previous next

[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 ”

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Places (automatically extracted)

View a map of the most frequently mentioned places in this document.

Sort places alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a place to search for it in this document.
Wheeling, W. Va. (West Virginia, United States) (1)
United States (United States) (1)

Download Pleiades ancient places geospacial dataset for this text.

hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
1861 AD (1)
1787 AD (1)
May 13th (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: