John Snyder Carlile (December 16, 1817 – October 24, 1878) was an American merchant, lawyer, and politician, including a United States Senator. A strong supporter of the Union cause during the American Civil War, he represented the loyalist faction of Virginia, which was eventually separated into two distinct states over his protests.
Carlile was born in Winchester, Virginia. He was educated by his mother until he was fourteen years old, when he became salesman in a store, and at the age of seventeen went into business on his own account. He then studied law, was admitted to the bar in 1840, and began practice in Beverly. Entering politics, he joined the Democratic Party. He was selected as a delegate to the Virginia state constitutional convention in 1850. Carlile served in the Virginia State Senate from 1847–51. He joined the new Know Nothing political movement in 1854 and represented Virginia's 11th District in the United States House for one term.
He was a delegate from Harrison County to the Virginia secession convention in 1861, voting no on the controversial resolution. He was a leader in the anti-secession movement, and was prominent in the Wheeling Convention of June 1861. He was averse, however, to the formation of a new state (what became West Virginia), preferring that Congress should recognize the Unionist government at Wheeling as the true state government of Virginia. On June 13, 1861, at the first session of the Second Wheeling Convention, Carlile presented "A Declaration of the People of Virginia," a document that called for the reorganization of the government of Virginia on the grounds that due to Virginia's decision to secede from the United States, all state government offices had been vacated.
He was again chosen to Congress in 1861, but kept his seat in the House of Representatives only from July 4 through July 13, when he was elected as one of two United States senators from the loyal faction of Virginia, and served until 1865. In the Senate, he was uniformly in favor of a strict construction of the Constitution, opposing all measures recognizing that there existed a rebellion of states instead of individuals, and denying the right of Congress to interfere in any way with the slaves (Carlile being a slaveowner himself). He frequently met with President Abraham Lincoln in Washington D.C. to try to garner his support for his causes.
Following the war, he retired from politics and returned home to resume his law practice. He died in Clarksburg, West Virginia, and was buried in the Odd Fellows Cemetery.
- John S. Carlile in Encyclopedia Virginia
- Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography, edited by James Grant Wilson and John Fiske. Six volumes, New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1887-1889.
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