Crunching the number of votes between elections and the referendum on secession in the Shenandoah

Posted on April 10, 2008 by


Speaking of crunched… ohhhhh, with only three weeks left in the semester, I’ve been crunched to find time to make a post. However, I can’t let go of this issue of the number of votes casts in the Shenandoah between 1856-1860, and the significant number of apparent absences at the polls when it came to the referendum on secession.

Actually, when I began creating the tables reflecting the votes cast in the elections of 1856-1860, I thought I knew where it would lead. However, I was still quite surprised about the total decline in votes between the 1860 election and the 1861 referendum. One might snap back that, certainly, not everyone shows up at the polls on election day. However, this was, plain and simple, some serious stuff. The referendum on secession meant a break from the United States and I think it could be considered by some as far more demanding of a presence at the polls than the presidential election of 1860.

Now, I’ve said it before, you can’t look at raw numbers alone and make a judgment, but after posting these numbers, I really am left wondering what happened to all those people who opted not to come out and vote on referendum day in the Shenandoah Valley. The difference between the total number of votes casts in the Shenandoah Valley in the 1860 presidential election and the 1861 referendum on secession was 2,562 (20,171 casts in 1860 and 17,609 in 1861). Granted, some people may have died between 1860 and 1861, but some others may have been eligible for the vote within that time as well (though I really doubt that either had any real impact on the numbers). Either way, the decline in total number of votes casts was 13%. That might not seem like a lot, but then, you have to consider the fact that there were actually 2,065 votes casts against secession in Valley counties in 1861 (remember, I’m also counting Rockbridge County, though it really isn’t part of the Shenandoah Valley). So, adding that 2,065 to the missing 2,562 votes makes a total of 4,627 who appear to have, either in person or through absence at the polls, opted against secession, even after Fort Sumter and Lincoln’s call for troops. That reflects nearly 25% of the total potential vote in the Valley. Let’s add one more thing to this… though, regretfully, these numbers are not as easy to assess. What about the numbers of votes casts by people who were either coerced or were otherwise pursuaded to vote for secession? Had these voters actually “voted their mind,” as some Southern Loyalist Claims infer, would the opposition have risen to 30% or 35% or even more? It’s probably impossible to tell. Then too, just how many of those who voted for secession were really (no, I mean REALLY) ready to go into the fight and “if need be, die…” ??? (I couldn’t help borrowing a line from Gods & Generals).

Hang on, I’ll get around to this next part of the confusion soon. I can’t say it enough that the war was much more complex than some realize… or care to believe.