The New State of Kanawha

August 20, 1861 – Delegates to the second session of the Second Wheeling Convention approved a measure seceding from Virginia and bundling the state’s northwestern counties into the new state of Kanawha.

Proposed State of Kanawha | Image Credit:
Proposed State of Kanawha | Image Credit:

The delegates reconvened their legally questionable convention at Wheeling, 10 miles west of the Pennsylvania border, after adjourning in June. While the members had previously considered declaring the Virginia government null and void because it had seceded from the Union, the members in this session instead proposed an Ordinance of Separation from Virginia. Delegates set up a Committee on the Division of the State that included one member from each of the 35 northwestern counties being represented.

The committee submitted its Division of the State Ordinance on August 13, which shifted the focus of debate from whether to secede from Virginia to how many counties would secede. The ordinance absorbed all Virginia counties in the Shenandoah Valley and along the Potomac River into the new state of New Virginia (later renamed Allegheny).

Most delegates supported forming the new state, but some urged postponement for now. Postponement was rejected a week later when the majority approved an “ordinance of dismemberment.” Delegates also reached a compromise on the number of counties to secede; they would begin with 39 counties of northwestern Virginia and add any other adjacent county if its residents voted to join.

Extensive debate took place over what the new state’s name should be, as many delegates did not like the names “New Virginia” or “Allegheny” proposed the previous week. A suggestion of “West Virginia” was also rejected. Finally, the name “Kanawha” was approved by a vote of 48 to 27.

The secession of “Kahawha” from the rest of Virginia violated Article IV, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution (“no new States shall be formed or erected within the Jurisdiction of any other State… without the Consent of the Legislatures of the States concerned as well as of the Congress”). But the delegates approved the move nonetheless and resolved to submit the ordinance to the people in a popular election scheduled for October 24.


Sources; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 69-70; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 110; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 298; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 816-17; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q361

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