Gentlemen of the Senate and House of Representatives.
The Constitution of the State makes it the duty of the Executive to convene the Legislature, “when in his opinion, the interests of the Commonwealth may require it.” In obedience to that requirement I convene you at this time.
I regret that I cannot congratulate you on the existence of peace and prosperity in all our borders, but we have cause of profound thankfulness to the Great Dispenser of all blessings for so much of the State as has been held from the hand of the rebel spoiler.
The Constitution makes it the duty of the Executive to “communicate the condition of the commonwealth to every session of the Legislature.” I regret that there is a portion of the Senate still held by the rebels in arms against both State and Federal authority, the condition of which I cannot fully place before you.
RE-DISTRICTING THE STATE.
By an official communication from the Department of the Interior, a copy of which will be found among the accompanying documents, “the Commonwealth of Virginia is entitled to Eleven (11) members in the House of Representatives for the 38th Congress , and until another apportionment shall be made according to law.” The Constitution places the duty of re-districting the State upon the General Assembly, and in order that justice may be done and the interests of the people consulted, it is essentially necessary that the districts be formed of contiguous counties, cities, and towns, that they may be compact and include, as near as may be, equal numbers of inhabitants. I commend this subject, gentlemen, to your candid consideration, feeling confident that you will exert yourselves to promote the general welfare of the people.
With such ample means of information as you all possess, I deem it unnecessary to enter into details as to the progress of the rebellion in the State since your last adjournment. The people of Virginia have suffered more in the loss of life and property, than any State in the Union. The rebel regiments of the State now number about 153 in the Confederate service.—The rebel troops of Virginia and Louisiana, from reports of prisoners captured, have done the greater part of the hard fighting of the rebel army in the east. Vast numbers of them have been killed, and have died from diseases contracted in camp. The Carolina, Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi troops, who were so boastful of their prowess in the commencement of the rebellion, claim to be the aristocracy of the army, and too refined to do the fighting, but desire the posts of honor and ease. The inferiority of troops from those states fully appears when brought into conflict with Federal troops in the west. Virginia has, in fact, been the chief support of the rebellion, both in men and supplies, down to the present. As a result, her people are suffering for the necessaries of life, on and beyond the Confederate lines. It has been the policy of the Confederate leaders, to gather, throughout the State, within their lines, all the stock and grain for the use of the army, leaving no subsistence for the old and helpless; and now whole districts are in a suffering condition for the necessaries of life. If the present winter should be an inclement one, the suffering of these people will be beyond a parallel in the history of this country. The only hope that exists in their case is, that the rebel army will soon be driven from the State; and that the same spirit which prompted the people to send supplies across the ocean to feed the starving millions there, may prompt the wealthy to sympathise with the starving and impoverished people of Virginia, who have been robbed to sustain the ambition of the demagogues who inaugurated this rebellion.
A military necessity required a part of the army to be withdrawn from the Kanawha Valley, in August last; thereby reducing our forces so that they unable to resist the rebel army which occupied Charleston and that Valley for about six weeks. During that period, they carried away about 2,500 barrels of sale, and completely robbed the people of everything they had of a moveable character. They murdered a number of men for no other cause than that of their adherence to the Union. Many of these people, thus robbed, nave not the means of subsistence. Some have gone to the State of Ohio, others cannot get away. Some measures should be adopted by which the poor, at least, of that district, can be furnished with supplies during the coming winter and spring.
Gentlemen, why all this suffering and violence? What have the people of Virginia done, that they should drink to the very dregs, this cup of infamy and woe?—When did the people become dissatisfied with the Federal Government? What acts of oppression did the Government ever impose on them? We cannot disguise the truth from our minds that the slave oligarchy of the South has forced all this misery on the people without giving them time to consider to choose and to act for themselves. In the history of the world we find that rebellion has generally been the result of tyranny, oppression and suffering; but in the present instance, it is the result of pride and arrogance, begotten by the accustomed dominion of the master over the slave.—The great masses were contented happy. The leaders, wealthy and overbearing, tired of republican institutions and the equality of the people enjoyed in the exercise of the right of suffrage, knew they could succeed only by breaking up the Government and by remodelling[sic] the Constitution under the power of a military despotism. The mode by which they succeeded, is too familiar to all to need repetition.
That they were tired of republican institutions and intended their overthrow, is apparent from their own declarations.—Their prominent statesmen were constantly impressing on the public mind, in Congress and through the press, that “free institutions, free labor and free schools were a failure;” “that no government was stable where labor was represented in the law making department; that it was necessary to stability that capital should own labor; that the working classes of the North were no better than the slaves of the South; that slavery and democracy were incompatible; that the laboring man was only on an equality with the slave, and ought not to vote because he had not sufficient intelligence.”
The Southern States had enjoyed republican institutions since the adoption of the Federal Constitution. Not a single right had been infringed in any State. If they were satisfied with republican institutions, why inaugurate the rebellion, as they do not propose to secure any additional rights to the people. Their object cannot be to diminish taxation, for they abolish no offices, nor decrease any salaries. It will certainly cost more to maintain two Governments than one. There can, then, be no other object than to rob the people of their rights as freemen, and impose on them heavy burdens of taxation. These facts must be patent to every thinking man and yet we have thousands in our midst, who are sympathizing with the rebellion, and many of them among the laboring classes.
THE PRESIDENT’S PROCLAMATION OF SEPTEMBER 22ND.
I do not know any of the peculiar reasons of the President for issuing the Proclamation of September 22d, which has called forth so much discussion throughout the country. The proclamation declares “all persons held as slaves on the 1st of January, 1863, within any State or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall be then, thenceforward and forever free,” but it also declares, “that any State, or the people thereof, shall on that day be in good faith represented in the Congress of the United States, by members chosen thereto at elections wherein a majority of the qualified voters of such State shall have participated, shall, in the absence of strong countervailing testimony, be deemed conclusive evidence that such State, and the people thereof, are not then in rebellion against the United States.”
I endorsed that proclamation at the meeting of the Governors of the loyal States at Altoona, held on the 24th of September, and it is due you that I state the public reasons which caused my endorsement.—The Confederate States had formed their Constitution, based on the declaration that “Slavery was its chief cornerstone,” and upon that they inaugurated the rebellion and brought the war. Nearly sixteen months had passed since the war was commenced. Little progress had been made. Six hundred and fifty thousand men had been brought into the field be the Federal Government. That army had been greatly reduced by battle, sickness, and desertion.—In consequence to the large addition to the Confederate army by their conscription acts, it was deemed necessary to call for six hundred thousand more. The people responded with great zeal in furnishing the required number.
The leaders or the rebellion had impressed the minds of the slaves with the idea that the Federal Government would take and sell them to the sugar planters of Cuba, to defray the expenses of the war.—Thus the slaves themselves, to a great extent, became active partisans within the Confederate lines. They were everywhere engaged in doing servile work of the camp, and, in many instances, in performing the duty of the soldier. All other business than carrying on the war, was suspended. Their whole energies were directed to the prosecution of the rebellion.—Their slaves number more than four millions; and they were engaged, in addition to the duties before alluded to, in raising supplies of every kind for the maintenance of the army; while at the North, all our agricultural, commercial, manufacturing, and educational pursuits being carried on by white men, it may be safely estimated, that the four millions of slaves engaged in the production of the sinews of war, are equal to eight millions of men at the at the North carrying on the pursuits before mentioned.
This state of facts stood out in hold relief to all candid observers. It was apparent that while slavery is the strength of the confederates and afforded them the greatest assistance, it was, also, their weakness and could be easily turned to their overthrow. It was evident that all the industrial pursuits of the loyal states must be stopped, the army increased from one million to fifteen hundred thousand, or the confederates must be stricken at their weakest point and an end put to the war. The President chose the latter course, and placed before them the alternative of returning to their allegiance, or universal emancipation, in all the states and districts which refused compliance with the requirements of the proclamation. Subsequent events have shown that as far as the successes of the Federal army is concerned, it has had a happy effect. Our armies in the Southwest have been successful, equal to our most sanguine expectations; and, considering all the circumstances, we have nothing to discourage us for want of success in the East.
It is objected to the proclamation that it is a mere declaration on the part of the President, that it could not reach beyond our lines, and, therefore, could have no effect on the slave. The rebels do not regard it in that light. They prohibited its publication in their papers, (although it found its way into several of them before the prohibition.) fearing its effect among the slaves; yet it is a well-ascertained fact that the slaves are fully aware of its existence, and of the change it proposes in their status.
It is also objected that proclamation will produce insurrection, and the helpless will fall victims to the slave violence. This is equally a fallacy; and the objector should remember that the rebel soldier would be better engaged in protecting his wife and children from servile insurrection at home, than in slaughtering his brethren of the Union army upon the battle field. The only question for the President to decide was, whether it would hasten the close of the rebellion,—re establish[sic] the integrity of the Union and save the lives of the Union soldiers, by issuing the proclamation or withholding it. It wa[s] this business to look after the saving of the lives of the soldiers who had patriotically gone to the battle field to put down the rebellion,—to return them, speedily, to their parents, wives and children.
The slaves are the strength of the rebellion. If the master has the right, uninterruptedly, to use his slave for the overthrow of the government, it cannot be shown he has not the right to have all the Southern ports opened through he can furnish himself more thoroughly with all the munitions of war.
It is further objected that it is an abolition measure, and infracts the Constitution of the United States. So far from its being an abolition measure, it is the reverse. If they return to their allegiance, slaveholders will have all the guarantees that they shall be protected by all the laws of the land, in the possession of the slaves. The Abolitionists idea is to free, unconditionally, all slaves, whether they belong to loyal or disloyal masters. Nor is it an infraction of the Constitution of the United States. The President is Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy, and it is made his duty “to suppress rebellion and insurrection.” These rebels have rights under the Constitution, or they have no rights. If they have rights, the Government is already responsible for every slave that has escaped from his master; for every bushel of grain, pound of hay and rod of fence, whether for the use of the army, or destroyed by it. According to this proposition, if Gen. Burnside should bombard and burn Fredericksburg, every rebel property owner in that city would be entitled to compensation. “The Emperor” of Russia burned the city of Moscow to prevent his enemy from using it as a shelter from the rigor of winter in that inhospitable climate. Two hundred thousand men have been slain in battle, and by diseases incident to camp life; thousands of fathers and mothers mourn the loss of sons—widows are clothed in weeds of mourning—children are rendered fatherless and left penniless; yet no one raises the cry of constitutionality at this; but when the President sees clearly that the strength of the rebellion is in their slaves, and issues a proclamation to deprive them of that source of power, it is declared to be unconstitutional! and these objectors place the right of property above that in every other species of property, and even over the right to life itself.
The President was bound, as an honest man, if in his judgment he could shear the rebels of their strength and shorten the war, thereby saving the life of the Union, to issue the proclamation, even if it should bring the rebels to beggary. It is a remarkable fact, but one well attested, that those who are loudest in their objections to the proclamation, have done the least to sustain the war.
It is our duty as American citizens, the guardians of the liberties purchased by our forefathers and transmitted to us, to look this subject fairly in the face, and decide between republican liberty, and African, or any other kind of slavery. We have been taught to believe, that God, by His Divine Providence, had established republican freedom in this country, to show the world, that man is capable of self government. I embrace that great fact with every faculty of my nature. The revolution of ’76 was not a vain thing.—The leaders of the rebellion, after a trial of 82 years, are satisfied that slavery and republican institutions are incompatible. Many of them are earnest, sincere men. They think the masses are incapable of self-government; and as an earnest of their faith, have inaugurated this rebellion to deprive the working classes of their rights. They being the judges, choosing between Democratic institutions and slavery, have chosen slavery, and have sought to break up the Government. We are simply trying to preserve the constitution and the Union, and to enforce the Laws. The Constitution guarantees to every State a republican form of government, and it is our duty as freemen to stand by our character of liberty. We know that republican government has bestowed such blessings on the free States as no other people ever enjoyed; and supposed the same blessings had been enjoyed by the slave States. But those best acquainted with the facts (the rebels,) have decided differently. They are asked by the President to return to their allegiance under the Constitution with slavery- If they return, slavery is guaranteed to them; if they refuse, a republican form of government will be given to every State without slavery, and every right loyal man in the South will be guaranteed to him under the Constitution. But if, perchance, a loyal man in the South should suffer, it only adds another one to the thousands of cases of good men suffering by their association with, or proximity to, bad men. To consent to a division of the Union is to consent to the destruction of Constitutional liberty; and to treat with rebels on any terms short of unconditional submission, is trifling with the lives and happiness of the thousands who have been rendered penniless by this rebellion. To estimate, properly, the enormity of the crime of this war against our liberties, you should visit the army, the hospitals for the sick and convalescent; you should hear the wail of the widow and orphan, bereft of their protector slain upon the battle-field, or who yielded up his life in the hospital. It is only by being brought in contact with such scenes of misery and woe, the natural consequences following from the unholy ambition of the leaders of the rebellion, that you can form a correct idea of the baseness of the crime attempted to be perpetrated upon our people.
Nor is the proclamation in conflict with the declaration of the President and the resolution of both houses of Congress, in the commencement of this struggle, viz: “that the prosecution of war against the rebels was not to abolish slavery.” It was a necessity, forced upon the Commander in-Chief by the pertinacity with which they waged the war for the destruction of the government. The idea, too, that its promulgation would increase the desperation of the rebels and protract the war is equally fallacious. Their desperation culminated in their conscript laws, before the proclamation was issued, and since its issue, dismay and despair are visible in the tone of their press and army, and in the innumerable desertion of their soldiers.
Gentlemen, it only requires unanimity of action and determination of purpose, such determination as is felt by freemen, alone, in fighting for constitutional liberty, to crush out speedily, the rebellion and restore peace to our distracted country. At one period during the past season, our cause looked dark, and it seemed as if victory would pereh[sic] upon the banners of treason and rebellion. Cotemporaneous with the call for six hundred thousand troops to replenish our army, a school of politicians sprang up throughout the country, advising the people to wait and see whether the war was conducted constitutionally before they enlisted. This advice prevented thousands from enlisting, and, for a season, our cause looked gloomy, but, with a patriotic ardor, the people came to the rescue and our ranks were rapidly filled with fresh troops. If the counsel of that miserable class of politicians who assumed to be the special guardians of the Constitution, had been followed, Lee would have gone triumphantly to Philadelphia, instead of stopping in Maryland; Bragg would have captured Louisville and Cincinnati, and Loring would have succeeded in completely overrunning Western Virginia. But for the timely assistance rendered by the fresh troops raised under the first and second calls of the President, our beautiful National Capitol would have fallen into the hands of the Despoiler; and we owe a debt of gratitude to those stout hearts and strong arms that resisted, so successfully the northward march of the rebel hordes and secured the salvation of the nation.—Yet I am inclined to the opinion, that these amiable, constitutional-loving gentlemen meant only, that they did not desire their particular friends to volunteer until after the election, i[.]e[.] order that they might have the benefit of their votes; and had the patriotic volunteers, who rushed to the battlefield in the hour of danger and peril, taken their advice, all would have lost.
I desire to call your attention to the fact that the rebels are still engaged in this barbarous mode of warfare. In the mountain districts the guerillas are carrying on a system of wholesale, indiscriminate robbery and murder. Not only do they strip our Union fellow-citizens of horses, cattle, and every other species of property, but they seize and carry away captive, their persons. Numbers of our most worthy and respectable citizens are now suffering all the untold horrors of incarceration in Southern prisons; and while the rebels have not, so far as I am informed, executed any of them on the gallows, or by the bullet, yet they are sending many of them “to that bourne[sic] whence no traveller[sic] e’er[sic] returns” by the less rapid, but not less certain, process of starvation.
I have felt the want of sufficient legislation on this subject, and respectfully suggest that a law be passed, authorizing the Executive, or appointing a commission, to designate influential secessionists in the loyal portion of the state, to be arrested and confined until their friends procure an equal number of loyal men.
The stay law, enacted at your session of December last, expires on the 1st of January next. I have conversed with many intelligent gentlemen, holding different views as to the propriety of re-enacting or permitting it to expire; but as you are fresh from the people, and can form a more correct judgment of their sentiment than I am able, I leave it to your candid and careful consideration. I may be allowed to suggest, however, that it has occurred to me, a law might be passed which would in many instances, be of great advantage to both debtor and creditor. Let the creditor require the debtor to pay twenty-five percent of the debt, interest and cost, in ninety days after the passage of the act, and twenty-five per cent at the end of each ninety days until the whole debt is discharged; and on failure to pay the specified amount at the expiration of the time proposed, let execution issue for the balance of claim unpaid, including interest and cost. I would except[sic] the officers and soldiers in the army from the provisions of this law; nor should any civil process be issued against them until ninety days after discharge from the service.
I desire to call your attention to an Act a large sum expended on account of the General Assembly entitled “An Act to provide for the extension of time for Sheriffs of this Commonwealth to execute writs of fieri facias on certain judgments,” passed on February 13, 1862. The act declares “that the present Sheriffs in the Commonwealth shall be allowed twelve months after the expiration of the present stay law, to execute any writ of fieri facias issued on judgments in any of the County and Circuit Courts of this Commonwealth during the present term of said Sheriffs.”
And this act further declares “that it shall be the duty of the Clerks of the several County and Circuit Courts to direct all such writs to the said present Sheriffs as if the same had been issued during their said term as aforesaid.”
The term for which Sheriffs are elected is fixed by the Constitution at two years. Their bonds are taken in accordance therewith, and their sureties are held, only, for their official acts during that period.
The effect of this act is to prolong the terill of the Sheriffs; and that period being fixed by the Constitution, cannot be changed by legislative enactment; nor can the sureties be responsible beyond the period for which the Sheriff was elected.
I respectfully request that the act be repealed.
That portion of the State which resisted the tide of secession, deserves great credit for the number of soldiers it has furnished for the suppression of the rebellion. It is gratifying to me to be able to report, that we have furnished nearly nineteen regiments of infantry and cavalry, besides five batteries of artillery, but it is more especially gratifying to know that our brave troops stand second to none in the armies of the Union. They are earnest men,—men who have experienced the multitude of evils flowing from the rebellion; and many of them have sealed their devotion to the Union by offering up their lives as sacrifices on many a well contested field.
I transmit, herewith, a copy of the Auditor’s report. It shows the financial operations of the Government for the fiscal year ending the 30th of September last. The receipts from all sources during that period were two hundred and five thousand two hundred and fifty-one dollars and eighty cents; and the expenditures, one hundred and sixty five thousand four hundred and fifty dollars and seventeen cents; (including United States.) leaving the treasury one hundred and twenty thousand one hundred and fifty-seven dollars and forty seven cents, on the 1st of October. When it is remembered that the revenues cannot be collected in but very few counties, and that a large portion of the expenditures have been for extraordinary purposes, this exhibit is the more gratifying, and is proof of the signal ability with which this branch of the government has been conducted. I beg leave to call your attention to the suggestions found in the report, commending them to your wisdom and candid deliberation.
EMANCIPATION OF SLAVES.
Whether, under existing circumstances, it would be proper to legislate upon the subject of the emancipation of slaves, particularly on the conditions proposed in the proclamation of the President during the last session of Congress, I leave for you to determine, with the remark, however, that you represent constituencies having but little interest in that unfortunate class. I hope, in a short time, to see a full delegation of loyal men in the General Assembly, (including those portions of the State largely interested in slaves,) when that serious and thorough consideration can be given to this subject which its importance demands.
Gentlemen, it is our fortune to live in these times of fearful responsibilities and duties. We are making history to be read by, and exert its influence upon, coming generations. If there be a time when our legislators, both State and National, have need of “that wisdom which cometh down from above,” it is now, when hosts of bad men have conspired to destroy the fair fabric government founded by our fathers.—Without unanimity and determination of purpose our cause is lost; and not ours only, for the down trodden of earth everywhere, are anxiously awaiting the result of this contest between Liberty and Despotism. If we succeed, have hearts and stout arms, elsewhere will be nerved to throw off the fetters that have so long bound them; if we fail, our failure will but serve to bind them more securely.
With a deep sense of responsibility, Great Source of all strength for assistance in the discharge of our respective duties during this momentous crisis, let us enter upon the work before us.
December 4th, 1862
Timeline of West Virginia: Civil War and Statehood: December 1862