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West Virginia in the 1860s


West Virginia landscape
West Virginia landscape

The Constitution of the United States forbids the division of a state without its own consent. To meet this requirement, delegates from the western counties met at Wheeling on June 11, 1861, declared the offices of the state government at Richmond to be vacant, and formed the Restored Government of Virginia with Francis H. Pierpont as governor. On the day of his election, Pierpont asked President Lincoln for military support. Lincoln recommended to the Congress of the United States that it grant the request, in effect recognizing the Restored Government at Wheeling as the legal government of Virginia.

In a public referendum in October 1861, the western counties voted overwhelmingly to form a new state. They elected delegates to a constitutional convention, which met in Wheeling on November 26 and completed the constitution in February 1862.

It differed greatly from Virginia’s constitution, following the model of Northern states. It provided for a system of free public schools, thereby correcting an old grievance of West Virginians. It was amended in February 1863 to provide for the gradual abolition of slavery, as required by Congress. On June 20, 1863, West Virginia became the 35th state in the Union. Wheeling was the temporary capital. In 1870 the capital was moved to Charleston, but the city lacked a railroad and other advantages considered essential for a state capital. Five years later, the legislature moved the capital back to Wheeling. The decision created intense rivalry between Wheeling and Charleston. Finally, in 1885, the capital returned to Charleston, where it has remained. "West Virginia" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia.

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