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Proceedings of the
First Wheeling Convention
May 15, 1861

Morning Session.

The Convention assembled and was called to order at nine o'clock. The opening prayer was made by Rev. R. V. Dodge.

M. FLESHER, of Jackson, rose to a question of privilege. He read from the Wheeling Union the proceedings of a public meeting in his county, and said that the article was a libel upon the character of the people he helped to represent.

The Secretary then read the journal of the preceding day.

Mr. WILLEY having the floor,

Mr. CARLILE asked leave to add to the resolution which he submitted yesterday evening the following:

That the said committee provide for submitting the said ordinance to a vote of the people in the said counties of this State at the election to be held on the 23d inst.

A member also asked and obtained leave to read a series of resolutions. The resolutions suggested the propriety of the adoption of the present constitution and laws of the State, and recommending the holding of an election to elect delegates to a convention to revise the Constitution and organize a separate State; that the convention at once organize a provisional government by electing three persons to constitute a committee of safety, whose duty it will be to exercise the constitutional power of Governor and Council of Virginia, until a complete organization could be effected; that the Convention is ardently attached to the Constitution of the United States, and the Federal Government is earnestly requested to establish a line of military posts along up the valley of the Shanandoah, from Harper's Ferry to the Tennessee line, and up to the Great Kanawha.

The reading of the resolution occasioned a good deal of merriment. They were referred to the appropriate committee.

MR. WILLEY then resumed his argument, and proceeded to address the Convention at length. He opposed the organization of a provisional government, and said it would be treason against the State Government, the Government of the United States and against the Government of the C. S. A. He argued also that it would inevitably bring war and ruin upon this part of the State. He remonstrated against such action, and asked for the mode of redress proposed in the resolutions of the committee. He would never lend himself to an insurrectionary or unconstitutional means of accomplishing an object which he thought could be accomplished according to law. Waitman Willey
Waitman Willey
Daniel Polsley
Daniel Polsley
MR. POLSLEY, of Mason, addressed the Convention at some length, in favor of a separation. He was not terrified by the cry of treason that had been raised here. If there were any treason in the matter they had already committed it. He said there was no longer any State Government in Virginia. The Governor and authorities had by their usurpations abdicated the Government, and we were now in a condition of anarchy, and it was useless to attempt to disguise the fact. Some kind of an organization must be effected, and the sooner the better. He referred to the precedent set by California in her organization. We had the right to establish a provisional government here for the entire State.

MR. CARLILE was willing to take the position the gentleman had indicated, if it should be the pleasure of the Convention to recommend the report.

JNO. J. JACKSON, JR., moved that the Convention go into secret session.

MR. PIERPOINT hoped it would not be done.

Mr. LAZIER wished to add to the motion, "that the clergymen of the city be permitted to remain and the ladies be allowed to occupy the sides boxes." (Laughter.)

Mr. CARLILE was willing, if it were deemed advisable, to vote for the proposition.

J. R. HUBBARD opposed it, and said it would be but imitating the Star Chamber Convention at Richmond. He spoke of the motion as being that of Mr. Carlile, of Harrison.

Mr. CARLILE disclaimed, and said he had merely expressed a willingness to acquiesce.

Gen. JACKSON trusted the motion would be withdrawn.

Mr. BURDETT trusted it would not be withdrawn. He believed it necessary to fight the devil with fire, and was in favor of going into secret session.

Mr. JACKSON withdrew the motion, and

Mr. PIERPOINT obtaining the floor, proceeded to address the Convention in favor of the adoption of the report of the Committee on State and Federal Relations, and in opposition to the plan of establishing a Provisional Government. In the course of his remarks he alluded to Mr. Carlile, and said that all other gentlemen were to be driven from the field. Francis Pierpont
Francis Pierpont

Mr. CARLILE protested that he had said nor done nothing authorising any such inference, and he said now to this Convention and to the people of Virginia, that he had filled the last office he ever would fill with his own consent. (Applause.)

Mr. PIERPOINT also incidentally remarked in the course of his speech, that there would soon be any amount of men and money here to protect Union men in Northwestern Virginia.

MR. CARLILE asked Mr. Pierpoint to give his authority for the assertion; Mr. Pierpoint was about to do so, but on the suggestion of several gentlemen refrained.

MR. CARLILE said he did not ask it out of any doubt as to the entire truthfulness of the statement. He had understood him to speak of it as a mere supposition.

John Carlile
John Carlile
MR. CARLILE then stated that it had been charged on him, that he was at Washington a short time since, engaged in procuring arms, and that the two thousand now here had been obtained through him. It was not true. The arms were procured by a delegation of gentlemen from Brooke County, and he himself was two hundred miles away from Washington at that time, where had not been at all.

MR. PIERPOINT had alluded to several manifestations on the part of the spectators as an outside pressure, and said that the spectators were endeavoring by such expressions to intimidate gentlemen in the Convention, when

MR. WHEAT arose and said that he had lived here all his life, and knew well the temper of his fellow citizens of this city. He was sure Mr. Pierpoint did them gross injustice. He reminded the spectators that it was improper for them to take any part in the proceeding, even by any expressions of approval or disapprobation.

On motion of Mr. Jackson, the Convention adjourned, Mr. Pierpoint yielding the floor for that purpose.


The Convention met at two o'clock.

Mr. WILLEY obtained leave to read a letter addressed by Mr. J. Hughes of Martinsburg, Va., to J. B. Bowers, Esq., a member of the Convention. The letter gave an account of a Union meeting held in Berkeley county, and exhibited a very favorable view of the sentiment in that county.

On motion of J. J. JACKSON, JR., it was ordered to be recorded in to-day's proceedings as a part of the minutes of the Convention.

MR. CARLILE handed to the Secretary the proceedings of meetings held in Cabell and Wayne counties, appointing delegates to this Convention and instructing the delegates from Harrison to act as alternates, and asked that they be accredited as such.

MR. POLSLEY of Mason, offered an amendment to the resolution of instruction offered by Mr. Carlile yesterday.

MR. CARLILE said for the purpose of evincing his desire for unanimity he would accept the resolution, as an amendment to his proposition so that all the different views may go before the committee. He offered as an additional amendment the following:

"And that the said committee also provide in the event of the ratification of the ordinance of secession for the re-assembling of this Convention on the first Monday in June next, to adopt a Constitution and form of Government for the said counties if in their opinion it is premature at this time to adopt said Constitution and form of Government."

He had drawn this up and offered in in deference to the views of others - not that he had changed his own opinion heretofore expressed here in the ___.

J.J. JACKSON, Jr., said the Convention was _____ been acting entirely without any laws to govern its deliberations, and he moved the adoption of the rules of the House of Delegates of Virginia, so far as applicable to this body. Judge John Jay Jackson
Judge John Jay Jackson

The motion was put, and the rules adopted.

MR. PIERPOINT then resumed his speech. He expressed his regret that he should have exhibited any undue warmth in his remarks during the morning session, and apologized for the same. He was interrupted by a motion to refer all the pending propositions before the Convention back to the Committee on State and Federal Relations.

MR. CARLILE moved to adjourn till tomorrow, in order to give the committee time for deliberation, but withdrew his motion to allow Mr. Latham to read a series of resolutions which he offered as a kind of middle ground for the consideration of the committee. The resolutions were referred.

Mr. LATHAM wished then to read a declaratory resolution, for the immediate action of the Convention, but was ruled out of order.

On motion of J. J. JACKSON, JR., the Convention then adjourned till 5 o'clock P.M.


Convention met at 5 o'clock.

The CHAIR stated that the first business before the Convention was the report of the Committee on State and Federal Relations.

George Latham
George Latham
The Committee not being ready to report, a call was made for Mr. Latham, of Taylor county, who addressed the Convention. He was followed in a brief address by Mr. Holliday, of Marshall.

Mr. CARLILE desired to say before the Convention adjourned that he was not at liberty to say what the committee would do, but it was now perfectly plain that they would not do that which all knew he had desired from the beginning. He had received a telegraphic despatch a few moments ago from his own town, informing him that a letter had been written to him giving the details which he thought he would receive by eleven o'clock to-night; and after the receipt of that letter he thought the committee might see the propriety of waiting a day or two longer before taking action. He read the despatch, which said: "The dogs of war are about: look out for State troops. I will write by mail."

I know how utterly unable gentlemen who reside here on this little strip of territory, lying here between these two great States of Pennsylvania and Ohio, are of appreciating the situation of the people of the interior counties. Ever since the assembling of this Convention, I have been endeavoring to impress upon this body the conviction of my mind, that within less than the brief time to elapse between now and the 23d of this month, more of the Northwest not now so occupied, would be visited by Southern troops. The Baltimore Sun intimated that Virginia intended sending out here 5000 troops within the next three days, but had been advised by an officer of the Confederate Government not to do so. He had thought, perhaps, he was the only crazy man in this body, and all the rest were sane, but he thought that when the Convention would see as he believed it would, within 24 hours the necessity for immediate action, he had been endeavoring to impress upon the Convention, they would come to the conclusion not to adjourn to-night, and he moved to adjourn till to-morrow at the usual hour.

J. J. JACKSON, JR., said he wasn't afraid of Letcher's "dogs of war." Let them come and we will give them a warm reception. He moved to adjourn to 7 o'clock. The motion carried and the Convention adjourned.


Convention met at 7 o'clock.

On motion, the Journals of the day's proceedings were ordered to be read.

MR. BURDETT stated that he received a letter, saying that although the counties of Randolph and Jackson were not represented here, they sympathized with the move, and these counties would endorse whatever the Convention may do. John Burdett
John Burdett
Campbell Tarr
Campbell Tarr
MR. TARR then presented the report of the Committee on Federal Relations, which was read by the Secretary, as follows:

Resolved, That in our deliberate judgement the ordinance passed by the Convention of Virginia, on the 17th day of April, 1861, commonly known as the ordinance of secession, by which said Convention undertook in the name of the State of Virginia, to repeal the ratification of the Constitution of the United States of America, by this State, and to resume all rights and powers granted under said Constitution, is unconstitutional, null and void.

Resolved, That the schedule attached to said ordinance suspending and prohibiting the election for members of Congress from this State, to the House of Representatives of the Congress of the United States, required by law to be held on the 4th Thursday of this month is a manifest usurpation of power, to which we as Virginia freemen ought not, cannot, and will not submit.

Resolved, That the Convention of the 24th of April, 1861, between the Commissioners of the Confederate States and this State, and the ordinance of the 25th of April, 1861, approving and ratifying said Convention, in agreement by which the whole military power and military operations, offensive and defensive of the Commonwealth, were placed under the chief control and direction of the President of the Confederate States, upon the same principles and footing as if the Commonwealth were now a member of said Confederacy, and all the actings and doings of the executive officers of our State under and in pursuance of said agreement ordinance, as plain and palpable violations of the Constitution of our State, and are utterly subversive of the rights and liberties of the good people thereof.

Resolved, That it be earnestly recommended, to our fellow citizens of this State, at the approaching election to vindicate their rights as Virginia freemen by voting against said ordinance of secession, and all other measures of like character, so far as they may be made known to them.

Resolved, That it be also urged upon them to vote for members of Congress of the United States, in their several districts, in the exercise of the rights secured to us by the Constitution of the United States, and of Virginia.

Resolved, That it be also recommended to the citizens of the several counties to vote at said election for such persons as may entertain the opinions in the foregoing resolutions, as members of the House of Delegates of our State.

Resolved, That it is the imperative duty of our citizens to maintain the Constitution and the laws ___ and all officers there-under acting in the lawful discharge of their respective duties.

Resolved, That in the language of Geo. Washington in his letter of the 17th of September, 1787, to the President of Congress; "in all our deliberations on this subject we keep steadily in our view that which appears to us the greatest interest of every true American, the consolidation of our Union, in which is involved our property, felicity, safety and perhaps our national existence." Therefore we will maintain and defend the Constitution of the United States and the laws made in pursuance thereof, and all officers acting there-under in the lawful discharge of their respective duties.

Resolved, That in view of the geographical, social, commercial and industrial interests of Northwestern Virginia, this Committee are constrained in giving expression to the opinion of their constituents to declare that the Virginia Convention in assuming to charge the relations of the State of Virginia, to the Federal Government, have not only acted unwisely and unconstitutionally, but have adopted a policy utterly ruinous to all the material interests of our section, severing all our social ties and drying up all the channels of our trade and prosperity.

Resolved, That in the event of the ordinance of Secession being ratified by a vote, we recommend to the people of the Counties here represented, and all others disposed to co-operate with us to appoint on the 4th day of June, 1861, delegates to a General Convention, to meet on the 11th of that month, 1861, at such place as may be designated by the Committee herein-after provided, to devise such measures and take such action as the safety and welfare of the people they represent may demand, each County to appoint a number of Representatives to said Convention equal to double the number to which it will be entitled in the next House of Delegates; and the Senators and Delegates to be elected on the 23d inst. Of the counties referred to, to the next General Assembly of Virginia, and who concur in the views of this Convention, be entitled to seats in the said Convention as members thereof.

Resolved, That inasmuch as it is a conceded political axiom, that government is founded on the consent of the governed and is instituted for their good, and it cannot be denied that the course pursued by the ruling power in the State, is utterly subversive and destructive of our interests, we believe we may rightfully and successfully appeal to the proper authorities of Virginia, to permit us peacefully and lawfully to separate from the residue of the State and form ourselves into a government to give effect to the wishes, views and interests of our constituents.

Resolved, That the public authorities be assured that the people of the North West will exert their utmost power to preserve the peace, which they feel satisfied they can do, until an opportunity is afforded to see if our present difficulties cannot receive a peaceful solution; and we express the earnest hope that no troops of the Confederate States be introduced among us, as we believe it would be eminently calculated to produce civil war.

Resolved, That in accordance with the last resolution, a Central Committee of five be appointed to attend to all matters connected with the objects of this Convention, and that they have power to assemble this Convention at any time they may think necessary.

Resolved, That each county represented in this Convention, and any others that may be disposed to co-operate with us, be requested to appoint a Committee of five, whose duty it shall be to see that all things that may be necessary to be done, be attended to, to carry out the objects of this Convention, and to correspond with the Central Committee.

MR. POLSLEY suggested that instead of acting to-night on the report of the committee, it be laid upon the table and printed, in order that every member might have an opportunity to inspect it.

Gen. JACKSON objected; he wanted to go home. It was corn planting time. General John Jay Jackson
General John Jay Jackson

Mr. CARLILE asked Mr. P to withdraw his motion. He was satisfied that nothing more than was now incorporated in the report could be obtained from the Convention at that time, and he was happy to state that since the adjournment this evening a resolution had been adopted by the committee which he regarded worth all the ___, and which would in a short time realize all their hopes of a New Virginia. That resolution provides for the appointment of a committee possessing all the powers this Convention can exercise, so far as they can be exercised by the committee, and authorize it to recall this Convention in any emergency. He had come to the conclusion, in order that their action might go forth as united, to be satisfied this ___, since what he had hoped for could not now be accomplished. (Applause.)

Mr. POLSLEY withdrew the motion.

The question on the adoption of the report of the Committee was then put, and the report was adopted with an almost unanimous "aye," only two dissenting voices being hear.

The announcement that the motion had carried, was received with tremendous cheering.


Hon. John S. Carlile, James S. Wheat, Chester D. Hubbard, F. H. Pierpoint, Campbell Tarr, G. R. Latham, Andrew Wilson, S. H. Woodward, James W. Paxton.

Gen. JACKSON rose to say a few words, but was called to the stand for a speech. He responded in a warm enthusiastic appeal to the Convention to now stand by and maintain what they had here declared to-night.

Mr. LAZIER offered a resolution that the thanks of this Convention be tendered to the citizens of Wheeling for the kind and hospitable manner in which they have entertained the members of this Convention, and for the use of this Hall.

A speech from Carlile was called for and he responded, and was followed by Mr. Willey, Peipoint and others. [We shall probably publish some of these speeches at an early day.]

On motion, a unanimous vote of thanks were tendered to the President and other officers for their official services during the session.

On motion, the delegation from the various counties were requested to appoint the five provided for in one of the resolutions, and that they report to the Secretary before the adjournment of the Convention.

Prayer was then offered and the Star Spangled Banner sung, and with about three times three hearty cheers for the Union, the Convention adjourned, sine die, in a perfect blaze of enthusiasm.

May 13, 1861
May 14, 1861
May 15, 1861

Chapter Five: First Wheeling Convention

West Virginia Archives and History