“Important Speech of President Lincoln to the Virginia Commissioners.”

Posted on April 13, 2011 by


Washington, April 13, 1861

The Virginia Commissioners were formally received to-day. They presented the resolutions under which they were appointed. In reply to Messrs. Preston, Stuart and Randolph, the Commissioners, Mr. Lincoln said: –

GENTLEMEN – As a commission of the Virginia Convention, now in session, you present me a preamble and resolution in these words: –

Whereas, in the opinion of this Convention, the uncertainty which prevails, in the public mind as to the policy which the federal Executive intends to pursue towards the seceded States, is extremely injurious to the industrial and commercial interests of the country, tends to keep up an excitement which is unfavorable to the adjustment of the pending difficulties, and threatens a disturbance of the public peace; therefore,

Resolved, That a committee of three delegates be appointed to wait on the President of the United States, present to him this preamble, and respectfully ask him to communicate to this Convention the policy which the federal Executive intends to pursue in regard to the Confederate States.

In answer I have to say that having, at the beginning of my official term, expressed my intended policy as plainly as I was able, it is with deep regret and mortification I now learn there is great and injurious uncertainty in the public mind as to what that policy is, and what course I intent to pursue. Not having as yet seen occasion to change, it is now my purpose to pursue the course worked out in the inaugural address. I commend a careful consideration of the whole document as the best expression I can give to my purposes. As I then and therein said, I now repeat, “The power confided in me will be used to hold, occupy and protect property and places belonging to the government, and to collect the duties and imports; but beyond what is necessary for these objects there will be no invasion, no using of force against or among the people anywhere.” By the words “property and places belonging to the government,” I chiefly allude to the military posts and property which were in possession of the government when it came into my hands. But if, as now appears to be true, in pursuit of a purpose to drive the United States authority from these places, an unprovoked assault has been made upon Fort Sumter, I shall hold myself at liberty to repossess it, if I can, and also like places which had been as… before the government was devolved upon me, and in any event I shall to the best of my ability, repel force by force. In case it proves true that Fort Sumter has been assaulted, as is reported, I shall, perhaps, cause the United States mails to be withdrawn from all the States which claim to have seceded, believing that the commencement of actual war against the government justifies and possibly demands it. I scarcely need say that I consider the military posts and property situated within the States which claim to have seceded, as yet belonging to the government of the United States as much as they did before the supposed secession. I shall not attempt to collect the duties and imports by any armed invasion or any part of the country; not meaning by this, however, that I may not land a force deemed necessary to relieve a fort upon the border of the country. From the fact that I have quoted a part of the inaugural address, it must not be inferred that I repudiate any other part, the whole of which I reaffirm, except so far as what I now say of the mails may be regarded as a modification.

This notice cannot be misinterpreted; and the fact that the secessionists opened the fight at Charleston before any attempt was made by the government to reinforce or supply Fort Sumter, is viewed here as an attempt on their part to coerce the government, and puts the responsibility upon them.

*Transcribed from the April 17, 1861 edition of the Valley Spirit, Chambersburg, Pa. (Courtesy of the Valley of the Shadow site).