August 22, 1872: West Virginians Narrowly Ratify a New State Constitution

Aug 22, 2017

On August 22, 1872, West Virginians narrowly ratified a new state constitution by less than 5,000 votes, while rejecting a separate proposal that would have restricted office-holding to whites only.

This 1872 version of the constitution, our state’s second, remains in effect today, with amendments. The first state constitution was approved in 1863, just before West Virginia became a state.

On August 22, 1872, West Virginians narrowly ratified a new state constitution by less than 5,000 votes, while rejecting a separate proposal that would have restricted office-holding to whites only.
Credit E-WV / WV Humanities Council

The revised constitution of 1872 didn’t change a lot from the original. After the Civil War, the legislature had severely restricted former Confederates from voting, holding office, or using the court system. This effort—in a state bitterly divided over the Civil War—created widespread dissent. In the early 1870s, these restrictions were removed, and Democrats—many of them former Confederates—took control of the legislature and organized a new constitutional convention.

There was much radical debate at the convention—even as to whether a U.S. flag should be placed in the hall. In the end, though, the new constitution wasn’t very revolutionary. Most significantly, it upheld the right of blacks to vote and seek public office and maintained a free, but segregated, public school system.