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Proceedings of the
Second Session of the
Second Wheeling Convention

August 15, 1861

The Convention met at ten A. M.

Prayer by Rev. D. W. Fisher, (of New Orleans,) of the Presbyterian Church.

Minutes read and approved.

Mr. BURDETT moved to suspend the rule for the purpose of offering a resolution to limit and close debate on the subject of a division of the State.

The resolution was read as follows:

Resolved, That no member be allowed to speak to-day more than one hour, and from and after to-day no member be allowed to speak more than ten minutes on any subject, and that the debate on the subject of a division of the State close to-morrow at 3 o'clock P. M.

The rule was suspended.

Mr. POLSLEY moved to strike out the latter clause, so as not to limit to ten minutes or to name any time for closing the debate. He was in favor of full and free discussion.

Mr. ZINN moved to amend the amendment by striking out "at 3 o'clock."

The amendment was accepted.

Mr. SMITH, of Marion, said that restricting a member to one hour was simply to exclude members from the privilege of doing themselves justice before their constituents. What he desired to say he could not say in one hour. He asked as a courtesy that he be allowed more time. He was willing to sit and listen to other members till midnight, if need be.

Mr. WEST thought it would be no more than justice to give the gentleman the time he desired. He had spoken and was not limited, and in order that other gentlemen might have the same privilege, he moved to lay the resolution on the table.

The question was put and the resolution tabled.

The order of the day was then taken up, it being the question upon the substitute of Mr. Boreman, for the substitute of Mr. Farnsworth for the report of the Committee on a Division of the State.

The substitute was read by the clerk.

Mr. RITCHIE, of Marion, said that with the consent of his colleague he would like to make a few remarks. He was but a plain, unpretending old farmer, but had his views nevertheless on this momentous question, and he felt that he would not be doing his duty if he withheld their expression here.

He began by alluding to the indignation with which the passage of the ordinance of secession was received in Northwestern Virginia, and reviewed the circumstances of the calling of the first convention, its declining to take action in dividing the State, and the calling of the second convention.

He thought many members of this Convention were over zealous in this matter. He held that a division of the State now would be in violation of the spirit, if not the letter of the Constitution, and cited the clause in reference to the formation of new States; that the consent of the whole State must be had, and not one-third or one-fourth; that it would embarrass the action of the General Government in its effort to put down rebellion; that the slavery question must come up in the formation or adoption of a Constitution, and this would not only create controversy in Congress, but bring about divided sentiment among our own people, which must result very disastrously. The present reorganized State Government would have to be abrogated, and the people of a portion of the State left without any government whatever. Such a movement must at this time tend to weaken the strength of the General Government and retard the restoration of the Union.

He desired a division of the State at the right time; none more than he did; but believing the results could be nothing but unfortunate, he desired to enter his solemn protest against any measure looking to a division of the State at this time.

He presented the following letter from a gentleman in high position in the government at Washington, which he desired the Clerk to read:

August 12, 1861.
Hon. A. F. Ritchie, Virginia Convention, Wheeling:

SIR - Your letter of the 9th instant was received within this hour, and as you ask an immediate answer you, of course, will not expect me to go elaborately into the subject.

I have thought a great deal upon the question of dividing the State of Virginia into two States; and since I came here, as a member of the government, I have conversed with a good many, and corresponded with some, of the good men of Western Virginia in regard to that matter. In all this intercourse, my constant and earnest effort has been to impress upon the minds of those gentlemen the vast importance - not to say necessity - in this terrible crisis of our national affairs, to abstain from the introduction of any new elements of revolution, to avoid, as far as possible, all new and original theories of government: but, on the contrary, in all the insurgent Commonwealths to adhere as closely as circumstances will allow, to the old constitutional standard of principle, and to the traditional habits and thoughts of the people. And I still think that course is dictated by the plainest teachings of prudence.

The formation of a new State out of Western Virginia is an original independence act of Revolution. I do not deny the power of Revolution (I do not call it right - for it is never prescribed, it exists in force only, and has and can have no law but the will of the revolutionists). Any attempt to carry it out involves a plain breach of both the constitutions - of Virginia and of the Nation. And hence it is plain that you cannot take that course without weakening, if not destroying, your claims upon the sympathy and support of the General Government; and without disconcerting the plan already adopted both by Virginia and the General Government, for the reorganization of the revolted States, and the restoration of the integrity of the Union. That plan, I understand to be this: When a State, by its perverted functionaries, has declared itself out of the Union, we avail ourselves of all the sound and loyal elements of the State - all who own allegiance to, and claim protection of the Constitution, to form a State Government, as nearly as may be, upon the former model, and claiming to be the very State which has been, in part, overthrown by the successful rebellion. In this way we establish a constitutional nucleus around which all the shattered elements of the Commonwealth may meet and combine, and thus restore the old State in its original integrity.

This, I verily thought, was the plan adopted at Wheeling, and recognized and acted upon by the General Government here. Your Convention annulled the revolutionary proceedings at Richmond, both in the Convention and the General Assembly, and you new Governor formally demanded of the President the fulfillment of the constitutional guarantee in favor of Virginia - Virginia, as known to our fathers and to us. The President admitted the obligation and promised his best efforts to fulfill it; and the Senate admitted your Senators, not as representing a new and nameless State, now for the first time heard of in our history, but as representing "the good old Commonwealth."

Must all this be undone, and a new and hazardous experiment be ventured upon, at the moment when dangers and difficulties are thickening around us? I hope not - for the sake of the Nation and the State, I hope not. I had rejoiced in the movement in Western Virginia as a legal, constitutional and safe refuge from revolution and anarchy - as at once an example and fit instrument for the restoration of all the revolted States.

I have not time now to discuss the subject in its various bearings: What I have written, is written with a running pen, and will need your charitable criticism.

If I had time I think I could give persuasive reasons for declining the attempt to create a new State at this perilous time. At another time, I might be willing to go fully into the question, but now I can say no more.

Most respectfully,
Your ob't serv't,

Mr. SMITH, of Marion, then addressed the Convention in opposition to an immediate division of the State. The first part of his argument was devoted to showing the natural antagonism between Eastern and Western Virginia; an antagonism of commercial interest, of climate and production, of social habits and thought, of educational modes and even of religions, and showed that all these demanded separate governments for the two peoples. But he contended there were at this time difficulties in the way which he deemed insuperable.

One was that a division could not now be obtained in accordance with the intention of the Constitution of the United States.

He referred to the action taken by the then territory of Vermont in 1781, in its erection as a State out of the territory of New York and New Hampshire, and how its application had been rejected by Congress until the full consent of both of these States had been obtained. Also to the action taken by a convention during the year 1784, in what was then the territory of Frankland, (Now the State of Tennessee,) subject to and part of North Carolina. This territory, through a convention, made application to Congress for admission into the Union and was rejected on the ground that the consent of the Legislature of North Carolina had not been obtained. The result of the attempt was a deplorable State of civil war which ended only when that people returned to their allegiance to the State of North Carolina.

He next alluded to the case presented by the formation of Kentucky out of Virginia, in which instance the Legislature of Virginia passed an act, and the consent of Congress was granted upon application, for the admission.

From these instances he deduced the principle that new States to be formed of two other States, or carved out of any one State, must have the full consent of such States to their erection.

The speaker proceeded to argue that such consent of the people of Virginia could not now be obtained. That the larger part of the State was in duress, and could give no expression either through representatives or otherwise; and that it would be both wrong and unconstitutional to proceed to take advantage of what he styled a "legal fiction," in order to now obtain a division of the State in opposition to the Eastern part of the State, which was as much interested in the matter as ourselves, and had the same right to be heard.

Having now assumed to be the State of Virginia, they were of course responsible for the entire State debt. If they divided the State and abdicated all the government of Virginia, then, of course, it would be running counter to the interests of those who held $50,000,000 of bonds against the State, and all their opposition would have to be encountered. This was one difficulty in the way.

His own position was taken boldly, and was, that a division of the State could only be obtained by the consent of all of Virginia, Eastern and Middle, as well as Western, and he argued that when the rebellion should have been driven out of the rest of the State, the power of the government would be in the hands of a different class of men in that part of the State from what it is now, poor men, whose interests would be identical with our own, who would be friendly to us, and who, should we still desire it, give in their consent to a separation.

In regard to the possible failure of the United States to sustain itself a division would in that event make us no better off, for then the Government would not be able to dictate terms, and Jeff. Davis, determined not to surrender one foot of Southern soil, would sweep away all our imaginary lines as if by a magician's wand. But he had never doubted, and did not now, that the Government would entirely succeed, and in that event we were safe anyhow.

As to the question of slavery, he looked upon it as a matter of climate and soil. When men learned their interests they would always be governed by them. Had men taken this view of slavery it would have saved much bloodshed to the country. Slavery was constitutionally right, but it might not be always practicably so. He was willing to leave the settlement of that matter to a majority, and submit to whatever might be the decision, but if this question was agitated now whilst the present party was in power, just so sure would an application for admission be rejected. His plan was to adopt the present State constitution with such modifications as might be necessary and hold an election, say October next, to get an expression of the people.

After Mr. Smith had concluded his speech, of which we are able to give but a very brief synopsis, the Convention took a recess.


The Convention reassembled at half past two.

Mr. Paxton obtained the floor and proceeded to say that he had no intention of afflicting the Convention with a set speech, but simply to give expression to a few remarks upon the question before them.

They had before them the most important question that could come up for consideration, and there should be a full and complete expression upon it. He was free to admit that nothing should be done here embarrass the government. It could not be denied that the greater part of the loyal people of Western Virginia was represented here. These people, he went on to show, had long been oppressed by the remainder of the State, and even their warning, when the ordinance passed, that the people would not submit was treated with sneering contempt. We had submitted, they said, and would again.

That our best interests demanded a separate State government from those from whom we are naturally separated does not demand an argument and now, if this was so, and our people were clamorous for it, and if the Constitutional difficulty to a separation had disappeared, why may they not now, when they had the opportunity and power, initiate steps for a division of the State.

The answer is that this would embarrass the General Government. The whole answer, he believed, could be summed up in this, notwithstanding the side questions urged here.

With all deference to the opinions of these gentlemen, he could not see how action in this manner could embarrass the Government. They were now entirely dependent upon the Government and even if now everything were done necessary to make a division, it would avail nothing unless assented to by Congress. This could not, therefore, embarrass the Government.

If this State was ever to be divided, it must be begun sometime by somebody. It would not divide itself. If it be so desirable was it not their duty here to undertake it, and if Congress refuse they would have discharged their duty, and he thought Congress nor no one would blame them for looking to their own interests. This argument of embarrassing the Government reminded him of somebody who said during the oil excitement that it was sinful to bore for oil, "because," said he, "it is evident that Providence placed this highly inflammable substance in the bowels of the earth to assist in the general conflagration of the world, and if you keep on you will get it all out directly and then you will defeat the designs of Providence." [Laughter.] He believed Congress would in good time sanction any proper division that might be made, and he thought the Convention should not adjourn without taking some step to meet the expectations of the people.

Mr. LEWIS obtained the floor and said that early in this contest, forced upon the loyal people of this country, it was his fortune to have been regarded as loyal, and in several canvasses to assist in staying the hand of rebellion.

The meeting was held in Clarksburg to call the Convention here in Wheeling. He had been appointed to the Convention, but declined because he had understood it was called to organize a provisional government for Northwestern Virginia alone.

When the Convention was first assembled here it was for the purpose of dividing the State, and if they now failed to do this they would defeat the purpose, and the only one, the people had in calling together this Convention. He had listened with pleasure to the ingenious and able speeches that had been made here by his friends from Wood and Marion. He had been pleased with that portion of their speeches depicting the condition and wrongs of Western Virginia, and that part showing that we had a practical, constitutional government here, fully recognized as such. The gentleman from Marion told them he was ready to divide the State whenever it could be done constitutionally, and according to the gentleman from Wood, it had all the power that any government of the State could have. If so, where is the difficulty upon Constitutional ground?

They had warned their eastern brethren that they had not the power to protect us here; and after the ordinance of secession passed civil government was powerless here, and they were forced to form a government here for their own protection.

He referred to the language of Letcher prohibiting the exportation of provisions, and said we had not had Republican government until this one was formed, and it was right to establish one, and the duty of the General Government to protect us in that Government.

Well, how long did gentlemen expect this provisional government here to last? He believed, it was intended to last six months. Did they propose to follow the example of the Confederate States and keep the people under a provisional Government in which they had no voice.

Did his friends who had spoken propose that this provisional government, in which the people had not had as much voice as they desired, should last until this revolution should come to a close? He admitted the necessity of the establishment of this provisional government, but the moment that necessity had passed away, let the government expire. Who could tell when this great question should be settled, and shall our people be deprived till then of their rights in a representative government?

Mr. VAN WINKLE said it was not called a provisional government. It was to terminate in six months. It was temporary only in its executive.

Mr. LEWIS inquired what was then to be done when the six months were out; when was it to come back to the representative character? If it was not in their power to bring it back to that, in the name of the people of this country, and of representative government, he demanded it should be done.

He admitted there were difficulties. But what great achievement did not encounter difficulties? But were the people to be thwarted from their wishes because there were difficulties? What disposition was to be made of the public debt? The secessionists, by their own former action, are committed to the adjustment of such matters by commissioners, for the Southern Confederacy made a proposition to adjust by commissioners, the accounts between them and the Government.

He went on to show how much the West had contributed to the improvements of the east, and declared that they did not owe the east a dollar. He proposed to charge the counties with all they had received and credit them with all they had furnished. Then let every fair demand be met that might be made upon the government.

As for the question of slavery, he did not think it worth while to blink it. Gentlemen were in the habit of apologizing for speaking of this question. It had been mooted here, it was a question of magnitude, but one, he thought, that ought to create no difficulty at this time. Were they willing to make sacrifices for the greatest good to the greatest number. Time with the practical operations of interest would dispose of that question in Northwestern Virginia. Let the institution of the State be as it was now without the dotting of an "i" or the crossing of a "t." He had resisted rebellion because he believed it would strike a death blow at the institution of slavery. But this institution would go wherever it is profitable, and cease wherever it is not. Let them not hear the ravings of the abolitionist in their midst; but let the question be left to the silent laws of political economy. But if that question was to be met here let it be met now. Word had gone forth that they were afraid to organize a State government here, lest the emancipationist should raise his head in our midst; that there was danger of this being a free State or breaking up in confusion and he wanted to meet the question now and see whether this was the case or not.

This question was no novel one. At the time of the formation of the Constitution, the small States demanded that Virginia should cede this Northwestern territory to help pay a war debt, and because Virginia and New York, with all this territory, would become too powerful for the safety of the other State. Virginia then resisted the cession of that territory; and she never would, it was evident, consent to a division in time of peace. It was long ago anticipated that this very people would one day revolutionize to cut the cords that bind us to the East. Virginia, fearing that some day the West would get the ascendancy, a statute was enacted making it treason to attempt a division of the State. He read the statute making it treason to attempt to erect any "usurped government" within the State, and said he believed in time of peace it would be treason to propose the re-erection of any such government as this within the State, and would even be treason to petition the Legislature on the subject. And was it supposed that people who had always violated thus the natural and guaranteed rights of freemen, would ever consent to a division which they had always so sedulously guarded against. But Eastern Virginia had a reason for this, and that was the salvation of her own materiel interests, and not so much the oppression of Western Virginia; and because our prosperity must of necessity detract from her's. Did they think, that in times of peace, the East would allow the formation of a new State, through which a great thoroughfare leading from the lower Ohio by a shorter route towards New York, the great centre of Commerce, could be made, which would come in conflict with her channels of trade?

As for the question of boundary, he knew it would be a difficult one, but it had to be met, and might as well be met now. He believed they should not take in any unwilling county or any which by geographical position and material interest was not with us. He would like to have Jefferson for this great line of Railroad to run through, and he would like to have the counties along the line of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, but it was not absolutely essential for the road had a right-of-way of which it could not be deprived. He confessed, however, that where a county was situated in our midst which might not now be loyal, we had a right to take it in, if a majority of those around it should say their interest required it. But he did not desire to bring in such counties which lay upon the borders if they were unwilling; however, a provision might be made to provide for an expression from all such, and let the matter be determined by that.

This now was the only recognized government in the State. If action were taken now they could go before Congress having fulfilled all the requirements of the United States. The Constitution did not require the assent of the people of Eastern Virginia, but of the Legislature of Virginia. They did not belong to the East but to themselves, and why should they go on bended knees to those from they had received much wrong and nothing of good. The West had grown to be a power not by their aid, but in spite of them. We should take advantage of the position the east, by their own act, had placed us in, and not be withheld by any mock modesty. Would Congress refuse this request made by loyal citizens wishing to take their destinies in their own hands? He believed not. He believed the General Government would recognize us. He could not see how it would prejudice the cause of our common country. It might, however, address itself to the fears of the Southern States situated, as Virginia is, with a loyal section within their boundaries, lest they should do as we are doing. That was their lookout not ours. He repeated that this Convention had been convened for the express purpose of a division of the State and read letters from citizens of the interior urging some measure to that purpose. He had presented these letters here that the voice of their people might be heard here. It was their duty as representatives to represent that voice or resign. One of the letters was from Hon. W. G. Brown and Mr. Brown told them now was the time.

After Mr. Lewis had concluded,

Mr. POLSLEY gave notice that he desired to speak to-morrow.

Mr. CARLILE offered a proposition with a view that it should be printed.

The paper was received and ordered to be printed.

Mr. SMITH of Marion said that as numerous letters had been read, he proposed that a letter from Mr. Bates to a member of this Convention, should be read.

Several members said it had been read.

Mr. CARLILE said in reference to this letter which had been read, that there was another letter from Mr. Bates now in the possession of the Secretary, in which that gentleman took very different ground from those taken in this one; and if Mr. Bates was to be dragged in here for the purpose of influencing gentlemen to run counter to the wishes of their constituents, he would insist that he should be brought in in both phases in which he had placed himself. [Laughter.]

For himself, he knew not Mr. Bates in this transaction, nor any other high functionary; he knew alone the interests of the people to whom he was indebted for a place on this floor; and their interests and wishes should be the guide of his action, uninfluenced by any letters from those in authority. If the opinions of members of the Administration were to be used to influence them in perhaps the greatest question that ever interested a people, he could, if it would not be doing injustice to other members of the Administration, relieve them from the suspicion of participating in this second edition of Bates.

Mr. SMITH retorted that Mr. Bates was as good authority as other letters read here this evening.

Mr. CARLILE replied that Mr. Bates might be very good authority, but he was not their constituents. [Laughter.]

Mr. POLSLEY moved to adjourn.

Mr. BURLEY asked the gentleman to withdraw his motion to allow the rule to suspended to enable him to offer a resolution; and he would just take occasion to say that he thought it very unjust to attack Mr. Bates as interfering here when the letter was written only in answer to one addressed to him on the subject.

The rule was suspended, and Mr. Burley offered his resolution, which was adopted, as follows:

Resolved, That during the remainder of the session this Convention will meet at 9 o'clock A. A., sit till half-past 12 P. M., and meet again at 2 P. M.

The Convention then adjourned.

August 6
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August 12
August 13
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August 15
August 16
August 17
August 19
August 20
August 21

Chapter Nine: Second Session of the Second Wheeling Convention

A State of Convenience

West Virginia Archives and History