Opinion on the Admission of West Virginia into the Union

[December 31, 1862]

The consent of the Legislature of Virginia is constitutionally necessary to the bill for the admission of West-Virginia becoming a law. A body claiming to be such Legislature has given it’s consent. We can not well deny that it is such, unless we do so upon the outside knowledge that the body was chosen at elections, in which a majority of the qualified voters of Virginia did not participate.  But it is a universal practice in the popular elections in all these states, to give no legal consideration whatever to those who do not choose to vote, as against the effect of the votes of those, who do choose to vote. Hence it is not the qualified voters, but the qualified voters, who choose to vote, that constitute the political power of the state. Much less than to non-voters, should any consideration be given to those who did not vote, in this case: because it is also matter of outside knowledge, that they were not merely neglectful of their rights under, and duty to, this government, but were also engaged in open rebellion against it. Doubtless among these non-voters were some Union men whose voices were smothered by the more numerous secessionists; but we know too little of their number to assign them any appreciable value. Can this government stand, if it indulges constitutional constructions by which men in open rebellion against it, are to be accounted, man for man, the equals of those who maintain their loyalty to it? Are they to be accounted even better citizens, and more worthy of consideration, than those who merely neglect to vote? If so, their treason against the constitution, enhances their constitutional value! Without braving these absurd conclusions, we can not deny that the body which consents to the admission of West-Virginia, is the Legislature of Virginia. I do not think the plural form of the words “Legislatures” and “States” in the phrase of the constitution “without the consent of the Legislatures of the States concerned &c” has any reference to the new State concerned. That plural form sprang from the contemplation of two or more old States contributing to form a new one. The idea that the new state was in danger of being admitted without its own consent, was not provided against, because it was not thought of, as I conceive. It is said, the devil takes care of his own. Much more should a good spirit—the spirit of the Constitution and the Union—take care of it’s own. I think it can not do less, and live.

But is the admission into the Union, of West-Virginia, expedient. This, in my general view, is more a question for Congress, than for the Executive. Still I do not evade it. More than on anything else, it depends on whether the admission or rejection of the new state would under all the circumstances tend the more strongly to the restoration of the national authority throughout the Union. That which helps most in this direction is the most expedient at this time. Doutless those in remaining Virginia would return to the Union, so to speak, less reluctantly without the division of the old state than with it; but I think we could not save as much in this quarter by rejecting the new state, as we should lose by it in West-Virginia. We can scarcely dispense with the aid of West-Virginia in this struggle; much less can we afford to have her against us, in congress and in the field. Her brave and good men regard her admission into the Union as a matter of life and death. They have been true to the Union under very severe trials. We have so acted as to justify their hopes; and we can not fully retain their confidence, and co-operation, if we seem to break faith with them. In fact, they could not do so much for us, if they would.

Again, the admission of the new state, turns that much slave soil to free; and thus, is a certain, and irrevocable encroachment upon the cause of the rebellion.

The division of a State is dreaded as a precedent. But a measure made expedient by a war, is no precedent for times of peace. It is said that the admission of West-Virginia, is secession, and tolerated only because it is our secession. Well, if we call it by that name, there is still difference enough between secession against the constitution, and secession in favor of the constitution.

I believe the admission of West-Virginia into the Union is expedient.

To Edwin M. Stanton

Hon. Sec. of War:                     Executive Mansion,
Sir:                                              Washington, December 26, 1862

Two Ohio regiments and one Illinois regiment were captured at Hartsville, have been parolled, and are now at Columbus Ohio. This brings the Ohio regiments substantially to their homes. I am strongly impressed with the belief that the Illinois regiment better be sent to Illinois, where it will be recruited and put in good condition, by the time they are exchanged, so as to re-enter the service. They did not misbehave, as I am satisfied; so that they should receive no treatment, nor have anything withheld from them, by way of punishment. Yours truly A. LINCOLN

To Members of the Cabinet

Executive Mansion,
Washington, December 23, 1862.

Gentleman of the Cabinet A bill for an act entitled “An Act for the admission of the State of `West-Virginia’ into the Union, and for other purposes,” has passed the House of Representatives, and the Senate, and has been duly presented to me for my action.

I respectfully ask of each [of] you, an opinion in writing, on the following questions, towit:

1st. Is the said Act constitutional?

2d. Is the said Act expedient?

Your Obt. Servt. ABRAHAM LINCOLN

To Fanny McCullough

                                   Executive Mansion,
Dear Fanny              Washington, December 23, 1862.

It is with deep grief that I learn of the death of your kind and brave Father; and, especially, that it is affecting your young heart beyond what is common in such cases. In this sad world of ours, sorrow comes to all; and, to the young, it comes with bitterest agony, because it takes them unawares. The older have learned to ever expect it. I am anxious to afford some alleviation of your present distress. Perfect relief is not possible, except with time. You can not now realize that you will ever feel better. Is not this so? And yet it is a mistake. You are sure to be happy again. To know this, which is certainly true, will make you some less miserable now. I have had experience enough to know what I say; and you need only to believe it, to feel better at once. The memory of your dear Father, instead of an agony, will yet be a sad sweet feeling in your heart, of a purer, and holier sort than you have known before.

Please present my kind regards to your afflicted mother.

Your sincere friend A. LINCOLN.

To William B. Franklin and William F. Smith

Major General Franklin &                    Executive Mansion,
Major General Smith                             Washington, Dec. 22. 1862.

Yours of the 20th. suggesting a plan of operations for the Army of the Potomac, is received. I have hastily read the plan, and shall yet try to give it more deliberate consideration, with the aid of military men. Meanwhile let me say it seems to me to present the old questions of preference between the line of the Peninsula, and the line you are now upon. The difficulties you point out as pertaining to the Fredericksburg line are obvious and palpable. But now, as heretofore, if you go to James River, a large part of the army must remain on or near the Fredericksburg line, to protect Washington. It is the old difficulty.

When I saw Gen. Franklin at Harrison’s Landing on James River last July, I can not be mistaken in saying that he distinctly advised the bringing of the Army away from there.

Yours very truly A. LINCOLN

Congratulations to the Army of the Potomac

Executive Mansion, Washington, December 22, 1862.

To the Army of the Potomac: I have just read your Commanding General’s preliminary report of the battle of Fredericksburg. Although you were not successful, the attempt was not an error, nor the failure other than an accident. The courage with which you, in an open field, maintained the contest against an entrenched foe, and the consummate skill and success with which you crossed and re-crossed the river, in face of the enemy, show that you possess all the qualities of a great army, which will yet give victory to the cause of the country and of popular government. Condoling with the mourners for the dead, and sympathizing with the severely wounded, I congratulate you that the number of both is comparatively so small.

I tender to you, officers and soldiers, the thanks of the nation.

ABRAHAM LINCOLN.

To Thomas J. Henderson

Executive Mansion, Washington,
Hon. T.J. Henderson. December 20, 1862.

My dear Sir:— Your letter of the 8th to Hon. William Kellogg has just been shown me. You can scarcely overestimate the pleasure it would give me to oblige you, but nothing is operating so ruinously upon us everywhere as “absenteeism.” It positively will not do for me to grant leaves of absence in cases not sufficient to procure them under the regular rules.

It would astonish you to know the extent of the evil of “absenteeism.” We scarcely have more than half the men we are paying on the spot for service anywhere. Yours very truly,

A. LINCOLN.