Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Fairfax Delegate Explains His Vote Against Secession

On April 17, 1861, the same day that the Virginia Convention passed the Ordinance of Secession, William Dulany, the delegate from Fairfax County, rose to explain his vote to fellow delegates.  Readers may remember that although Dulany was elected as a moderate Unionist, the local paper in Fairfax had surmised that he would not oppose secession as a last resort.  However, even in the face of Lincoln's call for volunteers, and the defection of many Union men to the cause of secession, Dulany held firm that day.

Dulany reminded the delegates that he was representing the will of his constituents on the issue:
In voting against the ordinance of secession, I voted in, what I believed to be, strict accordance with the sentiments of the people whom I have the honor to represent here. I voted in strict accordance with my own judgment also upon that subject; because if I had believed that the people of my county were unanimous in favor of such an ordinance, and my judgment did not approve it, I could never have consented to give my vote for it, and would feel bound to resign my seat here and allow my constituents to substitute another who would carry out their will.
Even though Dulany expressed loyalty to his native state, his concern over the impact of war on Fairfax County and his family took precedence:
I thought, sir, according to my poor judgment, that by the passage of this ordinance we were transferring the war, as already commenced, from its present seat to our own State, and especially to the borders of my own native county; and although. . . .  I would willingly offer up the little I have as a sacrifice to preserve the honor of my native State, yet there were ties that bound me to her and to the Union more holy than the mere rights of property, than mere dollars and cents. I do not wish to see an aged mother and sisters, who are dependent upon me, who will be-I say it without egotism-in the first of this conflict-I say I do not wish to see them flying from the county, as I apprehend they will have to do, inasmuch as it is likely to become the seat of the first conflict, being in fact in sight of the emissaries of the Federal Government, and likely to be before long in their exclusive possession.
Dulany concluded that his fears represented the fears of his constituents in the county:
I voted against this ordinance of secession to avoid transferring the seat of war to that section; and I did so, moreover, because, as I have said, I believed that in so doing, I reflected the will and sentiments of the people I represent.
Dulany understood well what war would mean for Fairfax. Before long, Union and Confederate armies would be marching across the county.  And even when the fighting moved elsewhere, citizens experienced the daily hardships of living in occupied territory. 

"Debating the Ordinance of Secession," David Hunter Strother, The Village Magnates, 1861, Pierre Morand Memorial, Special Collections, Library of Virginia (c0urtesy of Library of Virginia).

In the end, Dulany signed the Ordinance of Secession, spoke publicly for ratification, and voted for secession at the polls in May.  A May 22, 1861 article in the Alexandria Gazette on a public meeting in Fairfax provides insight into Dulany's apparent change of heart.  Addressing the crowd, Dulany explained "he had voted against the ordinance of secession, but that he thought now there should be no division.  The course of the administration made it the imperative duty of every loyal son of Virginia to strike for her independence."

No comments: