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Chapter Thirteen
Congressional Debate
on the Admission of West Virginia

On May 29, 1862, Senator Waitman T. Willey presented a formal petition to the United States Senate for the admission of West Virginia to the Union. Willey's petition was referred to the Committee on Territories. Senator John Carlile, who was a member of the committee, was assigned the task of writing the statehood bill. On June 23, Benjamin Wade, who chaired the Committee on Territories, reported the bill to the Senate. Carlile had added fifteen counties, provided for gradual emancipation, and required a new constitutional convention. West Virginians, including his fellow senator, were stunned by Carlile's apparent change of heart regarding statehood.

When the bill was introduced, Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts called for an amendment requiring the emancipation of all slaves in West Virginia on July 4, 1863, but his proposal was defeated. Senator Willey then offered a substitute that called for the admission of West Virginia upon approval of gradual emancipation by the constitutional convention. Eventually, a compromise agreement resulted in the Willey Amendment, which provided for gradual emancipation. On July 14, 1862, both the Willey Amendment and the West Virginia statehood bill passed by a vote of 23-17.

Waitman Willey
Senator Waitman T. Willey
John Carlile
Senator John S. Carlile
Carlile's effort to admit West Virginia to the Union without conditions failed. He then opposed the Willey Amendment and voted against the statehood bill, ruining his political career. For decades, historians have puzzled over Carlile's actions. He had long been the most prominent advocate for statehood, but eventually fought against its creation. Although it is unclear what motivated Carlile, it appears that as a strict constitutionalist, he did not believe that Congress had the right to impose conditions in the new state's constitution.

Debate in the House of Representatives was also contentious, but on December 10, 1862, the House passed the statehood bill by a vote of 96-55. It appeared West Virginia statehood was only a signature away.

Primary Documents:

Speech of Congressman Kellian V. Whaley on the Admission of West Virginia
United States Senate Debate on the Admission of West Virginia
United States House or Representatives Debate on the Admission of West Virginia
Willey Amendment

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