On February 12, 1863, the West Virginia Constitutional Convention reconvened in Wheeling. On October 24, 1861, voters in 39 northwestern counties had voted to secede from the state of Virginia after it had joined the Confederacy earlier in the year.
The separation of one state from another was constitutionally unprecedented, and it took Congress nearly two years to craft legislation recognizing West Virginia’s independent statehood. One requirement of West Virginia’s admission to the Union was that the state constitution must declare all slaves under the age of 21 free by July 4, 1863.
West Virginia voters approved the amendment in March, and in April, President Lincoln declared that West Virginia would join the Union as an independent state in 60 days. The Supreme Court confirmed West Virginia’s independence in 1871.