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Timeline of West Virginia: Civil War and Statehood
March 21, 1863


Wheeling Daily Intelligencer
March 25, 1863

The West Liberty Meeting – Speeches of General Wheat and Marshal Norton.

West Liberty, Va., March 23.

Editors Intelligencer:

According to announcement, an interesting New State meeting was held at this place on last Saturday evening. The attendance was good, and the audience composed of voters.

The meeting was organized by calling to the chair Wm. Waddle, Esq.; and on motion, Robert Bonar was appointed Secretary.

Jas. S. Wheat, Esq., first addressed the meeting. His remarks were peculiarly happy and convincing. He stated that he had not come there with the purpose of indulging in abuse or sarcasm, but to discuss matters in a calm and friendly way; that he knew there were many good men opposed to the New State who had been deceived. To these he wished to address himself. The leading men of the opposition had been playing upon the prejudices of the people. He denounced as mere twaddle, this talk about the de jure Government at Richmond and the de facto at Wheeling. He showed that the idea of a de jure Government originated in the doctrine of the Divine right of kings – in the idea that the king ruled by Divine authority – a doctrine much advocated about the restoration of Charles II.

He went on to show that this teaching or doctrine had always been denied by the American people; that such an idea could never be admitted as a principle in such a government as ours. Consequently to talk, in this country, about a de jure as opposed to a de facto government was simply to make a “distinction without a difference.” He next touched upon that old saw “Dictation” which the opponents try to make such capital of. The Willey amendment was relieved of the odium of dictation both by precedent and the Constitutional powers of Congress. How many slaves would be freed by this amendment? By the time the New State would be ready to go into operation he did not believe there would be 4,000 slaves in the territory of the proposed State, and of these only those under 21 years of age would be emancipated. He thought it strange that there should be any opposition in the Panhandle where slavery is virtually extinct. We all know that what few slaves we have are such only through choice. We cannot give Gen. Wheat’s remarks entire, but they were sound and convincing; a speech well prepared, full of argument and well delivered. He concluded by saying he was a loyal man and an earnest supporter of the Government; that his motto had always been, “The majority rule;” that although in some respects he might object to the policy of the Administration yet it is the duty of every citizen to uphold and support the Administration as the means of government.

As Gen. Wheat concluded, Marshal Norton being called upon responded in a short but telling speech. He showed very clearly the consequences of rejecting the amended Constitution. “Should the original State of Virginia be restored to the Union, Eastern Virginia, with three times the political power of the West might impose what burdens she pleased upon us. We of the West have become particularly obnoxious to the remainder of the State, and whether the South succeed in their attempt or not, one thing is sure, our fate is sealed unless we cut loose immediately. A great deal of our property has already been sold in Richmond; we are denounced as traitors, threatened with confiscation, and my friends, whether Virginia is restored to the Union or not, in either event, we can expect no mercy. But I do not wish to be understood as having any doubts as to the ultimate result of the war. Six millions conquer twenty-two millions!

Gentlemen when this shall happen I shall submit. I will go to Jeff Davis on my knees saying, Mr. Jefferson Davis I am your slave, we of the North are all your servants. You Southern gentlemen have said you were a race superior to those Yankees, and you have demonstrated it in this war, I submit.

“Gentlemen, should our New State miscarry at the polls, there will be a general exodus of all your influential and best citizens. Your capitalists will seek safer and more profitable fields. West Virginia would be depopulated.

The Marshal went on to show the prejudice existing in slave States against manual labor. He enumerated instances where capitalists had been forced to leave such States simply on account of discouraging laws, social prejudices and the difficulty in procuring laborers. He said that he had traveled all over West Virginia, with an eye to manufacturing and mining locations, and he would venture that there were no better locations in the Union for such enterprises than between Wheeling and the mouth of the Big Sandy.

For want of room we cannot give the Marshal’s speech in detail, but it was a speech of facts. Of course, we have not been able to do justice to either speech in such short space.

It was evident that the audience were well pleased, as was manifested by frequent cheering during the meeting, and the congratulations among the New State men after adjournment.

G.


Timeline of West Virginia: Civil War and Statehood: March 1863

West Virginia Archives and History