Helicopters over Charleston

November 07, 1990|By Edward Grimsley | Edward Grimsley,RICHMOND TIMES-DISPATCH

RICHMOND — Richmond. HAVING HAILED the reunification of Germany as a triumph for justice, the United States should now proceed to promote justice in a similar situation here at home. If bogus boundaries and states are unacceptable in Europe, they surely ought to be unacceptable in a constitutional democracy that is supposed to be committed to the rule of law.

For more than 100 years the federal government has done absolutely nothing to reunify an entity of the United States now divided by an artificial boundary drawn, like the boundary between the two Germanys, as a result of war. This is intolerable. If reunification is good for Germany, reunification ought to be good for Virginia.

Virginia? Absolutely. In a gross violation of the U.S. Constitution they piously pretended to be defending, the Yankees split Virginia during the Civil War and it remains split today.

What happened was that when the official Virginia government in Richmond voted to secede, Union loyalists in the western part of the state objected. Under the leadership of Francis H. Pierpont they organized to form a separate state government. It quickly consented to the formation of a new state called West Virginia, and President Lincoln made that fictional entity a member of the Union by proclamation on April 20, 1863.

It was a blatantly hypocritical and illegal act. One of the Union's objectives in fighting the Confederacy was to confirm that secession was unconstitutional and unacceptable. Yet the Union applauded the secession of the western counties of Virginia from the rest of the state. The Constitution unequivocally provides that no new state may be ''formed or erected within the jurisdiction of any other state'' without the consent of that other state and of Congress. Neither Virginia nor Congress consented to the creation of West Virginia before Lincoln admitted it to the Union.

In addition to violating the Constitution, the creators of West Virginia did its inhabitants and their progeny a grave disservice. For from the very beginning it has been the Rodney Dangerfield of states, getting far less respect than any of the others, including New Jersey. West Virginia has been the butt of one bad joke after another. Many people think of it only as a land of moonshine, labor violence and feuding hillbillies.

All of this is unfair. The truth is that West Virginians are Virginians by another name they have no business bearing. It is time to reunite them with their mother state so that they, too, can boast about having given the nation George Mason, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and bourbon whiskey.

Two ways to resolve this matter come immediately to mind. One would be to rely on the innovative leadership of Virginia's Gov. L. Douglas Wilder, a fearless man who marches boldly where other politicians hesitate to tread. With a little encouragement he might be emboldened to helicopter over to Charleston, knock on the door of the West Virginia governor's mansion and order its occupants out so that the house could become the Virginia Executive Mansion West. That surely would ensure prompt judicial evaluation of West Virginia's legal status.

Another way might be for advocates of reunification to persuade President Bush to abolish West Virginia with the same tool President Lincoln used to create it: the proclamation. What one president did by proclamation, another should be able to undo by proclamation. Bush could simply proclaim West Virginia to be, once again, a part of Virginia; and that would end the matter.

There would be splendid collateral benefits from reunification. The nation would immediately get rid of two liberal Democratic senators who now represent the bogus state of West Virginia. And if Bush succeeded in restoring the Lincolnesque power to rule by proclamation, he could by proclamation establish a fiscal program that would eliminate the deficit, reduce federal expenditures, balance the budget and stimulate the economy. That, it is becoming increasingly clear, is about the only way the nation would ever get such a plan.

Richmond Times-Dispatch

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