Virginia Memory, Library of Virginia
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Secession Begins and Compromises Fail

Union or Secession
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  • Editorial in the Staunton <em>Vindicator</em>, November 23, 1860.,
    "in favor of a National Convention"
  • Editorial in Clarksville <em>Tobacco Plant</em>, December 7, 1860.,
    "A state of painful suspense"
  • Editorial in the Fredericksburg News, January 11, 1861.,
    "Hold Your Horses"
  • Editorial in the Staunton <em>Vindicator</em>, November 9, 1860.,
    "Disunion?"
  • Resolution of Citizens of Elizabeth City County, December 22, 1860, Executive Papers of Governor John Letcher, Acc. 36787, State Government Records Collection, Record Group 3, Library of Virginia.,
    "Defend the cause of Constitutional Liberty"
  • Editorial in Leesburg <em>Democratic Mirror</em>, December 26, 1860.,
    Secession of South Carolina
  • Editorial in <em>Alexandria Gazette</em>, December 31, 1860.,
    1860 "ends in gloom and sadness"
  • "The 'Secession Movement,'" 1861, Broadside, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.,
    "The Secession Movement"
  • Telegram from Governor Martin Starke Perry to Governor John Letcher, January 11, 1861, Executive Papers of Governor John Letcher, Acc. 36787, State Government Records Collection, Record Group 3, Library of Virginia.,
    Florida secedes
  • Telegram from William M. Brook to Governor John Letcher, January 11, 1861, Executive Papers of Governor John Letcher, Acc. 36787, State Government Records Collection, Record Group 3, Library of Virginia.,
    Alabama secedes
  • Two editorial comments from the <em>Abingdon Virginian</em>, March 8, 1861.,
    "The people have been hoodwinked"
  • Extract from Governor John Letcher to the Gentlemen of the Senate and House of Delegates, January 7, 1861, printed as Document No. 1 in the <em>Journal of the House of Delegates of the State of Virginia, for the Extra Session, 1861</em> (Richmond, 1861), xx–xxii.,
    Governor John Letcher's Message
  • George William Summers to John Letcher, January 25, 1861, Executive Papers of Governor John Letcher, Acc. 36787, State Government Records Collection, Record Group 3, Library of Virginia.,
    Peace Conference Commissioner
  • Excerpts from speech of George William Summers in the national Peace Conference in Washington, D.C., on February 19, 1861, printed in L. E. Chittenden, <em>A Report of the Debates and Proceedings in the Secret Sessions of the Conference Convention, for Proposing Amendments to the Constitution of the United States, Held at Washington, D.C., in February, A.D. 1861</em> (New York, 1864), 151, 153–154.,
    "This Conference must act"
  • Petition on behalf of John Tyler Janes, dated March 4, 1861, received by the House of Delegates on March 8, 1861, Harrison County, Legislative Petitions, Record Group 78, Library of Virginia.,
    John Tyler Janes desires to change his name
  • Editorial in the <em>Abingdon Democrat</em>, March 8, 1861,
    Humbug conferences and conventions
  • Extract from the speech of John Tyler, begun on March 13, 1861, and concluded the following day, printed in George H. Reese and William H. Gaines Jr., ed., <em>Proceedings of the Virginia Convention of 1861</em> (Richmond: Virginia State Library, 1965), 1:638–639.,
    John Tyler reports
  • Robert H. Glass to Governor John Letcher, November 27, 1860, Executive Papers of Governor John Letcher, Acc. 36787, State Government Records Collection, Record Group 3, Library of Virginia.,
    "The Union is gone"
  • Announcement in Wheeling <em>Daily Intelligencer</em>, December 14, 1860.,
    Union Meeting in Wheeling
  • Resolutions adopted at a public meeting in Wytheville on December 10, 1860, printed in the <em>Lynchburg Daily Virginian</em>, December 17, 1860.,
    Wytheville Resolutions
  • Extract from an editorial in the <em>Lynchburg Daily Virginian</em>, December 22, 1860.,
    Suggestion for mediation
  • William Mahone to Governor John Letcher, January 2, 1861, Executive Papers of Governor John Letcher, Acc. 36787, State Government Records Collection, Record Group 3, Library of Virginia.,
    "I shall be ready at your summons"
  • Extract from an editorial in the Harrisonburg <em>Rockingham Register</em>, January 4, 1861.,
    "How Rockingham stands"
  • <em>Alexandria Gazette</em>, January 7, 1861,
    "They expected to be free"
  • Extract of a letter from M. to the editor, dated at White Post, Clarke County, on January 5, 1861, printed in the <em>Alexandria Gazette</em>, January 8, 1861.,
    "I fear it is now too late"
  • Resolutions unanimously adopted at a large meeting "of the working men, farmers and mechanics" of Rockbridge County, in Lexington, on December 19, 1860, and published in the Lexington <em>Valley Star</em>, January 10, 1861.,
    Rockbridge County Resolutions
  • William Staples to Christoper Yancy Thomas, January 11, 1861, Gravely Family Papers, Acc. 34126, Library of Virginia,
    "Every feeling of my heart is for my own Section"
  • Undated letter signed "LADY" to the editor of the <em>Staunton Vindicator</em> and printed in the issue of January 18, 1861.,
    "The daughters of Old Augusta"
  • Mary Berkeley Minor Blackford to John Barbee Minor, January 18, 1861, Minor and Wilson Family Papers, Special Collections, University of Virginia,
    "Anguish of mind"
  • Jacob Bechtel to George Bechtel, January 19, 1861, Jacob H. Bechtel Papers, William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan,
    "Curse their Wicked obstinacy"
  • Undated letter signed
    Seize Fort Monroe and Harpers Ferry
  • Editorial in <em>Staunton Spectator</em>, January 22, 1861,
    "The proper position for Virginia is in the Union"
  • Report of a public meeting in Romney, Hampshire County, on January 19, 1861, printed in <em>Alexandria Gazette</em>, January 29, 1861.,
    No disunion but no concessions
  • <em>Alexandria Gazette</em>, February 26, 1861,
    National Workingmen's Convention
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Secession Begins and Compromises Fail

Soon after Abraham Lincoln's election as president on November 6, 1860, advocates of disunion in South Carolina organized a convention that on December 20, 1860, repealed the state's ratification of the Constitution of the United States. They then invited the other slave states to do the same and to join in forming a Southern confederacy. In December, Congress began consideration of compromise proposals to preserve the Union, but neither House of Congress could agree on measures that were acceptable to political leaders in the lower South and also to political leaders in the free states. In February 1861 a national peace conference began a month of meetings in Washington, D.C., but its compromise proposals also failed to attract lower South states back into the Union or to gain widespread support in the free states.

Secession Begins

A convention in South Carolina voted on December 20, 1860, to repeal the state's ratification of the Constitution of the United States. Within weeks conventions in several other lower South states had assembled and also voted to secede from the Union.

Compromises Fail

In hopes of averting a crisis, in December 1860, Kentucky Senator John Jordan Crittenden introduced compromise proposals that he hoped would preserve the Union, and in January 1861, Virginia's General Assembly issued a call for a national peace conference to meet in Washington to seek a compromise.

Virginians Debate and Take Sides

During the months following Abraham Lincoln's election in November 1860, Virginians discussed the future of the Union in personal conversations, in private letters, in public addresses, in the pages of newspapers, and in organized public meetings.

Featured Biographies:

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  • George William Summers (1804-1868)
  • John Tyler (1790-1862)
  • Mary Berkeley Minor Blackford (1802-1896)
  • Charles B. Coale (ca. 1807-1879)
  • James Andrew Cowardin (1811-1882)
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