CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Former Virginia governor and Confederate Gen. Henry A. Wise once said West Virginia was the "bastard child of political rape."
And to this day, constitutional scholars still debate to what extent statehood was achieved through extralegal political means to advance the Union effort during the Civil War.
But it is a historical fact that West Virginia's founders, along with President Lincoln and Congress, went to great lengths in 1861-63 to ensure that the formation of the nascent state would pass constitutional muster.
That's because statehood proponents knew that enabling language was in the U.S. Constitution and could be traced back to the very beginnings of the republic when the plight of western Virginians helped determine how it was written.
Indeed, the legal foundation for West Virginia statehood was specifically advocated by Luther Martin, a little-known and much-derided founding father who represented Maryland in the Constitutional Convention in 1787.
As delegates argued the merits of population-based bicameral representation, Martin focused on the "unreasonableness of forcing ... the people of Virginia beyond the mountains, the western people ... to continue under the states now governing them, without the consent of those states to their separation."
To Martin, the U.S. Constitution needed to be written to provide representative protection to the "western country of Virginia" to stanch the powerful aristocratic landowners in the east who'd most assuredly oppose separate statehood at a later date.
As a result, framers serving on the Committee of Style compromised by leaving the door open to the Old World concept of "rump states" as memorialized in Article IV, Section 3:
"New states may be admitted by the Congress into this Union; but no new state shall be formed or erected within the jurisdiction of any other state; nor any state be formed by the junction of two or more states, or parts of states, without the consent of the legislatures of the states concerned as well as of the Congress."
As a result, the very framers of the national constitution formally recognized then-existing grievances of western Virginians, et al, and even foresaw a move toward statehood should Virginia "still keep the injured parts of the states in subjection" as Martin stated.
Almost prophetically, decades later animosity between western Virginia and tidewater delegates was so great that state constitutional reforms were enacted during the Virginia Convention of 1829-30 -- but the "injured parts of the state" continued to endure underrepresentation in Richmond as only nominal changes were codified.
Dissatisfaction with the new Virginia Constitution was such that western Virginia delegates Philip Doddridge and Alexander Campbell warned that disparities between the slaveholding interests and those of the mountain people would continue to create political unrest.
Underscoring the fact in 1851, American statesman Daniel Webster publicly stated that should Virginia ever secede from the Union, a new state would form from the western counties.