October 24, 1861: Voters Approve State of West Virginia

Oct 24, 2019

Waitman Willey would argue eloquently for suffrage for African-Americans at the 1872 Constitutional Convention that produced West Virginia’s current constitution.
Credit e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia online. / 1872, Western Virgnia, Reorganized Government of Virginia

On October 24, 1861, voters formally approved the formation of West Virginia. Many western Virginia residents had been frustrated with the Virginia state government for years. But, they had few options at their disposal because the U.S. Constitution forbids any state to be carved from another state without the original state’s approval.

The Virginia state government in Richmond would not have willingly given away one-third of its territory. But, when Virginia left the Union at the beginning of the Civil War, western Virginia politicians seized their window of opportunity.

In June of 1861, western Virginia leaders formed the Reorganized Government of Virginia, which pledged its loyalty to the Union. Meeting in Wheeling, this new Virginia state government set the gears in motion to create West Virginia.

When the measure was put to a vote in October, residents approved it by a wide margin. However, the new state was not universally popular as only 37 percent of eligible voters went to the polls. After being approved by Congress and President Abraham Lincoln, West Virginia entered the Union as the 35th state on June 20, 1863.