Guest column: Understanding out past, appreciating our future
West Virginians will celebrate a monumental year in 2013. The 35th state was admitted into the Union 150 years ago during a grim time in our country’s history. June 20, 2013 marks the Sesquicentennial of Statehood for West Virginia. West Virginia is well known due to the fact that the autonomy of the state was attained in a rather uncommon way. West Virginia is the only state to gain independence from a Confederate state and is also the only state in the Union that obtained sovereignty by proclamation of a United States President.
As most know, the Civil War played a substantial role in our nation’s history and even more so in our state’s history. The citizens of western Virginia were not pleased with the Virginia State Constitution, along with the decision of the State Government to leave the Union and join forces with the Confederacy. The Ordinance of Secession was sanctioned by Virginia voters on May 23, 1861.
Due to the ratification of the Secession Ordinance, western citizens of Virginia congregated at Washington Hall in Wheeling on May 13, 1861 to determine a course of action for formation of a new state. This meeting was called the First Session of the Wheeling Convention. 88 Delegates from 32 counties were designated seats at the Wheeling Convention
Delegates gathered in Wheeling once again in August 1861 for the Second Session of the Wheeling Convention. A point of order was to determine a name for the new state. “Kanawha” was proposed as a name, although many protested against it. The delegates came to the consensus that “West Virginia” would suit the state best.
Boundaries were a major topic at the convention as well. There were 39 original counties included, however, upon approval of the individual counties others were to be added. A number of the delegates proposed that there be an additional 32 counties included, but this request was rejected due to the large amount of slave owners residing in these counties.
President Abraham Lincoln received the statehood bill from the proposed state of West Virginia on December 22, 1862. Despite his doubts and even split opinions from six of his cabinet members, President Lincoln signed the bill because he did not want to lose the support of western Virginia. However, delegates were required to amend the constitution which was unanimously approved by delegates and citizens. On April 20, 1863 President Abraham Lincoln announced that West Virginia would officially become a state of the Union in 60 days.
On June 20, 1863, inauguration ceremonies took place in Wheeling in honor of the new state. During his inaugural speech, Governor Arthur Boreman referred to West Virginia as the “Child of the Rebellion.” Boreman spoke about how acquiring statehood was a difficult task for delegates, statehood leaders and citizens. Despite the opposition and The Civil War still taking place, West Virginia citizens felt a great amount of pride to become a new state of the Union and to be a part of a historic event.
Even though the challenges that the state has faced over the years have been difficult, West Virginia citizens have always found a way to prevail. We are all Mountaineers and we will always take up the tasks that face our state and continue to make history, as history is truly made by the first timers.
To continue the rich history of West Virginia, I along with others have proudly sponsored House Concurrent Resolution 50. The resolution requests that our monthly legislative interims meetings be held in Wheeling on June 20th to bring the full legislature back to Wheeling where it all began 150 years ago.
Stop by if you are in Charleston. Contact information: Facebook page: Randy Swartzmiller, or follow me on Twitter: @WV_Delegate, or my e-mail: email@example.com or write to: Randy Swartzmiller, State Delegate, Room 242, Building 1 State Capitol Complex Charleston, WV 25305 or call, Capitol Office: 304.340.3138 or Mobile: 304.479.5140
(Swartzmiller is the speaker pro tempore of the House of Delegates, and represents the 1st District, including Hancock County and parts of Brooke County)