Representatives of three lower South states that had seceded traveled to Richmond in February 1861 and addressed the convention on the necessity for Virginia to secede and join the Confederate States in self-defense and for the defense of slavery. Delegates who supported secession, approximately one-third of the whole number, made no attempt to force the issue in February or March, when a motion to secede would certainly have failed.
Delegates who favored secession at the start of the convention explained their reasons using the same arguments that appeared in some of the state's newspapers and in the private conversations and correspondence of other Virginia secessionists. The election of Abraham Lincoln put the federal government under control of opponents of slavery, which was the foundation of the Southern economic and social systems that the Constitution had protected since 1788. The Republican Party's 1860 campaign convinced them that a Republican administration endangered their rights to take their enslaved property into the western territories. They also feared that a Republican president might appoint abolitionists or opponents of slavery to the Supreme Court and reverse the Dred Scott decision or issue other rulings that violated or restricted the rights of slave owners. Some supporters of secession argued that if all of the slave states created a new nation, Virginia would once again be the most influential state in that nation, as it had been in the United States following the American Revolution. Delegates who advocated secession believed that slavery and the Southern economy could not survive in a nation in which a majority of the voters and a majority of the states opposed slavery.