On 13 February 1861 the Virginia secession convention
assembled in Richmond. Called for by a special session of the General Assembly, the group convened
to determine whether Virginia should secede from the Union. Although the 152 delegates gathered
in the capitol that first day, most of their meetings took place in the Virginia Mechanic's Institute,
at the corner of Ninth and Franklin streets. On April 16th, the delegates met in secrecy, passing
the Ordinance of Secession the next day. The citizens of Virginia ratified the ordinance on May 23rd.
After the election of President Abraham Lincoln in 1860, South Carolina broke away from
the Union, and was followed early the next year by Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia,
Louisiana, and Texas. These states viewed Lincoln as a threat to slavery, labeling him a
"Black Republican." However, when Virginia delegates began talks in February, a
conservative tone prevailed, and a preliminary vote for secession failed. As the South's
most populous state—and the richest in natural resources—the decision of the Old Dominion
was a momentous one for the future of the Confederacy.
In President Lincoln's inaugural address of March 4th, he promised not to interfere with slavery in
the states where it existed but condemned secession, stating that "the central idea of secession is the
essence of anarchy." Virginians wondered what fate would befall the Deep South states, and what
the implications might be of a strong Federal government. The debates continued until April 15th,
when Richmond newspapers reported Lincoln's call for 75,000 troops to suppress the uprising.
As a member of the Union, Virginia would be required to send 2,340 soldiers. This proved to
be the breaking point for delegates, and the convention chose to stand with other southerners
and vote for secession.
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