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The Restored Government of Virginia, or the Reorganized Government of Virginia,[1] was the Unionist government of Virginia during the American Civil War. From 1861 until mid-1863 it met in Wheeling, and from 26 August 1863 until June 1865 it met in Alexandria. However, it claimed Richmond as the capital. The Restored Government had only executive and legislative branches; it did not form a judicial branch.


When the Second Wheeling Convention met in its first session, in June 1861, it adopted "A Declaration of the People of Virginia,"[2] The declaration stated that Virginia's Ordinance of Secession was illegal, since it had been adopted at a convention that had not been convened by referendum. It also called for a reorganization of the state government, taking the line that all state officials who had acceded to the Ordinance of Secession had effectively vacated their offices. The convention then elected Francis Harrison Pierpont as governor, along and other executive officers, with Wheeling as the provisional state capital. President Abraham Lincoln recognized the Restored Government as the legitimate government of the entire Commonwealth of Virginia,[3] and the United States Congress seated the two new U.S. Senators chosen by its legislature, and three U.S. Representatives elected in its districts. By the autumn of 1861, Confederate forces had been expelled from most of what was then northwestern Virginia, establishing for the time being the area where the Restored Government exercised de facto authority.

The Government in Wheeling

A movement for separate statehood had grown in the trans-Allegheny region of Virginia long before the outbreak of war. A key obstacle to separate admission to the Union was that the United States Constitution forbade the creation of new states out of existing ones without the consent of the existing state's legislature. The Restored Government asserted its authority to give such consent. The legislature that met between the two sessions of the Wheeling Convention in 1861 failed to pass a statehood bill,[4] but the second session of the convention approved it. A popular referendum in October 1861 was called on the creation of the new "State of Kanawha" from the counties of northwestern Virginia. The voters' approval led to a constitutional convention, and another popular vote in April 1862 approving the new constitution of the now renamed "West Virginia".[5] The U.S. Congress then passed a statehood bill for West Virginia, but with the added condition that slaves be emancipated in the new state, and that certain disputed counties be excluded.[6] Lincoln, though reluctant to divide Virginia during a war aimed at re-uniting the country, signed the statehood bill into law on December 31, 1862.[7] In Wheeling, the added conditions required another constitutional convention and popular referendum. Statehood was achieved on June 20, 1863.

The Government in Alexandria

Following West Virginia statehood, the Restored Government of Virginia relinquished authority over the counties of the new state, and thus lost most of its area not under Confederate control. Pierpont then moved the Restored Government to Alexandria, effective August 26, 1863. Located in Virginia proper, across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C., the city of Alexandria remained under Union control for the entirety of the war. The Restored Government claimed legitimacy over all of Virginia not incorporated into West Virginia. Rather than recognize the Confederate state government in Richmond, Pierpont had characterized it as "large numbers of evil-minded persons [that] have banded together in military organizations with intent to overthrow the Government of the State; and for that purpose have called to their aid like-minded persons from other States, who, in pursuance of such call, have invaded this Commonwealth."[3] But outside the few jurisdictions Pierpont's government held under federal arms, control of the state was in Richmond, for instance, in collecting taxes. Several localities sent representatives to both the Alexandria and Richmond legislatures.[8]

The Restored Government adopted a new Virginia constitution in 1864 that recognized the creation of West Virginia, abolished slavery, and disqualified supporters of the southern Confederacy from voting. The constitution was effective only in the Union-controlled areas of Virginia: several northern Virginia counties, the Norfolk area, and the Eastern Shore.[9]

The Government Moves to Richmond

After the fall of Richmond and the end of the Civil War in May 1865, the executive officers moved the government from Alexandria to Richmond, which the Restored Government had always considered to be its official capital. The government operating under the Constitution of 1864 thereafter assumed civil authority for the entire Commonwealth of Virginia, until adoption of the Constitution of 1869. Some West Virginians expressed concern that once restored to the Union the government of Virginia might seek to challenge the validity of the authority the Restored Government possessed in consenting to West Virginia's admission to the Union. To alleviate these concerns, the Congress set as a condition for Virginia's readmission to Congress that it affirm in its 1869 Constitution that the authority by which the State of West Virginia was created out of Virginia territory had indeed been valid, thus giving its consent to the creation of West Virginia retroactively to 1863.

Officers of the Restored Government


Lieutenant Governors

  • Daniel Polsley (1861–1863)
  • Leopold Copeland Parker Cowper (1863–1865)

Attorneys General

  • James S. Wheat (1861–1863)
  • Thomas Russell Bowden (1863–1865)


Further reading

  • Ambler, Charles H. Francis H. Pierpont: Union War Governor and Father of West Virginia (1937), the standard scholarly biography
  • Ambler, Charles H. and Festus P. Summers. West Virginia, the Mountain State (2nd ed. 1958) pp 202–6 online

External links

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