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West Virginia State Archives
The period prior to West Virginia statehood was marked by divisions between eastern Virginia, dominated by wealthy, slaveholding, large landholders and the emerging class of small landholders, tenants and pioneers in western Virginia. Early in 1861 several southern states seceded from the Union to create the Confederate States of America. Virginia did not immediately join the Confederacy, but when 152 delegates met in Richmond on February 13, 1861 they voted in favor of secession after two months of argument and debate. Of the forty-seven delegates from western Virginia, only 15 voted for secession.
Ten days before the statewide referendum, 436 delegates from 27 counties convened in what came to be called the First Wheeling Convention and resolved to condemn the decision of the Richmond Convention. The May 23, 1861 statewide referendum on secession was approved by an over 6 to 1 margin, but the returns from most of western Virginia were not included. The governor claimed that these returns had been prevented from reaching Richmond by forces hostile to secession. Many from western Virginia were convinced that their votes, most of which were probably against secession, had been ignored by state officials, but this would not have made a difference.
Wheeling, as the largest and most important city in western Virginia, hosted the Second Wheeling Convention in June, 1861, creating the Reorganized or Restored Government of Virginia, which claimed the right to replace the disloyal state government in Richmond. Congressmen and Senators were sent to Washington to replace those who had deserted the federal government. The Lincoln administration recognized the government in Wheeling as the legitimate authority in Virginia.
A referendum was held on October 24, 1861, and a constitution for the proposed new state was soon drafted and ratified. On May 13, 1862, the Reorganized Government of Virginia gave its consent to the creation of West Virginia, an extremely important decision because the U.S. Constitution required Virginia's approval before a new state could be created from its territory.
After receiving the approval of the Reorganized Government of Virginia, Congress and President Lincoln, West Virginia entered the Union as the thirty-fifth state on June 20, 1863. After the Civil War came to an end, Virginia insisted that West Virginia should include only 48 counties because Berkeley and Jefferson counties were not part of the territory approved by Congress as the new state of West Virginia. Congress tried to resolve the argument by passing a joint resolution on March 6, 1866, granting approval for the inclusion of the two counties in West Virginia. Virginia then took the dispute to the United States Supreme Court. In 1871, the court ruled in favor of West Virginia.