Most people will recognize the title of this article from the Preamble of the U.S. Constitution. However, every state also has their own Constitution. As West Virginia progressed down the road the statehood, the need for this crucial document led to yet another convention: the Constitutional Convention. Voters across West Virginia had already approved statehood by an extremely large margin, with almost 96 percent in favor. Of course, many of those who would have opposed were away fighting for the Confederacy.
On Nov. 26, 1861, delegates met at Wheeling representing Mason County were John Hall, a farmer from the Pleasant Flats, and Samuel T. Griffith, a doctor from West Columbia. Hall was elected president of the convention. The convention resulted in the name “West Virginia” rather than “Kanawha,” as well as slight changes to the state government’s structure. Contrary to popular belief, the original constitution of West Virginia did not abolish slavery. In fact, many West Virginians cared more for preserving the Union than abolition.
This constitution went to the people in February of 1862, and on April 3, it was approved by roughly the same margin as statehood. In Mason County, it was approved by a vote of 639-22. Many of the votes against it were not over statehood. There was simply some facet of the constitution that they could not support. The Reorganized Government of Virginia passed an act allowing for the creation of a new state, and the bill went to Congress. After a lengthy debate, Congress approved the bill with the addition of the Willey Amendment, which allowed for emancipation in West Virginia. Lincoln signed the bill on December 31, 1862, and it went back to the people. The delegates at Wheeling unanimously approved the amendment, and it was approved by the people on March 26, 1863. On April 20, Lincoln issued a proclamation, stating that in 60 days, West Virginia would become the 35th state in the Union. Today, June 20 is celebrated as West Virginia Day throughout our state.
For those who claim that West Virginia’s creation is unconstitutional because Virginia did not grant permission, I say nonsense! During the Civil War, there were two governments operating in Virginia. The Confederate government had abandoned the U.S. Constitution, and therefore cannot use it to support its claims in the first place. The Union government, on the other hand, was operating in Union controlled portions of the state under the strength of the U.S. Constitution. Thus, it had the necessary authority to permit the creation of West Virginia.
Here at home, there were several public meetings on statehood and the constitution. At Hartford, frequent meetings were held at the Methodist Church, where men such as Lt. Gov. Polsley, Lewis Bumgarner (state legislator), and George Moredock (owner of the Hartford Salt Co.) addressed large crowds. Similar meetings were held at Mason City, Point Pleasant, and Leon, where men of similar stature gave similar speeches. In every instance, statehood was met with widespread support across our county. Even the Willey Amendment, which was controversial in some regions, was met with almost full support here.
Editor’s note: The next meeting of the Mason County Historical and Preservation Society is at 6:30 p.m., June 20, Mason City Library, Mason.
Chris Rizer is the president of the Mason County Historical and Preservation Society. More information on the organization found on Facebook at Mason County Historic Preservation.