This publication brings together for the first time reports of proceedings of the first session of the Virginia State Convention of 1861—the momentous session which brought about the withdrawal of Virginia from the Federal Union, and the adherence of Virginia to the Confederacy.
The proceedings published here are those of sittings of the Convention from the time it assembled onFebruary 13 until its adjournment on May 1, as they were published in the Richmond Enquirer, official reporter of the Convention. The Convention sat again from June 12 through July 1, and from November 13 through December 6, in what the Convention Journal calls the Adjourned Session and the Second Adjourned Session. Proceedings of those sessions also were published in the Enquirer, but their bulk, and their relative unimportance, have made it advisable to exclude them from the present publication.
This introduction aims only to give a summary account of the legislative and executive actions which brought the Convention of 1861 into being, to comment briefly on the arrangements for reporting its proceedings, and to explain the manner in which the reports of proceedings have been assembled and made ready for publication. The reader will find in Henry T. Shanks, The Secession Movement in Virginia, 1847-1861, a discussion of the circumstances which led to the calling of the Convention and a detailed account of the actions of the Convention in its session of February-May 1861.
On November 15, 1860, Governor John Letcher of Virginia issued a proclamation calling the General Assembly into special session on January 7, 1861, in order that the representatives of the people of the Commonwealth might consider public affairs, particularly the recent Presidential election which had resulted in "the appointment of electors, a majority of whom, are known to be favorable to the election of sectional candidates as President and Vice President of the United States, whose principles and views are believed by a large portion of the Southern States to be in direct hostility to their constitutional rights and interests."
When the Assembly convened on January 7, Governor Letcher addressed a message to the Senate and the House of Delegates in which he remarked "The proposition for the call of a State convention, to determine the position which Virginia shall take, in view of passing events, appears to have been received with very general favor." The proposition did not find favor with the Governor, who went on to say
I have my convictions upon this question, and I give expression to them, in declaring my opposition at this time, to the call of a State Convention. I see no necessity for it at this time, nor do I now see any good practical result that can be accomplished by it. I do not consider this a propitious time to moot the question, and I apprehend, from indications that have been exhibited, that serious difficulties and embarrassments will attend the movement. Subsequent events may show the necessity for it.
Notwithstanding the Governor's opposition to a State convention, members of both houses of the General Assembly promptly went to work to have a convention called. On January 7, in the House of Delegates, Mr. Kemper proposed that a committee be appointed to draw up "a bill, providing for a convention of the people of Virginia"; and on January 8, Mr. Dickinson made a similar proposal in the Senate. Mr. Kemper presented the House bill on January 9; the House passed the bill on January 12, with 141 ayes and no negative votes. On January 10, Mr. Dickinson presented the Senate bill, which was under consideration on January 12 when the House of Delegates passed its bill. Thereupon the Senate put aside its own bill and proceeded to consideration of the House bill. At the evening session of the Senate on January 12, Mr. Dickinson reported the House bill, with certain amendments, and the Senate approved the bill, as amended, by a vote of 45 ayes to 1 nay. The House of Delegates agreed to the amendments of the Senate on January 14, and "An act to provide for electing members of a convention and to convene the same" became law.
The Act called for the election of 152 delegates to be held on February 4, 1861, and for a separate poll, at the same time, "to take the sense of the qualified voters as to whether any action of said convention dissolving our connection with the Federal Union, or changing the organic law of the state, shall be submitted to the people for ratification or rejection." The Act further provided that the Convention should assemble on February 13 in the Capitol at Richmond, and meet in that place until otherwise provided for; upon passage of the Act, the Governor was to issue immediately a proclamation giving notice of the Act, of the date of the election, and of the date when the Convention was to assemble.
The Governor's proclamation was issued on January 15. Elections were duly held, and the elected delegates assembled in the Capitol in Richmond at 12 o'clock, noon, on February 13. Since the General Assembly was still in session, the Convention moved to the Hall of the Mechanics' Institute for its meeting on February 14, but on April 8 it returned to the Capitol (the General Assembly having adjourned) and met thereafter in the Hall of the House of Delegates.
The Convention sat every week day, except Washington's Birthday, between its assembling on February 13 and the adjournment of its first session on May 1. The Convention met also on Sunday, April 21, at the call of Governor Letcher. On Tuesday, April 16, not long after it assembled for the day, the Convention went into secret session and continued to meet in secret session until adjourning on May 1; however, the injunction of secrecy was removed from the ceremony of receiving General Lee on April 23.
Arrangements were made early in the session for the reporting and recording of the Convention's deliberations. The Convention resolved on February 15 that editors and reporters of newspapers published in Richmond should be admitted to seats in the Convention, and on the next day extended admission to editors and reporters of newspapers published anywhere in Virginia. Reporters from Richmond papers seem to have been in attendance from the start, for the Dispatch, the Enquirer, the Whig, and probably the Examiner, reported on every open meeting of the Convention.
The Enquirer, in its daily edition of February 20, took credit for being the only Richmond paper that had employed regular stenographers to report the proceedings of the Convention. "This," the editors explained, "we have done at a very great expense, and without any prospect of remuneration, but simply from a desire to protect the deliberations of so important a body from loss, and to preserve them for future history."
On the same day, February 20, Mr. Fisher proposed that the Convention should enter into a contract with a Richmond paper—the Enquirer—which had already employed two stenographers (the only paper which had employed stenographers), and was already publishing the regular proceedings of the Convention, including the speeches. Mr. Fisher suggested that the duty of the editors should be "impartially to publish not only all the regular proceedings which are ordinarily placed upon the journal, but the speeches made by the members." The Convention agreed to Mr. Fisher's resolution, and authorized its President to contract with the proprietors of the Enquirer "for continuing the reporting and publishing the proceedings of this Convention."
On February 21, the President informed the Convention that he had had an interview with the editors of the Enquirer, and had asked them "to submit a distinct proposition" on the subject of reporting the Convention debates; he had received that proposition, and he presented it to the Convention for such disposition as seemed best.
By February 25 arrangements between the Convention and the Enquirer must have been concluded, for on that day the paper announced that it had entered into a contract "to publish full official reports of the proceedings of the State Convention." However, it was not till February 27 that the President informed the Convention that a contract had been closed with the proprietors of the Enquirer "upon the precise terms indicated in the proposition, which was approved by the Convention." Some provisions of the contract may be inferred from references to it in the Convention's Journal and Documents: the Enquirer was to receive $7.50 per column for reporting the debates and proceedings, and it was to provide twenty copies of its semi-weekly edition for each member of the Convention.
The Enquirer's comment of February 20 suggests that it had employed two or more stenographers to cover the Convention, even before the paper became its official reporter, and the Convention Journal and Proceedings for April 16 suggest that several reporters for the Enquirer were still recording proceedings of the Convention when it went into secret session on that day.
When the Convention went into secret session, all reporters except one were ordered to be excluded. The excepted reporter was Patrick Kean, "one of the staff of official reporters," who took an oath of secrecy, and swore that after each session he would deliver "all notes, reports and memoranda, of debates and proceedings." On May 1, the day of adjournment of its first session, the Convention resolved that its Secretary should "hand over to the reporter his short-hand notes of the debates in secret session, to enable him to proceed with the transcript thereof but the obligation of secrecy shall continue to rest upon the reporter until the Convention shall remove the same."
Proceedings of the Convention in open session were printed in the semi-weekly Enquirer for February15—May 21, 1861. The length of the proceedings, and above all the length of some speeches, often made it necessary to continue the proceedings of a convention day from one issue to another. Occasionally three or even four issues, not always consecutive ones, were required to complete the report of a single session. The proceedings of April 1, for example, were published in four installments: on April 4, April 27, May 3, and May 21.
Another cause of delay in the printing of proceedings was indicated in the Enquirer comment of March 30 on errors in reporting. "The only manner in which the publication of such inaccuracies can be avoided, is by delegates revising for themselves the manuscript reports, for which we endeavor to offer every possible facility to delegates desirous to avail themselves of the opportunity." The hazards of allowing delegates to revise the reports of their speeches had already been demonstrated. On March 16, the Enquirer announced that reports of the speeches by Mr. Summers and ex-President Tyler on the Peace Conference propositions had been referred to them for revision, and would be published within the next few days—Mr. Tyler, in fact, had already returned his speech to the paper, but Mr. Summers had not yet returned his, and the paper wished to publish the two speeches in the same issue, "so both sides may be seen." On March 23, the Enquirer explained that Mr. Summers had kept his speech until March 19, so that it could not be published before March 25. Consequently, Mr. Tyler's speech was being kept back. Furthermore, the paper had "held back all speeches subsequently delivered until Mr. S's was published, so that they might be published in the order in which they were delivered, and no injustice be done to any one."
Proceedings of the Convention in secret session were printed in the semi-weekly Enquirer from October 15 through December 27. The Convention had removed the injunction of secrecy on its proceedings of late April by its resolution of June 12, but "the indisposition of the Reporter, and other causes" delayed publication until the fall, as the Enquirer explained on October 15.
There seems to be no difference of any consequence between the versions of proceedings published in the daily and in the semiweekly edition of the Enquirer. The semi-weekly apparently used the type already set up for the daily, with whatever changes of column arrangement were required. Collation of the two versions would perhaps reveal some corrections of typographical errors, or small revisions desired by delegates. It is assumed that the semiweekly edition, because of its greater margin of time for corrections, published the most nearly definitive text.
The text has been re-arranged so that the report of proceedings for each day is presented as a whole, under a uniform heading which gives the session day, the day of the week, and the day of the month. A speech or a part of a speech printed later than the rest of the day's proceedings has been restored to its proper place. Sometimes, however, the Enquirer deferred publication of a speech from its proper place in the proceedings, and finally never printed it at all. In these instances the editor has supplied, at the appropriate place in the notes, the abstract published in the Daily Dispatch.
In some instances, a speech actually begun before a recess and continued after it, or delivered on more than one day, has been printed without a break, since there is no indication of the point or points at which the speech was interrupted.
Editorial insertions indicating gaps or interruptions in the report of a day's proceedings have been deleted, whenever the missing material is supplied. Occasional repetitions of text from earlier proceedings, inserted for clarification, have been deleted.
For practical reasons, the text of the proceedings was set up in type directly from photostats of the Enquirer. No editorial revisions could be made on the photostats without further defacement of a text already difficult to read.
In order to keep down the delay and expense of "author's corrections," the editor has endeavored to make as few changes as possible in the text as it appeared in the printer's proofs.
Obvious misspellings and typographical errors have been corrected without comment, and some obsolete spellings of important words have been changed to the modern form.
Proper names have normally been made to conform with today's standard usage, but a few which differ from today's form in a minor particular, such as an apostrophe, have been left unchanged. The spelling of some proper names could not be established, for they could not be identified. Most of these, being simply rhetorical embellishments, were allowed to stand, without comment, as they were printed in the Enquirer. However, any unidentified name which seemed to have a real connection with the speaker's discourse is the subject of an explanatory note.
The erratic and illogical punctuation of the Enquirer has, for the most part, been left unchanged. The dash after a colon and between sentences has been omitted, but other deletions, or insertions or alterations of punctuation, have been made but rarely, and only when needed to clarify the text.
So far as possible, interpolations made by the reporter or editors of the Enquirer, or made by a speaker when quoting some one else, have been put between brackets, while parentheses have been used for other parenthetical matter. But since the Enquirer used brackets and parentheses indiscriminately, it seems impossible to distinguish some editorial interpolations from other parenthetical insertions. In case of doubt, brackets are used.
In a few instances, the reporter's statement of action on a delegate's proposal has been printed as if part of the delegate's remarks; the present editor has inserted brackets to separate the reporter's remarks from what the delegate said.
With the exceptions noted, the proceedings are presented exactly as they were published in the Enquirer. The few notes on the text which appeared in the Enquirer have been printed at the foot of the page, with an asterisk.
Corrections or revisions, except those mentioned above, are put in notes at the end of each volume. Revisions made after publication of the proceedings, by the editors of the Enquirer, or by delegates in letters to the editor, are summarized in the notes, or quoted in full if they are long or complicated. Revisions made by the delegates on the Convention floor are indicated by references to the proceedings which include those revisions.
Various records of the Virginia Convention of 1861 which were printed while the Convention was in session, or soon after it adjourned, may interest the reader.
Except for the ordinance on contested elections, mentioned below, ordinances passed in the Convention's first session, with dates of passage, and notes of amendment, re-enactment, and repeal, are found in Ordinances Adopted by the Convention of Virginia, in Secret Session, in April and May 1861. In the proceedings, an ordinance as it was first proposed may be widely separated from subsequent amendments to it.
The Documents of the Convention of 1861 include communications from persons or bodies outside the Convention, reports of Convention committees, and An Ordinance Touching Contested Elections, Passed by the Convention February 21, 1861. The contents of some Documents were published in the proceedings, but most of the Documents are papers which are only mentioned in the proceedings as ordered to be laid upon the table and printed.
A journal of the first session of the Convention is included in the Journal of the Acts and Proceedings of a General Convention of the State of Virginia, Assembled at Richmond, on Wednesday, the Thirteenth Day of February, Eighteen Hundred and Sixty-One. This journal is supplemented by A Journalized Record of the Proceedings in Committee of the Whole upon Federal Relations (for March 15—April 13), and by Portions of Journal of Secret Session of the Convention, Withheld from Publication at Its Session Ending May 1, 1861.
These three journals may be fitted together to form an outline of the proceedings, and they give the serial number assigned to each report or other paper which was printed as a Document. The journals do not include the speeches which make up so large a part of the proceedings, and very often do not even mention that the speeches were delivered.
The Virginia Historical Society, the Library of Congress, and the libraries of Cornell University, Duke University, the University of Texas and the University of Virginia have given their help to this edition of the Convention proceedings. In particular, the Alderman Library of the University of Virginia has performed the generous and indispensable service of providing the newspapers from which (with trifling exceptions) this text of the Convention proceedings has been compiled.
The editor owes a particular acknowledgement to his colleague, Dr. William H. Gaines, Jr., who has verified the re-arrangement of the text, read the whole of the proceedings in search of errors, and made many invaluable suggestions.
GEORGE H. REESEReese, George H., ed. Proceedings of the Virginia State Convention of 1861, February 13-May 1. Richmond: Virginia State Library, 1965.