W.Va. Was Far From Inevitable
Most West Virginians,
I think, take our state for granted. It has been generations since any living person remembered when there was not a Mountain State, after all.
But West Virginia was anything but inevitable. As we prepare to celebrate our state’s 150th birthday, that’s something we ought to keep in mind.
As Travis Henline, who manages WVIH, reminded Wheeling Rotary Club members, establishing our state was every bit as revolutionary as when the 13 colonies broke from Great Britain to form a nation.
Many of us have heard of Benjamin Franklin’s remark as the United States was being established. “We must all hang together,” he told his fellow patriots, “or assuredly, we shall all hang separately.” He referred to the penalty for treason against the British crown.
Delegates from the western Virginia counties who met here in Wheeling during the early part of the Civil War were committing treason, too, against Virginia. And remember, at the time, the Confederate armies were winning victories on the battlefield.
And the separatists faced a problem: the U.S. Constitution. It provides that no state can be broken up unless its legislature agrees to such partition. How in the world were our founding fathers going to get the Virginia legislature to agree?
Then Francis Pierpont, known as “the father of West Virginia,” had an idea. The eastern counties were in rebellion against the Union. So Pierpont and a few other schemers set up the “restored” government of Virginia, here in Wheeling – and won congressional recognition as the legitimate legislature of the state.
Folks in Richmond didn’t like that – but, too bad. Again, the Virginia legislature sitting in Wheeling was accepted by Congress as the Old Dominion’s governing body.
Pierpont, as governor of Virginia, then led the legislature in, for all intents and purposes, granting itself permission to break up and create West Virginia.
The Richmond legislature didn’t like that, and fought us until years after the Civil War. But hey, to the victors belong the spoils, and the U.S. Supreme Court upheld West Virginia.
So the odds were very much stacked against West Virginia becoming a state. It wouldn’t have happened but for some shady scheming.
That’s something for us to celebrate this June 20.
Myer can be reached at: email@example.com.