Mason County Memories : The Confused Congressman

Born in 1821 in Utica, New York, Kellian Van Rensalaer Whaley would go on to become one of West Virginia’s first congressmen. Even though he was a New Yorker by birth, his family moved to Wayne County, in 1842. In 1860, he was elected to Congress by the 12th District of Virginia, which included Mason County; however, Virginia soon left the Union and Whaley lost his position. Upon returning home, he led the formation of the 9th West Virginia Infantry, but the unit was captured at Guyandotte by Confederate General Albert G. Jenkins. Whaley escaped and made his way back to Ceredo. He then resumed service in Congress under the Reorganized Government of Virginia. In 1863, he was reelected to Congress, but this time it was from West Virginia’s 3rd District, which still includes Mason County today. After his time in Congress, he served as a customs collector in Texas before retiring to Point Pleasant. He died in 1876 and is buried in Lone Oak Cemetery. Now that you know some general info on Mr. Whaley, I can get into why I call him the “Confused Congressman.”

In 1860, Whaley was elected to Congress as a member of the Unionist Party. However, when it came time for the Secession Convention in 1861, he literally begged to be nominated as the pro-secession candidate. After returning to Congress, he is reported to have dodged over 53 percent of the votes, and voted against any bill that would help the Union Army. As reported in the “Weekly Register,” he voted against the Revenue Act of 1862, every militia bill, and the Confiscation Act. Each of these was designed to increase either funds or manpower for the Union Army and win the war; therefore, they were generally well-accepted by the public. By voting against these, he effectively ruined his reputation, and even the 13th West Virginia Infantry publicly criticized him in the newspapers. They saw him as voting with the Copperheads, a political group that did everything short of treason to make Lincoln end the war.

When it came time for reelection in 1863, Whaley came under fire once again. This time, it was for blatant ignorance. He publicly stated that he was expecting the votes of immigrants in the Bend Area because “they do not care whether the Constitution is torn to rags or not.” The Bend’s immigrant population quickly responded that they would not be voting for someone who was not an unconditional supporter of the Union. This seemingly shook Whaley, as he soon changed his attitude and began voting in favor of military bills. By November of 1863, our local newspapers were praising the “Honorable K.V. Whaley,” now an Unconditional Unionist. He won his reelection by a vote of 664-573 in Mason County.

During his time in politics, Whaley had gone from “an original secessionist” to an “honorable, sincere, and unconditional Unionist” who was well liked in Mason County. He chose not to run for reelection in 1866, but was replaced by Judge Daniel Polsley of Point Pleasant.

Information from the West Virginia Encyclopedia and the “Weekly Register.”

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The Confused Congressman

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. The next meeting of the Mason County Historical and Preservation Society will be held at the County Library, in Point Pleasant, at 6:30 p.m., Sept. 23.