Newspapers Letters and Documents Maps Images Teaching Home

The New York Herald, April 8, 1861


In last Saturday's session of the Virginia Convention a test vote was finally arrived at. The strength of the extreme Unionists, as compared to that of the secessionists immediate and in future, was in the ratio of one to five -- the Union figures being twenty-two, the disaffected one hundred and fourteen. It has been supposed all along that because Virginia voted to instruct the delegates in her Convention to refer their acts to the final decision of a popular vote, and that a majority of the delegates were avowed enemies to the doctrine of immediate secession, the State was safe for the Union. From all that we can ascertain, however, and we have taken some pains to get at the facts in the case, the struggle in Virginia has been narrowed down to a fine point. The question is not, now, shall Virginia remain in the Union or go out of it? but, when shall she go out? To put the matter plainly before our readers, we must first premise that in the Western part of Virginia, including what is called the Panhandle, there are very few slaves, and the people generally are strong emancipationists. They are determined to remain in the Union so long as peace is preserved. In Eastern Virginia the negro interest predominates, and immediate secession is the cry. Between these extremists there stands a conservative party, headed by Botts, Ridgway and others, and asking for time, in order that the policy of both confederacies may be more fully developed. Neither the abstract right of secession, nor the probability that Virginia will exercise that right at no distant day, is denied by any of her public men. The only point of difference is this: whether or not in the case of immediate secession Western Virginia would not go with the Northern confederacy, and thereby complicate matters still further. Virginia does not hesitate because she sympathizes with the North, but because one section of her people cannot rely upon the fidelity of the other section to the peculiar institutions of the South.

The same struggle is going on in Kentucky. The Legislature has just been treated to a speech from Mr. Breckinbridge, embodying his views upon the all important question. Mr. Breckinbridge favors secession. He sees no hope for the restoration of the Union. He does not believe that the States which have seceded would accept such compromises as could be offered by a Border State Convention. He believes that the seceded States never can be brought back, and that Kentucky ought to go with them. Mr. Breckinridge's speech is long and not very strong. One point, however, is worth attention. After stating the case as regards Kentucky in the Union, the Senator says:

Then comes upon us immediately, instantly, the question of emancipation. The South is cut in half, then, and there are nineteen non-slaveholding States to six or seven slaveholding States -- the government practically administered without constitutional limitations, in a spirit of anti-slavery fanaticism; for what loyal Northern man could stand up in the North, when half of the South was gone, in defence of the constitutional rights of so poor a fragment as would remain? We would fall beneath the aggressive power of an overwhelming party. It would become instantly a question of emancipation in Kentucky. A powerful party would rise here for the purpose of carrying forward such a movement. Mr. Speaker, it would succeed. It is horrible to contemplate, and nothing less than decision and courage will prevent us from seeing these spectres in the future as powerful realities. A party in Kentucky will be raised to put in practice the workings of emancipation, whether with or without compensation I cannot say; if with compensation, it will probably be a mere nominal matter. But there is even a higher question than that of pecuniary interest involved. I have said that the Southern States will not allow the slaves to be carried there, and the North will not allow them to be carried into their midst. Aside, then, from the question of property, you will have a quarter of a million of slaves thrown upon the soil of Kentucky -- a political and social curse. Then, sir, you will see trouble in the State. It is a social question, as well as a political one. It is one in which every white man in Kentucky has an interest. If time allowed, I think I could undertake to show that the non-slaveholding white population of Kentucky have as deep an interest in any other people resisting and preventing that accursed policy which is to bring emancipation into this country, and to throw two hundred and fifty thousand negroes on the b[illegible] of society.

This is the root of the difficulty in the border States. If they go out they can still maintain their negro trade with the South. If they remain true to the North what is to become of their negroes? As Mr. Breckinridge says, this is a question of vital importance to every white man, slaveholder or not, in all of these States. The border States have to choose between secession and abolition, and that they will accept the former as the lesser of two evils admits of no reasonable doubt.