As I was reviewing my notes on West Virginia this evening, I noticed that I had highlighted a passage in John Alexander Williams’ book Appalachia: A History:
“The men who created West Virginia presented it to Congress as a slave state in the midst of the Civil War; when Congress rejected the proposal, the statemakers amended their constitution to end slavery with compensation to slaveowners and to prohibit all black people, slave or free, from settling within the borders of the new state.”
The original plan for West Virginia was to achieve the old Upper South dream of the White ethnostate:
“A controversial issue at the convention was slavery. Delegates ranged from slave owners to abolitionists. Gordon Battelle, a Methodist minister from Ohio County, called for a ban on importation of slaves into the state and for gradual emancipation. A compromise provided that no African-Americans, slave or free, could enter the new state.”
The following excerpt on Virginians and the colonization movement comes from the chapter “Toward a White Man’s Country” in Winthrop D. Jordan’s classic book White Over Black: American Attitudes Toward the Negro, 1550-1812:
“If there was one thread of development which showed how deeply Americans felt about Negroes, it was a campaign which developed in the 1790’s especially in Virginia for ridding the state (and the entire nation) of black men. Perhaps “campaign” is too strong a term for the wishful proposals which were so obviously doomed to failure, but it was the enormity of the obstacles rather than any weakness in the wish which kept the early colonization movement from accomplishment. …
Most Americans must have shared in some measure this half-conscious concern for retention of physiognomic identity. As Patrick Henry put it, “Our country will be peopled. The question is, shall it be with Europeans or Africans?” …
Thomas Jefferson of course did. When freed, the Negro was “to be removed beyond the reach of mixture” so that he would not “stain the blood of his master.” He disclosed in the Notes that the Virginia revisal of 1777 (in which he had been very active) had included an emancipation bill which provided that Negroes born free after a certain date “should continue with their parents to a certain age, then be brought up, at the public expense, to tillage, arts or sciences, according to their geniuses,” and then as young adults “be colonized to such place as the circumstances of the time should render most proper, sending them out with arms, implements of household and of the handicraft arts, seeds, pair of the useful domestic animals, etc. to declare them a free and independent people, and extend to them our alliance and protection, till they shall have acquired strength; and to send vessels at the same time to other parts of the world for an equal number of white inhabitants.” Throughout his life Jefferson never deviated from his conviction that Negroes must be “removed” when freed, nor from the ground for that necessity. Six months before he died in 1826 he closed the matter with an octogenarian’s finality: “The plan of converting the blacks into Serfs would certainly be better than keeping them in their present condition, but I consider that of expatriation to the governments of the W. I. (West Indies) of their own colour as entirely practicable, and greatly preferable to the mixture of colour here. To this I have great aversion; but I repeat my abandonment of the subject.”
Jefferson’s term for ridding America of Negroes was suggestive, for “expatriation” expressed precisely his desire to have Negroes out of his country. On this point his vision of an expanding empire for liberty in America was crystal clear: there was no social room for inclusion of Negroes. As newly elected president, prior to the Louisiana Purchase, he wrote glowingly of the future of his continent: “it is impossible not to look forward to distant times, when our rapid multiplication will expand itself … and cover the whole northern, if not the southern continent, with a people speaking the same language, governed in similar forms, and by similar laws; nor can we contemplate with satisfaction either blot or mixture on that surface.” Manifestly America’s destiny was white.”
THIS IS WHAT THOMAS JEFFERSON REALLY MEANT BY THE ETERNAL PRINCIPLES OF CLASSICAL LIBERALISM WHICH IS THE ESSENCE OF THE AMERICAN FOUNDING IDEAL:
In reality, this idea of racial separation from blacks was pushed by Thomas Jefferson who was an Anglo-Saxonist until the day he died. The Virginia state legislature banned the settlement of free blacks in 1793, endorsed the removal of blacks from Virginia in 1804 and 1805 and along with Maryland, Kentucky and Tennessee appropriated money to colonize blacks in Africa in 1816. The colonization movement culminated in the founding of Liberia which has a capital named after President James Monroe.
Jefferson’s revisal of the laws of Virginia also called for banishment of White women from Virginia who had mulatto children with blacks:
“If any white woman shall have a child by a negro or mulatto, she and her child shall depart the commonwealth within one year thereafter. If they shall fail so to do, the woman shall be out of the protection of the laws, and the child shall be bound out by the Aldermen of the county, in like manner as poor orphans are by law directed to be, and within one year after its term of service expired shall depart the commonwealth, or on failure so to do, shall be out of the protection of the laws.”
As was the case all over Appalachia, there was a regional divide on slavery in Virginia with people like Thomas Jefferson in the Piedmont and the western side of the state where there were significantly fewer slaves feeling the most strongly about emancipation and colonization.
The following excerpt comes from Daniel Walker Howe’s book What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848:
“Without the governor’s support, the emancipation-colonization program stalled in Virginia’s House of Delegates. Thirty-nine-year-old Thomas Jefferson Randolph, grandson of the late president, gave it cautious endorsement. So did the editors of the state’s two leading newspapers, Thomas Ritchie of the Richmond Enquirer and John Hampden Pleasants of the Richmond Constitutional Whig. Both sides in the debate agreed that Virginia should be a white person’s country and that a substantial free colored population constituted a security risk. (Much was made of the fact that some free Negroes had joined Turner.) Conservatives conceded that the state would be better off with fewer slaves and a more industrial-commercial economy, but argued that the domestic slave trade would suffice to drain off surplus black laborers from Virginia to the trans-Appalachian Southwest, without legislative intervention. After prolonged debate, on January 25, 1832, the House voted 67 to 60 that “further action for the removal of slaves should await a more definite development of public opinion.” By this fateful procrastination, Virginian statesmanship abdicated responsibility for dealing with the state’s number one problem. When the Civil War came thirty years later, Virginians would still be divided; the great slavery debate of 1831 foreshadowed the bifurcation of the Old Dominion into Virginia and West Virginia.”
When West Virginia was admitted to the Union in 1863, it came in with the expectation of fulfilling its dream of becoming a White ethnostate after the abolition of slavery and its separation from Tidewater. Instead, it turned out that West Virginia’s fate was to swiftly become an industrial colony of Northern capital in the Reconstruction and New South eras.