History of West Virginia

I am not a historian, but I certainly do enjoy history. The American Civil War is a very interesting topic and much of West Virginia’s history is intertwined within this war, that brought neighbors and family alike to take arms against one another. How did it start and what were the events that led this nation to war between brothers?

There were many causes of the Civil War and the final straw for most southerners was the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860. Many felt his goal was to ignore states rights and remove the ability to own slaves. Eleven states decided to secede from the Union between December of 1860 and June of 1861.

Virginia chose to secede from the Union on April 17, 1861. And six months later on October 24, 1861 the area that will become West Virginia chose to break away from the rest of Virginia instead of seceding.

Even before the American Civil War, counties in northwest Virginia were desiring to break away from Virginia to form a new state. However, the federal Constitution did not allow a new state to be created out of an existing state unless the existing state’s legislature gave its consent. Soon after the Union government declared that the pro-northern Restored Government was the legitimate government of the Commonwealth, the Restored Government asserted its authority to give such approval. It authorized the creation of the state of Kanawha, consisting of most of the counties that now comprise West Virginia. A little over one month later, Kanawha was renamed West Virginia. The Wheeling Convention, which had taken a recess until August 6, 1861, reassembled on August 20, 1861, and called for a popular vote on the formation of a new state and for a convention to frame a constitution if the vote should be favorable.

On May 13, 1862, the state legislature of the reorganized government approved the formation of the new state. An application for admission to the Union was made to Congress, and on December 31, 1862, an enabling act was approved by President Lincoln admitting West Virginia on the condition that a provision for the gradual abolition of slavery be inserted in the Constitution. The Convention was reconvened on February 12, 1863, and the demand was met. The revised constitution was adopted on March 26, 1863, and on April 20, 1863, President Lincoln issued a proclamation admitting the state at the end of 60 days on June 20, 1863. Meanwhile, officers for the new state were chosen.

The constitutionality of the new state was achieved when the Unionist government of Virginia approved the division. The question of the addition of two counties came before the Supreme Court of the United States in the case of Virginia v. West Virginia, 78 U.S. 39 (1871).[16] Berkeley and Jefferson counties lying on the Potomac east of the mountains, in 1863, with the consent of the Reorganized government of Virginia voted in favor of annexation to West Virginia. Many men absent in the Confederate army when the vote was taken refused to acknowledge the transfer upon their return. The Virginia General Assembly repealed the act of cession and in 1866 brought suit against West Virginia asking the court to declare the two counties a part of Virginia. Meanwhile, Congress on March 10, 1866, passed a joint resolution recognizing the transfer. The Supreme Court decided in favor of West Virginia, and there has been no further question.

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