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Autobiography of Eppa Hunton

Autobiography of Eppa Hunton

During this period, up to 1860, 1 had practiced my profession at Brentsville, with some success. I got a good practice and accumulated property. Excitement sometime before had begun to run very high between the North and the South. The question of slavery was the exciting cause. The North had the largest territory and the greatest population, and became very violent against the South on the question of slavery. Seward, one of the leading statesmen of the North, declared that this Union could not exist one-half slave and the other half free. Scenes of turmoil and violence occurred in both houses of Congress, and the patriotic and peace-loving man looked forward with the utmost dread to the future.

In 1860, the Democratic Party, which had been a unit up to that time and had always managed to hold the balance of power, was divided upon the "free-soil" question. The Party met in convention at Charleston, South Carolina, April 23, 1860, and was divided between Douglas and Breckinridge—Douglas representing the Northern "Free-Soil" wing, and Breckinridge the "States-Right" wing of the Party. Violent scenes occurred in the convention, and finally it was disrupted. Then two conventions were held, one in Baltimore, which nominated Stephen A. Douglas, of Illinois, and the other in Richmond, which nominated John C. Breckinridge, of Kentucky. The old Whig Party in convention nominated John Bell, of Tennessee. The Republicans nominated Abraham Lincoln, of Illinois. These candidates were all men of great ability. Lincoln was a rough man, and was called the "Illinois Rail Splitter." He was one of the most vulgar men that ever attained high position in the United States.

It soon became apparent that there was great danger of the election of Abraham Lincoln, owing to the division in the Democratic Party. This increased the intense feeling between the sections. The people in many of the Southern States declared in convention assembled that they would not remain in the Union if the country elected a sectional president. I was elector on the Breckinridge ticket and actively canvassed the State of Virginia in the interest of that wing of the Democratic Party.

At that time my wife became ill. She seemed to be suffering with neuralgia of the liver, and subject to violent attacks of pain. These attacks continued with more or less violence until 1862. They interfered a good deal with my activity in politics. I was very devoted to my wife, and she to me, and when she was ill I wanted to be with her, and she desired my presence. Abraham Lincoln was elected on November 6, 1860. Although he got only a minority of the popular vote he got a majority of the electoral vote. The country from the Potomac to the Rio Grande was at once convulsed with excitement. Several of the "Cotton States" took early action for secession. James Buchanan was the President. He was a good man, but timid. After the "Cotton States" had all withdrawn from the Union they formed the Confederate States government at Montgomery, Alabama, with Jefferson Davis as President, and sent Commissioners to Washington to treat with the Buchanan administration for recognition as a nation. Mr. Buchanan promised time and again that he would recognize them, but his timidity interfered, and he postponed it until his term as President expired.

In the meantime Virginia had not taken any steps. Up to the 1st of January, 1861, she had made no movement towards secession. Soon thereafter the Legislature, then in extra session, passed a law calling for a convention to determine the course of Virginia in the premises. The election was to take place February 4, 1861. I declared myself a candidate for this convention. Mr. Allen Howison, a very estimable Whig gentleman of the county, was a candidate against me. I was for immediate secession. Mr. Howison was unconditionally for the Union. I published a card in which I took the ground that I was for immediate secession for the sake of the Union. Elaborating my position I argued that if  Virginia would go out of the Union, at once, followed by some of the border states, the movement would be so formidable that the United States Government would not make war upon the Confederate States, but that the doctrine which was held by a great many Northern people, to "Let the erring sisters go in peace," would be adopted even by the Lincoln Administration; and that when war was avoided reconstruction would take place between the North and the South on terms satisfactory to both sides, and permanent. Of course my theory was but a theory, but I have always thought that if war could have been avoided by an early secession of all the Southern States, reconstruction would have taken place satisfactory to both sides and permanent. I was elected to the Convention by a large majority over Mr. Howison.

Eppa Hunton, Autobiography of Eppa Hunton (Richmond: The William Byrd Press, 1930), 9-11.

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