Why didn't West Virginia ever re-join Virginia after the US Civil War?

I know that the modern state of West Virginia was founded by a number of Virginia counties which chose to stay in the Union when the rest of Virginia seceded. But after the Civil War, when Virginia was re-incorporated back into the United States, why did West Virginia remain a separate state?

5 Answers

  • 1 decade ago
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    ~Isn't that interesting? The north claimed, incorrectly, that the CSA states had no right to secede, yet it was perfectly proper and legal for counties to secede from a state and then to join the union in spite of, and contrary to, the clear requirements of Article IV, section 3 of the US Constitution.

    When the Supreme Court decided Virginia v West Virginia in 1871, the Justices conveniently side-stepped the constitutional question. By convoluted logic and twisted facts, they determined that the government created by the seceding counties was the actual government of Virginia at the time of secession, even though the members of that government had never stood for election by the majority of the citizens of Virginia. That lunacy of that conclusion should be clear.

    Political expediency (not to mention the fact that when the case was heard, all the Justices had been appointed by northern republican presidents and were from northern states) far outweighed the clear language of the constitution.

    Sorry, Jack, but you're wrong. The majority of the people of Virginia ratified the Ordinance of Secession. The rebellious counties were bound by that decision. Whether the citizens of those counties wanted to or not, they had seceded along with the rest of the state. Yes, they could surrender to federal armies and they could enlist in federal regiments, but they could not form a state without the consent of a majority vote by all of the citizens of the state or by act of the duly and properly elected representatives of those people.

    As to the legality of secession, it is the very core principal of the Declaration of Independence. The Founding Fathers were well aware of that basic fact when they drafted the constitution. By the Treaty of Paris of 1783, Great Britain granted independence to the colonies and created 13 new nations in North America. Those nations never surrendered their hard fought independence to a new national government. The created a coalition of nations and established a FEDERAL, not NATIONAL government to legislate of limited and express areas of common interest and concern. They retained their sovereign autonomy and independence over all other matters. "State" in the context of the Constitution meant "nation-state". It did not designate a subservient political subdivision of a superior nation. If nothing else, that much is clear from the debates at the Philadelphia (Constitutional) Convention.

    Virginia (along with New York and Rhode Island) included the express reservation to secede when they acceded to the constitution. The other delegates informed them that the reservation was unnecessary because the right was implicit and protected at Article IV. Amendments IX and X were intended to further extend the guarantee.

    The New England states took the right for granted when they threatened to secede in 1803, 1812, 1814 and 1815. States on both sides of the Mason-Dixon line took it for granted when they threatened to secede in 1820 over the illegal and unconstitutional Missouri Compromise. So did Thomas Jefferson (as sitting Vice-President) when he, with James Madison (who had just left Congress) authored the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions, wherein they argued in favor of the right of a state to nullify federal law, and by extension, to secede. Abe Lincoln took it for granted when he argued in favor of the right of secession on the floor of Congress on January 12, 1848.

    The Ordinances of Secession were passed by the duly and democratically elected representatives of the people and then ratified by the people at the polls or in convention. In a democracy, the minority is bound by the decision of the majority. The Virginian counties which became West Virginia were never legally or constitutionally separated from Virginia, regardless of what the invading government in Washington may have decided. Washington had no standing to address the issue in 1863, and neither would have the Supreme Court had the case been brought then. Virginia (including West Virginia) was not subject to USA law at the time, having long since left the coalition.

    As to the inanity that the Wheeling government was the rightful government of all of Virginia, even the members of that "government" didn't try to claim such foolishness other than to achieve their illegal purpose. Having created a fictitious government which purported to act for a majority of the citizens of the state, they then asserted that the representatives of that majority (whom had somehow become their "legal representatives" without having stood for election nor been appointed by the legally elected governor) agreed that West Virginia was no longer part of the state. Congress then stamped the fiction with its seal of approval, ignoring the constitution, the law and the facts in the process. The circle was closed. Its legal because we say it is and therefore it is and don't bother us with the legality of it.

    Don't you see the sophistry of your own analysis? "They set up their own assembly at Wheeling ..." Duh, they were acting for themselves, not Virginia. "Thus, in law, these counties had not seceded from Virginia, the eastern counties had broken away from the legitimate government in Wheeling." Fancy that. Virginia broke away from a government that didn't even exist on paper at time of secession. Interesting concept. Sadly, that is exactly the kind of "logic" Congress and the Supreme Court employed.

    This may sound technical, but it is constitutional law, mixed with a bit of basic US history that was ignored and rewritten after the USA successfully invaded, conquered and annexed the CSA and created the NATIONAL government the Founding Fathers tried so desperately to avoid and prevent. Only after 1865 did the USA became a single nation composed of subservient subdivisions called "states". "History" has been revised ever since to justify the invasion. It was NOT a civil war.

    Boy the way, the thumbs down didn't come from me. I don't indulge in such pettiness.

    Jack: Yes, you did recite what happened, and I explained why it was legally and constitutionally a sham. However, the Supreme Court never ruled on the constitutionality of the creation and admission of West Virginia.. That particular question was not before the Court (Virginia v West Virginia pertain to only a few counties). The question was "why?", not "what happened". The factual analysis is correct, to a degree, but does not answer the "why?" of it. The political games and legal fictions address that issue. The real "why" is that a:Washington was not about to acknowledge the initial fraud and b: Virginia was being punished for leaving the union. "History" is the interpretation of events based on the documented "facts", not the regurgitation of facts by rote without thought or analysis.

    Aida: Yes, if you ignore the facts, the "legal fancy footwork" was certainly designed to give the color of "respectabilty" to the fraud. Lincoln claimed he had the power to promulgate the Emancipation Proclamation under his authority as Commander-in-Chief, too, but that did not make it any less unconstitutional or illegal. Saying it doesn't make it so. In any case, Article IV, Section 3 does establish the process by which two or more states (or parts thereof) can merge. If your "legal" analysis and constitutional law research over the decades has failed to disclose to you that basic, elementary fact, I question the balance of anything else you may have come up with. What the heck. The law, the facts and the Constitution didn't bother Abe Lincoln, the Congress or the Supreme Court, why should it bother us?

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  • Anonymous
    1 decade ago


    I've simply conveyed the extant facts -- that's all. You're arguing what you believe "Should have been." But these incontrovertable facts remains:

    1. Washington DID recognize the Wheeling government as the sole legitimate government for the whole state.

    2. The Supreme Court ruled that the creation of West Virginia WAS constitutional.

    3. What you or I think the law says, or who was bound by what doesn't really matter. All of your points are based on what you believe the law required; and it's irrelevant. We have to deal with what is and not what we think SHOULD have happened or what we wish with all our hearts HAD happened. Since neither you nor I was in the Congress or the Supreme Court our conjecture and opinions of what constitutes "sophistry" is a waste of time. That's why I've offered only facts devoid of opinion, while your argument is based on what you think should have been the case. And that's not history; that's being an ideologue


    Knight's answer isn't exactly correct (and neither is Oscar's). When the state of Virginia held its convention to secede from the Union, the 36 counties of the west stated that they would not follow.

    They set up their own assembly at Wheeling and were recognized by the government in Washington as the "Sole, legitimate government for the entire state of Virginia (including all of the counties that broke away to the Confederacy). Thus, in law, these counties had not seceded from Virginia, the eastern counties had broken away from the legitimate government in Wheeling. This may sound technical, but such is the nature of law. They were not treated as a "territory" at all. So far as the law was concerned THEY WERE Virginia, and the easterners were rebels.

    This is important because the Constitution stipulates that no new state can be created from a preexisting state without that state's permission. Given that the government in Wheeling was considered by law the legitimate government for the whole state, it could declare the eastern counties in rebellion and cede them back to the Union for later reconstruction (which they did).

    Why not reintegrate after the war? The difficulties between the eastern and western counties went all the way back to the year 1776 and the creation of the state's first constitution. The western counties believed they had been short changed in representation. The difficulties grew over the years; and the westerners resented being ruled by the easterners whose taxes they resented. This conflict was thus a long time coming.

    Now that the westerners were free from domination by the east, they weren't about to give it up, and in the words of one West Virginian, "Become the slaves of Richmond once more."

    Hope this helps.

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  • aida
    Lv 7
    1 decade ago

    Oscar has dragged up arguments that I've been hearing and refuting for decades. Th creation of the new state admittedly involved a bit of legal fancy-footwork, but it complied with the Constitutional requirements. Jack has the best answer!

    As for why they didn't reunite after the war, even if both states had wanted to, there's no Constitutional provision for merging two states into one.

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  • 1 decade ago

    The western counties of Virginia seceded from the state of Virginia in June 1861. From that point until June of 1863 they essentially became a US territory. Then in June of 1863 they became a state. Now here's the thing, in order to become a part of Virginia again after the war they would have had to give up their statehood. This would mean also giving up the ability to govern themselves as they saw fit rather than being a part of the government of Virginia. The problem was that they had had more in common with states like Ohio and Pennsylvania than they did with the rest of Virginia which put them in a minority politically speaking within the state of Virginia. Thus there was no reason to return to that status following the war.

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  • 1 decade ago

    Speaking as a West Virginian, Jack has the best answer of what my state went through at the time.

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