Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Virginia Ordinance of Secession to Be on Display

Ordinance of Secession to Be on Display on April 16 at the Library of Virginia

(Richmond, Virginia) The Library of Virginia houses a unique and important document related to Virginia’s Civil War history—the Ordinance of Secession. The Ordinance will be on public view at the Library of Virginia from 9:00 AM to 5 PM on Saturday, April 16, 2011. Because of its age and fragile condition, this rare piece of Virginia history will be displayed for the public only a few times during the run of Union or Secession: Virginians Decide, the Library’s exhibition exploring what Virginians were thinking and saying as the first Southern states withdrew from the United States.

In addition to the Ordinance of Secession, the Library of Virginia will display archival records that document the emancipation of African Americans by Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation and passage of the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Among the items displayed will be the journal of the 1864 Virginia Constitutional Convention that banned slavery and cohabitation records that formalized marriages between enslaved African Americans.

Free tours of the Library’s Union or Secession and Struggle to Decide exhibitions will be offered. On April 17, 1861, after months of debate, the Virginia Convention of 1861 voted 88 to 55 to repeal Virginia’s ratification of the Constitution of the United States, effectively withdrawing from the Union. For final approval, the secession referendum had to be submitted to the electorate for their ratification on May 23. Secessionists carried the day and Virginia was officially out of the Union. Members of the convention, on June 14, signed a specially created parchment text of the Ordinance of Secession. In May 1861, the secretary of the Virginia Convention commissioned a skilled Richmond artisan, William Flegenheimer, to inscribe a ceremonial copy of the Ordinance of Secession on parchment, which was signed by 142 members.

Flegenheimer’s parchment disappeared from Richmond in 1865 during the final chaotic days of the war when Charles W. Bullis, a United States soldier from New York, carried it home with him. In 1887, his widow sold the Ordinance of Secession to a collector. Following the death of the collector and his son, the original document was returned in 1929 to Richmond, where it was authenticated and placed in the collection of the then–Virginia State Library.

The display of the Ordinance of Secession is part of the Second Annual Civil War and Emancipation Day: The 150th Anniversaries sponsored by the Future of Richmond's Past, a partnership of nearly 20 organizations. Participating museums are offering free admission and special programs on April 16. Free shuttle transportation will be offered by To the Bottom and Back's To the Museums and Back bus service, along with additional routes offered throughout the day. Historic Tredegar, the Maggie Walker National Historic Site, Lumpkin's Jail Site at Main Street Station, and the Boulevard Campus — the Virginia Historical Society and the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts — will serve as anchor sites for free programs and shuttle departures.

On Sunday, April 17, from 2:00–3:00 p.m. you can watch a live broadcast on WCVE Richmond PBS of a discussion by historian and author William Freehling on the debates and the significance of the Virginia Convention of 1861. The event will include a reenactment of speeches made as Virginia’s leaders wrestled with the question of whether secession was wise, legal, necessary, or in Virginia’s interest. This program is sponsored by the Community Idea Stations.

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About the Library of Virginia
The Library of Virginia (www.lva.virginia.gov), located in historic downtown Richmond at 800 East Broad Street, holds the world's most extensive collection of material about the Old Dominion and has been a steward of the commonwealth's documentary and printed heritage since 1823. The story of Virginia and Virginians has been told in many ways since 1607. At the Library of Virginia it is told through more than 110 million manuscripts and more than 1.9 million books, serials, bound periodicals, microfilm reels, newspapers and state and federal documents, each an individual tile in the vast and colorful mosaic of Virginia’s experience.