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Reorganized Government
General Assembly of Virginia

July 12, 1861

Debate on the Resolution offered by Mr. Vance, Instructing our Representatives at Washington.

Mr. ARNOLD, of Lewis, having called up the following resolution, offered by Mr. Vance, of Harrison, on Wednesday:

WHEREAS, A resolution has been offered in the Congress of the United States, having for its object the repeal of the Fugitive Slave Law, therefore be it

Resolved, That our Senators be instructed, and our Representatives requested to vote against said resolution or any other having a like object,

Mr. BOREMAN, of Tyler, said: I had hoped, Mr. Speaker, that this resolution would not be taken up. I hope that every member here will vote down any effort to introduce this negro controversy into our legislation. Our country has been nearly ruined by the agitation on this question; and I for one, think it should not be introduced here at all. We have difficulties enough on our hands without introducing subjects that are only calculated to excite bad feelings amongst us - to get up an excitement here on this question which has done so much mischief in the country. We have war questions - questions of fighting to settle amongst us before we can go back into the old controversy. I think it is not a time to be introducing these exciting subjects into our halls. Not that we would desire the law there spoken of to be repealed at all. There has been no disposition manifested on the part of Congress to repeal that law. At the last session those who have been supposed to be willing to do so did not attempt anything of the kind, but passed other measures which indicated very plainly that they never desired anything of the kind. Therefore, I think this resolution is out of place, and I hope that the members here shall refuse by their votes to take it up.

Mr. VANCE - Since the resolution has been called up, it is probably necessary and proper that I should state my reasons for offering it. A resolution has been introduced into Congress favoring the repeal of the Fugitive Slave Law, as is well known, by a member of the party that is largely in the ascendency there, and it is possible at least that such a resolution might pass that house. I did not introduce this resolution to create any ill feeling. I presumed it could not. I do not suppose, sir, that we have any Lovejoy's in this body. If we have, I want to know it. I presume, sir, there is not a man here but what would vote for that resolution. A resolution was offered, sprung upon this House on Wednesday, to instruct our representatives at Washington to do what they would have done any how. I am opposed to instructing our members of Congress, but this is a question that I think they ought to be instructed upon. A resolution of the kind offered by that individual in the House of Representatives looking to a repeal of the Fugitive Slave Law, a constitutional law - a law made to carry out provisions of the constitution, might possibly pass that body, but I hope, sir, will not. Because this Administration has given us to understand - and this party, by its conduct lately, have given us to understand - that it is not their desire to interfere with the institution of slavery, or to deprive us of any constitutional rights. It is upon this promise and understanding that we went into this Congress to sustain the Government, and that we have continued to do so. The Federal Government has never deprived us of any constitutional right. If it had, or had intended to violate a plain provision of the Constitution, there are many of us here to-day who would not have been. We are for the Union, sir, because it has protected us, and under it we have grown mighty and are prosperous and happy. But we want that Union upon fair and honorable principles. We claim that we have got it on such; but if Congress attempts to do this thing indicated by Lovejoy's resolution, then they have violated their faith. I now want to instruct our Senators and request our Representatives in Congress to vote against this resolution repealing the Fugitive Slave Law. If it is the intention of that Congress - and it might be - to violate a plain provision of the Constitution, if it is their intention to trample upon our rights when they have said they shall be protected, we want to know it.

In my county there are nearly 600 slaves. So far, we have had the right and privilege of capturing them when they run away; but if this resolution passes Congress, the law is repealed, that protection is taken away from us. If it is to be taken from us by the Government, we want to know it, and we will seek protection somewhere else. We want nothing more than what we have. We are satisfied with the Constitution and Government as they are; and we are endeavoring now to carry it on as it has been endeavoring to protect it and crush out this rebellion in the South. And I hope and believe it will be crushed out, provided the Government maintains the position it has taken, and does not intend to violate this plain provision of the Constitution. I hope the resolution will pass.

Mr. ARNOLD - Inasmuch as I called up the resolution, I deem it my duty to make a few remarks on the subject.

Mr. VANCE (interrupting) - When I offered the resolution on Wednesday, it was objected to and laid over, and some of the members requested me not to call it up until certain things took place. They having now taken place - our late U. S. Senators having been expelled, and our's and our Representatives in Congress recognized, I think the gentleman who urged that that should be done, cannot object longer.

Mr. ARNOLD - It is known that I do not favor instructions to Senators or Members of Congress, and when that one was offered on Wednesday, and a motion was made to lay it one the table, I stood almost alone in support of the motion. But the one that is offered here now, that has laid here on the table sleeping so long, seems to have almost lost an advocate; and I have really regretted to see - after the zeal manifested here the other day to instruct Representatives in Congress - I regretted to see it lay so long without an advocate, and felt it my duty this morning to call it up.

I fully concur in the remarks of the gentleman from Harrison, when he says he wants to see if it is the policy of the Administration representatives in Congress to interfere with the vital subject of slavery. I know, sir, the substantial Union men of the county of Lewis are slaveholders. They have made it their special business to say to the people, that our slavery would be more safe in this Government as a whole, than it would be by separation. And they have impressed that upon freemen who advocated the cause of Union and liberty, too, and, sir, it pains me this morning to see any man raise his voice against the immediate and unanimous adoption of that resolution.

Why, sir, it has gone forth that this a body of Republicans here. The people throughout the whole South proclaim it aloud; Eastern Virginia asserts it, and the South asserts it. I have denied it privately and publicly; and I hope I may be able to go home to my people and say this body has denied it by their action. But, sir, if there is a disposition here, right on the eve of adopting and organizing a new State Government - if we are to favor such propositions as Lovejoy's, I want to know it as the gentleman from Harrison said. If that is the disposition, I as one will retire with regrets that I ever appeared here. I am in favor, and my people are, of a division of the State, because they look forward to the hope and prosperity of this country depending on that; but if we are to be intercepted by such a sentiment as has gone abroad, I will, and I know they will turn their face, hear and soul, against any further proceedings here towards a division of the State. Now, sir, this very body, as here to-day will be the members of the Convention that is to meet here in August; [a member, "only part of them;"] and if there is a sentiment in that body like that here against a proposition of this kind, I tell you now that so long as Virginia is Virginia, never will there be one inch of soil taken from her territory.

I want to see if this body will sustain the arguments, proposition and assertions I have made before my people, that this was a body that never would interfere with slavery in no shape nor no form, and that they were Virginians so far as to repudiate any attempt either in or out of Congress for to encourage the abolishment of slavery. For I have looked upon that as the great charter of liberty. When that is blotted out, I for one, as the gentleman from Harrison said, I will seek a home in another clime. No, sir, if that should be done, rather than submit to it I would, Timon like, go forth into the desert where I might rail with freedom against my race. And sir, I hope there is not a solitary voice in this house that will be raised against the adoption of the resolution. I think with all due respect and kindness to the gentleman who opposed action upon it, that he certainly does not desire that his remarks shall go forth to the world in opposition to the fugitive slave law. That sir, has been the argument of the Southern Secessionists, claiming as the very foundation of their right to secede from the general Government. Will we put the lever in their hands? Will we foreshadow the sentiment favoring the argument of Secession? Never I hope shall it be said of a Virginian that he entertained such sentiments. Now sir, here are resolutions offered the other morning and this morning favoring a division of the State. They meet my hearty approval. I look forward to see that done with anxiety; but sir whenever this body are found even hesitating to give a unanimous vote for the resolution before the body, I say you put an eternal quietus on the prospect of dividing the State. As soon as you leave the borders you fall into the sentiment distracted and ready to act; and just let this body hesitate a moment in passing that resolution and sir you will at once confirm what has gone abroad, that this is a Republican body, and you will destroy at once the probability and hope of ever dividing this State. I have believed that this administration, from the inaugural, from the sentiment approved by it, have never designed to interfere with slavery but that they wanted to execute the laws, and especially the Fugitive Slave Law, to show the South that they did not design anything upon them; but to see gentlemen, or any person, hesitating to take up and pass that resolution, which ought to have been never laid on the table - it comes with a bad grace and in bad taste from Virginians and I hope therefore that it will pass unanimously, and that the gentleman after reflection will sanction by his vote its passage.

Mr. RUFFNER, of Kanawha - I dissent from the remarks of the gentleman from Lewis, for two reasons, and shall vote for keeping these resolutions on the table. I am opposed to introducing such political questions into this body, and to giving any fictitious dignity to such heterogeneous propositions as that introduced by Owen Lovejoy. Treat it as it has been treated by Congress, with contempt.

Mr. MINER, of Alexandria - The position taken by the party who moved to take up the resolution from the table, is one I dissent from. I understand the question differently, I think, from what the gentleman who addressed this body last. I understand that the Fugitive Slave Law - that the repeal of it, does in no manner, shape or form, interfere with the peculiar institutions of our State or the other States; that it is merely an act to carry out in a certain way, the guarantees of that Constitution which was given us by our fathers, which Constitution does protect the institution; and which gives to every State of this Union, every individual and every State holding that species of property, the right to demand or recapture it by virtue of law. I am sorry that in this body such a resolution has been offered. I am sorry this bone of contention, which has lighted the fire of discord throughout the land, has been brought into this body the first time it has convened - that we are now inclined, the second week of our session, to raise that question in this body and create a distraction in our councils, from a misunderstanding of the subject we have brought here before us.

I will quote the language of Owen Lovejoy on that question, to show that the name of Republican does not mean Abolitionist. Owen Lovejoy declared in a speech last winter, that were a bill introduced into the House of Representatives to abolish slavery where it exists, he would vote against it. Said he, "The reason why I would vote against the bill to abolish slavery, is that Congress possesses no power whatever to interfere with the domestic institutions of the several States."

Why then, should we give dignity and character to Owen Lovejoy's resolution which is brought into that House at the present moment; I agress with the gentleman who said we should treat it as Congress has done - with silent contempt. I hope the resolution will not be taken from the table.

Mr. PORTER - I hope the resolution will be permitted to lie where it is, and be quiet there until the end of the session. I had hoped from the start that we would keep the "nigger" out of this body. I know it is difficult to do so, but I had supposed that meeting here as we have met, we would do nothing that would bring up this question which has distracted the whole country for the past few years.

Sir, I suppose there is no one here who denies - there is no one here who would not say that it is the duty of Congress to provide for the rendition of fugitive slaves. The Constitution of the United States guarantees to the States having this peculiar institution that fugitives from justice and from labor shall be returned to the States from which they escape. And, sir, one Lovejoy, of the State of Illinois, one of the agitators of this slavery question, has had the bad taste, in this very crisis of our country's fate, to introduce a resolution of an agitating character in Congress.

THE CHAIR - The gentleman will confine himself to the subject under consideration - the subject of taking up the resolution.

Mr. PORTER - I am glad the Speaker has interrupted me, I hope this discussion will come to a conclusion here very soon. Our position will never be misunderstood; and I am not disposed to give Mr. Lovejoy any particular notoriety. I am not disposed to give him any importance he does not merit. I know that his course has immensely delighted all the disunionists of our country; and I think we should give the "quietus," as some one has said, to the whole matter by allowing the resolution to lie on the table.

FONTAIN SMITH - I have but a word to say, sir, and that is, that I feel grieved that in the very infancy of our movement a firebrand, unintentionally I have no doubt, has been thrown into our midst; and with all respect to the gentleman, I am at a lost to appreciate the motive by which it has been forced upon us. I repeat I say this with all personal respect. The gentleman who urges it this morning, yesterday objected emphatically that our Senators and Representatives should be instructed not to enter into any compromise with the seceded States that would be detrimental to the character and dignity of the American Republic. He objected to such a resolution, sir, because it would perhaps be an insult to their judgments; but now a resolution is introduced here in relation to a subject which is plainly written in the Constitution of the United States - no equivocation - plainly written in the Constitution - a law which has been sanctioned by the highest tribunal, the U. S. Supreme Court, and declared to be constitutional by every court, and recognized by every jurist of distinction in the United States as being constitutional - and now it is no insult to our representatives there to instruct them to vote against the repeal of such a law. The first was an insult, but the last is none whatever.

The CHAIR requested that the gentleman would confine himself to the subject properly under consideration.

Mr. SMITH - Then sir, as I am circumscribed in the remarks I make, they shall be very brief. What sir, is the cause of our present national difficulties? It is the agitation of this subject. What has clothed the country in mourning? It is the agitation of this question. And sir if the introduction of that measure in Congress had not been repudiated there as it was, it might have altered our course of conduct; but when it was repudiated there unequivocally, the "quietus" was put to it there, I see no necessity after this course why we should here be agitating that question. Just let me remark sir that if the gentleman from Lewis desires to know the position I occupy on this subject and his people have delegated him to ascertain whether this is an abolition body___not I would say that while I differ with a number of individuals around me, I will say that I believe slavery is constitutionally, religiously, politically, and socially right, and I am opposed at all times to the repeal of the Fugitive Slave Law because I believe it to be one of the guarantees of the Constitution of the United States for the preservation of that property; and one reason why I am not a Secessionist is that I believe the institution of slavery was protected better than it could be by the formation of a second republic. I do not believe there is a man here who would vote against that law or with a sentiment in conflict with that I have expressed. If it be the intention of the people of Lewis to ascertain whether this is an abolition body or not, I would say to them that this is no test of our sentiment here. I confess sir, if we could accomplish anything, if there was any good to be accomplished by the introduction of such a subject here, we might then enter our protest; but when such a question as is alluded to in this resolution is not pending, and has met with a rebuke in Congress when the Administration has not nor does not intend to trespass upon one constitutional right of the South, it does look like madness that we should be agitating this question here now. But sir, when the moment comes for accomplishing anything - whenever the institution is in danger and a single right, however trifling, of the South is in danger, from any action of this Government, then I will stand by the gentleman's side, and the side of the people in the county of Lewis, in vindication of their rights.

Now, sir, in the language of the gentleman from Hancock, Mr. Lovejoy has agitated this question in Congress by the introduction of his resolution, and we have every evidence that that body evinced as much pain as we feel by the introduction of this resolution here. Because he has pained that body, let us not inflict another pang upon the people of Virginia, by the agitation of this question here.

Let me say, sir, as I said in the beginning, that the agitation of this subject has clothed this land in mourning. We have come here to legislate for a free people. We have come here to restore constitutional liberty, and protect every interest of that people. But we do not believe that the negro interest is paramount to every other interest, and to thrust it into the faces of the people, and make it a bone of contention amongst them. We intend to stand by every constitutional right and interest of the South, but with that discretion which men should exercise, and not with that madness which would have a tendency to impair our standing at home and lessen our influence abroad.

Mr. BOREMAN - I had not designed to make any remarks, further than to explain the reason why this resolution should not be taken up; but I desire now to make a few remarks in reply to the gentleman from Lewis.

His remark that it pained him to hear me oppose instant action on this subject, I will employ, and say that it equally pains me to know that any one is willing to introduce a subject here of so excitable a character, and one which has been made the excuse, though not the real ground work of our difficulties. I has been made the excuse for placing us in the po[si]tion we are now in.

This is called already, says the gentleman, a republican body. Why, sir, we are all called "Black Republicans," "Abolitionists;" and every man that claims to be a Union man throughout this country is denounced - I have heard them denounced everywhere by our opponents, as Abolitionists and Republicans. Who cares for it? I, sir, do not. I treat the charge with contempt. I despise such accusations. They are false - false as Hell, and we all know them to be false; and why should we regard them? The whole country, the world, know it is false. It is known that Union men are not of necessity Black Republicans and Abolitionists, though many of them are. They are all mixed together. I thank the good Being that we know no parties, no distinctions, in this matter. I know how some people feel on this subject. They are tired of this eternal negro in our midst. They want it expelled as a subject of agitation. It has been ridden to death. This accusation of being Black Republican and Abolitionist has become so common that people do not regard it as a charge or as a calumny in the character of men any longer. They do not care anything about it, because it is so frequently misapplied. The gentleman remarked that I would not want it to no forth to the world that I was opposed to the Fugitive Slave Law. No, sir, nor do I expect it to go forth that I am opposed to that law. My constituents know that I am not, and they are the people that I am accountable to. They know my sentiments, and have confidence in me in regard to this matter; and I know they desire that this thing shall be kept out of our body and deliberations. This resolution, sir, is an entering wedge to this slavery controversy here. If we suffer it to come up and be introduced here, as the point of the wedge enters the solid timber, so this little point of the wedge of controversy will enter our councils and will make the breach wider and wider until there will be discord here that we can not settle at all.

Keep it down; keep it out from our midst, away from us. I do not fear any charges of this character that are made against me; and I hope the members of this body are so far above suspicion on this subject that they will treat all such with utter contempt. Our action here has shown all the time what our sentiments are on this subject, and that is sufficient. There is now an opposition to our whole movement introduced here into our country, and a movement like this in this Legislature will have a tendency to encourage that opposition and make it formidable. Let us say to these gentlemen who are around and about us in this country here that they cannot have any kind of encouragement, that we are not going to be distracted here on questions of this kind, that we intend to repel them and keep them out so that they will not have the sweet unction laid to their soul that we are divided among ourselves. I hope they never will have any encouragement of this kind from this body.

I do not, sir, say to members of this body that if they will not concur with me, that if they do not side with me on motions and resolutions that may come up here that I will in any event leave this body. No, sir, I never will desert the cause that I have espoused here until my head is laid low in the dust. I started in this contest for life or for death, and to live for this cause or to die with it, is the purpose of myself and my people. We knew when we entered into it that it was a matter of life or death to us, and we are going to go through and abide the result. I hope this resolution will sleep the sleep of death on the table.


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Chapter Eight: Legislature of the Reorganized Government of Virginia

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