constitution secessionIn the process of ratifying the U.S. Constitution, the most celebrated, lengthy and heated debate was held in the Virginia Convention which convened on 4 June, 1788 in the old State House in Richmond. Seeing that there would not be enough room to accommodate the 187 delegates and thousands of interested citizens, the convention moved to the Academy of Arts & Sciences on Broad Street on Richmond’s Shockoe Hill.

• See Stonewall jackson’s famous speech on Virginia’s Secession Act here
• Hear George Mason read Virginia’s Ratification Statement here (from “The Spirit of ’76”)

The two loudest and most famous opponents of ratifying were George Mason & Patrick Henry. Realizing that they would lose their effort, Henry & Mason successfully moved to have the convention attach a conditional statement to their ratification “instrument” guaranteeing that VA could leave the new Union (secession) if it proved injurious:

His excellency, Governor RANDOLPH, reported, from the committee appointed, according to order, a form of ratification, which was read and agreed to by the Convention, in the words following: VIRGINIA, to wit:

“We, the delegates of the people of Virginia, duly elected in pursuance of a recommendation from the General Assembly, and now met in Convention, having fully and freely investigated and discussed the proceedings of the federal Convention, and being prepared, as well as the most mature deliberation hath enabled us, to decide thereon, Do, in the name and in behalf of the people of Virginia, declare and make known, that the powers granted under the Constitution, being derived from the people of the United States, be resumed by them whensoever the same shall be perverted to their injury or oppression, and that every power, not granted thereby, remains with them, and at their will; that, therefore, no right, of any denomination, can be cancelled, abridged, restrained, or modified, by the Congress, by the Senate or House of Representatives, acting in any capacity, by the President, or any department or officer of the United States, except in those instances in which power is given by the Constitution for those purposes; and that, among other essential rights, the liberty of conscience and of the press cannot be cancelled, abridged, restrained, or modified, by any authority of the United States.” (1)

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Virginia therefore, had become a Country on 15 May, 1776, before the Declaration of Independence, had written and assented to her own Constitution on 26 June, 1776 and then on 25 June, 1788 assented to become part of the Federal Union under the Constitution. It should thus, on 17 April, 1861 elicit nothing more than sorrow among Union States at seeing the Old Dominion go its own way but as we know, the end of federalism and the reign of coerced nationalism would not admit the plain, evident truth declared that day:


To Repeal the ratification of the Constitution of the United States of America, by the State of Virginia, and to resume all the rights and powers granted under said Constitution:

The people of Virginia, in their ratification of the Constitution of the United States of America, adopted by them in Convention, on the 25th day of June, in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and eight-eight, having declared that the powers granted them under the said Constitution were derived from the people of the United States, and might be resumed whensoever the same should be perverted to their injury and oppression, and the Federal Government having perverted said powers, not only to the injury of the people of Virginia, but to the oppression of the Southern slaveholding States.

Now, therefore, we, the people of Virginia, do declare and ordain that the Ordinance adopted by the people of this State in Convention, on the twenty-fifth day of June, in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and seventy-eight, whereby the Constitution of the United States of America was ratified, and all acts of the General Assembly of this State, ratifying or adopting amendments to said Constitution, are hereby repealed and abrogated; that the union between the State of Virginia and the other States under the Constitution aforesaid, is hereby dissolved, and that the State of Virginia is in the full possession and exercise of all the rights of sovereignty which belong to a free and independent State. And they do further declare that the said Constitution of the United State of America is no longer binding on any of the citizens of this State.

This Ordinance shall take effect and be an act of this day when ratified by a majority of the votes of the people of this State, cast at a poll to be taken thereon on the fourth Thursday in May next, in pursuance of a schedule hereafter to be enacted.

Done in Convention, in the city of Richmond, on the seventeenth day of April, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-one, and in the eighty-fifth year of the Commonwealth of Virginia. (2)

Sec’y of Convention

In this clip from “Gods & Generals” General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson gives his famous speech informing his men that VA has seceded from the Union & will soon have to fight because “The Lincoln administration has chosen to inaugurate civil war”.


(1) VA Ratification Instrument

(2) VA Secession statement

Books related to this topic of this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore. This is a revised transcript from The Mike Church Show

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