Author: Allison Fredette

doctoral student in the history department at the University of Florida in Gainesville

Waitman T. Willey (1811–1900)

Waitman T. Willey was a delegate to the Virginia Constitutional Convention of 1850–1851, a delegate to the Virginia Convention of 1861 that voted to secede from the Union, a United States senator from the Restored government of Virginia (1861–1863), and, alongside Peter G. Van Winkle, one of the first two United States senators from West Virginia (1863–1871). A native of western Virginia, he was instrumental in the formation of the new state of West Virginia during the American Civil War (1861–1865). As a member of the U.S. Senate, he authored the Willey Amendment in 1863—a compromise on the question of the freedom of the state’s African Americans that extinguished his hopes for compensated emancipation. Instead, it decreed that slaves younger than twenty-one years old on July 4, 1863, would become free once they reached that age. The compromise assured West Virginia’s acceptance into the Union.