The Preston Resolution
This is Smithfield, the birthplace of William Ballard Preston (1805-1862). On April 16, 1861, in the Virginia Convention, he reluctantly introduced the formal resolution to secede from the Union.
Preston served in the Virginia House of Delegates (1830-1832; 1844-1845). In 1832, after Nat Turner's Insurrection, he supported an unsuccessful effort for gradual slave emancipation. He served in the Virginia Senate (1840-1844) and then in the U.S. Congress (1847-1849) with a fellow Whig who became a friend—Abraham Lincoln. Preston was Secretary of the Navy under Presidents Zachary Taylor and Millard Fillmore (1849-1850).
As a delegate to the Virginia Convention, in April 1861, Preston proposed that a committee call on President Lincoln to ascertain his policy toward the Confederate States (seven had seceded by then). The Convention appointed a member from each of its factions, including Preston (a conditional unionist), to the committee. It met with Lincoln in Washington on April 12, the day the bombardment of Fort Sumter began, to present the Convention's official communication. The next day, the committee and Lincoln debated the constitutional limits of his authority to repossess Federal forts and repel force with force.
The committee reported to the Convention that Lincoln's approach was hostile. After Fort Sumter fell and Lincoln called on April 15 for 75,000 troops from the states, delegates regarded his proclamation as an excessive response to the situation. The next day, Preston introduced the Ordinance of Secession, which passed on the 17th, 88-55. Preston served in the Provisional Confederate Congress and then in the Confederate Senate until his death.
Col. William Preston, William Ballard Preston's grandfather and Revolutionary War officer, built Smithfield in 1774. James P. Preston, the father of Ballard (as his family called him), an uncle, and two first cousins were Virginia governors.
(top left) William Ballard Preston, ca. 1845-1849 — Library of Congress
(bottom center) Ordinance of Secession Courtesy Library of Virginia
(top right) President Zachary Taylor's cabinet, 1849. Left to right: William Ballard Preston, Secretary of the Navy; Thomas Ewing, Secretary of the Interior; John Middleton Clayton, Secretary of State: Zachary Taylor (standing
), Twelfth President of the United States; William Morris Meredith, Secretary of the Treasury; George Washington Crawford, Secretary of War; Jacob Collamer, Postmaster General; Reverdy Johnson, Attorney General. Courtesy Library of Congress