Virginia: Secession in the Defense of the Defense of Slavery
In April 2010, the conservative commentator Pat Buchanan penned an essay called, “The New Intolerance.” The piece was subsequently re-blogged by the Sons of Confederate Veterans, who posted it under the headline, “Buchanan Exposes Yankee Terrorists.” Buchanan’s essay was part of the kerfuffle over Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell’s declaration of Confederate History Month, the text of which was drafted for his office by the SCV, and omitted any mention of slavery at all. McDonnell subsequently reissued a revised proclamation, and in 2011 established a broader statewide commemoration, “Civil War History in Virginia Month.”
Buchanan’s essay revolves around the oft-made claim that “Virginia did not secede in defense of slavery.” He continues:
When Abraham Lincoln was inaugurated, March 4, 1861, Virginia was still in the Union. Only South Carolina, Georgia and the five Gulf states had seceded and created the Confederate States of America. . . . But, on April 15, Lincoln issued a call for 75,000 volunteers from the state militias to march south and crush the new Confederacy. Two days later, April 17, Virginia seceded rather than provide soldiers or militia to participate in a war on their brethren. North Carolina, Tennessee and Arkansas followed Virginia out over the same issue. They would not be a party to a war on their kinfolk.
Buchanan doesn’t bother to explain why Mississippi or Texas should be considered to be Virginians’ “kinfolk,” in a way that much closer states — say, Pennsylvania or Ohio, with which Virginia shared a common border in 1861 — were not. Fortunately, those who wrote Virginia’s ordinance of secession said explicitly what they had in common, citing “oppression of the Southern slaveholding States” as part of the justification for its actions:
The people of Virginia, in their ratification of the Constitution of the United States of America, adopted by them in Convention, on the 25th day of June, in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and eight-eight, having declared that the powers granted them under the said Constitution were derived from the people of the United States, and might be resumed whensoever the same should be perverted to their injury and oppression, and the Federal Government having perverted said powers, not only to the injury of the people of Virginia, but to the oppression of the Southern slaveholding States.
Virginia was not a fire-eating state that led the way on secession. But when the chips were down, the Commonwealth recognized slaveholding as the common bond that (1) defined the seceded states, (2) held Virginia to South Carolina, Mississippi, Georgia, Texas and those other states that seceded earlier, and (3) was deemed stronger and more vital to Virginia’s interest than its bond to the Union.
Does that count as ” seceding in defense of slavery?” Maybe. But it certainly counts as seceding in the defense of the defense of slavery.
___________Image: Virginia regimental flag, via Encyclopedia Virginia.