West Virginia Politics and Government

By Richard A. Brisbin Jr.; Robert Jay Dilger et al. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER FIVE
Constitutional Politics

West Virginia's origin as a part of Virginia had special significance for the history of constitutional politics in the Mountain State. When West Virginia became a separate state, it retained many of Virginia's constitutional structures and practices that emphasized distrust of political leaders and government. The legacy of these institutional features continues to restrain the use of power and limits the government's capacity to "act for" citizens' demands.


WEST VIRGINIA AND THE FIRST CONSTITUTION OF 1863

From 1775 to 1861 West Virginia was governed under three different constitutions of Virginia. The Constitution of 1776 created a government dominated by the legislative branch. It was accompanied by a Declaration of Rights, the first lengthy legal protection of rights in America. As mentioned in chapter I, the Constitution of 1776 generated sectional controversy in Virginia because it included slaves in the population figures used to apportion the state legislature. It also limited suffrage to white males in possession of at least fifty acres of improved land. These provisions ensured that the legislature would be dominated by eastern counties. The Constitution of 1830 continued the property-holding restrictions on suffrage and retained an apportionment scheme that favored the eastern counties. In 1850 Virginians held another constitutional convention, but the results differed dramatically from those of the 1829-30 convention. The maturation and diffusion of Jacksonian ideology in the two intervening decades made it difficult for any elites to oppose direct popular election of public officials. The Jacksonian desire for universal white male suffrage cast aside the politics of deference to the

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