The History Of West Virginia Simplified | Happy Student Education ™

The History of West Virginia Simplified

Published June 30, 2021

West Virginia Statehood

The History of West Virginia Simplified. The state of Virginia was affected by the political instability of the Civil War Era. Slavery, as well as political disparity, were hot topics within the state of Virginia during the 19th century.

It is safe to say that western Virginia’s alliance with the Union was the most significant reason why it became an independent state. Virginia’s political and societal divisions culminated when Abraham Lincoln became president.

Lincoln worked hard to maintain the Union, and eventually abolishing slavery, Abraham Lincoln helped West Virginia become a state.

The Virginia constitution of 1776

The tension between the eastern and western counties had existed long before the anticipated split in 1861. Since the adoption of the Virginia Constitution in 1776, separate allegiances to eastern or western Virginia initiated. Western Virginia had many reasons to feel differentiated from the east.

Virginia’s constitution assured the right to vote to white men owning 25 acres of improved land and 50 acres of unimproved land.[1] Western and eastern Virginia, were very different places in terms of politics, economics, resources, and geography. For instance, eastern Virginia shared a “traditional” economy based on plantations, while politics was controlled by aristocratic plantation owners.

History of West Virginia Simplified

The Virginian constitution, “…incorporated a property qualification for voting, allotted each county, irrespective of population, two seats in the House of Delegates, and provided an undemocratic system of county government.”[2] In the traditional sense, eastern Virginia was governed by traditional values prominent throughout the South, especially before the Civil War, based on slave labor.

Industrialization and Immigration

Whereas, western Virginia was governed by the promise of freedom, an influx of migrants looking for work from northern states such as; New York, and Pennsylvania, and loyalty to the Union.[3] Hence, although western Virginia shared northern cultural views, political power was centered in eastern Virginia.

For instance, “Throughout the first half of the nineteenth-century western discontent focused on political issues such as voting rights, representation in the General Assembly, and methods of choosing state and local officials.”[4]

Although reform eventually took place, industrialization and the influx of immigrants allowed the west to detached more and more from the East. One of the many factors that differentiated the west from the east was geographical details.

Geography significantly influenced the economy of both eastern and western Virginia. “…West Virginia, was dominated by rugged, mountainous terrain that precluded the plantation economy common in parts of the Eastern Panhandle as well as in Tidewater and Piedmont Virginia.”[5]

Politics of West Virginia

Working the land was not as popular in the west as in the east. Mining, as well as other industries, served as the backbone of the western economy. Nevertheless, politically, eastern Virginia maintains much of the control on the government, which created tension between the east and the west. Slavery significantly influenced the election of 1860.

The national debate over slavery remained present in America until 1859 when slave abolitionist John Brown attacked the United States Amory at Harpers Ferry in Virginia with the purpose of arming the slaves igniting a slave uprising.[6] This uprising received national attention and caused panic throughout the south.

When South Carolina officially seceded from the Union, it was clear that many other southern states would follow, considering the shared views on slavery. Virginia became the first state to secede after the war began on April 17, 1861.[7]

However, although eastern Virginia sided with the confederacy, the western region did not share the same belief and remained loyal to the Union. The influence, goals, and power of President Abraham Lincoln allowed the west to move towards statehood, against overwhelming odds.

Independence of West Virginia


In 1861 West Virginia as an independent state became more of a reality, and less of a dream. The first confirmation of this came at the Second Session of the Second Wheeling Convention when the new Reorganized Government deemed the events of the Richmond Convention illegal, inoperative, null, void, and without force.[8]

Western Virginians had perfectly performed their controversial plan and would be able to overcome their toughest barrier Article IV Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution, which prevented any new states forming from within already established American territories.

The Reorganized Commonwealth overwhelmingly passed the statehood referendum in October of 1861 and the constitution for the new state on April 3, 1862, both landslide victories with votes in favor reaching over 18,000 and those in opposition never surpassing a thousand.[9]

History of West Virginia Simplified


On May 13, 1862, the Reorganized Government of Virginia passed the act granting permission to establish the state of West Virginia, subsequently signed into reality by President Lincoln.

Ultimately, West Virginia became a state by sheer determination, and circumstances. The geographical location and the political views allow West Virginia to thrive when Richmond did not. However, had not been for the Civil War, it is safe to say that western Virginians would not have been able to overcome Article IV Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution, without the support of the president, and the distractions created on the battlefield and the massive casualties that followed.


Dillon, J. C. Jr. 1975. Adkins, West Virginia Blue Book 1975. Jarrett Printing Co.

Graham, Michael. 2015. On This Day in West Virginia Civil War History. London: The History Press.

Rice, Otis K., and Stephen W. Brown. 2010. West Virginia: A History. Kentucky: The University Press of Kentucky.

Snell, Mark A. 2011. West Virginia and the Civil War: Mountaineers Are Always Free. Charleston: The History Press.


[1] (Rice and Brown, West Virginia: A History 2010, 91)

[2] Ibid p. 91

[3] Ibid p. 90

[4] Ibid p. 91

[5] Ibid p. 91

[6] (Snell 2011, 24)

[7] (Rice and Brown 2010, 103)

[8] (Snell 2011, 78)

[9] (Dillon 1975, 52)

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