May 13, 1861
On Saturday night, it having been generally known that Mr. Carlile and other distinguished gentlemen were in the city and at the M’Lure House, an immense concourse of people collected in the street in front of the hotel, for the purpose of calling out some speeches. About 9 o’clock the Iron Guards marched up in front of the M’Lure, with flying colors and martial music, amid the cheers and shouts of the assembled crowd, which at this time could not have numbered less than 1,500 or 2,000 people. The German band was out and played the Star Spangled Banner, Hail Columbia, and other patriotic airs, in very fine style. No sooner had the military paraded in front of the house than the cry went up for “Carlile! Carlile!” from all quarters and with deafning [sic] unanimity. It was sometime before Mr. Carlile appeared, and meanwhile the impatient multitude continued to call for him with a persistence that showed nothing short of a speech from him would satisfy them.
He at length came out upon the balcony, and on his appearance was greeted with tremendous round of cheers. When the tumult had subsided, he told them that he was very unwell, and scarcely able to return thanks for this demonstration; but, said he, I cannot part from you this evening without doing so, and expressing to you my sincere hope, that the efforts about being made in our portion of the State will end with the restoration of harmony throughout the country, and with the great advancement of the interests and prosperity of Northwestern Virginia. (Cheers)
We are united, my fellow-citizens, by imaginary lines to other portions of territory, with which we have no commercial nor business relations or ties. The connection is an unnatural one; and so long as it exists must, in a greater or less degree tend to the injury of the people thus unnaturally connected. (Applause.) But we have that right which belongs to a free people, and that courage, I trust, which characterizes Virginians everywhere.—While we are and have been willing to remain thus connected, we are compelled by the action of the Eastern portion of this State, from which we are separated by natural barriers incapable of being removed, to look around and take care of our own hearthstones and our own firesides.
We have, so far as I know no cause of complaint against the Federal Government. It has for more than three quarters of a century, sheltered us in sunshine and in storm, and has been the dispenser of innumerable blessings, which we have enjoyed almost unseen and unfelt, and under its benign workings w4e have grown and prospered as no other people in the world have ever done before or since and now a gang of conspirators are banded together for the purpose of destroying this Government, and usurping the powers which belong to the people, and they are trying to “coerce” us into rebellion against that Government, and to use us as the physicial [sic] force essential to enable them to accomplish their unwholy [sic] and unhallowed purpose. (“Never!”) And they appeal to us as Virginians, by virtue of our “State Rights,” and by virtue of what they call State allegiance, to yield submissive obedience to their decrees. Whose decrees are they? Bear in mind my fellow-citizens they are not the decrees of Virginia. The State of Virginia and the sovereign people of Virginia never have determined that they will make war against this federal government of ours. War has been made, but by whom? The government disclaims having done it. Who sunk ships at the mouth of Elizabeth river two days before the ordinance of secession passed? Who seized the Custom House at Norfolk? Who marched troops upon Harper’s Ferry to seize the national arsenal? Then can any honest man familiar with the facts claim that we are bound by virtue of the action of the State to make ourselves parties to this unnatural and unholy war? (“Never! Never!”) It is a first, plain and cardinal principle of our government that the people shall rule. (Cheers) This is the principle that the conspirators want to get rid of. They are impatient of this yoke.
Let me here call your attention to these facts: There is no State allegiance inconsistent with your federal allegiance. There is no such thing in morals or law as makes it obligatory on you as loyal citizens of the State to obey even that State when through its ordinary constituted authorities it tells you to make war on the federal government. I make that assertion fearless of successful contradiction. This word allegiance is misunderstood. Lawyers and statesmen have got their definitions from despotism. What is allegiance? It is that obedience which the subject owes to the sovereign. Now who are sovereign in this country? It is the people (cheers,) and governments are their agents. There is no such thing in the technical legal sense as allegiance under our system of government. We are the sovereigns and the governments are ours (applause) and under our system the people have created two agents to afford them that protection which governments necessarily afford to person and property. One of these agents is the federal government; the other the State government. The federal government is supreme within its prescribed limits; the State government is supreme so far only as it is controlled by the organic law. No power exists in the State government to absolve you from your allegiance to the federal government. Both are your servants, and each must keep within its prescribed limits. If either of these governments is to be more valued it is that one which secures to you and your posterity the liberties achieved by your fathers after a struggle of seven long years (applause) and you have it in the constitution they formed expressly provided that the federal government, or the whole power of all the States shall be exerted in your behalf—if there should be men found in your State who would wish to deprive you of a republican form of government—expressly stipulated, I say, in the Constitution, that the whole power of the Union shall be exerted to maintain for you a republican form of government. (Great applause.)
Virginia, he said, owes $49,000,000, her treasury bankrupt, her credit ruined, and how was she to conduct the war? Three months ago her people were enjoying the blessings of peace in the Union, and now those high in authority in this newfangled Confederacy congratulate their people that Virginia has interposed herself between them and the war, taken it from their soil and made her own border the theatre of strife. This is said to have been done by Virginia. As a Virginian I deny it. Virginia never did it.
Tell me who inaugurated this war—who sunk those ships, expelled the Federal officers—who directed those troops to march from the county of Augusta? (“Letcher!” Letcher!”) The Baltimore Sun said it was Henry A. Wise. (“Hang him! Hang him!”) Those who say this has been the act of Virginia, mistake; it was simply Henry A. Wise! (Laughter and jeers.) God forbid that ever he should hold any position of influence in Virginia. (Applause.)
I said we were $49,000,000 in debt. Not one dollar of this debt has ever been expended in Northwestern Virginia more than she has paid into the treasury. We are not bound in law nor in morals to pay a dollar of it. (“Good! Good!” and cheers.) This war, inaugurated in the name of Virginia, by those who are plotting her destruction, will cost millions and millions more. How is it to be raised? It must be obtained by an exhausting system of taxation and by forced loans. Now if we are true to ourselves—if we are Virginians worthy the name, we will not allow ourselves to be coerced by men who had no authority to do what they have done, or be cheated and deceived when they cry out “Southern rights.” We will say to these gentlemen, that if they intend to do as we were told in the Convention, they would do, that as for those of Eastern Virginia, they did not intend to remain, but would go out of this “accursed Union,” regardless of the will of the majority—we will say to they, gentlemen, we do not intend to “coerce” you to remain in the Union and you cannot “coerce” us to go out of it. (Great cheering.)
Fellow-citizens bear these things in mind. We have the right to discuss the propriety of erecting here in Northwestern Virginia, a separate State Government for ourselves, where we, who desire, may remain in the Union formed for us by our fathers, for our children and for all posterity, in which the blessings that Union has conferred upon us, it will confer upon them. And I have no doubt if we go about it in good faith, that we can in Virginia, under the Constitution of the United States and the laws of the land, organize a separate State Government here, and the Congress of the United States will consent to our admission into the Union, and the Legislature of Virginia will consent to our separation. (Great Cheering.) I trust such will be the determination of this Convention which meets here on Monday, before it adjourns.—(Cheers.) By that act, all the beneficial results I have anticipated in my moments of reflection will be found to flow to this people. I have always believed that if the Union men in the border, slave States would take a firm, decided and bold position, they could put down secession in their midst, and could and would be instrumental in restoring peace and harmony to the whole country. (Great and continued cheering.
Mr. C retired and the crowd called out Mr. Pierpoint, who made them a spicy and telling little speech. He told them among other things that the intelligence from the mountain counties was most cheering, and that he had from the valley some gratifying information. In Berkley [sic] county they had issued a hand-bill for a Mass Meeting on Monday, to nominate candidates for the Legislature. In Hampshire county, the greatest Union enthusiasm prevailed.—Some of the best men who had been Union men before the Convention were Union men still—such men as John B. Baldwin and R. Y. Conrad. He referred to the rumor he had heard since he came to the city, that Grafton had been made a rendezvous for Letcher’s troops. He said an officer came to Grafton for this purpose; but, fellow-citizens, the “b’hoys” live at Grafton (Cheers). They have a hundred of them there as good and true as ever trod the soil. This gentleman came up to Grafton yesterday for the purpose of looking out a place for drilling companies and with instructions to establish a rendezvous there “if it was not offensive to the people,” so he told the landlord. The boys found out he was there. They went up to him, and said they “Now, my friend, we are a hospitable people out here, and we will be generous with you. We will give you till the next train starts to leave; but as sure as God is in Heaven, if you come back this way you will not get through.” He left by the first train. (Cheers.) A celebrated Captain from Fairmont, (“What’s his name?”) his name is Thompson, (Laughter,) went up there to Grafton. The “b’hoys” found out he was there too. They told him if would bring up 200 of his troops from Fairmont they had 100 who would kill them faster than they could come up. He came back to Fairmont and told them he didn’t think there was any necessity for putting a camp at Grafton—no good ground there. (Laughter)
On Wednesday morning the Secessionists at Fairmont were very brave about the encampment they were going to form, and they said to us Union men, “Now you fellows had better look out.” But next day news came of the arrival of 2,000 rifles here in Wheeling, and their feathers fell; and now Drinkard says there is no necessity for any troops in this part of the country. (Laughter and cheers.)
They say there are cannon at Grafton. Well, if there were, those boys would have them spiked or in their possession in ten minutes after their arrival.
I tell you the mountain counties are moving. The people are in spirit and in earnest, and they are meeting together for the protection of themselves, their wives, their children and their liberties. That is the felling in Marion, in Taylor, in Harrison, in Lewis, and Upshur, which has got too hot for Berlin, and he has gone down into Barbour, and they are about taking all the secessionists there and driving them out of the country.—There is no mistaking the felling. Judge Camden has declined going to Montgomery. (Cheers.) A voice—“Where’s Russell?”) Why Charlie is attending to the interests of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad! (Tremendous cheering.) “How’s Hall of Wetzel?”) He is dodging from one corner to another, and can’t make it very satisfactory to himself anywhere, and doesn’t feel very safe among his constituents. Kidwell is pretty near dead. (Laughter.) (“How’s Brown?”) Brown said to me a short time since, “Pierpoint, I thought I loved the old Union, but when I got home among my constituents and saw them run their military officers out of the field, I found I was behind them in devotion to the Union.” (Cheer.)
With a few more remarks Mr. Pierpoint concluded, and the crowd shouted “Brown!” “Brown!” but Mr. Brown was not present. Then there were other calls for Caldwell, Hubbard and others, but none of the speakers appearing, the crowd, after a good deal of superfluous enthusiasm, dispersed.
Timeline of West Virginia: Civil War and Statehood: May 1861