Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Type



Eberly College of Arts and Sciences



Committee Chair

Brian Luskey

Committee Co-Chair

Jason Phillips

Committee Member

Kim Welch


This thesis evaluates how West Virginia's perceptions of debt and dependency were formed and contributed to the state's political economy throughout the nineteenth century. As a part of the Virginia Commonwealth, western Virginians used antebellum political debates to independently control regional resources and seize the political prestige of connecting the nation's east to the nation's west. When eastern Virginians seceded from the Union in 1861, western Virginians saw an opportunity to claim their independence. Secessionist and unionist support provided the political chaos necessary for western Virginians to declare their independence. Political uprisings sprouted up throughout western Virginia. Northwestern Virginia's pro-Union leaders vowed to support northern efforts. The addition of western Virginia to the Union provided President Lincoln with an important war measure to weaken the Commonwealth and contribute to a pressing demand for troops and resources. However, before western Virginians could seize their independence, they were asked to reconcile a debt. Virginia's antebellum investments, which western Virginia supported to varying degrees, generated an unresolved public debt of over {dollar}30 million at the start of the Civil War. Prior to and after achieving statehood, western Virginians engaged in political debates over the public debt and how it should be addressed. Perceptions of debt were both deeply political in the nineteenth century and contributed to the formation of West Virginia's political economy. West Virginians engaged in debates over investment and capital that collided with concerns over lost reputation and dependence. This thesis is organized into three chapters that evaluate how public debt emerged as a central factor that influenced political perspectives in West Virginia from 1820 to 1920. Antebellum political debates over banking policies, internal improvements and the justice system shaped western perceptions over public investment and financial obligations. During the Civil War and the march towards statehood, West Virginians shifted their processes for accumulating, acknowledging, and reconciling debt issues. West Virginia shifted its dependent relationship to the federal government and northern investors interested in a Union victory. Postbellum debates over resolving antebellum and wartime debts led to a prolonged dispute among the former Commonwealth factions and debates over how the outstanding debt should be resolved. The dispute was finally resolved through the intervention of the United States Supreme Court in the early twentieth century. West Virginia's failed legal arguments reaffirmed a political inferiority that provided a foundation for the state's postcolonial political economy throughout the nineteenth century and reflected the state's inherent dependence on other political bodies.