Showdown in Virginia: The 1861 Convention and the Fate of the Union

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In the spring of 1861, Virginians confronted destiny—their own and their nation’s. Pivotal decisions awaited about secession, the consequences of which would unfold for a hundred years and more. But few Virginians wanted to decide at all. Instead, they talked, almost interminably. The remarkable record of the Virginia State Convention, edited in a fine modern version in 1965, runs to almost 3,000 pages, some 1.3 million words. Through the diligent efforts of William W. Freehling and Craig M. Simpson, this daunting record has now been made accessible to teachers, students, and general readers. With important contextual contributions—an introduction and commentary, chronology, headnotes, and suggestions for further reading—the essential core of the speeches, and what they signified, is now within reach.

This is a collection of speeches by men for whom everything was at risk. Some saw independence and even war as glory; others predicted ruin and devastation. They all offered commentary of lasting interest to anyone concerned about the fate of democracy in crisis.

University of Virginia Press

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Editorial Reviews

author of Cry Havoc! The Crooked Road to Civil War, 1861 and editor of the Virginia Magazine of History and Biography - Nelson D. Lankford

Showdown in Virginia will make accessible to a much broader audience than before perhaps the most important body of primary source material about the breakup of the Upper South in 1861. These were the final months of what would later be called the antebellum era, and it is in looking at the proceedings from that perspective—of being on the eve of a great national calamity without knowing what shape it would take—that gives them immense poignancy. By examining the words of the Convention, the modern reader can glimpse the uncertainty, anxiety, and hope that Virginians felt in the spring of 1861.

author of Reluctant Confederates: Upper South Unionists in the Secession Crisis - Daniel W. Crofts

In early 1861 Virginia rejected secession and tried to promote peaceful reunion, but the state reversed itself in mid-April. Showdown in Virginia, expertly edited by Bill Freehling and Craig Simpson, provides a ringside seat as the Old Dominion wrestled with its tragic dilemma and finally sided with the Southern Confederacy. At long last, historians and their students will have easy access to this indispensable source.

[A] great read. Historians William W. Freehling and Craig M. Simpson researched the four volumes of official convention records from the 1861 meeting as well as newspaper stories to create a 200-page account of the two-month battle between the unionists and secessionists. There is magnificent oratory, fiery debates, intrigue, a near duel and the abrupt walkout by delegates from the northwestern counties.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780813929644
  • Publisher: University of Virginia Press
  • Publication date: 3/22/2010
  • Pages: 210
  • Sales rank: 1,549,653
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

William W. Freehling is a Senior Fellow with the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and author of Prelude to the Civil War, The Road to Disunion, and The South vs. The South. Craig M. Simpson is Associate Professor in the Department of History at the University of Western Ontario and author of A Good Southerner: The Life of Henry A. Wise of Virginia. Freehling and Simpson coedited Secession Debated: Georgia’s Showdown in 1860.

University of Virginia Press

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Table of Contents

Introduction ix

Editorial Procedures xxi

Chronology xxiv

Map of Virginia in 1861 xxvii

Part I Secession Debated 1

1 Jeremiah Morton's Secessionist Speech, February 28 3

2 Waitman Willey's Unionist Speech, March 4 11

3 John Carlile's Unionist Speech, March 7 22

4 George Brent's Unionist Speech, March 8 31

5 George Summers's Unionist Speech, March 12 43

6 George Wythe Randolph's Secessionist Speech, March 16 49

7 James Holcombe's Secessionist Speech, March 20 62

8 John Baldwin's Unionist Speech, March 21-23 75

9 Hugh Nelson's Unionist Speech, March 26 89

10 Thomas Flournoy's Unionist Speech, March 30 94

11 James Barbour's Secessionist Speech, March 30-April 1 101

12 Robert Montague's Secessionist Speech, April 1-2 113

13 George Richardson's Secessionist Speech, April 3-4 122

14 Chapman Stuart's Unionist Speech, April 5 130

Part II Taxation Debated 133

15 William G. Brown Initiates the Taxation Debate, March 7 135

16 Waitman Willey Introduces His Motion, March 16 136

17 The Confrontation That Willey's Motion Provoked, March 18-19 138

William G. Brown 138

Miers Fisher 139

Benjamin Wilson 140

Thomas Branch 140

Allen Taylor Caperton 141

Marmaduke Johnson 142

Samuel Woods 143

18 Willey's Climactic Taxation Speech, March 28 and April 2 145

19 The Final Presecession Confrontation on Taxation, April 10-11 148

Henry Wise 148

Cyrus Hall 149

Williams C. Wickham 150

20 Willey's Motion Adopted, April 11 152

Part III Decisions 153

21 The Quest for Lincoln's Intentions, April 6 155

William Ballard Preston's Initiative 155

Virginia's Division Foreshadowed 156

22 The Beginning of the End, April 13 160

Jubal Early's Ironic Appeal 161

The Early-Goode Near Duel 162

23 Decision Barely Averted, April 15 165

Robert Scott's New Unionist Strategy 165

Henry Wise's Pro Salute Populi 167

John Baldwins Desperation for Delay 168

24 Eve of Decision, April 16 169

George Wythe Randolph's Militarism 169

Alexander H. H. Stuart's Open-Ended Unionism 172

Even the Trans-Allegheny Divided: John Jackson Again Answers William Ballard Preston 177

Robert Scott versus George Wythe Randolph 179

Waitman Willey's and Jubal Early's Alarm 184

Samuel Staples versus John Baldwin 185

25 The Convention's Secession Ordinance Adopted, April 17 189

Alpheus Haymond's Plea 189

John Hughes's Conversion 190

Chapman Stuart's Warning 191

Henry Wises Strike and John Baldwin's Outrage 193

26 The Climactic Wise-Baldwin Debate, April 17 196

27 The Clarksburg Call, April 22 202

28 The Convention's Ad Valorem Taxation Ordinance Adopted, April 26 204

29 Popular Decisions in May 207

Suggestions for Further Reading 209

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