Virginia's Secession from the Union
by
Gillian Cote

1

Describing the 1861 convention in which Virginians finally voted for secession, Lincoln declared to the U.S. Congress, "1 The course taken in Virginia was the most remarkable-perhaps the most important." This simple statement expresses Virginia's exceptional place in the history of the secession movement and the eventual coming of civil war in America. At the opening of the Civil War, Virginia was important for two major reasons: first, the especially prominent and distinguished role it played in early American history and, second, its strategic location. For these reasons Virginians were truly torn over the decision of whether or not to secede. Because Virginia was not only sandwiched geographically but also economically, socially, and culturally between the North and the South, her decision to leave the Union was a tumultuous, long-fought battle. Although several other southern states, following the lead of South Carolina, seceded shortly after Lincoln's election to the presidency, and several more left after his inauguration, Virginia did not break its ties with the Union until the North took military action against the South. While the decision to secede came quickly and with less resistance in other more southern states, in Virginia it was the product of years of sectionalism and months of ardent debate. Only after actual war had broken out between the North and the South did Virginia secede from the Union.

This essay will examine primary sources, in the form of editorials from newspapers and speeches from the Virginia Convention, in order to illustrate the road to Virginia's secession from the Union. From Lincoln's election in November 1860 all the way through April 1861, some Virginians supported the Union while others ardently called for secession. Because the people of Virginia continued to disagree right up to the secession of t
heir state, this essay will take a thematic approach, rather than a chronological one. Thus, we will underscore the many


1. Abraham Lincoln, "Message to Congress in Special Session," 4 July 1861 in The Portable Lincoln, ed. Andrew Delbanco (New York: The Penguin Group, 1992), 214. This work will now be referred to as Delbanco.
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