Civil War: Lincoln makes a state

In December 1862 there was great jubilation because the house had passed the West Virginia statehood bill. The Wheeling Intelligencer prematurely announced there was a new 35th state because the House had finally passed the statehood bill.

Prematurely, because a small technicality required the president’s signature on the bill. Regardless, the House passage was important, but there were major doubts about the president’s willingness to agree. First, the president had backed away from his earlier support; second, he was preoccupied with the Emancipation Proclamation and how and when to announce it; and, thirdly, several of his cabinet were against statehood for the northwestern counties of Virginia.

However, he was given the bill on Dec. 22 to be taken under advisement. He ask each member of his cabinet to prepare their comments on the statehood bill, and as it turned out the cabinet, in meeting with the president split 50/50 for and against the bill.

President Lincoln again took the matter under personal advisement, not disclosing his position. His main concern at this point was creating the new state was unconstitutional. Further, he was fighting a war to keep the union united and he was hard put to justify splitting one of the states in that union.

Both Congressmen Blair and Brown used their skills to help persuade the president in favor of the bill, as did Sen. Willey. However, Sen. Carlile continued his subversive campaign against the bill. (Yet Carlile, to this day, is given unearned credit as being one of the founders of the 35th state).

The president had until Dec. 31 to sign the bill, and on the 30th the Wheeling Intelligencer reported: “The New State. We had an encouraging letter from Mr. Blair, last night, about the new state. Things are working well. The president waits to hear all sides. There is no reason to suppose that he will not sign the bill.”

After much deliberation, with his cabinet divided, four in favor and four against, with many entreaties from Gov. Pierpont, our erstwhile congressman and oilman Jacob Beeson Blair visited the president on the night of Dec. 31, the last night it could be signed, persuaded a reluctant Lincoln to sign the bill. Blair got up early the next morning and met Lincoln who showed him the signed bill, creating the new state. Lincoln, in justifying his approval against those who called it secession said, “Well, if we can call it by that name, secession, there is still a difference between secession against the Constitution and secession in favor of the Constitution.”

We take pride that one from Parkersburg played such an important role in our statehood. Further, that he was also one of the first oilmen from Burning Springs and the Hughes River oilfields adds to our pride.

Granville Hall in his book “Rending of Virginia” relates a friend wrote him, ” that happening to the east on private business and gathering from the papers the critical situation at Washington he went thither on the last day of December and that evening called upon. J.B. Blair, congressmen from Parkersburg district. Mr. Blair informed him he had just come from the president, who had told him ‘to call next morning and receive a New Years’ gift.’ ‘In the morning,’ says Mr. Parker, ‘Mr. Blair, as he afterwards told me, called at the presidential mansion before the doors were open, went in at a window and met the president, who had just got up. He went immediately to a drawer and took out and showed Mr. Blair the bill for the admission of West Virginia, with his signature affixed, as the New Years’ gift he had promised; manifesting the simplicity and joyousness of a child when it feels it had done its duty and gratified a friend.'”

It is important in reviewing this most important event in our history, that later that day this same president would announce to the world his, at that time “earthshaking emancipation proclamation.”

When the new year arrived on Jan. 1, 2013, I heard much about the anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, but nary a word about the president’s approval of West Virginia statehood. We should be proud he did both on the same day.

One would think that we should be celebrating statehood on Jan. 1, right. Wrong,

The president added a caveat to the effect that before the act was finalized, the Virginia Constitutional Convention in Wheeling must agree to the revisions Congress had added, that is, the Willey Amendment and several other minor changes, and the people in that state must vote and ratify these changes. And so we must celebrate later and complete this process for several months, as you know, until June. And much had to be done 150 years ago to assure that all the pieces fell in place – but the one great hurdle had been overcome, and a new state was “being born among the Civil War, and cradled by the storm …”

Back to our statehood traitor John Carlile. Several columns ago I made the case that he was a traitor to the statehood cause. He was castigated by most politicians at the time, he confused his Senate colleagues by switching from – for the state – to against the state, and he angered most of his friends. Members of the Reformed Virginia legislature passed a resolution calling for his resignation, and A.W. Campbell, editor of the Wheeling Intelligencer, campaigned against him vociferously. He stayed put and continued to argue against statehood. Given all this, I visited the Cultural Center recently and a display prominently includes a full-scale oil painting of our traitor proclaiming he was one of the founders of the state of West Virginia. Also an exhibit in the lobby showing the statehood process includes a picture of Carlile. Not a mention of Congressman Jacob Beeson Blair. When will we get our history straight?

On the military side, not much activity took place in the winter, guerrillas feeling much more comfortable at home than roughing it out in the cold. In fact, Gen. Cox, commander of the Union forces in the Kanawha Valley, felt secure enough for the time being to move his headquarters to Marietta, Ohio, for the winter.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Dave McKain is director of the Oil and Gas Museum and is chairman of the area Civil War Roundtable which is commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. Contact him at dlmckain@yahoo.com