Saturday, June 11, 2011

150 Years Ago: The Wheeling Convention

Delegates from 27 counties in pro-Unionist western Virginia met in mid-May to determine a course of action if Virginia voters should ratify the state's Ordinance of Secession on May 23.  Soon were for immediate action; a resolution was introduced to break away from the rest of the state and create a state called "New Virginia."

This proposal was ultimately declared to be too revolutionary.  One delegate declared that it was "triple treason" against the state of Virginia, the United States and the Confederacy.  The delegates soon agreed to wait for the outcome of the vote and to meet again on June 11 if voters ratified the Ordinance of Secession.

On Tuesday, June 11, 1861, the Second Wheeling Convention convened at Washington Hall in Wheeling, Virginia.  They quickly moved the proceedings to the larger Custom House.  Almost all of the delegates agreed that the differences between western and eastern Virginia were irreconcilable and supported separation from the secessionists. The only real argument was over what course of action to take.  John Carlile, representing the Committee on Business, opened the debate by introducing "A Declaration of the People of Virginia."

This declaration proclaimed that the state convention that had adopted the Ordinance of Secession was "a usurpation" which would "inevitably subject (the people of Virginia) to a military despotism."
The Convention, by its pretended ordinances, has required the people of Virginia to separate from and wage war against the government of the United States, and against the citizens of neighboring State, with whom they have heretofore maintained friendly, social and business relations:

It has attempted to subvert the Union founded by Washington and his co-patriots in the purer days of the republic, which has conferred unexampled prosperity upon every class of citizens, and upon every section of the country:

It has attempted to transfer the allegiance of the people to an illegal confederacy of rebellious States, and required their submission to its pretended edicts and decrees:

It has attempted to place the whole military force and military operations of the Commonwealth under the control and direction of such confederacy, for offensive as well as defensive purposes.

It has, in conjunction with the State executive, instituted wherever their usurped power extends, a reign of terror intended to suppress the free expression of the will of the people, making elections a mockery and a fraud:

The same combination, even before the passage of the pretended ordinance of secession, instituted war by the seizure and appropriation of the property of the Federal Government, and by organizing and mobilizing armies, with the avowed purpose of capturing or destroying the Capitol of the Union:

They have attempted to bring the allegiance of the people of the United States into direct conflict with their subordinate allegiance to the State, thereby making obedience to their pretended Ordinance, treason against the former.
Some of the delegates were for immediate separation from the eastern part of the state and the establishment of a new state.  In fact, Carlile had taken that position at the first Wheeling Convention.  He now decided that that went against the Virginia state constitution.  "I find that even I, who first started the little stone down the mountain, have now to apply the rubbers to other gentlemen who have outrun me in the race, to check their impetuosity."

Carlile's new position was that secession had vacated the offices of the existing state government.  The convention should reorganize the state government.  The legislature of the new "Restored government of Virginia" could then approve the separation of the western counties.  This plan was unanimously accepted on  June 19.  The following day, the convention selected new state officers.  Francis Pierpont of Marion County was elected governor.

Also on this date:  A Meeting in St. Louis

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