Skip Navigation

Joseph Snider at the second Wheeling Convention

MR. SN[I]DER: I am not at all surprised, sir, that the gentleman concurs in the motion of the gentleman from Harrison, to indefinitely postpone the discussion of this bill. When I recollect the part of this State from which the gentleman hails, I am not at all surprised that he advocates it. It is true, sir, that I claim to be as much of a place man as any other man, and am as willing to consult my constituents as any other man, yet I do not desire to pay such a poor compliment to my constituents as to say that I must return to them every other day and ask their advice on this question. They are not as fickle minded as some other people. My constituents, sir, started out in the beginning of this revolution because, talk as you please, and call it as you may, it is a revolution I repeat, sir, they had from the commencement, this one great object in view, if none other. I will assert they had two great object in view; one was New Virginia in the Union, the other was separation from the East at all hazards.

If I had no more constituents at home than some of the gentlemen who oppose a division of the State on this floor represent, I could sit down and in fifteen minutes write a letter home to every one of them. And yet, sir, I am advised by these gentlemen to return home and consult my constituents on this great issue which is paramount, sir, to all others before this people.

Sir, there [are] two sides to this question. Remain in our present connection with old Virginia and we have nothing but bankruptcy staring us in the face; because I have already heard it intimated by gentlemen that to get rid of the State debt of Virginia we must eventually repudiate it. If we do that we thereby disgrace ourselves; but if we cut the State in two and assume and agree to pay our just share of this debt we save our honor and credit.

Will any gentleman pretend to deny that the object of the first convention which assembled here in this city looked terribly towards a division of the State. It was deemed inexpedient. It, however, was more like a mass meeting than a convention. The second was called, and the delegates more regularly elected; and the people thought one great object in sending delgates to that convention was to take the imatory (initiatory?) steps towards a division of this State.


THE CHAIR Does the gentleman from Monongalia submit the floor?

MR. SN[I]DER I do not submit the floor. I have occupied as little of the time and attention of this House as any other member, and I expect to occupy as little; but I have something to say just here, and I want to say it. I do not claim to be a talker. I merely claim to express myself so that gentlemen can understand me, and this I will endeavor to do before I sit down.

Knowing the views and sentiments of my constituents, I am constrained in vindication of myself and in justice to them, to put myself on the record on this subject, and I desire to do so.

I would remark, sir

[A message from the Senate interrupted momentarily.]

MR. SN[I]DER (resuming) I was about remarking that the people in electing delegates to this second Convention expected they would take immediate steps toward a division of the State. But gentlemen say and harp upon the idea that all at once upon a certain day, and almost at a certain hour, the Convention repudiated the idea of a division, and refused to agitate the subject. I know not what came across their minds. Gentlemen who composed that Convention deemed it inexpedient. But one thing I do know, they argued the inexpediency upon the ground that there was no Legislature, and as the assent of the Legislature was essential, they consequently could not consummate, or even take the initiatory steps at all, towards a division. They must wait until we could get a Legislature. And I further state that I heard many gentlemen say that when we had a Legislature of Virginia, recognized as such by the powers that be down at Washington, then would be the proper time to agitate this question, and then we could and would have a division of the State. Sir, that time has arrived. We have a Legislature of Virginia, recognized as the Legislature of Virginia for all purposes necessary to carry out the wishes and designs of gentlemen who wanted separation; and in this respect in respect of carrying out these designs and wishes, this is the Legislature of Virginia. But now when you come to act upon this point, or upon points that do not exactly meet the desires of gentlemen, then, sir, they would have you to believe that this is not the Legislature of Virginia; that this is the Legislature of but a little corner of less than one-third the State. Well, now I have to say: If this is the Legislature in one respect, it is in another respect. If it is sufficiently so to enable us to legislate for the people of Eastern Virginia as we have been doing, it is sufficient to legislate for a division of the State. We have reorganized the State Government. The Governor called this little body together; it proceeded to elect two United State Senators, who have been recognized by Congress, and thereby have given us a direct recognition that this is the Legislature of Virginia the most direct recognition, in my estimation, that we have had or could have as the Legislature of Virginia. We proceeded to legislate just for one-third part of the State, did we, eh? It was perfectly just, was it, for us to assume to legislate for the entire State of Virginia upon all subjects, and upon every point save this one point, a division of the State? When it comes to that point, then sir, why it is unjust, unreasonable, and wrong to attempt to legislate on this subject because so many of our fellow- citizens are not represented! Sir, this is preposterous in my opinion. We create this legislature and invest it with certain powers and it is the legislature of the entire State, qualified to legislate not upon one but upon all subjects alike for the whole State. But when it comes to that one subject of a division of the State, then, sir, it is so unjust! Are you so ungrateful that you, this little body, would attempt to legislate on that great and paramount question? I am, I acknowledge, sir, just that ungrateful. If I am not a member of the legislature in one respect I want to be in neither; and if I am not I wish to know it pretty soon, and I will resign and go home, for I have no business here if this is not the Legislature of Virginia.

I wish here to refer to another point. We are making appropriations, and no doubt collecting the revenues of the State. Well now I challenge any man, either in this body or out of it, to tell me the day, the hour, if you please, when we will collect a thousand dollars revenue out of all Eastern Virginia. Look at that thing, if you please. We have a government here that must be sustained, and the constituents of this body have got to "fork over" in order that it may be sustained. Eastern Virginia pays not a dollar; yet at the same time, we say we are legislating for the entire State. Can we legislate for a people whom our laws do not reach? Our laws do not affect them, and I know not when they will.

Gentlemen say the object is to "roll back this dark cloud of treason." Sir, we have played thunder in rolling back this cloud. If it had not been for the army of the Government, that "cloud" would have rolled us back; and if it were not for the strong arm of Uncle Sam, we would yet play just as much thunder "in rolling back" that "cloud." If the federal forces were withdrawn we would be hung to the first limb, or make our escape by the fleetness of our legs across this river. Sirs, we are not so strong as many gentlemen seem to suppose. The force that routed secession from our midst was not our force; it was the force of the General Government. It is not we that are driving back secession.

But, sir, as I was remarking, our constituents have got to support this government, and it is a government for the whole State at the same time. It is a right nice thing to pay gentlemen $150 mileage and $4 per diem, to come here to defeat the objects of our people in seeking a separation from the rest of the State gentlemen whose constituency pays not a dollar into the treasury of the government and I challenge any man to say what day or what hour they will pay a dollar into the treasury.

In view of these things, I am constrained, as an honest man, wishing to represent the wishes of my constituents, to advocate a division of the State. Not to "precipitate" that event, as gentlemen are pleased to argue. Every man on this floor, who opposes the measures now before us, intimates that those who are in favor of it, desire to "precipitate" the thing. I deny, for one, having any intentions to precipitate. I deny, sir, further, that it can possibly be precipitated.

I do not know, Mr. Speaker, but there is an idea in my head, and I trust in God it is not correct. I remarked on a former occasion, and I do believe with all respect to every member of this body that an arrangement is going on to sell me and my constituents. We have seen outside pressure and inside pressure brought to bear in the last few days, even the saying to members from the lips of foreigners: "Ah! You want to divide the State in order to get rid of paying your just proportion of the State debt of Virginia." And, no doubt, all of you have seen what I have seen. On this account I cannot fail to come to the conclusion which I was about to mention and which I hope is incorrect, and that the conclusion is a false one but, sir, I entertain the opinion and I cannot help it, which is just this, sir; that there is a contract going on, and which is nearly completed, to sell me and my constituents, and against which I desire to enter my eternal protest. I will not stand by and see the sale going on without entering that protest. Those suspicions in my mind might not have been excited, but outside pressure, foreign influence, have been brought to bear in this matter to influence the minds of members of this body to repudiate all action so far as the division of the State is concerned. When I see with my eyes these things going on, hear them with my ears, you need not tell me such is not the fact. I am, sir, so far as I know myself, honest in my opinion in regard to this matter, and I accord to every gentleman that same liberty I will have myself. They are honest convictions in this matter. I do deem it expedient highly important that we should take some initiatory steps looking directly to a division of the State. I have heard arguments produced here that it is impossible to ??? the boundaries. Why, ???the very God that made beeves and earth???boundaries, whose summits kiss the very clouds and back to the pure sunlight of heaven. I do not want any other boundaries than those of nature. I do not ask any more and would not be willing to take anything less.

I do not desire, Mr. Speaker, to detain this House. I do hope gentlemen will consider this matter. But before I do sit down I would just wish to advert to one thing. I do not desire to dictate to this House, or to any man, nor shall any one dictate to me. I want to hear advice favorable and unfavorable, and then do like the man who called in his neighbors to tell him where to build his barn, and refused to take any of their advice and went and built it where he pleased. Gentlemen use arguments against any action here on account of the smallness of this body, that we represent such a small portion of the State, and that it looks very unjust for us to attempt to do anything in this mater without consulting them away across the Mountains. We have proceeded thus far without any consultation whatever. Well now I ask gentlemen to tell me the day in the past when we had an united Northwest. Go to Richmond, the former capital of the State, follow up the record of her legislators, and tell me, sir, when Northwestern Virginia stood there as an united people. Why did they not? The question arises. Why, sir, that question has been answered a thousand times. Eastern Virginia had more money than we had. That is the reason we never had an united West. Prolong this thing my fellow countrymen, procrastinate the division of the State until you clear all the secession rebels out of the State in every county, and farewell, yes, farewell to a separation of this State! Does any gentleman presume that when this entire State is represented in a Legislature, that you can ever obtain the requisite assent. It cannot be possible that any gentleman here supposes for a single moment that when the State is truly represented, that the assent of the Legislature to a division ever could be obtained. That thing is now in our hands, we have it in our power, and if we do not make use of it, sir, I fear some of us will have a fearful account to shoulder to our constituents. They say, "Sir, this was in your power once; you refused to make use of it; you held the Legislature to be such for the ordinary purposes of legislation, but when it came to this point of legislating for a separation of the State, then, sir, you denied that you were the Legislature of the State. This was in your hands once. You had it in your power. You have sold us and disgraced us, because our State is now bankrupt, as a whole, and must repudiate, and consequently bring disgrace upon us."

I hope gentlemen will consider the thing and refuse to do anything that will not be creditable to this body and satisfactory to their people at home. They look for something plain and palpable that they can see, and feel, and take hold of. Just one word more. Gentlemen say, sir, that it is inexpedient, highly inexpedient, that this body should legislate on this subject; that initiatory steps should be taken by the Convention. Now, sir, I never did claim to have any legal knowledge, but I want to know in what State, or what country, or where, if ever, in the history of our country, there was a Convention brought together to frame a constitution, without first being authorized to do so by the Legislature of the State. If there ever was such a case, I do not know it. They are willing to assume, if this Convention sees proper to do so and so, that it is all right. If they see proper to frame a constitution, can they do so without being authorized to do so by this body? I say emphatically, sir, they cannot do so. If I am mistaken, I hope gentlemen will correct me on this point. Why not give them that authority, and if they deem it inexpedient to do this thing, let it go? But, sir, if at that time they do believe it expedient, why not invest them with authority to frame a constitution?

Return to Snider Biography