As I wrote last week, the citizens of Mason County were heavily involved in state and local politics during the 1860s. This certainly isn’t abnormal for any region of the nation, but nonetheless, it makes for a good story.
Upon returning from the Richmond Convention, John Carlisle organized a convention in Clarksburg to criticize the Secession Ordinance. This movement soon spread across the state, with meetings being held in Fairmont, Guyandotte, Parkersburg, and many other cities. Each called for a massive convention to be held at Wheeling in support of the Union. This resulted in the First Wheeling Convention, held from May 13-15, 1861.
Each county was called upon to send delegates to Wheeling, and 23 counties responded. Mason County alone sent 30 delegates. Among them were Joseph Spengler Machir, Lemuel Harpold, William Harpold, William W. Harper, Daniel Polsley, Samuel Yeager, R. C. M. Lovell, John Hall, Charles B. Waggener, John M. Phelps, Stephen Comstock, W. C. Starr, and Major Brown. Many of these were prominent businessmen in the county. For example, the Harpold brothers managed a salt furnace in Hartford, Harper was a Methodist minister, Polsley was a lawyer, Waggener was a plantation owner, and Brown was a steamboat captain. Each of them were well-respected and brought a different experience to the convention.
At Wheeling, arguments broke out almost immediately. Who was considered an official delegate? What should their response be to the Virginian government? When should they act? The first was easily solved, and a committee was created to establish who would be considered an official delegate. However, the other two questions were debated for three days. Some, such as John Carlisle, advocated for immediate action and separation from Virginia. Others, such as Francis Pierpont, asked that they wait until after the vote on secession to decide their action. Where many of the Mason County delegates stood on the issue is not known, except for Daniel Polsley.
On the third day of the convention, the secretaries, one of which was Charles B. Waggener, recorded a speech made by Polsley. He argued that by supporting secession, the state gov’t of Virginia had relinquished their control, and the state was in anarchy. The best course of action would be to establish a provisional Unionist government. Upon saying this, he was met with cries of treason against the state of Virginia. To quiet them, Polsley responded, “If there is any treason in the matter, we have already committed it.” This speech was met with wild applause from public spectators.
Despite the raucous support for Polsley and Carlisle, their proposal was shot down by the rest of the convention. Instead, the Committee on State and Federal Resolutions put forth a series of resolutions which condemned the Secession Ordinance, and in case of its passing, allowed for another convention to be called which would form a new state government. Joseph Machir was one of the members on this committee. The resolutions were passed almost unanimously, and the convention was adjourned.
Chris Rizer directs the Mason County Historic Preservation Society which can be found on Facebook.