West Virginia: Growth and Estrangement from Eastern Virginia

Growth and Estrangement from Eastern Virginia

Population growth and prosperity were spurred by the opening of the Mississippi River with the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, by the resulting expansion and improvement of river-borne commerce, and by the completion (1818) of the National Road at Wheeling. The area became an increasingly important part of Virginia, but the predominance of small farms and the almost total absence of slavery were already contributing to a sense of estrangement from the eastern part of the state.

Virginia was politically dominated by the wealthy tidewater planters, who were overrepresented in the state legislature because slaves were counted in apportioning representation. As a result the western Virginians suffered from inequitable taxation, and their demands for internal improvements and public education were not met. A new Virginia constitution, ratified in 1830, brought no reforms, but another charter (1851) effected a compromise by which representation in the lower house was based on white population and under which universal white male suffrage was granted. It was not enough; tidewater domination of the state legislature continued, and the two sections were being pulled further apart by economic differences—western Virginia was becoming an industrialized coal and steel center—and by the increasing prominence of the slavery issue.

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