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 Executive Orders and Proclamations: Historical Perspective

Executive Orders: 1863 to Present

 Photograph of executive journal West Virginia's governors have used the authority to act through executive orders with varying frequency and for reasons which have changed over the years.  In the term of West Virginia's first governor, Alfred I. Boreman, the entries in the Executive Journal reveal that the Governor used orders not only for major appointments, such as the first Attorney General, but for routine day-to-day executive actions which seem almost mundane.  
For example, among those recorded in the first year of statehood were orders to fine persons convicted of dispensing "ardent spirits" and to have persons committed to the "lunatic asylum".  Those early entries were stated differently that they are today.  Those entries simply say "The Governor ordered..." or "An order was issued...", while today the entries are titled "Executive Order" and are laid out in a more formal style.

Modern executive orders deal mostly with larger policy making and administrative actions.  Among the most common purposes of executive orders in recent years is to create commissions, advisory boards, councils and task forces which study issues, recommend policies or develop new programs to address important social and economic issues.  In the last three terms, governors have issued fifty orders which created, amended or dissolved these special entities.  They may also create programs directly, placing them under the authority of an executive agency.

Governors also use executive orders to manage administrative agencies and financial matters.  They reorganize agencies, move programs, change names, make policy, implement hiring freezes, create administrative positions and direct agencies to take specific actions through executive orders.  Governors have used orders to implement spending cuts, transfer revenue, issue bonds authorized by constitutional amendments, and guide investment policy.  It is now common practice for a governor to issue an executive order on the first day in office to address issues of authority, spending, and other matters relating to the transition to a new term of office.

Floods, fires, and other catastrophes that required immediate and decisive action often require an executive order to free necessary state resources for assistance.  On the lighter side, executive orders are sometimes used to name public parks, facilities, buildings, bridges or highways to commemorate the contributions of West Virginians to the state and nation.

The Executive Orders database, coming soon,  lists all orders from 1965 to the present.  Governor Gaston Caperton issued 77 executive orders in two terms beginning in 1989 and ending in January of 1997.  Governor Cecil Underwood issued 71 executive orders in one term beginning in 1997 and ending in January 2001. Governor Bob Wise issed 82 under his administration.  Orders of the current administration of Governor Joe Manchin III are also included.


While executive orders represent official actions, proclamations represent official notice to the citizens of the state.

The first proclamations served as notice of the most important matters.  The early proclamations reflect the circumstances of West Virginia's birth as a state, in the midst of the Civil War.  Here is the text, apparently a summary, of the first proclamation issued in West Virginia, dated  June 29, 1863:

The Governor issued his proclamation in the words following:  "Whereas the President of the United States did on the 15th of June 1863 issue his proclamation &c calling for 10,000 militia to serve in the United States Service six months &c&c"

and the second proclamation, dated September 28, 1863:

The Governor issued a Proclamation in the words following:  "To the people of West Virginia.  I have information deemed reliable that the rebel Generals Imbodew Jackson and may be others contemplate a raid into West Virginia &c. calling upon the people to be prepared for a rebel raid."

The terms "&c" or "&c&c" apparently stand for text of the order which was not included in the entry, essentially meaning "etc., etc."

Today, many proclamations designate the celebration in the state of special recognition times, such as "National Dairy Month," or "West Virginia Reads-Aloud Day."  

On the more "official" side, West Virginia law specifies some occasions when proclamations are to be issued.  For example, when a vacancy in high office occurs and must be filled by election, the Governor is required to issued a proclamation to give notice to the voters of that election. 

Here is the provision for vacancies in the U. S. House of Representatives from West Virginia
Code §3-10-4:

"If there be a vacancy in the representation from this state in the House of Representatives in the Congress of the United States, the governor shall, within ten days after the fact comes to his knowledge, give notice thereof by proclamation, to be published prior to such election as a Class II-O legal advertisement in compliance with the provisions of article three, chapter fifty-nine of this code, and the publication area for such publication shall be each county in the congressional district."

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