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Formation of state of W.Va. began in 1860

June 20, 2013
Parkersburg News and Sentinel

According to the West Virginia Department of Culture and History the process for the formation of the new state of West Virginia began on Nov. 15, 1860, when then Virginia Gov. John Letcher called the General Assembly into extra session to begin Jan. 7, 1861. The Virginia General Assembly called for a state convention to determine Virginia's course in the crisis, 152 delegates were elected, and convened in Richmond on Feb. 13.

On May 13, 1861, delegates from 27 western Virginia counties assembled at Washington Hall in Wheeling to consider responsive action to the Ordinance of Secession.

Debate ensued over which delegates should be allowed to participate. Gen. John Jay Jackson of Wood County favored the seating of all attendees from northwestern Virginia, but John Carlile urged that the convention be "composed only of gentlemen who come clothed with the authority conferred upon them by the people of their counties when they appointed them." Finally, a proposal by Chester D. Hubbard of Ohio County to create a committee on representation and permanent organization was adopted.

On May 14, Carlile proposed a resolution for creation of the new state of New Virginia. The majority of the delegates supported resolutions offered by the Committee on State and Federal Resolutions, which recommended if the people of Virginia approved the Ordinance of Secession on May 23, western Virginians would elect delegates to a Second Wheeling Convention to begin June 11, 1861.

The Ordinance of Secession was approved by Virginia voters on May 23, 1861. During the month following passage of the ordinance by the delegates at the Richmond Convention, citizens of western Virginia gathered in communities and voiced their opposition to or support for the decision to leave the Union. The ordinance was ratified by the citizens of Virginia by a vote of 125,950 to 20,373. Due to the fact that many vote totals were lost, it is unclear how western Virginians voted. Some historians believed the overwhelming majority voted against secession, but a detailed study by historian Richard Curry, of the University of Pittsburgh, concluded a sizeable minority in western Virginia voted for the Ordinance of Secession.

Due to the ratification of the ordinance on June 11, 1861, delegates gathered at Washington Hall in Wheeling to determine a course of action for northwestern Virginia. The Committee on Credentials ruled 88 delegates, representing 32 counties, were entitled to seats in the convention, and the Committee on Permanent Organization selected Arthur I. Boreman to serve as president of the convention.

On June 13, the proceedings were moved to the Custom House. Carlile, representing the Committee on Business, presented "A Declaration of the People of Virginia," a document that called for the reorganization of the government of Virginia on the grounds that due to Virginia's decision to secede from the United States, all state government offices had been vacated. On the following day, Carlile reported an ordinance for this purpose, and debate began.

On June 19, members of the convention voted unanimously in favor of the ordinance reorganizing the government of Virginia. On June 20, the delegates selected officials to fill the offices of the Restored Government of Virginia. On June 25, 1861, the convention adjourned until Aug. 6. While the Second Wheeling Convention was in adjournment, Governor Francis Pierpont called into extra session the General Assembly of the Reorganized Government of Virginia to convene in Wheeling on July 1. The legislative bodies consisted of persons elected to office May 23 who remained loyal to the Union. Approximately eight senators and 32 delegates participated in the proceedings.

On July 9, the legislators elected a number of state officials. Most of the actions taken by the Legislature related to financial and military affairs of the Reorganized Government of Virginia. Late in the session, House Bill No. 21, giving the legislature's blessing to the creation of a new state under certain specific terms and conditions, was introduced and debated.

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The House eventually voted against the bill, while the Senate chose to table the proposed legislation. The extra session concluded July 26.

On Aug. 6, delegates of the Second Wheeling Convention reassembled. Delegates passed a number of resolutions, including an ordinance that nullified the proceedings of the Richmond Convention and declared all actions of the convention "illegal, inoperative, null, void, and without force or effect."

The convention formed a Committee on a Division of the State and, after a week of deliberations, this group formulated and presented to the convention a dismemberment ordinance. On Aug. 20, a committee proposed the new state, which was to be named Kanawha, would consist of 39 counties. Seven other counties (Berkeley, Greenbrier, Hampshire, Hardy, Jefferson, Morgan and Pocahontas) were to be added if the majority of voters in those counties approved. The convention adopted the committee's recommendations. Voters in the counties of the proposed state were to have their say on October 24. On Oct. 24, 1861, voters from the 39 counties of the proposed state of Kanawha (plus the voters of Hampshire and Hardy) went to the polls to determine the fate of the new state. Turnout was 34 percent, the vote was 18,408 in favor of the new state, 781 opposed.

On Nov. 26, 1861, delegates met in Wheeling to create a Constitution for the new state. Some of the issues they addressed include the name of the new state, boundaries, and slavery. Although the voters had approved the creation of "Kanawha," many delegates were opposed to the name because there was already a county and two rivers that had that name. Eventually West Virginia was chosen.

On Dec.13, the convention determined West Virginia would include the 39 original counties and five additional. Also, seven more counties would be added if their voters approved.

The new constitution was approved in a unanimous vote of the delegates on Feb. 18, 1862. It was then submitted to the voters of West Virginia, who, on April 3, overwhelming approved the constitution, 18,862 to 514.

According to Article IV, Section III, of the United States Constitution, New states may be admitted by the Congress into the union; but no new states shall be formed or erected within the jurisdiction of any other state, without the consent of the the legislatures of the states concerned as well as of the Congress. West Virginia statehood leaders had to obtain permission from Virginia to satisfy this constitutional restriction. The creation of the Reorganized Government of Virginia allowed them to seek consent from this pro-Union body instead of the Confederate Virginia government in Richmond.

On May 6, 1862, the General Assembly of the Reorganized Government of Virginia was convened by Governor Francis Pierpont. One week later, the General Assembly passed an act granting permission for creation of the new state. The Reorganized Government of Virginia continued to function as the Union government of Virginia until 1868.

On May 29, 1862, Sen. Waitman T. Willey presented a formal petition to the United States Senate for the admission of West Virginia to the Union.

After much debate, a compromise agreement resulted in the Willey Amendment, which provided for gradual emancipation. On July 14, 1862, both the amendement and the West Virginia statehood bill passed by a vote of 23-17. Debate in the House of Representatives was also contentious, but on Dec. 10, 1862, the House passed the statehood bill by a vote of 96-55.

When President Abraham Lincoln received the statehood bill on Dec. 22, 1862, he asked the six members of his cabinet for written opinions on the constitutionality and expediency of admitting West Virginia to the Union, they divided evenly.

Despite reservations, on Dec. 31, 1862, Lincoln signed the bill.

In his opinion, he wrote: "Doubtless those in remaining Virginia would return to the Union, so to speak, less reluctantly without the division of the old state than with it; but I think we could not save as much in this quarter by rejecting the new state, as we should lose by it in West Virginia. We can scarcely dispense with the aid of West Virginia in this struggle; much less can we afford to have her against us, in Congress and in the field. Her brave and good men regard her admission into the Union as a matter of life and death. They have been true to the Union under very severe trials. We have so acted as to justify their hopes; and we can not fully retain their confidence, and co-operation, if we seem to break faith with them." West Virginia was required to submit the revised constitution containing the Willey Amendment to the Constitutional Convention for approval. The delegates reconvened on Feb. 12, 1863.

On Feb. 17, the delegates unanimously approved the amendment. The voters of the new state ratified the revised constitution on March 26 by a vote of 28,321 to 572. Upon receiving the results, President Lincoln issued a proclamation on April 20, 1863, declaring that in 60 days, West Virginia would become the 35th state in the Union.



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