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Proceedings of the
First Wheeling Convention
May 13, 1861

Forenoon Proceedings
The Convention of Delegates from 27 Western Virginia Counties assembled in this city at Washington Hall, yesterday at 11 o'clock. On motion of C. D. Hubbard, Maj. WM. B. ZINN, of Preston county, was called to the chair. Hon. John S. Carlile, of Harrison, conducted Mr. Zinn to the chair. Mr. Zinn returned thanks for the honor conferred upon him in appointing him temporary chairman of the Convention, craved the indulgence of the house, and said he would discharge the duties to the best of his humble abilities. (Applause.) GEO. R. LATHAM, of Taylor, was appointed temporary secretary. On the suggestion of Gen. Jackson, of Wood, Rev. Peter T. Laesterley [Laishley] offered a prayer. In the course of his prayer he said: George Latham
George Latham
Peter Laishley
Peter Laishley
"May the Almighty grant that the stars and stripes of the flag of our country erve wave over all this land, from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and from Maine to the Gulf of Mexico. O may those who would plunge us into the horrors of civil discord be overreached by the omnipotent arm of Almighty God. O do Thou grant, we pray Thee, that this Convention, met here for the purpose of consulting upon the best interests of our own beloved Virginia may act promptly, decisively and harmoniously. May it act with reference to peace principles and the universal happiness of our citizens and the country at large."

Gen. JACKSON, of Wood county, then moved that any gentleman who was present from any county of Northwestern Virginia, be received as a delegate for such county, and be invited to take a seat on the floor of this Convention.

JOHN S. BURDETT of Taylor county, moved to amend by including gentlemen from the Valley.

Hon. J. S. CARLILE said he trusted that it would be the pleasure of his friend from Wood to withdraw the proposition. I would defer upon any and all occasions to his better judgment, where there was a doubt upon my own mind; but sir, I trust that this is to be a deliberative body; I trust that it is to be a body composed only of gentlemen who come clothed with the authority conferred upon them by the people of their counties when they appointed them. I would not wish to prevent any gentleman from Northwestern Virginia, or anywhere else, from taking a seat on this floor, or from listening to the deliberations of this body; but I desire, whatever act may be performed here by this Convention, shall be sanctioned by the authority of the people. In my county, at least, they selected the men to whom they entrusted the high and important interests which they believed to be involved in the call of this Convention. I trust, therefore, the motion will be withdrawn, and the first thing we will do will be to provide for a permanent organization of this body, by the appointment of a Committee on Credentials, who will report to the body those gentlemen who are really the representatives of the people. John S. Carlile
John S. Carlile
General John Jay Jackson
General John Jay Jackson
GEN. JACKSON said he would with great pleasure adopt the suggestion of Mr. Carlile, but he could not see the force of it, but thought it would be difficult to discover who the real representatives of the people were. It may be that there has been a lot of individuals at the Court Houses who may have acted on the nominations of those who have been sent here. He said, on behalf of the delegation from Wood county, that they were prepared to take the responsibility of acting as delegates, though they were not appointed as such. He had no doubt the gentlemen had been sent here by a proper and responsible body, but if we are to take great and momentous action let us have our whole people with us. Let us take solemn deliberation, and reach a conclusion we will be able to stand by in the hour of triumph. He declined to withdraw the proposition.

MR. CARLILE said, in reply, I regret exceedingly that I am compelled, as the Gentleman refused, to withdraw the motion, to appeal to this body to vote it down. It is unfortunate, sir, that at the very threshold of our proceedings there should be a division of sentiment exhibited, and if I did not conceive that the adoption of this motion would prove fatal to every step he may hereafter take, I should certainly have remained quiet in my seat. I do not go upon presumptions, Mr. Chairman, I am here by the voice of the legal qualified voters of my county, greater than was given to me at the polls on the 6th day of last February, at the election for delegates to the Virginia Convention. All my colleagues are here by the same voice and power. No Court House cliques in my county sent delegates here. It is the Court House cliques that have thus far brought this good old State to the very brink of ruin; and has it now bristling with bayonets from the Chesapeake to the Blue Ridge, and across to the mountains of the Alleghanies. Sir, I look upon this body as possessing all the power it could possess if it were a legislative body, elected under the forms of law - and who ever heard of a legal deliberative assembly being composed of gentlemen who may happen to be present from the various counties in the State in which they reside? Sir, we want a deliberative body. We come here as the accredited representatives of the loyal people of Virginia, and we intend, I trust, before we go away as such, sent here by such a voice and power, to put our feet upon the usurpations of power that have been exercised in the last two weeks. I trust it will be the pleasure of the Convention to proceed (applause) as a deliberative body, and that none will act in this body save and excepting those who have been sent here by their people. Our fellow-citizens who are here can occupy the rear of the hall, and they can see what is going on and give us the benefit of an outside pressure, as has been done elsewhere for our injury and enslavement. (Applause.)

Gen. JACKSON wished to ask a question - How are we, said he, to ascertain who are the accredited members of this Convention?

Mr. CARLILE. My answer is this - When we get a permanent Chairman and Secretary, we will appoint a committee who will tell us.

Mr. JACKSON. Until there is some authority to appoint a President, there can be no President. I do not know that I am a member here. When you go into a Convention you appoint a Committee on Credentials - but can they devise any plan to find out whether I am here by authority or not? I am a citizen of Northwestern Virginia, and thought my friends here would be glad to see me. There can be no legal means whatever to determine by what authority a gentleman can be here. I wish to include all the gentlemen who are here from any counties in this part of the State, and also from Frederick and Berkly counties. Mr. Jackson referred to the precedent set by Rucker, in the Convention that nominated Polk.

Mr. CARLILE said that the illustration given by the gentleman was a most unfortunate one. I hope the gentleman does not desire to Ruckerize this Convention, as he will do if his proposition is adopted by this body.

Mr. JACKSON said he spoke of the Rucker case as a precedent.

MR. CARLILE said: we are proceeding here without anything like order. You do not know who is here. There may be "a chiel amang ye takin" notes. I trust the same disorder will not be presisted in, but that the legal and parliamentary precedents, which have been resorted to in England, in this country, and in all countries where deliberative bodies have assembled, will be followed by this Convention. There are gentlemen here who have served in the Legislature of our own State, and gentlemen who have been in Congress, and those who have been in the Conventions of our State, and is there one who has had any parliamentary experience that does not know that the suggestion that I indicated, and trusted would be acted upon by this body, is the precedent that has always been followed. You meet and, for the mere purpose of calling the body to order, put some one in the chair. The next step is to elect a permanent presiding officer and Secretary, whose business it is to record your proceedings, and who is responsible for them. The next is to appoint a Committee on Elections, and that committee reports to the body who are entitled to seats in it. I trust we shall follow this precedent here. And that the grave authority that always clothes every deliberative body will clothe this one. I may be enthusiastic - I may be ahead of the times, or I may be behind the times, but I believe, as much as I believe in the existence of a God, that our own salvation, and it may be the salvation, and it may be the salvation of our whole country depends on the deliberations of this body, and its action, and I want it to go abroad all over the land, with every sanction of our people, and with all the prestige that parliamentary usage can give it.

JNO. J. JACKSON, Jr., of Wood, made some remarks favoring the proposition of Gen. Jackson. He knew counties where meetings had been held appointing any good Union men as delegates who might happen to be present at the Convention. Such had been the case in Wood county, and said the adoption of the suggestion of Mr. Carlile would disfranchise all the gentlemen from Wood. Judge John Jay Jackson
Judge John Jay Jackson

MR. CARLILE said the proceedings of the meeting in Wood would be before the Committee on Credentials, and whoever the Committee appoints as delegates will be entitled to seats on the floor.

Mr. JACKSON made some further remarks in favor of the proposition, saying that he did not understand that the Convention was here for the purpose of forming a Provisional Government, but for deliberation and conference.

Mr. CARLILE again replied, urging that the deliberations of the Convention should be conducted in order, and in accordance with the usual forms and precedents of such bodies. Have we merely met here, he continued, to consult and then adjourn and go home. If this be true, I have no further interest here. The people whom I represent expect that we will never adjourn till their safety is secured beyond a doubt in the Union and under that flag (cheers). If we temporise now and consult and adjourn to come back here again, before that day arrives, you will have sworn allegiance to the rattlesnake flag. That is the true condition in which we are now placed. Mr. Carlile continued at some length to speak of the urgency of instant action.

Francis Pierpont
Francis Pierpont
MR. PIERPOINT, of Marion, made some remarks in a general way, and concluded by suggesting to Gen. Jackson the propriety of withdrawing his motion, to make room for another, a Committee on Credentials be appointed of one from each county, and let the delegation report to that Committee the Delegates from the counties, and when we vote upon resolutions it will be on the basis of the population of the counties.

Gen. JACKSON said he had no sort of objection, but according to the proposal of the gentleman from Harrison, all those delegates not formally appointed would be excluded. A convention such as that gentleman wanted would not have such an effect as it would to admit the mass of those who had come here as citizens rather than as delegates. It would not look so much like an upheaving of the people.

After some further running debate between Messrs. Carlile, Jackson and others,

Mr. BURDETT, of Taylor, said he for his part did not come here to talk. He came here for action. While we are talking the chains have already been forged for us, and the bayonets are threatening invasion. In my town of Grafton, Letcher has ordered his troops to rendezvous. I tell you it is no time now to debate and evince feeling. I trust there will be no more of this, but calm, solemn, stern deliberation, and a resolve to do what is right to defend and protect ourselves. John Burdett
John Burdett
Chester Hubbard
Chester Hubbard
After some remarks by Mr. Tarr, of Brooke, C. D. Hubbard of Ohio county, moved that a committee, composed of one member from each county represented on this floor, be appointed, to whom shall be referred the subject of presentation; and also the nomination of permanent officers for the Convention, which motion was adopted and the committee appointed.

Mr. SENSENY, of Frederick, said he had come up through the dangers that environed a Union man in his part of the State, and he would be glad to be permitted to act as a delegate from that county, although not formally appointed.

On motion of GEO. H. KIDD, of Preston,

Resolved, That the Convention adjourn till 3 o'clock p.m., and in the meantime each delegation from the different counties represented here shall report to the President one of their number, who shall represent them on the Committee on Representation and Permanent Organization.

On motion, it was ordered that each delegation from the respective counties meet as soon as possible, to consult as to the selection of members of the Committees.

The Convention adjourned to meet again at 3 p.m.

Afternoon Session

3 O'Clock P.M.

The Convention reassembled at the appointed hour, and Mr. Flesher of Jackson county, Chairman of the Committee on representation and permanent organization, submitted the report of that Committee partially as follows: The nomination for permanent President, Dr. John W. Moss, of Wood County, a list of Vice Presidents, the names of whom the reporter was unable to procure; and Secretaries, Col. Wagner, of Mason; M. M. Dent, of Monongalia, and ___Chandler, of _____.

The Committee asked to be allowed further time for the consideration of the credentials of members.

On motion, the report as far as made was adopted.

On motion of Mr. CARLILE, Messrs. Pierpoint of Marion and McNeal of Monongalia were appointed a committee to conduct the President to the chair.

Dr. MOSS, on taking the chair, said: Permit me to express my grateful acknowledgements for the very distinguished honor you have conferred upon me in selecting me to preside over the deliberations of this highly respectable body. It is hardly necessary for me to say that the occasion which has called us together is one of no ordinary character.

We have met for the purpose of considering the unhappy condition of our country, and particularly of deliberating calmly and dispassionately upon the position Northwestern Virginia should assume in this momentous crisis of our country's history.

John Moss
John Moss

Pardon me for saying, gentlemen, that the destinies of thousands are involved in result of your action here, and permit me, therefore, to express the hope that your deliberations will be conducted with that solemnity befitting the occasion, and that they will be characterized by that harmony and conciliation so necessary to the success of any movement that may be inaugurated by this Convention, I again thank you, gentlemen, for the honor you have conferred upon me!

On motion it was ordered that the Clergymen of this city, be requested to alternate in opening each day's session of this Convention, with religious exercises.

MR. BURDETT, moved the appointment of two Door Keepers, and a Sargent-at-Arms. And on motion of Mr. Pierpoint, the Committee to Superintend the Hall, was requested to make the selection.

The following gentlemen were appointed, Sargent-at-Arms, James R. Ewing; Door Keepers, A. Clemens and R. Higgins.

Mr. CARLILE offered the following, resolution:

That when this Convention adjourns today, it adjourn to meet on to-morrow, and on each succeeding day while in session, at 10 o'clock a.m.

On motion of Gen. Jackson, the resolution was amended by adding, "to adjourn at 12 o'clock m., and reassemble at 2 o'clock p.m.," and as amended was then adopted.

MR. WILLEY offered a resolution similar in purport to one offered by Mr. Tarr, relative to the appointment of a Committee on Federal Relations, and laid on the table previously, but no action was taken.

GEN. JACKSON of Wood, obtained the floor for the purpose of defining his position which he did in a speech of such great length as to preclude the possibility - together with the lateness of the hour of the adjournment, of giving a report of it here. He was opposed to the Convention taking any definite or decisive action; thought it would be premature, and would be revolutionary and altogether unwise. He was in favor of the Convention passing a series of resolutions expressive of its sense of the wrongs of the Northwest, and their adjourning at least until after the election, and urged that meanwhile the counties should be canvassed to defeat the Ordinance of Secession. When this had been done and every peaceable method of defense exhausted he would then go in for a division of the State. He characterised the policy indicated by Mr. Carlile as calculated to place the North West at once in the midst of a civil war. He believed we might, after a while, and by going about it in the right way, effect a peaceable division of the State, but he argued that the people of the interior counties were not ripe for it yet.

Mr. BURDETT interrupted at one point and asked - supposing in the mean time, while thus waiting, Letcher should throw his troops into this part of the State to intimidate the Union men and carry the election by violence and force, as they will do in the East, what he proposed to do in such a case. We must meet this emergency now, said Mr. B. (Applause.) Are we to wait till a military despotism pervades our country from one end to another, and freemen's mouths are closed and you threatened with ropes around your necks?

After Mr. Jackson had concluded his address, Mr. Carlile replied at some length. He said that if he had supposed the deliberations of this body were to be limited to the adoption of a few paper resolutions, he should not have endured the fatigue, and passed the many sleepless nights, and expended the hundreds of dollars he had for the furtherance of what he supposed would be the action of this Convention - in furtherance of the efforts that are necessary to maintain the liberties of a patriotic people. (Applause.)

Need my friend from Wood be informed that the day has gone by for plunging the people of the Northwestern part of this State into revolution, as he terms it. We are already in a revolution not by our own act, but that of the usurpers of the people's power sitting in dark conclave at Richmond. I presume it was the mission of this body, to devise such measures as would protect us from the consequences which must inevitably flow from that usurpation. (Applause.) We are the only portion of this State, that is not now under a military despotism. The order has gone forth and is even at this hour being executed, by which we are to share the same fate that has been imposed on other portions of the State. The Soldiers have been ordered to rendevous at various points in this part of the Commonwealth.

No people ever remained free or ever will, that were not willing to spill their last drop of blood for the maintenance of their liberty. No people who contented themselves with paper resolves while bayonets were bristling all around them, and war had been brought up to their very doors as rapidly as it could be ever maintained their freedom in this way. Show yourselves worthy to be free; and while I am not a professor of religion, yet I have the confidence which a pious mother instilled into me to believe that the Almighty, who seems to be distrusted now, will come to our aid and protect us in our freedom.

Sir, when has there even been in the whole records of the past such an utter contempt on the part of any despot, for the people, as has been exhibited here in what was once free Virginia, by the Richmond Convention: You determine at the polls, by a vote of more than 50,000 of a majority, that no act of that Convention could change your relations with the Federal Government without first being submitted to you; and before even the Ordinance is passed, they place you in hostility to that Government.

He proceeded to show in answer to what Gen. Jackson said about canvassing, that in many counties such a thing was not permitted, as in many counties even in the Northwest, the military was in the hands, and under the control of Letcher and Union meetings were broken up and Union speakers not allowed to address them.

GEN. JACKSON wished to know how prompt action would overcome the difficulty.

MR. CARLILE - Let this Convention show its loyalty to the Union, and call upon the government to furnish them with means of defence, and they will be furnished. (Applause) There are 2,000 Minnie muskets here now (Cheers), and more on the way, thank God, (Cheers).

I went on last Tuesday, after an absence of twelve days from home, without ever stopping there, to Lewis county, where they have been under a system of intimidation; and despite the threat of arms and mob, and the charge of the judge to hang me for treason. I addressed that people and they are represented here today, and if they are not intimidated they will give 1,000 majority against the ratification of the ordinance of secession.

Let us act; let us repudiate these monstrous usurpations; let us show our loyalty to Virginia and the Union; and let us maintain ourselves in the Union at every hazard. It is useless to cry peace when there is no peace; and I for one will repeat what was said by one of Virginia's noblest sons and greatest statesmen, "Give me liberty or give me death!" (Great and continued applause.)

The Committee on Credentials then made their supplemental report, showing duly accredited delegates from the counties of Hancock, Brooke, Ohio, Marion, Monongalia, Harrison, Preston, Wood, Ritchie, Lewis, Upshur, Gilmer, Wirt, Jackson, Mason, Wetzel, Pleasants, Barbour, Hampshire, Berkley, Taylor, Tyler, Doddridge, Roane, Frederick, and Marshall; and reting the following resolution:

Resolved, That the President be authorized to present cards of admission, to the floor of this Convention, to such citizens from other parts of the State now in attendance, as sympathize with the objects of this Convention, and are good and true friends of the Union.

Resolved, That each member of this committee present to the secretaries of this Convention a fair list of the delegates now in attendance from the county represented by such member in this Convention.

Resolved, further, That the vote of the Convention upon any question, when demanded by twenty-five members, shall be taken by giving to each county the aggregate vote cast by such county at the last Presidentials election, such vote to be given by the chairman of the county delegation. On all the questions the vote shall be taken per capita.

Campbell Tarr
Campbell Tarr
Mr. TARR, of Brooke, then offered the following resolution, which was adopted:

Resolved, That a committee of one member from each county represented here be appointed by the President as a Committee on State and Federal Relations, to whom shall be referred all resolutions of this body looking to action by the Convention.

The following is the Committee appointed by the President in accordance with the foregoing resolution.

C. Tarr, Brooke; W. T. Willey, Monongalia; Jno. S. Carlile, Harrison; Gen. J. J. Jackson, Wood; Chas. Hooton, Preston; Dan'l Lamb, Ohio; Geo. Mc. Porter, Hancock; Jos. Ma___, Mason; D. D. Johnson, Tyler; James Scott, Jackson; Geo. W. Bier, Wetzel; R. C. Holliday, Marshall; A. S. Withers, Lewis; E. T. Fraham, Wirt; F. H. Pierpoint, Marion; S. Dayton, Barbour; Geo. S. Senseney, Frederick; John S. Burdett, Taylor; A. R. McQuillen, Berkely; S. Cochran, Pleasants; J. E. Stump, Roane; S. Martin, Gilmer; ___Rohrbaugh, Upshur; Capt. O. D. Downey, Hampshire; ___Foley, Ritchie.

MR. WILLEY, of Monongalia, being entitled to the floor, proceeded to deliver a speech of great length, which for reasons already enumerate, we are compelled to omit. He occupied substantially the same grounds taken by Gen. Jackson, and was followed by Campbell Tarr, of Brooke, who reviewed his positions and those of Jackson with a good deal of severity. He declared boldly for the position taken by Mr. Carlile; that the time for compromises and talk had passed; that now nothing but decisive and prompt action could avert the impending dangers. This was the time to strike, and he knew a response to that declaration would come up from the entire valley of the Ohio to the Alleghenies. Waitman T. Willey
Waitman T. Willey

The Convention then adjourned.

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

Chapter Five: First Wheeling Convention

West Virginia Archives and History