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Proceedings of the
First Wheeling Convention
May 14, 1861

Forenoon Proceedings

The Convention assembled at 10 o'clock yesterday morning, according to adjournment. The religious exercises of the morning were conducted by Rev. Wesley Smith.

The minutes of the previous day's proceedings were read by the Secretary. At the suggestion of Mr. Carlile, the county of Frederic was stricken from the list of counties which had accredited delegations on the floor, as enumerated by the report of the Committee on Credentials. It would place the gentleman from Frederic in an unpleasant position; and it would appear to the country, if he were admitted here as a fully accredited delegate, without having been appointed as such by any meeting, that perhaps the rest of the delegations were here in the same unauthorized way.

THE CHAIR stated that he had issued a card of admission, under the resolution of the Committee on Credentials, to the gentleman from Frederic.

Some other amendments were made to the minutes, and they were adopted.

MR. LAZIER, of Monongalia, hoped the Convention and those outside the bar would refrain from any expressions of applause or disapproval, during the sittings of the Convention.

MR. WILLEY, rose to a privileged question. He had been, it seemed, misunderstood in his remarks last evening defining his position. He had been understood to say that his view of the proper course of the Convention was, that it should adjourn until after the ensuing election; without taking any action whatever. He had intended, to say that he differed from Mr. Carlile in the views that gentleman entertained in regard to the proper course to be persued here. Nevertheless he wished to declare a distinct and unequivocal position in condemnation of the usurpation at Richmond, and lay down a platform upon which to organize the public sentiment for a separation of the State. He said further, that previous engagements would necessarily call him away from the Convention tomorrow, and he would have to ask to be released from his position in the Committee on State and Federal Relations. Waitman T. Willey
Waitman T. Willey

MR. WILLEY was released with the understanding that he continue to serve while present.

GEN. JACKSON, moved that the Convention adjourn till 2 o'clock, P. M., when the committee will probably be able to report, with the understanding that if the Committee cannot report then that this body stand adjourned till 5 o'clock P. M.

COL. WHEAT, of Ohio, asked the gentleman to withdraw his motion a few minutes till he could have an opportunity to read a few resolutions. He then read the following, which were afterwards referred to the Committee on State and Federal Affairs:


1. Resolved, That in our deliberate judgement the ordinance passed by the Convention of Virginia, on the 17th day of April 1861, commonly known as the ordinance of secession, by which said Convention undertook in the name of the State of Virginia, to repeal the ratification of the Constitution of the United States of America, by this State, and to re___ all the rights and powers granted under said Constitution, is unconstitutional, null and void.

2. Resolved, That the schedule attached to said ordinance suspending and prohibiting the election for members of Congress from this State, to the House of Representatives of the Congress of the United States, required by law to be held on the 4th Thursday of this month is a manifest usurpation of power, to which we as Virginia freemen ought not, cannot, and will not submit.

3. Resolved, That the Convention of the 24th of April, 1861, between the Commissioners of the Confederate States and this State, and the ordinance of the 25th of April, 1861, approving and ratifying said Convention, in agreement by which the whole military power and military operations, offensive and defensive of the Commonwealth, were placed under the chief control and direction of the President of the Confederate States, upon the same principles and footing as if the Commonwealth were now a member of said Confederacy, and all the actings and doings of the executive officers of our State under and in pursuance of said agreement ordinance as plain and palpable violations of the Constitution of our State, and are utterly subversive of the rights and liberties of the good people thereof.

4. Resolved, That it be earnestly recommended to our fellow citizens of this State, at the approaching election to vindicate their rights as Virginia freemen by voting against said ordinance of secession and all other measures of like character, so far as they may be made known to them.

5. Resolved, That it be also urged upon them to vote for members of Congress of the United States, in their several districts, in the exercise of the rights secured to us by the Constitution of the United States, and of Virginia.

6. Resolved, That it be also recommended to the citizens of the several counties to vote at said election for such persons as may entertain the opinions in the foregoing resolutions, as members of the House of Delegates of our State.

7. Resolved, That it is the imperative duty of our citizens to maintain the Constitution and the laws thereof, and all officers there under acting in the lawful discharge of their respective duties.

8. Resolved, That in the language of Gen. Washington in his letter of the 17th of September, 1787, to the President of Congress; "in all our deliberations on this subject we keep steadily in our view that which appears to us the greatest interest of every true American, the consolidation of our Union, in which is involved our property, felicity, safety and perhaps our national existence." Therefore we will maintain and defend the Constitution of the United States and the laws made in pursuance thereof, and all officers acting there under in the lawful discharge of their respective duties.

John Carlile
John Carlile
MR. CARLILE then with a view of harmonizing and ascertaining the sentiments of the Convention, he had drawn up a resolution which he desired to submit, and to accompany with some few remarks by way of explanation. He understood, he thought, one thing at least that it was the unanimous determination of this body to consent under no circumstance, to their transfer to the so-called Southern Confederacy. The only diversity amongst them was as to the means of resistance - the means by which this determination could be made effectual. Of course the proposition he should submit would come with no authoritative expression of opinion, but just as if emenating from any other of the body. It was, however, the result of many long, well-considered and well-matured opinions and convictions. He would add that they were given shape and form this morning, after a night spent without sleep. He then read the resolution as follows:

Resolved, That the Committee on State and Federal Relations be instructed to report an ordinance declaring that the connection of the counties in this State composing the Tenth and Eleventh Congressional Districts, to which shall be added the county of Wayne, with the other portions of the State is hereby dissolved, and that the people of the said counties are in the full possession and exercise of all the rights of sovereignty which belong and appertain to a free and independent State in the United States, and subject to the Constitution thereof; and that the said committee be instructed to report a constitution and form of government for said State, to be called the State of New Virginia; and also that they report a declaration of the causes which have impelled the people of the said counties thus to dissolve their connection with the rest of the State, together with an ordinance declaring that said constitution and form of government shall take effect and be an act of this day when the consent of the Congress of the United States and of the Legislature of the State of Virginia is obtained, as is provided for by section 3, Article 4 of the Constitution of the United States.

Mr. CARLILE then proceeded with his explanation when

Mr. WHEAT called him to order. He raised the point of order that every proposition like this must be referred to the committee without debate or further explanation.

Mr. CARLILE replied that they had adopted a resolution in the Richmond Convention by which all resolutions touching federal relations were to be referred "without debate," as the resolution said. And yet they were engaged for weeks in the discussion of resolutions of instruction to that committee. This is a resolution of instruction, and even if it were but of inquiry, the resolution adopted yesterday does not prevent debate on it. There were very good precedents for the course he proposed.

Mr. WILLEY read the resolution creating the Committee on State and Federal Relations, and said the first business was to refer the resolution to that committee.

Mr. CARLILE replied that his resolution contemplated a reference to that very committee. The ultimate action of this body of course takes place after the report of that committee.

MR. WHEAT regretted that his friend from Harrison should try to forestall the action of the Convention. The resolution instructed the Committee to make a specific report involving questions of great magnitude. It instructs the Committee to report an ordinance to establish an independent government within the State of Virginia. He presumed the Convention was not unprepared to meet that question but this was not the proper mode by which to do so.

Mr. CARLILE. With a view to conciliation and harmony. I am perfectly willing to put it in the shape of a resolution of inquiry.

Mr. WHEAT. That will do.

Mr. JACKSON said the resolution ought to be referred. He had intended to move an adjournment, but had given way in order that the gentleman Mr. Wheat might read his resolutions. If this proposition was to be entertained a moment, he would take his hat and leave the hall, and the delegation from Wood would go with him. He insisted that his motion to adjourn should be put. General John Jay Jackson
General John Jay Jackson

Mr. CARLILE said the motion to adjourn had been withdrawn and was not now in order, and besides it would be the grossest injustice not to permit him to explain the motives he had in offering his resolution.

Gen. JACKSON objected, and insisted that his motion to adjourn was in order.

The CHAIR said it was his opinion that no debate upon any proposition looking to definite action by the Convention was in order until the Committee on State and Federal Relations had reported.

Mr. CARLILE. Then I appeal from the decision of the Chair.

Gen. JACKSON. It is not in order.

Mr. CARLILE. The question of order decided by the Chair is not the question before the committee. My resolution as I said is merely one of inquiry. I merely wish to explain.

The CHAIR. He has the right to explain the resolution to be submitted to the committee.

Mr. CARLILE. Mr. President, it is due to me, due to the correct understanding of the country, and due to the position I occupy before the country, that I shall be allowed to make this explanation. It is represented that a proposition looking to a separate State government is revolutionary in its character. I deny it. It is the only legal, constitutional remedy left this people if they do not approve the action of the Virginia Convention.

I, like the gentleman from Monongalia, desire to exhaust all the legal and peaceable remedies before ever we are compelled to theultima ratio of nations. But is there, can there be, anything revolutionary in availing ourselves of the constitutional means provided in the organic law of the land, for the very purpose of protecting our interests. Is is possible that a gag law is in force, and that thought and freedom of speech have ceased to exist in this once free land? Is it revolutionary or illegal to discuss the propriety of availing ourselves of a constitutional right. The Constitution of the United States, which is also the Constitution for Virginia; which is the supreme law of the land; which is to be obeyed and respected by all, even by the Constitutions of the several States - which makes null and void every constitutional provision of a State, and every legislative enactment which is in conflict with that instrument - and is there a man here that needs to be told it? - that Constitution of the United States provides expressly and in terms plain and unmistakable for the separation of a State and the erection of a new State within the boundaries of a State out of which a new State is to be formed? If that be true, and no man can deny it - if there be such a provision in the Constitution of the United States, pray tell me where is there anything revolutionary in discussing and deliberating and exercising a privilege thus secured to them by that instrument? I desire once for all to say to gentlemen, they are endeavoring to evade the issue by attempting to alarm the fears of men by stigmatising the exercise of a plain and constitutional right as revolutionary. It is a peaceful, legal, constitutional remedy secured to us by the same instrument which secures freedom of speech and the right of trial by jury. Nor is there anything in this right inconsistent with what gentlemen are pleased to term their "allegiance" to either the State or Federal Government. There is no treason, as gentlemen would endeavor to impress. There is no perjury in it, as they have attempted to assume. Sir, you may swear to support the Constitution of your State and the Constitution of the United States, but is it a violation of your oath to exercise a plain constitutional right secured to you in the very instrument and by the very instrument you swear to support? Therefore do I beg members of this Convention to weigh well all arguments that may be addressed to their fears. He who takes counsel from his fears is ill fitted for the emergency in which this people is now placed. (Applause.)

But it has been said that this Convention was called here alone for consultation. Sir, it happens to be my pride that I had the honor to draw up the preamble and resolutions which were adopted by the meeting in my county, and which have resulted in the bringing together of this Convention. Now let us see what was contemplated in our assembling here. Every meeting held, and which has appointed delegates here, has been held in response to those resolutions. Those resolves, among other things, say that this Convention was called to consult and determine upon such action as the people of Northwestern Virginia should take in the present fearful emergency.

That is the call, and such is your duty. It contemplated "action" that would keep us in the Union, and would preserve to us and to our children and to all posterity, the liberties achieved by the illustrious dead.

It is said we are not prepared to take action, Sir, when will we be better prepared? If this action be our constitutional right, who will dare to say that anywhere within the limits of this Union, any man is authorised to resist such action? Who dare to say that this remedy can be exercised only by virtue of force? Sir, all the privileges of freemen may be attempted to be suppressed by bad men, and will be, if they can, and if we have not the nerve and courage to repel such force and sustain ourselves in our constitutional rights - And, sir, there is no more reason why action on the part of this Convention, looking to a separation from another portion of the State, under the Constitution and laws of the land, should not be taken, than there is to resist, by force, the assertion of any other constitutional right. But those who would endeavor to alarm us and deter us from entertaining, and considering, and exercising this right by terming it revolutionary, make the assertion with nothing on earth to sustain it, that we are not in a state of preparation. Sir, we will never be in a state of preparation if we are not now. What means of defense or protection are we likely to have within the next six or twelve months that we have not to-day.

Mr. WHEAT called Mr. Carlile to order.

Mr. CARLILE. The gentleman will reduce his objections to writing.

Mr. WHEAT, after having done so: The gentleman from Harrison by extending his remarks beyond what is known as an explanation is arguing the merits of the proposition contained in his resolution and opening the door to general debate, and denying all other members the right to reply to his arguments, thus forestalling the independent action of the Committee.

Mr. CARLILE had understood the Chair to say if he confined himself to an explanation he was in order. He had been explaining the first and most important branch of his resolution, which is the peaceful constitutional right of this separation, as I have shown by authority. Any gentleman had the same right to discuss the question that he had.

The CHAIR said that any general debate was out of order until the Committee on State and Federal Relations had reported, but the gentleman had a right to make an explanation. The Chair thinks though he is now out of order.

MR. CARLILE. I will try to confine myself to an explanation. I desire to say that this resolution does not contemplate that all action shall be deterred until the country gets into a better state of preparation than now; and I desire to put the inquiry to the Convention, when will we be better prepared to avail ourselves of this constitutional right than now. After the 23d of this month it will not be a Constitutional right. We will have been transferred to the Southern Confederacy, and the Constitution of the United States, under the theory of those who advocate this doctrine of withdrawing from the Union at will, will no longer shield and support us; the soil upon which we stand will be no longer the soil of the United States; and if every member of the Legislature of Virginia, and every man, woman and child in the State were willing for our separation, the separation could not be made without the consent of the Montgomery government, and that could only be obtained by treaty and negotiations by ministers on the part of the two hostile governments, as they are now, and as they may remain. And no treaty negotiations can ever be had until the hostility ceases, and the Southern Confederacy is recognized by the Government of the United States. This is where we _____

Mr. LAZIER of Monongalia - It would certainly be better to leave the discussion of this until the report of the Committee.

The CHAIR said he felt compelled to arrest the discussion now.

Gen. JACKSON claimed the floor. He insisted that his motion to adjourn had precedence. Mr. Carlile, he said, was out of order.

Mr. CARLILE then appealed from the decision of the Chair, but subsequently, for the sake of harmony, as he said, withdrew the appeal and gave way for the motion to adjourn.

Gen. JACKSON withdrew his motion to adjourn, and on his motion it was ordered that all gentlemen who had propositions to submit to the committee on State and Federal Relation, be requested to hand them in, and that the committee be instructed to consider them. He then renewed his motion to adjourn till 2 o'clock, and the Convention then adjourned.


The Convention met at the appointed hour and was called to order.

Mr. LAZIER said he had just returned from the room of the committee on State and Federal Relations. The committee are not prepared to report now and will not be by 5 o'clock. I therefore move that the convention do now adjourn to meet this evening at 7 o'clock. The motion was put and the Convention adjourned.

Evening Session.

The Convention met at 7 o'clock, and the Chairman stated the first business before the body would be to receive the report of the Committee on State and Federal Relations.

George Porter
George Porter
G. M. C. PORTER, of Hancock, Chairman, reported on behalf of the Committee, a series of resolutions, comprising those offered in the morning session by Mr. Wheat, with the addition of the following:

Resolved, That in view of the geographical, social, commercial and industrial interests of North Western Virginia, we pronounce the policy of the Convention in changing the relation of the State to the Federal Government, and annexing us to the Confederate States, unwise and utterly ruinous and disastrous to all the material interests of our section, severing all our social ties and drying up all the channels of our trade and prosperity.

Resolved, That should the Ordinance of Secession be adopted, then we recommend to the several counties here represented, and all others disposed to cooperate with us, to hold elections at the several precincts therein, on the 4th day of June, 1861, for delegates to a General Convention, to be held at Wheeling on the 11th day of June 1861, to devise such measures, and take such action as the safety and welfare of Virginia may demand; each County to appoint a number of representatives to said Convention equal to double the number to which it will be entitled in the next House of Delegates; and that the Senators and Delegates to be elected on the 23d instant, to the next General Assembly of Virginia by the Counties referred to, be declared members of said Convention.

Resolved, That inasmuch as it is a conceded political axiom, that government is founded on the consent of the governed and is instituted for their good, and it cannot be denied that the course pursued by the ruling power in the State, is utterly subversive and destructive of our interests, we believe we may rightfully and successfully appeal to the proper authorities of Virginia, to permit us peacefully and lawfully to separate from the residue of the State, and form ourselves into a government to give effect to the wishes, views and interests of our constituents.

Resolved, That the public authorities be assured that the people of the North West will exert their utmost power to preserve the peace which they feel satisfied they can do, until an opportunity is afforded to see if our present difficulties cannot receive a peaceful solution and to express the earnest hope that no troops of the Confederate States be introduced among us, as we believe it would be eminently calculated to produce civil war.

Resolved, That ______ be appointed a Committee to prepare an address to the people of Virginia, in conformity with the foregoing resolutions, and cause the same to be published and circulated as extensively as possible.

MR. CARLILE moved to re-commit the report with instructions, and after reading the resolution which he offered in the morning's session, and submitting it as a resolution of instruction, proceeded to address the Convention at considerable length, in advocacy of the motion, and urging that the convention should take some action more effective than the mere adoption of paper resolutions. [We will at the earliest possible moment, publish a verbatim report of the speech of Mr. Carlile - Eds.]

After Mr. CARLILE had concluded, Mr. WILLEY obtained the floor and proceeded at great length to reply to the positions and arguments of Mr. Carlile. He said the proposition of Mr. C. was in violation of the law, and it was treason not only against the Constitution of Virginia, but against the Constitution of the United States. He ___ all the way through that such action would of necessity bring on war in our midst. After he had concluded,

On motion the Convention then adjourned to 9 o'clock to-morrow.

After the adjournment some one proposed three cheers for New Virginia, which went up with a wild and almost ferocious yell. Three more were given for Carlile, and the spectators and delegates dispersed.

May 13, 1861
May 14, 1861
May 15, 1861

Chapter Five: First Wheeling Convention

West Virginia Archives and History