EDITORIAL: West Virginia's Founders Are Our Children's Role Models Today

HNN Staff
Laura Jackson Arnold
Laura Jackson Arnold

While today's rising generation of young West Virginians may have difficulty finding exceptional role models at the top levels of our government, this wasn't always the case for Mountain State youngsters.  Granted, we may have to go back nearly 150 years to find true heroes for our young people to emulate--but they are there, waiting to be rediscovered. 

We have men like West Virginia's first Governor, Arthur Boreman of Parkersburg, who paid the state's first bills out of his own checkbook.  We have women like Laura Jackson Arnold of Beverly, sister of famed Confederate General Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson. While General Jackson famously fought for the South, his beloved sister, Laura, helped the North as a war nurse.

Said Laura, "I'll just have to patch up our boys as fast as brother Thomas shoots them down."  Tough lady!  Only a Jackson could face down a Jackson.

The point is that young people need heroes and heroines, not in the sense that they imagine such people flawless and godlike. No, we mustn't create false expectations for the young, leading to disappointment when they discover that their favorite people have feet of clay like everyone else.

Instead, we need to lift up those moments when ordinary people, just like us, were able to summon with God's help extraordinary courage, determination, and devotion to those they loved.  Governor Boreman and all those who helped create the new State of West Virginia 148 years ago today didn't risks their necks just to poke Mother Virginia in the eye. 

Rather, West Virginia's Founding Fathers like Waitman T. Willey (Monongalia), Francis Pierpont (Marion), and James T. McGrew (Preston) really cared about the kind of state and nation they were leaving to the next generation.  In order to secure that better future, they had to use what they had, leverage it, and win the day for their cause. 

This involved personal sacrifice, risking being treated as traitors by Mother Virginia, and persuading President Lincoln and Congress to help them create a new state from the western counties of the Old Dominion. 

But against great odds, they did it!  That is the lasting lesson for our young West Virginians today.  You may live in a beautiful state, though one that many don't know much about beyond our borders.  You may wonder if you can compete in the wider world against those who come from more privileged areas of the country.  All this may weigh on you.

When this happens, remember that you come from the best stock in America--people who came here from a number of countries, carving out communities in the wilderness, so that their children and grandchildren could know true freedom.  And when these people, from the mountains and valleys of then Western Virginia, had to choose between the country they loved and the Richmond elite's agenda, they opted for their own state and never looked back.

That independent spirit helps to capture who we are, with apologies to no one.  So hold your head high, young West Virginians.  For if our current state leadership is so-so at best, you have a wide open field to show us how it's done.  For helpful clues, you can always read up on your early West Virginia history, for ours is a state with a truly unique beginning, one that can still inspire us today. 

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