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1865 March 4: President Lincoln on the Fairness of the Draft and State Quotas

March 7, 2015

The following article and letter from President Abraham Lincoln comes from the March 4, 1865, issue of The Prescott Journal.

The Draft and State Quotas—Letter from President Lincoln.

A committee of the Rhode Island Legislature recently went to Washington to remonstrate against what they regarded as the injustice of the quota assigned that State.  The report that they had an interview with the President who told them, after stating their case, that so many complaints had reached him from various quarters of the assignment of quotas, that he had personally taken the pains to examine the formula adopted by the Provost-Marshal-General for the calculation and distribution of the quotas for the several States, had arrived at the conclusion that no candid mind could doubt its fairness and equity.  The President also gave them a copy of the following letter on the same subject, which he had written to Gov. SMITH¹ of Vermont :

WASHINGTON, Feb. 8, 1865. }

His Excellency, Gov. Smith, Vermont :

Complaint is made to me by Vermont that the assignment of her quota for the draft on the pending call is intrinsically unjust, and also in bad faith of the Government’s promise to fairly allow credits for men previously furnished.  To illustrate, a supposed case is stated as follows :

Vermont and New Hampshire must between them furnish 6,000 men on the pending call, and being equals, each must furnish as many as the other in the long run.  But the Government finds that on former calls Vermont furnished a surplus of 500, and New Hampshire a surplus of 1,500, these two surpluses making 2,000 ;  and, added to the 6,000, making 8,000 to be furnished by the two States, or 4,000 each, less by fair credits.  Then subtract Vermont’s surplus of 500 from her 4,000, leaves 3,500 as her quota on the pending call ;  and likewise subtract New Hampshire’s surplus of 1,500 from her 4,000, leaves 2,500 as her quota on the pending call.  These 3,500 and 2,500 make precisely the 6,000 which the supposed case requires from the two States ;  and it is just equal for Vermont to furnish 1,000 more now than New Hampshire, because New Hampshire has heretofore furnished 1,000 more than Vermont, which equalizes the burdens of the two in the long run.

And this result, so far from being bad faith to Vermont, is indispensable to keeping good faith with New Hampshire.  By no other result can the 6,000 men be obtained from the two States, and at the same time deal justly and keep faith with both ;  and we do but confuse ourselves in questioning the process by which the right result is reached.  The supposed case is perfect as an illustration.

The pending call is not for 300,000 men subject to fair credits, but is for 300,000 remaining after all fair credits have been deducted ;  and it is impossible to concede what Vermont asks, without coming out short of the 300,000 men, or making other localities pay for the partiality shown here.

This, upon the case stated.  If there be different reasons for making an allowance to Vermont, let them be presented and considered.

Yours truly,              A. LINCOLN.

1.  John Gregory Smith (1818-1891) was the 28th governor of Vermont, the last Civil War governor, serving from 1863 through 1865. Before the War, Smith was associated with his father in his law practice and railroad management. He was one of the originators of the Northern Pacific Railway enterprise and was the president of the corporation from 1866 to 1872. Smith entered the Vermont House of Representatives in 1860, and was speaker of the House in 1861 and 1862. As governor, he worked at obtaining medical care for Vermont soldiers at the front, and securing the right of soldiers in the field to vote by absentee ballot.

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