George Wythe Randolph was Thomas Jefferson's youngest grandson. Forty-two years of age in 1860, he had left the Piedmont and moved to Richmond, where he was a prominent attorney.
On March 16, 1861, Randolph delivered a speech to the Virginia secession convention. As it appears in Showdown in Virginia: The 1861 Convention and the Fate of the Union, Randolph's speech strikes me a tactically clever and persuasive. It also serves to remind us of the reality with which Virginia was confronted in reaching her decision.
Although Randolph included some emotional diatribes against the North, much of the speech was analytical to the point of being almost dry. The fact was, Randolph pointed out, there were now two Republics inhabiting the former United States: the old Union, now reduced to a Northern Republic, and the newly-formed Southern Republic composed of the seven cotton south states (soon to be eight, he maintained, by the imminent addition of Arkansas).
As a result, Randolph contended, the option was not open for Virginians "to consider whether we will remain as we were." Virginia needed to choose to go with one republic or the other, and the decision needed to be made soon, since in the meantime industry was "paralyzed" and people were "feverish and impatient." Delay had already caused the people to endure "agonies" and would "bankrupt our mercantile community."
Having laid out the options, Randolph then analyzed them. Which would be more beneficial to Virginia's industry and commerce and "our system of labor, the basis of our industrial fabric"? On all counts, Randolph maintained, "a withdrawal from the present Union seems to be the safest and best course for us to pursue."
Randolph's mode of analysis allowed him to avoid the minefield that Jeremiah Morton had entered. In the course of speech, Randolph did refer briefly to Republican patronage and southern disloyalty, but he did so in way that allowed him to affirm the loyalty of all Virginians. It was vain, he maintained, for Virginia to tie its fate to that of the border slave states in the Union. With far fewer slaves than Virginia, those states would ultimately sell out to the North, leaving steadfast Virginia in the lurch:
Of the 1,550,000 slaves in the [Union's remaining] seven slave States, the States of Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky and Missouri have only 428,000 - less than 28 per cent of the whole. The North will wield all the patronage of the government, and we shall be powerless. Have we not just cause to fear that as the white population of the four States before mentioned gains rapidly on the blacks, and their interest in the institution of slavery sinks almost to zero, they may yield to the temptation, and suffer the acquisition of free territory, without requiring an equal addition of slave territory?