Virginia Memory, Library of Virginia
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Southern Rights Convention

Union or Secession
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  • Two news items from <em>Alexandria Gazette</em>, April 1, 1861.,
    "Grand Secession demonstration"
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« Return to Virginia Convention Votes For Secession on April 17, 1861

Southern Rights Convention

Between Abraham Lincoln's inauguration as president of the United States on March 4, 1861, and the second week of April, advocates of secession assembled in many cities and counties, mostly east of the mountains, and adopted vigorously worded resolutions demanding that the delegates in the Virginia Convention vote for secession. Whether the many local meetings and resolutions indicated that popular opinion in Virginia, generally, was changing is unclear. Opponents of secession in the eastern regions of the state seldom assembled to demand that the convention adjourn or vote to keep Virginia in the Union. Advocates of secession in Virginia were active, vocal, and impatient.

Obadiah Jennings Wise, one of the editors of the Daily Richmond Enquirer and a son of former governor and convention delegate Henry Alexander Wise, cooperated closely with other Richmond men who supported secession to summon what they called a Southern rights convention in hopes that it would pressure the state convention to secede. Some members of the state convention, including Henry A. Wise, evidently took part in the careful planning for the Southern rights convention, and rumors circulated that the members of that convention might seize control of the government from Governor John Letcher if the state convention failed to act. Henry A. Wise personally gave orders, of which the governor was unaware, for the Virginia militia to seize the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry and the navy yard at Portsmouth.

The Southern rights convention assembled in Richmond during the middle of the third week of April 1861, just after events outside of Virginia—the surrender of Fort Sumter and President Abraham Lincoln's call for 75,000 volunteers to put down the rebellion—so changed the political calculus that thirty-four members of the state convention who had voted against secession on April 4 changed their minds.

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