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Proceedings of the
Second Session of the
Second Wheeling Convention

August 16, 1861

The Convention met at half past 9 A. M.

Minutes read and approved.

The order of the day was taken up.

The question was announced upon the adoption of the substitute of Mr. Boreman, of Tyler, and upon this

Mr. POLSLEY, of Mason, proceeded to address the Convention.

He said there was a great principle at the base of our action here. Let us try to discover it and adhere to it, for after all if the principle of our action was not correct we must certainly fail. Before proceeding to review their action here, he proceeded to pay his respects to the gentleman from Harrison, who had been the first mover of their movement here.

The Convention of May had been correctly denominated a mass meeting, and the primary object of that Convention was a division of the State. The county of Mason was at that time almost a unit for a division, but the representatives of that county came to that mass meeting prepared to adopt any course that might seem best. They listened to the discussion at that time, and the result of that debate was to satisfy them that they were not then ready to act for a division of the State; that it was then premature. He went on to speak of the somewhat acrimonious debate that ensued between Mr. Carlile and Messrs. Jackson, Willey and Peirpoint, and the offering and adoption of the proposition which resulted in harmonizing their action. That proposition did not in so many words call for a reorganization of the State government, but he was satisfied at the time that it must result in that. He spoke of the appointment of a Central Committee and the calling of another Convention, and said that he would take it upon himself to say that this Convention was not called for the purpose of dividing the State, but they were called together for the sole purpose of reorganizing the State government. The appointment of that Committee was substantially the appointment of a provisional government, with the gentleman from Harrison at its head, and it was so understood everywhere, by the people and by the Federal authorities; and at the request of that Committee aid was furnished to Western Virginia by the Federal Government. It was substantially a provisional government, and so recognized by the public authorities.

Now in relation to what were the objects of the calling of this Convention, he read the eighth resolution of the May Convention, appointing the election for delegates to this Convention here on the 11th of June, "to devise such measures and take such action as the safety and welfare of the people may demand." The Committee proceeded to take such measures as they deemed best, issuing addresses, &c., from one of which he read to show that the object shadowed forth in both that address and the resolution of the May Convention, was to maintain their position in the Union; to organize resistance to secession. There was another address issued by the committee, in which the object of this Convention was set forth as proposing to proceed to reorganize the government of Virginia, and nothing more nor less. Was he wrong in saying this?

Mr. CARLILE said in reply, that he did not remember whether the gentleman had stated it right or not; the address had not been written by himself, but by another member of the committee.

Mr. POLSLEY said such was his recollection, that it distinctly set forth that object. He knew that speeches of gentlemen in the first Convention contemplated a division, but this Convention was not to be governed by such expressions, but by the authorized expressions and conclusions of that body, and the documents he referred to showed that this Convention was called for the specific purpose of a reorganization of the State government.

Not only so, but such was the understanding, and such substantially our own declaration in the first session of this Convention; and must they now go back and reverse their own decisions deliberately made? Then they had acted upon this very point and acted specifically, and this body unanimously declared that during the present revolutionary crisis and the continuance of hostilities, it was imprudent and inexpedient to undertake a division of the State. He read from the address prepared by the Committee on Business and adopted by the Convention at the close of the first session, to sustain this proposition.

Now they were asked, clamorously demanded, to act upon the division question. Was there not danger of committing the error committed by the Convention at Richmond, of exercising powers not intended to be conferred upon them by the people? He thought there was. He had therefore deemed it necessary to recur to the powers conferred upon them by the people. They should limit themselves to their legitimate powers. A certain amount of action was necessary, but it had been determined by this Convention itself not to take any action not absolutely necessary for the immediate safety of the people; and this action taken here now had received the sanction of loyal people everywhere, and of the authorities of the United State. Did they suppose if they had inaugurated a mere paper re-organization of the government they would have received this sanction and recognition? No, sir.

He appealed to them as statesmen to maintain their consistency, and not to stultify themselves by repudiating all their former action. If they proceeded now to direct a division of the State before a free expression of the people could be had, they would do a more despotic act than any ever done by the Richmond Convention itself. That Convention had offered the people of the State at least the form of a vote, and the Northwest at least had had a full and free expression; and now they proposed to cut off Eastern Virginia without even the form of a vote. They now proposed a division when it was impossible for one-fourth of even the counties included in the boundaries proposed to give even an expression upon the proposition. Were they to act for the West alone, and when but a small portion of it even could speak? But gentlemen told them the enemy would soon be expelled, and then they could have a vote.

Mr. LEWIS inquired whether the gentleman would vote for the original bill or the substitute of the gentleman from Upshur, or for that of Mr. Carlile, if the time of holding an election for an expression of the people should be put off till the first of January.

Mr. POLSLEY said if he would so modify his proposition as to let the Legislature order an election so soon as it might appear that a satisfactory and free expression might be obtained. But he was opposed to fixing a particular day. He believed that a proposition to divide the State should originate in the Convention. He did desire most earnestly that this Commonwealth might be divided as early as possible, but he feared a false step now would effectually defeat the grand object which they all had at heart.

As for the danger in case of a compromise with a rebellion, he had never for one moment felt a doubt of the ultimate success of the arms of the Union, but if that danger did exist then he maintained their present position was much stronger than if changed in any particular. Was it presumable that in such an event the State of Delaware or Maryland could be transferred without their assent. If not true of them neither was it true of the State of Virginia. On the hypothesis that we were the legitimate government of Virginia, could any compromise be made to transfer Virginia without the consent of our government here?

They had been told that the people are clamorous for immediate action. He had endeavored to find out if this was an imaginary or a real clamor. When people are oppressed, or desire a grand object through their representatives, it has been customary to present their petitions for that purpose. Had a solitary petition been offered here?

A MEMBER said some three or four had been offered here, signed by some seven hundred names.

Several members volunteered to give the gentleman information as to the willingness of their constituents to sign such petitions.

Mr. POLSLEY resumed: Well, the, here were seven hundred out of some 640,000, who had petitioned them on this subject.

The Speaker followed at some length in a criticism upon the course of the Hon. W. G. Brown, of Preston, for attempting, as he said, to influence members of the Legislature to go for an immediate division.

He had been told that Senator Johnson, of Mo., had expressed an opinion in favor of a division of this State, and that opinion was used as an argument here. Who was Senator Johnson? He was a nephew of Ex-Gov. Jos. Johnson, of this State. Senator Johnson was found alongside of John C. Breckinridge, and others like him, and was a secessionist, and gave that advice because, if acted upon, it would destroy public confidence in this body and our government here.

Mr. CARLILE wished to say a word in justice to Senator Johnson, but

Mr. POLSLEY declined to give way. He insisted that by the Union men of the country Senator Johnson was regarded as a secessionist; and his proposition was the very identical advice he would expect to hear from every secessionist in the land. Let him inquire if there was a solitary Senator in Congress, or member of the House of Representatives, who was in favor of immediate action towards a division of this State who could be relied on as sound and loyal. No, sir; all such had advised them to adhere to the position they had now assumed. They had now the support of public opinion, and let them maintain it. Mr. Polsley concluded without being able, on account ill health, to finish his remarks.

Mr. HUBBARD, of Ohio, followed, apologized for succeeding Mr. Polsley upon the same side of the question. He went back and reviewed the early steps taken in the movement here inaugurated and argued from the language of the call of the first Convention, and that of the addressees of the Central Committee, and the resolution of the first Convention, that it was not inaugurated not for a division of the State, but a re-organization of a government for the whole State, and the support of the General Government in putting down rebellion.

He alluded to the resolutions of Mr. Farnsworth, declaring that the object of re-organizing the government was to obtain the division of the State, which were laid upon the table by a vote of some fity odd to seventeen. He criticised the course of Mr. Lewis, of Harrison, in relation to his former position upon this question, and referred to a card that gentleman had published denouncing the action of the first Convention.

Mr. LEWIS said that the card referred to would show that he was opposed to a disintegration of the State at that time, which he understood the Convention to favor, because he believed it would then have been unconstitutional; but when the reorganization of the whole State was suggested he saw that an object which he had long desired might be accomplished constitutionally, and he had more than once expressed regret that he had at first misunderstood the object of the movement.

Mr. HUBBARD, resuming, said his objection to action now in the direction of a division was that it would embarrass the General Government in putting down rebellion, and if he did not believe this he would make no objection whatever. He wanted to know of gentlemen if the regular State government now in operation here was destroyed how could the remainder of the State ever to be restored to the Union. The President of the United States had said that this movement here was worth more the the Government than an army with banners. He regretted to have heard the suggestion that upon the erection of a new State, and the fixing of the boundaries at the Alleghany, our young men would rally to that barrier to defend us. Why, sir, what would you have thought if the people of Ohio had rallied to the Ohio river, and said: "Here we will defend the Union." He wanted them not to stand still but to go on until the loyal people of all the State, and of all the South, should be liberated from their present oppression. When this had been done he was willing to go for a division, but not till then. He felt that he was pledged to every Union man in Virginia to press forward their deliverance to a final consummation. It was not a question of self interest, but of duty, to the whole country. We wanted them to realize that they wre not a third party, but they were part of the government, and their highest duty was to the Constitution of the United States. He regretted that it had been doubted that the government would not be successful in the contest. He himself had no doubt. He knew of no way to restore the Union except for the loyal people of the seceded States to reorganize their State governments; and now that they had inaugurate this general movement, he hoped they would rise to the importance of this great movement and not turn aside for any object of minor importance.

The speaker spent some time in replying to the arguments offered a few days ago by the gentleman from Randolph (Mr. Crane).

Gentlemen wanted to know how long he was willing to remain connected with the East; just so long, he replied, as it should be necessary to sustain the loyal people of the East, and aid the Government in putting down rebellion.

One more thought was that action now would injure this government here; that as soon as this other government should be projected they would lose their regard for this one. And in reply to the gentleman from Lewis in reference to wanting a representative government, he would say that a Governor could be elected as easily and speedily as the State could be divided.

There were many other points to be noticed in this connection, but he would leave them to other gentlemen.

After Mr. Hubbard concluded,

Mr. ZINN made an explanation in regard to the letter written by Mr. Brown, which, it had been charged here, as written with a view of influencing the action of the Legislature.

Mr. FARNSWORTH obtained the floor, but gave way to Mr. Carlile, who addressed the Convention at length. His remarks will probably appear in full.

Without concluding Mr. Carlile gave way for a recess.


The Convention reassembled, and Mr. Carlile took the floor and proceeded to finish his remarks begun in the morning's session.

Mr. STEWART followed, and in the course of his remarks said he wanted it distinctly understood that he was in favor of a division of the State, and he had believed and urged that it should take place at the time of the Constitutional Convention of 1850. But we as a people are here reorganizing our Government interests. We have an honor to maintain. Everything else sinks into insignificance compared to the great object of maintaining the Union and the Government of the United States. What was Northwestern Virginia without the Union? If their action here was likely to injure the cause of the Union, could not they hesitate before they took any such action. He said the friends of division urged the measure, lest the debt of the State contracted by the usurpers at Richmond should be fixed upon them. Was it to be supposed that they would have anything to do with the debt contracted by a rebellious people which the Government was now putting down. He knew there were true men in the Eastern part of the State. He had seen them shed tears in the Richmond Convention when the ordinance was passed, and he did not desire to cut loose from such men as these. He protested against such selfish action.

But he professed to be a constitutional man, and he prayed them not to be the first to trample the constitution under foot, and he appealed to them, what was the spirit of the provision of the constitution in relation to the formation of new States, which he quoted? Did they believe that this contemplated that two-thirds of a State should cut loose from the remaining State by an arbitrary majority and leave that third to maintain their government as best they might. It was contrary to all ideas of justice in governments. And if two-thirds could not do so, how could one-fourth of a State force a division without the consent of the remainder of a State? The gentleman had asked for a reason for not taking immediate action. That reason was that we cannot comply with the requirements of the constitution of the United States. Certain influences had been brought to bear here that he had not anticipated. That influence was his friend from Harrison. In the May Convention, he was in favor of a division. On the 13th of June he found him opposing a division of the State at that time; and urging that the primary object of this movement was to restore Virginia to the Union. Now we find him turning around and urging a division. Why was it that gentlemen were so changable? His argument was that in the first of this session there was no Legislature. Was there any in May, when he wanted a division? But it was necessary to obtain the consent of the Legislature; he would say that it was not yet obtained. The gentleman from Harrison (Mr. Lewis) wanted the State divided so as to get back to the old representative form of government. Well, sir, this was a representative government. He had been sent here by constituents, who so regarded it. But they didn't send him here to divide the State; it was to aid in putting down rebellion. In canvassing before his constituents he had made this and the support of the government the great question, and had ignored the question of a division because he believed it would result in dividing our people among themselves. He did not stand here to dissent from his constituents, and if any man would convince him that his people wanted him to take hasty action he would go with the advocates of division. But he wanted first, before he did such a thing, to go back to his constituents for instruction.

He alluded to the assertion of Mr. Lewis, that an equitable settlement would show that the West did not owe the East one dollar.

He animadverted severely upon a suggestion made by Mr. Carlile, that with the bonds of the new State, Virginia bonds could be bought at from 30 to 40 cents. Should they thus swindle the people who had come here to protect and defend our people from the hordes of secession? No, sir. He hoped the gentleman would never mention the suggestion again. He alluded to a remark of Mr. Lewis in relation to treason against the State, that he believed it would even be treason to petition for a division of the State. The Constitution of the United States was above any statute of any State, and the right of petition on any subject was one that was and must be inviolate. He had always contended, and always should, that the people of Northwestern Virginia had the right of petitioning for a division of the State or for any other object. With regard to taking advantage of the circumstances which gentlemen styled "providential," that was another argument which he placed in the same category with the proposition of buying up our own State debts.

Why was it that all the secessionists in his section of the country were now clamoring for State division?

Mr. LEWIS replied that he believed it was because they regarded that the vote given upon that question was a manifestation of the views of the people upon a division of the State, and they were willing to acquiesce in the majority.

Mr. STEWART said that acquiescing and advocating was a very different thing.

Mr. CATHER said in his part of the country they had understood from that vote, that a majority here were in favor of the Constitution of the United States, and by dividing the State, and the formation of the new State, they would have a good excuse for submitting to this majority.

Mr. STEWART believed notwithstanding the explanations that the secessionists were doing this because they believed it was a measure that would involve us in difficulties and dangers.

He again attacked the position of the gentleman from Harrison (Mr. Lewis) and read that gentleman's card published last May in regard to the movement just then inaugurated. And he paused before he could consent to be led by a gentleman who held as Mr. Lewis then did that he owed an allegiance to the United States subordinate to that due to the State. He argued against any such doctrine and said it was the doctrine of secession. Now, sir, these gentlemen were advocating the doctrine of secession - the right of one-fourth to secede from the remaining portion of the State and break up their State government without the consent of the rest of the State. This argument that two peoples who were not quite homogenous in interest with each other, should strike by force, if need be, for a separation, was but another form of the "irrepressible conflict," thrust upon them by the villains at the North - the Abolitionists: though by that term he did not mean the Republican party. He reviewed a position taken by Mr. Carlile in a speech delivered some days ago that it was impossible ever to have commercial intercourse with the east, and wanted to know why he wanted to exclude the counties in the Kanawha Valley, which were to all intents and purpose identical in interests with ourselves. He believed if the State was ever to be divided, and he should vote for it at the proper time, the mountains should be the boundary.

Mr. CARLILE explained that the proposition was substantially Mr. Farnsworth's; he had only changed it in one or two respects, and not at all in respect of boundary, except to cut out one county.

Mr. STEWART proceeded to criticise other provisions of the proposition of Mr. Carlile, particularly that in relation to the adjustment of the State debt. The West had no right to cast up an adjustment of the debt, and then tell the bondholders they may look to the remainder of the State. They had assumed a position that entitled them to the sympathy of the whole United State, and of the world, but if they did this, as here proposed, it would be both wrong and disgraceful. The gentleman from Harrison seemed to think that an imaginary line would be all the defence we would want, and that the people of the Est could go on and erect a government, as we have done. How would the General Government ever provide for law and order there, if they should be left without any government at all. He depicted the situation of Union men in that part of the State, and said this would be cutting them off and giving them over to the rebellious authorities and they would have nothing at all round which to rally.

Mr. FARNSWORTH succeeded, and as he had the honor of presenting a substitute upon this question, he claimed the right of saying a few words.

He had never heard such a tirade of abuse as had here been launched at the advocates of a division. He had never been so much puzzled in his life, as to tell what was the argument of the gentleman from Doddridge, and his reason for wishing to delay action.

He proceeded to review Mr. Stewart's argument, and said that that gentleman had confessed that he did not know the sentiments of the Union men of his section but he did seem to know all about the secessionists there.

He charged upon a portion of the gentlemen opposing immediate action that they were opposed to the formation of a new State altogether. Two of the members had told him they were, and they were found acting with the gentlemen who professed to be in favor of a new State, and were now opposing what they were pleased to call "precipitate action."

It had been claimed on this floor that one of the great objects had been to get into a condition to legally and constitutionally take these steps. That was the argument of the gentleman from Wood. If they were not now in such a situation they never would be. He recapitulated the different steps that had been taken to make this a legitimate government. And they were not to be prejudiced by the rebellion in Eastern Virginia. They were not to suffer because the rebels there had done wrong.

He took the bold ground that the government could refuse them admission into a new State if the application were properly made. It was a right they had under their State Constitution, with the assent of their Legislature to demand admission. The argument that because they were formed into a new State they could not be loyal, was the weakest he had ever heard; and if the success of the General Government depended on delaying the rights of the people of Western Virginia, then its success hung on a brittle thread and that was already snapping. But the government was high above such a position as this. She was contending for constitutional liberty, and we contending with her for the same. He replied to several arguments advanced by Mr. Van Winkle, of Wood, and to the objection that they should wait, he told them that if they let this opportunity pass they never would get a division. It was taking no advantage of the East. They had refused to join us, and should we suffer because of their refusal? Suppose they did wait, and Virginia should give us their consent, and we should tell them they would be without any form of government, they would laugh us to scorn - for they would still have all the rights they ever had and the same constitution they have now.

Besides there was a settlement with them that must be made, and separating from them will not aggravate the case in the least. He was for making all that settlement at once.

As to boundary, he would like to have the boundary run with the mountains, but at this time perhaps that boundary could not be had. Only given them a State composed of such counties as those named in his proposition, and it would vie with any other State in the Union. He was opposed to taking in any counties at this time that would have to be coerced into measures. They could at any time adopt an ordinance making provision for their admission.

Mr. LAMB moved that to-morrow afternoon at three o'clock the floor be given to the Chairman of the Committee on Division of the State, and that the debate be closed at five o'clock, and that the Convention then proceed to vote in order upon the various propositions with such amendments as may be offered before the Convention.

Mr. CALDWELL moved to amend the resolution so as to close the debate at half after 11 A. M.

Mr. CARLILE did not, as he had had opportunity of discussion, desire to deprive others of the same opportunity.

Mr. LAMB withdrew the resolution, and offered another extending the time to Monday, which was, upon the motion of Mr. Caldwell, laid upon the table for the present.

The Convention then took a recess till half-past 7 o'clock.


The Convention met at half past seven.

Mr. LAMB obtained the floor and delivered a strong logical, forcible argument against action towards a division of the State. He concluded, however, in the following language: "But, sir, if the measure (for taking steps to divide the State) carries I certainly shall join heartily, fairly, honestly in carrying out your determination. My fate will be yours; and I can only hope that whether weal or woe come of it I may still be able in any event to protect those that are dependent upon me.

Mr. FAST followed in an argument of some length in favor of division, and after he had concluded,

Mr. FROST moved an adjournment but gave way for Mr. West, who by general consent offered the following resolution:

WHEREAS, In consequence of existing hostilities and the disorganized condition of our once happy and prosperous Commonwealth, it becomes necessary for the Legislature that met in July last, in extra session, to meet again in December next; and whereas, it is believed by this Convention that rebellion will soon be swept from every part of Virginia; be it therefore

Resolved, That if the Governor of this Commonwealth in his wisdom may think it safe and prudent, and the interests of the State requires it, he shall cause the next annual session of the Legislature to be ordered to meet in the city of Richmond on the first Monday of December next, unless he, in his opinion, shall think the good of the Commonwealth demand the assembling of it at an earlier day.

Mr. WEST gave as a reason for offering this resolution, that he wanted to test the sincerity of gentlemen who insisted that they were legislating and should continue to legislate for the whole State.

A motion to adjourn prevailed, and the Convention adjourned without a vote upon the resolution.

August 6
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August 17
August 19
August 20
August 21

Chapter Nine: Second Session of the Second Wheeling Convention

A State of Convenience

West Virginia Archives and History