Abolishment of Slavery
in West Virginia

[Extract from proceedings of the West Virginia House of Delegates, February 1, 1865]

Wheeling Intelligencer
February 2, 1865

The House was opened with prayer by the Rev. Mr. Blakeny.

The House bill making an appropriation to discharge the liabilities of the West Va. Hospital for the insane, was read a third time, and passed.

The House bill for the abolishment of slavery in this State, was read a third time and put upon its passage.

Mr. Patrick said that most of the slaves in the State were old and infirm, and perfectly useless to their owners. If they are declared free they will have to be provided for in some way. It was merely a question of humanity. His own servants - all who were efficient - went off in '62, leaving only two old and infirm slaves. One of these became infatuated with freedom not long since. The speaker fitted her out and she went to Ohio. She returned in a short time, saying she had once belonged to Gov. Giles, and had met with no sort of respect in Ohio.

Mr. Keller believed slavery was a curse to the nation, but he didn't believe it was competent or constitutional for the Legislature to pass the bill, for we have no right to take private property for public use without just compensation. Besides, he was not willing to be taxed for the support of negroes that the slaveholders had worked to death.

Mr. Downey had decided in his own mind to vote against the bill. There were features in it that he did not like. He had been opposed to slavery all his life, but had always been opposed to meddling with it. He said we had no right to take the property of any man, without compensation. He said there were men in the House, and out of it, who would denounce him as a Copperhead, but he opposed the bill conscientiously. As had been well remarked, only the old and infirm servants remain, and they will be well treated by their masters, who are bound to take care of them. Mr. Downey, in conclusion, alluded to a negro boy who had run off from Fairmont, and returned recently to that place, remarking that the people of Ohio did not know how to treat a Virginia gentleman.

Mr. Holman said that the boy alluded to came back because he thought he was free, his master, a rebel, having in the meantime, died.

Mr. Adams opposes the bill on account of its ucconstitutionality [sic]. It would be declared void by the supreme court of the State.

Mr. Riddle, in speaking to the humanity side of the question, said that if the slave owners had half the charity that their friends attribute to them, they certainly would not turn their old and infirm servants out upon the cold world after having had the benefit of their services for lo! these many years. There was not a solitary word in the constitution to prevent the Legislature from passing the bill. In regard to the matter of compensation, he said the opponents of the bill contended that all the good negroes are gone. What then, are we expected to pay for? Something that is perfectly valueless? Certainly not. He thanked God that he had the privilege of voting for the bill. He should record his vote for weal or woe, and old Bony (the name by which he was known at home,) would never shrink from it.

Mr. Pinnell opposed the bill at some length, addressing himself to the unconstitutionality of the bill and the absence of any proposition to compensate owners for the slaves designed to be liberated.

Mr. Gilmore said the subject was worn out. We are all sick of it. The bill will pass by a handsome majority, and no new light has been or is likely to be thrown upon the subject. He hoped the useless discussion would close at once.

Mr. Greggory spoke in favor of the bill.

Mr. Van Winkle opposed the bill for the reason that in his judgment it was not competent, under the constitution, for the Legislature to take the action proposed. He was no friend of slavery, but he could not conscientiously give the proposition his support in its present shape.

Mr. Ferguson said that he had hoped that the members would be allowed to vote upon the subject without discussion, and but for the fact that the friends of the bill might seem to be overwhelmed by the immense volume of light that had been thrown upon the subject, he should say nothing. He said that gentlemen whose hearts were overflowing with the milk of human kindness would be permitted to take care of their old and infirm slaves in case of the passage of the bill, just as they are at present. The gentleman from Kanawha, (Mr. Patrick) could continue to support the illustrious relic of Gov. Giles, to whom he had alluded. Those who favor the constitutional amendment and who at the same time speak of the inhumanity of emancipation, forget that it is quite as inhuman to emancipate by constitutional amendment as by bill. In regard to compensation, the speaker said that the President's proclamation had made no provision for compensation even to the loyal owners of slaves. It is not safe for us to trust to the action of Congress in this matter. If Congress adopts the proposed amendment to the Constiution [sic] of the United States it will require the sanction of three-fourths of the States of the Union, and there was no telling when the great object would be accomplished. If it was right to abolish slavery in West Virginia there is no reason why we should not do it at once, no matter what Congress proposes to do.

Mr. Ferguson then proceeded to discuss the question of the constitutionality of the bill, showing that the legislature had just as much right to abolish slavery as if the constitution had been silent upon the subject. He admitted that slavery was practically dead in the State, but we still have all the odium of the institution and none of its benefits. We should therefore get rid of it as speedily as possible and the bill was the speediest and best way to do it. The institution is driving capital and energy out of the State and we should not cling to it a day longer.

Mr. Patrick said he had been an advocate of the gradual abolition of slavery for thirty years. He only spoke now as to the expediency of adopting this measure at this time. He had no doubt of the power of the Legislature to pass the bill.

Mr. Lamb said the members had had ample time to examine the subject and he did not suppose any vote could be changed by anything that might said. It was not a question as to the right or wrong of slavery. It was not a question as to whether we should get rid of the institution. Nobody doubts that. The question is whether it is proper for us under the Constitution and our oaths to pass the measure in the shape in which it is presented to us. Mr. Lamb alluded to the section of the Constitution which defined and restricted the right of suffrage. It provided that "white male citizens" &c., should be entitled to vote, thereby plainly prohibiting a black citizen or a female citizen from exercising the right. In that respect it was precisely like the seventh section in regard to slavery, which provides that certain slaves shall be free at certain ages, the affirmative implying a negative. It was true that a single case would settle the Constitutionality of the question before the Supreme Court, but we could settle it much more readily and surely by a constitutional amendment. As to the danger expressed that the rebels would come back and vote the proposition down before the people, that matter would not be mended by the passage of the bill. If the rebels ever get this power they will have the power to send men to our Legislature to wipe out the bill from the statute book.

Mr. Ferguson replied to the parallel run by Mr. Lamb in the remarks of that gentleman, between the constitutional provision as to the right of suffrage and as to slavery. Because the constitution provides that slavery shall be abolished in a certain way, is no argument that it shall not be done in any other way. If the constitution had intended to fasten slavery upon the infant State, it would have said so in plain terms.

Mr. Goff announced his intention to vote against the bill, because he believed it to be unconstitutional. He had been accused for thirty-five years of being an abolitionist. If he were the autocrat of all America, he would wipe the word slavery from all our statute books, but he was not sufficiently clear as to the legality of the bill, and could not vote for it.

Mr. Scott spoke with reference to the constitutionality of the bill and said he should vote for the measure before the House. He was satisfied of the competency of the Legislature to act in the premises, and he believed the passage of the bill would result in great good in inviting enterprise and capital, and in developing the resources of the State. If there was any doubt upon the subject we should give those who need freedom the benefit of it.

The question was then taken upon the passage of the bill, with the following result:

Yeas - Boggs, Casto, Cox, Crooks, Dyche, Ferguson, Fleming, Galloway, Gilmore, Gorrell, Greggory, Hagar, Hinchman, Holman, Little, Lough, Mairs, Michael, McWhorter, Patrick, Riddle, Scott, Segur, Smith, of Hancock, Smith, of Berkeley, Trainor, Wells, Wilson, and (Mr. Speaker) Kramer. - 29.

Nays - Adams, Bonar, Cather, Goff, Hale, Keller, King, Kyle, Lamb, Morris, McGrew, Parks, Peterson, Phares, Pinnell, Stephenson, Van Winkle. - 17.

Absent - Messrs. Alexander, Barns, Cassaday, (has not yet taken his seat) Hyer, (has not yet taken his seat) and Koonce. Mr. Downey paired off with Mr. Chapline, a friend of the bill who was absent.

African Americans

West Virginia Archives and History