June 20, 1863 – West Virginia Joins the Union as the 35th State


West Virginia is the only state created by carving out territory from another state without that state’s permission. Historically, the original state of Virginia had been marked by numerous sectional differences between the eastern and western parts of the state. When Virginia voted to submit a secession bill to the people in April, 1861, delegates from the west of Virginia left the Secession Convention, vowing to form their own state government loyal to the Union. On October 24, 1861, residents of thirty-nine counties in western Virginia approved the formation of a new Unionist state.

Map of Virginia and West Virginia in 1863

Map of Virginia and West Virginia in 1863

The vote for the state’s new name took place at a constitutional convention on December 3, 1861. The final vote was:

For “West Virginia” 30.
For “Kanawha” 9.
For “Western Virginia” 2.
For “Allegheny” 2.
For “Augusta” 1.

When Congress addressed the statehood proposal, Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner demanded an emancipation clause to prevent the creation of another slave state. The matter was finally settled by the so-called Willey Amendment which read:

The children of slaves born within the limits of this State after the fourth day of July, eighteen hundred and sixty-three, shall be free; and all slaves within the said State who shall, at the time aforesaid, be under the age of ten years, shall be free when they arrive at the age of twenty-one years; and all slaves over ten and under twenty-one years, shall be free when they arrive at the age of twenty-five years; and no slave shall be permitted to come into the State for permanent residence therein.”

The Senate approved the statehood bill in July of 1862. The House passed the act in December, and Lincoln signed the bill into law on December 31, 1862. The citizens of West Virginia still had to approve the bill as amended, which they did on March 26, 1863. On April 20, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln signed a proclamation, effective in sixty days, admitting West Virginia into the Union as the 35th state. You can read his proclamation here. 

Today, West Virginia is often called the southern-most northern state and the northern-most southern state.


Among other interesting facts about the state, it is the site of a 112,544-square-foot two-story bunker underneath the Greenbrier resort at White Sulphur Springs that was designed to house the entire United States Congress and support staff for 40 days in the event of a nuclear attack. As The New York Times reported:

Putting the bunker under the Greenbrier was President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s idea. He often visited the resort to hold high-level conferences and shoot golf with Sam Snead. The federal government was building scores of ’emergency command and relocation centers,’ boring into bedrock or carving out mountains in a wide arc around the nation’s capital from Pennsylvania to North Carolina. The Greenbrier, almost 250 miles southwest of Washington, was far enough away to survive a nuclear attack on the city, yet easily accessible by road, rail and air.”

Construction began in 1958 and was completed in 1961. It was maintained in a constant state of readiness by a small group of government employees working undercover as Forsythe Associates, a company hired by the resort for audio/visual support services. It included a 25-ton blast door, decontamination chambers, a power plant and tanks for water and fuel storage, a medical clinic, and more.

A dormitory in the former fallout shelter under the Greenbrier resort in West Virginia. Credit Scott F. Smith for New York Times

On May 31, 1992, The Washington Post published an article which exposed the facility. As a direct result, the U.S. government began de-commissioning the bunker and ended the lease agreement with The Greenbrier in 1995. The bunker is now open to anyone interested in taking a tour.


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