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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.

Written by Otis K. Rice


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

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