February 25, 1861: In the Virginia legislature

From the journals of the Virginia Secession Convention. A very edifying exchange. Some Virginians, like Samuel McDowell Moore, held that their interests did not lie with the cotton states, while others, like Mr. Goode, held that the North’s contention that “a Negro was as good as a white man” was insupportable.


Mr. Moore, of Rockbridge, offered the following resolutions:
1. 1st. Resolved, That the conduct of the so-called free States, in resisting the execution of the Fugitive Slave Law — in refusing to give up criminals fleeing from justice — and in seeking to deprive the Southern States of any portion of the common territory of the nation — and of their citizens, in circulating incendiary pamphlets among us — in furnishing arms to bands of assassins to invade our borders, ands, murder our people — with other flagrant wrongs, is such as to require prompt reparation of the injuries inflicted, and justify Virginia in demanding, as she does demand, full and ample security that those wrongs shall not be repeated.
2. 2d. That Virginia can never consent to become a member of any Confederacy, by the Constitution of which the re-opening of the African slave trade is not prohibited.
3. 3d. That Virginia will not become a member of any Confederacy, the Government of which, except under extraordinary circumstances, is to be supported by direct taxation.
4. 4th. That this Convention doth approve of the amendments to the Constitution of the United States, proposed by the Crittenden resolutions; and declare its readiness to accept the same as a satisfactory adjustment of existing controversies between the Northern and Southern States.
5. 5th. That in the event of the amendments referred to, or other equivalent amendments to the Constitution of the United States, not being adopted, Virginia will be ready to enter into a compact with such States as will agree to said amendments; by which the present Government of the United States shall be declared to be dissolved, as to the States so agreeing, and that they will thenceforth constitute a new Confederacy under the Constitution so amended, from which all the States not so agreeing shall be excluded.

Mr. Moore proceeded to advocate his resolutions. He spoke of the grievances solely as inflicted on the Border States, and drew a distinction between them and those inflicted on the seceding States. He thought our grievances were a matter of entire indifference to the seceding States, and that they were only brought forward now to induce Virginia to go into the Southern Confederacy. After reading an extract from the Charleston Mercury to illustrate this position, he went on to say that they cared nothing about the slaves we had lost. They were also for free trade; while the interests of Virginia demanded that the revenue in any Government to be formed should be raised from imports. South Carolina had endeavored to dissolve the Union long before our grievances commenced; for our loss of slaves had been chiefly during the last fifteen years.

He contended that the election of Lincoln was not the cause of the disruption; only the occasion — and he read from a South Carolina pamphlet to show that the cause had existed ever since the formation of the Confederacy. He believed they contributed as much as any other State to the election of Lincoln — that they went to the Democratic Convention with a purpose to break up the party and dissolve the Union.

There was no policy in common between the border States and the seceding States. It is interest of Virginia to keep slave property high, whilst it is their interest to depreciate it; and in this connection he alluded to the probable re-opening of the African slave trade. It was their policy to support the Government by direct taxation; and to show what would have to be thus supported, mentioned a standing army of 20,000 men, which it was believed would be necessary, making the cost of Government $50,000,000 per year, of which, according to his calculation, Virginia’s portion would he $6,000,000 or $7,000,000; because indications were against the secession of Tennessee, Arkansas, Missouri, Kentucky, Delaware, and Maryland. Virginia would be saddled with a burden, in addition to the completion of works in which her vital interest was involved, greater than she could bear.

With reference to the threats of abolishing the inter-State slave trade, he said he did not choose to be intimidated by such threats as that.–He also scorned the imputation that Virginia would skulk under the protection of the North, and disdained a connection with a people who could make it. There were other interests to be considered besides King Cotton. What would cotton be worth unless there were a demand for it. King Spindle and King Hog, he conceived, were as potent as King Cotton. The Cotton States cannot live without manufactures, nor can they live without something to eat.

With regard to secession, he took the view that it was a revolutionary remedy, and denied that Virginia had reserved to herself the right to secede.–He urged Virginia to act, without waiting for the result of the Peace Conference. With regard to the fifth resolution, he said it was probable New England would not agree to it, and he was not anxious that she should. He would welcome Georgia and Alabama back, but preferred that South Carolina should stay out until she had learned to treat us with respect. Mr. Moore proceeded to define his position at some length, expressing his desire that Virginia should be prepared for any emergency. He would go with her wherever she went, unless she went where she would be disgraced. His interest was with Virginia, now and forever. In closing, he brought forward a publication to show that England, so far from wanting to abolish slavery, was exerting a secret power for the dissolution of the Union.

Mr. Goode, of Bedford, desired to enter his protest against the views submitted by the gentleman from Rockbridge, which had given him, as a member of the Virginia Convention, inexpressible pain. He (Mr. Moore) seemed to misapprehend the object of this Convention. He had aimed his big gun entirely against the gallant States of the South, and had given not a word of rebuke to those who had brought the sad disasters upon the country — the people of the Northern States, the destroyers of the fairest temple of free Government the world had ever known. He had summoned up “Gorgons, and hydras, and chimeras dire,” and arrayed a throng of evils before the Convention which had no existence in reality. While he was reading from the Charleston Mercury, which was not the organ of the Southern Confederacy, the Southern Congress had acted, and put its heel on those measures which he alleged as reasons for not uniting with them.

Mr. Goode, in proceeding, summed up the aggressions of abolitionism, and remarked, that on Monday next a man would be inaugurated as President who believed that a negro was as good as a white man; who was an endorser of the doctrine of an irrepressible conflict; who had declared, in all his recent speeches, that he would administer the Government on the principles laid down in the Chicago platform. He (Mr. G.) had love the Union, and the memory of its patriotic founders; but he loved the Union in the past, which he had looked upon as a Union of equality. It had failed of its purpose, through the degeneracy of those to whom its keeping had been entrusted. The question now was, whether Virginia should, by a resolute and determined course, avert impending evils, or submit to the oppression sought to be imposed upon the South–

“Whether’ tis nobler in the mind, to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And, by opposing, end them?”

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