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[19] time was well understood. The extremists of the South, counting upon it, counted with absolute confidence; and openly proclaimed their reliance in debate. Florida, as the representatives of that State confessed on the floor of Congress, might in itself be of small account; but Florida, panoplied with sovereignty, was hemmed in and buttressed against assault by protecting sister States.

So, in his history, James F. Rhodes asserts that—‘The four men who in the last resort made the decision that began the war were ex-Senator Chestnut, Lieutenant-Colonel Chisolm, Captain Lee, all three South Carolinians, and Roger A. Pryor, a Virginia secessionist, who two days before in a speech at the Charleston Hotel had said, “I will tell your governor what will put Virginia in the Southern Confederacy in less than an hour by Shrewsbury clock. Strike a blow!” ’ (Rhodes, United States, Vol. III, p. 349.) The blow was to be in reply to what was accepted as the first overt effort at the national coercion of a sovereign State—the attempted relief of Sumter. That attempt—unavoidable even if long deferred, the necessary and logical outcome of a situation which had become impossible of continuance—that attempt, construed into an effort at coercion, swept Virginia from her Union moorings.

Thus, when the long-deferred hour of fateful decision came, the position of Virginia, be it in historical justice said, however impetuous, mistaken or ill-advised, was taken on no low or sordid or selfish grounds. On the contrary, the logical assertion of a cardinal article of acccepted political faith, it was made generously, chivalrously, in a spirit almost altruistic; for, from the outset, it was manifest Virginia had nothing to gain in that conflict of which she must perforce be the battle-ground. True! her leading man doubtless believed that the struggle would soon be brought to a triumphant close—that southern chivalry and fighting qualities would win a quick and easy victory over a more materially minded, even if not craven, northern mob of fanatics and cobblers and peddlers, officered by preachers; but, however thus deceived and misled at the outset, Virginia entered on the struggle others had initiated, for their protection and in their behalf. She thrust herself between them and the tempest they had invoked. Technically it may have been treasonable; but her attitude was consistent, was bold, was chivalrous:

An honorable murderer if you will;
     For naught did he in hate but all in honor.

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