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Waitman T. Willey Addresses the Convention on the Loyalty of Western Virginia, February 21, 1861


I will avail myself, Mr. President, of the indulgence of the Convention, for a very few moments, while I attempt to disabuse the minds of many members, as I have been given to understand, of a very serious misapprehension of the public sentiment of the North-western section of this State. For some cause unknown to me, intimations and insinuations prejudicial to the character of that section of country, for her loyalty to the institutions of Virginia, have been busily circulated among the members of the Convention. I was willing, for a while, to submit to a misapprehension which to some extent might be considered as natural, when it came alone from the Eastern borders of the State; but when I hear a member of this Convention, upon this floor, giving out intimations confirmatory of these suspicions, and going to credit the idea that there is want of loyalty in the North-western section of this State, to the institutions of Virginia, to all of our institutions, I cannot but violate the fixed resolution which I had formed in my mind when I came here, and ask the indulgence of this Convention for a few moments, while I disabuse any mind which has been poisoned by any such insinuations.

Sir, there exists not within the broad limits of this great State any people more loyal to its interests than the people of the North-western part of the State--any people readier to defend her rights to the death. I speak especially for my own constituency, and I verily believe that I represent the universal sentiment of trans-Alleghany. But this seems to be an age of distrust and suspicion. Guarantees are required on every hand, and it appears that Western gentlemen are asked for some guarantees for their fidelity to this glorious old Commonwealth. Why should these guarantees be asked? In what portion of our history can a single incident be pointed to that would subject us to the ban of your distrust? In what have we been derelict? In what have we been faithless? When did we not come up to the full demands of justice to the East on all questions? Never; but, sir, we have a record upon this subject--a record written in blood. I stand here representing the sons of sires who fell in your defence in the war of 1812. The cry of your distress and for help had scarcely echoed back from our western mountains and died along the Eastern shores of your coast, when the crack of the Western rifle was heard defending your firesides and your families--defending that very property which you now make the object and subject of distrust of the Western heart. We have a glorious record. Your soil is consecrated with the memories of the loyalty of the West, because it contains the honored remains of some of her bravest and noblest sons. Why, sir, your honor is her honor; your interest is her interest; your country is her country; your faith shall be her faith; your destiny shall be her destiny.

But sir, it seems that we love the Union too well. That seems to be the measure of our offence. If it be treason to love the Union, we learned that treason from you, sir--we learned it from your great men--from your Jeffersons, from your Madisons, your Monroes, and from others of equally illustrious dead; and we have learned it from the living, little less distinguished men who are recognized as leaders at the present day, and who need but the consecration of death to place their names on the same roll of immortality. Above all, we learned it from the Father of his Country, the greatest of Virginia's sons--the greatest man that ever stood upon the tide of time. As I passed down by his monument the other day, and gazed upon it with the reverence with which every American heart must contemplate his memory, I could almost imagine that I heard falling from his sacred lips the admonitions he gave us in his Farewell Address, bidding us beware of sectional dissensions, bidding us beware of geographical divisions, and instructing and conjuring us to regard the Union as the palladium of our liberties; to look with distrust upon any man that would teach us any other doctrine. As I passed further down and gazed upon the beautiful statue of the immortal statesman of Kentucky, there came rising up in my memory the recollection of his almost dying words, when he went home after the memorable contest of the Compromise of 1850. When at Frankfort, in the last speech he ever uttered, he said these words:

"Mr. President, I may be asked, as I have often been asked, when I would consent to the dissolution of the Union?"--and I could almost imagine that I heard falling from his lips, "Never!" "Never!"

And, sir, there lingers in the Western heart, especially of the Democratic constituency which I have the honor to represent, that sentiment uttered or written by Mr. Calhoun, in 1832, to General Hamilton, when he said: "The institution of the Union was so wisely ordered for the redress of grievances and for the correction of all evils, that he who would seek a remedy for this disease in dissolution would merit and receive the execration of this and all future generations." That sentiment lingers there yet. You will forgive us if we cannot forget these great lessons of these great men in a moment. But I tell the distinguished gentleman from Princess Anne, that while I do not understand altogether what he meant by fighting in the Union, the West, who still remembers him with gratitude for his services in the Convention of 1851, will rally to his support, or to the support of any other man in any fair contest, for the redress of any just grievances. When the last resort must come, when the proper appeal to the law and to the Constitution has failed to redress the grievances of the East, when her oppressions are intolerable, I tell you the Northwest will send you ten thousand men, with hearts as brave and arms as strong as ever bore the banner of freemen; and they will rally to her support, and seize by violence, if you see proper to call it so, or rescue by revolution, what we could not get by means of law. We are with the gentleman from Princess Anne in that regard. We do not stand upon nice distinctions. We do not always understand what is meant by the right of secession--we do not understand what is meant by the right of revolution; but when the proper cause arises, there are men in Western Virginia who will stand by the right to the last extremity.

I have been betrayed by the impulse of the moment to claim your attention much longer than I intended when I rose to address you; but, impelled by the kind indulgence of the Convention, I could not repress the desire to repel any insinuation against the loyalty of the citizens of Western Virginia, or to allow, on the other hand, any wrong impression to be made upon the minds of this Convention, that we are going to yield up our glorious Union for naught.