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Gordon Battelle: Advocate for Freedom

June 20, 2013
By SARAH HARMON - Staff Writer , The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

Methodist minister Gordon Battelle made two major contributions to the birth of West Virginia: He was a tireless advocate for the freedom of slaves and he spearheaded free public education in the new state.

Battelle was an educator with strong religious leanings. His beliefs led him to the anti-slavery movement in Wheeling, where he was selected as a delegate for the first Constitutional Convention.

At the convention, Battelle is known for proposing three resolutions for the state's constitution. Known as "The Battelle Resolutions," they included a provision for "a thorough and efficient system of free schools," a clause that would ban more slaves from coming into the state and a proposal for the gradual abolition of slavery.

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With the issue of slavery weighing heavily over the formation of the new state, Battelle's proposal caused tension on the convention's proceedings. In Otis Rice's "West Virginia: A History," he writes that Delegate Peter G. Van Winkle stated there would be no trouble in "keeping the vexed question out of the (new state's) Convention," but Battelle was set on supporting his beliefs on slavery.

Battelle's proposals on slavery were tabled at the convention, but the issue lingered. Archibald Campbell, editor of the Daily Intelligencer of Wheeling, declared Congress would never support the secession from Virginia merely to create yet another slave state. The debate on whether abolishing slavery would help or hurt the chances of the new state continued.

Although Battelle was not able to uphold his proposals on slavery, it is possible he inspired the Willey Amendment that later allowed the gradual emancipation of slaves in West Virginia, and also led to approval of statehood in Congress.

Battelle served as chairman of the Committee of Education during the convention and was successful in his proposal to establish free education in the new state.

Battelle was born in Newport, Ohio and was educated at Marietta Collegiate Institute (now Marietta College) and Allegheny College in Meadville, Pa., earning a bachelor's degree in 1840. He died at age 48 of typhoid fever during a mission to assess the health conditions of military camps in Washington, D.C.

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