On June 13, 1861, a committee led by John Carlile of Clarksburg presented a Declaration of Rights of the People of Virginia to the Second Wheeling Convention.
The convention was the first major step toward West Virginia statehood, and the declaration is perhaps the most significant document in our state’s history.
Coming only two months after the start of the Civil War and Virginia’s vote to leave the Union, Carlile’s declaration branded Virginia’s secession as “a usurpation of the rights of the people” and charged the convention and governor with forcing Virginia citizens into “an illegal confederacy of rebellious states.”
The Declaration of Rights, signed by 86 of the 100-plus delegates, was grounded in the Virginia Declaration of Rights of 1776 and the state constitutions of 1830 and 1851. It provided a rationale for forming a Virginia state government that would remain loyal to the Union.
From 1861 until 1863, this Reorganized Government of Virginia was based in Wheeling’s Custom House, now known as West Virginia Independence Hall. The Reorganized Government, on behalf of Virginia, authorized the formation of the new state of West Virginia.