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Abraham Lincoln’s birthday is a good time to review some of the facts leading to the creation of West Virginia. It was the only state created during the Civil War, and Virginia was the only state to lose territory during the same time period. Neither the Confederacy or the Commonwealth of Virginia recognized West Virginia or the Union’s claim to it during the Civil War.


The 47 delegates from what eventually became West Virginia voted 32 to 15 against secession. Some of those delegates and other Unionists in western Virginia formed an alternative government, the Restored Government of Virginia, in the city of Wheeling. On Aug. 20, 1861, this government granted itself permission to form a new state, eventually named West Virginia, and presented an application for statehood to the U.S. Congress.


On June 20, 1863, West Virginia was formally admitted to the Union. Two more counties, Jefferson and Berkeley, were added later that year. These had not been part of the original statehood bill. The Confederacy continued to mount raids into West Virginia until almost the end of the war. After statehood, the Confederacy’s leaders grew increasingly resigned to the prospect that any post-war Confederacy that might survive would not include West Virginia.


Once the war was over, West Virginians soon made it clear that they were not interested in reunification of the state. Virginia attempted reclamation of Jefferson and Berkeley counties in a suit before the U.S. Supreme Court. In December, 1870, the court ruled in favor of West Virginia. Even in the 20th century, there were still some disputes about the precise location of the border in some of the northern mountain regions of Virginia.


Virginia was also forced to engage in a long dispute with West Virginia over its share of the state’s antebellum debts, which was finally settled in 1939. In 1991, both state legislatures appropriated money for a boundary commission to look into 15 miles of the border area and determine the legal boundary.


Lincoln was identified as “freeing the slaves,” but was also credited with starting the reunification of the nation. In 1847, he was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, and, in 1856, became identified with the newly formed Republican Party. He ran for the U.S. Senate, but was defeated by Stephen Douglas. The outstanding speeches that he made in the famous debates with Douglas impressed the country, and he was nominated for the presidency in 1860. While campaigning for president, people flocked to train stations to see and hear him.


The last four years of his life were the years of the “War between the States.” Lincoln left no doubt as to how he stood on slavery. He said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” When he was elected, the South prepared for war, and, within six weeks, fired on Ft. Sumter.


He was chosen president for a second term and, in his inaugural address, he spoke of his job of “bringing the country together again in harmony.” Just six days after the end of the war, his life came to an end when he was shot by John Wilkes Booth. People across the nation paid tribute to him. He was described by Edwin Stanton, Secretary of War in Lincoln’s cabinet, as a man who belongs to the ages.


The following words are found at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.:

“With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow and his orphan--to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”


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