Referenda on Secession and Taxation, May 23, 1861
On May 23, 1861, Virginia's voting men ratified the Ordinance of Secession that the Virginia Convention had adopted on April 17, and in that same election voters ratified an amendment to the state constitution that removed a limitation on the value of enslaved people held as property for taxation purposes. The two referenda passed by roughly similar margins, but in the Ohio River Valley and parts of the western mountain regions for which returns survive Virginians overwhelmingly voted against secession but in favor of the amendment. Elsewhere, voters overwhelmingly voted for secession, but many men voted against the amendment. The results of the two referenda on the same day highlighted the dramatic differences between the regions of Virginia where slavery was common and important and the regions where it was not. Virginians and their political leaders where slavery was important operated from a different set of values and personal interests than did Virginians and their political leaders where slavery was not so important. Those divisions within the state help explain why the history of Virginia during the secession crisis was so complex and why the decisions the convention delegates and the voters had to make were very difficult and at each of the crisis turning points were very different.
The January 1861 law that created the Virginia Convention required that if it voted to secede then the state's voters had to approve or disapprove in a popular referendum. It took place on Thursday, May 23, 1861.
Shortly before the first session of the Virginia Convention adjourned on May 1, 1861, the delegates adopted a constitutional amendment to require that all personal property, including slaves, be taxed at its full market value and submitted the amendment to a ratification referendum to be held on May 23.