Page:Southern Historical Society Papers volume 27.djvu/69
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who bore heroic parts in the great struggle, and then proceeded as follows:
But, my countrymen, while the erection of monuments to com- memorate the heroism of the Confederate soldier is a work worthy of the highest commendation, there remains for this generation a still more sacred and important duty the duty of portraying the high motives which impelled him, and of vindicating his name from the charge of treason.
The world acknowledges the splendid valor with which he main- tained his cause, yet waits to declare whether his course was justified by the tests of ethical and constitutional right. It is only by re- peated expositions that our children, and the mind and conscience of the outside world will be informed both with respect to his rights and the motives which influenced his conduct. This exposition is due as well to the actors in that great contest as to our countrymen of every phase of thought. The Union, and love for the Union, the closer sympathy between the States and sections, will be strength- ened rather than hindered by a correct understanding of the rights asserted by the parties to that, the mightiest conflict of modern times.
THE RIGHT OF SECESSION.
First and foremost of the States which seceded appealed to the Constitution in justification of their course. The rightfulness of this contention must be determined not by our conceptions of what would have been the best system of government or the best form of constitution, but what, in the light of the admitted facts of history, and the actual terms of the Constitution as adopted, were the relative rights of the States and of the Union, with respect to this great problem. I can not, upon this occasion, do more than epitomise the facts and reasoning upon which the advocates of secession main- tained the justice of their cause. It will help to a clearer under- standing if we take one Commonwealth and portray her relations to the Union, and as we are to-day to honor the memory of Virginians, I shall select for that purpose our native State.
Virginia was one of the original colonies, having a separate exist- ence from the other colonies, and yet, like the others, forming an integral part of the British Empire. Pending this political relation, the allegiance of her citizens was due the British crown.
On the I5th of May, 1776, the people of Virginia met in conven- tion, and acting without association with any of the other colonies, declared her separation from and independence of Great Britain.