Friday, March 26, 2010

Waitman Willey Calls Out Jeremiah Morton

In my recent post entitled Immediate Secession: Were Southerners Afraid of Southerners? I mentioned that it was awkward for proponents to state directly that they believed that immediate secession was necessary because some of their fellow citizens were potential traitors prepared to betray their states in return for Black Republican patronage.

Despite the awkwardness, as I described (and quoted) on Thursday February 28, 1861 Jeremiah Morton came out and said pretty much exactly that at the Virginia Secession Convention – and subsequent events proved the risks of his doing so.

At the beginning of the next week, on Monday March 4, 1861 – the day of President Abraham Lincoln's inauguration – Waitman T. Willey of “Monongalia County (in extreme northwestern Virginia, on the western edge of Pennsylvania, and 0.8 percent enslaved)” took the floor. Willey, a staunch unionist, would participate in the formation of the state of West Virginia and become that new state's most important early leader. On March 4, he called out Morton, accusing him of calling his fellow citizens corrupt:
In his eloquent speech he other day, [Mr. Morton] referred to another argument – I must say that it was an extraordinary argument to be addressed to Virginians - . . . that Lincoln would so employ the patronage of the Federal Government as to corrupt Virginian. It is an argument that I would not dare to make to my constituents – that I would not like to make in any section of Virginia; and I will say, that if Virginia is of such easy virtue as to be corrupted from her integrity by a little paltry pap from the Federal Treasury, her honor is not worth preserving.
In looking at history-related websites, I see teachers regularly noting the importance of exposing their students to primary sources. It strikes me that Showdown in Virginia: The 1861 Convention and the Fate of the Union, the new book edited by William W. Freehling and Craig M. Simpson from which the quotes from both Morton's and Willey's speeches are drawn, provides an excellent resource. Assign each student a different speech (they're short, generally ten pages or less) and have each student outline or analyze it. What are the arguments? Are they persuasive? Why or why not? For the right class it might make a great exercise


  1. Again a very interesting serie sof posts on this issue

  2. william w freehling11:43 AM

    Thanks, whoever you are, for this. One way we HOPE the book will be used. Readers and especially teachers may be interested in our new website for the book: Bill Freehling

  3. Professor,

    As a huge fan of yours, I am truly honored. I will post about your website in a day or two.


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