West Virginia is the 35th State Admitted to the Union
On June 20, 1863, West Virginia became the thirty-fifth state in the Union.
The land that formed the new state formerly constituted part of Virginia. The two areas had diverged culturally from their first years of European settlement, as small farmers generally settled the western portion of the state, including the counties that later formed West Virginia, while the eastern portion was dominated by a powerful minority class of wealthy slaveholders. There were proposals for the trans-Allegheny west to separate from Virginia as early as 1769. When Virginia seceded from the Union in 1861, the residents of a number of contiguous western counties, where there were few slaves, decided to remain in the Union. Congress accepted these counties as the state of West Virginia on condition that its slaves be freed. "Montani semper liberi," "mountaineers always freemen," became the new state's motto.
On May 13, the state legislature of the reorganized government approved the formation of the new state. An application for admission to the Union was made to Congress, and on December 31, 1862, an enabling act was approved by President Abraham Lincoln admitting West Virginia, on the condition that a provision for the gradual abolition of slavery be inserted in its Constitution. Many, including Lincoln, felt that West Virginia's admission as a state was both illegal and unconstitutional, but wartime politics prevailed. The Convention was reconvened on February 12, 1863, and the demand was met. The revised constitution was adopted on March 26, 1863, and on April 20, 1863, President Lincoln issued a proclamation admitting the state at the end of sixty days (June 20, 1863). Meanwhile, officers for the new state were chosen and Governor Pierpont moved his capital to Union-occupied Alexandria, where he asserted jurisdiction over all of the Virginia counties within the Federal lines.
The question of the constitutionality of the formation of the new state was brought before the Supreme Court of the United States in the following manner: Berkeley and Jefferson counties lying on the Potomac east of the mountains, in 1863, with the consent of the reorganized government of Virginia voted in favor of annexation to West Virginia. Many voters of the strongly pro-secessionist counties were absent in the Confederate Army when the vote was taken and refused to acknowledge the transfer upon their return. The Virginia General Assembly repealed the act of secession and in 1866 brought suit against West Virginia, asking the court to declare the counties a part of Virginia which would have declared West Virginia's admission as a state unconstitutional. Meanwhile, on March 10, 1866, Congress passed a joint resolution recognizing the transfer. The Supreme Court, in 1870, decided in favor of West Virginia.