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This webpage reproduces an article in the
American Historical Review
Vol. 31 No. 1 (October 1925), pp82‑101

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though, please let me know!

p82 Documents
The Change of Secession Sentiment in Virginia in 1861

It is a commonplace of history that Virginia, as one of the border states, was opposed to secession until the crisis precipitated by the firing on Fort Sumter compelled her to choose on which side she would fight when she could no longer refuse to fight. It is felt that the following letters will throw light on the motives of the actors in the very centre of the stage. There are two groups of letters, the first, those of Judge Burks, from a man of keenly logical mind who did not change his fundamental conceptions as he adjusted them to changing conditions, the second, those of Bishop Otey, from a man of high-strung emotional fervor whose extremes of views aptly represent the changing state.

Edward Calohill Burks, of Irish lineage, was born in Bedford County, Virginia, May 20, 1821. He was an honor graduate of Washington College (now Washington and Lee University), and of the Law Department of the University of Virginia. Of frail body, with unusually analytical mind, he gave himself to the study of law, and soon rose to prominence in his own town of Liberty (now Bedford) and in Lynchburg.

In 1877 Mr. Burks took his seat as a justice of the Virginia Court of Appeals, where he served until in the revolutionary times of the "Readjuster" movement in Virginia all conservatives were swept from office. He was the senior member of the commission which codified the laws of Virginia into the Code of 1887, and in 1895 began the publication of the Virginia Law Register, of which he was editor until his death July 4, 1897.

Rowland D. Buford, to whom these first letters are written, was for over thirty years clerk of the court of Bedford County and an authority on local and antiquarian history.

James Hervey Otey, author of the second group of letters, was born at the foot of the Peaks of Otter in Bedford County, Virginia, January 27, 1800. Educated at the once famous New London Academy in Bedford County, and at the University of North Carolina, he removed to Tennessee when he was twenty-one, and opened a school for boys near Franklin. In 1829 he was ordained a priest in the Protestant Episcopal Church, but continued his school work, having as one of his pupils the famous Confederate geographer, Matthew p83Fontaine Maury. After a picturesque service in frontier conditions he was elected, on January 27, 1833, the first bishop of Tennessee. He died in Memphis, April 23, 1863.

The originals of the first group of letters were loaned to me by Mr. Rowland D. Buford, brother-in‑law of Judge Burks; they are now in the possession of Mr. Buford's daughter, Miss Belle Buford, of Bedford, Virginia. Those of the second group were loaned by the son of Edward C. Burks, Judge M. P. Burks, of Lexington, Virginia, who has the originals in his possession.

James Elliott Walmsley.

I.


Exchange Hotel, Richmond
January 7, 1861.

Dear Rowland:

The House of Delegates has adjourned1 and as it is too late to write by mail I hasten to inform you and others of my Bedford friends that the House has just adopted a resolution with great unanimity (102 to 5)2 against the coercion of any seceding state and declaring that the attempted coercion "under existing circumstances" of any state will meet the resistance of Virginia. The resolution does not involve the secession question at all, but looks to resistance by the state of any attempt at the coercion of any state at this time etc.

Times are wild and revolutionary here beyond description. A committee has been appointed to bring in a bill for a convention as soon as practicable. I think it will pass almost unanimously. The East under the pressing circumstances will not insist on mixed basis of representation,3 this seems to be conceded. The basis will probably be as now in House of Delegates. I fear the Union is irretrievably gone. I am well. So tell my wife. I will write tomorrow to her.

Very hastily yours,

E. C. Burks


Exchange Hotel, January 11, 1861

Dear Rowland:

. . . .

The House of Delegates have just adjourned after a very exciting session. While we were discussing the Convention Bill, a telegraphic Dispatch was read by a member announcing the firing into the United States "Star of the West" by the Carolinian garrison of Fort Moultrie and her retiring to sea under fire. The announcement was received by clapping of hands and other signs of applause in the galleries and partly upon the p84floor of the House. Some member remonstrated and a man in the galleries proclaimed that he commenced it and was responsible for it. He said he was from Alabama and spoke of "traitors" in Virginia etc. He was promptly arrested and when first brought in currency of the sergeant to the bar, simply said he had "no apology to make". He was remanded to the currency of the sergeant to await the action of the House at their leisure. He was afterwards brought in, acknowledged his error, said he could not restrain himself upon hearing the Dispatch read and was sorry for it. Thereupon he was discharged and bowed himself out. It was a great breach of decorum

Martin of Henry, Rutherford of Goochland, and myself had a discussion in the House yesterday upon an amendment offered to the Convention Bill by Collier of Petersburg, requiring the question of "Convention or no Convention" to be voted for by the people at the time of the election of delegates.4 I opposed the amendment principally upon the ground that it was unnecessary and especially because it would be construed by the Northern States into timidity etc. and would thus have a bad moral effect. I spoke only a short time and was gratified by the expression of compliments by many members. The speeches were not reported. The two houses have appointed a joint Committee on Federal Relations and I have been honored with a membership, as you will see by the papers. I have also been assigned to the Committee on Military Affairs — the two most laborious committees in the House and the most important. I simply live on excitement — scarcely have time to breathe, none to deliberate.

It is said here that the Virginia Resolution against coercion has caused the coercionists at Washington to pause. The House of Delegates adopted a resolution this evening almost unanimously appealing to the President of the United States and the Southern seceding States to pause at the present juncture of affairs and let things remain in status quo for the present.5 It will pass the Senate tomorrow I suppose. I trust it will do much good. The Convention Bill progresses slowly. It is read by sections and amendment after amendment is offered. The most important is one requiring the action of the Convention in regard to Virginia's Federal relations to be sited to the people for ratification before it takes effect. That is still pending. I am inclined to vote against it, as impolitic and unwise now, and because the Legislature has no power to restrict the Convention.and I can't say when the bill will be perfected. The 4th of February is the day fixed for the election and the 11th for the meeting of the Convention, unless amended hereafter in that respect.

I am quite comfortably situated here. I am kept so continually excited that I don't know how my health is. I hope I shall be able to get along. Write and let me hear how you all are and how matters are progressing in Bedford. Love to Bettie, the children and all.

Hastily,

E. C. Burks.


p85 Exchange Hotel, Richmond, January 14, 1861.

Dear Rowland:

. . . .

The Convention bill passed finally this morning both houses — 4th day for the election and 13th day for the assembling. Who are to be the candidates in Bedford? Joe Layne (who has been here) told me that I was spoken of. Say to everybody who mentions it, as I said to Layne, that I will not be a candidate. Bedford is entitled to two. I think Wm. Goggin ought to be one of them by all means. So say to him if you see him. I have written to him today. I suppose of course Goode6 will be — and I reckon Clement. Jordan W. V. will also be out. Without meaning to refer to any particular persons in my remark, I say to you most emphatically, that the people cannot be too particular in their selection. It will be the most responsible body of men ever assembled in Virginia. The most conservative men whom I meet here are wild enough for any purpose.

The select joint Committee on Federal relations, of which I am a member, made their report today. You will see it in the papers tomorrow. The scheme for adjustment seems to me the only plausible one I have met with. I doubt not it will be violently assailed by the extreme men in both houses, but I am inclined to think it will pass. I do not say, that it will accomplish anything. I hope it will — I fear it will not. It will at least show some disposition and effort on our part to do something towards settlement. I may say something in the house when it is considered. I do not know however that I shall; as every body, I presume, as usual, will be for letting off steam on it. The Alabama Commissioners address both Houses tomorrow.

There is a great and continued effort here to hasten the impending resolution — constant Dispatches, sensational paragraphs, startling reports etc. are some of the means resorted to. I do not really look for much good from the Legislature. The people must look to the Convention. Everything depends upon it. Very hastily yours, E. C. Burks.

P. S. Write immediately on reception.

E. C. B.


Exchange Hotel, Richmond, January 15, 1861.

Dear Rowland:

. . . .

I regret to say that I cannot see much hope for the Union. Seward's last speech7 is, to be sure, somewhat conciliatory, but it falls far below the demands of the occasion. I think, however, this much perhaps may be deduced from it — that if secession becomes general amongst the slave holding states, as anticipated, a peaceful policy will be pursued, unless the seceding state pursue an aggressive policy, which I hope will not be p86done. Although it is only inferential, still I am of opinion, that the policy will probably be to let all the states go out that choose to do so peaceably and let remain out until the excitement abates, and then call a National Convention for reconstruction etc. These are only deductions of my own. I don't know that anybody concurs with me in that opinion, nor do I know that I am right. I hope Bedford will send her ablest and best men to the Convention. It is no time for trifling. I presume Goggin will be one. Many men here are Disunionists. I am as you know much attached to Goode, and unless he took such extreme position as forbade my support of him, I should vote for him. I hope he will not take such position. I am myself for secession, rather revolution, if nothing else will do. But I am for exhausting every other measure first. Revolution is the last resort. We expect to take up the resolutions tomorrow reported yesterday by the Committee on State and Federal relations. I am for the scheme embodied in them as one of the peace measures. If I can get an opportunity I may give my views on them before the vote is taken, if I feel well enough and in the right temper. But really everything is done with so much disorder and confusion in our body, that I have not much desire to participate in the discussions. A bill has passed the Senate authorizing the County Court to borrow money, upon their bonds, etc. and arm such of the militia as they think proper. I suppose it will pass our House in a day or two. I will try and send you a copy when it passes. I approve of it. . . .

Hastily,

E. C. Burks.

P. S. Today, Judge Hopkins8 ("Commissioner from the Sovereign State of Alabama") addressed the Legislature. It was the lamest and most impotent affair I ever heard. He is imbecile. Almost any boy of 16 could have beaten the effort.

E. C. B.


Exchange Hotel, Richmond, January 20, 1861.

Dear Rowland:

Yesterday our plan of adjustment9 passed both houses of the Legislature. It was amended somewhat in the Senate taking rather more extreme Southern ground, but we thought we would not hazard delay by further objections. You will see it reported in tomorrows papers. It is a grand Commission of Peace, and I trust, it will be attended with some good. It was evidently opposed by extremists here, but a very large majority of both Houses favored it. It has engaged my attention day and night for more than a week in committee room and in the house until I am almost prostrated. I hope now I can rest a little. Some of the men of the Commission I do not like, but it was the best we could do. We have passed a bill appropriating $1,000,000 for immediate purposes in defense of the State, a bill creating an ordinance department — a treasury note bill, etc., also a bill (which originated in the Senate) authorizing the County Courts to borrow money upon bond etc. for arming such of the militia in the several counties, as they may deem advisable. All the p87Justices to be first summoned and a majority to be present making the loan etc. You will see the bill in the papers tomorrow. Nothing can be in Bedford (even if desirable) at next Court, except to summon the justices to February term to consider and determine the matter. It is very questionable whether Bedford ad at this time do anything. It is a matter however which you can all best determine for yourselves. If position, I will try and attend Court next Monday and will then confer and talk freely with you all about it. It is doubtful whether any arms can now be purchased. We contemplate sending a Com'r to England as soon as the Ordinance Department is organized to purchase arms etc. for the State. The bill appropriates $800.00 for that purpose. I fear you will have warm times enough, in your canvass for the Convention. I beg the people to maintain as much coolness and deliberation as position. There is no need of fierce excitement. Indeed, let us all keep our reason and sound judgment in activity as much as possible. We are on the verge of the greatest revolution perhaps the world ever saw. We need not only stout hearts, but cool heads also. I tell you in perfect sincerity, that while it may become necessary for Virginia to enter or rather join in the Revolution, and she is ready at this moment, she is as defenceless as a helpless child and the General Government holds possession of her only fortifications and they cannot now be taken if desirable. Vessels of war can come up York river within 30 miles of this place, and with Fortress Monroe in the possession of the General Government, we cannot now hinder them. Just think of that. Nay more. The State has no arms of modern structure and none to meet a formidable enemy such as we may anticipate in the event of collision. It will take several months, perhaps six, or more to purchase and get at home the arms we are obliged to have even to commence warfare. Then we have no army fit for service — none — none. If we are to fight (God grant we never may!) it will take a long time to get ready. Virginia needs delay — she must have it, or I fear all is lost. This is my deliberate judgment, and if my will could reach every man in my county, I would thus say to him. Immediate secession therefore in my opinion would be fatal. If come it must (and perhaps it may) let us take time to meet its consequences. Let us nerve ourselves to meet the crisis with patience and firmness. Let us not rush blindly and inconsiderately into the vortex. That is the opinion of some of the coolest and clearest heads here — Democrats too, who acknowledge the right secession, but look to it as the last resort. No means should be left untried to secure our rights in the Union. When all are exhausted and we are ready to meet of the consequences, then if it must commend, let it comes.

In the meantime, while we are exhausting all peaceable means at adjustment, looking to the possible, nay probable failure of the effort I shall exert myself to put my State on the substantial war footing. That will take money, a great deal of it, but if we are to be driven to war, we must have the means of war. If I can do so I will try and attend next Bedford Court.

In the meantime say to my friends of all parties, candidate and all, take no extreme positions, pledge themselves to no extreme measures, for you may all rest assured that Virginia is not now prepared for it. I tell you more, if I mistake not greatly the signs of the times, Virginia is not ready now to go out of the Union. Mistake not the apparent unanimity p88in the Legislature. Resolutions are one thing — actual secession or dissolution with them at least quite another. The sequel will shows what kind of representatives they will send to the Convention. . . .

Hastily,

E. C. Burks.

Richmond, January 24, 1861.

Dear Rowland:

I have just written to Bettie that I expected to reach home on a visit Saturday evening next. I write to you to the same effect for fear my letter may not reach her in time and would thus at least have two chances for communication. Times are much calmer here, owing partially to the absence of exciting news and more probably to the temporary absence of some of our extremists.

I suppose from what I hear, that Goode and Goggin will probably be our candidates. I hope all unnecessary agitation of the public mind will be avoided. I hope but  little for much longer preservation of the Union. I do not think I am as liable as many others to be carried off by the tide of popular feeling, but taking as calm a view of our surrounding as I am capable of, I confess that my hope of preservation of the Union does not amount to any confident expectation. Nor can I say, that I expect preservation of the public peace for a much longer period. We are rapidly, oh how rapidly, drifting into anarchy, strife, perhaps conflict. It behooves us all to exercise patience, moderation and wisdom. It is said in this morning's papers, that Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York will probably respond favorably to Virginia's proposition of a conference. I think perhaps all the middle States, North and South will meet as in Convention. If they fail to accomplish anything satisfactory, the failure will operate almost irresistibly to drive us at once into disunion. What will follow, God only knows. . . .

I say again, that all that can legally be done to arm the county according to the recent act, will be on Monday to have an order made to summon the Justices to February term to consider and determine the subject. I still regard it as very doubtful policy. I wrote Goode more fully on the subject and will confer when I see you all at Court. Clement is here somewhere — saw him last night — says he intends going home tomorrow or next day. . . .

Hastily yours,

E. C. Burks.


Exchange Hotel, January 31, 1861.

Dear Rowland:

. . . .

The papers of course will give you the political news more at large and in detail than I can. There seems to be a decidedly better feeling here in regard to our Federal relations. The responses of some of the Northern States to the Virginia proposition for Conference on the 4th instant and the apparent conciliatory tone and temper of some of their men, while the rejection by South Carolina of the proffered mediation of Virginia and her declaration that her "separation is final", has lessened the sympathy of many and aroused the indignation of some in respect of her. Evidently at this moment the disunion spirit is flagging, but of p89course, it will be revived at the first news of hostilities. South Carolina, I fear, will see this and will do violence to bring about a re-action in her behalf. Look out for it. From conversation with many members of the Legislature and the best intelligence I can get, the approaching Virginia Convention will probably be largely conservative. Its tone, temper and action however may and doubtless will be controlled by subsequent events, which the wises cannot now foresee. I hope some good may be accomplished by the National Convention of the 4th, but if it fails, I can see no other alternative for Virginia but to separate at once from the old Union and form new connections. I hope, but I cannot say that I expect the Virginia effort at mediation will be successful. I cannot well see how the present Congress can pass by a two-thirds vote any proposition or propositions which may be agreed upon, if acceptable to the South; and still more, I cannot see much prospect, if passed by Congress, for their ratification by the States — for it would have to get three-fourths of all the States which would be the whole of the present Union. Such a thing may be possible, but is it at all probable? The chances for adjustment may therefore be considered a shade less gloomy, but they are still as dark as mid-night.

While I ardently desire the Union to be preserved and reconstructed, I do not wish Virginia by any arrangement to be cut off from the Southern States and fastened irrevocably to a Northern Confederacy. If there must be two confederacies, I would take my chances with Southern.

Water Write me at once and let me know how the canvass is progressing in Bedford — who are most likely to be elected — what positions are taken by the respective candidates — what combinations, if any, are being made. . . . Yours, etc. E. C. Burks


Exchange Hotel, February 3, 1861.

Dear Rowland:

. . . .

No news here. I heard Botts speak last night.10 He is running for the Convention as an out and out Union man — is willing to accept any adjustment whatever, and it seems to be thought he will be elected. I should regret it very much, for he will damage any conservative action of the Convention and injure our cause North and South. McFarland and Johnson (two conservative men) will also probably be here, so it is said, but the whole matter I think, is very doubtful.11 I think most men here believe that a majority of Conservatives will be elected to the Convention, but I think it will be found upon examination that there are several grades of these called Conservatives, between many of whom and the "immediate secessionists" there will be but little difference.

Brokenborough, Tyler, and Seddon passed through last night enroute for Washington. Summers, I presume, went by way of Parkersburg.12 p90It seems to be thought by many here that an adjustment will be effected. I learn Tyler so thinks decidedly. I doubt it. . . . Very truly yours, E. C. Burks.


Spottswood House, Richmond,
February 18, 1861.

Dear Rowland:

. . . .

It seems to be generally thought here that the Conservative men have a very decided majority in the Convention. I don't think there can be any doubt about it although no test vote has yet been made. What I most fear is that they wish will be too conservative. From the manner in which I hear some of them talk, I don't think secession in any event very probable. Even in the event Congress fails, it will not surprise me if a majority of the body oppose secession or resistance out and out. I may be mistaken, but I don't think I am. the Commissioners from South Carolina and other seceded states are now addressing the Convention.13 I was entitled to a privilege seat as member of the Ho. of Delegates, but found on application that it was impossible, or next thing to it, to get in. I accordingly retired, not caring much about hearing anyway; certainly not so much as to run the risk of being mashed to death; for I never saw such immense throng in my life, and hundreds, I presume failed to get in at all. . . . Yours, E. C. Burks


Spottswood House, February 21, 1861.

Dear Rowland:

. . . .

I have now news of importance beyond what the papers will furnish you. I sent you on yesterday the "Richmond Enquirer" containing the speech of Preston (Com'r from South Carolina). It was perhaps the finest address I ever listened to. It will doubtless read well, but cannot carry the same force as when delivered, accompanied as the delivery was with graces and other attributes of the most finished oratory. When you have read it, send it to bettie. I wrote her to that effect. I wish the paper preserved. Get from her also, after she has read it, the New York Herald which I sent her, containing the speeches of the French Counsel in the Bonaparte suit. These last are of the most intense interest, as furnishing one of the most romantic stories to be found in modern times — the history of the marriage of Jerome Bonaparte with Miss Patterson of Baltimore and the sequel thereto. Do not mislay the paper. The Legislature and Convention adjourned today until Saturday, tomorrow being the 22nd. I suppose we shall have a great parade of the Military here. Some of the members talk of going to Washington City tonight and I have been invited of accompany them, but am hesitating about going as I almost fear to venture so far having been somewhat unwell for a day or two. . . .

p91 The Convention has done nothing yet, beyond offering and refusing resolutions. It is not known when I will report. I think the Convention is much divided in sentiment, and the precise position of most or at least many of the members is not known, as no test votes have yet been taken. I am very much inclined to the opinion that the body is too conservative for the times. They seem to be afraid to take any definite action. Perhaps however the matter will all work out right in the end, although I much fear the result.

The proceedings will for the future be reported in full in the "Richmond Enquirer" according to a resolution of the Convention which you will see in the papers. I would advise you to take the paper, if you want to keep fully up. It will be the only paper, I presume, with full and accurate reports. . . . Your friend etc., E. C. Burks

P. S. Tell Fannie, I went to a concert last night at the Metropolitan Hall and heard "Dixie's Land". It was first rate music. I met with an old law student who was with me at the University, Dick Noland of Albemarle. He said he intended sending her the words, so she may expect them in a few days.

E. C. B.


Spottswood House, February 26, 1861. Dear Rowland:

. . . .

I directed the daily "Richmond Enquirer" to be forwarded to you for six months. It will commence with today's number so at least I directed. In it you will find the commencement of Goode's speech in reply to Sam Moore14 and also Moore's at length. Goode finished his speech this morning, I hear, and Goggin followed and after speaking two hours without finishing, Convention adjourned. He will conclude tomorrow I suppose. If I am any judge, I don't think either of the gentlemen did any big things. I think I heard about the same speeches on Court day before election. This however inter nos, as you know I am partial to both of them. Although Goggin spoke two hours, not a member of the Convention or bye stander was able to place him. The mob of the city, as I am informed, proposed to burn Sam Moore in forgery last night but were dissuaded by Goode and others from it. They seconded Goode and played the "rogue's March" for old Sam. They are evidently waking up the "sleeping lion" without knowing it. The whole affair was a most disgraceful outrage and merits the indignation of all right-thinking men. I read Moore's speech and there is nothing in it to call for such demonstration.

I presume the clearing of the galleries was the principal cause of the disturbance. If such things are repeated I wouldn't be surprised if it terminated in the adjournment of the Convention to another place to hold its sessions. It is already talked of, if not seriously meditated. You will see the speeches in the morning's "Enquirer". The local of the "Whig" contains proceedings of the mob. . . .

Hastily yours,

E. C. Burks.


p92 Spottswood House, March 6, 1861.

Dear Rowland:

. . . .

The Legislature today was engaged in considering the Free negro bill, amendatory of the Act in the Code for voluntary enslavement, and dispensing with all compensation to the state and otherwise facilitating enslavement. I offered several amendments which were adopted and the bill was ordered to its engrossment. It will pass our House, I think, but it is said will probably be defeated in the Senate. The negro enslaved is protected against the debts of the master selected and his heirs and legatees. I tried to amend in part in this respect by striking out "heirs and legatees", but was ruled out of order by the speaker, the whole section having been previously retained on motion to strike out the entire section. If I could have got a fair chance at it, I think my amendment would have been adopted. There are some other objections to the bill, but I think I shall vote fit on its passage.

Convention did nothing today but make and hear speeches. Flournoy and Thornton of Prince Edward made fine speeches, as I hear. I was not present. They were strong against coercion. I suppose you will get their speeches in tomorrow's "Enquirer". By the way, upon inquiry according to your request I was informed by one of the Editors that your papers were mailed regularly.

The resistance fever is evidently largely on the increase since Lincoln's inaugural, both here and, as I learn, generally over the State. It is thought that the Convention this week will adopt strong resistance resolutions. I am informed that the Committee on "Federal Relations" will make full report tomorrow on coercion and other matters. Many members of Convention hitherto hesitate having, are ripe now for resistance and for an ordinance of secession. If they don't move now, I can hardly imagine circumstances which will move them. I consider myself that the argument for union is exhausted and that the old Dominion should speak with one voice from the Ohio to the Cherokee in tones of defiance to Lincoln and all his cohorts resolving to resist this policy and organize the forces of the State to carry out their resolution. By the way, when the Inaugural arrived I went to Goode's room and drew up two resolutions which expressed my views and he said accorded with his upon that subject, and he promised to offer them but didn't get a chance. He tells me, the resistance men had a meeting last night and unanimously adopted them as expression of their views and that they met the views of all with whom he had consulted and it is agreed at the proper time to be submitted to the Convention as expressing the opinion of that division, and he tells me that Flournoy and Thornton today occupied the precise ground contained in them. I confess that I fell a little flattered at their reception, drawn up as they were in a few minutes on the telegraphic communication of the Inaugural. They ought to have been offered and promptly adopted yesterday morning as soon as the Convention met. Goode, I presume, will offer them at the proper time and father them. When they appear I will point them out to you. There are only two and they are very brief — purposely so, but covering, I think the whole ground perfectly. You will find them quite strong but, I think, not too much so for the occasion. All I have written about my connection with these resolutions will of course be considered confidential by you, not because they do not express the views p93which I entertain and daily avow in public, but because I desire Goode to have the paternity of them in the Convention. Goggin made a strong resistance speech yesterday that seems to have given much satisfaction. His resolutions however are badly drawn and couched in very awkward and clumsy language and seem to me to be somewhat inconsistent with themselves. However they are unquestionably his own production.

The Senate adopted a resolution today to adjourn on the 20th with the concurrence of the House. I hope we may be able to adjourn on that day, but think it doubtful, for I see from indications in the Convention that they are talking of instructing us to organize more perfectly the military system of the State. If they do that and we are compelled to wait on the Convention, there is no telling when we will get away. If they don't adjourn I intend at least to visit you all about that time. I am very anxious to get home, but in these critical and perilous times I am willing to make great personal sacrifices for the public good, if necessary. . . .

I wrote Bettie this evening. My kind regards to all friends, and say to them and all the good people of my county to rouse up to the emergency and stand as one man for Virginia and the entire South against any and all attempts by Lincoln or any of his abettors to make war upon any of the Southern States. It is our only hope. I see no prospect of adjustment immediately in view, and war, in my candid opinion, is at our very doors. I am constantly in expectation of news of a warlike demonstration by the Southern States, and while I deprecate it with all my heart as a great calamity, I cannot see how the Southern seceded States can longer forbear after Lincoln's tender of submission on their part or war on his part. I think we may reasonably expect it very soon. Perhaps it is progressing while I write. It wouldn't surprise me if it were so. Lincoln hasn't one element of a statesman in him, or he never would have thus foolishly, unnecessarily, and wickedly have jeopardized the peace and safety of the country. If war begins, like Davis and Wise, I would be for gathering the Southern forces and marching arms in hand to the Federal Capitol and seizing the old stars and stripes I would drive the usurper from the seat of Washington and run up the flag of our revolutionary fathers upon the State house and bid all patriots North and South to rally around it. Yours etc., E. C. Burks


Spottswood House, March 11, 1861.

Dear Rowland:

. . . .

You will have seen by the papers of today, that the Committee on "Federal Relations" in the Convention on Saturday made report in part from several reports — a majority report — a minority report — a report by Mr. Wise — and a report by Mr. Barbour — and, I learn, that a fifth was made today by John Baldwin; all differing more or less, and some of them widely. This shows the distraction and division in the Convention. The amendments to be proposed to the Constitution have yet to be considered and determined upon by the committee, as you will see from the majority report. They will embrace the kernel of the nut yet to be cracked, and will probably give rise to great dissension and p94greater varieties of differences than all else — some perhaps will go for the Crittenden Proposition simply, some for these modified in one way some in another, some for the Peace Conference scheme, while some will go for others more exacting, and many will be opposed to all. So we go. There is so much dissension among the members, that I do not think they ever will agree upon anything which, it seems to me, the exigencies of the occasion demand. The majority report, I think, under all the circumstances (so far as it goes) comes nearest to the mark. The principles enunciated for the most part are satisfactory. But it deals too much in generalities, on the question of co‑ercion, I think it does not go far enough, although it takes higher ground than I feared at one time the committee would take. You will observe, that it declares that Virginia would "expect as an indispensable condition" etc., that the Southern forts should not be re‑inforced, that Federal Government should not re‑take the forts now in possession of the Seceded States, nor collect the revenue, nor do anything justly calculated to provoke hostilities. That is the substance. I quote from memory. You will perceive, that it does not, as I think it should do, pledge the state to resistance in the event these conditions are broken by the General Government. If they will insert the without "demand" or "require" or something equivalent instead of "expect ", and amongst the conditions include the evacuation of the Southern forts by the General Government, and pledge the State to co‑operate with the Southern Seceded States in resisting by force any break of these conditions by the General Government, it will do. These alterations made, if you will recur to my last letter or the letter in which I mentioned having drawn certain resolutions in Goode's possession, you will find that the report would then express my views pretty accurately on the subject of coercion. If I believed the people of the State at large were ready for it, I would prefer immediate secession; for to that complexion at last, I fear, things must come. But under the instructions "for reference" at the late election, an ordinance of secession must necessarily be referred to them for ratification, if adopted by the Convention; and if referred now, my conviction is strong, that it would be rejected, and a rejection would bind the state to irremediable submission or produce a revolution in the state perhaps a final separation of its two sections; an event too deplorable to contemplate. Strongly impressed with the opinion that secession now would be voted down and thus leave us in a hopeless condition, and that the current of events is fast inclining the minds of men to separation and that the day is not very distant when the people of Virginia will be of one mind on that subject, I am disposed to await the result without attempting to hasten it, and in the mean time to prepare to maintain by force, if necessary, the position which we shall be compelled to take. The people of Bedford will bear me witness, that on the day they nominated me for a seat in the Legislature, in my address to them I declared, that if they elected me I should go for arming the State effectually, cost what it might. I think my language was "if it took the last dollar out of their pockets and mine". I was then somewhat in advance of public sentiment, but I thought I foresaw something of the present state of things. Accordingly, ever since I have been here I have been endeavoring to effect that object. The Committee on Military Affairs in the House, of which I am a member, more than two months ago or about that length of time, reported three bills — one creating an Ordinance Department p95— another appropriating $1,000,000 for purchase of arms — and another authorizing the raising of the million by the issue of treasury notes. These bills were promptly passed by the House of Delegates. But will you believe me when I tell you that the Senate has never passed the treasury note bill upon which the other two depend until last Saturday, and then stuck an amendment on it, leaving the issue of the notes wholly in the discretion of the Convention? Indeed I believe it only passed today. It has to be returned to our House to be acted upon before it becomes a law. When it does come back, if no other member will do it, I will move to disagree with the Senate in their amendment. In my estimation, this has been a most shameless trifling with the decent rights of the people. We shall have to send to England to buy the arms — the ordinance officers who will have the management of it have first to be appointed — and all this will, as you know, take considerable time. As it is, we are as defenseless now as when the Legislature first met. The pretext is, that the Convention would not do anything — and that peace would probably be restored and adjustment etc. That is all child's talk. We want them ready to meet any emergency that may arise and in my opinion there never was a wiser appropriation than this million of dollars. My skirts are clear, but I am indignant at the timidity and imbecility that seems to have seized on the representatives of the State in part. If hostilities should commence in a short time, how will these men feel, when they hear the cries of the people for arms. . . .

Summers commenced his speech in Convention today on the proceedings of the late Peace Congress. After speaking about 2 hours without finishing, the Convention adjourned. Presume he will conclude tomorrow. I didn't hear him. It is said he spoke with ability. Take care of your "Enquirers" as they may be useful hereafter and certainly will be interesting some day, if not now. I would be glad to see you here. Goode still in bed — don't improve much, if any, has but little appetite and is restless, I told him today that for once in his life he had to become a "submissionist".

Present me kindly to my friends — especially to Mr. Sale and Mr. Wharton. I think you may call this an "omnibus" letter too. But when I get to writing on the exciting topics of the day, I don't know when or where to stop. The news by telegraph here tonight is, that Lincoln is about to recall the forces from Fort Sumter. He had better do it and that quickly. However I don't put much credit in the telegraph. I wouldn't be surprised if many of the messages originated in this place — such is human depravity. Yours etc. E. C. Burks.


Spotswood House, March 12, 1861.

Dear Rowland:

. . . .

I think a meeting of the people of Bedford ought to be called for March Court to consider further our present crisis. Give notice of it in both county papers. I will endeavor to draw and present some resolutions. Don't connect my name with it.

Hastily yours,

E. C. Burks.

p96 Resolutions drawn by Judge Burks and adopted by Mass meeting in Bedford County.15

At a large and enthusiastic meeting of the people of Bedford County, on Court day, on motion, William G. Claytor was called to the Chair, and on motion of Wm. V. Jordan, Esq., John R. Thurman and L. A. Sale were appointed Secretaries of the meeting.

The following resolutions were then passed to the Chair, read and adopted with four dissenting votes:

The people of Bedford County in General Meeting assembled, on the 25th of March, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-one and of the Commonwealth the eighty-fifth, to consider of their rights and interests involved in the great struggle now pending between the people of the different sections of a once united but now broken Confederacy, after free conference make known and declare: That they recognize the fact, that seven out of the fifteen slave holding States of our Confederacy for causes by them deemed just have resumed to themselves respectively all the powers previously delegated to the Federal Government, thereby effectually dissolving their political association with the other States, and, as separate, sovereign and independent communities, in the exercise of the powers thus resumed, have adopted and established a new Federal Compact with the title of "Confederate States of America," laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form as to them seemed most likely to effect their common safety and happiness. 2. That there is no power in the Government of the United States under the Constitution and laws made in pursuance thereof to make war upon the said Confederate States or upon any of them by reason of their refusal to render obedience to the Government of the United States; and any attempt on the part of the Government of the United States to make such war upon them or to enforce its laws within the limits and jurisdiction of the said Confederate States against their consent, would be flagrant usurpation of power, a direct invasion of the rights of the States and dangerous to the liberties of the American people. 3. That the people of Virginia could never acquiesce in the exercise of such power for such purposes by a [words uncertain] Government of the United States, but impelled by a just and natural sympathy, and by a due regard to their honor, safety and plighted faith, they would unite with the Confederate States, and "with all the means in their power" make common resistance to a common wrong. 4. That the State of Virginia, not disclaiming the right which she expressly reserved to herself when she "assented to and ratified" the Constitution of the United States to resume the powers granted thereunder whenever the same should be perverted to her injury and oppression, but being willing to postpone the exercise of the same until she had exhausted all reasonable means to obtain for herself and her sister slave-holding States adequate constitutional guarantees against future "injury and oppression", for that purpose invited a Conference of all the States of the Union, expressly declaring to them and to the world, that it was p97"a final effort to restore the Constitution and the Union in the spirit in which they were established by the Fathers of the Republic". 5. That this "final effort" having signally and notoriously failed in accomplishing the objects for which it was made, it becomes the duty as it is the right of the people of this State in Convention assembled to resume to themselves all the powers at any time heretofore delegated to the Government of the United States, and to concert proper measures to obtain from the other States an equitable share of the common property. 6. That after such resumption of powers, proper efforts should be made to construct a Confederacy amongst all the slaveholding States upon such terms "as to them shall seem most likely to effect their common safety and happiness" and if the said efforts should be successful, after the establishment of the said Confederacy, the concurrence of the parties to [the same having been seconded, (?)] such of the non-slaveholding States should be admitted into the Confederacy as may be willing to accept its terms. 7. That we earnestly remonstrate against any attempt in the Convention of the people of the State to disturb at this time the question of taxation and representation fixed by our State Constitution, as not contemplated in the call of the Convention, as hurtful if not fatal to the best interests of the Commonwealth, calculated to produce and aggravate dissensions and divisions amongst our own people, impairing our own strength, inviting further aggression upon our rights from the Federal Government and the Northern States, and tending to excite and organize a revolutionary struggle between sections in the State.

The meeting was addressed in eloquent Southern-Rights speeches by Edward C. Burks, and Wm. M. Burwell, Esq'rs, and much enthusiasm prevailed.


Spotswood House, March 14, 1861.

Dear Rowland:

. . . .

The treasury note bill (one million of dollars) for arming the state was returned to us today from the Senate after about 2 months sleep. There was a stratagem to defeat it in the senate, which was unsuccessfully renewed in the House. We had a full House, some spectators and a spicy debate. Feeling much interest in the success of the bill, I made a short speech in advocacy of it. The chief opposition, I believe the only opposition, came from Western members, who prated as usual about East and West, and growled about the inequality of taxation, the exemption of slaves under 12 years of age etc. It was in bad taste and, I am sorry to say, in worse temper. They did not hesitate to avow the purpose on the part of their representatives in the Convention to change the system of taxation and make it ad valorem on all property (slaves included); and twenty would be satisfied with nothing else. The scheme was to pass the bill and leave it discretionary with the Convention to use the money or not; and thus furnish the West in Convention with a pretext to alter the compromises of the State Constitution and give them a lever power to operate with. But, I rejoice to say, that the stratagem met a signal defeat. I hope now the Governor will be without excuse in organizing the Ordinance Department, and that arms will be promptly procured for our people. If he had promptly organized the Ordinance Department p98two months ago, as he might and ought to have done and the Senate had promptly responded to the action of the House, we might have had our arms here this day. There had been culpable neglect both in the Senate and with the Governor; and if hostilities ensue before we get our arms, no part of the blame can attach to the House of Delegates. They at least have been prompt and decided. I hope to get home last of next week whether the Legislature adjourns or not. I intend to prepare some resolutions for the consideration of the people. I shall take high ground. It is time it was taken everywhere. Whether the Convention adopts it or not, I think the people had better plant themselves firmly on withdrawal from the Union and resistance to Federal oppression. Speculation, I think must come, and we had better at once (all of us) look it straight in the face. If we don't something at once, I tell you, I believe, the State will become first demoralized and then abolitionized. We are in great difficulties and I cannot see what is to become of us. . . .

Hastily etc.,

E. C. Burks.

II.


Memphis, November 23, 1860.

My dear Friend:16

. . . . I wish I could think our National difficulties growing out of the presidential election would be as easily adjusted.17 The course of S. C. I look upon as infamous. There is not a redeeming trait about the movement to save it from the just and deep condemnation of Posterity. The morning's dispatches let in some gleams of light. The Cotton States will not because they cannot go together in this movement. Leave the question of union or disunion to people tomorrow morning and I verily believe that a majority in S. C. and in all the Southern States will vote for Union. They will be ready to fight — so am I — but under the constitution. I want to see Buchanan impeached and tried for neglecting to enforce the laws. Had he done his duty as Filmoreº and Jackson and throttled nullification all this fuss had been ended long ago. "But the Lord God omnipotent reigneth!" therein is my hope and strength. The Peaks of Otter still stand firm. under their shadow I can yet find a resting place. Love to your family. Affectionately, Jas. H. Otey.


Memphis, March 12, 1861.

My dear Friend:

Your very welcome letter of March 3rd reached me a few days ago and gave me unwonted pleasure. We have fallen on evil times, and almost all we hear and read in the shape of news of the day fills us with ears and painful apprehensions. I had been meditating on writing you some weeks past, when your letter came, but various causes and reasons p99interfered to prevent me; and among them I had been made aware by information from James Buford, whom I saw at Bristol, about a month since, that you were a member of the Legislature, and it occurred to me that your thoughts would be so much occupied with important duties in your new vocation of law-making etc. that my lucubrations would wear the appearance of intrusion. I have also been in feeble health since my return last month, and am yet an invalid, very seldom leaving my house except to attend Church daily-prayers, a few steps from my door. . . .

In reference to the distracted state of our country and the evils that threaten us, I shall say only a few words. Your own labors have been directed to the end which I would naturally suppose they would be — the preservation of peace, conciliation and reconcilement. But I fear with you that all such efforts will avail nothing. "Silent leges inter arma" is a maxim approved by the experience of the world since the days of the great Roman orator. If I could divest myself of a settled conviction which has for years rested upon my mind, namely that there has existed for 25 years in this country, a party that has only sought for a pretext and an opportunity to go out of the Union, or in other words to dismember the government, I should have some confidence in the wise and peaceable measures which many good and patriotic men have proposed as remedies for our existing and coming evils. But those to whom I refer can be satisfied with nothing short of power they well illustrate the terrible conception of the poet who represents the madness of ambition as preferring to reign in Hell, rather than serve in Heaven. I look upon dissolution of the Union or the organization of two governments North and South, dividing upon the question of slavery, not only as setting the seal to the ruin of both, but especially as settling the destiny of slavery to speedy inevitable extinction, as certainly as the sun's rays fall upon the Earth when he rises to usher in the day. It will deprive the institution of that moral support which it now derives from its being upheld by a government over 30 millions of people. It will bring Canada into juxtaposition with the slaveholding States. The same causes which are now in operation to disturb the institution will then exist in ten-fold vigor. Who thinks of demanding the rendition of an escaped or fugitive slave at the hands of the British government? The idea is simply preposterous. And will it be otherwise when the non-holding States are set off to themselves? Never!! They will make no such treaty stipulations and we shall not have the color of law or pretext to demand them.

In our Revolutionary struggle our Forefathers invoked the protection of Heaven to defend and its wisdom to guide them in the difficulties surrounding them. They asked for the light of experience to assist them to safe conclusions. how is it with the Secessionists? Denunciation — defiance and menace dwell upon their lips. One would think that men engaged in breaking up a great government (a government that has attracted the admiring gaze and draws around it the hopes of a world) and in constructing a new one out of the fragments, they would feel themselves burdened by the weight of responsibility that would make them serious — nay, tremble and fear. Everything exhibits a different state of mind. They can whip all creation — Cotton will make them "princes and rulers in all lands"! Depend upon it, this is the pride that goes before a fall. God will make our own passions — our Covetousness, pride and ambition the executioners of his wrath. The day of vengeance I p100verily is near at hand. My only comfort is that the " Lord God omnipotent reigneth". I shall direct this letter to Liberty, as I see that it is expected your body will soon adjourn. Dispatches last night shed a gleam of light on the surrounding darkness — that the President will give up the Forts of the South. I hope he will yield all that has been demanded as the shortest way to convince folly of its crime and treason of its guilt. Love to all. Yours faithfully, Jas. H. Otey


Beersheba Springs, July 17, 1861.

My dear Friend:

. . . .

I can and do enter deeply into the feelings you have for troubles of our distracted country. Your views, like mine, I doubt not, have undergone a great change in regard to the moral aspect of the contest. Since Mr. Lincoln's proclamation, and the attitude assumed, and the purposes proclaimed by the North, I have had no sympathy with the U. S. Government — no respect for its rulers — very little regard for the Northern people. Our duty is clearly and unequivocally to repel force by force, and to make every sacrifice rather than to submit to an administration that tramples down every barrier raised by our Forefathers for the protection of personal, social and public rights. . . . Yours as ever, Jas. H. Otey.


Beersheba Springs, August 7, 1861.

My dear Mr. Burks:

The same old story. Got home last night after an absence of 12 days to find your letter that came during the interval. I am rejoiced to learn that our native county has acquitted herself so well in the persons of her sons at Manassas. She has never been found wanting when the call was made on her for either head or heart and I trust she never will be. . . .

I do hope that another such battle as Manassas will put an end to the war. The idea of an invader treading on the soil within sight of the Peaks of Otter makes my blood hot. I think if I heard that he was at Liberty I should go to the army anyhow. I hope I may not hear it. Our Bedford boys I think will be a match for every Buckeye that crossed the Blue Ridge. O if I were only 20 years of age! But what avail regrets. Let us live hopeful and trust in God. I write hurriedly to save the mail. My love to your wife and children. Yours affectionately, Jas. H. Otey. P. S. Our Tennessee boys are on the way to or are actually in Mo. I hope they will give account of that butcher Lyons.


Beersheba Springs, August 22, 1861.

My dear Mr. Burks:

. . . .

The fact is the Government at Washington is infamous in its principles and unscrupulous in the use of any means that give promise of success. p101They lie as though truth were a thing unknown among men. And yet every means they have adopted in the prosecution of the war against the South, has demonstrated their stupidity and weakened their own cause. Their confiscation bill will operate more effectually upon those portions of Maryland, Va., Ky, and Mo. which they wish to hold to their allegiance than any other states. Their blockade is injuring their foreign and domestic trade almost beyond zzzzz and their false reports Intelligencer grand to battles etc. only rebound with doubly depressing effect upon their friends and allies when the truth is told, which sooner or later it must be.

If our army about the Potomac is successful in the next encounter, as I devoutly hope and pray it may be, the Administration of the U. S. government must go down — their own people will overthrow it and being overthrown, it is a possible thing that the union of the states may follow. Stranger things than this have happened in our world.

Your faithful friend,

Jas. H. Otey.


The Editor's Notes:

1 Jan. 7 was the first day of the extra session of the general assembly. An evening session had been held.

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2 112 to 5. Journal, p10.

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3 Meaning, in the Virginian parlance of that day, a method whereby the representation of each county was based in equal degree on its proportion of the total white population of the state and on its proportion of the total of state taxation.

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4 Offered Jan. 9. Journal, p16.

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5 This resolution was passed the day before, Jan. 10. Ibid., p19.

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6 John Goode, jr. (1829‑1909), member of the Confederate House of Representatives 1862‑1865, and of the U. S. House of Representatives 1875‑1881, solicitor general 1885‑1886. He and William L. Goggin were elected to represent Bedford in the convention, and he has given some account of it in his Recollections of a Lifetime (Washington, 1906), pp42‑54.

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7 Speech of Jan. 12, in the Senate.

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8 Arthur F. Hopkins.

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9 Providing for the Peace Conference.

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10 John Minor Botts.

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11 William H. Macfarland, Marmaduke Johnson, and George W. Randolph were elected to the convention from Richmond city.

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12 The representatives sent by Virginia to the Peace Conference were John Tyler, William C. Rives, John W. Brockenbrough, George W. Summers, and James A. Seldon.

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13 The commissioners from Mississippi and Georgia addressed the convention on Feb. 18, John S. Preston of South Carolina on Feb. 19.

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14 Samuel McD. Moore, member from Rockbridge.

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15 These resolutions were clipped from a Lynchburg newspaper, presumably; the clipping kept by Mr. Buford has neither date nor heading.

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16 This letter and the four which follow were written to Edward C. Burks Extracts from letters of intervening dates, Dec. 8, 1860, May 7, May 24, June 20, 1861, may be found in Bishop W. M. Green's Memoir of Rt. Rev. James Hervey Otey (New York, 1885), pp91‑94.

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17 Referring to a business matter just mentioned.


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