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SharePrint Declaration of Rights of the People of Virginia

One of the most important steps on the road to West Virginia statehood was the vote, 88 to 55, of the Virginia secession convention on April 17, 1861, to take Virginia out of the Union. Of the 47 delegates to the convention from Western Virginia, only 15 voted for secession. Most of the western delegates hastened home, and John S. Carlile of Clarksburg took the lead in arousing resistance to secession. The Clarksburg Convention, promoted by Carlile, and numerous mass meetings led to the First and Second Wheeling Conventions in May and June, respectively.

At the first session of the Second Wheeling Convention (June 11–25, 1861), Convention President Arthur I. Boreman appointed a committee of 13 to prepare an agenda for the meeting. The committee presented a Declaration of Rights of the People of Virginia, which drew upon principles that were in the Virginia Declaration of Rights of 1776 and reiterated in the Virginia constitutions of 1830 and 1851. The committee report branded the calling of the secession convention by the General Assembly ‘‘a usurpation of the rights of the people’’ and charged the convention and the governor with an attempt to separate the people of Virginia from the United States and force them into ‘‘an illegal confederacy of rebellious states.’’ The Declaration of Rights, signed by 86 of the 100-plus delegates, provided a rationale for legitimizing a reorganization of the Virginia government on the basis of loyalty to the Union, a crucial step in the process by which West Virginia achieved statehood two years later.

The following is the text of the Declaration:

The true purpose of all government is to promote the welfare and provide for the protection and security of the governed, and when any form or organization of government proves inadequate for, or subversive of this purpose, it is the right, it is the duty of the latter to alter or abolish it. The Bill of Rights of Virginia, framed in 1776, reaffirmed in 1860, and again in 1851, expressly reserves this right to the majority of her people, and the existing constitution does not confer upon the General Assembly the power to call a Convention to alter its provisions, or to change the relations of the Commonwealth, without the previously expressed consent of such majority. The act of the General Assembly, calling the Convention which assembled at Richmond in February last, was therefore a usurpation; and the Convention thus called has not only abused the powers nominally entrusted to it, but, with the connivance and active aid of the executive, has usurped and exercised other powers, to the manifest injury of the people, which, if permitted, will inevitably subject them to a military despotism.

The Convention, by its pretended ordinances, has required the people of Virginia to separate from and wage war against the government of the United States, and against the citizens of neighboring State, with whom they have heretofore maintained friendly, social and business relations:

It has attempted to subvert the Union founded by Washington and his co-patriots in the purer days of the republic, which has conferred unexampled prosperity upon every class of citizens, and upon every section of the country:

It has attempted to transfer the allegiance of the people to an illegal confederacy of rebellious States, and required their submission to its pretended edicts and decrees:

It has attempted to place the whole military force and military operations of the Commonwealth under the control and direction of such confederacy, for offensive as well as defensive purposes.

It has, in conjunction with the State executive, instituted wherever their usurped power extends, a reign of terror intended to suppress the free expression of the will of the people, making elections a mockery and a fraud:

The same combination, even before the passage of the pretended ordinance of secession, instituted war by the seizure and appropriation of the property of the Federal Government, and by organizing and mobilizing armies, with the avowed purpose of capturing or destroying the Capitol of the Union:

They have attempted to bring the allegiance of the people of the United States into direct conflict with their subordinate allegiance to the State, thereby making obedience to their pretended Ordinance, treason against the former.

We, therefore the delegates here assembled in Convention to devise such measures and take such action as the safety and welfare of the loyal citizens of Virginia may demand, having mutually considered the premises, and viewing with great concern, the deplorable condition to which this once happy Commonwealth must be reduced, unless some regular adequate remedy is speedily adopted, and appealing to the Supreme Ruler of the Universe for the rectitude of our intentions, do hereby, in the name and on the behalf of the good people of Virginia, solemnly declare, that the preservation of their dearest rights and liberties and their security in person and property, imperatively demand the reorganization of the government of the Commonwealth, and that all acts of said Convention and Executive, tending to separate this Commonwealth from the United States, or to levy and carry on war against them, are without authority and void; and the offices of all who adhere to the said Convention and Executive, whether legislative, executive or judicial, are vacated.

This Article was written by Otis K. Rice

Last Revised on January 12, 2023

Related Articles


Ambler, Charles H. & Festus P. Summers. West Virginia: The Mountain State. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1958.

Hall, Granville Davisson. The Rending of Virginia. Chicago: Mayer & Miller, 1902.

Lewis, Virgil A. How West Virginia was Made. Charleston: News-Mail, 1909.

Cite This Article

Rice, Otis K. "Declaration of Rights of the People of Virginia." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 12 January 2023. Web. 18 June 2024.


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