Friday, July 17, 2020

Booknotes: Seceding from Secession

New Arrival:
Seceding from Secession: The Civil War, Politics, and the Creation of West Virginia by Eric J. Wittenberg, Edmund A. Sargus, Jr., and Penny L. Barrick (Savas Beatie, 2020).

For good and ill, national calamities make possible many partisan aspirations that would be impossible to achieve during ordinary times. For many political leaders of western Virginia, the Civil War created a unique opportunity to address decades-long grievances with the Richmond state government without opposition, and they exploited the opening to the hilt. Even a non-lawyer's reading of Article IV Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution [the relevant part being "New states may be admitted by the Congress into this union; but no new states shall be formed or erected within the jurisdiction of any other state; nor any state be formed by the junction of two or more states, or parts of states, without the consent of the legislatures of the states concerned as well as of the Congress."] can identify potential problems involved with the 1863 creation of West Virginia out of the existing state of Virginia, but the rump Wheeling government found a way through them and survived all subsequent legal challenges. Now we have a new book that explains how it all happened. Seceding from Secession: The Civil War, Politics, and the Creation of West Virginia is "an unprecedented study of the social, legal, military, and political factors that converged to bring about the birth of the West Virginia."

Co-authors Eric Wittenberg (a lawyer), Edmund Sargus (a Federal district judge in Columbus, Ohio), and Penny Barrick (a senior lawyer with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio) also explore Lincoln's involvement at some length. From the description: "President Abraham Lincoln, an astute lawyer in his own right, played a critical role in birthing the new state. The constitutionality of the mechanism by which the new state would be created concerned the president, and he polled every member of his entire cabinet before signing the bill. Seceding from Secession includes a detailed discussion of the 1871 U.S. Supreme Court decision Virginia v. West Virginia, in which former Lincoln cabinet member Salmon Chase presided as chief justice over the court that decided the constitutionality of the momentous event."

As one of those persons "interested in understanding the convergence of military, political, social, and legal events that brought about the birth of the state of West Virginia," I am looking forward to reading this book.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks Drew. We underestimated the book--which is already undergoing a second printing.


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