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


to the Union and the federal government throughout the history of the American nation. Since this weighed so heavily on their minds, many could not reconcile themselves to agree to secession despite the pressure from the South and their fellow statesmen in Virginia.

Those Virginians who fought against secession often highlighted the aspects of disunion that they believed to be unfavorable. Shortly before his death, Henry Clay predicted that separation from the Union would do anything but solve the complaints of the South. Instead, disunion would severely complicate them. He explained that three of the major problems that the South had with the North -namely, the latter's attempts to outlaw slavery in Washington, D.C., to outlaw it in the territories, and their abuse of the fugitive slave law - would all be multiplied by the separation of the two halves of the nation. Disunion would cause the South to lose any power it previously held to ensure the survival of slavery in the territories and in D.C. because the North would hold this property as part of their nation and would have the support of their military to back them. Also, if the North were a separate country, free from slavery, many more slaves would run and certainly would not be returned.17 Furthermore, Clay pointed out the slippery slope begun by the formation of a new confederacy - i.e., new confederacies would split off continuously whenever disagreements arose.

In a like manner, Mr. Nelson argued in the Virginia Convention that the South's influence over both the fugitive slave law and the question of slavery in the territories would be lost because of disunion.18 Finally, one Virginian agreeing with Clay wrote, "…if Virginia can have her rights and her interest better secured in the Union than out of it, it is consistent with her honor and her duty to herself that she should remain in the Union…."19 This author continues, explaining that,

17. "Henry Clay's Last Speech," The Alexandria Gazette, 10 April 1861.
18. Mr. Nelson, 26 March 1861, Convention, 347-8.
19. "Ought Virginia to Secede," The Alexandria Gazette, 9 February 1861.
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