The Ordinance of Secession that the convention adopted on April 17, 1861, and that voters in the state ratified in a referendum conducted on May 23, 1861, repealed Virginia's 1788 ratification of the Constitution of the United States and also repealed all of the General Assembly's votes to ratify amendments to the Constitution. The Ordinance stated that the 1788 instrument of ratification had reserved to the people of Virginia the right to withdraw from the Union that the Constitution created if the federal government should pervert the powers granted to it in a manner injurious or oppressive to the people of Virginia. The Ordinance of Secession, unlike the Declaration of Independence of 1776, did not include a list of actions that the convention believed justified repealing the ratification of the Constitution, but it did specifically state that the federal government had "perverted said powers, not only to the injury of the people of Virginia, but to the oppression of the Southern slaveholding States."
There are three parchment copies of the Ordinance of Secession. The formal, legal copy of the ordinance was later enrolled on parchment for the president of the convention to sign in June. Late in April, 92 members of the convention affixed their signatures to a preliminary parchment before the ratification referendum that was held on May 23. At the June and November sessions of the convention, 142 delegates signed the third, ceremonial parchment.