January 26, 1861
January 11, 1861.—The bill providing for the call of a State Convention being before the House of delegates for consideration, Mr. Keene of Pittsylvania offered an amendment thereto, providing that at the time of the election of Delegates to the Convention, a poll shall be opened and the people vote upon the question, “Whether or not they desired the action of said Convention to be submitted to them for rejection or ratification;” to which Mr. Ducknall of Morgan offered an amendment to the effect, “that upon the question of ratification or rejection the vote should be by counties,” pending which, Mr. Cowan of Preston took the floor and said:
Mr. Speaker: Heretofore I have been content to remain silent and listen patiently to those who have more wisdom and experience than myself in relation to questions of such magnitude. But, Sir, I feel that the time has arrived for me to speak and act for my own section of the State. I know that there are gentlemen in this House who object to the word Section, and inveigh most bitterly against the use of it. I, too, dislike to use the term, or hear it used, and would much prefer to speak of our proud old Commonwealth as a State where sections are unknown; but, sir, it is forced upon me by the remarks of gentlemen upon this floor.
Sir: The impression is sought to be made that the West is making factious opposition to the Bill before the House, in order to prevent prompt and decisive action. Sir, the charge is unfounded. There are as many Eastern gentlemen opposed to the Bill in its present shape, as Western; and gentlemen who are so loud in their call for prompt action, have consumed more of the time of this House than any one else.
Sir: On yesterday, when the distinguished gentleman from Richmond city offered a set of resolutions, having in view the peace of the country and the prevention of civil war, none were so much opposed to precipitancy and hurried action, as my friend from Madison, (Mr. Kemper.) But now, when we are called upon to discharge the most important duty that ever devolved upon a Virginia Legislature, we must have no time for consideration, no time for reflection. Sir, I came here to vote for a State Convention, believing it to be the only medium through which anything could be done to preserve the honor and integrity of Virginia, and the perpetuation of the Union of these States. With this view of the subject, I am still willing to vote for a Convention, and let one more effort be made for our rights in the Union, when if we fail, I and my people will go with Virginia, be it for Weal, or for Woe. Sir, I live in a county bordering on the State of Pennsylvania. There my people stand as a wall of fire between you and your Northern aggressors, and year after year have rolled back the tide of Abolitionism and fanaticism. Sir, the people of the West are truer to you and your institutions than you are to yourselves. At the late Presidential election, when a platform was presented containing all that the East asked, we sent Breckinridge and Lane across the Alleghanies with 4000 majority. Where was this majority lost and swallowed up? In Eastern Virginia. Sir, I will not listen quietly to these innuendoes. Ours is a true and gallant people. When your homes and firesides were invaded in the War of ’12, they left homes in the fastnesses of their native mountains and marched to defend you. They will do it again when their Eastern brethern [sic] are in peril; and if needs be, leave their bones to bleach amid the sands of the Chesapeake. But to the question. Why not refer the action of the Convention to the people for ratification or rejection? Are gentlemen afraid to trust the people? Suppose, Sir, that the action of the Convention is not approved of by the people, what will it amount to? The people—the sovereign people—can call another Convention. Sir, the action of a Convention is not worth a baubee until formally ratified by a majority of the people, and is binding on no one.
Sir, the people is the foundation of all power, and to them must be referred any action which may be taken by the Convention proposed to be called. It is right in itself; it is Constitutional, and is no usurpation on the part of this House.
And now, Sir, in reference to the amendment proposed by the member from Morgan. It proposes to submit the question of ratification or rejection to the people, by Counties. To this I am opposed, for the reason that in that mode a minority of the people might control the majority. Sir, the people of a State do not speak by Counties, but in aggregate. I hope, Sir, the House will vote for and adopt the amendment of the gentleman from Pittsylvania (Mr. Keene,) for I assure this House, that, no matter what may be their action, the people will rise in their majesty, and whether it meets your approbation or not, will speak and will control the destinies of this Commonwealth.
Timeline of West Virginia: Civil War and Statehood: January 1861