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Discover Western Prince William February 2019
6
Doug Horhota
E
lections That Infl uenced Virginia History:
Part Two
This is part two of three articles of important elections that shaped
America and Virginia during the Civil War era.
In the aftermath of Abraham's Lincoln's
election in 1860, a spirit of "seccessionitis"
spread in the South. Beginning in South
Carolina in the hours after Election Day,
citizens began to call for the state to leave
the Union. The Founding Fathers were
ambiguous on the topic at best. It can be
seen as an agreement of individual states:
the Declaration of Independence lists all
of the states (colonies) by name. It can
also be seen as a compact of states into a
permanent Union. The Constitution required
the ratifi cation of only three-fourths of the
states, and only after the Bill of Rights was
included in 1791 did it become unanimous.
Controversies during the Early Republic
included the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions, New England's opposition
to the War of 1812, and the Nullifi cation Crisis in the 1830s, each of which
contained the potential of a state(s) seceding from the Union, but tempers
cooled before offi cial votes could be taken; 1860 would be another story.
As mentioned in the last article, the expectation of Lincoln's election was
established well before November. His success in key swing states gave
states that opposed him the momentum to marshal their forces to act quickly
months before Lincoln would be sworn in. Due to travel times of the era, an
incoming president had four months from Election Day until the Inauguration.
(This was changed in the 1930s.) Using the delay and the timidity of outgoing
President James Buchanan to their advantage, the states of the Deep South
had all broken off from the parent stem by February 1, 1861. This seven-state
Confederacy (SC, AL, GA, MS, FL, LA, and TX) elected a president, Jefferson
Davis, had him inaugurated, established a capital in Montgomery, Alabama,
and began to govern their new republic weeks before Lincoln was sworn in.
While active, the Confederacy in early 1861 was quite
weak. Its states represented a large territory but had a
very small population and almost no industrial base. With
the exception of New Orleans, no city had more than
50,000 inhabitants. The City of Manassas today would
be the second largest city in the Confederacy! For the
Confederacy to survive, especially in light of Lincoln's
anticipated action of forcing the rebellious states back into
the Union, the Confederacy had to increase its infl uence.
Other states were historically, socially, and politically
aligned with the new republic, specifi cally the Upper
South states of North Carolina, Arkansas, Tennessee,
and the biggest plum, Virginia. If successful in convincing
these states to join the fl edgling republic, other slave
states could join as well, including Maryland, Delaware,
Kentucky, and Missouri. In time, the Confederacy had
dreams of expansion toward Canada and south into
Central America.
First things fi rst: how to get the Upper South to join?
Virginia was the key, with the largest population south
of the Mason-Dixon Line and the largest state that did
not vote for Lincoln (it supported a third-party candidate, John Bell) not to
mention the historical connection to another Revolution. Home of Washington,
Jefferson, and Madison, her borders stretched from the Atlantic to the Ohio
River and was directly across the river from Lincoln's new home in the nation's
capital.
Today when we think of political persuasion, we imagine a media campaign
blitz, and 150 years ago the steps the Confederacy took to infl uence Virginia
to join were the same ones one might expect today. Prominent politicians
from the Deep South were tasked to travel to the Upper South states in the
winter of 1861 and encourage voters to convince politicians to vote in favor
of leaving the Union like the Deep South had already done. Consistent with
American traditions, the 1st Amendment gives us all the right to petition the
government, and enough support allowed many of these Upper South states
to hold referendums to secede.
While the passion to secede dominated the Deep South, cooler heads prevailed
in Virginia. A state Convention to discuss the issue of secession was called for
in February and voted in favor of remaining in the Union by a 2-1 margin in
early April 1861. Virginia and other Upper South states perceived themselves
as stalwarts to preventing the devastation of Civil War. It came to an end with
the fi ring on Ft. Sumter on April 12, 1861. Lincoln, now inaugurated, was
forced to act to defend Northern rights. His call for 75,000
troops to put down the rebellion and force the recalcitrant
states back into the Union meant troops marching from
Washington D.C. into Virginia. Faced with invasion,
the Virginia Convention, still in session, changed sides
and voted in favor of leaving the Union. A subsequent
referendum by state voters reinforced this decision and
was approved by an overwhelming margin in May of
1861.
While today many perceive Virginia as a bulwark of the
Confederacy, there was another vote which changed the
state forever. The public vote which supported secession
in May of 1861 was a bit...controversial. Historians today
don't argue the majority of Virginians supported
secession in the spring of 1861, but the state
was as divided as the country, especially the
western counties of Virginia. This section,
mostly along the Ohio River, consisted of
small family farms with almost no slaves.
They banded together and held another
vote of their own to remain in the Union.
In another highly controversial vote, 50 counties formed a pro-
Union government of Virginia to form the state of West Virginia.
The issue was not fully resolved, outside of state rivalries, until
the Supreme Court declared the secession of West Virginia to be
constitutional in 1872.
Next time: Virginia votes in a presidential election
for the fi rst time in 12 years.