John Snyder Carlile, West Virginia is Born

The Late John S. Carlile.

The Wheeling Daily Intelligencer., October 26, 1878

Headstone Inscription of John Snyder Carlile

By accident, yesterday morning a notice of the death of this well known citizen of West Va., did not appear in our columns.

After a long and painful illness, which he bore, with noteworthy composure and resignation, he died at his home in Clarksburg Thursday morning.

A Brief Biography

Mr. Carlile was born in Winchester, Va., on the 17th day of February 1817. He was in his 62nd year at the time his death. His mother educated him until he was 14 years of age. After that he became a salesman and clerk at a country store. He commenced business for himself at age 17 and during this time he read law. In 1840 he was admitted to the bar. In 1842, he settled in Beverly, Randolph county, to practice. He removed from there to Phillipi, and from there again to Clarksburg. Where he made his home ever afterward, Except a short time after the war he spent in Maryland.

Symbol of the Know Nothing aka American Party that John Snyder Carlile belonged to

Elected to the State Senate of Virginia in 1847, He served in that body until 1851. John Snyder Carlile was elected to the Virginia Constitutional Convention during the election of 1850. In 1855, he was elected to a seat in Congress on the American or Know Nothing ticket. He served one term.

In 1861 he was elected to the Virginia Secession Convention, his colleague being Col. Wilson. In that body he became, with the exception of George W. Summers, the most prominent man from West Va. He far outshone Summers at the last in the quality of his Unionism.

So prominent did he become as the Union leader, that on leaving the Convention, after the passage of the Ordinance of Secession, he was received with open arms by Mr. Lincoln’s administration, and for a long time was its most prominent and influential adviser in all matters relating to West Virginia.

The Zenith of Fame and Influence
The State of Virginia Before WV Split off

From 1861 to 1863 was the zenith of Mr. Carlile’s fame and influence. In May 1861, he was elected to Congress and within a few months was on the United States Senate. Previous to this he took a very active part in organizing the Union element in West Virginia into governmental form. At one time, he advocated a very abrupt movement in order to secure a new State.

He was a member of the Convention that in August, 1861, submitted the new State ordinance. He was the author of the first name –”Kanawha”– adopted for the State, and was in the forefront of the contest until the question of admission came before the United States Senate, and especially before the Committee on Territories, of which he was a member, when to the great surprise of every new state man in West Virginia he became an opponent of the scheme as it then stood, basing his opposition on the ground that the territory included was not large enough and should take in the Valley of Virginia, and attaching such conditions to his amendment to the bill, in the way of a vote of the people of the counties to be added, as would have a new State forever possible.

Prestige Begins to End
Photograph of John Snyder Carlile

The defection of Mr. Carlile from the New State bill was the beginning of the end of his prestige at Washington and in West Virginia. He never regained to any satisfactory degree the confidence of the Union people. The State was admitted over his opposition, and he, partly driven and partly going of his own accord, joined himself with Cowan, the Republican Senator from Pennsylvania, as an ally of the Democracy, and advocated for the election McClellan in 1864 against Mr. Lincoln.

Four years afterwards, with that propensity for change that characterized his whole public life, he re-joined the Republican party, and advocated the election of General Grant, who in recognition of his services as a Union man, and especially as his advocate in the Presidential canvass, nominated him to the Senate as Minister to Sweden, but the Senate refused to confirm the nomination and the appointment fell through.

Failure Said To Have Closed Public Life

With this failure Mr. Carlile’s public life may be said to have closed, although he always afterward co-operated with the Republican party, and in 1872 took some part in the canvass for General Grant’s reelection. His health had begun to break down about that time, and this fact, together with his pecuniary misfortunes, weighed on his spirits and so impaired his natural buoyancy and force as to greatly embarrass his attempts to retrieve his fortunes in life by the practice of his profession. Gradually his disease (dropsy) gained upon him, and for a year past he has been almost a helpless invalid, dependent to a large degree upon the kindness of his old friends and neighbors.

President Ulysses S. Grant, John Snyder Carlile was an avid supporter

Thus has ended the career of one of the noted men of our State. He was a man of very showy talents as a popular speaker. He possessed a warm and magnetic manner, had a fine flow of language, a magnificent voice, and was very effective in all assemblies in which he appeared as a speaker.

Orator of Many Moods

Like most orators, he was a man of moods, very impressionable, easy to be elated or depressed, and hence apt to be modifying his views or changing them altogether. They were his drawbacks as a public man. And yet despite of them e did great service for the Union cause in Virginia and West Virginia–a service that entitles him to be held in grateful rememberance. He did as much as any other man to carry us over the dead point of danger, and we must in charity assume that when he changed he did so for reasons that to his peculiar disposition were of great weight. Let us honor him for all that he did on our behalf, and no man did more, and bury in oblivion all that we had cause to regret.

Mr. Carlile and the Vice Presidency.

The Wheeling Daily Intelligencer., October 28, 1878

The Clarksburg News in the course of its obituary notice of the late John S. Carlile, says that in 1864 Mr. Carlile was prominently spoken of as a candidate for Vice President on the Republican ticket. “This nomination,” it remarks, “would have made Mr. Carlile President instead of Andrew Johnson.”

The premises are wrong in the conclusion drawn by the News. Mr. Carlile, was never spoken of to the best of our recollection in connection with the second place on the Republican Presidential ticket in 1864. He had put himself at outs with the Republican party in the summer of 1862, and in 1864 was opposing the party.

Symbol of the Republican Party

If he had been all right with the Republicans he would have been returned as his own successor to the United States Senate at the election by the first New State Legislature in 1863, but the fact that he was wholly ignored in that election shows that he was not thought of for any higher position in the Republican party.

With every disposition to be just to Mr. Carlile’s public life, let us at the same time be just to the truth of history.


The Wheeling Daily Intelligencer., October 31, 1878

Weston, October 22.

Editors Intelligencer.

Your announcement of the death of the gentleman whose name heads, this letter (a name that will forever be honored in West Virginia) although long expected, casts a gloom over many a loyal heart in this community. His devotion to the Union, when our country needed friends, cannot be driven from our recollection; and his stern heroism in bearding the rebel lion even in his very den, must have secured for the late ex-Senator the admiration of his enemies. Well do I recollect his memorable canvass through the interior counties early in ‘61. Here in Lewis county the secession element was arrogant and over-bearing–disposed to carry out their peculiar views by the same system of “bull-dozing” which has since been adopted by their brethren further south.’

Flag commemorating WV statehood

However, they were defeated; but most of the men of prominence, and nearly all our officers, were secessionists. William L. Jackson (“Mudwall”) was then Judge of this Judicial Circuit, which position he abandoned for a commission in the Confederacy. While Jackson was holding his Court, Carlile came to Weston and announced his desire to address the people in behalf of the formation of a new State. Many of us were heartily in sympathy with Carlile in the movement; but the rebels were furious. Anyhow, Carlile made his speech–and a grander effort was never heard or spoken.

Let People See Who They are!

It roused the Union men to action. A proposition was then made to appoint delegates to a convention (subsequently held at Wheeling) for the purpose of discussing the proposition; and somebody moved to appoint all persons present delegates who favored the movement. And then spoke-out John S. Carlile from the fullness of his great heart:–”No!” said he. “What is everybody’s business is nobody’s business. All who are willing to attend this convention–all who are willing to risk their lives and property in behalf of their principles–will arrange themselves by my side on this platform, and let people see who they are!”

The pressure was terrific. It had been rumored that Judge Jackson had instructed the Grand Jury then in session to find indictments for treason to the State against Carlile and his followers, and the Union and New State men were afraid to act. But I recollect that Carlile reached out his hand to grasp those of the late Alexander Withers (author of the Border Warfare), P. M. Hale, Jesse Woofter, (now clerk of the County Court), and the writer hereof.

Let Us Die Together In Behalf of Our Country!
Sketch of Court

Col. Withers was then an old decrepit man–his head bowed with the weight of years–and as he trotted to the platform he cried out: “My neighbor! The last days of my life shall be given to the support of the flag of my native land!” and Carlile, with deep emotion, responded: “God bless you Colonel, if we die, let us die together in behalf of our country!” There was nothing “put on” about this, for hardly had the meeting closed, when your correspondent, with some others, was summoned before the Grand Jury, who were gravely deliberating as to what ought to be done with men who thought the United States had any rights the Sovereign State of Virginia was bound to respect.

I was taken into the presence of Judge Jackson, after some sharp questioning. He not only lectured me upon my lack of devotion to State Sovereignty, but intimated that a future offense in the direction taken that day might be followed by condign punishment. “Halters for New State men” were talked of; but we replied that while halters might have to be used, they were not for us. The New State movement went bravely on, and Mr. Carlile lived to see the consummation of his early hopes. Let no laurel be taken from his brow; but on the contrary, let us pay to his memory overy honor. For to him the people of West Virginia are indebted, as I believe, for the movement which resulted in the formation of the New State.

Image of the proposed state of Kanawha, a name John Snyder Carlile suggested

–F. M. Chalfant
Daily Globe., October 25, 1878
St. Paul, Minn

The Weekly Clarion., October 30, 1878, Jackson, Miss.


WHEELING, W. VA., Oct. 24.–Hon. John S. Carlile, formerly United States Senator from this State, died at his residence at Clarksburg this morning. Mr. Carlile assisted in reorganizing the restored government of Virginia in 1861, and took an active part in the formation of the new State of West Virginia.

Mower County Transcript., October 31, 1878, Lansing, Minn


HON. JOHN S. CARLILE, formerly United States senator from Virginia, died at Clarksburg, that state, on the 24th.

Little Falls Transcript., November 07, 1878,
Little Falls, Morrison County, Minn

The late ex-United States Senator John S. Carlile, of West Virginia, was an Independent Republican. He served in the Virginia State Senate from 1847 to 1854, and was a member of the 1850 constitutional convention. He was elected to the national House in 1855 and opposed secession. During the War he was in the Senate from West Virginia.

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