Reconstruction and party fighting in 1870 – Virginia State Quarter Coin

Today, the Virginia State Quarter coin tells the story of Virginia’s rejoining the Union on January 26, 1870 with party fighting in both the Senate and the House, some spirited.

In January 1870, the Baltimore American and Commercial Advertiser published the following update from the nation’s capital.


Washington. January 26.


President Grant today signed the bill and the same is now a law.

The Secretary of War and General Sherman received official notification this afternoon from the State Department that the President had signed the bill for the admission of Virginia as a State in the Union. General Sherman has sent a telegraphic notification of the fact to General Canby with instructions to turn over the authority of the government of the State to Governor Walker as soon as he is installed Governor of the State.


However, the bill did not easily come to pass in either the Senate or the House.

The Star and Sentinel of Gettysburg, PA printed a short summary:


The struggle in the United States Senate over the Virginia bill terminated on Friday in the adoption of Mr. Drake’s amendment by a vote of 31 to 28, providing that the Constitution of Virginia shall never be altered so as to deprive any of those now entitled to the elective franchise of the right to vote, except as punishment for crime. Unusual interest was felt in the result, the galleries and lobby being densely crowded. A good portion of the day was occupied in an exciting personal controversy between Senators Trumbull and Sumner, each arraigning the other’s record on the Reconstruction question.

Mr. Drake moved an additional proviso that it shall never be lawful for the State of Virginia to deprive any citizen of the State of the right to hold an office who is entitled to the same by the Constitution of the United States, which was agreed to — yeas 30, nays 29.

Mr. Wilson moved an amendment that the Constitution shall never be so amended as to deprive any citizen or class of citizens of the United State of the school rights and privileges to which he is now entitled by the said Constitution, which was agreed to — yeas 31, nays 29.

The Bill was then passed — ayes 48, nays 10 — a Strict party vote, except that Mr. Sumner declined to vote.

The Bill, as amended by the Senate, came up in the House on Monday, and after a sharp debate between Messrs. Butler, Bingham, Logan and Farnsworth, was passed, ayes 136, nays 57—the Republicans voting for, and the Democrats against.


Similarly, the Gettysburg Compiler also printed an article about Virginia, but they provided more details about the “fighting” in the House as seen in the excerpt below:


We subjoin a sketch of the debate, which our readers will agree with us in pronouncing more than spicy:

Mr. Farnsworth moved to take up the Senate amendments. Mr. Eldridge inquired whether an opportunity for debate would be given? Mr. Farnsworth declined to make any promise, and the Democrats voted against the motion. It carried, however, and Mr. Farnsworth moved to concur in the Senate substitute—not that he liked the amendments, which were bunglingly drawn, and might do more harm than good, but he made the motion because he thought that, to throw the question open again to a sea of discussion, and to keep Virginia longer out of representation, would be a greater evil than to adopt the Senate bill.

Mr. Bingham said that it would be borne on the Journal of the House that more than three to one of the members had declared for the admission of Virginia without conditions. That vote would commend itself to the approval of the country.

He had no apology to make here or elsewhere for the position which he reiterated, that it was not in the power of Congress, by exacting fundamental conditions in the admission of a State, to enforce what could not be legitimately enforced on all other States. That being so, he asked that the State of Virginia be admitted under the Senate bill. He eulogized the Constitution of Virginia as being more liberal than the Constitution of any State west of the Alleghenies. If he thought that under this bill Virginia could be subjected to conditions which might not be imposed on New York or Ohio he never would vote for the bill.

Mr. Cox suggested that the Senate bill was as obnoxious as the bill reported by the Reconstruction Committee, and which was voted down by the House.

Mr. Bingham replied that it was not quite so obnoxious, and he hoped that the House would concur in the Senate amendments. His chief purpose was to state to men on his own side of the House—

Mr. Butler of Massachusetts. Which side of the House is that? [Laughter.]

Mr. Bingham (indignantly.) The gentleman is very wise—wise beyond his years. He cannot read me out of the party with which I am associated, nor can he blot out my record. Vulgarity is not wit; assumption is not power.

Mr. Butler of Massachusetts, took the floor, and the interest of the discussion seemed to be on the increase. He said that he would begin where the gentleman from Ohio had left off, simply to say that he had never threatened to read the gentleman out of the Republican party. Nobody could do that but himself. Whether he had done that in passing the Virginia bill through the House by a snap judgment, and with the aid of his Democratic allies, the country would judge. Whether the gentleman was to have an ovation when he went to Virginia he did not know, but he had seen some hint of that kind in the papers. He should like to be present in spirit, where he could look on not embodied, and see the Virginians toasting the man whom all their papers announced as the murderer of Mrs. Surratt. [Excitement.] What a sight! the lion and —no, not a lamb, but another animal. [Laughter.]

He regarded the condition of the bill as a notice to Virginia and all the country that if she did not maintain, in spirit and in truth, the spirit of the reconstruction acts, Congress held and claimed, and with the help of God and of the loyal people of the country would exercise the power to place her back again where she had been.

Mr. Farnsworth said he understood very well the allusions made by Mr. Butler to the acting Chairman of the Reconstruction Committee, and he had a word to say on that subject. He would not allow himself to be instructed in republicanism by the gentleman from Massachusetts. He had been a Republican for twenty-five years, when the gentleman from Massachusetts was chasing fugitive slaves all over the State. [Laughter and clapping of hands on the Democratic side.] He had been doing all he could at the Chicago Convention for the nomination of a Republican President, while the gentleman from Massachusetts was at the Charleston Convention voting for Jeff Davis. [Laughter.] He had voted for the Republican party in 1860, when the gentleman from Massachusetts was voting for Breckenridge, of Kentucky. He knew the gentleman with the facilities for getting on the other side when his allies deserted him and went over, and he knew that his conviction and conversion was so sudden that it shamed that of St. Paul. [Laughter.]

Mr. Morgan opposed the substitute and said that for its action toward Virginia the Forty-first Congress would be known in history as the perfidious Congress.

Mr. Logan said he was one of those who had voted for the admission of Virginia free of conditions, and would do so again under similar circumstances, but he would now vote for the substitute. He would not enter into personalities. He had not himself been a Republican so long as to allow the moss to grow upon him, and therefore he did not propose to canvass anybody’s action. But neither would he allow any other person to be a censor over him.

Messrs. Fitch and Kellogg, who had originally supported Mr. Bingham’s bill, announced their intention, without approving of the Senate bill, to vote for it.

Mr. Sanks sarcastically invited all the patients to come up at once and make confession. [Laughter.]

Mr. Farnsworth’s motion was agreed to, and the Senate substitute concurred in by a strict party vote—yeas 136; nays 57.


The Virginia State Quarter coin shows against a peaceful scene of the Virginia mountains and remembers the challenges the state overcame.

Virginia State Quarter Coin