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The Civil War: The Senate's Story

Election of Virginia’s First Civil War Senators

When Virginia seceded from the Union in April 1861, a pro-Union countermovement in the northwestern part of the state sought to keep Virginia loyal to the Union and to maintain representation within the federal government. Claiming that secession from the Union was not lawful, a restored “rump” government organized in Wheeling under the governorship of Francis Pierpont and claimed jurisdiction over the whole state. The rump Virginia general assembly elected two new United States senators to replace the two who had withdrawn in support of the Confederacy.

With the seating of Virginia senators Waitman T. Willey and John S. Carlile on July 13, 1861, the Senate affirmed the validity of the restored pro-Union government in Virginia. “The loyal men of Virginia have elected a legislature and seek representation in the Congress of the United States,” argued Senator Lyman Trumbull of Illinois in a spirited debate over seating the two men. “They are entitled to representation here.” In the Senate, Willey and Carlile advocated statehood efforts by the northwestern portion of Virginia, which led to the formation of the state of West Virginia in 1863.

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