Virginian’s Deliberating on Self-Determination
Before taking the step of withdrawing from the union of States formed with the help of Jefferson, Virginians of 1861 deliberated on continuing their voluntary relationship with the federal government created by the States. They surely remembered Jefferson’s words in the Kentucky Resolutions of 1798:
"…reserving, each State to itself, the residuary mass of right to their own self-government; and that whensoever the General Government assumes undelegated powers, its acts are unauthoritative, void, and of no force: that to this compact each State acceded as a State, and is an integral party, its co-States forming, as to itself, the other party: that the government created by this compact was not made the exclusive or final judge of the extent of the powers delegated to itself; since that would have made its discretion, and not the Constitution, the measure of its powers; but that, as in all other cases of compact among powers having no common judge, each party has an equal right to judge for itself, as well of infractions as of the mode and measure of redress."
Bernhard Thuersam, Executive Director
Cape Fear Historical Institute
Post Office Box 328
Wilmington, NC 28402
Virginian’s Deliberating on Self-Determination:
"James W. Sheffey, speaking five days before President Lincoln’s inauguration said:
"We love the Union, but we cannot se it maintained by force. They say the Union must be preserved—she can only be preserved through fraternal affection. We must take our place—we cannot remain neutral. If it comes to this and they put the question of trying force on the States which have seceded, we must go out…We are waiting to see what will be defined coercion. We wait to see what action the new President will take."
Thomas Branch, speaking the day after President Lincoln’s inaugural address said:
"My heart had been saddened and every patriotic heart should be saddened, and every Christian voice raised to Heaven in this time of our trial. After the reception of Mr. Lincoln’s inaugural, I saw gentlemen rejoicing in the hotels. Rejoicing for what sir? For plunging ourselves and our families, our wives and children in civil war? I pray that I may never rejoice at such a state of things. But I came here to defend the rights of Virginia and I mean to do it at all hazards; and if we must go to meet our enemies, I wish to go with the same deliberation, and with the same solemnity that I would bend the knee in prayer before God Almighty."
George W. Brent, speaking on the 8th of March said:
"Abolitionism in the North, trained in the school of Garrison and Phillips, and affecting to regard the Constitution as "a league with Hell and a covenant with death," has with a steady and untiring hate sought a disruption of this Union…Recognizing as I have always done, the right of a State to secede, to judge of the violation of its rights and to appeal to its own mode for redress, I could not uphold the Federal Government in any attempt to coerce the seceded States to bring them back in the Union."
(Virginia’s Attitude Toward Slavery and Secession, Beverley Munford, L.H. Jenkins Printer, 1909, pp. 265-267)