From John Hennessy:
We have passed the 150th Anniversary of Jefferson Davis’s inauguration as President of the new Confederate states, which at the time did NOT include Virginia. The people of Fredericksburg watched the tragic contortions of a nation in crisis with great interest. But they did not react to notably to Davis’s inauguration. Instead, Fredericksburgers and Virginians in general navigated a careful course–still uncertain whether their interests could best be protected within or outside the Union.
On December 17, 1860, the people of Fredericksburg (at least the white residents) adopted a document that would be by far the town’s most important collective expression on Union and disunion–indeed it would be their blueprint for the secession crisis. They mapped out precisely how the community–and by extension presumably the state–would respond in the face of the acts of the Federal government. The document clearly states the cause of white Fredericksburgers’ grievances, their self-image as Southerners, and precisely what acts would bring them to conclude that Virginia must leave the Union. The Fredericksburg News said of the meeting that produced this collective resolution, “We have only time to say that we have never seen more unanimity than was expressed last night in the Citizens’ Meeting….The sentiment of all present was to preserve the Union if it be possible on terms alike honorable to both parties. If this be impossible, then placing ourselves upon our rights, under the guidance of providence, to stand by them come weal or woe.”
Here is the text of the resolutions adopted; they would, in fact, be the road map for the town’s descent into secession. You’ll note that the first issue referenced was slavery (why anyone among us would now claim that slavery was NOT a dominant issue is a puzzle to me–the contemporary press and writings are full of such references). Also note that the resolutions established the trigger for secession: aggression by the Federal government. Fredericksburg would follow this blueprint into war.
We further hold that Virginia is bound by such intimate ties of interest and affection to her sister States of the South, that she should not act in this grave controversy without entering into council with them. The unity of interests and rights, of burdens and of perils, which binds the fifteen Southern States together, is so complete, that we think no decisive step should be taken in such a movement without a full consultation and deliberation by them all in Convention assembled. Therefore resolved.
1st. That there must be now a settlement distinct, complete, and permanent between the two sections of this Confederacy, on the subject of African Slavery, which settlement must be on a basis that will secure to the Southern States and their citizens the perfect power to hold, control, and manage their own property in their own way, without molestation or interference, and that this property shall, in all particulars, be protected and respected by the Government as fully any other property; and that the States of the South shall be made secure in the maintenance of their independent sovereignty.
2nd. That the Legislature of this State be earnestly invoked to call at the earliest practicable moment a Convention of Delegates, to be selected by the people, to take such action as the interests and honor of Virginia may demand.
3rd. That without assuming to ourselves the right to utter complaint against any State for the course she may think proper to take in the vindication of her rights and honor, and insisting that such diversities of opinion and action as is natural should occur among the Southern States under the exigency of existing circumstances, should be considered by us in the spirit of a cordial sympathy, we express our preference as at present advised, that the Convention of Virginia should invite the co-operation of the other Southern States in the Convention of Delegates to be appointed by them respectively for the consideration of the grave matters of interest which are common to all.
4th. That in our opinion, the use of force directly or indirectly by the other States through the Federal Government, to compel any state to remain in the Union, or to force any Federal Law within her limits after she has withdrawn from the Union, must inevitably lead to hostilities, in which Virginia will be constrained in the present crisis, to take part against the Federal Government.
From the Fredericksburg News, December 1860.