Secession Conventions

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David Ireland

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Did the people themselves vote on the language of the ordinances during the conventions?

For example, was the text presented as a resolution and submitted for yay or nay votes?

Or was it simply a “yes we’ll secede” or “no we won’t”?
 

David Ireland

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Also, did the people of each state vote to secede in convention like they did to accede to the constitution, or did some legislatures make the decision for the state?
 

unionblue

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Did the people themselves vote on the language of the ordinances during the conventions?

For example, was the text presented as a resolution and submitted for yay or nay votes?

Or was it simply a “yes we’ll secede” or “no we won’t”?
Also, did the people of each state vote to secede in convention like they did to accede to the constitution, or did some legislatures make the decision for the state?
Excellent questions, David.

Sure hope you get some answers to them.

Sincerely,
Unionblue
 
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David Ireland

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This is a pertinent question because the convention mode is the closest it gets to the will of the people themselves, as opposed to the interests of politicians in slaves.
 

Carronade

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I'm surprised you haven't gotten responses from the many knowledgeable people here, but pending that, I'll suggest that it may have been a bit like the Continental Congress and the drafting, debate, and passage of the Declaration of Independence. The process no doubt varied from state to state.
 
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trice

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Also, did the people of each state vote to secede in convention like they did to accede to the constitution, or did some legislatures make the decision for the state?
The eleven states that formed the Confederacy "unilaterally seceded" (illegally according to the Supreme Court) in this order:
  • South Carolina by declaration of the Secession Convention, 12/20/1860
  • Mississippi by declaration of the Secession Convention, 1/9/1861
  • Florida by declaration of the Secession Convention, 1/10/1861
  • Alabama by declaration of the Secession Convention, 1/11/1861
  • Georgia by declaration of the Secession Convention, 1/19/1861
  • Louisiana by declaration of the Secession Convention, 1/26/1861
  • Texas by declaration of the Secession Convention (illegally called), 2/1/1861, ratified by popular vote, 2/23/1861
  • Virginia by declaration of the Secession Convention, 4/17/1861, ratified by popular vote, 5/23/1861
  • Arkansas by declaration of the Secession Convention, 5/6/1861
  • North Carolina by declaration of the Secession Convention, 5/20/1861
  • Tennessee by legislature resolution ratified by popular vote (regarded as rigged), 6/8/1861

In Texas, many people boycotted the vote, regarding the entire procedure as illegal.
In Virginia, many Confederate regiments had already arrived before the vote and Virginians had already attacked Federal installations.
Heck, Tennessee troops were already in Virginia (illegal under TN law) in an alliance with the Confederacy (illegal under US and TN law) well before TN voted to secede.
There may have been some other ratifying popular votes (IIRR, Georgia had one but 1980s research in GA seems to indicate the vote numbers given are wrong and probably close to 50-50, maybe even against secession).
 

Eric Calistri

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White Flint Bill

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Did the people themselves vote on the language of the ordinances during the conventions?

For example, was the text presented as a resolution and submitted for yay or nay votes?

Or was it simply a “yes we’ll secede” or “no we won’t”?
I can only answer with respect to Virginia. In January 1861, the Virginia General Assembly voted to convene a convention on the question of secession. A special election was held in February to elect delegates to the convention. The candidates declared their positions (pro or anti secession) and were elected accordingly. On the ballot was also the question of whether the action of the Convention would be final and binding, or whether the action would have to be submitted to the citizens for approval (this was called the "Reference" question). About 2/3 of the delegates elected were Unionists (about half of whom were "conditional unionists," meaning they supported remaining in the Union on the condition that no force be used against those states choosing to secede). The Reference question (which was generally supported by Unionists and opposed by secessionists) also passed easily.

On April 4 the Virginia Convention voted against secession by a 80-45 vote. After President Lincoln requisitioned troops to raise an army to "put down the rebellion" another vote was taken, and this time the resolution for secession passed 88-55.

The Articles of Secession were submitted to the voters for ratification and they were approved by a vote of 132,201 to 37,451.
 
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trice

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...
On April 4 the Virginia Convention voted against secession by a 80-45 vote. After President Lincoln requisitioned troops to raise an army to "put down the rebellion" another vote was taken, and this time the resolution for secession passed 88-55.
...
I always think statements like this skip over an important detail and should read more like this:

  • On April 4 the Virginia Convention voted against secession by a 80-45 vote. After the Confederacy attacked the United States at Fort Sumter and President Lincoln requisitioned troops to raise an army to "put down the rebellion" another vote was taken, and this time the resolution for secession passed 88-55.
I don't mean to sound cranky here -- I just wonder why the major event of the day and the cause of Lincoln's action is omitted.
 

MattL

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Did the people themselves vote on the language of the ordinances during the conventions?

For example, was the text presented as a resolution and submitted for yay or nay votes?

Or was it simply a “yes we’ll secede” or “no we won’t”?
The ones I've studied (@Eric Calistri posted some great links to some of them, I recommend reading them) follow the typical process. Someone put forward an act for secession with very specific wording etc, then people voted. In some cases the wording mattered a lot, in many the timing did.

One thing to keep in mind that in some States, like Virginia, earlier votes against measures to secede weren't votes against secession, just against that secession measure at that specific time. Many States like Virginia that held out longer had many that were definitely pro-secession, but voted no since they were also for waiting things out. It's easy to forget that until the War started after the attack on Fort Sumter many people weren't even sure the "secession" would stick or how it would play out. Some States who pretty much were always going to secede if full war broke out held off to see if it all collapsed or if some sort of peaceful path were to be followed, then decide what they wanted to do then.

I recommend reading the convention debates themselves, no better source.
 

MattL

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I can only answer with respect to Virginia. In January 1861, the Virginia General Assembly voted to convene a convention on the question of secession. A special election was held in February to elect delegates to the convention. The candidates declared their positions (pro or anti secession) and were elected accordingly. On the ballot was also the question of whether the action of the Convention would be final and binding, or whether the action would have to be submitted to the citizens for approval (this was called the "Reference" question). About 2/3 of the delegates elected were Unionists (about half of whom were "conditional unionists," meaning they supported remaining in the Union on the condition that no force be used against those states choosing to secede). The Reference question (which was generally supported by Unionists and opposed by secessionists) also passed easily.

On April 4 the Virginia Convention voted against secession by a 80-45 vote. After President Lincoln requisitioned troops to raise an army to "put down the rebellion" another vote was taken, and this time the resolution for secession passed 88-55.

The Articles of Secession were submitted to the voters for ratification and they were approved by a vote of 132,201 to 37,451.
I always think statements like this skip over an important detail and should read more like this:

  • On April 4 the Virginia Convention voted against secession by a 80-45 vote. After the Confederacy attacked the United States at Fort Sumter and President Lincoln requisitioned troops to raise an army to "put down the rebellion" another vote was taken, and this time the resolution for secession passed 88-55.
I don't mean to sound cranky here -- I just wonder why the major event of the day and the cause of Lincoln's action is omitted.
I don't think you're being cranky, I think it's immensely important. Two days before Lincoln called for troops and after attacking Fort Sumter Gov Pickens of SC declared "war is commenced." I would say the CSA declaring war on the US and attacking it's Fort was an important precursor to Virginia's decision to secede.

I'll also add that I find the "conditional Unionist" to be an over-generalization. Not calling you out specifically @White Flint Bill to be clear, I've seen this generalization a lot. I need to return to an effort documenting this in the Virginia Secession Convention debates, though I've found that not all people that switched votes fit the simplified stereotype well. Many just wanted more time, wanted to see what would happen. Many saw no cost at waiting it out, communicating more with the others States that hadn't yet seceded etc. Though importantly many were not against secession, just not secession yet. The starting of the war and whether to answer the call to troops simply forced the hands of many to choose, time was up.

I started an effort in identifying all individuals who switched their votes between the two votes and looking for statements surrounding the events from them to get a better idea of what their views were (I'm also organizing into a list of who switched from what counties, slave percent and land value for reference as well). Unfortunately time constraints limited my progress on it, though I plan to continue (whatever the outcome may be). The first individual I had started to document raised a lot of doubts to me how the switchers and their "conditional Unionist" attitudes were generalized... I'll share that as at least one example to be cautious about that generalization


Valentine W. Southall
County of Albemarle
County Info (from secession.richmond.edu)
Slaveholders: 10.28%
Enslaved: 52.27%
Farm Value/Acre: $21.69


April 1
https://secession.richmond.edu/documents/index.html?id=pb.2.674

Mr. Southall

This one is interesting since he seems to be correcting a misunderstanding of his previous comments from a previous meetup in January

----
"CARD-I understand it is reported, that in a speech made by me at Scottsville, I said, provided no satisfactory adjustment of the difficulties between the North and South, was accomplished by the fourth of March, I was opposed to a delay of the secession of Virginia, beyond that day. Anxious that no one shall misunderstand my position upon any and every question involved in the pending canvass, and as such representation of my speech at Scottsville is not in accordance with my views then, and now entertained, as to the time within which Virginia should act and should secede, I have deemed it proper to say, that on the occasion alluded to, I certainly intended to say, and now say, that if, before the final adjournment of the Convention it be ascertained, that no fair and honorable adjustment can be had, that our just demands and just claims are to be disregarded, and denied, whether this occurs before or after the 4th of March, the Convention, satisfied of this, should proclaim our union with the North as dissolved. V. W. SOUTHALL
----

Basically people spun it that he claimed a hard deadline as 4th of March before waiting to secede, he instead corrects it to a softer time frame. He voted against on the 4th and for on the 17th, my point for quoting this is that he wasn't against secession as he clearly outlines, but he did view it as a limited timeline. Eventually if the US didn't address Southern concerns then they would secede.

So again a vote against on the 4th didn't mean anti-secession, just not ready yet.

he continues quite long, another relevant quote

---
In a subsequent portion of the address, I say :

"Such is my trust in the good sense and patriotism of the American people, that I hope, if time is given to make an appeal directly to the American masses (not the politicians), they will rise in their might, and restore peace to a distracted country. And then the Union would go on in its noble march, transmitting, I trust, for ages to come, those countless blessings which we, in the past, enjoyed. I cannot but feel assured, that there is conservative feeling enough left in the North to accept the propositions which Mr. Crittenden has presented as the basis of an adjustment, rather than plunge over the fearful precipice, and encounter all the terrible consequences of disunion."

----

Here he said he hoped the North would accept what Crittenden proposed before breaking up.

...

This is where I finished for him so far. Unfortunately not all people who switched votes said much (or anything) during the debates, but Southall certainly did and as you can see he never was against secession and his line for finally settling on secession wasn't as hard as some might suggest, use of force, it was possibly even the North accepting the Crittenden proposal (a line that's a far cry from only if the North used force).

Elsewhere I showed plenty of data based on the counties who switched votes to secession that clearly shows a trend of slave interests. There alliance and the sides they had already drawn to before the full vote to secede had already been made on slavery, the timing and whether they actually had to make the decision was what mostly was in question for many if not most.

These are the perspectives I see lost in comments from those that haven't read the convention debates themselves, read what they said, what they actually were voting on and how they viewed it. A misunderstanding that the Virginia secession votes showed whether someone was pro or against secession, which just wasn't the case for many.
 
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White Flint Bill

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I don't think you're being cranky, I think it's immensely important. Two days before Lincoln called for troops and after attacking Fort Sumter Gov Pickens of SC declared "war is commenced." I would say the CSA declaring war on the US and attacking it's Fort was an important precursor to Virginia's decision to secede.

I'll also add that I find the "conditional Unionist" to be an over-generalization. Not calling you out specifically @White Flint Bill to be clear, I've seen this generalization a lot. I need to return to an effort documenting this in the Virginia Secession Convention debates, though I've found that not all people that switched votes fit the simplified stereotype well. Many just wanted more time, wanted to see what would happen. Many saw no cost at waiting it out, communicating more with the others States that hadn't yet seceded etc. Though importantly many were not against secession, just not secession yet. The starting of the war and whether to answer the call to troops simply forced the hands of many to choose, time was up.

I started an effort in identifying all individuals who switched their votes between the two votes and looking for statements surrounding the events from them to get a better idea of what their views were (I'm also organizing into a list of who switched from what counties, slave percent and land value for reference as well). Unfortunately time constraints limited my progress on it, though I plan to continue (whatever the outcome may be). The first individual I had started to document raised a lot of doubts to me how the switchers and their "conditional Unionist" attitudes were generalized... I'll share that as at least one example to be cautious about that generalization


Valentine W. Southall
County of Albemarle
County Info (from secession.richmond.edu)
Slaveholders: 10.28%
Enslaved: 52.27%
Farm Value/Acre: $21.69


April 1
https://secession.richmond.edu/documents/index.html?id=pb.2.674

Mr. Southall

This one is interesting since he seems to be correcting a misunderstanding of his previous comments from a previous meetup in January

----
"CARD-I understand it is reported, that in a speech made by me at Scottsville, I said, provided no satisfactory adjustment of the difficulties between the North and South, was accomplished by the fourth of March, I was opposed to a delay of the secession of Virginia, beyond that day. Anxious that no one shall misunderstand my position upon any and every question involved in the pending canvass, and as such representation of my speech at Scottsville is not in accordance with my views then, and now entertained, as to the time within which Virginia should act and should secede, I have deemed it proper to say, that on the occasion alluded to, I certainly intended to say, and now say, that if, before the final adjournment of the Convention it be ascertained, that no fair and honorable adjustment can be had, that our just demands and just claims are to be disregarded, and denied, whether this occurs before or after the 4th of March, the Convention, satisfied of this, should proclaim our union with the North as dissolved. V. W. SOUTHALL
----

Basically people spun it that he claimed a hard deadline as 4th of March before waiting to secede, he instead corrects it to a softer time frame. He voted against on the 4th and for on the 17th, my point for quoting this is that he wasn't against secession as he clearly outlines, but he did view it as a limited timeline. Eventually if the US didn't address Southern concerns then they would secede.

So again a vote against on the 4th didn't mean anti-secession, just not ready yet.

he continues quite long, another relevant quote

---
In a subsequent portion of the address, I say :

"Such is my trust in the good sense and patriotism of the American people, that I hope, if time is given to make an appeal directly to the American masses (not the politicians), they will rise in their might, and restore peace to a distracted country. And then the Union would go on in its noble march, transmitting, I trust, for ages to come, those countless blessings which we, in the past, enjoyed. I cannot but feel assured, that there is conservative feeling enough left in the North to accept the propositions which Mr. Crittenden has presented as the basis of an adjustment, rather than plunge over the fearful precipice, and encounter all the terrible consequences of disunion."

----

Here he said he hoped the North would accept what Crittenden proposed before breaking up.

...

This is where I finished for him so far. Unfortunately not all people who switched votes said much (or anything) during the debates, but Southall certainly did and as you can see he never was against secession and his line for finally settling on secession wasn't as hard as some might suggest, use of force, it was possibly even the North accepting the Crittenden proposal (a line that's a far cry from only if the North used force).

Elsewhere I showed plenty of data based on the counties who switched votes to secession that clearly shows a trend of slave interests. There alliance and the sides they had already drawn to before the full vote to secede had already been made on slavery, the timing and whether they actually had to make the decision was what mostly was in question for many if not most.

These are the perspectives I see lost in comments from those that haven't read the convention debates themselves, read what they said, what they actually were voting on and how they viewed it. A misunderstanding that the Virginia secession votes showed whether someone was pro or against secession, which just wasn't the case for many.
I hope you'll publish your results when your research is finished. My county (Pittsylvania) elected two Unionist delegates, William T. Sutherlin and William Treadway. Both were successful businessmen with a lot to lose if a war came. Both voted against secession, then switched their votes after the events following Ft. Sumter. After reports of Lincoln’s request for troops were confirmed, Sutherlin told the convention, “I have a Union constituency which elected me by a majority of one thousand, and I believe there are not ten Union men in the county today.”

One of the most interesting historical tidbits regarding the Convention is that Delegate Jubal Early of Franklin County voted against secession in both votes.
 

unionblue

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