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John S. Carlile: The Rogue Delegate

June 20, 2013
dsp By SARAH HARMON - Staff Writer , The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

A native of Winchester, Va., John S. Carlile played one of the most controversial roles in the formation of West Virginia.

Born in 1817, Carlile did not attend school and instead was taught at home by his mother.

He began his career as a clerk for a dry goods store before he began studying law and was admitted to the bar in 1840. Carlile set up a law practice in Beverly, Va., and later moved it to Clarksburg.

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JOHN S. CARLILE

Carlile was elected to the Virginia Senate in 1847 and served at the state's Constitutional Convention in Richmond.

Carlile was bitterly opposed to Virginia's secession from the Union and moved back to Clarksburg after they approved the secession.

Carlile took the lead in writing the "Declaration of the People of Virginia" at the Second Wheeling Convention that declared the state offices of Virginia vacant in order to elect new representatives from the "Restored Government of Virginia," which remained loyal to the Union.

Carlile was elected in 1861 as one of two U.S. senators from the Restored Government. Serving on the Senate Committee of Territories in 1862, Carlile drafted a bill for West Virginia's admission into the Union as a new state. In the bill, Carlile had included in the new state's boundaries counties in the Shenandoah Valley that were pro-slavery and were not represented in the constitutional convention.

However, before including these counties as part of the state, he wanted to hold a referendum and recall the convention to gain approval from the residents of those counties. Carlile also added a clause that would put into effect immediate emancipation for all slaves in the new state. Carlile's draft would have defeated the efforts to admit West Virginia into the Union.

Carlile's longtime friends and colleagues turned on him at that point and Sen. Waitman Willey was called into to amend the bill to leave out the added counties and to gradually emancipate slaves in West Virginia. Carlile was called a "traitor" and some wanted him impeached from his office, and Carlile's political career essentially ended. After finishing his term as U.S. senator, he unsuccessfully attempted to revive his career, but eventually settled near Clarksburg where he died in 1878.

 
 

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