Happy West Virginia Day
The United States Constitution says a new state must gain approval from the original state, which never occurred in the case of West Virginia. Since the Restored Government was considered the legal government of Virginia, it granted permission to itself on May 13, 1862, to form the state of West Virginia.
When Congress addressed the West Virginia statehood bill, Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner demanded an emancipation clause to prevent the creation of another slave state. Restored Government Senator Carlile wanted a statewide election to decide the issue. Finally, a compromise between Senator Willey and Committee on Territories Chairman Benjamin Wade of Ohio, determined that, after July 4, 1863, all slaves in West Virginia over twenty-one years of age would be freed. Likewise, younger slaves would receive their freedom upon reaching the age of twenty-one. The Willey Amendment prohibited some slavery but it permitted the ownership of slaves under the age of twenty-one.
The United States Senate rejected a statehood bill proposed by Carlile which did not contain the Willey Amendment and then, on July 14, 1862, approved a statehood proposal which included the Willey Amendment. Carlile’s vote against the latter bill made him a traitor in the eyes of many West Virginians and he was never again elected to political office. On December 10, 1862, the House of Representatives passed the act. On December 31, President Lincoln signed the bill into law, approving the creation of West Virginia as a state loyal to the Union without abolishing slavery. The next step was to put the statehood issue to a vote by West Virginia’s citizens. Lincoln may have had his own reasons for creating the new state, knowing he could count on West Virginia’s support in the 1864 presidential election. On March 26, 1863, the citizens of the fifty counties approved the statehood bill, including the Willey Amendment, and on June 20, the state of West Virginia was officially created.
In May 1863, the Constitutional Union party nominated Arthur I. Boreman to run for governor. Boreman ran unopposed, winning the election to become the first governor of West Virginia. The Restored Government of Virginia, with Pierpont continuing as governor, moved to Alexandria, Virginia and eventually to Richmond following the war. Pierpont ordered an election to allow the residents of Jefferson and Berkeley counties to determine whether their counties should be located in West Virginia or Virginia. Union troops were stationed outside polling places to intimidate those who might vote for Virginia. Despite local support for Virginia, residents who actually filled out ballots voted overwhelmingly to place both counties in West Virginia. In 1865, Pierpont’s government challenged the legality of West Virginia statehood. In 1871, the United States Supreme Court awarded the counties of Jefferson and Berkeley to West Virginia.
The new state of West Virginia had sectional divisions of its own. While there was widespread support for statehood, public demands for the separation from Virginia came primarily from cities, namely Wheeling and Parkersburg. As a growing industrial region with improved transportation, northwestern Virginia businesses desired a more independent role in government. With the extension of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad to Wheeling in 1853 and Parkersburg in 1857, the northwest depended much less on Richmond and eastern Virginia markets.