Within American history, there are two pivotal moments that defined what this country stood for. The first was the Revolutionary War, in which the thirteen colonies separated from their mother country – Great Britain – to embark on what many called an experiment in democracy. The second was the Civil War, which is often considered to be a second revolution. This war was the end result of decades of political and social wrangling over issues such as slavery and states’ rights.
Almost all of the Southern states felt that they were entitled to live the way they chose to, just as the Northern and Middle states chose to live. When it became evident to the Southern states that their liberty was being infringed upon, they chose to break away from the Northern and Middle states, forming their own confederacy. In the midst of this turmoil, the state of Virginia was experiencing its own difficulties. While the large majority of the state was allied with the Confederacy, there was a small section that was allied with the Union.
During the year of 1862, this small section of Virginia would choose to break away from the rest of the state, and apply for statehood with the U. S. government. The Senate debate to address this issue was held in July of 1862, while the rest of the country was engaged in war. One of the many representatives present was a Mr. John Carlile. From the information presented in the transcripts of the debate, it is clear the Carlile was not in full favor of statehood for the territory of West Virginia, which was known as Kanawha during the debate.
His overall reason for not promoting the statehood of West Virginia hinged on the various amendments that other members present at the debate wanted to make. Carlile preferred “…the admission of West Virginia under the constitution as it has been presented to Congress…” He also felt that before the state could be admitted to the Union, they must first resolve the issue surrounding slavery. In other words, they had to decide if West Virginia would be a slave or free state.
Ultimately, West Virginia would be admitted to the Union in 1863 with a state constitution that provided for the emancipation of the slaves living in the state. Prior to the debate over West Virginia’s statehood in 1862, there was a meeting of the First Constitutional Convention, held in December of 1861. One of the issues on the table was that of the name of West Virginia. As previously stated, its original name was Kanawha, which was the name of two rivers in the territory at that time.
For some of the representatives present, the name Kanawha did not sit well with them. They pointed out several reasons for why the name should be changed: first, it would be more sensible to maintain some part of the name Virginia within the new name; secondly, having a state named after a river was not in keeping with the names of the other states; and finally, the constituents were in favor of changing the name to something that would show there was still an alliance between them and the rest of Virginia. For others, changing the name seemed unnecessary.
Some felt that having a state named after two rivers was perfectly normal; others felt that having a name that was tied in any way to Virginia would be absolutely abhorrent; still others were undecided on the name change, but were willing to side with the majority on the issue. Ultimately, the name was changed to West Virginia by a vote of 30 to 14. With both the name of the state and the issue of statehood settled, the issue was presented to the Attorney General – Edward Bates – and to the Secretary of State – William Seward.
Both men put forth their opinion on the constitutionality of West Virginia’s statehood. Seward believed that the statehood was constitution based on the following: that the “State of Virginia, thus constituted and acknowledged, has given its consent to the formation and erection of the State of West Virginia, within the jurisdiction of the State of Virginia. ” He felt this consent was more than enough to satisfy any questions concerning their statehood.
Furthermore, he felt that the statehood of West Virginia would allow its residents to be “…safer from molestation for their loyalty, because better able to protect and defend themselves as a new and separate State, than they would be if left to demoralizing uncertainty upon the question whether, in the progress of the war, they may not be again reabsorbed in the State of Virginia, and subjected to severities as a punishment for their present devotion to the Union. ” Finally, he was of the feeling that “…the harmony and peace of the Union” would be “promoted by allowing the new State to be formed and erected…”
Abraham Lincoln was of a like mind with Seward. In his eyes, the separation of the West Virginia was a benefit, as it was another state that would support the Union during the war. According to Lincoln, the people of West Virginia viewed their admission into the Union “…as a matter of life and death. ” Furthermore, they were “…true to the Union under very severe trials. ” Therefore, because the Union had acted in such a way that the hopes of West Virginians were raised, it would not behoove the Union to “…break faith with them. ” Bates was of a vastly different opinion.
For him, the statehood of West Virginia was unconstitutional, as it did not satisfy the letter of the law regarding statehood. He called the breaking away of West Virginia from Virginia “dismemberment” and went on to say that, in his eyes, the breaking away was nothing more than “…mere abuse, nothing less than attempted secession, hardly veiled under the flimsy forms of law. ” He also believed that the timing of the break was incorrect, because it was “…needlessly begun at a moment when we are strained to the uttermost, in efforts to prevent a far greater revolution.
If successful, it will be ‘at once an example and fit instrument’ for tearing into pieces the regions further south, and making out of the fragments, a multitude of feeble communities. ” In the end, regardless of all those against West Virginia becoming a state, in 1863 Congress granted its statehood. The Union would thus be one state stronger, and in the mind of Abraham Lincoln, one more state in favor of preserving the Union was simply another step along the path to victory.