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West Virginia in the late 19th century


Democrat John J. Cornwell
Democrat John J. Cornwell

After the Civil War, possession of the border counties, especially Berkeley and Jefferson, became a matter of controversy between Virginia and West Virginia. West Virginia’s boundaries had been determined largely by military considerations. The Eastern Panhandle, which was not originally part of West Virginia, was annexed in 1863 to ensure the inclusion of the B&O Railroad. After the war, Virginia took the matter to the Supreme Court of the United States. In 1871 the Court ruled in favor of West Virginia. The two states also quarreled over West Virginia’s share of Virginia’s prewar debt. This controversy was resolved in 1915, when the Supreme Court directed West Virginia to pay nearly $12.4 million. The debt was finally paid off in 1939.

Divided feelings about the lost Confederate cause affected West Virginia politics for many years. In 1866 the Republicans disfranchised (denied the vote to) all who had supported the Confederates.

This act caused a wave of bitterness that increased membership in the Democratic Party. When the Democrats came to power in 1871, they abolished the disfranchisement law and called a convention to write a new state constitution. Intense partisan feeling resulted in drastic changes in the state government and a new constitution (1872) that was similar to Virginia’s. Conservative Democrats, known as Bourbons, won the governorship and most major state offices in 1876. The Bourbons held fast to the traditions and values of the Old South, but they believed that the state’s future depended on development of its natural resources and encouragement of industry. Henry M. Mathews, the first Bourbon governor, had been a major in the Confederate Army, but he acted quickly to attract Northern industry and capital and to draw immigrants to the state.

The campaign of 1876 saw many former Confederate soldiers elected to office, and the Democrats retained complete control for the next 20 years. During that time, however, industrialization drew in Southern blacks and laborers from neighboring Republican states, thereby increasing Republican strength. In 1897 Republican George W. Atkinson became governor. Except for four years when Democrat John J. Cornwell was governor (1917-1921), Republican governors were in control until 1933. In 1924 the Democratic Party nominated John W. Davis, a native of Clarksburg with a distinguished career in law and government, for president of the United States. President Calvin Coolidge was reelected that year, and Davis failed to carry even West Virginia. To date Davis has been the only West Virginian to be nominated for president by a major political party. "West Virginia" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia.

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