Virginia State Convention.
Monday, April 1, 1861.
The Convention was called to order at the usual hour.
Not more than one-fourth of the members were present, and very few spectators.
Prayer by the Rev. Mr. Petigeur
, of the Disciples' Church.
, of Albemarle
, rose to a privileged question.
He said he received a few days ago a copy of the proceedings of a meeting held at Scottsville, in Albemarle county
, and considered this the place for replying to an allusion to himself in one of the resolutions.
He conceded the perfect right of any portion of the people, whether few or many, to assemble for deliberation on affairs of public concern, and, if need be, to criticise the conduct of those to whom they had entrusted the discharge of public duties; but he also held that it would be proper for them to possess themselves of full information previous to passing judgment.
The resolutions were read by Mr. Southall
. They censure him for his course in the Convention
, and instruct him to vote for an Ordinance of Secession, in accordance with the tendency of his campaign speech at Scottsville
corrected the impression which had been sought to be created as to his course in the canvass, that he would go for secession unless the difficulties were adjusted before the 4th of March. His position was, that unless there were a prospect of an adjustment before the adjournment of the Convention
, no alternative would be left to Virginia
but to resume the powers which she delegated to the General Government
; and to show that injustice was done him in these resolutions, he read from publications which he addressed to the people of Albemarle
previous to the assembling of this Convention, taking the ground which he here indicated.--Upon this evidence he claimed that the charges against him were unjustifiable.
He paid a compliment to the intelligence of the people of Scottsville
, whose confidence he had enjoyed during the period of his political life; but in the late election he fell far short of a majority at that precinct, showing that they were fully aware of the position he had occupied in the canvass.
With regard to his course in the Convention
, he claimed that there had not been a solitary vote taken which went to commit any gentleman as to his ulterior purpose.
Yet these good people had hastily condemned him, with no shadow of evidence to sustain them.
In reference to the right of instruction, he had never entertained but one opinion; and that was, that as between the representative and his constituents, upon every question of expediency, he was the direct representative of his immediate constituents, and to them he was responsible for his action, though to some extent he might be the representative of the State
at large.--He believed that since the election of delegates to this body, those with whom he had differed had increased in number, though to what extent he was unable to say. Whenever it could be shown to him which side had the majority, it would be his duty to reflect their wishes; but so long as there was a doubt, he should adhere to the position he had occupied from the first.
Committee of the whole.
The Convention, according to order, went into Committee of the Whole, Mr. Southall
in the chair, for the purpose of considering the report of the Committee
on Federal Relations.
, of Culpeper
, took the floor, and resumed his remarks.
He commenced with an allusion to the bankrupt condition of the Government
, and produced a circular addressed to the census-takers of this State, setting forth that the Government
was unable to pay for the service rendered by these officers, but would do so as soon as possible, and advising them not to dispose of their claims at a sacrifice.
A Government so deficient in the "sinews of war" was entitled to but little consideration from Virginia
He then introduced evidence on the other hand, to show that the Southern Republic
was possessed of all the essential elements of a high and national character; --in point of wealth and resources, greatly in advance of the North
.--Was a Virginia assembly to sit here and not recognize a fact which was about to be acknowledged by all the Powers on earth?
The nationality of the Southern Confederacy, as a Government de facto,
as shown by a publication in the London News
, was to be recognized by England
, and it would be by all other Governments, unless Virginia
should unfortunately constitute the exception.
Yet here it was proposed to adjourn over for six months, with a view to continue the Union
with a bankrupt Government, shutting our eyes meanwhile to the great events going on in the world around us. The Washington Government had not yet proclaimed its recognition of the Confederated Government
, yet all its acts were based upon such a recognition.
If it was a fact that there was a separate independent Government at Montgomery
, was it not wrong to refuse to look to that fact, and to persist in these impotent efforts towards an amicable relation with the one at Washington
True statesmanship, he conceived, was governed by circumstances, and so every member ought to be governed, without reference to any card that he might have published before the election.
The man who to-day insists that the course of Virginia
should be controlled by circumstances as they existed on the 1st day of January, closes his eyes to the events that have been transpiring around us.
would go into no Free-Soil Government, separated from the seceded States.
If they are brought back, it will have to be done by regular treaty and annexation.
They would never, he contended, give up their Government, wholly devoted as it was to their interests, on a mere sentiment of attachment to old Virginia
The majority report recognizes the fact that there are two Governments, and desires to confer upon the Federal Government
the power to deal peaceably with the question, and to make treaties with the seceded States; thus recognizing their independence, but still asking for a National Convention,
to treat with them.
A National Convention to negotiate with the seceded States, for the protection of your interests, while you are on the side of the Northern States
, covenanting with them for the protection of those interests!
This was a Yankee trick in which he desired no part.--You were to sit, with folded arms, aloof from the seceded States, while the North
was to negotiate a treaty with them for your protection.
If we had to go through this probation, as the Committee
of Twenty-One and Mr. Wm. H. Seward
say we have to, extending through a period of one, two or three years, it was his opinion that we should wait in the house of our friends, instead of in the house of our enemies.
The fact was recognized that the Union
was dissolved, and he asked why there should be any fear in choosing between the two?
Was there any danger to be apprehended in the Government
He thought there was great danger in the Government
The former afforded complete protection and relief; and to sustain this position, Mr. Barbour
produced abundant statistics of Southern trade, demonstrating the certainty of the revenue to accrue from the great staples produced in the Gulf
States, and contrasting it with the undesirable condition of the Northern Government
, cut off from all the material advantages of commerce and manufactures.
He assumed that if the whole South
would at once take a position to make the Northern
people feel their dependence, they would submit to any terms; but he opposed an experiment going through any length of time, and then letting Yankeedom come in on their own terms, with Virginia
swinging on as an appendage.
In proceeding to urge the policy of uniting with the seceded States, Mr. Barbour
satirized with some keenness the course of those "statesmen" in the Convention
who professed to know what Virginia
ought to do in the emergency, but distrusted the intelligence of the people in this respect.
He was equally caustic in his references to the proposed adjournment and to the Border Conference.--The tendency of some of the Border States
towards abolitionism was freely commented upon, and applied as an argument against their fitness to advise old Virginia
what to do with her half million slaves.
He hoped the Committee
would open their eyes to the astounding fact that, in the proposed conference, Virginia
and North Carolina
would own one-half of all the slaves there represented; and that Virginia
, owning one-third of the whole number, would be entitled to but one vote among the eight States in consultation.--This argument, he conceived, dispelled the claim of an identity of interest.
If it was the intention of gentlemen to destroy the institution of slavery in Virginia
, they would pursue precisely the policy laid down in the majority report.
This report he criticised at length, maintaining that if this Convention were an abolition aid society, it could not more effectually attain the object of such an association than by adopting the whole programme, as there laid down.
To the Western
men he addressed the argument that every movement towards the destruction of the institution of slavery would to that extent render necessary an increase of taxes upon their lands, to meet the liabilities arising from the State
It was, therefore, their interest that the value of the slave property in the East
should not be depreciated.
In conclusion, he asked the members of the Committee
if they were willing to leave this Commonwealth without a government.
It was acknowledged that the Union
They say that if the North
does not return answers to certain questions, they were determined to resume the powers delegated to the Federal Government
The Peace Conference did not secure the objects for which it was convened, and that he considered the final
The Peace Conference did
fail to get amendments to the Constitution
, and the Southern Confederacy did not
fail to establish one of the best Governments on the face of the earth.
That was sufficient for him, and he warmly urged the necessity of uniting the destiny of Virginia
with the South
She had announced the inauguration of the Conference as her final effort, and that having failed, the first determination was to be looked upon as a joke, and now another final effort was to be made.
The effect of such action he believed was to bring discredit on the Common wealth, and he felt bound to discountenance it.
, of Pittsylvania
, next addressed the Committee
He did so with great reluctance, for he believed the people were impatient for action, and he would not unnecessarily protract this debate.
He agreed with his friend who had just taken his seat, who had reiterated the sentiment of Burke
, that the action of a statesman should be governed by surrounding circumstances; but believed that gentlemen on that side had departed from this rule.
If the seceded States had acted on this principle, we would not now have been placed in the alarming position in which we now found ourselves.
As a State-Rights man, he held the doctrine of peaceable secession; but it was to be exercised only under extraordinary circumstances — and no circumstances had yet occurred strong enough to justify it. None of the evils which now overshadow the country existed previous to the secession of the Southern States
That was precipitate action; and yet we were told that the way to restore peace and prosperity to the country is to secede immediately.--In the canvass previous to the assembling of this Convention, he disagreed with those who told him that unless Virginia
was out of the Union
before the 4th of March, civil war, with all its horrors, would be desolating the land.
He deplored the election of Lincoln
, but still he knew that with an overwhelming majority of the people of the country against him, he was powerless for harm.
He thought it a remarkable fact that every fresh item of news that flashed over the telegraphic wires, looking to the preservation of peace, seemed to disappoint the precipitators.
At that time, the gentlemen who are now for waiting were the most urgent for precipitate action.
The gentleman from Bedford
, (Mr. Goode
,) who is now for waiting, was then among the most ardent advocates of haste.
desired to remind the gentleman that the 4th of March had come and gone.
said he regretted that he had not also said that it had proved him to be a very bad prophet.
He then went on to demonstrate that the moderation of Virginia
thus far had saved the country from the horrors of civil war; and though he had been pointed at as a submissionist, he would ever be proud that he was one of those who had stood by this glorious old Commonwealth in her efforts as a peace-maker.
He acknowledged the fact that the Union
was broken up; seven States had gone and established a government Mr. de facto,
and it ought to be recognized.
Had they stood by us, we should have had a majority in Congress, and though we bad a Black Republican President
, the legal method of redress was in our hands; but they had left us, and now we must look at circumstances as they are. He was not ready for secession.
The prophecies of the precipitators in regard to Virginia
had all been falsified by the results, and he thought it was the part of wise statesmen to make still farther efforts for the preservation of peace.
It had been demonstrated that the Government
was now powerless to harm us. There was no compulsion upon us to contribute to its support; for, if we could purchase our supplies cheaper elsewhere, the Northern
revenue need receive nothing from Virginia
While the speaker was alluding to the position of Virginia
towards the Federal Government
, Mr. Hall
, of Wetzel
, asked if he knew what amount the State
annually contributed to the support of that Government?
According to Mr. Hall
's estimate, Virginia
was paying to the Northern Confederacy
$6,000,000 per annum.
desired to know the source of his information on this point.
said it was based upon official statements concerning import duties, and the pro rata
tax upon slaves, and the amount which Virginia
contributed by her consumption.
replied that the gentleman would do better to take facts as they were at present, instead of referring to the condition of affairs twelve or eighteen months ago.--Virginia
was now paying scarcely anything.
proceeded until the hour of recess, reviewing and commenting upon the present condition of affairs, and opposing the secession of Virginia
until an effort shall have been made to secure her rights, and the rights of the South
, within the Union
As long as there was hope, while no harm could result from waiting, he preferred to wait.