VA Secedes-OG

April 17, 1861: Virginia Votes to Secede!

On April 17, 1861, Virginia’s secession convention voted to secede from the United States and became the 8th member of the Confederate States of America.

This report on the decision and its immediate impact on the Commonwealth appeared in the Richmond Enquirer on April 18, 1861.


We have this morning to call attention to the bold and noble Proclamation of Governor Letcher. With calm dignity and determined purpose, the Executive of Virginia has spoken, and from the Atlantic to the Ohio every citizens of the State is prepared to sustain him. Gov. Letcher has fully met the expectations of the People of Virginia, and his patriotic efforts to protect his State will be fully sustained by all men in Virginia.

His reply to Simon Cameron is perfect. Short, dignified, and with bitter irony he condemns the weak and vacillating powers at Washington.

Men of Virginia, we thank God that nothing is necessary at this time to rouse you to action. Before the proclamation of Gov. Letcher was known, regiments and companies had been tendered to the Executive, and men were eager to enter the service of defending Virginia. Aggressing upon the rights of none, seeking no war. Virginia may be dragged from her efforts at peace and reconciliation by the usurpations of the Federal Executive. Her Convention has up to this time withstood every appeal to the Secessionists, and were quietly making efforts at reconstruction; her peace efforts are despised by the Federal Executive, and civil war inaugurated to bolster up the waning fortunes of a corrupt and imbecile Administration. The blood of the conflict rests upon Abraham Lincoln and his Cabinet.

Part I of our Civil War collection, A Newspaper Perspective, contains articles gleaned from over 2,500 issues of The New York Herald, The Charleston Mercury and the Richmond Enquirer, published between November 1, 1860 and April 15, 1865.

His Proclamation

Whereas, seven of the States formerly composing a part of the United States, have, by authority of their people, solemnly resumed the powers granted by them to the United States, and have framed a Constitution and organized a Government for themselves, to which people of those States are yielding willing obedience, and have so notified the President of the United States by all formalities incident to such action, and thereby become to the United States a separate, independent and foreign power.

Richmond Enquirer on April 18, 1861

Richmond Enquirer on April 18, 1861

And, whereas the Constitution of the United States has invested Congress with the sole power declare war, and until such declaration is made, the President has no authority to call for an extraordinary force to wage offensive war against any foreign power; and whereas on the 15th inst., the President of the United States, in plain violation of the Constitution, has issued a proclamation calling for a force of seventy five thousand men, to cause the laws of the United States to be duly executed over a people who are no longer a part of the union, and in said proclamation threatens to exert this unusual force to compel obedience to his mandates; and whereas, the General Assembly of Virginia would consider such an exertion of force as a virtual declaration of war, to be resisted by all the power at the command of Virginia; and subsequently, the Convention now in session, representing the sovereignty of this State, has re-affirmed in substance the same policy, by almost equal unanimity; and whereas the State of Virginia deeply sympathizes with the Southern States, in the wrongs they have assumed; and having made earnest efforts peaceably to [ ] the differences which have severed the Union, and have failed in that attempt through this unwarranted act on the part of the President; and it is believed that the influences which operate to produce this proclamation against the seceded States will be brought to bear upon this Commonwealth, if she should exercise her undoubted right to resume the powers granted by her people, and it is due to the honor of Virginia that an improper exercise of force against her people should be compelled:

Therefore I, John Letcher, Governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia, have thought proper to order all armed volunteer regiments or companies within this State forthwith to hold themselves in readiness for immediate orders, and upon reception of this proclamation to report to the Adjutant General of the State their organization and numbers, and prepare themselves for efficient service. – Such companies as are not armed and equipped will report that fact, that they may be properly supplied.

In witness whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the Commonwealth to be affixed, this 17th day of April, 1861, and in the 85th year of the Commonwealth.

John Letcher, Governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia

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