Ordinance of Secession, 1861Abraham Lincoln was elected president of the United States on November 6, 1860. South Carolina seceded from the Union on December 20, 1860, and six other Southern states quickly followed. Those states formed the Confederate States of America on February 4, 1861. In Virginia, Governor John Letcher called the Virginia General Assembly into special session on January 7, 1861. On January 19, the assembly called for an election of delegates to a state convention to be held on February 4. The state Convention of 1861 began its session on February 13.

Like other Upper South states, Virginia hoped to find a compromise to the crisis and keep the Union intact. The convention defeated a motion to recommend secession to voters was defeated 88–45 on April 4. Events, however, shifted sentiments over the next few weeks. On April 12, Confederate forces in Charleston, South Carolina, fired on Union troops at Fort Sumter, signaling the beginning of the Civil War. On April 15, Abraham Lincoln called for 75,000 troops to suppress the rebellion. The Virginia convention reversed itself and voted 88–55 for secession and submission of the secession ordinance to voters who ratified the ordinance on May 23.

On April 23, Governor John Letcher offered command of the state's defense forces to former U.S. Army colonel Robert E. Lee, who accepted. The convention also voted to adopt the constitution of the Confederate States of America on April 25, thereby joining the Confederate States of America. The convention invited the Confederate government to make Richmond its capital (according to the proceedings). The Confederate Congress approved Richmond as the new capital of the Confederacy on May 20, and President Jefferson Davis arrived in the city on May 29.

How to Search the Catalogs:

You can search the LVA catalog using the following examples of Library of Congress subject headings:

Secession Virginia
United States History Civil War, 1861-1865
Virginia History Civil War, 1861-1865

Selected Published Resources

Barney, William L. The Road to Secession: A New Perspective on the Old South. Foreword by James P. Shenton. New York, Praeger, 1972.

Crofts, Daniel W. Reluctant Confederates: Upper South Unionists in the Secession Crisis. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1989.

Dew, Charles B. Apostles of Disunion: Southern Secession Commissioners and the Causes of the Civil War. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 2001.

Gaines, William H., Jr. Biographical Register of Members: Virginia State Convention of 1861, First Session. Richmond: Virginia State Library, 1969.

Journals and Papers of the Virginia State Convention of 1861.Richmond: Virginia State Library, 1966.

Lewis, Virgil Anson, ed. How West Virginia Was Made: Proceedings of the first Convention of the People of Northwestern Virginia at Wheeling, May 13, 14 and 15, 1861, and the Journal of the Second Convention of the People of Northwestern Virginia at Wheeling, Which Assembled, June 11th 1861. With appendixes and an introduction, annotations, and addenda, by Virgil A. Lewis. [Charleston, W. Va.: News-Mail Company, Public Printer], 1909.

Link, William A. Roots of Secession: Slavery and Politics in Antebellum Virginia. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003.

Reese, George H., ed. Proceedings of the Virginia State Convention of 1861, February 13–May 1. Richmond: Virginia State Library, 1965.

Shanks, Henry T. The Secession Movement in Virginia, 1847–1861. Richmond, Va.: Garrett and Massie, 1934.

Simpson, Craig M. A Good Southerner: The Life of Henry A. Wise of Virginia. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1985.

Selected Manuscript Collections

Samuel Wylie Crawford. Papers, 1869–1876. Accession 31863.
Papers, 1869–1876, of Samuel Wylie Crawford (1829–1892), brevet major-general, United States Army, Huntsville, Alabama, consisting of clippings and correspondence. Of note is a manuscript draft concerning the controversy over the 4 April 1861 interview between John Brown Baldwin of Staunton, Virginia, and a Unionist member of the 1861 Virginia Secession Convention, and President Abraham Lincoln while the Secession Convention was meeting in Richmond, Virginia, and what, if any, offer Lincoln made about withdrawing Federal troops from Fort Sumter in exchange for the convention’s adjourning without voting on secession. Crawford corresponds with Baldwin, Beverly B. Botts, John Letcher, Hugh White Sheffey, and others. Papers also include a letter, 27 June 1866, from John Minor Botts to the Baltimore American, published 13 July 1866, stating Lincoln had made the offer of "a fort for a state"; an account, 1876, by Robert Lewis Dabney of Baldwin's statement that Lincoln had made no such offer; and a manuscript draft of these events for Crawford's book The Genesis of the Civil War.

Letter of Alfred Paul, Richmond, to Mr. Thouvanel Letter of Alfred Paul, Richmond, to Mr. Thouvanel, transcription Alfred Paul. Reports, 1860–1861. Accession 22992. (Finding Aid)
Reports, 1860–1861, of Alfred Paul, French Consul at Richmond, Virginia, to Edouard Thouvenel (1818–1866), Minister of Foreign Affairs, Paris, France, describing the political situation in Virginia in the days between Abraham Lincoln's election as president and his inauguration, stating that Virginia will side with the South in any potential confrontation. Paul comments on the 1860 election, South Carolina's secession, Governor John Letcher's hopes for compromise, slavery, Fort Sumter, the Virginia state convention, Virginia's efforts at compromise, the likelihood of Virginia's secession, and the inevitability of Civil War. The reports are written in French, but there are transcript translations into English.

Virginia. Convention (1861). Records, 1861–1961. Accession 40586. (Finding Aid)
Records, 1861–1961, of the Virginia Convention are organized into three series. Series have been designated for Election records, Convention records, and Ordinance of Secession records. The election records consist of election certificates from the special election held to elect delegates to the convention of 1861. The election records also document special elections of delegates to fill vacancies in the Secession Convention caused by the expulsion of certain delegates from the western counties. Lastly, there are referendum/election returns consisting of abstracts and/or poll books from the referendum on the ordinance of secession and the taxation amendment to the Virginia constitution. The convention records consist of ordinances, arranged numerically, passed by the convention in its three sessions. In addition, there are miscellaneous records mainly consisting of reports, arranged chronologically, that were submitted to the convention. Finally, the Ordinance of Session records contain the original Ordinance of Secession along with correspondence and affidavits documenting ownership after its removal from Richmond during the Civil War until its return to the Virginia State Library in 1930.

Letter of Governor John Letcher to Sam Houston Letter of Governor John Letcher to Sam Houston, page 2 Virginia. Governor's Office. Executive Papers of Governor John Letcher, 1859–1863 (bulk 1860–1863). Accession 36787. Miscellaneous Microfilm Reels 4703–4788. (Finding Aid)
Executive papers, 1859–1863, of Governor John Letcher (1813–1884) are organized into two series. Series have been designated for Chronological files and Subject files. The bulk of the material can be found in the Chronological files' series, which primarily consists of incoming correspondence from 1860 to 1863. Much of the correspondence to Governor Letcher concerns recommendations of Virginians for appointments. The governor appointed coroners; inspectors of salt, flour, tobacco, warehouses and vessels; commissioners; Bank of Virginia directors; and notaries, in addition to positions in the Provisional Army. Numerous petitions accompany these recommendations. Governor Letcher dealt with many such requests for commissions in the Provisional Army before the governor transferred all Virginia's forces to the Confederate States. Also common are letters and telegrams, mostly from April 1861, to the governor from individuals in support of secession and others who are tendering their service for the war effort. Letcher sent letters to the convention nominating colonels, calling volunteers into service, and issuing commissions. Along these same lines are various requests for exemptions from military service. An ordinance of the convention exempted railroad officers and employees from service. The second series of Governor Letcher's Executive papers contains Subject files. There are three subjects represented in this series: the Advisory Council, John Brown's Raid, and Railroads. The materials related to the Advisory Council include correspondence, proceedings, and reports of committees between April and June 1861. Governor Letcher often referred correspondence to the Advisory Council and the endorsement on the letter details the Council's action with regard to the letter. Most of the correspondence, however, concerns appointments in the Provisional Army and other military matters.

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