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Debates and Proceedings
of the
First Constitutional Convention
of West Virginia

February 20, 1863

The Convention assembled, for its final session, at the appointed hour and was opened with prayer by Rev. David Hervey of the Presbyterian church, a resident of Wellsburg.

After reading and approval of the journal, the Convention resumed consideration of the ordinance to provide for the organization of the State of West Virginia.

MR. DERING. I desire, Mr. President, to ask a question of the committee that prepared this ordinance. As this is a very important ordinance, as it pertains particularly to the modes provided for voting, I would like to know if there are any arrangements in them with reference to the general distribution of this ordinance among the people of the counties of the new State. I think it is very important that the superintendents of elections at least, should have this ordinance as it is likely the modus provided of voting will be in mode for all time to come in our new State.

MR. LAMB. The committee has come to no further conclusion in regard to that matter than that it will be necessary to furnish a copy of that ordinance, with the poll books, to every place of voting within the new State. That far at least they will distribute them. Whether they will make any more general distribution of them, I don't know yet. It will take some thousand, or perhaps a little more than a thousand, copies to distribute them to all the different places of voting. Certainly, not merely the superintendents of election but the commissioners of the election, at every precinct will have to be furnished with a copy, or they will not know how to act at all.

MR. DERING. I think it proper the people should understand it, too.

MR. IRVINE. They are now distributing the poll books. The ordinances ought to accompany the poll books.

MR. LAMB. Not these poll books. The ordinance passed some days ago will accompany these poll books. That ordinance regulates the matter of voting on the Amended Constitution. This ordinance relates to a different matter. The first vote will be viva voce; but the vote under this ordinance will be by ballot; and the proper ordinance will accompany the poll books in each case.

Mr. President, I am directed by the Committee on Revision to report the following resolution:

"RESOLVED, That so much of the seven thousand dollars, appropriated by the Legislature of Virginia to pay the expenses of this body and of elections ordered by it, as may remain unexpended at the time of our adjournment be placed at the disposal of the Executive Committee of this Convention to defray the necessary expenses incurred in carrying into execution the ordinances of this Convention and the schedule annexed to the original Constitution; and that the said Executive Committee render their accounts thereof to the Legislature of West Virginia at their first session."

The resolution was adopted.

MR. STEVENSON of Wood. Mr. President, I have a resolution, sir, which I wish to offer:

"RESOLVED, That bound copies of the journal of the proceedings of the second session of this Convention be left with the Executive Committee to be disturbed by them as follows: One copy to each member of the Convention, and the remainder at their discretion; also that copies of the Constitution and address ordered to be printed by the Convention, shall be distributed by the same committee."

I wish to say in connection with that resolution that there is some complaint I believe on the part of some of the members of the Convention that they did not receive a copy of the proceedings of the first session of the Convention; but we do not think it necessary to offer a resolution to have another edition of the proceedings of the first session printed, as it would be very costly, the forms being destroyed altogether. It would require, of course, the setting up of the whole matter anew. On inquiry at the office of the printer, we have discovered that there are ten copies of the proceedings of the first session, without the accompanying papers - resolutions, propositions and other papers appended to the bound edition now. There are ten copies simply of the proceedings of the Convention, unbound, and the Committee on Printing have concluded to get them bound so that any member of the Convention who has not received it might get a copy of the proceedings of the first session. He will, of course be entitled to this, although he will not get with it the accompanying papers. That is the best the committee can do unless the Convention see proper to order the printing of an additional number of the first edition. That is with the Convention. The edition, I believe, is now entirely exhausted. I believe there is not a copy that has not been distributed and must be, of course, in the possession of somebody. I understand the commissioners who are authorized the copies of the first proceedings have mailed copies to the different members; but for some cause or other it appears the copies did not reach them. I suppose that can be accounted for by the interruption of the mails, and probably a number of other things have prevented copies reaching their destination. There were but one hundred copies of them printed, that being the excess over the amount printed for the daily use of the Convention.

In regard to the printing of the proceedings of the second session of the Convention, we design, as the form is not yet completed and the printing is not yet done, to order a larger edition of the proceedings of this session; so that there can be no complaint, at least, on the part of members in not getting the proceedings of this session. And in regard to the distribution of the address and Constitution ordered to be printed by the Convention, I have this to say, that the committee did their utmost to get the address and Constitution printed before the dispersion of the Convention. We waited on the different establishments in the city, and in addition to that we telegraphed to Pittsburgh and Cleveland but found it impossible to get printing done as soon as it can be done by the establishment of the regular printer of the Convention. They have so arranged it, by working all the time and putting all their hands that they could possibly spare to work upon the manuscript of the address to get the address printed by tomorrow, sometime tomorrow. Against tomorrow evening the entire edition of 10,000 copies of the address will be ready for distribution; but before that time - in the forepart of the day, if any of the members remain they can get enough probably to take along, especially those who live at a distance. A form will be put upon the press tomorrow morning and the edition will be worked off as rapidly as can be until the number is worked. The Constitution it is not possible to get before the latter end of next week; and I suggest here to the members that they be very particular in arranging with the Executive Committee before they go the best means by which the committee can have these documents sent to them, such as they do not take away. They cannot, of course, take any copies of the Constitution. I suggest they be particular in suggesting to the committee, and particularly those that undertake an active part in the distribution of these documents, the mode and manner by which the committee can send the documents to them so as to be used by them at as early a day as possible.

I have made these remarks in order to put the matter before the Convention in a shape they can understand and so they can see the necessity before separating, of doing all they can to give the documents a wide circulation and the circulation the Convention intended them to have.

MR. BROWN of Kanawha. I did not understand from the resolution how this committee thought of distributing these documents. It seems to me it is merely at their discretion. And another difficulty: suppose we go to the printers tomorrow, the printer will not know, and each individual will not know, and it will all result in confusion, and one may get too many and another not enough. I think the committee knowing the population of the counties ought to give us a table so that each man can go with something definite and just count out the number he is entitled to. Otherwise, I don't see how we shall ever arrive at it when we get to the printer. I suppose that matter, of course, would be properly arranged by the committee. I am glad it is suggested, because, of course, the documents ought to be given out according to the numbers of the people to be reached. It is well enough to call the attention of the committee to the matter.

MR. VAN WINKLE. I would like to add to the remarks made, that those who have not received a copy of the journal of the former Convention can leave their names with the Clerk, so that if it is possible some of them may be supplied. I have an extra copy of the journal and several in sheets as it was published, and if other gentlemen preserved theirs and would send them here, the committee would have them bound. You can have those at the office bound also, but of course it cannot be done before the members disperse. In reference to these documents yet to be distributed, gentlemen should give full directions before they leave. I would advise this: there are a good many counties there beyond Charleston, for instance. Packages of the Constitution, first edition printed, were sent to Charleston for the benefit of those counties. I am not aware that they were sent to the special care of anybody in Charleston. Now, wherever along these railroads or the river, wherever the express reaches we can send them, as, for instance, we can send the bundle for Ritchie county as far as Pennsboro on the railroad. But then if the delegates from that county - I only speak of it for illustration - if it is to be sent to some point on the railroad for Ritchie county it ought to go to the care of some individual there who will take care of them until he has an opportunity to forward them. If they cannot be sent by any known means of public conveyance where they belong, let them be sent to some place where it is certain they can be sent there to the care of some individual. I think that would insure their ultimate delivery, perhaps their speedy delivery. Now, gentlemen will take a recess before they leave and give directions and leave it with the Clerk. We will endeavor to do our best to get them out.

MR. DERING. I hope it will now be the pleasure of the Convention to hear read the resolution which was adopted yesterday with such great unanimity.

THE PRESIDENT. The resolution offered by the Chairman of the Printing Committee has not been disposed of.

The resolution offered by Mr. Stevenson of Wood was then adopted.

MR. DERING. I was going on to say I trust it will be the pleasure of the Convention to hear the resolution read as a merely verbal amendment was put in it at suggestion of my friend from Doddridge, which does not alter the sense at all and that by common consent it will be allowed to be adopted. I trust you will also take up the motion I had the honor to offer yesterday asking that the resolution be transcribed over your own signature and that of our Secretary and sent to our representatives and senators in Congress.

The Secretary read the resolution as follows:

"RESOLVED, That the Convention ask the Congress of the United States to appropriate the sum of two million of dollars to aid the new State of West Virginia in emancipating her slaves under the Act of Congress, approved on the 31st day of December, 1862, as well as those not thereby to be emancipated. Provided, however, That none but loyal slaveholders shall be so compensated.

"RESOLVED, That the foregoing resolution be attested by the President and Secretary of this Convention, and be transmitted to our representatives in Congress."

MR. VAN WINKLE. I understand the journal shows this resolution adopted as first offered. I will move a reconsideration. This is intended to be an amendment; and in order to bring it regularly before the Convention I move to reconsider the vote by which it was adopted.

The motion was agreed to, the vote reconsidered; and Mr. Dering then offered as a substitute the resolution as read by the Secretary. The substitute was adopted in lieu of the original, and the resolution then adopted.

MR. LAMB. A letter has been received containing the credentials of Mr. Brown, who has acted as a member of this Convention from the county of Kanawha during this session in anticipation of their arrival. It would be proper to at least mention on the journal that the credentials have been received. I believe they are all in regular form. It is a letter from Mr. Slack to the New State Commissioners. The certificate is below. I only ask that the matter be entered on the journal.

THE PRESIDENT. It will be so entered if there be no objection.

MR. LAMB. I offer the following:

"RESOLVED, That the Sergeant-at-Arms and the Secretary of the Convention be allowed their mileage."

A mere per diem would be a very poor compensation for these officers.

The resolution was adopted.

Mr. Stevenson of Wood offered the following:

"RESOLVED, That the Convention now proceed to appoint a vice president to be President of this Convention, in case of the death, disability to act, or resignation of the President thereof."

MR. VAN WINKLE. It has been observed, I have no doubt, that it is required that the President of this Convention make the returns to the President of the United States. It is important there be no delay in making those returns, and it might happen when the time came the President might be ill and unable to attend to it. We would avoid such a possible contingency by electing a vice president who might act in his place if necessary. The chances, of course, would be less of having two sick men than one. But in the event of the removal of the President by the providence of God there would be nobody authorized to perform this duty and I apprehend nothing could be done till this Convention re-assembled and designated another president. There is nothing in the act of Congress by which any one but one exercising the office of president for the time being could certify those returns. Now, sir, when I was quite a young lad, a clerk in the counting room, an old gentleman gave me the following advice: always to act as if I might die tomorrow and as if I were to live forever. It may perhaps suit this case. We ought to be prepared if possible for any contingency; and if the President should be under any disability at some time, some other person acting under authority of the Convention should be prepared to take up his duties in order that those returns may be made. If the President should be merely detained by difficulties of travel or from other temporary cause for a day or two, the vice president would not of course be called upon to act. It is only in case of such disability as prevent the President acting within a reasonable time. I think the Convention will see the propriety of providing for a possible contingency, which we all certainly hope will never occur.

MR. DERING. I fully concur in the resolution and I certainly trust no necessity will arise for action by the vice president; and it affords me pleasure, on the present occasion, to say that I would respectfully nominate, if that resolution should pass, Mr. John A. Dille, of the county of Preston. It affords me great pleasure to endorse him as a loyal Union man, and to say that he has every capacity to act as vice president of this Convention and that he is a representative of a county that has as few, if not fewer, "butternuts" in it than any other county within the bounds of this State.

MR. POWELL. The resolution is not adopted.

MR. DERING. I am done, sir.

The resolution was put to vote and adopted.

MR. DERING. Now, sir, I nominate Mr. John A. Dille, of the county of Preston.

No other nomination being made, Mr. Dille was appointed, nem. con.

MR. VAN WINKLE. If there is nothing immediately before the Convention, I would like to have their indulgence a few minutes to make a "cotemporaneous interpretation." I observe the bill that has been introduced in the Senate by our former friend, Mr. Carlile. Those who have read it will perceive it proceeds upon an entirely false assumption either as to what this Convention has done or what is required in the premises. In the resolutions that Mr. Carlile introduced, in the bill - or two or three bills - that were introduced and to which he assented, and that which was finally the subject of compromise, the same thing precisely appears. The majority of the voters in all the counties named were to be the legal majority in that case. Now, sir, that false assumption upon which he proceeds and which I wish to explain, because I find among the public a considerable want of knowledge on the subject - that is they have not seemed to take the right view of it. Counties are not the integral part of the State. That is, the State is not a conglomeration of counties. The United States is a Union of a number of distinct states, each a sovereignty as it were in itself. But counties do not bear the same relation to the state that states sustain to the United States; and taking the converse, the United States has not the same kind of a relation to the states that the states do to the counties composing them. Counties are mere geographical divisions made for convenience sake. We of this Convention have carried it a little further and made another subdivision called townships, for the further convenience of the people. It is therefore, sir, not required, nor can it be required that every county should cast a majority in favor of this new State. Suppose it were otherwise. Suppose the principle which is contained in that bill just introduced in the Senate were to prevail; and suppose that Braxton county in the very heart and center of the State cast its vote against it, are we to build a wall around her and only have the new State outside of Braxton? We will take it that one, southern, one northern and one central county should each give a majority against the new State, are they to be excluded from the new State? That is to say, taking the people living within the whole boundaries, being a majority of the whole State, in consideration of their own interests and rights, must take these individual counties in, even though a majority within their territorial limits are unwilling. The State is the unit, and the majority of those voting must govern. There can be no doubt of this. But the principle involved in this bill pending before the Senate absolutely says no county is to come into the new State unless it votes to come in. Now, sir, this Convention having several sets of counties to deal with, one set being dependent on another in some instances, made different districts. They placed 44 in one district; and they say if a majority of the people in those 44 vote to come in then the whole 44 come in; and I should like to know how it can be done in any other way. They next make a district of four counties - of Pendleton Hampshire, Hardy and Morgan and say if a majority of the people of those four counties vote to come in and a majority of the counties vote to come in, that those four are also to form part of the new State. They then go further and make another district, of Berkeley, Jefferson and Frederick, and say the same as to them. If a majority of the votes cast in the three counties, and a majority of the counties - two out of three - vote to come in they are parts of the new State. But also there is a condition precedent there that the four first named should also come in, because if they did not these three could not come in without being disconnected with the rest of the State.

Now, there can be nothing plainer than this, that it is not a question of the counties at all. It is a question of the people; and if the majorities should be, as we have no doubt they will, overwhelming in the counties who can vote on the subject, it will evidently cover the majority of the people within the 48 counties. Now, that is all we require. Would we go to the legislature and ask it to give its consent that such counties as vote in favor of it should be formed into a separate state? No, sir; but that these 48 counties be formed into a separate state, provided the majority of the people within them vote that they so desire. The legislature gives its consent precisely on that condition, that if the majority of the people in the whole of these counties are in favor of the separation, then they consent to the separation.

Well, now, sir, can it be assumed that Congress has given its consent in any other way? Precisely meeting the terms of the Constitution, before them, that if a majority of the people in the 44 counties vote in favor of it, the majority of the people in the 4 counties also a majority of the counties are in favor of it, then Congress give their consent. So that the idea contained in the bill pending before the Senate is perfectly preposterous. It emanated from that very versatile mind of which we have had some experience here - a gentleman who is now set against the new State; who in the first Convention was altogether for it; for it in the second and against it in the third; a little for it after the bill passed; then a little against; then when he finds, according to his principles, the people rather like the thing, probably willing to take the thing with the Congressional amendment, he is a little for it again; but now I think he is sliding a little back. Well, I would like to place him if I could - if he would only hold still long enough to let me know where I could place him. But it is impossible to follow his tergiversations.

I thank the Convention for indulging me in the remarks I have made. It is certainly an argument which ought to be understood by our constituents everywhere, that this is not a question of counties at all; it is a question of the people and that a majority of the people is what is to decide on it.

MR. STEVENSON of Wood. I would like to make an inquiry of the Committee on Revision or at least of the chairman of that committee. I do not know whether it is a matter of sufficient importance to bring before the Convention or not, but my recollection of the language of the first ordinance as passed here which gives the Executive Committee power to reconvene the Convention if it becomes necessary is that there is no provision in the ordinance by which the Convention if it is not found necessary to reconvene it is adjourned sine die. I should like to know whether it is not necessary to have some action of the Convention determining that if it be found unnecessary to reconvene the Convention shall be dissolved.

MR. VAN WINKLE. We had some discussion on this subject at the close of the last session. The Convention has now necessarily appointed an Executive Committee to act for them after their adjournment if anything should be necessary and with power, I believe, to call it - with the President, I believe. If no resolution on the subject has been prepared - I forget exactly how far the ordinance goes on that subject, but to this effect that when this Convention adjourn today, it stand adjourned until convened by the President and if not so convened to stand adjourned sine die on the sixtieth day after the issuing of the President's proclamation.

MR. STEVENSON of Wood. That would meet the difficulty.

MR. BROWN of Kanawha. I do not think this Convention ought to adjourn in that way. Until the state government is organized this Convention ought not to dissolve. Suppose by some contingency an armed force should sweep through this whole territory here and we should not hold a solitary election on the 26th of March. Such a thing is possible, and if these rebel leaders were once to take it into their heads I have no doubt it is perfectly in their power to accomplish it. Then this Convention ought to be in existence to make further provision for a necessity that might within human probability arise. There are many contingencies which might place us in a position at the time specified whereby we may have no state government in operation. We ought not to be sent back to the people to re-elect a new convention, to organize and start again. I think this body ought to be kept in existence so that it could be reconvened if necessary until a state government is organized and put into operation.

MR. VAN WINKLE. I will accept that.

MR. BROWN of Kanawha. Any adjournment should be with a view that it will not be sine die unless the committee deem it unnecessary to recall the Convention sometime prior to the inauguration of the State under the Constitution. After that it must be, of course, functus officio.

MR. LAMB. In drawing up the ordinance on this subject, this question did not escape the notice of the committee entirely, but it was supposed that the ordinance as a whole have this power to reconvene but that such power would necessarily end without any express provision. There is no express provision, however, throughout the whole that this power would cease on the organization of the legislature of the new State. If gentlemen think it necessary to insert an express provision to that effect, be it so; but I take it without any express provision that understanding stands out upon every line and word of the ordinance, that when the state legislature shall be organized, then necessarily this Convention is, to use a technical expression functus officio - Othello's occupation is gone (Laughter).

MR. VAN WINKLE. I propose a distinct resolution to embody the suggestion made by the gentleman from Kanawha.

MR. STEVENSON of Wood. It seems to me there could be no objection to the passage of such a resolution. It would settle the matter beyond doubt.

MR. VAN WINKLE. Then I will offer the following resolution:

"RESOLVED, That when this Convention adjourn today, it adjourn until again convened by the Executive Committee; and if not so previously convened, that it stand adjourned from and after the organization of the State of West Virginia."

MR. HALL. Does not our ordinance prescribe that if it be reconvened it is done by the Executive Committee?

MR. VAN WINKLE. Does it?

MR. HALL. I think so.

MR. LAMB. Yes, sir.

MR. VAN WINKLE. We will just change the term. It might as well be left to the President. However, the Executive Committee is supposed to be here on the spot all the time.

MR. BROWN of Kanawha. I move to insert there the words "sine die."

MR. VAN WINKLE. I meant to put in "without day."

MR. BROWN. I like the old Latin, everybody understands it.

The resolution was put and adopted, "sine die" being first inserted.

MR. LAMB. I beg leave to offer the following resolution:

"RESOLVED, That the thanks of this Convention are hereby tendered to the President, for the able courteous and impartial manner in which he has presided over their deliberations."

This expression of the voice of the Convention is due to our President.

The Presiding Officer (Mr. Dille in the chair) put the motion and it was agreed to.

The following further resolutions were severally offered and unanimously agreed to:

By Mr. Stevenson of Wood.

"RESOLVED, That the promptness and correctness of the Secretary in the discharge of his complicated duties, has met the approbation of the Convention, and is entitled to this official acknowledgment."

By Mr. Warder:

"RESOLVED, That the thanks of this Convention are due to the reporters of the proceedings of this body, for the faithful and impartial manner in which they have reported the proceedings of this Convention."

By Mr. Van Winkle:

"RESOLVED, That the thanks of the Convention are justly due and are hereby presented to the late and present Sergeant-at-Arms, Pages and other officers of this Convention for the prompt and efficient discharge of their respective duties."

By Mr. Irvine:

"RESOLVED, That the clergy of the city of Wheeling and vicinity, who have opened the sessions with prayer, are hereby tendered the sincere and grateful acknowledgments of the members."

By Mr. Van Winkle:

"RESOLVED, That the thanks of this Convention are due to the citizens of this city for their hospitality shown to the members of this Convention."

MR. VAN WINKLE. In order that the Secretary may have time to make up his minutes, so that they be signed, as usual in the presence of the Convention, I move we now take a recess until three or four o'clock.

THE SECRETARY. There is considerable to write.

MR. VAN WINKLE. Well, say till 4 o'clock. I move this Convention now take a recess until four this p. m.

The motion was agreed to and the Convention took a recess.


At 4 o'clock p. m. the Convention re-assembled.

MR. VAN WINKLE. Mr. President, the Executive Committee request me to offer the following resolution. It is simply a request to the field and line officers of the regiments whose vote is to be taken on the Amended Constitution that they will facilitate it so far as may be compatible with their duties. It is thought something of this kind coming authoritatively from this Convention would help them in getting through.

"RESOLVED, That this Convention respectfully request the field and line officers of the regiments of Virginia volunteer militia in the service of the United States, to facilitate the taking the votes of their respective commands on the Amended Constitution so far as may be compatible with their duties."

The resolution was adopted.

MR. VAN WINKLE. If there is nothing before the house, I will offer the usual order;

"RESOLVED, That the journal of today's proceedings be read, approved and signed by the President and Secretary, and that the Convention adjourn in accordance with the resolution passed this morning."

The resolution was adopted.

MR. STEVENSON of Wood. There is a matter of a good deal of inquiry made of me about which I have not been able to give any information. Probably there is some gentleman here authorized to say something in reference to the distribution of the address of our member, Mr. Willey. I understand the speech is printed - some 10,000 copies of it - or if not entirely printed, nearly ready for distribution. Quite a number of gentlemen here going to great distance are very anxious to take the speech along with them and they will leave this evening after the Convention adjourns. If any gentleman can say whether or not they can get the speeches, I wish he would.

MR. ROSS. I presume it is known that the address has been published by the Central Committee and that upon application to that committee in this city that address can be obtained. Mr. Hubbard, I believe is one of the principal members of that committee, and I presume he could give every information necessary in order to allow members to get it.

The completed journal was then read by the Secretary; and, in pursuance of the resolution offered by Mr. Van Winkle, the Convention adjourned.

Before pronouncing the adjournment, PRESIDENT SOPER addressed the Convention as follows:

Gentlemen: Before I pronounce this Convention adjourned, permit me to return to you, individually and collectively, my sincere thanks for the kindness I have received at your hands. The unanimity and good feeling which have characterized the Convention give assurance that the great object we had in view will be confirmed by an overwhelming majority of the people of this State; and I trust that in the providence of God a very large part of you, if not all, will be permitted to return to this city in the discharge of the high and important duty devolving on those who will be charged with putting into operation the Government of the State of West Virginia.

Gentlemen, I now take my leave of you, and bid you all an affectionate farewell.

This house stands adjourned according to the terms of your resolution.


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Chapter Eleven: First Constitutional Convention of West Virginia

A State of Convenience

West Virginia Archives and History