Date of Graduation
Several questions leap to mind when one thinks of West Virginia during the Reconstruction period. What effects did the state's unique history of admission into the Union have upon the postwar period? How do the histories of West Virginia and the southern states compare during Reconstruction? How did West Virginia deal with its former Confederates? How does West Virginia's history compare with that of other border states? What led to the end of Reconstruction in West Virginia? In order to answer these questions, one must investigate the background of West Virginia's statehood movement, the political structure of the state and how its government functioned under native Unionists and Republicans during the greater part of the Reconstruction era. One must look at the attitudes toward the large segment of ex-Confederates in the state's population and the proscriptive laws that were directed toward them. Within this context, an examination of other border states which escaped military Reconstruction and how they dealt with ex-Confederates and how they bought Reconstruction to an end is in order. The dynamics of West Virginia politics must be understood and the evolution of those politics from statehood through Reconstruction must be studied. In order to address these questions and issues, it was convenient to place the Civil War and statehood period into context with Reconstruction in West Virginia. If considered as the unique state that it was, West Virginia can be considered the product of a revolution from Virginia. Indeed, much of its Reconstruction history involved its attempts to retain and strengthen its own identity and build a separate economy. If the statehood movement, Civil War, and early Reconstruction years are considered the radical, reactionary phases of the revolution, then the later Reconstruction years, during which a moderation in policies toward ex-Confederates, greater concern for the economy, and refining of government structure took place, comprise the conservative, stabilizing phase which characterizes successful revolutions. In addressing the questions and issues of Reconstruction in West Virginia, it was also necessary to seek insight from the writings of government, members of both political parties, former Unionists and Confederates, business leaders, and ordinary citizens from letters, diaries, newspapers, and government documents of the time. Answering these questions meant combining political, social, and economic history. The conclusions that were reached emphasize West Virginia's unique status. With a comparatively small black population and little of the past of slavery to overcame, racial issues did not motivate Reconstruction politics on the same scale as in southern states or even in other border states. While the question of black suffrage did surface, it became an issue largely in the context of states' rights. West Virginia, also experienced the phenomenon of a hybrid movement toward the end of Reconstruction that consisted of Republicans, Democrats, and old Whigs. No general coalition of political parties led the way. In fact, some members of each political group opposed the cooperation that ended Reconstruction. Finally, West Virginians were motivated by many factors in bringing Reconstruction to a close, not the least of which was a perceived need for economic cooperation. Like many other states during the period, railroad politics greatly influenced West Virginia. In summation, West Virginia's Reconstruction experience does not fit into any mold and was mostly affected by its own past and internal dynamics.
Gooden, Randall Scott, "The completion of a revolution: West Virginia from statehood through Reconstruction." (1995). Graduate Theses, Dissertations, and Problem Reports. 8929.