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Doc. 15.-address to the people of Virginia.1

The delegates now assembled in convention at Wheeling, deem it proper to address their fellow-citizens throughout the commonwealth, in explanation and vindication of the course they have unanimously felt it incumbent on them to pursue.

It is only necessary to allude briefly to the circumstances which called this convention into existence, to justify, in the fullest manner, any resumption of authority by the people in whose name they act. The General Assembly, which met in extra session at Richmond, in January last, without the excuse of impending danger or other grave necessity, and without constitutional authority, convened a convention, “to adopt such measures as they may deem expedient for the welfare of the commonwealth;” thus tamely relinquishing the very power reposed in themselves by the constitution, and, as the sequel proved, with a corrupt purpose. Elections were held for delegates to the proposed convention, and it being then clearly understood that an active and influential party favored the secession of the commonwealth from the United States, the issue presented everywhere was clearly “Secession” or “No secession.” We need not remind you that by a very large majority of the voters of the commonwealth secession was rejected and repudiated, by the election of delegates professedly opposed to that iniquity, nor that a still larger majority required, that any act of that convention, altering the fundamental law or affecting the relations of the state, should be submitted to the people, and without the approbation of a majority, expressed at the polls, should have no force or effect.

The proceedings of that convention, up to the seventeenth of April last, were evidently intended by those in the secret to persuade the members favorable to the perpetuity of the Union, and the people at large, that it was intended to propose terms on which it could be maintained. On the day named the mask was thrown aside, and the secession ordinance was passed, This was done in secret session, and no immediate promulgation of the fact was made to the people; nor, until since this convention assembled, was the injunction of secrecy so far removed that the vote on the passage of the ordinance was made public. It now appears that more than one third of the whole convention voted against it, and that nine members were absent. Up to this day the debates which preceded the vote are concealed from the people, who are thus denied a knowledge of the causes which, in the opinion of the majority, rendered secession necessary, and justified so gross a disregard of their lately expressed will.

Under the legislative act calling the convention, from which alone that body derived its authority, and under the vote of the people provided for by that act, the secession ordinance had no legal effect until ratified at the polls by a majority of the voters of the commonwealth. The leaders in the secession movement, whose conduct has proved them to be conspirators against the State of Virginia, and the peace and welfare of her people, did not wait until the time fixed for this ratification, to begin their overt acts of treason against the government and people of the United States, as well as the state and people for whom they professed to act. Indeed, two days before the adoption of the ordinance, with the connivance, or, as is alleged, in defiance of a feeble executive, they levied war against both by sending their emissaries to capture the Harper's Ferry armory, and to obstruct the entrance of the harbor on which is situated the Gosport navy yard. This bold assumption of authority was followed by numerous acts of hostility against the United States; by the levy of troops to aid in the capture of the national capital, and the subversion of the national authority, and, to crown the infamy of the conspirators, with whom the executive had now coalesced, by an attempt, without even the pretence of the authority or acquiescence of the people, to transfer their allegiance from the United States to a league of rebellious states, in arms against the former.

In this state of things, the day arrived when the people were to vote for or against the secession ordinance. Threats of personal injury and other intimidations, such as had been uttered upon the floor of the usurping convention against the remaining friends of the Union there, were used by the adherents of the conspirators in every county of the state. Judges charged the grand juries that opposition to disunion would be punished as treason against the commonwealth; and the armed partisans of the conspirators, in various places, arrested, plundered, and exiled peaceable citizens, for no other crime than their adherence to the Union their fathers had constructed, and under which they had been born and lived in prosperity and peace. We are not apprised by any official announcement of the result of the vote taken under such circumstances; but, whatever it may be, we denounce it as unfair and unjust, and as affording no evidence of the will of the people on the subject actually presented for their suffrages, and much less of their consent to be transferred to the self-constituted oligarchy of the south.

In the point of view in which this result, and the transactions which inevitably led to it, should be examined by the people of Virginia, it is unimportant whether secession was of itself desirable or not desirable; because the end cannot justify the means, if the latter are illegal and unholy. In the present case, the great principle which underlies all free government — the principle that the will of the people is the supreme law, or as expressed in the Declaration of Independence, that “governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed,” and in our own Bill of Rights, that “all power is vested in and consequently derived from the people,” has not only been violated and set at nought, but has been trampled under foot. In the call of the [211] convention, in the acts of that body, in the circumstances preceding and accompanying the late election, a continued effort has been made, with what success you know, not merely to disregard the will of the people, but to set it at defiance, and to establish the counter principle, that the few should govern the many. The men justly termed conspirators and usurpers because they cannot show your warrant for their acts, were, when this convention met, practically in full possession of every branch of the state government, and still claim the right to exercise their usurped power; and if you submit to their acts of secession and affiliation with usurpers like themselves, you yield to them the right to govern you in perpetuity. Will your bill of rights and constitution afford you any protection against those who have already violated both? Will your connection with a pretended Confederacy, in every state of which the leaders have openly and directly refused to submit their similar acts to the approval or rejection of their people, aid you in the recovery of the fundamental right of which you have been so wantonly robbed?

But is secession right, or is it desirable if it is right? We will not amplify the argument on the first branch of this inquiry. The ratification of the constitution of the United States by our own commonwealth, in express terms, reserves the right to abrogate it to those by whom it was made, the people of the United States; thus repudiating in advance the modern doctrine of separate state secession. This is in strict accordance with the views of our elder statesmen, whose patriotism and ability are held in reverence, not only by us and by our fellow-citizens of the Union, but by good men throughout the world. It is the logic of every honest heart, that a contract, a compact, or call it what you will, can only be set aside by the joint act of those by whom it was made.

But why should secession be desirable? Why should Virginia desire to withdraw from that Union of which she has been for so long an honored member — that Union, the accomplishment of which illumines, with the brightest rays, her own history, and the lives of her most distinguished sons? Shall it be said that what she toiled to achieve in 1787, was destroyed by her own act in 1861? Is there on the page of history the story of a nation that has risen more rapidly to prosperity and power, of more steadily advanced in intellectual and moral culture? There is no such nation, nor is there among the thirty-four states one which has profited more by the association, or one which would suffer more from its dissolution, as is sufficiently indicated by our geographical position.

Impressed with these views, the north-western counties of the state, knowing that a large majority of their people remained, and would remain, faithful to the Union under all circumstances, met in convention at Wheeling on the thirteenth day of May last, to consult upon their condition and to take such steps as it might indicate. It was literally a mass convention, and from the irregular manner of the appointment of its delegates, was not calculated for the despatch of business. As the result of its deliberations, the convention which now addresses you was called, the representation in which is proportioned to that of the General Assembly. The number of counties actually represented is thirty-four, and we have reliable assurance that several which are now with us in spirit, will ere long be present by their regularly appointed delegates. Considering that in so many counties every expression of opinion unfavorable to the conspirators is suppressed, the number already represented is larger than could have been anticipated. Several of the delegates present escaped from their counties at the risk of their lives, while others are still detained at home by force or menaces against them or their families and property. Such is doubtless the case in other counties from which we have no information.

Two courses of action were presented to those who now address you upon their organization, both of which had been debated in the previous convention at this place. The first was the immediate separation of the western or north-western counties from the residue of the state. This was the result rather of a previous and growing belief, now amounting to conviction in the minds of all throughout this section of the state, that diversity, almost opposition, of interests,--different directions of the channels of trade, and the want of legislation adapted to their condition, and indispensable to their moral and material prosperity, rendered the separation desirable under any and all circumstances. But aside from. the constitutional requirements which made its accomplishment almost impossible while hostilities continued, the consideration that to separate now, would be to separate from many who, under circumstances even more adverse than those by which they had been themselves surrounded, had maintained their loyalty to the Federal government, caused the abandonment of this course at this time. On the other hand, a sense of duty to those who, like themselves, were constrained to repudiate the action of the Richmond convention and the state authorities, demanded that such a course should be taken as would enable all the loyal citizens of the commonwealth to participate in its advantages, and to enjoy the security it might offer.

Besides submission to palpable usurpation, there was then but one alternative, namely, under the authority of numerous precedents in the history of nations, to assume the conduct of the government, on the ground that those previously intrusted with its administration, by their numerous illegal and unconstitutional acts, in plain derogation of the rights of the people, had, in the language of the Declaration of Independence, “abdicated government, by declaring us out of their protection, and waging war against us;” whereby, in the words of the same instrument, “the legislative powers, incapable of annihilation, have returned to the people for their exercise.” This convention, therefore, in humble, but, as they firmly believe, proper imitation of the sages of ‘76, have, “in the name and on behalf of the [212] good people of Virginia,” issued their declaration, “that the preservation of their dearest rights and liberties, and their security in person and property, imperatively demand the reorganization of the government of the commonwealth.”

In pursuance of this declaration, we have passed such ordinances as are immediately necessary to reorganize the government, and put it in operation. We have appointed a governor, lieutenant-governor, attorney-general, and executive council, leaving to the General Assembly, which we have directed to be convened, at a very early day, to fill, or to provide for filling, all other offices as soon as in their judgment it can be properly done. The terms of the officers we have appointed are limited to six months, or until the election and qualification of their successors, for which the General Assembly is authorized to provide at the earliest possible period. In all this, our fellow-citizens will clearly perceive that there has been no disposition to assume any power or authority not demanded by the exigencies of their present unhappy condition, or to retain it longer than a regard for their highest interests may require.

In reply to remarks which have been made abroad, we deem it proper to say, that we have not seen occasion to take any steps in reference to the debt of the state. The idea of the repudiation of any part of it which was legally contracted, has not been expressed or entertained by any member of the convention. The only notice the subject has received, has been in connection with the proposed separation of the western counties, and whenever it has been thus named, those desirous of separation have invariably expressed their willingness to assume their equitable portion of the burden. Any promises of payment or projects of arrangement at this time, when the very existence of the commonwealth is threatened, would be worse than idle.

Under all these circumstances, with the firm conviction that the course adopted is the only one by which the state can be retained in the Union, and the liberties and rights of the people secured and perpetuated, we most earnestly call upon our loyal fellow-citizens, in every county of the commonwealth, who are not already represented in the General Assembly and in this convention, to elect members of the legislature, and appoint delegates to this body, at the earliest possible moment. Writs of election will be issued by the executive whenever it appears that they can be executed, and representatives from every county will be most cordially received. No suspension or essential change of any part of the constitution or laws of the commonwealth, unless positively demanded by the exigencies of the times, will be made, until the will of the whole people, or of their authorized representatives, can be freely expressed; and such changes as have been, or may hereafter be, so demanded, will be submitted for ratification at an early day.

We call upon the loyal citizens of the common-wealth to organize and arm for its defence against the conspirators and usurpers at Richmond, and their aiders and abettors. Plans will immediately be devised to give to such organizations the greatest efficiency. The general government will aid and protect us to the utmost of their power, and will most unquestionably recognize the reorganized government as the true and legitimate government of the state. They cannot and will not do otherwise.

The reorganized government appeals to the great body of the people for countenance and support in this hour of great anxiety and trial. They do so confidently, because, while there have been many defections from the great and holy cause.of “Liberty and Union” among those to whom you have been accustomed to look for political information and direction, there have been comparatively few among yourselves. In this matter, which appeals to your dearest rights and interests, you have responded spontaneously to the promptings of your honest hearts. Your own experience has taught you the great benefits of the Union, and you recognize the great principle, that a government so beneficial in its operations, so mild in its requirements, so powerful to protect, and so constituted as to diffuse throughout an immense territory the blessings of prosperity and happiness, “should not be changed for light or transient causes.” In every county where the free expression of your views has been permitted, your majorities in favor of the maintenance and perpetuity of the Union have far exceeded the calculations of the most sanguine among your friends. Persevere, then, in your most holy war against the corrupt and perjured oligarchy who have usurped your government, and would have sold you to the ambitious despots of an unholy affiliation. In such a cause, we may look for the blessings of that Holy One, who has made it a part of his divine providence that those who, in purity of heart and purpose, strive for the preservation of their dearest rights, their homes and their country, although the struggle may be protracted for long and weary years, shall never strive in vain.

By order of the Convention,

Arthur I. Boreman, President. G. L. Cranmer, Secretary.

1 unanimously adopted by the convention in session at Wheeling, June twenty-fourth, 1861.

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