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Guest Writer, Maricia Mlynek

Last Friday was the celebration of West Virginia Day. Many businesses and government buildings were closed and employees were granted a holiday in recognition of the statehood of West Virginia.

I am a new citizen of the state, and this holiday was unfamiliar. To understand the celebration of my new state’s birthday, I had to do a bit of studying. I confess that I have much to learn and there was no better time than West Virginia Day to begin.

Being from Ohio, I was taught that West Virginia separated from Virginia over slavery. I have come to understand that perhaps that lesson is not the entire story.

On June 20, 1863, West Virginia became the 35th state in the Union. It was indeed a state born out of the conflict of the Civil War. I have read several differing ideas behind the cause of this separation and formation of the state, but I believe the three primary reasons West Virginia wanted to break away from Virginia were inequality in taxation, unequal representation in the legislature, and unequal distribution of funds for public works.

It seems to me that problems between the eastern and western parts of Virginia began as early as the adoption of the Virginia State Constitution. At that time, voting rights were granted only to white males owning at least 25 acres of improved or 50 acres of unimproved land. This discriminated against the emerging class of small land owners in western Virginia. The constitution also delegated a disproportionate representation in the General Assembly, which created more conflict.

As the conflict continued between east and west, the beginning of the Civil War heightened the friction even more. When the questions of Virginia’s position came to a vote, the majority cast their ballots to join the newly-formed Confederate States of America. Of the 47 delegates from western Virginia, 32 (more than two-thirds) voted against leaving the Union.

Those opposing the separation immediately began work on a “Restored Government,” and on June 20, 1861, this new form of government pledged its support to the federal government in Washington. Within the next year, “Restored Government” passed an act giving formal consent to the formation of a new state.

On May 29, 1862, a bill was presented to the U.S. Congress requesting that a new state be formed and admitted to the Union. The bill was passed and signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln on Dec. 31, 1862. On Apr. 20, 1863, Lincoln issued a proclamation through which, 60 days later, West Virginia would become a state. June 20 is now observed as “West Virginia Day,” a legal holiday.

Happy birthday, West Virginia! Though born in a tumultuous time, your spirit and determination remain strong and true. There is nothing simple about our statehood or our people. From the crooked edges and mountainous boundaries of her borders to the whitewater of her rivers, West Virginia is unique and separate. She never really belonged as part of her mother state of Virginia. She needed to be her own entity just as her people needed to be their own. The state motto puts it best, “Montani Semper Liberi (Mountaineers are always free),” and independent and free she will always be.

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