Virginia Memory, Library of Virginia
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Opponents of Secession

Union or Secession
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  • Editorial in <em>Lynchburg Daily Virginian</em>, February 4, 1861.,
    "Why Such Haste?"
  • Editorial in the Lexington <em>Valley Star</em>, February 14, 1861.,
    "Strong advocate of the Union"
  • <em>Boston Herald</em>, February 28, 1861, reporting from a lost issue of the <em>Norfolk Herald</em>.,
    "Tell your people all is well"
  • Speech of John Echols, of Monroe County, in the Virginia Convention, March 1, 1861, printed in George H. Reese and William H. Gaines, Jr., eds., <em>Proceedings of the Virginia State Convention of 1861</em> (Richmond: Virginia State Library, 1965), 1:275–276.,
    Recognize the Confederacy
  • Excerpts from a speech of John Snyder Carlile in the Virginia Convention on March 7, 1861, printed in George H. Reese and William H. Gaines, Jr., eds., <em>Proceedings of the Virginia State Convention of 1861</em> (Richmond: Virginia State Library, 1965), 1:458–459, 468–470, 476–477.,
    Preserving slavery and the Union
  • <em>Alexandria Gazette</em>, March 9, 1861.,
    "I hope she will be slower still"
  • Christopher Yancy Thomas to Peyton Gravely, March 18, 1861, Gravely Family Papers, Acc. 34126, Library of Virginia.,
    "The Union Party is stronger now"
  • Excerpt from a speech of John Brown Baldwin in the Virginia Convention on March 21, 1861, printed in George H. Reese and William H. Gaines, Jr., eds., <em>Proceedings of the Virginia State Convention of 1861</em> (Richmond: Virginia State Library, 1965), 2:142.,
    "A pro-slavery man"
  • Mary Berkley Minor Blackford to John Barbee Minor, April 3, 1861, Minor and Wilson Family Papers, Small Special Collections, University of Virginia.,
    The editor is entitled to thanks
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Opponents of Secession

A large majority of convention delegates, like the voters who had elected them, opposed secession and believed that if Virginia remained in the Union—if everybody waited a bit—they could engage the other upper South slave states in crafting a compromise to save the Union. Many of them were former Whigs and experienced politicians. They argued that Virginia's economic ties to the Free States promoted the prosperity of Virginia and that the state had no comparable economic interests in joining a separate Southern nation. They also insisted that Virginians could rely on the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 and the power of the federal government to help recover enslaved African Americans who had fled bondage, but if Virginia were in a different nation, the United States government would have no requirement to assist Virginia slave owners, and enslaved Virginians could more easily escape to freedom. If Virginia seceded, Virginia's slave owners would not be able to migrate to the western territories and take their slaves with them.

Opponents of secession also emphasized Virginia's role in the American Revolution and in founding the United States, leaving white Virginians a legacy of liberty within the nation that they should not abandon. Some opponents of secession predicted that if Virginia seceded the state would become the battleground of a civil war and that in those circumstances the enslaved population would rebel or run away, and slavery would be doomed in Virginia. No opponent of secession ever criticized slavery, and most of them argued that slavery in Virginia was safer in the Union than out of the Union. They devoted most of their speeches to plans to engineer a compromise that would bring the Union back together and preserve slavery in the Union.

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