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Archibald Campbell: A Champion for West Virginia

June 6, 2013

Statehood in West Virginia likely wouldn't have come about without the efforts of Archibald Campbell.

As editor of the Wheeling Daily Intelligencer, the forerunner to The Intelligencer, Campbell (1833-99) used his voice to call for an end to slavery, oppose Virginia's secession, support Abraham Lincoln's candidacy for president, and push for the western counties of Virginia to split from the government at Richmond.

Campbell's opinion on Virginia's secession was quite clear, as each day, at the top of the editorial column, there appeared a patriotic poem of the verses of the Star Spangled Banner.

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Campbell called secession "the most infamous usurpation of the rights of a free people." He advised his readers to read Virginia's secession ordinance "and re-read it and see what a mockery and scorn has been made of your decree."

As the Wheeling conventions took place in 1861 and statehood talks intensified, Campbell used the newspaper to further the western counties' cause. "The people of western Virginia will never and ought never to be satisfied with anything short of division of the state; and that division should be put in train at once by this convention, so that it may be secured at the earliest possible moment," Campbell wrote in the June 18, 1861 edition of The Daily Intelligencer as the Second Wheeling Convention took place.

But some have suggested a letter Campbell wrote to then-President Abraham Lincoln on Dec. 20, 1862, as Lincoln pondered whether to accept West Virginia as the 35th state, may have swayed the president in his decision.

"I am in great hopes that you will sign the bill to make West Virginia a new state," Campbell wrote to Lincoln. "The loyal people have their hearts set upon it. If the bill fails, God only knows the result. I fear a general demoralization. I am clear. The consequences are in your hands."

On. Dec. 31, 1862, Lincoln signed the bill.

An article published in the Wheeling Daily Intelligencer following Campbell's 1899 death stated that Lincoln told Francis H. Pierpont, the governor of the Restored Government of Virginia, that it was the letter penned by Campbell that convinced him to sign the statehood bill, against the wishes of his cabinet. The article continued, "The Intelligencer was the right arm of the Restored Government of Virginia and Mr. Campbell was the trusted counsellor and supporter of the union authorities both in civil and military matters."

Campbell, the son of the Dr. A.W. Campbell of Bethany and nephew of Alexander Campbell, founder and first president of Bethany College, was born in Steubenville. He moved to Wheeling in 1856 as an attache of The Daily Intelligencer, and in the fall of that year bought the paper in partnership with John F. McDermot and became its editor. At once the paper took ground in favor of liberal political principles and soon allied itself with the then young but rapidly growing Republican party.

Wheeling and Ohio County had then not more than 100 slaves, according to the 1860 Census, and The Daily Intelligencer's opposition to slavery made it a target of the pro-slavery press of Virginia. The Richmond papers reproached Wheeling because such a publication was permitted to exist in her midst.

Campbell attended the 1860 convention as a delegate from Virginia that nominated Abraham Lincoln for president, and returning home gave his candidacy enthusiastic support.

According to the West Virginia Division of Culture and History, the Republican speakers of that day were Campbell, Alfred Caldwell and E.M. Norton. They discussed the discriminations in favor of slavery, in the matter of taxation and the basis of representation in the legislature, and these were strong points that arrested public attention and made a decided popular impression. Pierpont, although a Bell and Everett elector, discussed these issues from the same standpoint, and virtually made Republican speeches.

The history of Campbell's Daily Intelligencer during the Civil War is the history of the Union and the new state cause. They remain one and inseparable in the annals of West Virginia. In all those years no one threw himself more earnestly, ably and untiringly into the support of both than Campbell.

When the new state Constitution was being framed, Campbell protested against the clause recognizing slavery, and predicted that Congress would never consent to the formation of a second slave state out of the territory of Virginia, a prediction that was verified to the letter. The Constitution had to come back for amendment, and West Virginia was finally admitted as a free state.

Campbell retired as editor in 1884 after 28 years of service. He spent the final decade of his life traveling, writing detailed accounts of his journeys for the newspaper.

He died on Feb. 13, 1889, at his sister's residence in Webster Springs, Mo. Following his death, The Intelligencer wrote, "It is no exaggeration to say that no state owed a man so much and paid so little of the obligation; that no man worked so unselfishly for the consummation of an object and received so few of the rewards for the honorable effort and conspicious endeavor.

"The one predominant characteristic of Mr. Campbell's connection with party politics was a shrinking for publicity, an innate modesty of his own abilities and an absolute aversion to the notoriety which is generally the greater part of the capital of the professional politician. He sympathized sincerely with the struggles of every honest man. He admired honesty and earnest endeavor, whether it wore a patched garment or a suit of broadcloth. He was a man of punctilious probity, and in his whole career as a journalist, even in the most heated political controversies he never willfully misrepresented a foe."

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