May 14, 1861… Day 2 of the First Wheeling Convention

Posted on May 14, 2011 by


I would be remiss if I made no mention of western Virginians in their efforts, during this time, 150 years ago. Of course, I also find it ironic that this weekend marks the 147th anniversary of the Battle of New Market… in which I can claim kin on both sides… two in the 62nd Virginia Mounted Infantry (likely, recent conscripts from the central Shenandoah Valley), and one being in the 12th West Virginia Infantry. The battle wouldn’t end well for the boy in blue, but, he lived to see another day, and even relocated to Nebraska in years after the war.

But, about those efforts made in 1861…


On May 13, 1861, delegates from twenty-seven western Virginia counties assembled at Washington Hall in Wheeling to consider responsive action to the Ordinance of Secession. While some present believed that no action should be taken until after the referendum on secession, on May 23, others were of the mind to strike more quickly. “Let us act,” John Carlile stated, “let us repudiate these monstrous usurpations; let us show our loyalty to Virginia and the Union; and let us maintain ourselves in the Union at every hazard. It is useless to cry peace when there is no peace; and I for one will repeat what was said by one of Virginia’s noblest sons and greatest statesmen, ‘Give me liberty or give me death!'” On the following day, Carlile proposed a resolution for the creation of the new state of New Virginia.

No doubt, by the end of the day on May 14, Carlile’s resolutions sparked enthusiasm in the delegation. In fact, after adjourning that day, someone proposed three cheers for New Virginia, which went up with a wild and almost ferocious yell. Three more were given for Carlile before the spectators and delegates dispersed.

At the end of the day, on May 15, despite Carlile’s resolutions, the convention took no action on creating the new state just yet. Rather, it was decided to wait and see. Though the Virginia Convention had seceded, and the greater part of eastern Virginia was already mobilizing for war, Virginia was still, under the law, a member of the Union. Since the Virginia Convention made it clear (though, really, it was little more than lip service) that secession would not become official until the people of Virginia voted on it, any steps made by western Virginians prior to that vote would also be outside the law. As the final act of the Convention, the following resolutions were put in place:

Resolved, That in our deliberate judgement the ordinance passed by the Convention of Virginia, on the 17th day of April, 1861, commonly known as the ordinance of secession, by which said Convention undertook in the name of the State of Virginia, to repeal the ratification of the Constitution of the United States of America, by this State, and to resume all rights and powers granted under said Constitution, is unconstitutional, null and void.

Resolved, That the schedule attached to said ordinance suspending and prohibiting the election for members of Congress from this State, to the House of Representatives of the Congress of the United States, required by law to be held on the 4th Thursday of this month is a manifest usurpation of power, to which we as Virginia freemen ought not, cannot, and will not submit.

Resolved, That the Convention of the 24th of April, 1861, between the Commissioners of the Confederate States and this State, and the ordinance of the 25th of April, 1861, approving and ratifying said Convention, in agreement by which the whole military power and military operations, offensive and defensive of the Commonwealth, were placed under the chief control and direction of the President of the Confederate States, upon the same principles and footing as if the Commonwealth were now a member of said Confederacy, and all the actings and doings of the executive officers of our State under and in pursuance of said agreement ordinance, as plain and palpable violations of the Constitution of our State, and are utterly subversive of the rights and liberties of the good people thereof.

Resolved, That it be earnestly recommended, to our fellow citizens of this State, at the approaching election to vindicate their rights as Virginia freemen by voting against said ordinance of secession, and all other measures of like character, so far as they may be made known to them.

Resolved, That it be also urged upon them to vote for members of Congress of the United States, in their several districts, in the exercise of the rights secured to us by the Constitution of the United States, and of Virginia.

Resolved, That it be also recommended to the citizens of the several counties to vote at said election for such persons as may entertain the opinions in the foregoing resolutions, as members of the House of Delegates of our State.

Resolved, That it is the imperative duty of our citizens to maintain the Constitution and the laws ___ and all officers there-under acting in the lawful discharge of their respective duties.

Resolved, That in the language of Geo. Washington in his letter of the 17th of September, 1787, to the President of Congress; “in all our deliberations on this subject we keep steadily in our view that which appears to us the greatest interest of every true American, the consolidation of our Union, in which is involved our property, felicity, safety and perhaps our national existence.” Therefore we will maintain and defend the Constitution of the United States and the laws made in pursuance thereof, and all officers acting there-under in the lawful discharge of their respective duties.

Resolved, That in view of the geographical, social, commercial and industrial interests of Northwestern Virginia, this Committee are constrained in giving expression to the opinion of their constituents to declare that the Virginia Convention in assuming to charge the relations of the State of Virginia, to the Federal Government, have not only acted unwisely and unconstitutionally, but have adopted a policy utterly ruinous to all the material interests of our section, severing all our social ties and drying up all the channels of our trade and prosperity.

Resolved, That in the event of the ordinance of Secession being ratified by a vote, we recommend to the people of the Counties here represented, and all others disposed to co-operate with us to appoint on the 4th day of June, 1861, delegates to a General Convention, to meet on the 11th of that month, 1861, at such place as may be designated by the Committee herein-after provided, to devise such measures and take such action as the safety and welfare of the people they represent may demand, each County to appoint a number of Representatives to said Convention equal to double the number to which it will be entitled in the next House of Delegates; and the Senators and Delegates to be elected on the 23d inst. Of the counties referred to, to the next General Assembly of Virginia, and who concur in the views of this Convention, be entitled to seats in the said Convention as members thereof.

Resolved, That inasmuch as it is a conceded political axiom, that government is founded on the consent of the governed and is instituted for their good, and it cannot be denied that the course pursued by the ruling power in the State, is utterly subversive and destructive of our interests, we believe we may rightfully and successfully appeal to the proper authorities of Virginia, to permit us peacefully and lawfully to separate from the residue of the State and form ourselves into a government to give effect to the wishes, views and interests of our constituents.

Resolved, That the public authorities be assured that the people of the North West will exert their utmost power to preserve the peace, which they feel satisfied they can do, until an opportunity is afforded to see if our present difficulties cannot receive a peaceful solution; and we express the earnest hope that no troops of the Confederate States be introduced among us, as we believe it would be eminently calculated to produce civil war.

Resolved, That in accordance with the last resolution, a Central Committee of five be appointed to attend to all matters connected with the objects of this Convention, and that they have power to assemble this Convention at any time they may think necessary.

Resolved, That each county represented in this Convention, and any others that may be disposed to co-operate with us, be requested to appoint a Committee of five, whose duty it shall be to see that all things that may be necessary to be done, be attended to, to carry out the objects of this Convention, and to correspond with the Central Committee.

Once the referendum was complete, and the fate made more official, under the law, and in the case secession carried at the polls, only then would western Virginians act. In the event such did occur, a second convention of western Virginians would be held to decide the next course of action… whether to divide the state or simply reorganize the government.

Western Virginians were exhibiting the cool-headed measures Virginians had held firm to, up until the more radical actions of people like Henry Wise, had tossed asunder.

For more on the proceedings of the First Wheeling Convention, see this page, courtesy of the West Virginia Department of Archives and History.

*Strange to say, after being elected to the United States Senate, and drafting the statehood bill for West Virginia, Carlile had flipped in his decision, and made efforts to sabotage statehood efforts.