around me thinks that that will make the separation irretrievable, and involve us in flagrant civil war. Practically everybody will despair.’
A day or two later the news came ‘like a gleam of sunshine in a storm.’
The disunion movement was checked, perhaps would be checkmated.
Well might Seward
, with a sigh of profound relief, write to his wife: ‘At least, the danger of conflict, here or elsewhere, before the 4th of March, has been averted.
Time has been gained.’
（Seward at Washington
I, p. 502.) Time was gained; and the few weeks of precious time thus gained through the expiring effort of Union sentiment in Virginia
involved the vital fact of the peaceful delivery four weeks later of the helm of State into the hands of Lincoln
Thus, be it always remembered, Virginia
did not take its place in the secession movement because of the election of an anti-slavery president.
It did not raise its hand against the national government from mere love of any peculiar institution, or a wish to protect and to perpetuate it. It refused to be precipitated into a civil convulsion; and its refusal was of vital moment.
The ground of Virginia
's final action was of wholly another nature, and of a nature far more creditable.
, as I have said, made State sovereignty an article—a cardinal article—of its political creed.
So, logically and consistently, it took the position that, though it might be unwise for a State to secede, a State which did secede could not, and should not be coerced.
To us now this position seems worse than illogical; it is impossible.
So events proved it then.
Yet, after all, it is based on the great fundamental principle of the consent of the governed; and, in the days immediately preceding the war, something very like it was accepted as an article of correct political faith by men afterward as strenuous in support of a Union re-established by force, as Charles Sumner
, Abraham Lincoln
, William H. Seward
, Salmon P. Chase
, and Horace Greeley
The difference was that, confronted by the overwhelming tide of events, Virginia
adhered to it; they, in presence of that tide, tacitly abandoned it. In my judgment, they were right: But Virginia
, though mistaken more consistent, judged otherwise.
As I have said, in shaping a practicable outcome of human affairs logic is often as irreconcilable with the dictates of worldly wisdom as are metaphysics with common sense.
So now the issue shifted.
It became a question, not of slavery or of the wisdom, or even the expediency, of secession, but of the right of the national government to coerce a sovereign State.
This at the