West Virginia Department of Arts, Culture & History

West Virginia Independence Hall in Wheeling to present sesquicentennial lecture “Secession from the Secessionists: Angry Western Virginians and the Fate of Virginia” May 21


A noted author, professor and historian will examine the discord that existed between eastern and western Virginians leading up to West Virginia’s birth as the nation’s 35th state beginning at 2 p.m. May 21 at the historic West Virginia Independence Hall (WVIH) in Wheeling.

William W. Freehling’s presentation “Secession from the Secessionists: Angry Western Virginians and the Fate of Virginia” is the second in a series of sesquicentennial programs, Virginia Secedes! The Beginnings of West Virginia Statehood. The event, followed by a reception, is free, and the public is invited to attend.

Besides examining the discord, Freehling will discuss the efforts and decisions of western Virginians after the Virginia Convention voted to secede from the Union on April 17, 1861. Many delegates from the western counties returned home and began organizing mass meetings that would ultimately lead to the formation of the Restored Government of Virginia, and West Virginia statehood.

Freehling is a senior fellow at the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and Singletary professor of the humanities emeritus at the University of Kentucky. He wrote a two-volume book titled Road to Disunion. The first volume is subtitled Secessionists at Bay, 1776-1854. Published in 1990, the book was a History Book Club main selection and a winner of the Owsley Prize.

His second volume, published in 2007, and subtitled Secessionists Triumphant, 1854-1861 was a main selection of the History Book Club, as well as a Washington Post Notable Book of the year and a New York Times Sunday Book Review Editor’s Choice. It earned him the Hodges Prize. Together with The South versus the South: How Southern Anti-Confederates Shaped the Course of the Civil War, which won the Jefferson Davis Prize, The Road to Disunion reinterprets the causes of the Civil War and of Confederate defeat.

These books, researched on a Guggenheim Foundation fellowship, brought to climax a lifetime’s work on the Old South, begun 40 years ago with the publication of Prelude to Civil War; The Nullification Controversy in South Carolina, which won the Nevins and Bancroft Prizes.

In 2009, the University of Virginia Press published Showdown in Virginia: The 1861 Convention and the Fate of the Union, which Freehling co-edited with Craig M. Simpson. The book is considered an important body of primary source material about the breakup of the Upper South in 1861.

Freehling’s latest book project is titled Lincoln’s Growth—and America’s.

For more information about “Secession from the Secessionists: Angry Western Virginians and the Fate of Virginia” and other Sesquicentennial programs, contact Travis Henline, site manager at WVIH, at (304) 238-1300.

West Virginia Independence Hall, originally built as a federal custom house in 1859, served as the home of the pro-Union state conventions of Virginia during the spring and summer of 1861 and as the capitol of loyal Virginia from June 1861 to June 1863. It also was the site of the first constitutional convention for West Virginia. Designated a National Historic Landmark in 1988, the museum is maintained and operated by the West Virginia Division of Culture and History, with the cooperation and assistance of the West Virginia Independence Hall Foundation. The museum is open daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Saturday, with the exception of major holidays. The museum is located on the corner of 16th and Market Streets in Wheeling.

The West Virginia Division of Culture and History is an agency within the West Virginia Department of Education and the Arts with Kay Goodwin, Cabinet Secretary. The Division, led by Commissioner Randall Reid-Smith, brings together the past, present and future through programs and services focusing on archives and history, arts, historic preservation and museums. For more information about the Division’s programs, events and sites, visit www.wvculture.org. The Division of Culture and History is an Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action Employer.



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