The Wheeling Convention and the Regeneration of Virginia

Aurora Beacon, June 20, 1861

One of the most important Conventions that ever assembled in the world, is now in session in Wheeling, Virginia, and it is more than probable that its action will take the direction indicated in our paper two weeks since. The plan for the division of the State is pretty nearly abandoned, for the more feasable and comprehensive one of organizing a new government for the whole State. Virginia has been put in a hostile position to the Government, while there is good reason to believe that a majority of her people are loyal, and would have shown it, if they had not been entrapped by treachery and fraud, and overpowered by violence. The Governor of the State, in violation, both of the United States and the State Constitutions, and of the declared will of the people just expressed by a popular vote, conspired with the southern traitors, and in co-operation with a majority of the State Convention, placed the State under the control of the rebel leaders, who have within a short time forced a vote for secession at the point of the bayonet. Virginia has no longer a "republican form of government," which the Constitution guarantees and makes it the duty of the Federal Government to secure. The State is now under the rule of a military despotism of the most corrupt and oppressive character. The general government is bound to protect each State against invasion, and Virginia is now invaded by rebel armies from the South, who have silenced the loyal people of one half of the State. The loyal and constitutional power of the State has been abdicated and the enforcement of the laws and the general good weal of the people left to the chances and violence of anarchy.

Under this view of the question the Convention at Wheeling will act, and proceed as speedily as possible to the formation: first, of a provisional government, preparatory to the resumption of a constitutional government for the whole State. In taking the preliminary measures for the protection of the people against the usurpations of a despotism, they will call upon the general government for help. Congress will be called upon at its session in July to devote some attention to the question of how treasonable State governments are to be dealt with, and the case of Virginia must be met. That the people must be protected no one will deny. The object for which the government has sent its battalions to the field, is for this purpose while dispersing the rebel armies. The war is not only for the defense of the Union against treasonable attempts to overthrow it, but for the re-establishment of republican governments in the States overcome by the power of the rebellion.

The events now transpiring in Virginia may prevent the necessity of direct action by Congress, for it is to be hoped that the war will be practically ended before autumn, so far as she is concerned, but the action of the Convention will be timely, and will prove to be a great historical event. Congress will however, have to dispose of the question for Tennessee, Missouri and other States, and its duties are very plain and distinct. It must establish for the people a "republican form of government," and whenever the loyal people can make their wishes known by a Convention and ask the government to protect them, there is no escape from the responsibilities that rest upon it. The Supreme Court have decided in a case growing out of the Dorr rebellion, "that a military government, established as the permanent government of a State, would not be a republican government, and it would be the duty of Congress to overthrow it."

Thus may be worked out the great problem of the continued existence of slavery in Virginia. When her rebellious first families are driven out, or hung, and their property confiscated; her slaves liberated by the forced exigencies of the war, or sold by their masters to the Cotton States, how more than likely is she to be peopled by the free men of the North. Her worn out and dilapidated plantations have been purchased in years past, by the enterprising farmers of the free States, and made to bloom and become productive under their superior treatment and skill. The planters of to-day in Virginia, owe much of their prosperity to the examples set them by the hardy, intelligent and skillful emigrants from New England and New York, who have purchased deserted tracts and applied the knowledge of a better husbandry to their regeneration.—What a glorious future may yet be worked out, through the inevitable tendencies of this rebellion, for Virginia and other border slave States. They may suffer greatly by the war, as they ought to—for they have forced it upon themselves—but the end may prove a complete regeneration for their lasting good, in the establishment of all the arts, industries and refinements that so distinguish the free States. Conservatives may say that this war is prosecuted by government for an idea, but history will record the fact that we are working out the great problem whether we are to advance or recede, and that the idea, if it be that, involves the lofty principles of human liberty and permanent progress. It is not a contest between the two sections for supremacy. It is a struggle in which the whole world is interested, for it is to decide the problem of self-government.

Not the least among all of the wonderful agencies that are at work for the accomplishment of these great and sublime results, is the noble and patriotic task set before the Wheeling Convention. May we not earnestly hope that results, commensurate with its great responsibilities, will crown its deliberations.