July 25, 1862
The Representatives and Senators of the border slaveholding States having, by special invitation of the President, been convened at the Executive Mansion on Saturday morning, the 12th inst., Mr. Lincoln addressed them as follows, from a written paper held in his hand:
“Gentlemen:--After the adjournment of Congress, now near, I shall have no opportunity of seeing you for several months. Believing that you of the border States hold more power for good than any other equal number of members, I feel it a duty which I cannot justifiably waive to make this appeal to you.
“I intend no reproach or complaint when I assure you that, in my opinion, if you all had voted for the resolution in the gradual emancipation message of last March the war would not be substantially ended. And the plan therein proposed is yet one of the most potent and swift means of ending it.—Let the States which are in rebellion see definitely and certainly that in no event will the States you represent ever join their proposed Confederacy, and they cannot much longer maintain the contest. But you cannot divest them of their hope to ultimately have you with them, so long as you show a determination to perpetuate the institution within your own States. Beat them at elections, as you have overwhelmingly done, and, nothing daunted, they still claim you as their own. You and I know what the lever of their power is. Break that lever before their faces, and they can shake you no more forever.
“Most of you have treated me with kindness and consideration, and I trust you will not now think I improperly touch what is exclusively your own, when, for the sake of the whole country, I ask, “can you, for your States do better than to take the course that I urge?” Discarding punctilio and maxims adapted to more manageable times, and looking only to the unprecedented stern facts of our case, can you do better in any possible event? You prefer that the constitutional relation of the States to the nation shall be practically restored without disturbance of the institution, and, if this were done, my whole duty in this respect, under the constitution and my oath of office, would be performed.—But it is not done, and we are trying to accomplish it by war.
The incidents of the war cannot be avoided. If the war continues long, as it must if the object be not sooner attained, the institution in your States will be extinguished by mere friction and abrasion—by the mere incidents of the war. It will be gone, and you will have nothing valuable in lieu of it. Much of its value is gone already. How much better for you and for your people to take the step which at once shortens the war, and secures substantial compensation for that which is sure to be wholly lost in any other vent! How much better to thus save the money which also we sink forever in the war! How much better to do it while we can, lest the war ere long render us pecuniarily unable to do it! How much better for you as seller, and the nation as buyer, to sell out and buy out that without which the war could never have been, than to sink both the thing to be sold and the price of it in cutting one another’s throats!
“I do not speak of emancipation at once, but a decision at once to emancipate gradually. Room in South America for colonization can be obtained cheaply, and in abundance, and when numbers shall be large enough to be company and encouragement for one another, the freed people will not be so reluctant to go.
I am pressed with a difficulty not yet mentioned—one which threatens division among those who, united, are none too strong. An instance of it is known to you. Gen. Hunter is an honest man. He was, and I hope still is, my friend. I valued him none the less for his agreeing with me in the general wish that all men everywhere could be freed. He proclaimed all men free within certain States and I repudiated the proclamation. He expected more good and less harm from the measure than I could believe would follow. Yet, in repudiating it, I gave dissatisfaction, if not offense, to many whose support the country cannot afford to lose. And this is not the end of it. The pressure in this direction is still upon me, and is increasing. By conceding what I now ask, you can relieve me, and, much more, can relieve the country in this important point.
“Upon these considerations I have again begged your attention to the message of March last. Before leaving the capital, consider and discuss it among yourselves. You are patriots and statesmen, and as such I pray you consider this proposition; and at the least commend it to the consideration of your States and people as you would perpetuate popular government for the best people in the world, I beseech you that you do in no wise omit this. Our common country is in great peril, demanding the loftiest views and boldest action to bring a speedy relief. Once relieved, its form of government is saved to the world; its beloved history and cherished memories are vindicated, and its happy future fully assured and rendered inconceivably grand. To you, more than to any others, the privilege is given to assure that happiness, and swell that grandeur, and to link your own names therewith forever.”
At the conclusion of these remarks some conversation was had between the President and several members of the delegations from the border States, in which it was represented that these States could not be expected to move in so great a matter as that brought to their notice in the foregoing address while as yet the Congress had taken no step beyond the passage of a resolution, expressive rather of a sentiment than presenting a substantial and reliable basis of action. The President acknowledged the force of this view, and admitted that the border States were entitled to expect a substantial pledge of pecuniary aid as the condition of taking into consideration a proposition so important in its relations to their social system.
It was further represented, in the Conference, that the people of the border States were interested in knowing the great importance which the President attached to the policy in question, while it was equally due to the country, to the President, and to themselves, that the representatives of the border slaveholding States should publicly announce the motives under which they were called to act and the considerations of public policy urged upon them and their constituents by the President.
With a view to such a statement of their position, the members thus addressed met in council to deliberate on the reply they should make to the President, and, as the result of a comparison of opinions among themselves, they determined upon the adoption of a majority and a minority answer.
Timeline of West Virginia: Civil War and Statehood: July 1862