Yesterday marked the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. The State Journal has a very lengthy article on the war, and West Virginia’s creation as a result. There is one part I have comment:
Conventions were organized in Wheeling resulting in the creation of the Restored Government of Virginia, a legal maneuver dodging the U.S. Constitution’s requirement for a new state to first gain approval from the original state. The Restored Government essentially granted permission to itself to form West Virginia.
The proposal cleared Congress on a 23-15 vote in the Senate and a 96-55 vote in the House of Representatives. Lincoln signed the bill into law on Dec. 31, 1862 approving West Virginia as a state loyal to the Union.
“Some theorize that West Virginia was nothing more than a thorn in the side of the Lincoln administration,” Snell said of the president’s efforts to bring all of Virginia back into the fold. “On the other hand, he knew there were 20,000 Union soldiers recruited from those western counties.”
He was also planning his 1864 re-election bid.
“He was torn about it,” author and Director of Archives and History Joe Geiger said of Lincoln’s dilemma. “He sent the bill to his cabinet members for their opinion as to whether or not it was constitutional. They were split 3-3. He viewed the Restored Government as a model for how the country could come together again when the war ended.”
On Oct. 24, 1861, residents of 39 western counties approved the formation of a new Unionist state without abolishing slavery although only 4 percent of Virginia’s slaves were in the western counties.
There’s reason to question the validity of the lopsided statehood election results (18,401 “For” to 781 “Against”). Union troops were stationed at many of the polls to “discourage” Confederate sympathizers from participating. Voter turnout in some counties was as low as 5 percent.
“Many of the Confederates were still away at war,” Geiger said. “People were boycotting the election. It was oral voting with Union soldiers lounging about. The election took in a lot of counties that were overwhelmingly Confederate.”
In the end, 50 counties were selected for inclusion. Five counties — Mineral, Grant, Lincoln, Summers and Mingo — were formed after statehood.
Snell and Geiger are among the historians who speculate West Virginia would not exist today had the Civil War been avoided.
“Virginia would have had to grant permission,” Geiger said. “I can’t envision that it would have granted permission to give up such a large section of land and that many people.”
“We can’t predict what might have happened,” Snell added. “My educated guess is ‘no’ because West Virginia would not have had the votes.”
My answer to this is well, not quite. We really do not know if WV would have existed without the War because the War happened and the rest, as they say, is history in that choices were made, and actions taken in the moment and related to prudence.
The problem with the assertion that W.V. would not exist is that it ignores the history of Virginia before the Civil War in terms of the debates and deliberations of her people and political bodies. What I am trying to say is the W.V.’s secession (if we can call it that), did not happen in some sort of a vacuum). What is now W.V. and V.A. was split long before the Civil War ove slavery, and the idea of natural rights.
In the late 1820s – 30s Virginia was embroiled in a great debate over the future of the state, and, to make a long story short, there were several arguments at least 30 years before the War–and from the eastern slaveholder–that the western part of Virginia should form its own country. The reason? Both the east and west believed that their “interests” were separate. This was more an argument from the more pro-slave easterner, than the anti slave westerner though. Madison said at the Virginia Constitutional Convention that if slavery did not exist in Virginia, the state would be whole. It wasn’t though.
All this to say what? The southern pro-slaveholder in Virginia was perfectly willing to separate the state as early as 1832. The seeds for the formal split in 1861.