February 4, 1861: Peace Conference Opens in Washington

George William Summers

On February 4, 1861, a Peace Conference was held in Washington as a last-ditch effort to avert the looming Civil War. The deep divisions between the North and South carried into the conference, which failed to find a compromise. The Civil War started two months later.

George W. Summers of Charleston was among the 100 statesmen from across the country who attended the conference. Summers had proudly served his state and region for decades, including three terms in the Virginia General Assembly. From 1841 to 1845, he’d served as a representative from Western Virginia in Congress.

As a delegate to the Virginia Constitutional Convention of 1850-51, Summers and other westerners helped secure reforms that favored Western Virginia. In the gubernatorial election of 1851, he was defeated by Harrison County’s Joseph Johnson, who became Virginia’s first popularly elected governor. Summers likely lost because he was viewed as anti-slavery even though he himself owned slaves.

As a member of the Virginia secession convention, he voted against the Ordinance of Secession. After the vote, Summers resigned his seat at the convention, returned home to Charleston, and retired from public life.