John Letcher

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In accepting the nomination he states "in language distinct and emphatic, that he regards the institution of slavery, existing in Virginia and other slave States, as morally, socially and politically right." Years ago Mr. Letcher was less decided in his convictions as to the blessings of slavery. He is even charged with having been an abolitionist. [1]

Letcher was prominent in the organization of the peace convention that met in Washington, D.C., February 8, 1861, in an effort to devise means to prevent the impending American Civil War. He discouraged secession, but was active in sustaining the ordinance passed by Virginia on April 17, 1861. Despite scheduling a popular vote to ultimately determine whether Virginia would secede from the Union, the actions of the Virginia Secession Convention and of the state government, especially Virginia Governor Letcher, effectively took Virginia out of the Union. [2] [3] The referendum occurred on May 23, 1861, and Virginia voters overwhelmingly approved the Articles of Secession. [4] Governor Letcher appointed Robert E. Lee, who had just resigned as a colonel in the U.S. Army, as commander in chief of Virginia's army and navy forces on April 22, 1861, at the grade of major general. [5] On April 24, 1861, Virginia and the Confederate States agreed that the Virginia forces would be under the overall direction of the Confederate President, Jefferson Davis, pending completion of the process of Virginia joining the Confederate States. [5]

Colonel John Brown Baldwin defeated Letcher in May 1863 for a seat in the Second Confederate Congress. In 1864, his home in Lexington was burned by Union troops during General David Hunter's raid.


The tomb of John Letcher at Oak Grove Cemetery (Lexington) Lexington VA, Letchers's tomb.jpg
The tomb of John Letcher at Oak Grove Cemetery (Lexington)

After the Civil War, Letcher resumed the practice of law in Lexington. He was elected as a member of the House of Delegates in the Virginia General Assembly 1875–1877. He was a member of the Board of Visitors of the Virginia Military Institute (VMI) 1866–1880 and served as president of the Board for ten years.

He died on January 26, 1884, at the age of 70, and was interred in the Presbyterian Cemetery (now Oak Grove Cemetery) at Lexington, Virginia.

Electoral history

1859 – Letcher was elected Governor of Virginia, defeating American William Leftwich Goggin.


Letcher's son, John Davidson Letcher, was a professor at Oregon State University, serving as acting president from January 1892 to June 1892. His son Greenlee D. Letcher served two terms in the Virginia House of Delegates. Governor Letcher had a daughter, Lizzie, who married James Harrison, a language professor at Washington and Lee and later head of the Romance and Teutonic Language Department at the University of Virginia after 1895.

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  1. "(Untitled)". Anti-Slavery Bugle (Lisbon, Ohio). January 22, 1859. p. 2 via
  2. Long, 1971, p. 60.
  3. Detzer, David. Dissonance: The Turbulent Days Between Fort Sumter and Bull Run. New York: Harcourt, 2006. ISBN   978-0-15-603064-9 (pbk.) p. 49.
  4. "Virginia Convention of 1861 – Encyclopedia Virginia".
  5. 1 2 Scharf, John Thomas. History of the Confederate States Navy From Its Organization to the Surrender of Its Last Vessel. New York: Rogers & Sherwood, 1887, p. 39. OCLC   317589712. Retrieved February 1, 2011


  • Boney, F.N. (1966) John Letcher of Virginia; The Story of Virginia’s Civil War Governor. University, Ala.: University of Alabama Press, 1966.
  • Long, E. B. The Civil War Day by Day: An Almanac, 1861–1865. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1971. OCLC   68283123


John Letcher
Member of the U.S.HouseofRepresentatives
from Virginia's 11th district
In office
March 4, 1851 March 3, 1853
Party political offices
Preceded by Democratic nominee for Governor of Virginia
Title next held by
Gilbert Carlton Walker
U.S. House of Representatives
Preceded by Member of the  U.S. House of Representatives
from Virginia's 11th congressional district

March 4, 1851 March 3, 1853
Succeeded by
Preceded by Member of the  U.S. House of Representatives
from Virginia's 9th congressional district

March 4, 1853 March 3, 1859
Succeeded by
Political offices
Preceded by Undisputed Governor of Virginia
Succeeded by
as Confederate Governor
Succeeded by
Francis Harrison Pierpont
as Unionist Governor
Preceded by
as the Undisputed Governor
Confederate Governor of Virginia
Succeeded by