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Proceedings of the
Second Session of the
Second Wheeling Convention

August 8, 1861

Speech of Senator Carlile on a Division of the State, with some Remarks in Reply by Mr. Stewart, of Doddridge.

Mr. Carlile submitted the following resolutions:

Resolved, That the Committee on Business be instructed to report an ordinance providing for the formation of a separate State out of, and to be composed of, the following counties, to wit: Jefferson, Berkeley, Morgan, Hampshire, Hardy, Barbour, Braxton, Brooke, Cabell, Calhoun, Clay, Doddridge, Gilmer, Hancock, Harrison, Jackson, Kanawha, Lewis, Marion, Marshall, Mason, Monongalia, Ohio, Pleasants, Ritchie, Putnam, Randolph, Preston, Roane, Taylor, Tucker, Tyler, Upshur, Wood, Wayne, Webster, Wirt, Wetzel. - 38.

2. That the Committee on Business be instructed to report an ordinance providing that any county lying contiguous to the boundary proposed for the new State, a majority of whose people shall express a desire to be admitted into the proposed new State, shall form a part thereof.

3. That the same Committee be instructed to report a constitution and form of government for the said proposed State, to be submitted to the people thereof for ratification or rejection, at the polls, on the 4th day of October next, and at the same time the sense of said voters to be taken on the question of the formation of the said new State.


Mr. PRESIDENT, this Convention will at least accord to me sincerity of purpose and honesty of motive in advocating the adoption of these resolutions at this time. The Legislature, to whom I am greatly indebted, have conferred upon me a position worthy the ambition of any man. I am secure in that position at least for four years to come if things continue here as they are. None but the body of which I am a member can deprive me of my place, except action such as I propose. If the Convention shall adopt the resolutions, and a separate State shall be formed, the instant it is formed I cease to be a member of the Senate, and the representatives of that new State will select my successor - Therefore there can be no ambitious personal or pecuniary influences operating on my mind when I seek to obtain the object contemplated by the resolutions; but, sir, it hs been the cherished object of my life; and I would be worse than ungrateful if I could at an hour like this forget a people who have been engaged ever since my residence among them in showering upon me all the honors within their gift.

There are considerations weighing upon my mind, Mr. President, which induce me to believe that the time has arrived now when we should act. If we were at peace; if our people were not engaged in a struggle to maintain the government of our fathers, the natural barriers that separate the people inhabiting the region of country embraced in the resolutions make it, in my opinion, to their interest that they should no longer continue a connection which has been nothing but prejudicial to them ever since it began. The channels of trade, business and commercial relations of the counties named in the resolutions I have offered have been everywhere else than with the rest and residue of the State in which we live. All the feelings that operate upon men - the kindest feelings of my nature - the love I have for home, the scenes of my childhood, the place of my nativity, have all struggled with my sense of duty in this matter. Sir, if we act as I propose, I shall be separated by a line, an imaginary line it is true, but yet a State line, from the county of my nativity and the home of my birth. But the counties I have designated have no facilities, either of land or water, for any commercial or business intercourse with the rest of the State. We must seek an outlet for our products elsewhere. We must look for our markets to Maryland, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Kentucky. We never can - nature has fixed it and made it impossible - we never can have business relations with the rest of the State. The Southwestern part has its railroads, turnpikes, and canals penetrating through its valleys and mountains and leading to the capital of the State. The center of the valley, the county of Frederick, my native county, has its public improvements reaching to Alexandria and Richmond, affording to them an outlet. Hence they are not interested as we are, as are the counties mentioned, in commercial relations with other States, and they are not compelled by force of circumstances which cannot be overcome, as we are, to seek a market for their produce and a channel for their industrial interests in other and neighboring States. Therefore, as a mere material question in time of peace, it is the interest of the people inhabiting these counties to separate themselves from the rest of the State, and organize a separate State Government of their own.

But then, sir, there are other considerations now. We have entered upon a war such as heaven and earth never saw before, and such as I trust in God never will be witnessed again. What is to be its end nobody knows; no man can tell. And what, when peace shall at last come, with a tired and oppressed people, ground down by taxation and oppression, legitimate and natural consequences of war - what consideration would they bestow, the 28,000,000 of people, when coming upon terms and ratifying and concluding a peace upon the 308,000 people who inhabit the counties set forth in the resolution? How long would they let that people stand in the way of a settlement at the termination of this war? It is a question I throw out as a suggestion to be resolved by gentlemen in their minds when they rest upon their pillows. God grant that a separation of these States never may take place! I hope it never may; and as far as it depends on my action, it never shall. But, sir, I am but a grain of sand on the sea shore; and you are but a grain of sand, and we are all but grains of sand on the shore of our country's destiny. It is a duty we owe to the people who have confided all their interests to guard and protect them against every possible contingency; and while I admit with you that it is improbable that this war shall ever be terminated in any other way than by maintaining the integrity of the Union, and the supremacy of its laws, yet you must admit with me that there is a possibility of its terminating in some other mode. I, therefore, feel it incumbent upon me as one of the representatives of a people who have ably sustained me upon any and all occasions to guard them against a possibility - and it is a possibility - where, in case of a settlement, if we remain inactive, would we go? Where would we be? Then if we act and that possibility does not take place, we are where you and I and our people wish us to be - disconnected from the rest of the State, the connection being an unnatural one, in contravention to the laws of nature. Ever since you and I have known anything of the workings of the connection it has been prejudicial and to our injury, under any circumstances, in any point of view in which I have asked you to look at this question. My opinions, formed years ago, in a time of profound peace, have been strengthened by every day's experience. It will be remembered by the members of this Convention that in our last meeting in June, while I was then behind some of my friends in this movement, and while I was pointed at as having abandoned what I had uttered before, in the former Convention, as the matured convictions of my mind, I pledged gentlemen that if they would wait until their purpose really could be accomplished, that then we had no recognition, no Legislature known to the Federal authorities as such, that then we had no Legislature that could give us the assent provided for and required by the Constitution to be given to a separation - but that the moment we had a Legislature, recognized as such, speaking in the name of the State, whose assent should go to the Congress of the United States and be respected as the assent of a constitutional Legislature, then I promised you, gentlemen, I would go with you at the earliest possible moment for this division. I am here to redeem that pledge to-day.

It is argued, Mr. President, by some, that action of this kind will not be taken in favor by the Federal Government; that it may embarrass it in its present operations. Will any gentleman tell me how? If it is regarded with disfavor by the Congress of the United States, the war making power, the power that must supply the means to carry on this war, the power that must be used to assert the supremacy of the laws, and maintain the integrity of the Union, they will refuse our admission into the Union, deny their consent; and there is an end of it, and we are no worse off for having made the effort.

It is said by some that we ought to aid the government in extending a loyal government in extending a loyal government over the rest and residue of the State. Does this interfere with us at all? Does this interfere with this Provisional Government we have inaugurated here, the government of the State of Virginia, as fast as the arms of the Union sweep secession before them, and when the Congress of the United States admits us as a new State? Surely not; surely not. On the contrary it will have a most happy effect on the Federal Government, by showing to them the importance of extending their military operations in other parts of the Commonwealth, whenever they are in a condition to do it. But is there a gentleman here that for one moment supposes that if the armies of the United States have not swept secession out of the State and relieved the loyal citizens of the state by December next, they will ever do it? How long gentlemen do you propose to remain as you are? How long is the government to be employed in relieving from the evils of Secession, and the destruction that rebellion has brought upon the country, the people of this one State? If it takes a long period than the meeting of the next Congress in December to sweep rebellion out of our State, how long will it take to sweep it out of all the rebellious States? Sir, when is this war to end? We happen to know that the only hope of east Tennessee as to relieving her people, is in their organizing a separate and independent State government for the loyal portion of that Commonwealth. And we do happen to know that the government does regard with favor the effort that is to be made there as soon as the advancing columns of the federal army shall march into that region of country and enable its loyal citizens to perform the deed.

But, Sir, it is said that our boundaries are not sufficiently large. I avoided, intentionally avoided, in drawing up those resolutions, including within the limits of this new State a single county which I do not believe, by a large majority of its people would desire to be a part and parcel of it, except two. There are two counties named about which I have the slightest doubt as to the sentiments of their people and they are so situated that it is absolutely essential that they shall belong to us; and a necessity for their belonging to us justifies their being included within our limits. Their interests, like ours, are identified with those of other States than the State of Virginia. The great thoroughfare between this and the Atlantic passes through them, and we never can, we never ought, it would be unjust to them and to us to allow that territory to be included within the limits of any other State.

Then it is said we have friends from Fairfax and Alexandria who would like to go with us. One of the resolutions secures you the way. If Alexandria and Loudon desire let their people speak, and an ordinance of this Convention will provide for their admission. But, Sir, there is a bill now introduced into the Senate of the United States, and for which I intend to vote unless otherwise instructed by the gentlemen who have honored me with a place there, declaring the law ceding Alexandria county to the State of Virginia unconstitutional and a nullity, and providing for its return to the District of Columbia. This is but in compliance with my own views, expressed on the floor of the Senate of Virginia some years ago, when the question of the admission of a delegate in the House was determined favorably under the retrocession of Alexandria county. I introduced resolutions into the Senate then which would have excluded him, and denying the constitutionality of the act; but it was the first winter of my legislative experience, and I was prevailed upon to let the go-by be given to them. I have no doubt, and have always believed that this District was selected by the Father of his Country with a view to placing the Capital beyond the reach of any ordinary military assault; and the possession of Alexandria county is necessary to-day to put Washington in a state of proper military defense. I think the instant the territory was ceded by Maryland and Virginia, all the powers they had they conferred upon Congress, under the Constitution to exercise exclusive legislative jurisdiction to legislate for the people within the prescribed limits.

Thus it seems to me, that the initiation of proceedings now by this Convention, none of them being of binding effect, none of them affecting at all our political status, none of them affecting in the slightest degree, our relations either to the State or Union, until they have been assented to by the Legislature, which does not meet until December, and until our admission into the Union by Congress, which does not convene until December - none of them affecting at all our relations either to the rest of the States or of our own State, as a people, - I cannot for the life of me, see how the voice of the people, which comes up to us in tones not to be misunderstood, DARE be disregarded by the members of this body; and why any effort should be made to procrastinate and delay action in the face of the circumstances that surround us, where by possibility procrastination may be death. No man is authorized to say what the Government of the United States will do, or will not do. We have nothing to do with any part of that Government save the legislative department of it, when to Congress, and to Congress alone, is committed by the Constitution the right to determine whether we shall be admitted or not. I care not what the other departments of the Government, or what officials of the Government may think of this question.

But, then, we have been compelled to ask that the forces of the Government be sent on here to protect us, and they might take them away? Sir, how can they desert us, how dare they desert us, when the instant they desert as they desert the Union? Virginia is to be the battle field. This is to be the battle ground. Here is where the question of the supremacy of the laws is to be decided. Sweep out Unionism from this portion of Virginia, and secession has nothing to do but to march from the southwest corner of the State into East Tennessee, inaugurate rebellion in Kentucky, and the Southern Confederacy is a fixed fact. Then the Administration dare not desert us in this hour; and we are powerless in our present condition to aid the Administration. Where would we have been had it not been for the United States military force that was sent into our midst? So impressed was I and the rest of the members of the Central Committee that there must be no delay, and the opinion that longer delay would find us in the power of the secessionists, that they started me on the 23d of May to urge these facts upon the attention of the Administration. On the next day after I arrived at Washington, the telegraph bore the order to General McClellan to move. They cannot desert us, whatever their opinions may be. They cannot leave us at this hour, as bondsmen of the field sold to those who have engaged in this effort to destroy our republican institutions. There is no just or well founded apprehension of this that any member of this body can reasonably entertain.

But there is another objection. It is said that the Legislature at its last session refused its assent to a separation. According to the Constitution, sir, I think they had no right, or at least there was no necessity for their giving their assent at this time. The assent of Congress to the admission of a State into the Union is never given until after the application has been made. I say never, as a general rule. When a Territory seeks admission into the Union as a new State, it seeks it after it has assembled its Convention, framed a Constitution and elected officers under it. Then it presents its application, accompanied by its Constitution to the Congress of the United States, and then Congress acts on the application. No previous assent is necessary. Call to mind the action of the Senate of the United States upon the proposition urged with so much ability and zeal by the late lamented Senator from Illinois, (Mr. Douglas) in relation to the Kansas question. He desired to introduce a rule that should operate on all future Territories asking admission into the Union, that that consent should not be had after the organization of the Territory into a State by the adoption of a Constitution and the election of officers, but that Congress should, prior to any action taken by their people, pass what he was pleased to call an "enabling act." But, sir, the project fell still-born from the author. It has never been the practice of this government before then or since, to act on the application of a State for admission, until the people of the proposed new State acted themselves, and transmitted to Congress with their application their Constitution. Why? Because one of the requirements of the Constitution is that the State to be admitted into the Union must have a republican form of government. And how could Congress give its consent to the admission of a State without having before it the Constitution of the State to enable the members to judge of the form of government proposed for the new State - to see whether it is such a Constitution and form of government as the Constitution requires and demands it to be?

Thus the consent of Congress must come afterwards. There is, sir, the same propriety that the assent of the Legislature should come after the act of the people. The Legislature giving its assent to the organization of a government to be thereafter formed! The Legislature giving its assent to the separation of a people, from the State in which they have heretofore lived, before an official sense of that people has come up to them desiring a separation! There was an obvious propriety, in my humble opinion, in the Legislature refusing at its last session this assent. While I, if I had been a member of the body might have voted for it, for the purpose of hurrying this thing on, and while it might have been repealed at its very next session, after the vote of the people had been taken upon the Constitution, and might have been held for naught, yet I say, entertaining the convictions that I do that three-fourths of the people within this boundary desires a new State, I might have been the foremost of those who desired the Legislature to give its assent. But it would not have been worth that a snap of the finger:) liable to be repealed, taken back, at the very next meeting of the Legislature, and probably upon the formation of a form of government and a return of the sense of the people circumstances would have shown an obvious propriety in withholding the assent.

What is the language of the Constitution on this subject? Will my friend from Marion find in this Constitution the language I desire to quote?

Mr. SMITH - With pleasure.

Mr. CARLILE - Then, sir, there is another consideration. In times like these, when all the energies of the people are taxed for the great purpose of aiding the government in its effort to crush rebellion we should harass our people as little as possible, with expenses to be incurred in any way. Now, sir, by the ordinances of this Convention, passed during its session in June, organizing this government, every officer is limited in his term to six months, or until his successor shall be elected and qualified. There will, therefore, have to be within or near the period of time when we propose to call the people from their homes and ascertain their sense on this question, an election of some sort or other.

But here is the clause of the Constitution in reference to the formation of new States:

"New States may be admitted by Congress into this Union, but no new State shall be formed or erected within the jurisdiction of any other State, or any such State formed by the junction of two States or parts of States without the consent of the Legislatures of the States, as well as of the Congress." Is there anything in that provision to limit the action of the Convention in taking the initiatory steps? To organize a separate State government, as to time or the manner in which it is to be done? Surely not. Ascertain the sense of the people in your proposed boundaries, lay before them the form of government you expect to extend over them, and with this before them let them say whether they desire it or not; and if they do, their servants in the Legislature can give their consent.

Sir, you will remember that this Legislature if recognized at all, is recognized as the Legislature, possessing all the powers that the Legislature of any State can exercise. That thing is fully, clearly decided by the Supreme Court in a case reported in Curtis' reports, familiarly known as the case of Luther vs. Borden. The decision says that the admission of representatives in Congress upon the florr of the Senate binds every other department of the Government, settles the question as to what is and who is the government of the State. That is the language of it. The question is settled. If you are the Legislature, if you do represent the State, and are recognized as such by the admission of Senators in Congress, then your legislative capacity can never be questioned again by any department of the Federal Government.

Now, Mr. President, there is a just expectation in the country on the part of the people we represent here, that this action will be no longer delayed. They are looking for it, waiting for it, expecting and demanding it. And I cannot for the life of me - it may be owing to my obtuseness of intellect that I cannot understand the mystery and pierce the clouds that are around and about me - but I cannot see any reason why you should refuse to those you represent - your masters, my masters, the legitimate sovereigns, the people, - the right, in a form prescribed by you, to declare their wishes and will upon this subject. Why, sir, should it be withheld? What is driving from our borders many of our people within its limits? And what is preventing thousands upon thousands of others from coming amongst us? What is wanted to develop the immense deposits of mineral wealth that fill our hills and with which our valleys teem? A separate and independent existence - a position that nature has designed us to occupy. I said here last spring that in five years, aye, sir, I will say now that three years will not roll around until our population will be quadrupled, and there will be more people in the limits of the proposed boundary of the new State than there is in the whole State of Virginia to-day. Our neighbors in Ohio and Pennsylvania and our friends in many other States of the Union are all looking and anxious for it. I have lately received hundreds of letters making inquiry in regard to a separation. Everywhere loyal hearts are beating to come and share with us the destiny we ought to provide for ourselves and which nature has designed for us, if we have but the manliness and are equal to lift ourselves to the circumstances that surround us.

For centuries under the incubus of a false political philosophy we have remained here, digging, almost in a primitive state, from the bowels of the earth the necessary means of support, while nature has filled us to overflowing with all the elements of wealth, seeking nothing in the world but the hand of industry to develop them and bring them into active use. Borne down by an eastern governmental majority, cut off from all connection of sympathy with a people with whom we have no commercial ties, we have endured the disastrous results that ever must flow from an unnatural connection. Cut the know now! Cut it now! Apply the knife! You are compelled to wait at best for the realization of your hopes some four or five months, and by that time the advancing columns of the nation's army will have moved rebellion far beyond your borders, or they will have been stayed forever in their march. [Loud applause.]


Mr. President, I do not propose to discuss the merits of this question. I am sorry it is pressed upon the consideration of this body at this time. A bill on this subject will be reported at an early day by the Special Committee on a Division of the State, and the question will then come up in due form. And, Sir, I do not want to see the hands of the Committee tied at this time by resolutions like these. I desire this Committee to be free to discuss the measures proposed in these resolutions without having any embarrassment to contend with, or without having its hands tied by any proposition of this character.

It strikes me, sir, that the best way to dispose of these resolutions would be to lay them on the table. Let this Committee report. I presume it will report advisedly when it does, having a member from each county represented on this floor. They are preparing a report; let us have it.

I would like very much if I had not determined in the outset that I would not go into the merits of this question, to pay my respects to my friend from Harrison. I have been following him, sir, for a long time. He has assumed many positions. I wish to indicate to the Convention that I will make a motion to lay on the table before I leave the floor. I am not prepared at this time to discuss the merits of this question. I did not anticipate it would be forced upon this body at this time. I supposed no one member would seek to tie the hands of this Committee by instructions, when the indication has been thrown out that a bill for dividing the State is about to be reported.

But I have been following the gentleman for a long time. I have been a member with him in several conventions, and have supported him often, but I must be permitted to say here that if the gentleman in former conventions had intimated the same thing he has in this, he would have found one minus, at least, at a certain time. I have heard him often before, but never did I hear him hold out a single doubt as to the ability of this government to sustain itself and put down this rebellion. This is the first intimation of this kind. And now at a time when we should all be united, for our old stand-by and champion to come forward and intimate a doubt on this question.

Mr. CARLILE - Mr. President, if the gentleman from Doddridge had attended to what I said with the same interest I listened to what he said, he would not have represented me as he has done. I said to- day what I have always said heretofore, that I believed this government would maintain the integrity of the Union; that I believed it would put down this rebellion; but I said, what he and all must know, if I had never said it, that there are things that take place sometimes that have not been anticipated in minds as feeble as mine; and I said there was a possibility - that the thing is possible - that the government may not do what we believe they will. I give it as my belief, and it is worth no more than the belief of any one else, that they will put down rebellion; but it is possible I may be mistaken. That was all I said; in other words I granted it was possible that I might be mistaken.

Mr. STEWART - I fully understood the gentleman, Mr. President, and it is the first time that I ever heard him assert the possibility of anything of the kind. He has been the most uncompromising for putting down this rebellion, and never yet had a possible doubt on the question. Read his speeches, and you will never see a doubt expressed in the mind of the gentleman. Certain members of the Convention, now present, know that the position occupied by the gentleman now, as one formerly presented before a certain body by myself - that there was always doubt - that there might be a possibility, you know; but that doubt was expressed by me before any reverse in our arms had taken place, or was even anticipated. But at this stage of things, no man will ever find me expressing a doubt. It is not a time to do so. It is a time to lift ourselves above all personal feelings and motives, and look only at the great issue involved before our country. We should not be looking solely at Western Virginia's interests. Our object should be to support the General Government in putting down this rebellion, and never for one moment hold out a doubt that the Government is to succeed. I suppose the doubt in the mind of the gentleman, is the reason why he is pressing this matter prematurely, wanting to tie even the hands of the Committee to prevent it from reporting a bill. A doubt! Sir, let us have no doubts, there are no doubts about it.

Why, sir, the gentleman's resolutions propose to tie the hands of the Committee, and instruct not only this Committee, but the Committee on Business, to report a constitution and form of government for this new State, saying at the same time, that the State Legislature that was convened by act of this body, repudiated action on this subject at this time. He says this question should rise from the people. Well who are the people? Was not the State Legislature the people? Is not this Convention the people, or is it our constituents, the gentleman appeals and refers to? If it is our constituents, gentlemen, I want you to point me to a solitary act that ever authorized us to come here for the purpose of dividing the State and forming a Constitution. If they have done so, then, sir, I will be with the people. If not, then I am for referring this question to the people and let them speak; and if they speak for a division, then, sir, I am willing for it. But I was not sent here for the purpose of dividing the State of Virginia, or making a constitution. The thing never was mooted before my people, but just the reverse. I came here to aid the General Government in putting down the rebellion and if it was not for that, I do not know what I came here for at all.

I do not propose to go into the merits of the question raised by the gentleman from Harrison. I merely wish to indicate to you, why I think hasty or premature action at this time would embarrass the General Government in putting down this rebellion, and place us in a worse attitude even than we are in at present. I simply rose for the purpose of moving to lay these resolutions upon the table. Let the Committee that have this matter under consideration make their report, and do not tie their hands. I move to lay the resolutions upon the table.

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August 21

Chapter Nine: Second Session of the Second Wheeling Convention

A State of Convenience

West Virginia Archives and History