Virginia Memory, Library of Virginia
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Union or Secession: Units

Union or Secession

Virginians Decide

Map of transportation networks in Virginia in 1861 icon

Virginia in 1860

In 1860 Virginia was the most populous of all the slave states and, with almost half a million enslaved people, had the highest number of residents living in slavery. Virginia also had probably the most varied geography, the most diversified economy, and the third-largest la… more »

1861 map showing distribution of Virginia's slave population icon

Slavery

Almost half a million Virginians, nearly one-third of the entire population of the state, lived in slavery in 1860. More enslaved people and more owners of slaves lived in Virginia than in any other state. A large majority of Virginia's enslaved people worked on farms and pl… more »

Sectional Crisis

During the 1850s, sectional differences within the United States, largely about slavery, grew wider as the country's leaders debated whether to allow slavery to expand into the western territories and as criticism of slavery intensified in some free states. The Compromise of… more »

Democratic Party ballot for John C. Breckinridge 1860 icon

1860 Presidential Election

The presidential election took place on November 6, 1860, when sectional tensions were unusually high. Everyone understood that the result of the election could change the course of American history, but most men who voted did not select which candidate or party to support b… more »

Secession Begins and Compromises Fail

Soon after Abraham Lincoln's election as president on November 6, 1860, advocates of disunion in South Carolina organized a convention that on December 20, 1860, repealed the state's ratification of the Constitution of the United States. They then invited the other slave sta… more »

Frederick County Election Ticket, February 4, 1861 icon

The Virginia Convention

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… more »

Debating Secession icon

Virginia Convention Votes Against Secession on April 4, 1861

Members of the Virginia convention spent much of their time in March debating various proposals to settle the sectional crisis and discussing the advantages and disadvantages of seceding. In the evening session on April 4, 1861, Delegate Lewis Harvie, of Amelia County, intro… more »

Surrender of Fort Sumter and Lincoln's Call for Troops

On April 1, 1861, Secretary of State William H. Seward telegraphed George William Summers, a Unionist member of the Virginia Convention, to visit President Abraham Lincoln. Several Unionist delegates sent John Brown Baldwin to meet secretly with Lincoln in Summers's stead. M… more »

Ordinance of Secession (Calligraphy Version) icon

Virginia Convention Votes For Secession on April 17, 1861

By the second week of April 1861, advocates of secession in Virginia had grown so impatient with the refusal of the convention to vote on the question that they conspired to pressure the convention into action. Some members of the convention and other men in Richmond, includ… more »

Discussing the Ordinance of Secession icon

Referenda on Secession and Taxation, May 23, 1861

On May 23, 1861, Virginia's voting men ratified the Ordinance of Secession that the Virginia Convention had adopted on April 17, and in that same election voters ratified an amendment to the state constitution that removed a limitation on the value of enslaved people held as… more »

Loyal Conventions in Wheeling Restore Virginia to the Union

Before the first session of the convention adjourned in Richmond on May 1, 1861, several of the leading northwestern Unionists returned home and called for a convention to meet in Wheeling. It issued a formal call for the election of delegates to a June 1861 convention that … more »

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Civil War Begins

Robert E. Lee took command of Virginia's defense forces at a session of the Virginia Convention in the Capitol in Richmond on April 23, 1861. The convention organized the state's defenses and prepared for war. It ratified the Provisional Constitution of the Confederate State… more »