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Letter Notifying the Governor that Virginia Representatives were Readmitted to Congress, 1870

CONTENT WARNING

Materials in the Library of Virginia’s collections contain historical terms, phrases, and images that are offensive to modern readers. These include demeaning and dehumanizing references to race, ethnicity, and nationality; enslaved or free status; physical and mental ability; and gender and sexual orientation. 

Context

The American Civil War was fought between 1861 and 1865. The war began after eleven southern states, including Virginia, seceded from the United States in the months after Abraham Lincoln was elected president in November 1860. After four years of war and the Confederacy’s defeat, the slow process of reconstructing the nation began. After President Lincoln's assassination in 1865 the task of reconstruction was placed on President Andrew Johnson.

White leaders of the former Confederate states sought to preserve their control of government, the economy, and society and passed many laws limiting the rights of formerly enslaved men and women. As a result, reformers in Congress passed in 1867 and 1868 what are known as the Reconstruction Acts to help preserve the civil rights of African Americans. The acts created military districts to oversee the civilian governments of those states and required that new state constitutions be written before representatives and senators of those states would be readmitted to Congress. The former Confederate states were also required to ratify the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which defined citizenship and the rights of citizens. President Andrew Johnson notably opposed the Reconstruction Acts, believing that they would hamper the autonomy of state governments and stand in the way of a peaceful reconciliation between the states. Despite his vetoes, Congress passed the acts.

Virginia had rejected the Fourteenth Amendment in 1867, but after adopting a new state constitution that acknowledged the rights of Black men to vote and run for office, the General Assembly ratified the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments in October 1869. As a result, Virginia's elected representatives and senators were readmitted to Congress (often described as Virginia being readmitted to the Union). On January 26, 1870, Secretary of State Hamilton Fish wrote this letter to Governor Gilbert Walker, informing him that an act "to admit the state of Virginia to representation in Congress" had passed that day.

Citation: Letter from Secretary of State Fish to Governor Walker, January 26, 1870, Gilbert Walker Executive Papers, Accession 40233, Library of Virginia, Richmond, Virginia.

Standards

VS.1, VS.7, VS.8, USI.1, USI.9, USII.1 USII.3, VUS.1, VUS.7

Suggested Questions

Preview Activity

Using Context Clues: Using context clues found in the document, what is the basis for the document? What event has occurred?

Post Activities

Think About It: List two requirements needed for the former Confederate states to have their representatives admitted to Congress.

Looking at Language: Look at the language of the letter, what does it tell you about the person writing it and the person receiving it? Does the length of the letter surprise you? Why or why not?