In mid-January 1861, the General Assembly of Virginia ordered an election of delegates to a convention to consider the question of secession and asked voters to decide whether the convention, if it chose to secede, had to submit its decision to the voters for ratification or rejection in a popular referendum. The convention that met in Richmond from February 13 through May 1, 1861, is known in the literature of Virginia's history as the Secession Convention, but for its first two months it was a Union convention. Unlike state conventions in the lower South that met and speedily voted to secede, the Virginia convention remained in session for two and a half months and kept Virginia in the Union until mid-April 1861. At the same time, the delegates attempted to enlist the other upper South slave states that also remained in the Union in finding a compromise that would allow the states that had seceded to return and restore the Union.
On February 4, 1861, Virginia voters elected 152 delegates to the convention called to consider secession.
Delegates who favored secession at the start of the convention explained their reasons using the same arguments that appeared in some of the state's newspapers and in the private conversations and correspondence of other Virginia secessionists.
A large majority of convention delegates, like the voters who had elected them, opposed secession and believed that if Virginia remained in the Union they could engage the other upper South slave states in crafting a compromise to save the Union.
Abraham Lincoln took office as president of the United States on March 4, 1861. His inaugural address was unpopular with many Virginians.