In the late 1850's and early 1860's, Jacob H. Bechtel was employed as a bookkeeper in Richmond, Va., at A. Morris Bookseller, Stationer & Publisher. Though born and raised in Philadelphia, Bechtel had acquired a range of Southern mannerisms and attitudes during his years in Richmond, even while maintaining close ties with his relatives in the North, and he and his family seem to have been contented with their adopted home. However as the series of events that culminated in the Civil War transpired, Bechtel found himself increasingly torn between his Northern roots and his new Southern home.
As the crisis came to a head, Bechtel became critical of what he saw as extremism on both sides of the sectional divide. While he was terrified by the direct action of John Brown at Harper's Ferry, he scorned the pointless confrontations of the fire-eating secessionists, and could never accept their use of the politics of force. His opinions shifted increasingly toward a passive sympathy with the secession movement, particularly after John Brown's raid and the election of Lincoln in 1860, and he chose to remain in Virginia as the nation dissolved, though not without misgivings. Ultimately, the decision of which side he would support was made for him when he was trapped in Richmond by the imposition of the federal blockade of southern ports. By the middle of 1861, he felt forced into silence on all political matters because of the suspicion aroused against him by virtue of his northern origins. His fate during the war is unknown.