Summary of Legislative Debate on Election of House Members to Office, 21 December 18381
The exciting topic disposed of yesterday, of the election of members to office in their own gift, was again brought up to-day.2 Soon after the House met, Mr. Johnson, of Bond, said he had been requested to move the reconsideration of the vote taken yesterday on the resolution of the gentleman from Adams, precluding members of the Legislature from office, &c.[etc] The vote was reconsidered accordingly; when Mr. Murphy, of Perry, moved to lay the resolution on the table. He said the resolution was unconstitutional; that that instrument only contemplated the exclusion of members from offices which were created by themselves; and he saw no reason why they should not be elected as well as others. For his part he would not abide by any such decision as the House made yesterday; and he hoped the matter would be dropped.
Mr. Happy said, he would like to see gentlemen walk up to this question boldly, and meet it like men. Why wish to shrink from the responsibility of a direct vote on this question? Gentlemen knew very well how to dodge. The people were to be deceived, by these side way questions. Lay the resolution on the table, and what then? Why, the people could be told it was informal, or almost any thing else, to shield gentlemen. Surely, they were prepared to vote directly for or against the resolution. They would never have a better time. They had all kind of chances. All night they had had the opportunity of drilling members. They could scare the timid, encourage the wavering, and use all the power of numbers by appealing to the hopes of many. They have doubtless done their best to defeat this resolution. All their fine expectations of office, have impelled them to use every means to destroy a proposition, which seemed to be in their way. Now, let them come up, and vote like men—vote direct, so that the people might see their votes; but not try to ward it off by an indirect vote to lie on the table. For his part he could tell them, all their efforts had not changed his mind.
After several other remarks, by various members, the vote was taken on laying on the table, and decided in the negative—yeas 41, nays 43.—Mr. Webb, of White, then moved to refer the resolution to the committee on the Judiciary. He said his only object was, to have [t]he matter investigated by that committee; and if it could be done, he wished a bill reported which would cover the whole case. He approved of the objects of the resolution; but he would prefer a law which would remedy the evil; for an evil it was, and it was growing rapidly. Already he had no doubt almost every office was apportioned out among the members. He hoped they would be disappointed, and that the majority of this House would oppose the election of any member. But he believed it ought to be made the law of the land; and hence he moved the reference to the committee on the Judiciary.
Several amendments were proposed and voted down, when the House finally refused to refer. Other references were proposed, and several acrimonious speeches made; but all failing, Mr. Lincoln moved its reference to the committee on Internal Improvements. Mr. Smith, of Wabash, and Mr. Thornton, both seemed to regard this as a direct attack on them. They were members of this committee, interested in the decision; and they would not allow the insinuation. They would hold the gentleman from Sangamon responsible, &c. &c. Mr. Lincoln replied, he did not move the reference with any such design as had been attributed to him. He had always been the friend of both the gentlemen; and at the last extra session he had voted against such a proposition, because his friend from Wabash was personally interested then in the decision, being at that time in the employ of the State. But he would now assure the gentlemen, that the proposition to refer did not originate with him. He was requested to make the motion by one of their especial friends, and a member of the same committee, viz: the gentleman from Perry, (Mr. Murphy,) and to oblige him he had made the motion. But he was glad he had made it; the hydra was exposed; and all the talk about settling this matter at another tribunal, he had no objection to, if gentlemen insisted on it. He was always ready, and never shrunk from responsibility.—Mr. Baker said that this matter was assuming rather a serious character. He had opposed the resolution originally, because he was not satisfied of the extent of the evil. But the warmth of debate, and the anxiety shown to stifle the proposition in certain quarters, had satisfied him of the necessity of prompt action in the premises. As it was now late, however, he would move that the House adjurn, which was agreed to; and here, for the present, the matter rests.3
1A previous session of the Legislature had also considered this issue, but passed no legislation to address it.
A Bill to Prevent Members of the Legislature from Holding Offices under the Board of Public Works or the Board of Canal Commissioners; Illinois House Journal. 1837. 10th G. A., special sess., 70, 79, 126-27.
2On December 10, Robert McMillan proposed the following resolution in the House of Representatives: “That we disapprobate the appointing of members of the Legislature to any office, agency, or trust, during the time for which they may have been elected.” The House tabled the resolution. On December 20, the topic was brought up again by McMillan, who moved that his resolution be reconsidered. It was rejected, but later in the day, Archibald Williams proposed a similar resolution. House members debated the resolution, eventually amending it to add “We deprecate, further, the practice of appointing them to offices in either of the Banks in this State,” and ”And also the appointment of members of the Legislature by the Board of Public Works to any office in their gift.” The House then adopted the resolution by a vote of 44 ayes to 42 nays, with Abraham Lincoln voting aye.
Illinois House Journal. 1838. 11th G. A., 1st sess., 51, 119-24.
Printed Document, 1 page(s), Alton Telegraph (Alton, IL), 29 December 1838, 3:5.