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Letter Announcing Virginia’s Readmission to the United States, 1870


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. 


The American Civil War was fought from 1861 and officially ended in 1865. The war began when Virginia and ten other southern states seceded from the Union and joined the Confederacy in response to the election of Abraham Lincoln in the spring of 1861. After four years of war and the Confederacy’s defeat in the Civil War, the slow process of reconstructing the nation. In 1865, President Lincoln was assassinated and the task of reconstruction was placed on President Andrew Johnson.

The Reconstruction Acts were passed between 1867 and 1868. These Acts described the necessary requirements for a state to rejoin the Union, one of which was the ratification of the 14th Amendment which provided former enslaved people with national citizenship and the 15th Amendment which granted Black men the right to vote.  Virginia had rejected the 14th Amendment in 1867. Amongst other requirements was that the state approve and ratify a new State Constitution. Virginia fulfilled the requirements of the Reconstruction Acts and ratified the 15th Amendment by 1869. Virginia was re-admitted back into the Union in 1870. Only Texas and Georgia had not complied with the requirements to re- join the Union. They would join the union later that same year.

President Andrew Johnson notably opposed the Reconstruction Acts, as he felt that it would hamper state government autonomy and stand in the way of a peaceful reconciliation between the states. Despite his vetoes, Congress managed to pass all four Reconciliation Acts.

In this letter from Secretary of State Hamilton Fish to Governor Gilbert Walker, dated January 27, 1870, Fish informs Walker that Congress has approved an act that would readmit Virginia into the United States.

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


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 three requirements needed for a Southern state to re-join the Union.

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?