Accounts of Lincoln's Signing of the Statehood Bill
by Waitman T. Willey and Jacob Beeson Blair

Wheeling Daily Intelligencer
January 22, 1876

A Chapter of Inside History in Regard to the Admission of West Virginia Into the Union

Letter from Ex-Congressman Blair to Ex-Senator Willey.

Morgantown, January 18.
Editors of the Intelligencer:

In your issue of the 15th inst., there is an extract from a book recently published by Granville Parker, Esq., complimentary to Hon. Jacob B. Blair for his ""honesty and earnestness" in support of the bill creating the State of West Virginia, and, also, relating to certain incidents connected with that bill about the time it became a law. Mr. Blair is eminently entitled to the full credit of the commendation bestowed upon him, without the apparent reluctance and reserved qualification which accompany it. To no man, more than to Mr. Blair, are the people of West Virginia indebted for the successful carrying through the Congress of the United States of the bill for the formation of our State. If Mr. Parker had been satisfied with his lukewarm approval of the course of Mr. Blair, without doing gross and manifest injustice to the other members of the West Virginia delegation then in Congress, it would have afforded no grounds of complaint on my part. This injustice is so flagrant, that it attracted the attention of Mr. Blair, and a few weeks ago he addressed to me the following letter, for which I respectfully ask a place in the columns of your journal. I am aware of the reluctance with which you publish matters having a merely personal relation, but the letter of Mr. Blair contains so many incidents of a quasi-historical character, that I hope they will redeem it from the objection just stated.

There are other inaccuracies in Mr. Parker's book, relating to myself. On page 46, it is alleged that on my way home from the Richmond Convention, I "made a disloyal speech, exhorting the people to repel any invasion of Virginia soil by the Yankees." To this allegation I give an unqualified denial. It is wholly without foundation in fact, as is, also, the allegation on page 49, that I "denounced as triple treason" the ordinance of 1862, providing for the election of delegates to form a constitution for a new State.

Very respectfully,
W. T. Willey.

Letter of Hon. Jacob B. Blair.
Parkerburg, Dec. 27, 1875.

Hon. Waitman T. Willey:

DEAR SIR: A short time ago I saw published in one or more papers of our State, some extracts purporting to be taken from a recent work by Col. Granville Parker, which reflect very severely on you and your action as one of the Senators in Congress at the time when action was taken to secure the creation of the State of West Virginia.


I have not as yet had the pleasure of reading Colonel Parker's book, and can not therefore say whether he is correctly quoted or not. I have always entertained a high regard for him, and am therefore slow to believe him guilty of such gross, not to say wanton, misrepresentations in regard to your action at the time mentioned, as Senator from West Virginia, as the extracts above referred to most clearly contain. As no one could have taken a deeper interest in the creation of the State of West Virginia than I did, and being a Representative in Congress at the time of its creation, I certainly ought to know who were the friends of the "new State" and who were its enemies. This I can say: there was hardly a day from the time the first action was taken on the petition in the House praying Congress to pass a bill creating the State of West Virginia to the day when the bill passed the Senate that I did not talk with you in regard to the measure. The greater part of the time we lodged at the same house and ate at the same table, and our relations were the most confidential and friendly throughout. It does appear to me that I know not only what you said and did in that regard, but almost your inmost thoughts and feelings, and I do declare in all sincerity that there was not a moment from the inception of the measure to its final passage by Congress in which you failed to give the bill your most hearty and unqualified support. Nay, more: I am confident that but for your continuing exertions, particularly after your colleague in the Senate had gone back on his first love, the bill would have failed to become a law, and the people of West Virginia, instead of enjoying as they now do the blessings of an independent State of the Union, would be tied to and governed by those who never felt any respect or sympathy for them, and who act as though they thank God daily that they were not made out of the same material that other men are.

But this is not all. After the bill had passed both Houses of Congress, and needed only the approving signature of the President to become a law, it was thought prudent by you and myself to visit the members of the Cabinet, and explain to them the true condition of the loyal people of West Virginia, and to answer, if possible, any objections they might urge, either to the constitutionality or expediency of the measure. To this end we called on Mr. Chase, Secretary of the Treasury; Mr. Seward, Secretary of Foreign Affairs, and Mr. Blair, Postmaster General; and I know we had good reason to congratulate ourselves on our day's work. The other members of the Cabinet, if my memory serves me right, we failed to see.

There was now but one thing more that could be done by the Representatives in Congress from West Virginia, to secure the success of the bill which we believed to be fraught with so much interest to our constituents; and that was, to visit the President, and appeal to him in the name of the loyal people of West Virginia to give this measure his approval. The President had had the bill under consideration for nine days, and, under the constitution, the hour for action was at hand. We all felt confident he would approve it, but such was our anxiety for its fate, that we felt restive under the suspense. As I have said before, we then determined to go and see the President, and urge him to give the bill his favorable consideration. There is scarcely the smallest incident that occurred at that interview that I do not distinctly remember. It was in the evening of the last day of December, 1862. You, Hon. William G. Brown, and myself were present. We had hardly taken our seats, when Mr. Lincoln remarked that he was glad we had called, as he wished to talk to us as to the constitutionality and expediency of creating the proposed new State out of a part of the State of Virginia.

Without waiting for a reply he went on to say that he had consulted his Cabinet on the above points, that he had their opinions in writing, that he would read them to us, but would not tell us which was which. Friend Brown just then got in a word, and remarked that he thought we would be able to tell whose opinion he read. You remember we did so in every instance. He had the written opinions of every member of his cabinet, save one - that of Mr. Smith. Mr. Seward, Mr. Chase, and Mr. Stanton, were for us. Mr. Wells, Mr. Blair, and Mr. Bates, were against us. The President then pulled out a drawer in the table by which he was sitting, with the remark: "Now gentlemen, I will give you the odd trick;" and I remarked "that is the trick we hope to take." One thing I do know, that we three agreed afterwards that Mr. Lincoln's argument was the clearest, most pointed, and conclusive of all that was read to us. Above all it was the most satisfactory to us. We went at 7 o'clock and left after 10. You will remember that just as we were leaving I obtained a promise from him, that notwithstanding the next day was New Year's Day, when the President received no visitors on business, that if I would come up early he would let Mr. Brown know whether he had approved our bill or not. I was there early in the morning, and he kept his promise as he always did. He brought the bill to me and holding it open before my eyes, he said: "Do you see that signature?" I read - "Approved, Abraham Lincoln." I need not say, I was happy. I thanked the President in the name of the loyal people of our new-born State, for what he had done for them and with a light heart I made my way back to the National Hotel. When a square off I saw your tall form standing in front of the hotel. When I approached you, I shall ever remember the anxiety depicted in your countenance to learn the result of my visit to the President. I told you all in a word, and then and there two souls were made happy. We both went immediately to the telegraph office, and sent the good news with lightning speed to Gov. F. H. Pierpoint, then acting Governor of the restored government of the State of Virginia.

With all these facts fresh in my mind, as if they occurred on but yesterday, I confess, on reading the extracts above referred to, I felt, and that keenly, that a great wrong had been done you, and I resolved that I would avail myself of the first leisure moment to tell you what I knew (not about farming), but about the creation of the State of West Virginia.

Individuals often prove ungrateful, but the masses of the people seldom; and you may rest assured that the people of West Virginia are not ignorant of the ability and fidelity with which you served them in every position you were called by them to fill; and no act of your life will be longer or more gratefully remembered by them than your faithful, honest, persevering effort, which was at last crowned with success, to secure for them that for which they had so long prayed - an independent State carved out of the territory of Virginia west of the Alleghenies.

You are at liberty to dispose of this letter as you may see proper.

Your obedient servant,

Chapter Fourteen: Lincoln's Dilemma

A State of Convenience

West Virginia Archives and History