Speech of Hon. William C. Rives, on the proceedings of the Peace Conference and the State of the Union
….Fellow-citizens, the time has come for reason, for deliberation, for sober and wise discretion. At whose bidding is Virginia to go out? At that of South Carolina, whose occupation, for months past, to taunt, to revile, to depreciate her? At that of the other Cotton States, who rashly followed the example of South Carolina in renouncing the ties which bound her to her sister States, and without the slightest regard to the well-known opinions of Virginia, plunged the country into revolution and anarchy, of which the annihilation of a thousand millions of the national wealth and capital, and the universal derangement and distress which have attended it, grave as these evils are not to be counted as the most serious consequences?
If the seceded States had not deserted Virginia and the other border slave States in a manly constitutional struggle for the security and vindication of their common rights; if they had remained, with undismayed firmness at their posts in the national councils; reinforced by that noble and gallant body of men in the North, who have ever stood by the South in its demand of constitutional equality and justice, they would have had the absolute control of the Government, through the Legislative department — have repelled every encroachment…and rendered the experiment of a sectional administration far too barren and thorny ever to be thought of again. And all this would have been accomplished by peaceful constitutional agencies….
Now that Virginia has been so cruelly, not to say wantonly abandoned by the cotton States in this great constitutional struggle in a common cause, her first duty is to look, with calm and collected composure, to her own true position, as it is prescribed to her by the consideration of her own interest and honor….
When the Union shall be dissolved, as is proposed, by the line which separates the slaveholding from the non-slaveholding Staes, and Virginia finds herself in immediate contact with or in close proximity to states that would then be foreign States to her, without either the obligation or the disposition to surrender fugitive slaves, what prospect could she have of retaining that …labor? Would not such a state of things be virtually a proclamation of freedom, which…would deprive her wholly of her slaves?
How could she and her sister border slave States sustain the collisions and wars that would follow, along a frontier of several thousand miles, without a crushing weight of military establishments and of taxes that would be alike fatal to their liberties, ruinous to their re-
sources, and destructive to all the arts of civilization and peace?
…The great question for us, now, is what Virginia is to do? Shall she, too, secede, and renouncing all hope or wish for the preservation of the Union, become the tail of a Southern Confederacy?
…She cannot, then, without blotting out all her past history, now join in the unnatural work of subverting those glorious institutions which she has had so large and noble a part in building up and strengthening. Her heart, her mind, her best efforts in the council and the field, have ever been devoted to the great cause of American, Continental liberty and Union….Her Washington, her Jefferson, her Madison, her Pendleton, her Wythe, her Marshall, and a long list of her illustrious sons have spent the prime of their days in laboring for the development of a high, national destiny, one and indivisible, and their last prayers have been breathed for the perpetuity of the American Union.
But if, in an ill-omened hour, she shall incline to other counsels, let her remember that the process of dissolution and division once commenced has no assignable limits–that a new and separate Confederacy, sprung from secession, must soon fall to pieces under the operation of the same disintegrating principle–that endless feuds and strifes will follow–and that we have no warrant for believing that the laws of history, as we read them in the throes and convulsions of revolutionary France, or in the anarchy and turbulence of our Mexican and South American neighbors, will be suddenly reversed in our favor.
McGregor A 1861 .R44