By the second week of April 1861, advocates of secession in Virginia had grown so impatient with the refusal of the convention to vote on the question that they conspired to pressure the convention into action. Some members of the convention and other men in Richmond, including one of the editors of the Daily Richmond Enquirer, Obadiah Jennings Wise, a son of former governor and convention delegate Henry Alexander Wise, carefully planned what they called a spontaneous Southern rights convention for the purpose. The surrender of Fort Sumter and Lincoln's call for 75,000 volunteers so radically changed all of the political calculations of members of the convention that even without outside pressure on April 17, 1861, the Virginia Convention voted 88 to 55 to submit an ordinance of secession to the voters for ratification or rejection in a May referendum.
Some supporters of secession called for a Southern rights convention to meet in Richmond in hopes that it would pressure the state convention to secede.
In the aftermath of President Abraham Lincoln's call for troops to put down the insurrection in South Carolina, many Virginians who had opposed secession on its merits quickly changed their minds about secession for practical reasons. The question was no longer whether secession was wise, legal, necessary, or in Virginia's interest; the question became which side to take.
The Ordinance of Secession that the convention adopted on April 17, 1861, and that voters in the state ratified in a referendum conducted on May 23, 1861, repealed Virginia's 1788 ratification of the Constitution of the United States and also repealed all of the General Assembly's votes to ratify amendments to the Constitution.
Before the end of the convention's first session, 92 delegates signed a parchment copy of the Ordinance of Secession. At the convention sessions that met in June and in November, 142 delegates signed a ceremonial parchment prepared by William Flegenheimer.