Title Reviewed:
A House Divided: A Study of Statehood Polities and the Copperhead Movement in West Virginia

Author Reviewed:
Richard Orr Curry

Lorna Lutes Sylvester


Indiana Magazine of History, Volume 61, Issue 4, pp 394-395

Article Type:
Book Review

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A House Divided: A Study of Statehood Polities and the Copperhead Movement in West Virginia. By Richard Orr Curry. (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1964. Pp. 197. Maps, appendixes, notes, bibliography, index. $5.00.)

Curry's purpose in writing A House Divided was threefold: "to determine whether earlier works on the 'disruption of Virginia' properly assess the quantum relationship between Unionists and Secessionists in West Virginia; to challenge the validity of other interpretations of the statehood movement; and to examine aspects of Civil War policies in West Virginia that have not been investigated by other historians" (pp. 2-3). Although a large order for so small a volume–there are only 140 pages of text–the author has in part succeeded. The book's central theme challenges the traditional contention that West Virginians overwhelmingly opposed secession and favored separate statehood. While recognizing the strength of Unionism in northwestern Virginia, Curry distinguishes between this section and the total area of the new state. He proves, with statistics compiled from many sources, that "half the counties included in the 'new State' area were opposed to statehood; and that 40 per cent of the people in West Virginia were Secessionists" (p. 13). Earlier historians interpreted the origins of the "war born state" in terms of sectional grievances dating back to the American Eevolution. Curry believes that the statehood movement can be understood only in terms of the changing pattern of sectionalism between 1830 and 1861. He also credits McClellan's mountain campaign and the support of federal troops for making a separate state movement possible.

Whether or not it belongs to that genre of historical literature, A House Divided suffers from many of the faults found in published Ph.D. dissertations. The volume is confusingly organized and in spots reveals the pedestrian quality of research studies in education. Curry overemphasizes the uniqueness and importance of his conclusions and is somewhat intolerant of other historians' views and errors. The shifting pattern of sectional conflict is hardly a new concept even if it has never been applied to the history of West Virginia. The contention that democratic gains in the 1850 Virginia constitution were eastern not western victories is at least debatable. Curry nowhere defines a "Copperhead" but uses the term variously to describe opponents of emancipation, Conservative Unionists, and Democrats. The author castigates other writers for their treatment of John Carlile and his defection from the statehood movement; yet, Curry's own explanation is much too facile.

Despite the book's faults, students of Civil War politics and West Virginia history must take A House Divided into account. The author's story of the complexities of state and local politics is undoubtedly more accurate than the simpler pictures heretofore presented. Although somewhat aside from the central theme, Chapter 6, "Ohio to the Rescue," is the best in the book and gives deserved praise to Ohio's Governor William Dennison. A few readers may question the use of county histories and the partisan press as bases for statistical analyses, but the appendixes, containing compilations of West Virginia election returns, are invaluable. Curry's conclusion that the statehood movement cannot be judged "solely in the vacuum of constitutionality" but must be considered as a war measure is an important contribution to West Virginia history.

Lorna Lutes Sylvester, Indiana Univesity

Published by the Indiana University Department of History.