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

Wheeling Daily Intelligencer
March 23, 1863

The Working Men's Mass Meeting.

Speeches of Hon. W. T. Willey,

P.G. Van Winkle and Gov. Peirpont

A Big Crowd and Great Enthusiasm - stirring Resolutions - Mr. Van Winkle tells all about the Parkersburg Convention.

By half past seven, Saturday night, the Theatre, was crowded in expectation of being addressed by Hon. W. T. Willey and P. G. Van Winkle, Esq., of Parkersburg, on behalf of the New State. Certainly a thousand people were present. A large number of ladies in the dress circle honored the occasion with their presence. (God bless them for their devotion to so good a cause.)

By way of organizing the meeting John R. Hubbard called it to order and nominated R. W. McClellan for President. - Mr. McClellan was chosen.

The following gentlemen were selected for Vice President:

E. C. Jeffers, Jacob Hull, Harvey Hall, O.J. Crawford, Wm. Coleman, B. Haag, A. H. Britt, D. Kull, L. T. Dean, H. B. Hubbard, G. T. Ayres, W. D. Lewis, P. Schielle, W. Shuler.

Thos. G. Britt was appointed Secretary. John R. Hubbard moved a committee of five on resolutions. The following gentlemen were appointed: -- J. R. Hubbard, Edward Hobbs, Wm. Weedebush, Thomas O'Brien, Theodore N. Gorrel.

The President then introduced Mr. Van Winkle, who was received with a flattering round of applause.

Mr. Van Winkle began by alluding to the recent abortion of a so-called anti-New State "democratic" Convention at Parkersburg. He said the people of Parkersburg had received information that a person whom they regarded as disloyal, to say no more, had proposed to address them in conjunction with some of their own citizens whom they regarded in precisely the same light. They called a public meeting at which they resolved that no traitorous assemblage should be held and no traitorous speech made up in that place. (Roaring cheers and applause.) He had no personal interest in the matter, for he did not attend the meeting. A son of his had been present, and the newspaper reports had confounded the name with his own.

But he would not be afraid to own or approve whatever a majority of the people there did (applause), and if he had had any hesitation on the subject in the beginning he should have none now. The <:>Press newspaper of this evening contained an address of what is originally styled a "Democratic" convention, and it was signed by five renegade Whigs! (derisive laughter.) Mr. Clemens had come down there. He need not repeat that gentleman's history. His auditory was familiar with it. He would mention some of the circumstances that convinced the people of Parkersburg that a disloyal speech was intended. First, the gentlemen who invited Mr. Clemens to speak there were notorious secessionist, one of whom occupied a bunk on one of the floors of this building (Athenaeum) during part of the summer of 1861. In the second place these same gentlemen were very industriously engaged in circulating handbills for the occasion.

He would mention as a further confirmation of it, that when Mr. Clemens got to Parkersburg, he was wholly occupied with being introduced to secessionists. He did not know that in a single instance Sherrard was introduced to anybody else than those who were known by the people there to be secessionists. These friends of this gentlemen applied for the key of the Court House for him to speak in. The Sheriff refused. It was only the part of duty on the Sheriff's part to do so, for the Court House was new, and if a riot had occurred, it might have been very greatly injured. They say also that the use of the Court House was refused for the use of the Convention which was to meet next day. As to that he was not informed.

Great outcry was made about the military. These men had made inquiry of Col. Frost, and he had assured them his men were there to keep the peace, and that that was the whole business of himself and men. The citizens did not assemble about the streets as alleged. They knew what they were going to do in case any attempt was made and that was enough. Towards the middle of the day the Mayor went to Clemens and told him the citizens were determined that he should not speak and that he had no police force capable of protecting him if he should be assailed. He therefore advised him to give it up. - Probably they were only waiting for an excuse to give it up, and they did go. (Applause.)

Up the next day this Convention - called as a "Democratic" Convention - was to assemble, and it went into Gen. Jackson's house which is on a public street and held its session there and no attempt was made to interfere with or disturb it.

It was said the military were about the streets. Well he was somewhat about the streets that day himself and he did not recollect of seeing any unusual display of military. They had military there all the time, and always a good many struggling soldiers about the streets. They had patrols too constantly stationed in some parts of the town to arrest stragglers and send them back to camp.

He went on to speak of what that Convention really was. A meeting had been held at Clarksburg calling a Convention to meet in Parkersburg <:> to prevent the new State from becoming a free negro Colony! -- This meeting appointed 16 or 17 delegates. At Clarksburg some of them had told him they knew nothing of it and their names were used without authority. He was told there were but two persons came to Clarksburg from the country to attend the meeting, and they were employed all day in going about town trying to find out where it was held. (Great laughter)

Well the day came and the delegates were supposed to be in attendance at Parkersburg. But all he could hear of as being there were one from Clarksburg, one from Wirt, one from Tyler, three or four from this (Ohio) county, some from a single precinct of Wood, and it was extremely doubtful - be never had heard of it - whether Parkersburg had appointed anybody at all. He supposed the two gentlemen from Parkersburg whose names were signed to the address in the Press had appointed themselves. In that address they were claiming to speak not only for the 48 counties but for the whole State, and yet they had delegates from only five counties. (Derisive laughter.) He assured his bearers if anyone had come there in good faith wishing to discuss the New State question and opposed it they would have given him a full opportunity to do it. But they were it should be remembered within 12 or 15 miles of a country through which guerrilla hands were continually roaming and pillaging and murdering the people, and they were not going to allow men to come there and hold treasonable meetings and make treasonable speeches for the purpose of encouraging these "guerrillas." In several counties which he named letters had been received from persons beyond the rebel lines in which with significant uniformity of expression they told their friends they would be at home the coming spring. Rumors were rife of a force gathering one our Southern border. Judge Camden had written a letter home saying they had 12,000 West Virginians in the rebel army and 3,000 more organized and ready to rise as soon as this "invasion was made." If the rebels could come to Parkersburg why might they not come to Wheeling? Already it was reported that Sutton and been taken by Jenkins.

He asked them whether, under such circumstances, they would permit traitorous assemblages to be held and traitorous speeches to e made in their midst. (No! no!) He asked them if these men among them should rise what they would do with them. ("Hang them! hang them!" cried hundreds of voices.) Well then, he would remind them, an ounce of prevention was worth a pound of cure.

Mr. Van Winkle then entered upon an elaborate and most convincing argument in explanation and vindication of the whole Western Virginia movement, from the calling of the Richmond Convention to the present time, tracing the successive steps of tyranny and usurpation by which the State government at Richmond was abdicated, and clearly setting forth the principles and citing the precedents that entitled the people of this portion of the State to reorganize and re-establish their government.

In conclusion he called attention to the benefits to be derived from the New State under the Constitution provided for it, and said we were only asking to be allowed to attend to our own affairs in our own way. It was not for the gratification of any abstract idea that the people had clung to the New State. It was for the practical blessings it was calculated to confer, that we wished to set up a government adapted to our own condition. Let every man remember when he goes to the polls on Thursday, that it is not for themselves alone but for their wives and daughters they are to act - that they are voting to obtain blessings for their own firesides. (Applause.)

Mr. Van Winkle then quoted those beautiful lines beginning:

"There is a land of every land the pride,
Beloved by Heaven o'er all the world beside,"

with excellent effect, and sat down amid rapturous applause.

Mr. Willey was loudly called for, and coming forward was introduced by the President in a perfect storm of applause.

He began by saying that he had come to the conclusion that Wheeling was a very industrious place. His friend Hubbard invited him to speak to a "working men's" meeting and if all the men he saw before him were working men then he must be right in that conclusion. He was reminded by the same letter that it was a New State meeting, but if our Union was not preserved our New State would not be of much account.

He alluded to the address issued by the Parkersburg "Convention" as the "document of five old whigs who went down to Parkersburg to revive the Democratic party." (Uproarious laughter) He was a whig once himself. "They talked about inviting the whole country. Why they didn't invite all the Whig party. They left several of us out." He felt somewhat slighted. He thought he could have made some good suggestions to Gen. Jackson and his old friends Mr. Jacobs. One of the recommendations of those gentlemen was for those opposed to the new State no to go to the polls. They had a precedent for that, when his friend (Mr. V. W.) had noticed among his precedents.

There was a convention as far back as the days of Esop. Perhaps those who held it were afraid they might be shot if their purpose was distinctly known. They held it in the woods and appointed as chairman of that meeting, not Gen. Jackson but Mr. Reynard. And after due discussion they looked up where they hung clear out of reach and said "O, those grapes are sour, we don't want them anyhow." Don't vote against the new State - have nothing to do with it - and why? Because there is hardly a corporals guard left that could vote against it. (Great Laughter and applause.) Mr. Willey took up the objections urged against the new State and answered them one by one; beginning with "Congressional dictation" and ending with the free negro bugaboo, eliciting repeated applause.

He spoke of the cry of "abolition." That was about all the argument there was on that side. Without argument or truth, these men seduced by the instigation of the devil were going about the country calling everybody "abolitionists" who were in favor of anybody or anything but Jeff Davis and his Confederacy. Did you ever, said he, go along a lane where there was a flock of guinea fowls? Well as you go along they will fly up on the fence and utter their note, sharp, discordant to the ear as it is , and if there are fifty of them they will all do precisely the same thing. They will fly upon the fence one after another and utter the same unpleasant, monotonous cry. Well now these men are going around the country like a flock of guinea fowls and they are all squawking "Abolition." (Vociferous applause)

He wanted to know what abolition meant in the offensive sense of the term. South Carolina had slavery. Did we of West Virginia propose to abolish it there? Was he for abolishing slavery in Eastern Virginia - outside of this New State? He would sooner have his right arm cut off than violate a Constitutional principle which guarantees to every State the right to regulate its own domestic institutions.

This was precisely the right it was proposed to exercise in forming a government for ourselves. We would leave our neighbors to manage their household affairs in their own way and we would exercise the same right. That was all he was asking for in this New State. The only question left then was whether it was expedient to have slavery amongst us or not, and on that the people had made up their minds.

Who was it opposing the New State? - Secessionists. ("Traitors! Traitors!") - There was where the cry of Abolition came from. This treasonable sentiment had maintained a concealed existence amongst us for some time, but the New State was the test question that brought it out. - These men were like a terrapin: approach him and he draws in his head and claws, and is the most innocent and harmless creature in the world. But carry him home and put him down and put a live coal on his back and then you will see skedaddling. (Laughter.) Now this New State question was the live coal on the backs of these secessionists. They can't stand it. (Great applause.) It shows who is who for if we get into the New State of West Virginia there is no chance ever after to get into Jeff Davis' kingdom. (Applause.)

Mr. W. proceeded to discuss the comparative merits of free and slave labor, and quoted Hammond of South Carolina who called the working men the "mudsills of society." He would say to them to-night that the banner of the country depends for its future glory and perpetuity upon the strong arms of the workingmen of the United States. (Applause.)

It is the working man who fights the battles of the country - who wields the sword - who pushes the bayonet; and when victory perches upon our banners it is the legitimate fruit of the bravery of the working man. (Applause.) This rebellion was instituted for the purpose of establishing aristocracy, and taking away from the working men the rights and powers with which God endowed them.

In concluding Mr. Willey eloquently contrasted the East and the West - pointing out their irreconcilable antagonisms and the wrongs done by one to the other. The East had done nothing for us. He thought the West had waited long enough. In the Church which he was a member of it was the custom to take in members on six months probation. Eastern Virginia had been in our Church about sixty years and never been in class once on this side of the mountains. (Laughter.)

In all soberness and sincerity he would say that the 26th day of this month was to be the most important that had yet occurred in our history. Our future welfare depends on the votes you give that day. Vote in the New State. You will have free echools and free labor; you will invite emigration from abroad. He had received scores of letters inquiring about the country. It is a good wool-growing country? Asking something about Mr. Van Winkle's oil wells; is it true you have such great coal mines? Have you waterfalls? Is it a grass growing country? Some asking one thing and some another - all indicating that the very hour we are admitted as a free State there will be a great influx of capital, and instead of having four or five mils rolling up smoke you will have a dozen of them and millions and millions of capital will come here. They will come upon your water courses, open your coal mines, send means of transportation. The face of the country will be changed. Industry, wealth, population, power, education and moral influence will be concentrated in our bills, and we will flourish. Will we receive this boon or will be madly reject it. I trust we will receive it: (Applause.) I know there are some things to discourage us in our national affairs, and, fill our hearts with dread. But, fellow-citizens, we shall succeed. Our cause is just and there is a God above. (Applause.) We are bound to succeed it we are true to ourselves - and dark as the sky sometime appears now, the time will come when the light will break in, when the storm will subside, when the bow of promise shall be painted on the receding tempest and that grand old flag of our fathers shall be seen emerging from the gloom and waving on the breezes of heaven, and in the midst of the glorious old Thirteen will kindle out another new star, the brightest, the best, the dearest to us all, the star of West Virginia.

(Mr. Willey sat down amidst vociferous cheering which was prolonged and repeated for several minutes.)

J. R. Hubbard from the Committee on Resolutions then reported the following which were adopted by a universal "aye."


We the Working Men of the city of Wheeling, in Mass Meeting assembled, avail ourselves of this opportunity to make known to our fellow citizens throughout the counties, in the proposed State of West Virginia, our sentiments in regard to the Union, and the New State. Therefore,

Resolved, 1st,That in the Government of the United States, we have one that is peculiarly the government of the working map, and the only one in which the masses of the people are truly represented, and that its subversion by rebellion, or revolution, would be a calamity irreparable in it s character.

2d. That our ardor and attachment to the unity of the land and the government of our fathers; our devotion to the freedom we have inherited our appreciation of the inestimable liberties and privileges of our matchless Constitution; our faith in the divinity of republican institutions; our determination to stand by the glorious flag of our nationality, are in no wise abandoned or abated.

3d. That we disclaim all sympathy, or connection with any party, that is no unconditionally for the Union. That we hold in detestation the false and delusive cries of peace at this time; that we recognize no proposition for compromise with rebels in arms; that we are for the war until the last rebel submits that we are willing to bear all necessary burthens and privations incident to the final and effectual crushing but of Secession throughout the Rebel States.

4th. That those brave defenders of our flag who are now enduring the hardships and privations incident to the battlefield, have our thanks and heartfelt sympathies. That we regard it as one of the most solemn duties to watch over and provide for the loved ones they have left behind: that we will ever revere the memory of the gallant dead, and that it is the duty of every loyal man to relieve the sufferings and soothe the sorrows of their widows and orphans wherever found.

5th. That the success of the New State at the coming election on the 26h inst., is with us an object of desire - second only to the success of the Union. That we recognize it as the political salvation of West Virginia. That we appeal to our fellow citizens everywhere to omit no necessary and honorable means to secure success. That we will work for it with our whole hearts and souls from now until the going down of the sun on election day.

6th. That we detect among those who have set themselves in opposition to the New State, the same men a most to a man who were in sympathy with the rebellion when it first broke out. Who cried "no coercion" - who opposed the establishment of our restored government - who are continually carping and snarling at every act of the General and State Governments against the rebels, and whose eyes are always bright at the news of disaster to our national arms.

7th. That we heartily endorse the recommendation for a Convention at Parkersburg to nominate candidates for State officers, and we hereby earnestly express the desire, that non but unconditional Union men, of good moral character, will receive the nomination from that body. For ourselves we are resolved never to support anyone who has the slightest taint of secession.

8th. That our thanks are due to the Hon. Waitman T. Willey and P. G. Van Winkle, for their very eloquent addresses this evening.

Governor Pierpont was called out and made a telling little speech.

In concluding the proposed three cheers for the New State, and the whole audience rose and gave the cheers standing.

E. H. Caldwell, Esq., of Moundsville, was called for and acknowledge the compliment in a neat little response.

Calls were made for A. W. Campbell of the <:>Intelligencer, but he did not appear.

The meeting adjourned between ten and eleven o'clock.

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

West Virginia Archives and History