Virginia Memory, Library of Virginia
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VIRGINIA ORDINANCE OF SECESSION

Introduction:

What did the Virginia Ordinance of Secession declare?

Lesson Images

Ordinance of Secesssion

Virginia Convention (1861: Richmond), Records, 1861—1961 (bulk 1861), Accession 40586, State Government Records Collection, Library of Virginia, Richmond, Virginia (Transcription)

Standards Of Learning

USI.1, USI.9, VS.1, VS.7, VUS.1, VUS.7

Historical Information:

The election of President Abraham Lincoln in 1860 brought the political tension that had been increasing for decades between the North and the slaveholding South to a breaking point. By the spring of 1861, seven Southern states had seceded from the Union. Virginia's government called for a special convention to decide Virginia's position on secession. On April 4, 1861, the convention voted eighty-eight to forty-five against seceding from the United States. The desire to preserve the Union changed in Virginia after the firing on Fort Sumter on April 12, which resulted in President Lincoln's calling for volunteer troops to defeat the rebels. On April 17, the delegates reconvened, this time voting eighty-eight to fifty-four in favor of secession. The Ordinance of Secession was ratified by the voting citizens of Virginia on May 23, 1861. The Ordinance declared that the State of Virginia had repealed its ratification of the United States Constitution, and declared Virginia an independent governing body. On June 14, the delegates who supported Virginia's decision to secede signed the formal document, seen here. Virginia then joined the Confederate States of America, and Richmond became the capital city of the new nation.

Many of the delegates who had voted against secession were not satisfied with the outcome. The delegates from the far western part of the state met in Ohio County in May and held another vote. The group voted against secession. In June, they set up the Restored Virginia government with Francis H. Pierpont as governor. Pierpont administrated from Wheeling, in what is now West Virginia, until 1863 when he moved the capital seat to Alexandria. In that same year he supported the fifty western counties' request to be admitted to the Union as a new state, West Virginia.

The history of the document does not end with the secession of Virginia. The Ordinance of Secession was taken from the Capitol in Richmond by a Union Soldier named Charles W. Bullis during the evacuation of the city on April 2–3, 1865. It passed through many hands before returning to the Library of Virginia's collection in 1929.

• Vocabulary Words:

♦ Abrogate—to abolish by authoritative action

♦ Oppression—the feeling of being ruled with unjust power

♦ Ordinance—An authoritative decree

♦ Pursuance—the following or carrying out of a plan

♦ Ratification—approval or formal sanction.

♦ Secession—formal separation from an alliance or federation.

Lesson Activities

• Use this document as an introduction to Virginia's role in the Civil War:

♦ Give each student a printed copy of the document to read. The students should use selective underlining to pick out the important information and discuss as a class what the document can tell them.

♦ Ask students to define vocabulary words in the context of the document.

♦ As a class, or in small groups, "translate" the document into language the students would use today.

• Re-create the convention and debate secession according to positions held in 1861.

Discussion questions

♦ What particular quality of the South is referenced in line five of the document? What institution does this point to playing an important role in the division of the North and South? Use this question to illustrate slavery's role in dividing the regions.

♦ What if you didn't agree with the vote to secede? What would you do?  Use this question to introduce the history of West Virginia and the Restored Virginia government. Follow up by showing maps of pre– and post–Civil War Virginia.

Suggested Materials

Davis, William C., and James I. Robertson, Jr., eds. Virginia at War, 1861. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2005.

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