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Remembering one Wheeling editor's fight for statehood

While my career as a bush league reporter will almost certainly not be remembered 150 years from now, barring a direct hit from falling space debris while covering an airport board meeting, the same can't be said for Wheeling newsman Archibald Campbell.

Probably no one had more to do with advancing the cause of West Virginia Statehood than the Wheeling Daily Intelligencer editor, who was just 30 years old when the 35th state entered the union.

Campbell became editor of the Wheeling paper at the ripe old age of 23, and quickly earned a reputation as a maverick. It was tough time, and a tough place, in which to be a social liberal, which in Campbell's time meant being a Republican.

Shortly after taking the editorial reins of his paper, New York Tribune Editor Horace Greeley was banned from delivering an anti-slavery lecture in Wheeling. Next, a Baptist minister in that city was banned from teaching reading to black children in his Sunday school class. Later, an Ohio County grand jury was asked to look into allegations that anti-slavery Republicans were, in effect, enemies of the state of Virginia.

Campbell bucked that trend from the get-go, editorializing against slavery and making the Daily Intelligencer the only newspaper in Virginia to support Abraham Lincoln's candidacy for president. He opposed Virginia's secession from the union, and became one of West Virginia statehood's earliest and most ardent supporters.

His paper gave blanket coverage to the statehood conventions in his hometown, backed Gov. Francis Pierpont and the Restored Government of Virginia in Alexandria and fought to keep slavery out of the charter for the new state of West Virginia. Lincoln credited a telegram crafted by Campbell and Pierpont with convincing him to get off the fence and sign West Virginia's statehood bill after Congress approved it.

After the war, Campbell railed against proposed laws that would have restricted the voting rights of those who fought for the Confederacy, and spoke out against legislation that would have enabled former Union Army commander Ulysses S. Grant to serve a third term.

"It is no exaggeration to say that no state owed a man so much and paid so little of the obligation; that no man worked so unselfishly for the consummation of an object and received so few of the rewards," the Wheeling Intelligencer wrote following Campbell's death in 1899.

The obituary went on to say that the Wheeling editor, "a man of punctilious probity," shrank from personal publicity, and "during his entire career as a journalist, even in the most heated political controversies, never willfully misrepresented a foe." How many pundits and bloggers of today can say the same?


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