Was there anything Virginia could have done to keep West Virginia from seceding?

unionblue

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Member of the Year
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Feb 20, 2005
Location
Ocala, FL (as of December, 2015).
I would ask for a source. But I’m pretty sure I know what it is?

It is a mistake to look at the present and use that as a basis to determine past histories. But it is Entertaining. Wokey History.
My source? History.

It's an even worse mistake to assume that past history is a closed door that forever freezes the present.

It's not entertaining to assume such. It is enforced ignorance.
 

atlantis

Sergeant Major
Joined
Nov 12, 2016
Re districting the state senate on the white basis would have been a big plus for keeping the state united. Enacting a public school system and support for railroads connecting the west with eastern ports. Imposing a true ad valorem tax on slaves also would have pleased western Virginians. It is true there was unhappiness with eastern Virginia but westerners considered themselves good Virginians who just wanted a fair shake. Irony is fire eater Henry Wise from Tidewater supported a lot of the western demands.
 

jcaesar

Private
Joined
Aug 28, 2020
Had Virginia not pulled out of the Union it would not have happened. Had Virginia pulled out of the Union when the Cotton states did instead of voting no it would also ironically have not happened given they would have had more then two months to build an army in western Virginia to secure the area and mobilize the population behind the war effort.

Virginia's path was ill thought-out if their main goal was to preserve their political and economic power. Though my take on Virginia politics was their goal was confused and most didn't want the crisis at all and were just reacting back and forth to events in 1860 and 1861 rather then shaping events for the rest of the South as they did in 1775.
 

OpnCoronet

Lt. Colonel
Joined
Feb 23, 2010
I agree with those that think there was only two options at the time. Either Not Secede or, make a better and more successful effort to suppress the effort.


P.S. Secession apologists, then and now, are impervious to the Irony of the secession of W. Va. and the response of the csa.
 

Eric Wittenberg

1st Lieutenant
Keeper of the Scales
Joined
Jun 2, 2013
Location
Columbus, OH
Our research suggested that nothing would have stopped it--the split was inevitable and had been coming for a long time. There were just too many cultural and economic differences between the two segments of antebellum Virginia. We have an entire chapter on this issue in our book.

In 1851, Sen. Daniel Webster of Massachusetts gave a speech that proved particularly prescient: "And ye men of Western Virginia, who occupy the slope from the Alleghenies to the Ohio and Kentucky," said he,"‘what benefit do you propose to yourself by disunion? If you secede what do you secede from and what do you secede to? Do you look for the current of the Ohio to change and bring you and your commerce to the waters of Eastern rivers? What man can suppose that you would remain a part and parcel of Virginia a month after Virginia had ceased to be a part of the United States?”

There is no question in my mind that it was not a question of if but rather a question of when. The coming of war served as the catalyst for something inevitable.
 

Hoseman

Corporal
Joined
Oct 20, 2016
Location
Virginia
I do not think there was anything that could have been done to prevent the western counties from seceding. The southern resources and manpower were spread too thin. I am sure the many of the people in what is now WV felt as they were second class citizens in Virginia as most of the population and wealth of the state is hundreds of miles to the southeast. There is still an underlying resentment towards Richmond by some of the people of far southwest Virginia today, and perhaps rightfully so, as they feel they do not get a fair shake or equitable funding from Richmond.

I do know that some of the people who lived in Virginia near the West Virginia border did not think much of those counties betraying Virginia and forming their own new state. My grandfather, whose grandfather was a veteran, lived in Tazewell county, Virginia which is bordered by WV to the north. While he did not say he didn't like West Virginians as a whole, he would not spend a penny in that state and had a low opinion of WV in general. I have heard this sentiment from several other "old timers" back when I was young but I think this animosity has faded with time.
 

LCYingling3rd

Private
Joined
Apr 25, 2021
Not secede....

My family is from Berkeley County, WV. The majority of people in northwestern Virginia emigrated from Pennsylvania and had much more in common with citizens from Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Kentucky, and did more business with them, than Tidewater Virginia. (I have an excellent book titled, "The Potomac," by Frederick Gutheim, which provides excellent detail about the differences between people that lived above and below the Great Falls of the Potomac, if you are interested) Even east Tennessee was primarily Unionist. Like Maryland, sentiment was certainly divided and there are more Confederate than Union soldiers in my Berkeley County family, although I do have both. However, Berkeley County did vote against secession with other northwestern Counties both on April 4th and on the final April 17th vote.

I do think it is difficult for us modern people to comprehend. In context, mid-19th century Americans lived very different lives and had very different ideas than we do. Many modern people do not understand the patriotic Unionist fervor that swept the Country after fort Sumter. That Unionist sentiment was prevalent into Virginia, just as tolerance of slavery was prevalent into states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Illinois. As Edward Ayers notes in his "What Caused the Civil War," the lines between North and South are far more blurry than the strict, well defined ones that we have. In addition, it was Gary Gallagher, in his interesting book, "Causes, Won, Lost, and Forgotten," that pointed out we modern people are so influenced by things like the Civil Right's Movement, the Vietnam war, Watergate, and the many other "gates," that we have little sense of how important Unionism was and tend to think the Emancipationist Cause tradition makes for a more justified war.

I believe the truth is that secession was not as popular in the South as many think. Western Virginia is a perfect example of this. We moderns get so focused on slavery and tend to forget that preservation of the Union was a huge deal to a majority of Americans in the middle of the 19th century. The majority of the citizens in western Virginia wanted to remain in the Union and did. Virginia was considering itself a new sovereign nation so the people set up their US state government as Virginians and petitioned Congress as prescribed by the Constitution and became West Virginia.
 
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GwilymT

First Sergeant
Joined
Aug 20, 2018
Location
Pittsburgh
Had it not been for the Civil War would have Virginia eventually divided in to Virginia and West Virginia? I understand that the people in the western part of Virginia were not happy with how they were treated by the eastern Tidewater, but was there enough resentment in western Virginia for them to have left and formed there own state? I am not sure if eastern Virginia would have agreed to allow Virginia to be broken up.
Culturally, the folks in WV are closer to those in SW Pennsylvania, SE OH, and NE KY than they are to anything approaching tidewater Virginia. We actually have a word for it in this part of the world- Appalachia

Perhaps I should say that the folks in SW PA, SE OH, & NW KY are closer culturally to WV. Either way, it’s a far cry from the patrician tidewater culture of Virginia proper.
 

jcaesar

Private
Joined
Aug 28, 2020
Western Virginia politics was complicated. Many felt those in the Eastern half the state looked down on them as country bumkins.

The Army of Northern Virginia did have a number of officers and generals born in western Virginia. Off the top of my head General Edwin Gray Lee who I believe is related to RE Lee. General Jackson of course and he is still very much an icon in West Virginia today.

My general sense is modern historians overestimate the economic factors and greatly underestimate the cultural ones for the breakup of the state.
 

GwilymT

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Location
Pittsburgh
Oddly enough, there was a proposal for a state during revolutionary times: Westsylvania

The rough borders pretty much mimic the cultural region. All I can say is that if this state became reality, you would want these boys on your side.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Westsylvania

1619485869261.png
 

GwilymT

First Sergeant
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Location
Pittsburgh
Re districting the state senate on the white basis would have been a big plus for keeping the state united. Enacting a public school system and support for railroads connecting the west with eastern ports. Imposing a true ad valorem tax on slaves also would have pleased western Virginians. It is true there was unhappiness with eastern Virginia but westerners considered themselves good Virginians who just wanted a fair shake. Irony is fire eater Henry Wise from Tidewater supported a lot of the western demands.
Funny, these are all measures that traditional southerners would reject at the time. Infrastructure spending, taxes on slave holdings, public education? Yep... you have a trifecta there.
 

16thVA

First Sergeant
Joined
Dec 8, 2008
Location
Philadelphia
Culturally, the folks in WV are closer to those in SW Pennsylvania, SE OH, and NE KY than they are to anything approaching tidewater Virginia. We actually have a word for it in this part of the world- Appalachia

Perhaps I should say that the folks in SW PA, SE OH, & NW KY are closer culturally to WV. Either way, it’s a far cry from the patrician tidewater culture of Virginia proper.
This was not true then, and not true now. The Mason-Dixon Line and Ohio River were dividing lines then and still operate that way today, more or less. Sociologists since the 1930's have noted that division in a number of studies, from Howard Odum's "Southern Regions" of 1936 to the more recent "Rethinking the Borders of the South" by Cooper & Knotts in 2010. There is no such thing as Appalachian culture, the region as defined by the ARC is about the size of France, it is too large to support one culture. The fact is that West Virginia was created by the Federal government under a puppet state government, legality is not the issue. As I said before, West Virginia made a really lousy Union state, the people were not behind it.
tates_by_Christopher_A._Cooper_and_H._Gibbs_Knotts.png
 

Stone in the wall

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Sep 19, 2017
Location
Blue Ridge Mountains, Jefferson County WV
Oddly enough, there was a proposal for a state during revolutionary times: Westsylvania

The rough borders pretty much mimic the cultural region. All I can say is that if this state became reality, you would want these boys on your side.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Westsylvania

View attachment 399090
This shows a good portion of the county's that cast 70% (12,946) of the votes for statehood. That was all started in Wheeling. The other 32 county's only cast 5,187 votes for state hood. I don't see much of a Pennsylvania or Ohio culture in the rest of the state.
 

GwilymT

First Sergeant
Joined
Aug 20, 2018
Location
Pittsburgh
This shows a good portion of the county's that cast 70% (12,946) of the votes for statehood. That was all started in Wheeling. The other 32 county's only cast 5,187 votes for state hood. I don't see much of a Pennsylvania or Ohio culture in the rest of the state.
I think the Wheeling area certainly, to this day, has deep ties to both PA & OH.

The cultural divide is now as it was then, the hills and the mountains (not some imaginary line). The folks in far north western Virginia bordering the Ohio and the folks up in the mountains were miners, laborers, small industry, and small farmers. They had much more in common with the folks of south west PA and se OH than they did with the plantation culture in the tidewater region. The idea that there isn’t a distinct Appalachian culture running from SW PA & SE OH through WV & KY then down into East Tennessee (another unionist area) and possibly further is laughable.
 
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Jamieva

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Feb 7, 2006
Location
Midlothian, VA
I would highly recommend you read Eric's book for the full background on this. There is basically nothing VA could've done to keep the state together. There had been talk of the state splitting up going back as far as the Andrew Jackson presidency or somehwere in that vicinity.
 
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