Virginia Memory, Library of Virginia
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How the Delegates Voted

Union or Secession
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  • Residences of delegates who voted for and against secession on April 4, 1861, displayed on E. Hergesheimer, <em>Map of Virginia Showing the Distribution of its Slave Population from the Census of 1860</em>, C. B. Graham, Lithographer (Washington, D.C.: Henry S. Graham, 1861), Library of Virginia.,
    Map of April 4, 1861, Vote on Secession
  • First paragraph of an editorial in the <em>Daily Richmond Enquirer</em>, April 9, 1861.,
    "What Will Virginia Do?"
  • Excerpt from an unsigned letter to the editor, dated April 5, 1861, printed in the Wheeling <em>Daily Intelligencer</em>, April 9, 1861.,
    "I shall be true to the Union"
  • Undated editorial from the Floyd <em>Southern Era</em> reprinted in the Wheeling <em>Daily Intelligencer</em>, April 11, 1861.,
    "Sustain a paper zealous for your rights"
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« Return to Virginia Convention Votes Against Secession on April 4, 1861

How the Delegates Voted

Most of the delegates who voted for secession resided in counties with a large enslaved population and in counties in which the voters had disapproved of requiring a ratification referendum should the convention decide to secede. Delegates from eastern cities, from the Shenandoah Valley, and from northwestern Virginia overwhelmingly voted against secession, including delegates from many counties that Democrat John C. Breckinridge had carried in the presidential election of November 1860.

On April 4, 1861, when the question faced by the delegates was whether secession was wise or desirable, 63 delegates from west of the Blue Ridge Mountains, where in many areas there were very few enslaved African Americans, voted to remain a part of the United States, but only 15 delegates from the same area voted for secession. In the counties east of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the vote was almost equally divided, with 30 delegates voting for secession and 27 voting against it. Most of the opponents of secession in this region resided in north-central Virginia and in and around the cities of Richmond, Norfolk, and Portsmouth, where slavery was relatively less important than elsewhere.

The commercial networks that connected residents of those cities with merchants, manufacturers, and shippers in Northern and overseas cities as well as other factors led them to identify their interests more with preserving the Union than with the interests of planters in the countryside who often shared more with planters and farmers in the lower South states that had seceded.

The personal beliefs of some individual delegates, including the men from northwestern Virginia and in the Ohio Valley who voted for secession, and the men in eastern Virginia and in the cities who voted against secession, probably governed their behavior as much as the economic and demographic characteristics of their communities. The two delegates who represented the neighboring counties on the Eastern Shore spoke and voted in opposition to each other throughout the convention. The counties were similar in many ways, but in Accomack County, the northern of the two, 24.2 percent of the inhabitants lived in slavery in 1860, and its delegate voted against secession on April 4. In Northampton County, the southern of the two, 49.4 percent of the inhabitants lived in slavery in 1860, and its delegate spoke in favor of secession before the vote and voted for secession on April 4.

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