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Convention Resolved to Abolish Slavery

  • Virginia Constitutional Convention Resolved to Abolish Slavery, March 10, 1864
  • Virginia Constitutional Convention Resolved to Abolish Slavery, March 10, 1864
  • Virginia Constitutional Convention Resolved to Abolish Slavery, March 10, 1864
  • Virginia Constitutional Convention Resolved to Abolish Slavery, March 10, 1864
The Virginia government in Alexandria adopted a state constitution in 1864 that abolished slavery in the state.
Related documents:
  • 5th Va. Convention Motion for Independence
    Fifth Virginia Revolutionary Convention Called for Independence, May 15, 1776
  • First Virginia Constitution
    First Virginia Constitution, June 29, 1776
  • Emancipation Proclamation
    Emancipation Proclamation, January 1, 1863
  • Thirteenth Amendment
    Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, 1865
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Virginia Constitutional Convention Resolved to Abolish Slavery, March 10, 1864

After Virginia seceded from the United States in the spring of 1861, Virginia men loyal to the Union met in Wheeling and voted to restore Virginia to the Union. In conventions in May and June they declared the statewide offices vacant by reason of their occupants' serving in the government of the state that became one of the Confederate States of America. The conventions in Wheeling elected a new governor, lieutenant governor, and attorney general, and a special session of the General Assembly that met in Wheeling in July elected two United States senators. They and two members of the House of Representatives served in the United States Congress as representatives of the state of Virginia that remained one of the United States of America. On July 4, 1861, the president of the United States of America recognized the government in Wheeling as the legal and loyal government of the Commonwealth of Virginia.

After West Virginia was admitted to the Union as a free state in June 1863, the Virginia state government that was part of the United States moved its capital from Wheeling to Alexandria, and Governor Francis H. Pierpont recommended that the assembly call a constitutional convention to redraw the legislative and judicial district boundaries that were fixed in the 1851 state constitution and to abolish slavery. Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation was not in force in the state of Virginia that remained in the United States. Thus, the governor and the army acted under conflicting responsibilities in treating the many enslaved men, women, and children who left their owners during the war and sought freedom outside of the Confederacy. From February 13 through April 11, 1864, seventeen delegates, some of whom were owners of slaves, wrote a new constitution for Virginia. When they voted on March 10 to declare that "Slavery and involuntary servitude (except for crime) is hereby abolished and prohibited in the State forever," church bells rang throughout the city, and men fired a hundred guns in celebration.

On February 9, 1865, the General Assembly of the Restored government of Virginia, meeting in Alexandria, ratified the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States that ended slavery throughout the nation.

The surrender of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia in April 1865 effectively ended the Civil War and brought an end to the Confederate States of America. The officials of the state government in Richmond had abandoned their offices and the capital by that time, and the government of the state that had been part of the Confederate States of America under the Constitution of 1851 ceased to exist along with the Confederacy. The government in Alexandria moved its capital to Richmond later in the spring, and from then until July 1869 the Constitution of 1864, which abolished slavery, was the constitution of Virginia.

For Educators

Questions

1. Who was the president of the convention?

2. Who was on the Committee of Emancipation and Education?

Further Discussion

1. What was the Restored government of Virginia? What is the significance of the Virginia Constitution of 1864?

Suggested Reading

Constitution of the State of Virginia, and the Ordinances Adopted by the Convention Which Assembled at Alexandria, on the 13th Day of February, 1864. Alexandria, Va.: D. Turner, printer to the state, 1864.

Journal of the Senate of the State of Virginia for the Sessions of 1863, 4 & 5. Baltimore, Md.: John Murphy & Co., 1865, 128–129.

Journal of the House of Delegates of the State of Virginia for the Session of 1864–5 (Alexandria, Va.: D. Turner, printer to the state, 1865), 56.

"The Restored Government of Virginia—History of the New State of Things. Alexandria, Va., Wednesday, June 22, 1864." New York Times, June 26, 1864, p. 3.

Tuesday, March 8th, 1864.
Convention met at 12 o'clock, M.
The minutes of the previous meeting were read and approved.
Mr. Watson stated that as the Report of the Committee on Emancipation was not thought
to be as perfect as it might be made, he moved to recommit to the Committee. The motion was
concurred in
On motion of Mr. Hauxhurst the Committee was then instructed to report by Thursday
next.
Mr. Downey submitted an Ordinance defining treason, and for the punishment of the
same, which was laid on the table and ordered to be printed.
On motion the Convention adjourned until 10 o'clock A.M., to-morrow.
LeRoy G. Edwards
President of the Convention
W. J. Cowing
Sec'y of the Convention
Wednesday, March 9th., 1864.
Convention met at 10 o'clock, A.M.
The minutes of the previous meeting were read and approved.
Mr. Watson, in behalf of the Chairman of the Committee on Emancipation and
Education, submitted the following report:
"Your Committee on Emancipation beg leave to introduce the following as a part of the
Constitution of Virginia, to be inserted in the same under the caption of "Slavery or Freedom."
Sec. 1st. Slavery and involuntary servitude (except for crime) is hereby abolished and prohibited
in the state forever.
Sec. 2nd. Courts of competent jurisdiction may apprentice minors of African decent on like
conditions provided by law, for apprenticing white children.
Sec. 3rd The General Assembly shall make no law establishing slavery or recognizing property
in human benings
W.W. Wing, Chairman
R.B. Wood. }Committee
Philip G. Thomas.
A. Watson.
Laid on the table, and on motion of Mr. Webb, was made the special order for to-morrow.
Mr. Downey submitted the following resolutions, which were laid on the table and
ordered to be printed:
Resolved, "That the money or monies obtained from the sales of confiscated property
shall be applied first. to the payment of loyal persons for all the losses they have sustained, by
and through this rebellion; second. to be applied to free school purposes; third, if a surplus, it
shall be applied to the payment of the state debt or on internal improvements.
2nd,—The Legislature shall provide by law for the same at the first session after the
adoption of this Constitution.
Mr. Downey also offered the following resolutions, which were referred to the
Committee on Education:
Resolved, That the Legislation shall, as soon as conveniently may be, provide by law, for
a general system of education throughout the state, in such a manner that the poor may be taught
gratis.
2nd.—That the arts and sciences shall be promoted in one or more seminaries or colleges
of learning.
Mr. Webb, Chairman of the Special Committee on the contested seat of Mr. George R.
Boush, made the following report, which was unanimously adopted:
"The Committee to whom was referred the claim of James W. Brownley, Esq., of
Portsmouth, to a seat in this Convention in place of George R. Boush, beg leave to report that
they have examined carefully the papers filed, and are of the opinion that Mr. J. W. Brownley is
not entitled to a seat in this Convention
L.W. Webb. Chairman
R. B. Wood
Wm. P. Moore, Jr. } Committee
James H. Downey
S. Ferguson Beach
Mr. Downey submitted an Ordinance providing for amendments to the Constitution by
the Legislature after the year one thousand eight hundred and seventy laid on the table and
ordered to be printed by the following vote: ayes 7; nays 5.
Mr. Hauxhurst then moved to take up the ordinance previously introduced by the
gentleman from Loudoun. (Mr. Downey), defining and punishing treason, and submitted a
substitute for the same, The subject was debated at some length by Messrs Hauxhurst, Penn,
Downey, and Webb, after which it was laid on the table, ordered to be printed and made the
special order of Tuesday next.
On motion the Convention adjourned until 10 o'clock A.M., to-morrow.
LeRoy G. Edwards
President of the Convention
W. J. Cowing
Sec'y of the Convention
Thursday, March 10th, 1864
Convention met at 10 o'clock, A.M.
The minutes of the previous meeting were read and approved.
The report of the Committee on Emancipation being the special order of the day, the
same was taken up and read.
The subject was then debated at considerable length by Messrs. Downey, Boush,
Hauxhurst and Watson in favor of its immediate adoption.
Mr. Beach desired to make an explanation. His name did not appear on the report of the
Committee on Emancipation from the fact that he was absent when the Committee made its
report. As he endorsed the report and should vote for its adoption, he asked that his name might
be recorded with the balance of the Committee. The request was granted and his name so
recorded.
Mr. Penn said as there seemed to be no opposition, he would now move the unanimous
adoption of the report.
Mr. Webb desired the ayes and nayes taken, and they were recorded as follows:
Ayes—Messrs. Beach, Boush, Downey, Dix, Edwards, Gover, Henshaw, Hauxhurst,
Penn, Thomas, Tennis, Webb, Wood, Watson, Wing—14
Nayes—Mr. Moore.
So the report was adopted.
Mr. Watson offered the following resolution, which was adopted:
Resolved, That a committee of three be appointed to wait upon Gen. Slough and request
that a salute be fired in honor of the passage of the act of Emancipation.
The President appointed the following named gentlemen as said committee:—Messrs.
Watson, Penn and Gover.
Mr. Downey submitted the following resolution, which was also adopted:
Resolved That a special committee of five members be appointed to prepare a schedule of
the Constitution.
On motion the Convention then adjourned until 11 o'clock, A.M,. to-morrow.
LeRoy G. Edwards
President of the Convention
W. J. Cowing
Sec'y of the Convention
Friday, March 11th, 1864.
Convention met at 11 o'clock, A.M.
The minutes of the previous meeting were read and approved.
The Report of the Committee on the Executive Department and Judiciary being the
special order of the day, the same was taken up for consideration. As many members were
unavoidably absent
Mr. Webb moved to postpone the consideration of the report until Wednesday next, The motion
was concurred in.
On motion the Convention adjourned until Monday next, at 10 o'clock, A.M.