I want to offer another perspective on Dave McKain's July 31 column about Sen. John Carlile. I'm not impartial; John S. Carlile was my great-great-grandfather.
First, I doubt there is evidence that John Carlile was a "major slaveholder" as McKain claims. While Carlile claimed at the Virginia secession convention to be a slaveowner, the Dictionary of Virginia Biography suggests he may have owned one slave, possibly acquired through marriage. I know of no evidence that he ever bought or sold any slaves.
Carlile did vote against the West Virginia statehood bill, which seems puzzling given that he'd advocated statehood eloquently and relentlessly. Was he trying to delay statehood by advocating inclusion of Shenandoah Valley counties? Possibly, but he'd grown up in Winchester, so his interest in the welfare of those counties was genuine and personal. He also knew that representatives of many upper valley counties voted against secession at the Virginia Secession convention in 1861. I think he feared the war would bring destruction to the Shenandoah Valley and potential retribution of Union victors. But more than that, he may have wanted West Virginia to get the valley counties' wealth - and its electorate that was sympathetic to Democrats.
Historian Richard Orr Curry argues Carlile's real motivation was his resentment of Radical Republicans. Carlile believed that West Virginia citizens should decide the slavery issue themselves, not have it imposed by Congress. That is a state's rights position, consistent with conservative Democrats of that era.
Historian W. Hunter Lesser, author of "Rebels at the Gate," argues Abraham Lincoln was ambivalent about the West Virginia statehood bill and his cabinet split evenly on the issue. Lincoln's primary concern was not about slavery provisions. He hoped the Virginia Unionists would bring Virginia back into the Union. Might Lincoln or one of his Cabinet members have asked Carlile to delay the bill?
Including those Valley counties may seem far-fetched now. But would West Virginians today really be sorry if their state had included the Shenandoah Valley and had only one panhandle instead of two?
It's clear that Carlile's political enemies were able to vilify him as a traitor to the statehood movement, despite his major role in bringing about the birth of the new state. But he left no memoir, leaving us to wonder if he regretted his vote against statehood.
Jane Carlile Hilder