While the lengthy addresses and discussions which led up to the passage of the Ordinance of Secession by the Virginia Convention of 1861 have been in some measure available to historians from the original newspaper printings, there has been, to this date, no compilation of this important source material. The Documents submitted to the Convention were printed in a contemporaneous volume as also were the Journal of the Acts and Proceedings...and the Ordinances Adopted.... With this present four-volume edition of the Proceedings...the record of the Convention, in its first session, is now substantially available in easily readable form.
The desirability of this publication was pointed out early in the years of the Civil War Centennial by a joint committee of the Virginia State Bar and the Virginia State Bar Association, but it was not until the General Assembly of 1964 that funds were made available to the Virginia State Library for this purpose, largely through the efforts of Eppa Hunton, IV.
The task of assembling and reproducing this material has not been an easy one, and George H. Reese, Head of the State Library's Historical Publications Division, has brought to the undertaking a zealous and discerning effort which will be apparent even upon casual inspection. Rather than attempting a comprehensive subject index, which would have had many ramifications, the decision was made to prepare a synoptical guide to head each volume. Through this medium the progress of the Convention may be followed and the important addresses and motions may be determined. The interested reader is left to decide for himself how closely the speakers adhered to their stated subject.
The 152 delegates who were called to convene in the Capitol on February 13, 1861, came from divergent backgrounds, but most were politically oriented. About one-fourth were from counties that later were to comprise West Virginia. Only about one-fifth of the whole appear to have taken prominent and active part in the day by day activities of the Convention. These, along with many others, had been or were to become members of the Virginia General Assembly. The balance was decidedly in favor of maturity. Among the most distinguished members were a former President, John Tyler; a former Governor, Henry A. Wise; two past cabinet members, A. H. H. Stuart and William Ballard Preston; and the Lieutenant-Governor, Robert L. Montague. Jubal A. Early was yet to achieve military prominence. There were several with past Congressional experience. Well-known Virginia surnames predominate in the proceedings and many of these may be recognized in the Virginia life of today.
Unquestionably these volumes reflect the political tone and temper of the time in a manner that few other records do. Through the actions of the participants one may trace the decline of the moderate element, originally comprising about half of the delegates. Even so the vote by which the ordinance passed on April 17 was 88 to 55. Changes in votes, and absentee votes, raised the final count to 103 to 46. Thus Virginia, to all intents and purposes, left the Union, for the ratification by the people at their election of May 23 was hardly more than a formality.
RANDOLPH W. CHURCH