[The Virginia Secession Convention in the Hall of the House of Delegates, Virginia State Capitol, Richmond, Virginia, April 23, 1861.]
Sir, we have by this unanimous vote expressed our convictions that you are at this day among the living citizens of Virginia, "first in war." We pray to God most fervently that you may so conduct the operations committed to your charge that it will soon be said of you that you are, "first in peace;" and when that time comes you will have earned the still prouder distinction of being "first in the hearts of your countrymen." I will close with one more remark.
When the Father of his Country made his last will and testament he gave swords to his favorite nephews, with an injunction that they should never be drawn from their scabbards except in self-defense, or in defense of the rights and liberties of their country; and that, if drawn for the latter purpose, they should fall with them in their hands rather than relinquish them.
Yesterday your mother, Virginia, placed her sword in your hand, upon the implied condition, that we know you will keep to the letter and in spirit, that you will draw it only in defense, and that you will fall with it in your hand, rather than the object for which it was placed there shall fail.
SOURCE: John William Jones, Life and Letters of Robert Edward Lee: Soldier and Man, p. 134-5