Trans-Allegheny Virginia, 1776-1861Further information: Vandalia (colony) and Westsylvania Further information: History of slavery in West Virginia
Social conditions in western Virginia were entirely unlike those existing in the eastern portion of the state. The population was not homogeneous, as a considerable part of the immigration came by way of Pennsylvania and included Germans, Protestant Ulster-Scots, and settlers from the states farther north. During the American Revolution, the movement to create a state beyond the Alleghanies was revived and, in 1776, a petition for the establishment of "Westsylvania" was presented to Congress, on the grounds that the mountains made an almost impassable barrier on the east. The rugged nature of the country made slavery unprofitable, and time only increased the social, political and economic differences between the two sections of Virginia.
The convention which met in 1829 to form a new constitution for Virginia, against the protest of the counties beyond the mountains, required a property qualification for suffrage, and gave the slave-holding counties the benefit of three-fifths of their slave population in apportioning the state's representation in the lower Federal house. As a result, every county beyond the Alleghanies except one voted to reject the constitution, which was nevertheless carried by eastern votes. Though the Virginia constitution of 1850 provided for white manhood suffrage, the distribution of representation among the counties was such as to give control to the section east of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Another grievance of the West was the large expenditure for internal improvements at state expense by the Virginia Board of Public Works in the East compared with the scanty proportion allotted to the West.
For the western areas, problems included the distance from the state seat of government in Richmond and the difference of common economic interests resultant from the tobacco and food crops farming, fishing, and coastal shipping to the east of the Eastern Continental Divide (waters which drain to the Atlantic Ocean) along the Allegheny Mountains, and the interests of the western portion which drained to the Ohio and Mississippi rivers and the Gulf of Mexico.
The western area focused its commerce on neighbors to the west, and many citizens felt that the more populous eastern areas were too dominant in the Virginia General Assembly and insensitive to their needs. Major crisis in the Virginia state government over these differences was averted on more than one occasion during the period before the American Civil War, but the underlying problems were fundamental and never well resolved.
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