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The 1861 Wheeling Convention was a series of two meetings called to repeal an Ordinance of Secession from the United States of America that had been approved throughout Virginia in a referendum. This convention thus purported to establish a Restored government of Virginia, which authorized the counties that organized the convention to form a new state, West Virginia. The convention was held at what became known as West Virginia Independence Hall in Wheeling. The Restored Government was recognized by the United States as the legitimate government of the Commonwealth of Virginia; its provisional capital was in Wheeling, and its official capital was in Richmond. The Wheeling Convention led to a Constitutional Convention for the new state of West Virginia.
First Wheeling Convention
The First Wheeling Convention was held on May 13 through May 15, 1861. Twenty-seven western Virginia counties were represented. Of the 429 delegates who attended, over one-third were from the area around Wheeling. Most had been chosen at public meetings, while others attended on their own initiative. Immediately a debate ensued over which delegates should be allowed to participate in the Convention: Gen. John Jay Jackson of Wood County suggested seating all northwestern Virginians, but John S. Carlile insisted that only those who had been legitimately appointed by their constituencies be allowed to participate. Chester D. Hubbard of Ohio County ended the debate by proposing the creation of a committee on representation and permanent organization.
Some, including Jackson, argued that preemptive action against the Ordinance of Secession before it was ratified was unwise: the Ordinance had not yet been presented to the citizens of Virginia for a vote, and would not be until May 23. Others, including John Carlile, insisted on immediate action to "show our loyalty to Virginia and the Union", and on May 14, he called for a resolution creating a state of New Virginia. Waitman T. Willey responded to Carlile's plan by saying that it was "triple treason" — treason against the state of Virginia, the United States, and the Confederacy. Carlile's motion was condemned as revolutionary, and most at the Convention instead supported resolutions offered by the Committee on State and Federal Resolutions, which recommended that western Virginians elect delegates to a Second Wheeling Convention to begin on June 11 if the people of Virginia approved the Ordinance of Secession.
Second Wheeling Convention
With the adoption of Virginia's Ordinance of Secession on May 23, the Second Wheeling Convention began on June 11 as decided at the First Convention. The meeting was held in Washington Hall and later the Custom House. The first measures adopted at the Convention ruled that 88 delegates representing 32 counties were entitled to seats in the convention, though other delegates would be accepted later. Arthur I. Boreman was selected to serve as president, and he declared, "We are determined to live under a State Government in the United States of America and under the Constitution of the United States."
Counties adhering to the Confederate cause either did not send representatives or were not entitled to seats. Among the more prominent not to send a delegate to the Wheeling Convention was Greenbrier County. Delegate Mason Mathews from Greenbrier County instead attended the Virginia General Assembly in Confederate Richmond.
On June 13, John Carlile introduced to the convention "A Declaration of the People of Virginia." The document declared that under the Virginia Declaration of Rights, any substantial change in the form of state government had to be approved by a referendum. Therefore, since the Secession Convention had not been convened by a referendum, all of its acts--including the Ordinance of Secession--were illegal and void. It also declared the existing government in Richmond void and called for the reorganization of the state government on the grounds that Virginia's secession had effectively vacated all state offices. Carlile presented an ordinance for this purpose the next day, beginning the debate. Virtually all the delegates at the Convention recognized the differences between eastern and western Virginia as irreconcilable and supported some sort of separation; the disagreement was over how this separation should occur. Dennis Dorsey of Monongalia County called for permanent and decisive separation from eastern Virginia. Carlile, however, though he had called for a similar plan during the First Convention, persuaded the delegates that constitutional restrictions made it necessary for the formation of a loyal government of Virginia, whose legislature could then give permission for the creation of a new state. On June 19, delegates approved this plan unanimously.
The next day, June 20, the convention selected new officers of the Virginia state government (usually called the "Restored government of Virginia" to avoid confusion with the secessionist government). Francis Pierpont of Marion County was elected governor. On June 25, the Convention adjourned until August 6.
The proceedings of the First Wheeling Convention were recorded by Judge Gibson Lamb Cranmer of Ohio County, Charles B. Waggener of Mason County, and Marshall M. Dent of Monongalia County. Judge Cranmer was also the Secretary of the Second Wheeling Convention and custodian of the manuscript proceedings, journals, and other documents of the Convention. Judge Cranmer's records for the convention were lost during the flood of 1884 of Wheeling Island. Copies of the records were sought in Alexandria and Richmond but no such copies were found. The records of these Conventions were reconstructed by Virgil A. Lewis, State Historian of West Virginia, from daily records printed in the Wheeling Daily Intelligencer. They were published by Lewis as How West Virginia Was Made in 1909.
- Rice, Otis K. 1986. A History of Greenbrier County. Greenbrier Historical Society, p. 132