West Virginia Senate Resolution 2 is a fun bit of business.
It invites neighboring Frederick County, Virginia, to join West Virginia because of its strong “familial ties” to the seven Eastern Panhandle counties divided from its territory. The resolution’s principal sponsor, Sen. Charles Trump, R-Morgan, from up that way, reminds Frederick County that its right to switch allegiance is “lawfully and permanently reserved” by an act of Congress in 1862.
The 19th century is when Congress last actually did something. One of the cleverest political stunts in U.S. history resulted in the creation of West Virginia during the Civil War. After Virginia lawmakers voted to secede from the Union, agitators from the western counties organized to restore the Commonwealth to the Union and then gave themselves permission to form a new slave-free state to be called West Virginia.
A few counties were on the decision bubble. Berkeley, Jefferson and Frederick counties were the last to decide in 1863. Frederick alone voted “No, thanks.” Newspapers gave the county the nickname “Frederick the Ingrate.” OK, I made that last part up.
Now, 158 years later, Sen. Trump and the resolution’s co-sponsor, Sen. Sue Cline, R-Raleigh, are asking Frederick County to reconsider. Their resolution is picking up support. It has passed out of a House of Delegates committee.
Grounds for morning coffee conversation, I suspect, was the real goal of its authors. It also is picking up press attention along the lines of “Town Council Bans Mumbai Leopards from Public Streets” or “Slaw Dog Made Official West Virginia Wiener.” (My favorite: “Bluffton Heights Outlaws Spitting in the Wind”.)
All of this is classic fodder for the AP.
Of course, the conventional wisdom is that Frederick Countians would not ponder long the question, “Should I stay or should I go?” Frederick County Board of Supervisors Chairman Charles DeHaven Jr. reflected on the matter for three seconds: “Personally, though we have great respect for our neighbors in West Virginia ... I have zero interest in becoming part of West Virginia,” he told The Winchester Star.
Zero is not very much. Lurking within DeHaven’s few words is a seething resentment of the perfidious western Virginians who dared to depart, though, the world observed, for the noblest reasons. He speaks for his people. A recent poll, although unscientific, asked respondents to name their most hated state. Virginians singled out West Virginia for embittered contempt. West Virginians reciprocated the feeling.
(Personally, for the obvious reason, I have it in for South Dakota.)
All of which reminds me of another useful exercise in time-wasting. Imagine with me an alternative history. What would have happened, after helping to defeat slavery, had the western counties of Virginia stuck with the eastern counties, full of those pasty-faced, soft-handed, lying, cheating, manipulative overlords from Richmond and the Tidewater?
Things would be vastly different, wouldn’t they? Virginia by area would be larger than New York or Florida. Charleston would not have its soft cushion of government as a seat of political and economic power.
West Virginia University would not exist by that name. Nor would Morgantown likely have been selected as the site for a major land-grant institution. That means Bob Huggins would be coaching at Wichita State and the Mountaineers this week would not have beaten Texas like a dead cow.
I suspect Huntington would have become a much greater regional force than it is now. Richmond lawmakers, with the support of railroad magnate, Collis P. Huntington, would have poured money into tiny Marshall College to make it the western counties’ major university, turning it into something other than the Thundering Un-Heard-Of.
In a fit of regionalism and cost-saving, Richmond would have mandated the construction of the Midway Airport in Putnam County, a reflection in part of Charleston’s status as a distant second city.
Organized labor would not have flourished under Virginia rule. Richmond would have been ruthless in suppressing worker movements. They don’t call it the Old Dominion for nothing.
After the war, the Virginia Assembly would have voted to give Wheeling a time-out in its northern corner of the state for its opposition to secession, renaming it Dunce-Town.
The James River and Kanawha Canal, surveyed in part by George Washington to connect West Virginia to the Atlantic Ocean, might have been completed had Virginia not split. We all could be booking river cruises from Dunbar to Virginia Beach.
The writers of “Country Roads” would have kept Massachusetts in the lyrics of their eternally global hit song.
And I don’t imagine that eastern Virginians would somehow hate on western Virginians any less than they do now. I think it would be a sure thing that the cultural, political and economic divides defined by the spine of the Alleghenies would remain gaping and deep.