Confederate History and Heritage Month: Why did Virginia secede? An experiment in word density from the Virginia Secession Convention
|The Virginia Ordinance of Secession. (Image courtesy of the Library of Virginia)|
This Confederate History and Heritage Month, the debate continues to rage over why the State of Virginia voted to secede from the Union in 1861. The answer is not as hard to find as some would have you believe. One need not look much further than what the men who deliberated over seceding from the Union said about the topic during the Virginia Secession Convention. How better a way for one to determine what secession was over, other than the words of those who made the decision to secede?
"The people of Virginia, in their ratification of the Constitution of the United States of America, adopted by them in Convention on the twenty-fifth day of June, in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and eighty-eight, having declared that the powers granted under the said Constitution were derived from the people of the United States, and might be resumed whensoever the same should be perverted to their injury and oppression; and the Federal Government, having perverted said powers, not only to the injury of the people of Virginia, but to the oppression of the Southern Slaveholding States."
The University of Richmond has digitized the entire proceedings of the Virginia Secession Convention, including all of the delegates speeches. The entire Convention is searchable on an interactive webpage found here. The search scans the entire archive for every time a keyword is used. We decided to experiment with the page by plugging in words that you would expect to see from both sides of the secession argument. For instance, from the Union or Anti-secession point of view, which is that secession was generally, if not explicitly over the issue of slavery, you would expect to see words like "slave", "property", "institution" and "negro". A secessionist or Confederate minded person on the other hand might expect to see words like "States rights", "invasion", "tariff" and "attack". It follows that common sense would tell us that it would be natural that the true reason for secession might be able to be identified by the number of times certain keywords were used during the deliberations over what to do about secession. For instance, if the war was really over a barbaric invasion of the North into Southern lands or staggering tariffs, you would logically expect to see heavier usage of words relating to that argument. It is called "keyword density", and it is just one more way that we can flesh out what the true cause of the war was. Fortunately, the University of Richmond has made that easy for us with this incredible interactive website in which we can do just that. So what did we find?
|Can't get around those pesky facts. Looks like slavery was Virginia's number one priority in 1861.|
|Just look at how low the majority of the words Confederates usually cite as reason for secession played into the Virginia Secession Convention. Doh!|
Combined Unionist/Confederate Perspectives
|You guys are even getting your asses kicked in graphs.|
The highest word density in the Virginia Secession Convention documents is the word "State" followed by the word "Slave". Beyond that, the word density is dominated by words dealing with the "peculiar institution". If our Lost Cause friends were correct in their assertion that the war was over things like States Rights and taxes, then you would expect to see words like "Tariff", "Invasion", and "Attack". The word "Defend" rated dead last on the combined chart. Clearly, based on the word density of the Virginia Secession Convention documents, in 1861, Virginians main concern when deliberating whether to secede from the Union or not was protecting their human property. Thanks for playing Confederates, but better luck next time.
Restoring the honor!