginia was central to American identity for its role in the founding of the United States and its political principles. Both the Confederacy and the Union wanted to claim Virginia’s historical legacy. Union or Secession explores what Virginians thought and debated as the crisis unfolded. Explore the choices Virginians faced as they decided their fate and the lasting consequences of their decisions for Virginia and the nation.

Portrait of John Brown Debating Secession Map of Virginia, 1861 Frederick County Election Ordinance of Secession (Calligraphy)

Map of slave population in Virginia "To Arms!" Discussing the Ordinance of Secession The Ordinance Passed

The Struggle to Decide: Virginia's Secession Crisis

An exhibition at the Virginia State Capitol Visitor Center | December 13, 2010 — December 15, 2011 | Presented by the Library of Virginia

In the aftermath of the election of Abraham Lincoln as U.S. president in November and the beginning of the secession crisis in December of 1860, Virginia had a fateful choice to make: Would it remain in, or secede from, the United States of America? In January 1861 the Virginia General Assembly called for a state convention to act for Virginia during the crisis. Convening in February 1861, the 152 men elected to the Virginia Convention faced the terrible task of deciding the fate of Virginia, and perhaps the nation.

The Struggle to Decide examines the actions taken by convention delegates and the governor that had a profound effect on Richmond and the Virginia State Capitol.

Virginia State Capitol Visitor Center
1000 Bank Street | Richmond, Virginia 23219
804.698.1788 |

Union or Secession: Virginians Decide presents private letters, public debates, and other records that allow Virginians who experienced the crisis between the autumn of 1860 and the summer of 1861 to explain their thoughts, fears, and decisions in their own words.

See a schedule of related public programs and events, including dates when the ceremonial Ordinance of Secession signed by members of the convention will be on display at the Library of Virginia.

More information on tours of the exhibition and educational programs can be found under the 'For Educators' section of Union or Secession: Virginians Decide.