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McKain outlines state history

PARKERSBURG – The state of West Virginia was born in Parkersburg, a local historian told a group of local residents.

About 50 people gathered Tuesday evening at the Judge Black Annex to listen to local historian Dave McKain speak about Parkersburg’s involvement in the formation of West Virginia, as part of West Virginia’s sesquicentennial celebration this week.

The state’s first and third governors were from Parkersburg as well as the first U.S. representative and senator, McKain said. One of the first people to try to convince Virginia officials to stay in the Union, before succession was voted on, was from Parkersburg, he said.

McKain said some historians, a number from Virginia, present the formation of West Virginia as more an action of the Union and its armed forces coming into the area, rather than the concentrated effort of people to overcome legal issues and other concerns at a time when the nation was at war with itself.

”If history has been in the books for the last 150 years, they don’t want someone to come along and say that’s not right,” McKain said. ”One piece at a time and we will get there.”

McKain said the formation of the state was a closely and carefully put together legal process full of personal drama. Issues of slavery, the railroad and economics were all a big part of the process, he said.

In 1861, a meeting was held in Parkersburg where it was decided the northwest part of Virginia would not follow the rest of the state if it voted for succession.

”They voted and basically said there would be no succession for this part of the country,” McKain said. William L. Jackson, who eventually went to the Confederacy, was the lone dissenting vote.

Gen. J.J. Jackson was elected to go to the convention, which was considering succession for Virginia and put the message across. He was an influential person known by many across Virginia.

General Jackson was able to hold off the vote for a long time and gave a speech highlighting the desire of the northwestern part of the state not to follow if Virginia decided to leave the Union.

”The first vote they took after that speech, they turned down succession,” McKain said.

However, circumstances, namely the firing on Fort Sumter by Confederate forces, pushed many Virginians to vote for succession, which caused delegates from the northwest to leave Richmond quickly.

McKain spoke about the people involved in the oil and gas business in the 19th century who had political connections; many of them worked on the formation of the state of West Virginia.

”A lot of the founding fathers of West Virginia were involved in the oil business,” he said.

Over time, it was determined that a new state could not just be formed. There were legal issues that had to be overcome.

Because law required that only the mother state could allow the formation of a new state from its ground, officials put together the Reformed Virginia Government, which ultimately gave its approval for the formation of the new state.

Representatives and senators were sent to Washington, D.C., and accepted there. Although the original West Virginia Constitution did not mention slavery, national lawmakers required a provision outlawing slavery before they would accept it.

Even after the bill was approved and signed into law by the president, a vote had to occur in the state to accept that provision.

After getting everything together to form the new state and with congressional approval of the new state, there was a question of whether President Abraham Lincoln would sign the bill into law.

McKain said Lincoln’s cabinet was split on the issue. The president’s main concern was whether creating this new state was unconstitutional. He was fighting a war to preserve the union and he was having a hard time justifying splitting one of the states in that union.

Ultimately, the president decided in favor of the new state with a little persuasion of Parkersburg resident, oil man and congressman Jacob Beeson Blair, who visited the president at the White House near the deadline for the bill to be signed.

”The story is (Blair) climbed through the window (at the White House) the next day and Lincoln showed him the statehood bill with his signature on it,” McKain said.