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Chapter 16: Secession of Virginia and North Carolina declared.--seizure of Harper's Ferry and Gosport Navy Yard.--the first troops in Washington for its defense.

The reception of Alexander H. Stephens by the Convention of Virginia politicians, the authorities of the State, and the excited populace in Richmond, gave him instant assurances of the success of his mission. He saw the “Confederate flag” waving everywhere, and heard no complaint because of the usurpation. He perceived that in Virginia, as in the Gulf States, the heel of the usurper was firmly planted on the necks of the loyal people, and that despotism was substantially triumphant. His soul was filled with gladness, and he addressed the Virginians with the eloquence and earnestness of a man whose heart was in his work. “The fires of patriotism,” he said, “I have seen blazing brightly all along my track, from Montgomery to the very gates of your city, and they are enkindling here with greater brilliancy and fervor. That constitutional liberty which we vainly sought for while in the old Union, we have found, and fully enjoy in our new one. . . . What had you, the friends of liberty, to hope for while under Lincoln? Nothing. Beginning in usurpation, where will he end? He will quit Washington as ignominiously as he entered it, and God's will will have been accomplished. Madness and folly rule at Washington, but Providence is with us, and will bless us to the end. The people of Virginia and the States of the South are one in interest, in feeling, in institutions, and in hope; and why should they not be one in Government? Every son of the South, from the Potomac to the Rio Grande, should rally beneath the same banner. The conflict may be terrible, but the victory will be ours. It remains for you to say whether you will share our triumphs.” 1

Stephens, as we have observed, was in Richmond for the purpose of negotiating a treaty for the admission of Virginia into the “Southern Confederacy.” The Convention appointed Ex-President John Tyler, William Ballard Preston, S. McD. Moore; James P. Holcombe, James C. Bruce, and Lewis E. Harvie, Commissioners to treat with him. They entered upon the business at once, and on the 24th of April agreed to and signed a “Convention [383] between the Commonwealth of Virginia and the Confederate States of America,” which provided that, until the union of Virginia with the league should be perfected, “the whole military force and military operations, offensive and defensive, of said Commonwealth, in the impending conflict with the United States,” should be under the chief control and direction of Jefferson Davis. So eager were the Virginia conspirators to “perfect the Union,” that on the following day,

April 25, 1861.
the Convention, appealing to the Searcher of all hearts for the rectitude of their conduct, passed an ordinance ratifying the treaty, and adopting and ratifying the

Signatures of the Commissioners.2

Provisional Constitution of the Montgomery League.3 They proceeded to appoint delegates to the Confederate Congress that was to assemble on the 29th;

authorized the banks of the State to suspend specie payments; made provision for the establishment of a navy for Virginia, and for enlistments for the State army, and adopted other measures preparatory for war. They also invited Jefferson Davis and his confederates to make Richmond their Headquarters. The so-called annexation of the Commonwealth to the “Confederacy” was officially proclaimed [384] by Governor Letcher; and the “Mother of States,” the “Mother of Presidents,” and equally the Mother of Disunion, was forced into the position of an important member of the league against the Republic. Eastern and Northern Virginia soon became the theater of great battles, fought by immense armies, at various times during the war that ensued.

When the time approached for the people of Virginia to vote on the Ordinance of Secession, in accordance with its own provisions, Senator James M. Mason, one of the most malignant and unscrupulous of the conspirators, addressed a letter to them from his home near Winchester, in which, after saying that the Ordinance “withdrew the State of Virginia from the Union, with all the consequences resulting from the separation,” annulling “all the Constitution and laws of the United States within its limits,” and absolving “its citizens from all obligations or obedience to them,” he declared that

James M. Mason.

a rejection of the Ordinance by the people would reverse all this, and that Virginia would be compelled to fight under the banner of the Republic, in violation of the sacred pledge made to the “Confederate States,” in the treaty or “Military league” of the 25th of April. He then said:--“If it be asked, What are those to do who, in their conscience, cannot vote to separate Virginia from the United States? the answer is simple and plain. Honor and duty alike require that they should not vote on the question; and if they retain such opinions, they must leave the State.” 4 The answer was, indeed, “simple and plain,” and in exact accordance with the true spirit of the conspirators, expressed by their chosen leader:--“All who oppose us shall smell Southern powder and feel Southern steel.” Submission or banishment was the alternative offered by Mason, in the name of traitors in power, to Virginians who were true to the principles of the Father of his Country, whose remains were resting within the bosom of their State, and to the old flag under which the independence of their common country had been achieved. He well knew that his words would be received as expressions of the views of the usurpers at Richmond, and that thousands of citizens would thereby be kept from the polls, for in Virginia the votes were given openly, and not by secret ballot, as in other States.

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