“What Can Virginia Do?”

Posted on February 9, 2011 by


From the secession-leaning Staunton Vindicator, February 8, 1861… 150 years ago yesterday…

The return so far received from the election on Monday last, show that a majority of “Union” candidates have been chosen over their “Secession” opponents. The complete returns from the State will not be received in time for publication in our issue of this week. We are glad to perceive that our brethren of the press, in announcing the success of the “Union” men, are very carefully guarding against a misapprehension on the part of the Republican party at the North, of the position of the “Union” men elected. The term “Union men” has a very different meaning in Virginia from that generally applied to it at present in the North, and if the idea is taken up out of the State that the election of a majority of “Union” men is equivalent to the election of a majority in favor of quietly submitting to the rule of Lincoln and a Black Republican administration, they will find themselves most egregiously mistaken. We should be deeply grieved to think that Virginia had fallen so low as quietly to submit to that rule without a sufficient guarantee that every right of the South will be fully protected in the future. We do not believe that there will be even a “corporal’s guard” of actual submissionists in the Convention. Messrs. Botts and Clemens are considered “Union” men North of us–in Virginia, except by a few like themselves, they are looked upon as nearly as dangerous men as Seward himself. Of immediate secessionists there will probably be about 25. In the classification of a contemporary we see Gov. Wise put down as a Union man. Our Northern friends will hardly count upon much from him. If, as is very generally believed, the Convention now in session at Washington adjourns without accomplishing anything more to the purpose than the famous “Committee of 33” of the House of Representatives, there will be scarcely anything left for a Convention to do, but to draw up an act of secession, and submit it immediately to the people, so that their action may be known, one way or the other, before the 4th of March. That anything will be done at Washington, we have little hope. Barely a majority of the Northern States are represented, and even these, by legislative authority, have so instructed their delegates as to prevent any conclusion being arrived at that will prove acceptable to the South. War–war–war–and nothing else but war, not only of words but deeds, against the South and its institutions, will satisfy the fanatical leaders of the Abolition party. The fate of the Crittenden Resolutions in the Senate ought to satisfy any reasonable man of the slightness of a hope of a satisfactory settlement of affairs before the inauguration of the new President. Nothing short of that basis will satisfy Virginia, and we do not believe that even that will bring back the seceded States.

Let the result be what it may, we fully and firmly believe that Virginia will stand by the rights of her sisters of the South, and if at last all efforts at reconciliation are fruitless, we as Virginians will have the satisfaction to know that we have left no means untried to bring about an adjustment. She has twice, lately, given assurances of her deep and heartfelt attachment to the Union as formed by our forefathers. She proposed the Convention of States at Washington; and last of all, the election of a majority of Union delegates, in spite of the bullying of Wade, Hale, Sumner, Wilson & Co., ought to be sufficient proof that, fully as she desires to stand by the Federal Constitution, she will as fully vindicate her rights, when satisfied that all hope of a peaceful adjustment of these difficulties is lost.

Of course, the Vindicator wasn’t the only paper in town. The Union-leaning Staunton Spectator saw things differently. It especially took notice of the way that secessionists changed their descriptions of Unionists. On 2/19/61, the Spectator pointed out that prior to the vote, “secessionists were calling Union men submissionists and Black Republicans.” After the fact, however, and seeing how the public favored Unionists over secessionists, those pursuing secession were forced to change tactics. Again, from the Spectator: “However, now that the people have spoken in favor of the Union, the few secessionists who were elected are scrambling for offices at the Convention and have thus stricken such divisive language from their vocabulary.”

In order to keep their agenda moving forward, secessionists had to fight for popularity in the public opinion of Virginia’s populace. While the title of the article that appeared in the Vindicator asked the question, “What Can Virginia Do?”, the real question was, “What shall Virginia disunionists do next?”