October 15, 1850: Virginia Constitutional Convention

Joseph Johnson, represented Harrison County in the 1980 Virginia Convention.

On October 15, 1850, Joseph Johnson of Harrison County called the Virginia Constitutional Convention to order. The convention had been a long time in the making. For years, residents of western Virginia had felt neglected by the state government in Richmond. This was due in large part to the region’s under-representation in the state legislature, which because the eastern part of the state could use its large slave population to inflate its number of delegates despite the fact that slaves had no legal rights. Beginning with the 1840 census, western Virginia’s white population surpassed the rest of the state. Still, western Virginia had fewer representatives in the legislature.

In 1850, Virginia lawmakers met to address these concerns. The new constitution, adopted the next year, based representation in the lower house on white population. As a result, western Virginia was able to take control of the House of Delegates for the first time ever. Although the new constitution eased some of the West’s concerns, it would be too little, too late. Western Virginia, frustrated by many years of neglect, would split away from Virginia during the Civil War.