Secession & Coercion Brought Home

Wellsburg Herald, February 8, 1861

The section of country known as Northwestern Virginia having pretty generally elected delegates opposed to secession, and it being taken for granted that a majority of the counties in other portions of the State have voted the opposite, there arises a very pretty question.

The theory of a Convention of the people is, that it represents the sentiments of those represented in their original capacity, without reference to constitution or statute or any other law, other than such as nature and self-preservation prescribes for the good of individuals. The Convention, in its province, and for the time being, is superior to constitution and laws, which, indeed, are in effect abrogated that far. Theoretically, it is the supreme law of the land, and its will is to be enforced by the weight of superior numbers and strength. It is a government of force in the strictest sense of the term. At the same time that the people represented will be in honor bound—not otherwise, for there is no law to bind them to do the will of the majority—should any portion of the people see fit to repudiate the action of their delegates, then the only way in which they can be brought to terms is by the use of force; in other words, by coercion, but without the basis of law for a foundation.

Premising that these principles are correct, the question arises, what will the people of Northwestern Virginia do in the event of the passage of an ordinance of secession[?] Will they submit to the will of a majority of the people of the State, agree to leave the Union at their dictation, do violence to their interests and their convictions of right, or will they repudiate the action of the Convention, remain in the Union, and let those who wish to, secede, and take the responsibility and risk of being coerced to go with the seceders[?] On every principle upon which this Convention is called, and upon every principle by which secession is justified, those of the citizens of Virginia who are unwilling to go with the majority will be justified in remaining under the stars and stripes, and by no process of reasoning known to the secessionist school can they be coerced into doing differently. This, then, opens the door at once for a division of the State, on strict Southern State right grounds. The question, any sway we look at it, is a pretty one, and we are much mistaken if it is not mooted both in the Convention and at home. Disguise it as we may, there is no doubt but there is a strong undercurrent in favor of a division of the State in the event of the secession of Virginia from the Union; and when circumstances have given our politicians back-bone enough to enable them to speak above a whisper on the subject, it will be authoritatively felt. The feeling is latent among the people, a spark will inflame it into a blaze that will speedily consume all opposition. So long as Virginia remains faithful to the Union, there is no danger and little real disposition to take so decisive a step, but let the madmen take the initiative of secession from the Union, and the example will speedily be followed by those who are patiently waiting and fearing. Then we shall have the question of coercion brought home. Then we shall see whether the provisional government of Virginia has the moral or material force to maintain the integrity of her boundaries, or to drag its dissatisfied subjects from under the protecting flag of the federal Union.—Then shall we test the sincerity of the Southern dogmas in regard to secession and coercion.

If such an event as this should be rendered advisable, the Northwest should be careful not to be placed in the wrong position. It is not necessary that Western Virginia should secede, on the other hand it is a material point that Eastern Virginia should be compelled to stand the odium of such a step. If the West, or any part of it, even if only the Panhandle desires to remain in the present federal Union, all it has to do is to remain in statu quo, let the balance secede, and, if necessary, call upon the federal Government for protection in its rights under the laws of the United States. If we have to split the old Commonwealth, let it go forth to the world and stand upon the record of history, that it was not the West, but the East, not the free labor, but the slave labor half that seceded from the Union, and in the same act demoralized and divided the good old State.