April 9, 1872: West Virginia Constitutional Convention Adjourns

Apr 9, 2019

Credit e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia

The 1872 West Virginia Constitutional Convention adjourned on April 9, 1872. The day was chosen specifically because it was the seventh anniversary of Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox. The convention had selected former Confederates to all offices, including the convention president, who had been the lieutenant governor of secessionist Virginia.

After the Civil War, ex-Confederates had initially been denied key political rights in West Virginia. They weren’t allowed to vote or hold office. In 1870, though, the legislature flipped to the Democrats, who restored rights to former Confederates and called for a new state constitution. The original constitution had been written by pro-Union Republicans during the war.

The convention, which was held in a Methodist church in Charleston, started with threats to throw out the original 1863 constitution and start from scratch. In particular, Democrats opposed the constitution’s free public school system and various other measures. In the end, though, moderates prevailed. The free school system remained intact—while still segregated.

The narrow results of the convention referendum and the later ratification of the new constitution reflected how closely state politics were divided shortly after statehood.