Berkeley County, West Virginia Biography of Charles James FAULKNER Sr.


         Charles James Faulkner was the grandson of Captain William Mackey, a commissioned officer in the American Revolution. His father, Major James Faulkner, was Major of Artillery in the Second War with Great Britain and of Craney Island fame in that war.

         He married Mary Boyd, daughter of General Elisha Boyd, an officer in the War of 1812. He was left an orphan at the age of 8, and was under the guardianship of Dr. Richard McSherry and Judge Pendleton of Martinsburg. He was placed in school and at the age of 16, was a graduate of Georgetown University. He began the study of law at Chancellor Tucker of Winchester, Virginia.

         Charles James Faulkner’s lot seemed always to be cast in rough places but these vicissitudes of fate seemed to be an asset to his career rather than a liability, for he said in a speech in Martinsburg at a public dinner given in his honor by the citizens of Berkeley County, on December 16, 1852:

         “At the early age of 8 years, as many of you well know, I was left an orphan boy, without father, without mother, brothers or sisters, and as far as I have any knowledge, the only surviving member of my family upon the wide continent of America. From the first moment that I am capable of reflection I saw that my reliance was wholly and exclusively upon myself, for whatever position or advancement I could achieve among my fellowmen. What others deem a misfortune, I sought to convert into a blessing. And I say it for the benefit of every orphan who may find himself in a situation similar to my own, that the very solitude of my situation in life has been worth more than the gold of Ophir. It guarded my habits against the influence of those temptations to which so many of the youths of our country fall a prey. It made me in an early period of my life habitually reflective upon every step which I took, for I well know that if perchance I was misled into any serious error. I had no father under whose protecting arm I could seek refuge — I had no mother in whose sweet sympathies I could find consolation – I had no troop of relatives in whose banded influence and favor I could find countenance and support against the results of my own indiscretion and folly. I stood alone in the world, and I have no occasion to reproach my God for the loneliness of my condition.”

         The first public service for his state of Virginia was to take sides for the adoption of the constitution of 1830, this constitution of the famous statesman, Watkins Leigh. Thomas Marshall of Kentucky, on a visit to his friends the Colston’s, at the time the vote was taken for its ratification or rejection, bitterly opposed its adoption. A great crowd gathered to hear the joint debate of Mr. Faulkner and Mr. Marshall. Both young men, Mr. Marshall carried the crowd by his wit and eloquence but Mr. Faulkner carried the election for its adoption in Berkeley County through untiring energy and persuasion. He was elected to the Virginia House of Delegates in 1832. Those were stirring times, and the Virginia Legislature and the National Congress was composed of men of strong minds and stout hearts. John C. Calhoun was just putting forth his scheme of “Nullification,” President Jackson had just issued his famous “Proclamation of Force,” Henry Clay his “Tariff Policy,” and Daniel Webster his immortal “Liberty and Union, Now and Forever, One and Inseparable” oration.

         Mr. Faulkner presented to the Legislature a proposition for the gradual abolition of slavery by the post nati principle that all children of slave parents born about July 1, 1840, should be born free. Many sections of the State received this principle with enthusiasm, but the slave-holding element, however, tried to defeat him in re-election in 1833, by making this subject a campaign issue. They were without success - he was returned by practically a unanimous vote. Once a year for many years afterward William Lloyd Garrison printed a speech (on slavery given by Mr. Faulkner to the Virginia Legislature) in the Liberator and circulated it widely throughout the North as evidence of the growing sentiment in the South against slavery. He declined a third term as a member of the Legislature of Virginia, whereupon Governor John Floyd appointed him a member of a commission to examine and report on the disputed question of the boundary line between Maryland and Virginia. He made his report, which was favorably accepted by the Governor.

         For the next 15 years he devoted himself to the practice of his profession in Martinsburg, and at Richmond, which earned him a sustenance very valuable, as practice at the bar at that period was lucrative. In 1841, he was elected to the Virginia Senate and then elected to the House of Delegates of Virginia again in 1848. He introduced a bill that was enacted into a law by both houses of the Legislature and transmitted to the senators and representatives of Congress which became the famous “Fugitive Slave Law,” passed by Congress in 1850. The call for this convention grew out of the controversy between the eastern and western sections of the state with regard to taxation and representation. East Virginia had always borne heavily upon western Virginia in taxation and in internal improvement. The eastern section, largely slave-holding, wished to count the slaves as population in representation but as chattel, exempt from taxation in computing taxation. This gave the eastern section the advantage both ways. It gave them more votes in the Legislature, while the western section, not having as many slaves, had more taxation and less representation. Mr. Faulkner used all his influence for the rights and interests of western Virginia while Henry A. Wise was the champion of eastern Virginia. Mr. Faulkner won.

         Charles Faulkner was elected to Congress in 1851 on an Independent ticket against Henry Beddinger of Jefferson County.

         On August 2, he delivered a speech in Congress on “The Compromise — The Presidency — Political Parties.” This speech became the campaign document by the Democratic party during the next presidential campaign. One hundred and twenty-five thousand copies of this speech were printed and distributed, which attracted national attention to Mr. Faulkner and allied him with the Democratic party (he was a Whig until the death of Henry Clay). He was elected to Congress for four consecutive terms and was made chairman of the Military Committee during his second term. While in this position he changed the custom of appointment of officers so that a private might gain a commission by merit and promotion. He was a member of the Democratic Convention which named James Buchanan for President in 1856; chairman of the Democratic Congressional Committee for the conducting of the presidential campaign; and would have been appointed Secretary of War under President Buchanan had not the electoral college of Virginia recommended John B. Floyd.

         He was appointed Minister to France by President Buchanan in 1859. His first act after his presentation at the Count of Napoleon III was the right of expatriation being first admitted by that government and naturalized citizen of the United States given their right to visit their birth place without molestation or fear of military espionage. Although this right was opposed by M. Thouvenal, the French Minister of Foreign Affairs, it was satisfactorily concluded for the United States Government, and the President thanked Mr. Faulkner in his annual message to Congress.

         Relieved of his diplomatic duties in 1861 by President Lincoln appointing the Hon. William L. Dayton from New Jersey as his successor, Charles Faulkner returned to Washington to pay his respects to the President and Secretary Seward, settled all his and the Government’s accounts, and was about to leave for his home in Martinsburg when he was arrested as a “distinguished citizen of Virginia” as hostages for James McGraw, State Treasurer of Pennsylvania, confined for one month in Washington, then transferred to Fort Lafayette. Soon after this he learned that Mr. McGraw had been set at liberty. He applied to Secretary of War Cameron for his release but was informed by that gentleman that he was now held as a prisoner of state and soon after was removed to Fort Warren in Boston Harbor. While he was confined there Mr. Ely, a Congressman from New York, who had been captured at Bull Run where he had gone as a spectator to that battle, entered into a proposal to exchange Mr. Faulkner for Mr. Ely, but President Jefferson Davis, in his annual message to the Confederate Congress at Richmond, declared he would make Mr. Faulkner’s arrest a ground of arraignment before the civilized world. After considerable delay, it was decided that Mr. Faulkner should be granted a parole for 30 days to go to Richmond and effect, if possible, an exchange between himself and Mr. Ely. Finally President Davis reluctantly consented to the exchange and Mr. Faulkner returned to his home in Martinsburg. Within a few days after his return he was appointed Chief of Staff and the rank of Lieutenant Colonel by General Stonewall Jackson. He served in this capacity until the end of the war when he returned a second time to his home in Berkeley County.

         He defended West Virginia’s claim in the Supreme Court of the United States to the counties of Jefferson and Berkeley in February 1871 and won a decision in favor of the state.

         Charles Faulkner was appointed a member of the Continental Convention of West Virginia in 1872 and greatly aided in framing the second constitution of this State. In June 1872, his political disabilities were removed by a special act of Congress, and in 1874 he was elected a member of the House of Representatives from West Virginia. He served on the important committees of Foreign Relations, Education, and Labor, was a candidate for the office of United States Senator in 1876 but was defeated, and was mentioned as a candidate for Governor of West Virginia in 1880, but was unsuccessful.

         During his latter years of his life he wrote and published a list of the prominent men and women of Berkeley County together with their activities in its affairs.

         He had two sons and six daughters: Judge E. Boyd Faulkner, ex-Senator Charles J. Faulkner, Mrs. S.P.S. Pierce, Mrs. Thomas Bocock, Mrs. John P. Campbell, Mrs. Dr. W.S. Love, Mrs. Joel W. Flood, and Mrs. Dr. James W. McSherry. He died at “Boydville,” his home at Martinsburg, on November 1, 1884, and was buried in the private burying grounds of the Faulkners adjacent to Norborne Cemetery. Three thousand people attended his funeral.


    Submitted by Marilyn Gouge and extracted from History of Berkeley County, West Virginia, 1928

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