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Proceedings of the
Second Session of the
Second Wheeling Convention

August 20, 1861

Mr. Lamb's Speech on the Division of the State.

[Concluded from Yesterday.]

The report of the Chairman of the majority Committee proposes to extend the boundaries of the new State to Bull Run. Will the chairman of that Committee undertake to explain to the inhabitants along that Run this Constitution which he proposes to adopt for them - to discuss the matter in public meetings there, and secure us a full and fair expression of the people in the county of Fairfax?

Mr. WEST - I think it will be recollected, sir, that there has already been a vote taken upon the Constitution. I proposed that Constitution myself, that we might have some ground or place of beginning, and I propose that we take a vote upon the adoption of the old Constitution. And the Constitution as it now stands, with some slight amendments, will be the Constitution of the new State. As to the other questions in relation to boundaries &c., I will explain them perhaps at another time.

Mr. LAMB - When the gentleman proposes to make that explanation, he should also explain another position of his opening argument, which struck me as singularly inappropriate. He stated in his opening argument that they had included the county of Fairfax and the city of Alexandria within the limits of the new State which the majority of the Committee propose to form, with a view of thus furnishing protection to the capital of the Union against the hosts that are now assembled at Bull's Run.

Mr. WEST - Does the gentleman ask me to explain that now?

Mr. LAMB - Mr. President, there has been a good deal of argument of this same kind before this Convention. We have been told - the argument, of course, has been inconsiderately urged - that this thing of establishing a new State was to be a perfect protection to us here against the dangers that surround us. That it would protect us against the arms of the enemy - that it would be equal to an army in the field. Another gentleman who has addressed the Convention would seem to have considered the action of this Convention if they passed his project to be equivalent to the glorious efforts of William Tell for the defence of his country. Why, sir, did William Tell defend Switzerland by proclaiming that the boundary was here, and giving notice to the Duke of Austria that he must not go across those lines? No, sir! Your lives and your property are not to be defended by measures of this kind. Nothing but stout hearts and strong arms will defend them. They are to be defended by the rifle and the bayonet, and the cannon. Your paper Constitution and you paper State will not be worth a single musket in defence.

Mr. President, the new State as proposed in the substitute last offered will have a population of less than 320,000. It will have a revenue of about $550,000. This will be the utmost extent for many years to come, a much larger extent in fact upon you will be able to extend your taxation to. Yet the gentleman from Harrison, Mr. Carlile, who addressed the Convention today, told you, form your new State and you could at once get a loan $15,000,000 without any difficulty. Is it possible that this Convention is to be amused here with assertions of this kind. Why, sir, your whole revenue will hardly pay the interest on one half the amount. Deduct the necessary expense of your government, and it would not pay the interest on one-fourth that amount. The whole revenue of your new State will enable you to support in field an army of about 7000 men - not a soldier more for the defence of so wide an extended frontier as it will present. Yet gentlemen this is the measure into which we are to be precipitated and hurried on without consideration. With the gentleman from Mason, I must say, "Reflect, reflect," before you plunge into such a system; reflect before you abandon the lofty position which you now occupy, in pursuit of this ignus fatuis of which so large promises have been made but of which so little is to be expected. Why gentlemen measure the boundaries of your new State as laid down in this document. You propose a frontier of over a thousand miles. Pennsylvania, with a population of 2,800,000, has a frontier of less than a thousand. Ohio with a population of 2,300,000 has a population of less than a thousand, yet with a population of under 320,000 and an ability to support in the field an army of only 7000 men, you have a frontier to defend of a thousand miles. Four hundred miles of that frontier borders upon secession Virginia. How will you defend it? If any defense should be necessary, if this Union is not to be restored, how will you defend that frontier? Why, gentlemen, an army of 100,000 men and a revenue of eighty millions will be required to defend the frontier. And yet you abandon the passes of the mountains. You are not willing to wait until you can secure Pocahontas and Greenbrier. You give up the main passes of the Alleghanies, leaving your frontier, according to the military expression, entirely in the air. If the arms of the United States do not succeed in this contest, and if the Confederate States are able to maintain themselves, you present to them a frontier, unsupported by natural defences, of four hundred miles. You will have a State, if you accomplish your object, weak, continually relying on its neighbors for support, for existence itself. You will have a people who must always call upon their neighbors- heretofore nobly have they responded to such calls - for the defense of our fireside, our homes, and our property.

I wish to correct here a mistake into which the gentleman from Harrison (Mr. Lewis), who addressed the Convention yesterday, fell in regard to the character of the government which has been instituted here. He called it a "provisional government," he seemed to think it was to expire, according to the system which we have adopted, within six months. This, Mr. President, is not the system which we have adopted. It is true, sir, when this Convention met in June, it was impossible to have throughout the counties of Northwestern Virginia an election for Governor. The Convention from the dictates of an imperative necessity were obliged to assume the responsibility of electing a Governor themselves. That far we interfered with the rights of popular sovereignty, but we trusted to our constituents to excuse us for that interference on account of the necessities, the difficulties, the vast embarrassments, with which we were surrounded. They unanimously approved of our course. Throughout the whole length and breadth of this land our action in June has been approved of; approved of by the government of the United States; approved of by the loyal men of the loyal States everywhere. We were fully justified, therefore, in doing it. But, sir, having elected a Governor in this irregular - and except so far as it was justified by the circumstances with which we are surrounded - unjustifiable mode, we prescribed six months for his term of office. Yet, sir, we went on here to enact as follows: "The General Assembly to provide by law for the election of Governor and Lieutenant Governor by the people, as soon as in their judgment such election can be properly held." The office of Governor under the re-organized government, is not to terminate at the end of sixths, at least according to the ordinance for the reorganization of that government. An express provision is made for its continuance, and for its continuance in a regular manner, by election by the people, whenever in the opinion of the Legislature such convention can be properly held. And I would ask attention for one moment to the expression in this clause. The Convention did not recommend this to the Legislature; they did not request the Legislature to do it; but they are, in the language which is used here, required to do it. Then, Mr. President, look at the provision in regard to members of the Legislature: "They shall hold their offices from the passage of this ordinance until the end of the terms for which they were respectively elected." The members of the House of Delegates under this system, hold their offices until 1863, and a portion of the Senators until 1865. When the terms of those officers expire, if this system is to be continued, their successors will be elected in the regular way. In no proper sense of the term, therefore, is this merely a provisional government, for a provisional government. I take it is a government which fixes in the very charter of its creation, a period beyond which it is not to continue.

I would wish, also, in connection with this same matter, to correct a singular mistake into which the other gentleman from Harrison (Mr. Carlile) appeared to have fallen, in the argument which he addressed to the Convention to-day. He seemed to think that there are members here from a certain portion of the State on their own motion - that they had come here independent of our invitation. He seemed to think that the call for this Convention was addressed to Northwestern Virginia exclusively. I notice these things because it is necessary, it seems to me, in order that the Convention may understand the precise purpose and object of the movement we have instituted. This is all a mistake. The call under which this Convention was elected, was addressed in the following terms: "Resolved, That in the event of the ordinance being ratified by a vote, on the 23d of this month, (May,) we recommend to the people of the counties here represented, and all others disposed to co-operate with us, to appoint on the fourth day of June next, delegates in a general convention to meet on the 11th of that month, etc." The call is addressed to all the Union men of the State of Virginia, for that is the meaning, and the only meaning, and that was intended to be the meaning to my certain knowledge by the expression, "all others who are disposed to co-operate with us." The gentlemen who have come here from Fairfax and Alexandria, have come here upon our call.

MR. CARLILE - I was speaking of the first call. Not the second.

MR. LAMB - We have other evidence upon this subject, which will show the intended expression of the measures which we have adopted. In this Convention on the 14th of June, 1861, Mr. Hagans, of Preston, offered the following resolution, which was unanimously adopted:

"That in consideration of the peculiar circumstances that have surrounded our loyal brethren of Loudon county, as well as their geographical position, this Convention now extend to them a cordial and special invitation to accredit and send to this Convention their regular number of delegates as soon as may be,"

At a former date of the Convention, I find that "John S. Carlile, of Harrison, submitted the following resolution, which was adopted:

"That the loyal people of the counties of this Commonwealth that have not yet appointed delegates to this Convention or are not already represented here, he and they are hereby cordially requested to appoint such delegations without avoidable delay."

Such then, gentlemen, was the system which we had adopted. We adopted a government here, not provisional; we extended our invitation to all the counties of the Commonwealth, to be represented in this government. We did not intend the movement as a movement of Northwestern Virginia alone, but of all the State, according to the objects expressly set forth in the call.

MR. CARLILE (interrupting) - I do not desire to interrupt the gentleman, but I alluded to the call emanating from the county of Harrison.

MR. LAMB - The gentleman will excuse me, but I do not see how that is possible.

MR. CARLILE - It is possible in this way. What I had said in reply to the gentleman from Fairfax (Mr. Hawxhurst) was brought to the attention of the Convention by the gentleman from Mason (Mr. Polsley), and in my reply, alluded to the fact that I had drawn up the call myself, referring, as I had done in the first instance, in reply to the question of the gentleman from Fairfax to the original call for the first Convention. Then it was that the gentleman himself called my attention to the fact that this Convention was called by the Convention which met in May, and was not assembled under the call of the original Harrison county Convention.

MR. LAMB - Did not the gentleman from Harrison tell the member from Fairfax that he was not here upon our call?

Mr. CARLILE - I so stated, that he was not here upon the original call. The fact is, it is a Convention to-day of Northwestern Virginia.

Mr. LAMB - It is perfectly immaterial, Mr. President. I had no other object in mentioning these things - certainly no intention of saying anything that might be in the slightest degree displeasing to my friend from Harrison -

Mr. CARLILE - It did not displease me at all; not at all.

Mr. LAMB - I had no other object than for the purpose of explaining in such a method that it could not be contradicted, what had been the purpose and object of our movement here - that it was just that that very thing that was mentioned in the letter from the Attorney General of the United States - that from the beginning of this movement, at least, from the beginning of this Convention, down to the present time, it has been the object of a majority of the members of this Convention to furnish to the Union men throughout the State of Virginia, that "constitutional nucleus, around which the shattered elements" of Unionism throughout this State could rally. Such was unquestionably our object. The gentleman will recollect that motion after motion was made in the June session of this Convention looking to a division of this State; it was objected to and voted down, because it might interfere with this great object. Yet all this is now to be swept away. The Union men in other portions of Virginia outside of the limits of the proposed State, after the fourth Thursday of October next, are not to be at liberty to unite with us; they will have no longer a nucleus around which they can rally. They will have no State government within this State unless the United States - as I think the United States will be pledged to do - shall encourage the formation of another government for the State of Virginia, after we shall have swept off the present one.

There is one other subject which before I take my seat I wish to touch upon, but very tenderly. It is the subject of slavery in connection with this plan. Your new State, Mr. President, as developed in the substitute last submitted, extending over so large a district of territory will have within its borders according to the census of 1860, 14,800 slaves, only. The slave population of Virginia, is I believe, not quite 500,000. You select precisely that portion of the territory that contains the smallest amount of slaves for the purpose of forming your new State. And gentlemen I have no intention to impute a design of the kind to any member of this Convention, for I do not honestly believe that such a design is ascertained, but I have heard it said, and it will be said with such facts staring us in the face, that this is an abolition movement. According to the census of 1860, the slave population of this new State was 14,800, and what is it now? It is considerably less already. You appear in Congress, then, presenting this plan before them, asking their acknowledgment of the new State - asking their consent to the formation of such a State. You present it to Congress in the midst of troubles and distractions which rest upon this country - for you will not wait for a moment - you inevitably raise the slave question there. With the facts I have stated, gentlemen, there can be no other result. They will say to you: The slave population within your State is insignificant; come to us as a free State and you shall be admitted. You know that when you present this State before them such facts will raise that question; and do you want to raise such a question as that? Do you want to push such a question upon the councils of the nation, a question of that nature in the midst of the difficulties and troubles which now surround us? I hope you do not.

Mr. President, I have as little personal interest in this matter perhaps as most of you, but I feel the importance of the subject most deeply. I fear if you press this measure upon us as you seem determined to do, that its only result will be woe to you and me and mine. But if the measure carries I certainly shall join heartily, fairly and honestly, in carrying out your determination, my fate will be yours, and I can only hope, that whether weal or woe come of it, I may still be able, in any event to protect those that are dependent upon me.


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August 21

Chapter Nine: Second Session of the Second Wheeling Convention

A State of Convenience

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