Gillian Cote, "Virginia's Secession from the Union"


reason claimed for secession - i.e., the election of a sectional candidate to the Presidency - was unconstitutional, weak, and untenable. One final example of this type of argument occurred in a letter written to Governor Letcher of Virginia, stating, "States cannot reverse the right to secede. They are the common property of the Government." The author, adamant about his position, continued: "I will…if necessary, give my life for the maintainance [sic] of the Constitution and the Union." Many Virginians thought that the written Constitution and the argument in favor of secession were fundamentally incompatible and therefore chose to support the Union, sometimes even at the price of death.

A second similar type of argument against secession relied on an appeal to tradition or precedent, either by referencing Virginia's past actions or referring to the example of the founders of the nation. In the Convention, for instance, Mr. Baldwin argued:

that so far as the administrative action of the government of the United States has been concerned, it has never, from its foundation down to the election of Abraham Lincoln, done anything in regard to the subject of slavery or taken any measure in regard to the institutions of the South, that was not either approved at the time, or concurred in by Virginia, or at some time subsequently received, approved and distinctly acquiesced in by this Commonwealth.
Likewise, in an editorial one Virginian recalled the model of the founding fathers, arguing that those who consider themselves linked to them would not support secession. Furthermore, for many Virginians, tradition meant upholding the Constitution. One such unionist wrote, "In thus taking a firm stand for the equality of the States and the rights of the States - for the Constitution and the Union - Virginia is being true to their noble antecedents…." Obviously, many Virginians felt that to leave the Union was a betrayal of their state's long-standing loyalty to the

10. Ibid., 284.
11. "The State of the Case - A Clear, Calm Voice from the South," The Alexandria Gazette, 12 November 1860.
12. Jas. S. Brisbin, "Letter to Gov. John Letcher of Virginia," The Richmond Enquirer, 23 November 1860.
13. Ibid.
14. Mr. Baldwin, 22 March 1861, Convention, 167.
15. "The Disunion Movement," The Alexandria Gazette, 1 November 1860.
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