Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Letter to the Editor: In Defense of Northerners and the Pro-Union Vote

Following the election of moderate, pro-Union candidate William Dulany to the Virginia Convention in February 1861, Fairfax farmer W.W. Ball wrote a letter to the editor of the Alexandria Gazette, published on February 19, 1861.  Although the collection of primary sources that I own does not replicate the article that Ball was responding to, it is clear from the content of his letter that the Gazette was chalking up Dulany's victory in Fairfax to the Northern vote.  (As readers may remember, I posted an entry about Northern migration to Fairfax and the newcomers' influence on local politics a few months ago.  Last week, I looked at the results of the February 4, 1861 vote.)

Ball first rushed to the defense of his Northern neighbors.  He had "great pleasure in testifying, that a more intelligent, orderly, law-abiding, and inoffensive set of men . . . never lived in any community."  He "truly   regret[ted] the publication of the article . . . because it is calculated to prejudice at least some of our citizens against their Northern brethren, and to place them in a false position before the public."  His impassioned defense continued:
Can any man of reflection suppose for a moment that our Northern fellow-citizens would desert us in the hour of peril and danger, and prove traitors to the land of their adoption? I should think not.  Have not a large majority of them invested their last dollar in our lands? Their entire earthly possessions are in the State of Virginia.  Have not many of them married the fair daughters of Fairfax, and buried their parents, wives, and children in our Southern soil?  Is it reasonable to suppose that with all these ties to bind them here, should  the bugle of war ever be sounded in our midst, that they would take up arms against us? No it is not.

Ball refuted the assertion that Dulany was elected by the Northern vote alone.  He first noted that in his Lewinsville Cross Roads precinct, "Dulany received about two-and-a-half of the native votes to [Alfred] Moss's one."  He continued by looking at the results in other counties:
Was it the Northern vote of Fairfax that gave Brent, the Union candidate, 669 majority in Alexandria? Was it the Northern vote of Fairfax that elected the Union candidates in Loudoun by a 1690 majority, and in Fauquier by 788 majority? Was it the Northern vote of Fairfax that swept over the State like a tornado, bearing down all opposition, electing Union men in almost every county, city, town, and borough by the most unprecedented majorities ever given in the State? Why, if all these mighty results have been brought about by three hundred Northern voters in old Fairfax, what an immense influence they must wield in the future destiny of our good old mother.

Map Showing the Comparative Area of the Northern and Southern States, East of the Rocky Mountains, Harper's Weekly, February 23, 1861 (courtesy of Library of Congress).  To the editors of Harper's Weekly, Virginia already belonged to the Southern block of slave states that had seceded, months before the Virginia Convention voted on the issue of secession.  Mr. Ball may have been a bit more optimistic at the time!
Ball believed that in the recent elections, "the masses North and South, East and West . . . resolved to tear off the shackles that have so long bound them to party, and wrought their ruin; and in the future to think for themselves and vote for themselves."  Ball forcefully concluded:
Hence the mighty revolution now going on, throughout the length and breadth of our land, in the minds of the people.  Mark it the Union, the Union will be the watch word in [the] future.  The people are speaking through the ballot box, and will be heard.
Ball's letter demonstrates the Unionist sentiment in Fairfax at the time of the February 1861 vote.  Ball also understood that it could not have been Northerners alone who made the difference in the election of delegates.  In February, Virginians in the northeast of the state, and in other places, were largely moderate, and as Ball said,  hoped to remain in the Union "as long as there is a hope left of an honorable and satisfactory adjustment of the unfortunate difficulties which now exist between the slave and free States."   In the end, Ball, like many Virginians, voted for ratification of the Ordinance of Secession on May 23, 1861.  One wonders whether Ball felt any differently towards his Northern neighbors who remained loyal to the Union as Virginia entered the war on the side of the Confederacy.

Note on sources:
Brian A. Conley, Fractured Land: Fairfax County's Role in the Vote for Secession, May 23, 1861, published by the Fairfax County Public Library in 2001, contains an excellent collection of primary source documents.  Ball's letter in its entirety is reproduced in this book.

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