Saturday, May 22, 2010

Jubal Early Tells A Joke

On Saturday April 13, 1861, the delegates to the Virginia secession convention meeting in Richmond learned of the outbreak of hostilities and surrender at Fort Sumter. Delegates in favor of secession rejoiced, believing that the event would force the convention's hand.

But unionists and many conditional unionists held firm. Among them was none other than Jubal Anderson Early, representing Franklin County in the western Piedmont (31.6% enslaved). Ironically, in light of his later exploits, Early vigorous objected to the idea of Virginia becoming a highway for a Confederate army to march on Washington:
Mr. Chairman, this act [the events at Sumter] has done nothing to advance the cause of the Confederate States. In . . . Virginia, the mass of the people will never be found sanctioning their cause. . . . If there be any Virginians who advise or encourage the idea of marching an army from the Confederated States through our borders to Washington, they mistake the tone and temper of our people. I trust that the issue may never be forced upon us; but when it does come, mark it, that the invasion of our soil will be promptly resisted. The spirit of manhood has not deserted the sons of Virginia.
But I digress. What I really wanted to relate was a joke that Early told during the course of remarks he delivered later the same day. Eastern delegates maintained that the news of Sumter united Virginians behind the Confederate States. Warning easterners not to assume that the distant western parts of Virginia shared their views, Early emphasized the great size and varied nature of the state:
Sir, I imagine that gentlemen don't know how large the State of Virginia is. There was an old man, a citizen of my county, who has been reared in the hollows of the mountains, where the peaks run up very high, and you see only a little of the sky above. He had never been further than ten miles from his home. He . . . took it into his head to become a candidate for the Legislature. Well, he started, and when he got a little below our Court-House, the country began to open up before him, and he was led to exclaim, “Great God, if I had known the world had been half so large, I never would have started out from home.”
All quotes are from Showdown in Virginia: The 1861 Convention and the Fate of the Union (William W. Freehling and Craig M. Simpson, eds.).

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