Philadelphia Press, May 24, 1861
If the thinking men of Northwestern Virginia will look into what took place in England between the flight of JAMES the Second and the settlement of the Government in calling WILLIAM the Third to the throne, they will find much of example, much of precedent, much of instruction, to guide them in the difficult circumstances in which they are placed. They are called upon to direct a revolution, which has for its objects the restoration of their liberties, the vindication of their inalienable right of self-government, the maintenance of the Constitution of the nation and of the State, to both of which they owe and are willing to bear allegiance; and, finally, the extinction of a traitorous usurpation which has overthrown those liberties, assailed that self-government, and overturned those Constitutions within the limits of their ancient Commonwealth. North America has never afforded occasion for such action as that to which the people of Northwestern Virginia, and of other mountain regions of the Southern States, are called. They hold in their hands the future of this country. Upon their steadfastness and their wisdom hangs the hope of freedom. The plains of the South are dominated by the iron sway of military rule, and constitutional liberty is well nigh crushed out upon them; slaves and masters, bond and free, black and white, are yoked in common harness of slavery to their military oppressors. The mountains, thank God! are yet free. May they be so, till the last syllable of recorded time.
From these mountains is to proceed, not the reconstruction of the Constitution, but the reconstruction of the States that have fallen away from their obedience to the Constitution, and their restoration to that obedience. In a communication to THE PRESS of the 17th instant, the idea was advanced that Northwestern Virginia might assume to be the Virginia of the United States, and be recognized as such.
What is Governor LETCHER to the loyal parts of Virginia, more or other than JAMES the Second was to that portion of England that was loyal to the civil and ecclesiastical constitution of that country? What is the existing Legislature; what is the existing Convention of that State, to the loyal parts of Virginia, more or other than bodies, which, having renounced the allegiance of Virginia to the Federal Constitution, and overturned the Constitution of Virginia herself, have thereby forfeited all countenance of their authority and acts, on the part of loyal men? Virginia having been dragged into rebellion by violation of all law, those portions of that State which do not mean to aid in that rebellion should not stand too nicely upon mere technical, legal, and formal grounds, in extricating themselves, and, finally, the whole of Virginia, from the meshes of the frightful net of treason cast over them and her by the leaders of the Cotton States, and by their aiders and abettors in the tidewater counties. Let not the Northwest tie its own hands because it cannot find a precisely parallel precedent for its present imitation. Make a precedent. That is the very need of the hour.
Why not let the Convention, which is to meet by adjournment at Wheeling, issue writs of election unto every county of Virginia, for the election of a new Legislature and Governor, and whatever other officers are needful, to meet and be sworn in at Wheeling, in place of such as have given in their adhesion to secession? A provisional Government of some kind cannot, in the meanwhile, be avoided, but it should be as short-lived as possible. It is only needed for the time required to put the old constitutional machinery, thoroughly disembarrassed of the new-fangled devices of treason, which had brought it to a dead standstill, in motion.
There may be some opposition on the part of existing authorities in the loyal counties, acting under commissions, legal and formal enough upon their face. But the question for such persons is, do you or do you not recognize the rebel authorities in Richmond? If they do, they can act no longer. It is just the position of authorities in the colonies in 1776. They held valid commissions from the King or the proprietaries, or whatever was the appointing power, but these commissions were superseded by the people when they assumed their inherent sovereignty by the Declaration of Independence. A committee of public safety, or a Convention, or some other necessary revolutionary representative of the people, purged the public service of all who did not recognize the true sovereign.
The writs of the Convention, sent into the secession counties, would not be noticed. No elections would be held in those counties under them. Not so in the loyal counties. They would elect the necessary officers, but, of the Legislature, not a quorum, probably, of either house, according to the Constitution of Virginia. There would be a hitch at the start. Circumstances, however, override all laws, at times. Constitutions and laws are made for men, not men for them. It would be as if four-fifths of Virginia were held by a foreign enemy, or were sunk in the sea. What was left would not, therefore, cease to be Virginia, or to be governed by the Constitution and laws of Virginia. The legislators, who could meet, would go on and pass all such laws as were required by the public needs—would raise revenue, preserve the organization of society, maintain the peace, elect United States Senators, and do every other act and thing that pertained to Virginia to do, for her own good and for the good of the United States. The start might be feeble, and even halting, but being started, the reconstruction of Virginia would be rapid and sound. Sustained by whatever appliance of power was necessary to maintain the movement and to advance its object, one county after the other, that hesitated or was hostile at first, would range itself under the government at Wheeling. Under its own self-government, that splendid region would rapidly develop its vast natural resources; population would pour in; wealth would superabound; and Western Virginia, if, happily for her, the rebellion should last a few years, would come out of it the actual controlling power in the State. Rightly followed up, this rebellion will open to that region the door for the redress of all its wrongs.
Putting aside the idea of forming a new State, let Western Virginia boldly enter upon the work of reforming the old State. Whose opinions or feelings are with secession, or whose heart or head or hand fails him in unflinching loyalty to the Union, is against the work which the loyal men have before them to do. We must give way to one who can be trusted. Treason teaches at the other end of the State how to deal with its opposers. Loyalty may learn from treason how to deal with its enemies. Let no enemy, nay, let no lukewarm friend of the Union, exercise any executive or judicial function. The line is easily drawn. Whoever is on the other side of it is a public enemy, and so to be treated.
Acting on some such line of conduct as that which is thus faintly sketched, the good and true men of the loyal counties of Western Virginia cannot fail. They will have on their side the logic of the sword, which is power; the logic of the law, which is reason; the logic of God, which is faith and truth and right. How can they fail?