Virginia State Convention.
thirty-first day.

Thursday, March 21, 1861.
The Convention assembled at half-past 10 o'clock. Prayer by the Rev. Dr. Sreley, of the Second Baptist Church.

Resolution of Inquiry.

Mr. Wilson, of Harrison, offered the following resolution:

Resolved, That the Committee on Federal Relations be instructed to inquire into the expediency of providing for the Border State Conference, as recommended by the report of the majority of that Committee, and a Conference with the authorities of the Confederated States, as recommended by one of the reports; and a commission to each of the non-slaveholding States, to invite the authorities thereof to initiate such proceedings as will be acceptable to the slaveholding States now in the Union, and to the Confederated States.

’ Referred to the Committee on Federal Relations.

Amendment proposed.

Mr. Boyd, of Botetourt, offered the following which was referred to the Committee of the Whole and ordered to be printed:

‘ substitute for the first section of the amendments to the Constitution reported by the Committee on Federal Relations:

In all the present territory of the United States north of the parallel of 36 degrees and 30 minutes of North latitude, involuntary servitude, except in punishment for crime, is prohibited. In all the present territory of the United States south of said line of latitude, involuntary servitude, or slavery of the African race, is hereby recognized as existing, any law or usage to the contrary not with standing; and no law shall be passed by Congress of by the Territorial Legislature to hinder or prevent the taking of persons held in slavery or involuntary servitude, from any of the States of this Union to said territory, nor to impair the rights arising from said relation; but the same shall be subject to judicial cognizance in the Federal Courts, according to the remedies and the practice of the common law; and said relation shall be protected by all the departments of the territorial government. When any territory north or south of said line, within such boundary as Congress may prescribe, shall contain a population equal to that required for a member of Congress, it shall, if its form of government be republican, be admitted into the Union on an equal footing with the original States, with or without involuntary servitude, as such constitution of the State may provide. In all territory which may hereafter be acquired by the United States, involuntary servitude is prohibited, except for crime, north of the latitude of 36 degrees 30 minutes; but shall not be prohibited by Congress or any Territorial Legislature south of said line.

Voice of the people.

Mr. Marye, of Spotsylvania, presented a series of resolutions adopted by a portion of the citizens of that county, in favor of the secession of Virginia.

Referred to the Committee on Federal Relations.

Equality of Taxation.

The President said the pending question, at the adjournment yesterday, was on the motion of Mr. Goode, of Mecklenburg, to lay on the table the resolutions offered on Monday last, by Mr. Willey, of Monongalia.

Mr. Slaughter, of Lynchburg, appealed to Mr. Goode to withdraw his motion, in order that he might make an appeal to the Western members to postpone the discussion of the question until the Convention meets in the fall.

Mr. Goode consented to withdraw the motion. He had no desire to cut off debate, but considered the present a most inopportune time for the discussion of the question. It was like a firebrand thrown in here, to inflame excitement, and distract the counsels of the Convention.

Mr. Slaughter then appealed to his friends from the West to come forward and withdraw this agitating subject from the Convention.--Their object could be better attained at an adjourned session. He hoped the call for the yeas and nays would be withdrawn, and that the subject would be passed by for the present.

Mr. Goode said the motion to lay on the table was withdrawn.

Mr. Brown, of Preston, proposed to offer the following, with the consent of the Convention, as a compromise of the matter:

Resolved. That the President appoint a committee of fifteen members, whose duty it shall be to inquire if it be expedient to change or amend the organic law of the State, and if so, in what particular or particulars, and report thereon to an adjourned meeting of this body, should the Convention adjourn to meet at some future day.

’ The President said there was no question before the Convention except the resolutions of the gentleman from Monongalia.

Mr. Willey said he had offered the resolutions, not as a measure of strife, but to promote peace. All he wanted was a proper assurance that the matter would be adjusted in a reasonable time. He desired to express his views more fully on the subject, but would not now trespass upon the time of the Convention.

Committee of the Whole.

The hour of 11 having arrived, the Convention resolved itself into Committee of the Whole, (Mr. Southall, of Albemarle, in the Chair,) and proceeded to consider the report of the Committee on Federal Relations.

Mr. Holcombe, of Albemarle, being entitled to the floor, resumed his remarks. He alluded to the momentous question which the Convention was called upon to decide. Appalling as he considered the terrors of civil war, he learned that we were approaching a state of degradation much more to be dreaded. Though there were conservative men in the cities of the North, yet in the great heart of that section there was no indication of a change of sentiment. He conceived that unless the Union could be planted upon the immovable rock of justice, the sooner it was overthrown the better. We had a right to demand full security from the North. Our constituents, it was true, desired moderation, but they wanted an heroic moderation, which would demand everything that was necessary and accept nothing less. He looked upon it as a matter of regret that the State had lost a great opportunity for fame, by hesitating so long in making her demands; but he made no imputation upon the spirit of the people, because various considerations conspired to make them wish to linger in the Union. But the Union was now shattered; seven sisters had left, and established a new Government. He thought it no subject of reproach that they did not wait for Va.; and he vindicated them from the charge of rash precipitancy. It was common to say that Va. had more interest in question of slavery than the Cotton States. He took issue on this question, and went on to argue that our interest was not comparable to theirs. Territorial expansion was with them a necessity, and their position on the Gulf rendered them more open to aggression than the position of the Border States.--Delaware was only nominally a slave State; Maryland, Kentucky, and Missouri, would soon be free States; while to the South, slavery was the vital element. The hope of a reconstruction of the Union, through any amendments to the Constitution, he considered utterly futile. Those men who had been sleeping on the sand-banks at Charleston, hourly expecting a terrible collision with the Federal troops, could never be brought back, except through a bloody revolution at home or subjugation by a foreign power. They were able to sustain themselves, and would never relinquish the experiment of self-government unless by the application of over-whelming force. The Northern people would not tempt them back, nor could they force them back. A statement had been made by the most conservative Black Republican journal at the North, that unless there was some change in the Morrill tariff, the Government would be bankrupt before the next crop of corn was ripe; and should Virginia unite her destinies with such a Government? If the majority report of the committee was adopted, there was no security that peace would continue for a month. Then what would the condition of Virginia be, with no opportunity to unite with the Confederate States, her own soil, perhaps, to be the battle-ground, and troops concentrated by the Federal Government on her borders? Was this Commonwealth to submit to the decision of a conference of the Border States, if she went into it? A great majority in such a conference would represent States that could exist without slavery; and he could see no good to result from it, even if Virginia proposed to acquiesce in its decision.

The question now was, where would Virginia go — whether she would go with the Southern States, or remain with the North? To go nowhere, means to remain with the North. He did not propose to discuss the subject of the material interests of Virginia as connected with the South, which had been so fully and thoroughly shown by the gentleman from Richmond. He went on, however, to demonstrate the evils that would lay waste to the Commonwealth in a Northern Confederacy; the exodus of her citizens to the South; the decrease in the price of public lands; the augmentation of her public debt; the loss of trade and political power; while, in the Southern Confederacy, he argued, all her material interests would be promoted.--All her former political influence would be restored, and she would give weight to the South, both at home and abroad. None of the lights of civilization, he conceived, would be extinguished by the downfall of the Union.--After discussing some of the general questions of the slave trade, he alluded to the argument advanced by the Union men, that a large standing army would be necessary to protect our border. He thought this phantom would vanish after they had carefully investigated the subject. The large standing armies of Europe were maintained because the people had not the control of their own destinies, and to prevent them from getting the reins of government; to keep them in fear and subjection. This country had a great Canadian border, dividing us from a great military power, and there was no necessity for a standing army there; the people on this side slept in entire security. He did not believe there was any reason to apprehend an invasion of our border; if it should be, the patriotic people of Western Virginia would meet the invaders with a force that would strike terror to their hearts. An invading army might approach by railroad to the very verge of the border, but when they crossed, an obstruction, placed upon the track by a patriotic hand, would throw car loads of soldiers into eternity.--They could only advance by the slow progression of other days; and the electric fire of the telegraph would communicate the news of their approach, and a mighty host would be prepared for resistance. A living wall would be formed, impassable by any invading army.

The speaker made an eloquent appeal to the West to come up to the rescue of Virginia from the hands of her oppressors. In glowing words he depicted the event of a war between the General Government and the seceded States. Virginia would not then with-hold the sinews of war from her sisters. [It was with difficulty that the Chairman could repress the disposition to applaud, manifested by the throng in the lobby and in the gallery.]

As much as he loved the Commonwealth, (said Mr. H., in conclusion,) rather than see her deviate from the path of glory marked out for her, rather than see her forsake the principles of the fathers, he would forsake their ashes, and say, "Where Liberty dwells, there is my country." When he remembered that the flag which had been so eloquently alluded to on this floor now waved over a power at Washington that seeks our destruction — which might wave over the ruins of peaceful homes in our sister States, and be borne at the head of armies marching on to desolate our provinces — he would have Virginia turn from it with indignation, and remember that the true colors of the country were the spirit and the principles which animated our fathers to resist tyranny and repel aggression.

As Mr. Holcombe uttered the closing sentence (the eloquent language of which we but faintly portray,) there was a spontaneous outburst of applause, and the Chairman promptly gave the order for clearing the lobby and gallery.

Mr. Ambler, of Louisa, appealed to the Chair to withdraw the order.

Mr. Sheffey, of Smythe, said there was as much applause on the floor of the Convention as any where else.

The Chairman said he had indicated his course yesterday, and had given ample caution in regard to these disturbances. He was satisfied that there was some applause on the floor of the Convention; but the members had adopted rules for their own government, and he had no right to go beyond those rules. It was his duty, however, to enforce order among the outsiders, and this he was determined to do.

Mr. Flournoy, of Halifax, said he had his eye on the gallery when the demonstration was made, and he was satisfied that the spectators there had strictly obeyed the injunction of the Chair. Whatever applause there was, proceeded from the floor. [A voice in the lobby--"Good."] He thought the spectators ought not to be made to suffer for a disturbance made on the floor, in which they did not participate.

Mr. Morton, of Orange, said there was nothing so desirable in the discussion of this great question, as the preservation of order; but it was impossible to repress an outburst of sympathy under such eloquent appeals.--After some further remarks, in which he alluded to the "heartless order" for clearing the galleries. --

Mr. Early, of Franklin, rose to a point of order. The gentleman had spoken of a heartless order.

The Chairman said he was aware of that, and proposed to reply.

Mr. Morton disclaimed any intention to reflect upon the action of the Chair.

Mr. Baldwin, of Augusta, said it was his fortune to follow the eloquent gentleman from Albemarle, and he thought this fact furnished a guarantee that there would be no more demonstrations of applause. [Laughter.]

The Chairman said his duty required him to enforce order in the hall, and this would be done. He was perfectly satisfied that there was as much disturbance on the floor as in the gallery, and having been appealed to by several gentlemen to withdraw the order, he took pleasure in doing so; but cautioned the spectators to refrain from such demonstrations hereafter.

Mr. Baldwin then took the floor. After a brief allusion to the sentiments uttered so eloquently by the gentleman from Albemarle, which had moved the hearts of the multitude, he said he recognized this assemblge of Virginians, called to deliberate upon measures to secure the rights of the Commonwealth, as an august assemblage, and he most earnestly joined in the prayer "for light" that had been so devoutly uttered. He claimed for the county which he represented the right to be heard in this assemblage of Virginians. He did not claim it because of the historic associations to which the gentleman from Albemarle had alluded, but claimed it for the people of the county of Augusta as a living, acting body of men. That county he might term the Queen county of the Commonwealth. In point of population, wealth, position, variety of productions and pursuits, and in every particular, she claimed the consideration of this Convention. She was identified with every interest of the Commonwealth; and if there were extremes of opinion or prejudice in one quarter or another, Augusta county knew nothing of them. She occupies a central position, and is concerned in every question that affects the rights and interests of the Commonwealth. --What, he asked, is the great question which concerns us here, and threatens to overturn the mighty fabric of a free Government? He wished to discuss the question as bearing upon Virginia's rights and Virginia's honor; and from that stand-point he could see but one single complaint so far as she was concerned, and that was the course of the North upon the question of African slavery. From the earliest foundation of the Government, Virginia had given direction to its policy; and when it has not been in the hands of her own sons, it has been in the hands of those of her choice, supported and ratified by her people. This was not only true in regard to the Executive, but she has had a controlling voice in all the other departments of Government.

In all this he saw enough to show that the Government had been administered to her satisfaction, and therefore the only cause of complaint was the agitation of the slavery question. This had been discussed by able and eloquent gentleman on this floor, and he asked if any man had heard a reference to other grounds of complaint. He understood gentlemen to acquiesce in this. Thus we have it confessed that in all else that concerns the great interests of thirty millions of people, the Government had been administered to the satisfaction of Virginia. He could not put out of mind the apprehension that on this great question Virginia was divided; the apprehension that there were some people in this State, and some on this floor, who were not to be trusted. This was not new to him — he had heard it for years; not from abroad, but the charge came up from the midst of our own family.--He had seen it resorted to for the baser ends of party — not only one party, but all. It had the effect of hounding on fanaticism against us in the councils of the nation, under impressions disseminated by our own citizens — an impression that the people of Virginia were not true to Virginia, but were divided and distracted in regard to her highest interests.--It would seem as if this were resorted to now as a species of terrorism, directed at the representatives of the people of Virginia, in the vain hope of repressing, if not the freedom of thought, the freedom of speech. He trusted that, in defining his position, he should not defer in any respect to a clamor which he despised. He hoped to show, with candor, in which particular light he viewed what was for the honor and interest of Virginia.

He had always held the opinion — and had never had to undergo a change such as had been described by the gentleman from Orange, and had not, therefore, perhaps, the fresh zeal of a new convert — that African slavery was right; a right thing and a good thing, on every ground, morally, religiously, politically and economically — a blessing alike to the slave and to the slaveholder. He was not one of those who looked forward to its extinction, nor did he look with sympathy upon any attempt to restrict it to a particular locality.--When it could be fairly done, he hoped it would expand until it covered the whole earth, as the waters cover the great deep.--The people who sent him here with this avowal on his lip, might, he thought, be considered as sound, a little further South. He represented a slaveholding constituency, who in men and money could compete with any county in the Commonwealth, and they held it all ready, at any time, to defend this great and vital interest.

He would undertake to say that on the slavery question, the mouth of Virginia was completely estopped as to the charge of a want of proper legislation on the part of the General Government. He defied any gentleman to put his finger on a single act, in any Department of Government, from its foundation to the present, that did not, at the time or afterwards, receive the sanction and approval of the people of Virginia. This he asserted to be true, and he challenged contradiction.

After elaborating upon this point, he alluded to the expressions on this floor in regard to the degradation of Virginia, and said he burled such an imputation back with scorn and contempt.

Mr. Holcombe here asked the gentleman if he said this as an allusion to anything he had said.

Mr. Baldwin had understood him to make use of such language.

Mr. Holcombe denied that he had spoken of Virginia as degraded at present. It was in allusion to the future, in the event of her failure to dissolve her connection with the North.

Mr. Baldwin did not so understand him, but cheerfully accepted his construction. He desired to reflect upon no one, and especially the distinguished gentleman from Albemarle. He applied his remarks to all, here and elsewhere, who spoke of Virginia as degraded at present. It was his belief that the destiny of this great nation depended upon the decision which Virginia shall pronounce. On the action of this assemblage depended more, in all that concerns the weal or woe of man — in all that concerns the high destiny of a free people — than was ever before committed to any assemblage by mortal man. He invoked the representatives of all sections to join hands with one another and swear, as the ark of the covenant of constitutional liberty had been confided to their keeping, to be true to their trust; to register a vow in Heaven to lift up this bleeding country and set her free.

Mr. Randolph, of Richmond.--As it is apparent that the gentleman from Augusta would prefer to suspend his remarks until tomorrow, I move that the Committee rise.

Mr. Carlile, of Harrison.--I hope the gentleman will withdraw that motion for a few moments, and I will renew it. The gentleman from Augusta will of course retain the floor. I desire to offer a substitute for the whole report of the Committee on Federal Relations.

Mr. Randolph withdrew the motion, and Mr. Carlile offered the following substitute, which was referred to the Committee of the Whole:

Whereas, the Peace Conference, which was called by the Legislature of this State, and in which 21 States (14 of them non-slaveholding) of this Union were represented, after much anxious deliberation and careful investigation, has recommended for the adjustment of our present national difficulties, the adoption by the people of the several States, in the manner provided for amendments to the Constitution of the United States by the 5th article thereof, the following propositions:

’ [Here follow the Peace Conference propositions, which we do not deem it necessary to republish.]

Therefore, be it Resolved, by the Representatives of the people of Virginia in Convention assembled--

  1. 1. That it be, and is hereby recommended, to the people of the several States composing the United States to hold, in their respective States. Conventions to consider the said measures of adjustment, and express their approval of the same; and request their Senators and Representatives in Congress, assembled either in extra or regular session, at its first meeting, to adopt the same by the constitutional majority of two-thirds of each House, so that the same may be laid before the several States of this Union in the mode pointed out by the said fifth article of the Constitution aforesaid, for ratification or rejection.
  2. 2. That this Convention, for and in the name of the good people of this Commonwealth, do declare their approval of the said propositions, and will if adopted as an amendment to the Constitution of the United States, accept the same as an adjustment of all our national difficulties; and that we do hereby request our Senators and Representatives in Congress, at its next session, whether convened in extra or regular session, to use their best efforts to have the same adopted in their respective Houses, by the constitutional vote required, to the end that the same may be laid before the people of the several States of the Union, to be by them ratified or rejected, in the manner provided in the Constitution, through the action of State Conventions, or the Legislatures of the several States.
  3. 3. That it shall be the duty of the officers conducting the election for members of the next General Assembly of this State, to see that a poll is opened at the several places of voting in this Commonwealth to take the sense of the voters of this State upon the said measures of adjustment recommended by the Peace Conference; and the better to secure a correct poll-book, the Governor of this Commonwealth is requested to have prepared and transmitted to every county in this Commonwealth a sufficient number of poll-books to supply each county with as many books as there are places of voting in the same, said books to be headed "Poll-Book for taking the sense of the voters upon the adoption of the measures of adjustment recommended by the Peace Conference," and to have two columns, the one headed "Against the Adjustment" the other headed "Against the Adjustment"--and it shall be the duty of the said conducting officers, each and all of them to see that the names of all persons qualified to vote for members of the General Assembly, and who present themselves to vote at the respective places of voting, are allowed to vote for or against the said measures of adjustment, and that the names of all those who vote for adjustment are recorded in the column headed "For the adjustment," and all those who vote against the adjustment are recorded in the column headed "Against the adjustment;" said poll books to be returned and their correctness certified to under oath by the officers conducting the election, within two days after the said election, to the Clerk of the respective county or corporation Court, as the case may be, in which the said conducting officers reside; and it shall be the duty of the respective county and corporation clerks of the Commonwealth to certify to the Governor of this Commonwealth, attested by their seal of office, the result of the vote upon the question aforesaid, in their respective counties and corporations aforesaid, within two days after the said poll-books shall be returned by the conducting officers aforesaid; and the Governor of this Commonwealth, upon receipt thereof, is hereby requested to ascertain the result of the said vote in the State, and to make the same known by proclamation, and if a majority of the votes cast shall be in favor of the said Peace Conference adjustment, he is hereby requested to communicate to the Governor of each of the States of this Union the foregoing resolutions, with the result of the vote aforesaid, with a request to each to take steps, as the Constitution and laws of his State may require to be taken, in order that a Convention of delegates may be elected by the voters in each State, and convened, to whom shall be referred the foregoing resolutions.
The Chairman re-stated the course which he had previously indicated to the Committee, in regard to the reception of amendments, and answered some interrogatories propounded by Mr. Harvie, touching the mode of proceeding.

Mr. Carlile then addressed the Committee in support of his substitute, advocating the Peace Conference propositions as an acceptable basis of adjustment. He opposed the suggestion for a Border State Convention. He spoke at some length, strongly urging the abandonment of agitation, which was ruining the business of the country. At the conclusion of his speech, he renewed the motion that the Committee rise.

The motion was agreed to, and the Committee rose and reported progress.

On motion of Mr. Hall, of Marion, the Convention adjourned.

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