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Introduced Version House Concurrent Resolution 49 History

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HOUSE CONCURRENT RESOLUTION 49

(By Delegates Rowe, Walker, Pushkin, Hansen, Fleischauer, and Hornbuckle)

[Introduced March 15, 2021]

 

Designating February 3 as Freedom Day to memorialize the February 3, 1865, Act by the            Legislature that abolished slavery in West Virginia.

Whereas, In the State Constitutional Convention of 1862-1863, the Rev. Mr. Gordon Battelle of Ohio County introduced resolutions that banned enslaved persons from entering the state and provided for the gradual and equitable removal of slavery from the state on a future Fourth of July. Despite Battelle’s and a few delegates’ best efforts to secure approval of the proposal, the convention gagged any committee or convention action. Some delegates simply opposed freeing enslaved persons, and others feared what effect adoption might have on congressional passage of a statehood bill. Four border slavery states might oppose the statehood bill with emancipation provisions. The convention ducked the issue by only prohibiting additional enslaved persons and free persons of color from permanent residence in the state; and

Whereas, When the West Virginia Bill was introduced into the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, statehood supporters soon discovered that passage was improbable without adequate provisions affecting slavery. Eventually Senator Waitman Thomas Willey of Morgantown introduced an amendment written by Rep. William G. Brown of Kingwood that children born of enslaved persons after July 4, 1863, would be free and no enslaved person shall be permitted to come into the state for permanent residence. Senator James Henry Lane of Kansas successfully amended the Willey proposal to provide a more comprehensive emancipation. Enslaved children under 10 years of age on July 4, 1863 would become free at 21, and those over 10 and under 21 on the same date would become free at age 25. The Brown/Lane/Willey Amendment became part of the final West Virginia bill signed by President Abraham Lincoln subject to its adoption by a reconvened constitutional convention. The convention adopted the Brown/Lane/Willey Amendment in February 1863, and voters ratified the amended Constitution in March; and

Whereas, West Virginia entered the federal union as a slavery state. It had a slavery code adapted from the Virginia model governing chattels. No enslaved person born previously to July 4, 1863, could be free until 1867. Enslaved persons over 21 on the operable date remained enslaved persons. Without subsequent action, the Mountain State might have had slavery until World War I; and

Whereas, Before final enactment of the statehood bill in December 1862, President Abraham Lincoln and his administration developed a policy to deal with slavery in rebellious states and areas. On Sept. 22, 1862, after the battle of Antietam, he issued a preliminary Emancipation Proclamation that promised that the enslaved persons would be freed in the rebellious states when conquered if the areas continued their insurrection. The proclamation excepted the 48 counties of West Virginia and Berkeley County from its provisions. Therefore, the final Emancipation Proclamation issued January 1, 1863, applied in West Virginia only to Jefferson County, which had more enslaved persons than any other county; and

Whereas, During the war, individual African Americans in West Virginia possessed agency outside of legislative halls and executive offices. Considerable numbers of enslaved persons emancipated themselves by fleeing from their owners, often to neighboring free states such as Pennsylvania and Ohio, and some enlisted in the Union Army; and

Whereas, As the Union Army seized more and more Confederate territory and applied the promise of the Emancipation Proclamation, President Lincoln, Secretary of State William Henry Seward, and many Republican congressional leaders perceived the inconsistency of enslaved persons becoming free in the south while the institution continued in the loyal Border States and the loyal areas excepted from the operation of the Emancipation Proclamation. They proposed the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that prohibited slavery and involuntary servitude in the U. S. and in any place subject to its jurisdiction; and

Whereas, Informed West Virginians could anticipate what the future held for slavery when the U.S. Senate passed the amendment in April 1864. The proposal failed to secure the necessary two-thirds majority for passage in the House in June. Proponents continued to push congressmen for support of the measure until it passed on January 31, 1865. The next day, slightly more than two months before the rebel surrender at Appomattox, President Lincoln signed the joint resolution submitting the amendment to the states for ratification; and

Whereas, The Third West Virginia Legislature was prepared to act to free enslaved persons. On January 23, 1865, it had instructed the state’s senators and representatives to favor the amendment to abolish slavery. It also appointed a joint legislative committee to inquire into the expediency and constitutionality of immediately abolishing state slavery and to report an appropriate bill or otherwise; and

Whereas, Three days after presidential submission, the Legislature adopted the appropriate resolution ratifying the Thirteenth Amendment. On the same day, the body abolished slavery immediately in the state. The majestic words were: “All persons held to service for labor as enslaved persons in this state, are hereby declared free” and “There shall hereafter be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude in this State” except as punishment for a crime; and

Whereas, During the momentous events of a devastating civil war, West Virginia had established itself in 1863 and became a free state before national ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment on December 18, 1865. Because of Emancipation Day, February 3, 1865, for Mountain State whites and African Americans there was no return to a society that existed in 1861”. This resolution quotes “W. Va.’s Torturous Path to Emancipation” by John E. Stealey, Distinguished Professor, Emeritus, of History at Shepherd University which appeared in the Charleston Gazette-Mail, March 8, 2015, at pp. 1C and 4C; and

Whereas, Americans of all colors, creeds, cultures, religions, and countries-of-origin share in a common love of and respect for freedom, as well as a determination to protect their right to freedom through democratic institutions. There are memorials to freedom and independence observed in America annually that culminates with the 4th of July. “Until All are Free, None are Free” is an oft-repeated maxim that can be used to highlight the significance of the end of the era of slavery that existed in West Virginia on February 3, 1865; therefore, be it

Resolved by the Legislature of West Virginia:

That the Legislature hereby declares February 3 as Freedom Day to memorialize the February 3, 1865 Act by the Legislature that abolished slavery in West Virginia; and, be it

Further Resolved, That the Clerk of the House forward a copy of this resolution to the West Virginia Delegation in the United States House of Representatives and the United States Senate, all the members of West Virginia House of Delegates and Senate.

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