The Division of Virginia
Wheeling Daily Intelligencer, December 28, 1860
Mr. CHARLES W. RUSSELL, in yesterday's Union, comes out over his own signature and endeavors to throw cold water on the suggestion of the Ritchie county correspondent of the National Intelligencer, in favor of a division of the State at the Blue Ridge, in the event that Eastern Virginia, for her own selfish ends, will persist in dragging us into a Cotton Confederacy.—Mr. Russell thinks very contemptuously of the suggestion, says that it has been a standing threat for twenty years by discontented people, and once or twice it has been brought forward "by public meetings in Western Virginia, under the influence of temporary chagrin." If those who look to Mr. Russell for advice in times like these are satisfied with the very cavalier and indifferent manner in which he disposes of the proposed division of the State, they are easily satisfied, and are not the calibre of minds to spend much time on, and Mr. Russell did well to say as little as possible to them. But Mr. Russell's treatment of the subject will not answer for another kind of people—a kind who have no special disposition to take his opinions on trust by reason of his antecedents, but who would on that very account call for the full measure of evidence by which he came to his own conclusions. Mr. Russell does not address himself to people of this kind. They are among the discontented whom he ignores. He doubtless thinks that if he shall satisfy the minds of those politically allied with him it will be quite enough for all practical purposes, when the vote comes to be taken on the question of Union or Disunion. And we believe that those who are thus easily satisfied on a question that so nearly affects their immediate interest, will be quite as easily operated on when the great question comes before us, as probably it will ere long.—Our hope is, however, and our belief, too, that the kind and class of people, allied with Mr. Russell, are not in a majority in Western Virginia. God save the Commonwealth, if they are. Mr. Russell knows much better than we can tell him, that the movement for a division of this State dates back respectably both in point of time and origin. It had no less an advocate than Phillip Dodridge in his day, and his distinguished colleague from Brooke county, in the Virginia Convention of 1829, in private opinion, was equally favorable to it. If we are not mistaken, it had, and now has, the weight of judge Summer's name; and we know of many more less distinguished names that we could give, were it necessary to the consideration of the question. But it is not. It was not necessary to the minds of those whom we have quoted that the question should, have any prestige of opinion in its favor. And it is not any more necessary now. The question comes up on its naked merits, and on them it ought to stand or fall. One single clause like that of the twenty-second article of our State Constitution, kills at sight a dozen letters like that of Mr. Russell's. Another provision whereby it is arranged that Western Virginia, with an excess of some one hundred and thirty thousand white people, is practically disfranchised in the Virginia Senate, is quite enough to kill a dozen more. Mr. Russell cannot write down stubborn facts, nor yet can he presume upon the opinion that the people are ignorant of them. We are and have long been the complete vassals of Eastern Virginia. We are taxed unmercifully and increasingly, at her instance and for her benefit. True, she finds ready sympathizers in the west here, to second many of her movements. It is not to be doubted that were we of the West to show a united front in opposition to her demands, and in manly resentment of the degrading inequalities which she has imposed on us, that we would soon effect a reformation. And that is just exactly what many good men in the West have been laboring for years to bring about. It is such counsels as those of Mr. Russell, that help to prevent it, by endeavoring to reconcile us to the yoke of the task-masters. Mr. Russell says that the West could prevent these grievances by putting forth her whole strength. Exactly so. And why does not Mr. Russell join in with Western Virginia and ally himself with her sentiment and her interest, instead of singing hossanahs to Eastern Virginia. It is such influences that operate to encourage Eastern Virginia and to strengthen her hands, and she will never abate one jot or tittle of our rights to us, while she finds allies like Mr. Russell. Never.
But it was not especially to go into any consideration of the merits of the question of division, that we took up Mr. Russell's letter. Probably, if we had not seen some remarks on the subject, by a writer in the Parkersburg News, we should not have noticed it. The writer we presume to be a Democrat, though evidently not one of Mr. Russell's kind. In the course of his remarks he says:
In my former article I stated that in the event of the dissolution of the Union, Western Virginia had no interest in common with South Carolina; that even should the State join the Southern seceding States, yet such a Union would be of short duration as to Western Virginia. I am prepared to hear the mean suggestion of the probable disintegration of Virginia denounced as treasonable and the author of it branded as an abolitionist; such being the favorite epithet applied by the disunionists to every man who has the independence to dissent from their treason to the Union.
Western Virginia, from its geographical position, must ultimately unite with the States in the valley of the Mississippi.
There is nothing in this quotation that strengthens our position on the subject, any further than that it shows how useless it is for Mr. Russell to deceive himself or other people, as to the insignificance of this movement for a division of the State. It is a general movement, not a local one, and it is advocated by men of all parties outside the ranks of those Who are in favor of secession. In further support of this fact, the last Richmond Whig contains the following letter from a Western Virginian:
STATE CONVENTION—A HINT FROM WESTERN VIRGINIA
To the Editor of the Whig.—I see you are in favor of a State Convention, and I beg leave to suggest to you an influence which will be sure to bring it about.—Western Virginia desires very earnestly an amendment of our State Constitution on the subject of taxation, and a movement was in contemplation for that purpose before the breaking out of the present difficulties. If a Convention is called for any purpose, one of its first duties will be to deal with this important subject, and to establish the finances of the State upon a footing of equality and justice toward all the interests and all of the sections of the State.
As an earnest of the purpose of the East to make this just concession, gracefully and cheerfully, they will be called upon to organize the Convention upon the basis of representation in the present House of Delegates.
A fair understanding on this subject will contribute greatly to that unanimity of action on the part of Virginia which is so greatly to be desired.
If we had space, or rather if the stirring events of the day did not crowd our columns so entirely, we could each day serve up communications, both from our readers and our cotemporaries of the Western Virginia press, showing how wide spread is this feeling for a division of the State. Many of the opinions are based on artificial grounds—that is, on the oppressive legislation with which the West has been visited. But several of them, and among them our own, are based on natural grounds—on the fact of a great, irremediable, geographical and climatic difference between the two sections. We are as much two people and even more than those living on the two sides of the Alps.—If we are not, it follows that Eastern Virginians and Western Pennsylvanians are a united, homogeneous people, because, as we said yesterday, the God of Nature made us a part of Pennsylvania, while the surveyors, by accident or design, made us a part of Virginia. We have the same sort of weather with Western Pennsylvania. It snows here when it does there, it rains here when it does there, it is a drouth here when it is there; their creeks, and hills, and valleys are parts of our own, are filled with a like kind of deposit, yield about the same kinds of grain, and sustain, in every particular the same kind of life. All this applies to us and the people of Western Pennsylvania. But none of it applies to us and the people of Eastern Virginia. We hardly speak the same language with them.—They talk about us as "New Virginia" when we are over there, and the most of them know as little about us, and we about them, as Asiatic Russia knows about European Russia, and there is not near as much sympathy between us. Men live and die—not a few either, but a majority—in the two sections, who never have crossed the boundaries. The Capital of the State, Richmond, is a far off place where there is little that is common to us of Western Virginia. How could a country, possessing geographical features so wholly different from this, and in which are nearly a half million slaves, be very sympathetic with us? Manifestly, it is impossible. All the unequal burdens of the institution, all its dead weight, all of its corroding effect on labor and enterprise, without any, or but a meagre fraction of its benefits, fall upon the West. These are suggestive facts—facts which some day, and that most likely before long, we will have to look in the face. If secession is pleasing and profitable for Eastern Virginia, and she is persuaded that her future lies in a Cotton Confederacy, let her go—but let her understand that she goes without the West. We conclude with the following quotation from the Wellsburg Herald:
The conspirators in Virginia in preparing their plot must not count too surely upon the co-operation of the whole State; the Legislature may pass what laws it will in violation of the Federal Constitution and may even resolve us out of the Union, they will neither be regarded nor will this section of the State leave the Confederacy. If the worse come to the worse, the Panhandle, if no more, with her population of 48,000 whites, almost equal to Florida, will attach to Pennsylvania.