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?

Anti-Secession/Unionist Perspective

Can't get around those pesky facts. Looks like slavery was Virginia's number one priority in 1861.

Pro-Secession/Confederate Perspective

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!


  1. The pro-heritage crowd doesn't really have a concrete reason for secession, but, they'll buy anything as long as it isn't slavery.

  2. Now divide the word usage according to dates-

    February 13-April 14, 1861


    April 15-May 1, 1861

    1. The word "slave", in all it's different forms was used 1,432 times while the word "defend" was used 147 times.

      The word "property" was used 583 times, while the word "tariff" was used 81 times.

      The word "slaveholding" was used 305 times, while the word "invasion" was used 73 times.

      "Tyranny" was only uttered 22 times. Just give it up dude. Your ancestors were racists who loved to sip sweet tea and lemonade while their property made them filthy, stinking rich.

      The events of Fort Sumter had the effect of lighting a fire under their asses. When you know that someone's going to huff, and puff, and blow your house down, you're much more willing to take extreme measures. Ol' Virginy hung in there for a bit, but they were more dependent on slave labor than any other Southern State. The facts are going to prove you wrong, just give it up. Even full blown racists admit that your ancestors were racists. The only reason that you pathetic, cretinous Rainbows cling to your Lost Cause narratives is to keep your dish rags up and to prove that you aren't the big, bad R-word. But the Confederate Heritage movement is defined by the R-word. It is the basis of everything you guys believe.

      It's not working. You are losing because the facts don't support your argument. Just give it up. I'm not going to stop embarrassing you losers with the facts you refuse to acknowledge. Whether you do or not doesn't even matter. The public is smart enough to see that I'm presenting facts and all you are doing is saying "that's not true" while failing to present any facts. You guys have been running a con game on the public for many, many years, but that's coming to an end. It's game over for you losers.

    2. You know what I think is neat BR? The shading on this map. Why is it so dark over on the right side and so light on the left? Could it have something to do with agriculture?

      I bet it does.

      OH NO, MORE FACTS!!!

    3. This one's pretty neat too:

      So are these:

    4. Try to remember this number BR, 490,865

    5. "Slavery"

      February 13-April 14, 1861 - 502 times

      April 15-May 1, 1861 - 10 times


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