In 1861, at the beginning of the Civil War, the western part of Virginia decided not to secede along with the rest of the state. Instead of seceding from the union, they seceded from their state and created a new state, West Virginia.
In fact, West Virginia had been talking about making their own state for some time. The people in the western part of Virginia had different backgrounds, faced different geographic challenges, and had different political views from those in the rest of the state. The mountaineers of the western counties didn’t have the same priorities as the planters on the eastern side. There were hard feelings, too. When the state first formed, only white men with 25 acres of land were allowed to vote. The small farmers in the west didn’t get the representation they needed.
But it’s not that easy for a state to split up. For one thing, the U.S. Constitution says, “No new State shall be formed or erected within the jurisdiction of any other State; nor any State be formed by the juncture of two or more States or parts of States, without the consent of the legislatures of the States concerned as well as Congress.”
In other words, West Virginia couldn’t leave Virginia without Virginia’s permission.
But Virginia had seceded from the Union. It was no longer a state. As part of the Confederacy, Virginia was not chatting with the U.S. Congress about the future of West Virginia.
President Lincoln wrote letters to the leaders in Congress asking whether they thought that it would be constitutional to make West Virginia a state. He pointed out that West Virginia had seceded from Virginia. He thought this would prevent the case of West Virginia from becoming a dangerous precedent.
Congress required West Virginia to change their constitution to make the new state a free state — one where slavery was not allowed.
In 1863, the people of West Virginia approved a constitution that outlawed slavery. Their admission was approved, and they became a state.
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