"In the Beginning, all America was Virginia."
William Byrd II
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Last Chance for Peace: Virginia's Role in the Washington Peace Conference of 1861 by Mark Tooley


On August 25 at noon, Mark Tooley delivered a Banner Lecture entitled "Last Chance for Peace: Virginia's Role in the Washington Peace Conference of 1861." After six states had already seceded, and after Virginia’s Secession Convention was already soon to convene, former President John Tyler, from his James River plantation, suggested in a January 1861 Richmond newspaper column that there be a conference of the border states to seek alternatives to disunion. The Virginia legislature expanded the invitation to all states, whose 131 delegates convened at the Willard Hotel in February for what became known as the “Old Gentlemen’s Convention,” with Tyler presiding. Other Virginia statesmen who attended included future Confederate War Secretary James Seddon and former U.S. Senator William Cabell Rives. Typically the convention is briefly dismissed as a failure, but actually it played an important role in slowing the secession crisis and facilitating Abraham Lincoln’s safe installation into the presidency.

Mark Tooley is author of The Peace That Almost Was: The Forgotten Story of the 1861 Washington Peace Conference and the Final Attempt to Avert the Civil War. He is president of a Washington, D.C. thinktank and a lifelong resident of northern Virginia. (Introduction by Andrew Talkov)