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Signing the Ordinance

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  • The Ordinance of Secession, adopted April 17, 1861, ratified May 23, 1861. General Records of the Department of State, Record Group 59, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C.,
    First signed Ordinance of Secession
  • Ordinance of Secession, adopted April 17, 1861, ratified May 23, 1861, Virginia Convention (1861: Richmond), Records, 1861–1961, Acc. 40586, State Government Records Collection, Record Group 93, Library of Virginia.,
    Ordinance of Secession (Calligraphy)
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« Return to Virginia Convention Votes For Secession on April 17, 1861

Signing the Ordinance

On April 22, 1861, the convention ordered that the text of the Ordinance of Secession be inscribed on parchment for the delegates to sign. Between April 24 and May 1, the president and 91 other delegates, including some who had voted against secession on April 17, signed that copy of the Ordinance. At the end of the Civil War, in April 1865, when the Capitol of Virginia was left unguarded for several days, souvenir hunters and others carried away books, manuscripts and other records, including the parchment. An unidentified man either sent it or carried it to Philadelphia to be copied. The United States attorney for the eastern district of Pennsylvania seized it, and in May 1865 the attorney general of the United States presented it to the secretary of state. It is now in the Department of State records in the National Archives and Records Administration.

In May 1861, the secretary of the Virginia Convention commissioned a skilled Richmond artisan, William Flegenheimer, to inscribe a ceremonial copy of the Ordinance of Secession on parchment for the members to sign. At noon on June 14, 1861, 92 delegates signed the elegant parchment. Most of the members who had voted against secession on April 17 and who had returned to take part in Virginia's Confederate government signed the Ordinance along with the members who had voted for secession. Some delegates who arrived later also signed the parchment, but some delegates resigned in the meantime, and others were expelled at the end of June for taking part in the creation of a loyal state government in Wheeling. Some of their replacements who attended the June and November sessions of the convention also signed the Flegenheimer parchment. The ceremonial parchment has the signatures of 142 delegates.

John Quincy Marr, a delegate from Fauquier County, who had favored secession on April 17 but who was absent when the vote was taken, was killed in a skirmish at Fairfax Court House on June 1, 1861. The convention later voted to have his name inserted in copies of the Ordinance that it ordered printed for public distribution.

In April 1865, Charles W. Bullis, a United States Army soldier, carried away Flegenheimer's signed parchment. In 1887 his widow sold it to a collector, and in December 1929, following the death of the collector and of the collector's son, the collector's daughter-in-law returned it to the archives of Virginia.

During the Civil War and afterward, Richmond lithographers printed copies of Flegenheimer's ceremonial copy of the Ordinance for sale. Some people who obtained those copies mistakenly believed that they possessed the original of the Ordinance of Secession. There are several ways to distinguish between the original Flegenheimer parchment and all of the copies. The sequences of signatures vary in the lithographic copies, and some of the copies include the signature of John Quincy Marr. Each of the copies either includes or excludes one or more of the signatures that was on the ceremonial parchment.

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