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West Virginia is a Fixed Fact

There’s a lot of history packed into the sentence — “West Virginia is a fixed fact.”

The line comes from a journal belonging to Waitman T. Willey, a founding father and one of the Mountain State’s first U.S. senators. 

He wrote the sentence on March 31, 1863. To emphasize the importance of the declaration, he dedicated an entire line to the words — West Virginia — and wrote the letters twice the size as others on the page. 

Willey’s journal, along with his other papers, is preserved in the West Virginia and Regional History Center. 

Scott MacKenzie explains his perspective of events that led to West Virginia’s statehood.

Scott MacKenzie explains his perspective of events that led to West Virginia’s statehood.

Willey was probably still excited from the historic happenings a few days earlier, on March 26, 1863, when West Virginia ratified a revised constitution to include the gradual emancipation of slaves. This action reflected the state’s commitment to the abolition of slavery. 

And, of course, these actions followed President Abraham Lincoln signing the bill admitting West Virginia to the Union on December 31, 1862. Lincoln would later, on April 20, 1863, issue a proclamation that West Virginia would officially be recognized as the 35th state on June 20, 1863. 

On June 20 of this year, WVU Libraries and the WVRHC welcomed the University community and the public to celebrate West Virginia’s 160th birthday. 

Lincoln’s motivation in granting statehood was the focus of the program’s featured speaker, Dr. Scott MacKenzie, historian and author of “The Fifth Border State: Slavery, Emancipation, and the Formation of West Virginia, 1829-1872.” MacKenzie discussed how slavery influenced the founding of our state. 

“Contrary to long-held belief, long-standing political, social and economic grievances did not motivate the northwestern counties to reject Virginia’s secession in 1861,” MacKenzie said. 

He contends that its formation stemmed from the war and the issue of slavery. 

“Like the four other border states of Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland and Delaware, mostly conservative Unionists in northwestern Virginia heeded President Lincoln’s appeals to protect the institution and remained in the Union. They initially sought to form a new slave state. Yet, in early 1862, more radical Unionists took over the movement when Lincoln made emancipation a war aim. Their support for abolishing slavery led the president to reward West Virginia with its statehood,” MacKenzie said.