Slavery was one of the most divisive political issues in the Congress of the United States in the first half of the 19th century. Many Congress members from the Northern states pressed to end slavery, both because it was considered immoral and because white labor could not compete with unpaid black labor. Members from the Deep South believed that slavery was essential to their cotton-centered agricultural system and that the North was trying to dominate the national economy. By the 1850s, Southerners saw their power slipping in Congress, calls for abolition of slavery were increasing, and many in the South came to believe that secession from the Union was the only way to protect “Southern rights,” including the right to own slaves.
Virginia was not as proslavery and secessionist as the Deep South. In 1832 an act to abolish slavery was introduced into the legislature by Thomas Jefferson’s grandson and was defeated by only seven votes.
In 1859 Virginians elected a moderate, pro-Union governor, John Letcher, and in the presidential election of 1860 they failed to vote with the other Southern states for John C. Breckinridge of Kentucky, candidate of a secessionist splinter group of the Democratic Party. Instead, Virginia was carried by the pro-Union John Bell of Tennessee.
Feelings against the North had been aroused, however, by abolitionist John Brown and his invasion of the state and capture of the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry (now in West Virginia) in 1859. A detachment of U.S. Marines under Colonel Robert E. Lee put down the insurrection. Brown was tried by the state of Virginia for treason and murder and was executed.
Abraham Lincoln was elected president in 1860 as the candidate of the Republican Party, which opposed the spread of slavery. He received only 1.1 percent of Virginia’s votes, and most of those were in the western counties. The Deep South state of South Carolina had threatened to secede if the Republicans won, and in December 1860 it did so. Other Southern states began to follow, and war looked imminent. The Virginia legislature initiated a peace convention that met in Washington, D.C., in February 1861, at the same time that the breakaway states were organizing themselves as the Confederate States of America. Presiding over the peace convention was a Virginian, former President John Tyler. However, the seven seceding states sent no delegates, and this convention was unable to achieve anything.
TA Virginia state convention to consider secession met on February 13 in Richmond; on April 4, it rejected secession by a two-to-one margin. Later in April, however, after South Carolina fired on a federal fort, Lincoln called for volunteers to put down the “insurrection.” Virginians were outraged at the idea of fighting. their sister states and refused to supply their quota. Feeling that there was no alternative, the Virginia convention voted on April 17, 88 to 55, to secede and join the Confederacy. "Virginia" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia.
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