June 17, 1861
The Convention assembled at the appointed hour.
The session was opened with prayer by Rev. R. V. Dodge, of this city.
The minutes of Saturday were read and approved.
Mr. HOOTON, of Preston, said he deemed it due to the Convention as well as to Dr. Parsons, of Tucker, (now absent) to state that the reason of his absence was that he was confined to his room by indispositioin, but that he was now much better and would be in his seat in a few days.
The hour of eleven not having yet arrived and there being no business pressing, Mr. Carlile suggested that the order of the day be now taken up. There being no objection the Declaration of Rights, which had been made the order of the day for eleven, was taken up and the Convention proceeded to its consideration.
The Declaration was read by the Secretary, after which
Mr. PIERPOINT, of Marion, said:
Mr. PIERPONT - I propose to submit a few remarks upon this Declaration before the question is taken; and sir, if I should extend my remarks to several topics not particularly embraced in the Declaration, I hope I shall not be considered out of order. We have arrived, sir, at an important and momentous crisis in the history of our country - one that is to be deplored by every lover of constitutional liberty, and who has any desire in his heart for the Government of this United States performing the great destiny for which it was intended. And, sir, it may not be inappropriate for me to refer briefly to a state of facts which has brought about the condition of our country at the present time. I think it must be obvious - perhaps patent to every observer of the history of this country - that the crisis now upon us is not the result of any momentary revulsion that has come upon the country, or of any sudden outburst of feeling in any one section of the country; but that it is the result sir, of mature deliberation, concocted in treason, for the express purpose of breaking up constitutional liberty in this country. And, sir, I think I am borne out by the facts in the statement that this treason dates as far back as 1833; a dissatisfaction on the part of one single State of this Union with the Government of the United States, and a determination to break it up. The history of the events of those times is fresh in the memory of most of us now. The declaration on the part of the committee that reported the bill calling the convention in the State of South Carolina to pass the ordinance of Secession immediately after the last presidential election, shows not only the determination of the people of South Carolina at that time, but that it had been a determination in the minds of that people for twenty- eight years; that they had been educating the minds of the people of South Carolina for the express purpose of breaking off their allegiance to the Government of the United States, and that if they were not taught now, they never would be. That, Sir, South Carolinians admit. That is the boast of their chivalry; they are too high-minded to deny the truth. It was their determination to keep nothing concealed. Ever since the transactions of 1833 the statesmen of South Carolina have never suffered themselves to be called by any of the party names that distinguish the people of the United States in other section of the country; but have called themselves the great Southern State Rights party. Thus showing all the time tat their object was something beyond that of conducting this Government to the high destiny to which all the other States of this Union so proudly looked forward, and for which they had so diligently labored.
When we look, Sir, at the transactions, or theory rather, and the statements of the leading politicians of the South, during the canvass of the last Presidential election, we find that they went on the theory of separate State action, opposing entirely any border conference of Southern States, any action of a general character that would bind together and have for its object the healing up of the seeming dissensions between the North and the South. That separate State action was taken in defiance of the remonstrances of the State of Virginia, and regardless of the wishes of other States reluctantly drawn into it. There was a powerful Union party in Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas. But these men at the head of affairs in South Carolina, determining to carry out their favorite theory and purpose, precipitated the country into this fearful rebellion. South Carolina seceded, and was followed by the other States. But we see as early as the ninth of December last, the programme laid down by statesmen in Washington for the formation of a Provisiounal Government at Montgomery, by the assemblying of a Congress on the 13th of February. Virginia's representatives in the Legislature had been chosen a year before. They were called together by the Governor of the State, who was opposed to Secession. That Legislature however, was deeply imbued with the spirit of Secession. They immediately on assembling called a Convention of the State, contrary to the usages of the State. We know, Sir, that so far as Virginia was concerned at the time of the calling of that Convention, there was a large majority of her people opposed even to a Convention being called, while there was an overwhelming majority in the State, opposed to Secession, and in favor of the Union, under the Stars and Stripes and the Constitution of the United States, knowing as they did, and as we all do, that it was to this Union that we are indebted for all our greatness and prosperity.
Now, Sir, it has been said that the protection of negro slavery was the great object of this revolution. I deny Sir, the whole proposition from beginning to end. And I assert that slavery was only the occasion, the pretext for the rebellion, and for the steps taken to bring it on. South Carolina, the most honest and bold in her declarations, denied that that such was the case. They were dissatisfied with the Union - "the accursed government." They wanted a different government - one more suited to their tastes and habits of life. They tried to make the issue in the Presidential campaign last fall. It was mad throughout several of the Southern States, and was made upon the issue of protection to slavery. They tried to make that issue in Virginia. But, sir, until the day of the Presidential election, there were not three prominent men in this State, politicians or otherwise, that took the ground of secession or breaking up the Union. And we find a pertinent fact connected with this case. In the Eastern part of the State, where the most slaves are owned, the Union ticket, based on the "Union, the Constitution and the Enforcement of the Laws," received a majority of the votes, even of slaveholders themselves - showing very clearly that they did not regard secession necessary in order to protect their interests in slave property, because they felt that under the Constitution of the United States, and the laws passed by Congress, that institution was entirely safe.
Then, sir, it behooves us to look closely and see how this state of affairs under which we find the country laboring, was brought about, and whether the people of Virginia should be in this distracted condition in which we now find them, by any previous action of their own. We find a peculiar state of things in the South. After the revolutionists had seized the arsenals, the forts, the treasury, or Mints, the post offices, and all other government property they could get hold of, we find the Convention of Virginia still remaining firm for the Union. But there was a deep plot going on all the time. Those who were leading the secession movement, everywhere were acting in concert, and their plans were matured beforehand. All the leading men were initiated - were indoctrinated fully into the views and determination of the leaders. They all acted in concert, and sprung this thing on the people of the country without the people having any concert among themselves. Hence, sir, we see that immediately upon the step taken by South Carolina, all over the South, and as far as secession influence could reach in the North, the declaration was made that there must be no "coercion." Not a paper in favor of secession but what came out with the doctrine of no coercion. Sensible men, legal men, in every part of the country looked at one another aghast and in wonderment; and the question was proposed from one to another, and it flew from one end of the Union to the other, "Have we any government at all? Is this magnificent government built by our forefathers a mere rope of sand or is it a reality?" But still the dogma was promulged. "There must be no coercion;" and in order to produce a revulsion of feeling in the public mind against those in favor of the enforcement of the laws, they were called "coercionists," or those whose object and desire was to exterminate their brothers in the South.
In this way things progressed. The last Administration went out, and the present one came in. The policy to be pursued was anxiously asked for and looked to. Every step the present administration took was tortured into coercion; while odious epithets were showered upon it to make it distasteful to the people of the South. When the Virginia Convention assembled at Richmond it was ascertained that three fourths of it were opposed to disunion. But the plot began to converge to a point. Major Anderson was in Fort Sumpter, and it was well known that his provisions were nearly run out. It was known the very day they would run out, and that he must be reinforced, either in provisions, or in provisions and men both. The Virginia secessionists then called their mob Convention to meet in Richmond on the 16th day of April. A messenger was sent from Richmond to Charleston the day before Fort Sumpter was fired on. He made his speech there; saying there was one thing that must be done, and Virginia would secede. They knew in Charleston what that thing was; and Gov. Pickens ordered Fort Sumpter to be attacked. The attack was made, and a despatch came to the Governor of Virginia from the Governor of South Carolina, saying "Fort Sumter is fired upon; what will Virginia do now?" It is said that the Convention would not even then have dissolved their connection with the United States. But the Secessionists, without the authority of the Governor, dispatched troops to seize Harper's Ferry and the Gosport Navy Yard, with all their munitions of war. The declarations had already gone forth from Charleston, throughout the South, that they intended to seize the Capitol immediately; that Lincoln and his Cabinet were trembling in their seats, and were consulting whether to remove to Philadelphia or New York. Thus they forced the President to issue the Proclamation or retire in disgrace! - that Virginia must be called on for her quota of troops, or Secession be acknowledged. The proclamation came - Virginia was called on, and then the Proclamation was styled by the conspirators the crowning act of infamy of the Administration, on account of which they must secede! Thus the plot was laid and consummated. The plot was one that was conceived in perjury at Washington, and carried out by falsehood throughout the country, attended by coercion, intimidation, insult and a reign of terror, which was equally concerted throughout Virginia, as well as in the other Southern States.
For several days before the Convention passed the Ordinance of Secession, it was absolutely beseiged; members were threatened with being hung to the lamp posts; their lives were jeopardized; the mob was marching up and down the streets, and surrounding the Capitol, and everything was terror and dismay. Immediately upon the passage of the Ordinance of Secession, in every county, as far as I can learn, a systematic reign of terror was inaugurated.
Leading politicians in each county, wherever they dared, propounded to all the Union men questions of the following import - "Are you in favor of the Union, or the State of Virginia?" notifying the party at the same time, that if they were in favor of the Union, that they had better prepare their necks for the halter, or leave the State - some adopting one badge of menace, and some another; such as pistols worn in some prominent place, others, Minie rifle balls, with holes perforated in them and tied in the button holes of their coats. In other sections of the State where they had the power, irresponsible persons assembled, under the name of "committees of safety," who proceeded to notify all the obnoxious men in their section, that they must leave the State. This meant Union men. Prosecuting attorneys attended militia trainings and read the laws on treason. All Union men were admonished that they would be prosecuted for treason.
Before the day of election arrived we see the troops from South Carolina, Georgia and other Southern States, placed all over the eastern and southern parts of the States running up into the valley, and in some parts of Western Virginia. In those parts of the State freedom of election was completely suppressed, and men who dared to vote against secession done it at the hazard of their lives. Thus, sir, you see the concert by which secession has been inaugurated and carried out in Virginia; and we see that same spirit that reigned in it from the beginning. What is that spirit? Is it the spirit that animates highminded, noble, honorable men, when they desire to carry out the destiny of a great nation? No, sir; it is a spirit of TREASON, that has been propagated by falsehood from one end of the country to the other. And to carry this out; threatening, menace, plundering, oppression, everything which develops the lower, meaner qualities of man, and leads him to despise all governments, all law, all authority, and everything that stands in his way to power - all have been reported to.
At the inception of secession, we thought we read its spirit in the South, but supposed that spirit would not be carried into Virginia. But in this we were mistaken. The leading politicians of Virginia, both in the East and the West, embarked in the scheme of secession. What had we to do here? We saw that the negro interest in the East did not demand secession. And we knew that the free laborers of the West, by it, would have all their interests cut off and destroyed. We saw that Kentucky was loyal to the laws and we saw that Maryland was bound to stand fast. Here then we would be with a white population of 300,000, with our revenues of trade cut off; it could not go to the East, nor to the South, without encountering a custom-house at our doors, with our men liable to be seized and placed in a foreign army to fight against a government they had always loved and honored, and to which their prosperity was indebted, and on which the perpetuity of their happiness depended. What was Western Virginia to do? They saw their leading politicians engaged in this nefarious attempt to break up the Government; they saw free expression of opinion in the case suppressed; they saw treason rankling all over the state, with the Governor, Lieut. Governor and all the State officials, and four out of five of the Judges of the Court of Appeals, all the Judges of the Circuit Court except one, and, as far as I am advised, nearly all the Prosecuting attorneys and Sheriffs engaged in this treasonable work; with one of the Judges of the Court of Appeals acting as counsel to the Governor. But in Western Virginia, in spite of all this terrorism and powerful influence against them, we found a remarkable unanimity among the people, exhibited at the late election, in favor of the Union, and against the ordinance of secession.
What, again I ask, are we to do? I answer - precisely what we are doing. Form a government for the State of Virginia. The exigencies of the times demand it. It is the only alternative left us. Two-thirds of the people of the State have been forced into rebellion against the government of the United States. They are also in rebellion against the State of Virginia; because the laws of Virginia recognize the Constitution of the United States, as the supreme law of the land. Are we then to lie still, and let our citizens, who are loyal to the government of the U. S., be pressed into the Confederate army to fight against their own government, and their property seized and carried off, to support the Confederate troops, who are being used by the usurpers to break up the government? The oppression which exists in other parts of the State, would have reached the city of Wheeling, had it not been resisted by our action. It would have reached other points on the Ohio river, and our men, instead of now being at home, attending to their business, would have been marshalled to-day upon the plains at Manassas Junction, under the piratical flag of the Southern Confederacy, to fight against the loyal army of the United States.
Two plans have been proposed for the purpose of meeting the present emergency. One is, by a division of the State. The other is, by forming a government for the whole State. If the first were practicable, under the Constitution of the United States, I do not think it would meet the present exigency. Our great, or first object is to put down rebellion and restore peace to the country; and wherever the Southern boundary of the new State might be established, when peace was restored to that line, our authority would stop. But by pursuing the latter course, forming a government for the whole State, as fast as rebellion shall be put down in any section of the State, county elections can be held, men loyal to the Government can be placed in power, who will, by the exercise of their office, restore law and order to the community; and thus, when the rebels are driven out, the whole State will be restored to its former loyalty to the Union. The proper course, I maintain, for us to pursue is, to institute a government for the whole State of Virginia. We are the loyal people of Virginia, entitled by law to the control of its military and civic power, as soon as we can get it. We can get it in a large portion of the State at once. And, then, my firm opinion is, that the Federal Government must succeed in putting down the rebellion in the eastern part of the State, and just as fast as the rebels are driven from that part of the State, law there will be inaugurated under this Government, the offices will be declared vacant, new elections, as I have said, will take place; for as soon as the rebels are driven out the Union element in that section of the State will rise right up and fill the offices. We will have Judges, Sheriffs and Prosecuting Attorneys to enforce the laws. That is the way this thing must work, or not work at all. As to dividing the State - which, I have no doubt, will ultimately be done, and which I will favor at the proper time - I would remark that the putting down of rebellion, the lending of a helping hand to aid the Government, the maintenance of constitutional liberty in this land of ours, from the St. Lawrence to the Rio Grande, is of vastly more importance to us, and to the world, than the formation of a new State out of Western Virginia, at this time. Permit me to say, Sir, that I look upon this movement as the brightest scheme and most feasible for putting down the rebellion and restoring peace to the country that has yet been proposed. If we can inaugurate this movement successfully, I am confident the same step will be taken in East Tennessee, West Arkansas, North Alabama, and North Mississippi. It has already been commenced in South Florida. It will finally be carried out in all the seceded States. Then I can see no retreat for secession short of the Gulf of Mexico.
The objection has been urged that it is contrary to our institutions to hold any State in the Union against its own will. We have held New Mexico and California by conquest, and they soon became willing subjects; and my word for it, as soon as rebellion is put down in Eastern Virginia, and other seceding States, and the Union element permitted to rise up, they will freely give their allegiance to the United States.
It has been suggested by intelligent that we should pass this declaration and adjourn, and wait till we see whether the Federal Government is able to sustain itself, and put down or drive out rebellion in Eastern Virginia; that if the government should fail there Kentucky and Maryland may secede, and we might then have to cast our lots with the Confederate States. This would be the worst policy we could possibly adopt. It would be simply throwing cold water on the Union men of Kentucky and Maryland, and on the efforts of the General Government to put down rebellion.
It simply means that we should stand and look on, preserve our inactivity, and encourage rebellion to succeed, if it can; and after it succeeds, take our fortunes with it! Were I President of the United States today, and the representatives of Western Virginia should take that course, I would say to them - "I know the Southern army will never come to the Ohio river to do us any harm, but will only wreak its vengeance on you, who have not the nerve to act, who are merely standing looking on with an indifferent eye, to see which party succeeds, and are then willing to fall in with the stronger party, at the conclusion of the fight." But, sir, there can be no neutrality in this contest; and there need be no doubts on the subject, as to which party will triumph. I tell, you, sir, the Government must succeed, and will succeed in putting down rebellion. If we should take this course, the President would be justifiable in withdrawing every soldier from Western Virginia.
But, sir, we lose by every moment we delay; even now, as is reported, Ex-Gov. Wise is about taking command of forces to invade Western Virginia. He will probably not have a very great force to command; but large or small, we will not wait for him to come here, but will meet him at the top of the Alleghenies, and at the tap of the drum, and at the point of the bayonet will welcome him to a grave that he has merited for his treason heretofore! There is a spirit abroad in Western Virginia that will support the Government of the United States, that will support the rights and interests of Western Virginia, and that will support the action that this Convention is expected to take here and now. It is necessary, absolutely necessary, that we act as quickly as possible, to provide for our security of life and property, and inaugurate law and order. Let me give you an example of the condition of Western Virginia, as showing reason why we should act and at once. Take the counties of Marion, Taylor, Barbour and Randolph. The Judge, Prosecuting Attorneys and Sheriffs of all those counties have joined the secession army and left the people without the protection due from them in the exercise of their offices. Such, I presume, is the case with many other counties.
Let us go forward then with our proposed work. Common sense suggests it, the emergency demands it, and the time and the circumstances with which we are surrounded warrant us in carrying it out, may demand that we should do so.
It has been said by some that this is rebellion; that it is setting up a separate government in the State of Virginia. But sir, I contend that this is neither revolution nor rebellion. It is merely doing what we are bound to do in this exigency, for the protection of our lives and property. Rebellion implies a guilty knowledge and intent against the law and authority of the land. Murder implies a guilty intent on the part of the party who commits it. The murderer deliberately lies in wait with malice aforethought to take the life of his fellow man; but the man who is caught in an exigency and meets his fellow man who attempts to take his life, if he defends himself and kills his assailant, is not a murderer. He merely acts in self-defense. There is none of the attendants of murder attaching to the transaction. He is simply doing that which is necessary to protect his life.
So it is with our action here. The Constitution of the United States guarantees to every State (and, I take it, only to the loyal people of that State,) the right of a republican form of government. Our Declaration of Rights of the State of Virginia, declares that the people have the right to peaceably assemble and to alter or amend their form of government, when it may become necessary. Now, sir, this exigency is upon us. The Government of the State is in rebellion against the United States - against the laws and loyal people of Virginia, are bound to take immediate action to protect their lives and their property. We, then, assemble peaceably, in this exigency. We assemble lawfully, being sent here by the loyal people of Virginia, according to the mode prescribed by the Convention which met in this city in May last, to do whatever is necessary to be done for the safety and protection of the loyal people of Virginia. And, sir, I would not be afraid to-day to place my position and that of this Convention, for legality, and to stake my life upon it, before the best jurists and statesmen in the civilized world, who understand anything about constitutional liberty, and the facts with which we are surrounded, and risk their decision. It would and must be in our favor. Reason, common sense, precedent, everything, justifies us in carrying out this proposition. I find, sir, a high precedent in looking into the acts of our fathers in the time of the revolution - when Lord Dunmore left the seat of Government of Virginia and went on board the man-of-war, with his Council.
Speaking of the power of the President of the United States to decide which is the true government, where there are two governments in a State, and one or both of which claim the protection of the President under the Constitution of the United States, Chief Justice Taney says:
It is said that this power in the President is dangerous to liberty and may be abused. All power may be abused if placed in unworthy hands. But it would be difficult we think, to point out any other hands in which this power would be more safe, and at the same time more effectual. When citizens of the same State are in arms against each other and the constituted authorities unable to execute the laws, the later position of the United States must be prompt or it is of little value. The ordinary course of proceedings in Courts of Justice would be utterly unfit for the crisis. And the elevated office of the President, chosen as he is by the people of the United States and the high responsibility he could not fail to feel when acting in a case of so much moment appear to furnish as strong safeguards against willful abuse of power as human foresight could well provide. At all events it is conferred upon him by the Constitution and Laws of the United States, and must therefore be respected in its judicial tribunals."See Howard's reports, vol. 7, page 44.
But our action will be submitted to the President and Congress, for their recognition. In looking into this subject, I find it has been distinctly decided by the Supreme Court of the United States, that where a state of facts like this exists - that is, two governments in one State, they may both, or one of them, submit their claims to the government of the United States, in which case the President decides which is the true government of the State, from which there can be no appeal.
Congress has only to see that the government so recognized is republican in form. I am sure and satisfied that the President and Congress must and will recognize us as the rightful government of the State; and will not only recognize us, but will applaud us for the course we have taken, and see that we are sustained in carrying it out. How could the President or Congress doubt on this subject? To do so would be to say by the forms of law that we were bound to lie till our hands and feet were tied; until our property was taken from us, and ourselves swung upon the gallows! God's law, Nature's law, man's law never did impose any such obligations as these upon any man or any people, where they were acting with a true and loyal heart and upright intention, and a determination to assert legally their rights. Sir, there can be nothing in law, nothing in reason, nothing in principle or in practice, that can be brought against us. Everything is in our favor, and everything must aid and sustain us in our efforts.
Mr. CARLILE followed in a few remarks, expressing the hope that a vote would be taken at once.
The question on the adoption of the Declaration was then demanded.
Mr. DORSEY called for the yeas and nays, which call was sustained, with the understanding that members now absent have an opportunity of recording their votes on their return to the Convention. It was further suggested and concurred in, that the publication of the names be deferred until the full vote of the Convention was obtained.
Mr. DORSEY subsequently withdrew the call, to make way for a motion to pass the Declaration to its engrossment, prior to its being put upon its final passage.
The motion prevailed, and it was ordered to be engrossed on parchment.
The Convention then took a recess until two o'clock.
The Convention re-assembled at the appointed hour.
Mr. Carlile, from the Committee on Business, reported an ordinance for the appointment of State officers, which was read.
On motion of C. D. Hubbard, it was ordered to lie on the table, and that the usual number of copies be printed.
Mr. FROST, of Jackson, moved that the Declaration of Rights be now taken up and put upon its final passage.
The Declaration was read by the Secretary.
Mr. DORSEY called for the yeas and nays, with the understanding that as the absentees came in they be allowed to record their votes.
The yeas and nays on the adoption of the Declaration were then taken, and resulted, yeas 56, nays ___.
On motion of Mr. Carlile Thursday next was fixed as the day for the signing of this Declaration.
Mr. CARLILE remarked that this vote just taken exhibited a happy coincidence, and one that he hailed as an auspicious omen. "We have," he said, "Fifty-six votes recorded in favor of our Declaration, and we may remember that there were just fifty-six signers to the Declaration of Independence." [Great applause and feeling throughout the Hall.]
The Convention then adjourned.
Chapter Seven: First Session of the Second Wheeling Convention