About       Speeches Prior to 1850       Speeches 1850 to 1861      Civil War Era Speeches      Reconstruction Era Speeches      Articles

On the Admission of West Virginia 
Remarks of Representative Thaddeus Stevens,
in Congress, December 9, 1862

Page One

   Mr. Stevens.  Without intending to occupy a very great deal of the time of the House because what little time I have is by the indulgence of the gentleman from Ohio I wish to give the reasons for my vote. 

   I have had great difficulty in determining how I ought to vote upon this bill as a question of policy, and I can hardly say that I have yet made up my mind; but, as at present advised, I shall vote for the admission of this State, and I desire to state the grounds for so doing.  I do not desire to be understood as being deluded by the idea that we are admitting this State in pursuance of any provisions of the Constitution. I find no such provision that justifies it, and the argument in favor of the constitutionality of it is one got up by those who either honestly entertain, I think, an erroneous opinion, or who desire to justify, by a forced construction, an act which they have predetermined to do. By the Constitution, a State may be divided by the consent of the Legislature thereof, and by the consent of Congress admitting the new State into the Union    

   Now, Sir, it is but mockery, in my judgment, to tell me that the Legislature of Virginia has ever consented to this division. There are two hundred thousand, out of a million and a quarter of people, who have participated in this proceeding. They have held a convention, and they have elected a Legislature in pursuance of a decree of that convention. Before all this was done the State had a regular organization, a constitution under which that corporation acted. By a convention of a large majority of the people of that State, they changed their constitution and changed their relations to the Federal Government from that of one of its members to that of secession from it. Now, I need not be told that that is treason. I know it. And it is treason in all the individuals who participated in it. But so far as the State municipality or corporation was concerned, it was a valid act, and governed the State. Our Government does not act upon the State. The State, as a separate and distinct body, was the State of a majority of the people of Virginia, whether rebel or loyal, whether convicts or freemen. The majority of the people of Virginia was the State of Virginia, although individuals had committed treason.

   Now, to say that the Legislature which called this seceding convention was not the Legislature of Virginia, is asserting that the Legislature chosen by a vast majority of the people of a State is not the Legislature of that State. That is a doctrine which I can never assent to. I admit that the Legislature were disloyal, but they were still the disloyal and traitorous Legislature of the State of Virginia; and that State, as a mere State, was bound by their acts. Not so individuals. They are responsible to the General Government, and are responsible whether the State decrees treason or not. That being the Legislature of Virginia, Governor Letcher, elected by a majority of votes of the people, is the Governor of Virginia -- a traitor in rebellion, but a traitorous Governor of a traitorous State. Now, then, how has that State ever given its consent to this division? A highly respectable but very small number of the citizens of Virginia -- the people of West Virginia -- assembled together, disapproved of the acts of the State of Virginia, and with the utmost self-complacency called themselves Virginia. Now, is this not ridiculous? Is not the very statement of the facts a ludicrous thing to look upon -- although a very respectable gentleman, Governor Pierpont, was elected by them Governor of Virginia? He is a most excellent man, and I wish he were the Governor elected by the whole people of Virginia.

   The State of Virginia, therefore, has never given its consent to this separation of the State. I desire to see it, and according to my principles operating at the present time, I can vote for its admission without any compunctions of conscience, but with some doubt about the policy of it. My principles are these: we know the fact that this and other States have declared that they are no longer members of the Union, and have made, not mere insurrection, but have raised and organized an army and a power, which the Governments of Europe have recognized as a belligerent Power. We ourselves, by what I consider a most unfortunate act, not well considered -- declaring a blockade of their ports -- have acknowledged them as a Power. We cannot blockade our own ports. It is an absurdity. We blockade an enemy's ports. The very fact of declaring this blockade recognized them as a belligerent Power, entitled to all the privileges and subject to all the rules of war, according to the law of nations. 

    Mr. Maynard. I would like to ask the gentleman whether, if the city of Cincinnati, or any other city of the Union, rebelled against the Government, it would not be lawful for the Government to surround it and cut it off from all communication, whether the blockade does anything more than that?

Mr. Stevens. Ah; but there is a mode of doing it. Declaring a blockade is admitting the power of those you blockade. We should have repealed the law creating these ports of entry, and thus stopped their intercourse with the world. 

    Mr. Sheffield. I should like to ask the gentleman from Pennsylvania whether Portugal did not blockade her own ports?

    Mr. Stevens. She closed the ports of entry by repeal of the laws making them ports of entry, as all nations have a right to do. That is what is called closing the ports as was done once on the Black Sea.

    Mr. Sheffield. I should like to know whether Spain did not blockade her colonial ports in South America?

    Mr. Stevens. I never heard of it.

    Mr. Sheffield. Perhaps the gentleman will find out the fact.

    Mr. Stevens. After the colonies had become a Power, Spain blockaded their ports, thereby recognizing them as a Power.

    Mr. Thomas, of Massachusetts. I understand the suggestion of the gentleman from Pennsylvania to be, not that we might not blockade these ports, but that it was not necessary to blockade them, and that we might have shut them up without resorting to an international blockade, as in the case of Russia and the Circassian ports.

    Mr. Sheffield. I ask whether Russia and this country did not unite in a protest against Spain attempting to do that with her Spanish-American colonies, and whether they did not say that that was a sufficient reason for the recognition of those rebellious colonies?

Go To Page Two

Return To Index






This site was designed and is maintained by Fredric W. Henderson