Summary of Legislative Debate on Appropriation for Building the State House, 7 January 18391
On motion of Mr Lincoln,
The House resolved itself into a committee of the Whole, on the Senate bill for completing and furnishing the State House, at Springfield, Mr. Thornton in the Chair.2
Mr Ewing took the floor, and moved to strike out all after the enacting clause, and insert an amendment, the purport of which was to repeal the act of 1837, which designated Springfield as the seat of government; and to continue Vandalia as the seat of government, till otherwise ordered.
The Hon. Speaker said, that he was perfectly aware, that it might seem to some a hopeles[s] task, considering what exertions have been, and are now making, both in and out of the House, to cause a removal of the seat of government to Springfield, to struggle against such a current; but it was a principle with him to adhere to a good cause, and to defend it, so long as he had life and breath remaining; and when the house should have considered the bill in all its bearings, it might be that, notwithstanding the powerful delegation from Sangamon supported it, backed by its numerous friends in the lobby, it would be rejected. Was it expected, when, at the last session of the Legislature, $50,000 were, upon certain conditions, appropriated, that so large an appropriation would now be asked for? Was it expected, the capitol was to be commenced upon a scale so magnificent; that Illinois, with her very slender taxable resources, with an immense debt upon her hands, and a gigantic system of Internal Improvements set on foot, would yet lay the foundation of another work, upon a scale of expensiveness almost without a parallel in the valley of the Mississippi?3
A former Legislature thought $50,000 an ample appropriation; but the bill before us proposes to appropriate $128,000; and reasoning from the past to the future, it might reasonably be expected that at the next session of the Legislature, still more will be demanded. Do gentlemen seriously suppose that the projected capitol at Springfield is to be completed with the appropriation now asked for? What has been the fact in similar cases elsewhere? Why, that the expense of such works uniformily exceeds the estimates. Already the expense of the mere foundation of this “cut stone palace” exceeds appropriations actually made; in addition to this, the executive has taken $3,000 from the contingent fund; the commissioners have made themselves liable for $12,000 more; and where is this prodigal and reckless system of expenditure to end? One hundred thousand dollars ought to have covered the entire cost of this building. We are not a rich people; and shall we go on to borrow money for the purpose of constructing fine buildings, when the plain ones will, for the present, accommodate us equally well? What State has ever done this, that had the least self-respect? Depend upon it, we are undertaking a work, that we have not the necessary means of accomplishing. Look at the report of your Auditor of Public Accounts. Why, the entire revenue of the State does not amount to one half the sum asked for by this bill, to go on with the building of the edifice in question. At the same time, the State owes an enormous debt, a wicked and infamous debt of $100,0004; and what is more than all, the school-fund is invaded, and swallowed up, in schemes of Internal Improvement5; rather than to have touched which—sacred as it is to the cause of education—your judges and governors should have served the country gratuitously. Collect all these items into one sum; add to them the State-bonds for the construction of railroads, and what wiil be needful to complete the Illinois and Michigan Canal, and you will find Illinois involved already to the amount of some six millions and a half of dollars.6
He concluded his remarks, which the limits of our sheet have compelled us to condense, by saying, that as he was aware that gentlemen had determined, if possible, to carry through the bill, he had come prepared with a series of propositions, which he intended to present successively, if the first were rejected.
Mr Lincoln said, that as the Hon. Speaker had confined his remarks to the expensiveness of the work under consideration, he would not wander from this point himself. And, indeed, it was unnecessary to say much upon that subject; for he believed that the majority would agree, that if the the work was to be done all, it had best be well done; that is, in a manner creditable to the State. He felt perfectly willing to submit the question to the House, without saying one word more.
The question was then taken, and decided in the negative.
Mr Ewing then proposed another amendment, the purport of which was—that a board of seven commissioners, one from each Judicial District, should be appointed, whose duty it should be to locate anew the seat of government, if possible, on some of the public lands, if not on some other eligible site of one mile square. On this, a city to be laid out in lots; these to be advertised and sold; with the proceeds of which, a revenue was to be obtained for building a State-house, and for other purposes.
In explaining and defending this project, the Hon. Speaker avowed the object of those provisions to be—to relieve the State, in part, of that load of debt under which she now labors; and to put the seat of government on a permanent basis. He contended that the existing law, providing for a change in the seat of government, is a violation of the constitution, and that it has exerted an oppressive action upon the interests of Vandalia—has caused a depreciation in the value of property, and occasioned a stagnation in business. He had calculated, that if his plan were carried into effect, something like half a million of money would be realized by the sale of city lots—which would not only suffice for building a State House, on a respectable scale, but be a permanent source of revenue to the State.
Mr Baker called for the reading of a part of the amendment, in order that he might not be accused of misrepresenting its provisions. He then attempted to shew, that there was some degree of inconsistency between these, and that part of the Hon. Speaker’s argument, which went to shew that all past legislative action upon this subject has been unconstitutional. But, if it was unconstitutional to legislate upon this subject in 1832-4 and 6, because the people of 1840 could not be consulted, can it be constitutional to legislate upon it now? Can the Commissioners go on, according to the gentleman’s plan, to locate and sell town-lots, without consulting the poor, dear people of 1840!
He then went on to say, that Hon. gentleman was mistaken in some of his facts, and in the inferences that he drew from some of these. He is mistaken in saying that the estimates of Architects are always wrong. Those who spend their lives in the midst of these inquiries ought to know more about them than either the Hon. gentleman or himself. Admit that Architects are sometimes mistaken in their estimates, they are not always so; and if the gentleman reasons from the past to the present, it would be well perhaps to inquire whether $60,000 had been already expended, under the immediate superintendence of an able Architect, this individual might not, by this time, have corrected any mistakes into which he might at first have fallen. The mere loose guess of that gentleman, that the present estimate of $128,000 falls far below the sum that will be actually required to complete the State House, is not to be suffered to overthrow the sober calculations of practical men. He denied, then, the conclusion, that $200,000 would be necessary to complete it.—About $60,000—not to exceed $65,000—have been already expended. From 6 to $10,000 have been borrowed upon the private credit of individuals; and $50,000 amply secured to the State; a part of which, viz: $33,600, has been actually re imbursed. There is, then, no reason for saying that the State House is to cost the people $200,000 more.
And now the question comes up, shall the State expend $128,000, in addition to the sum already expended?7 Upon this question, he was perfectly willing that the House should decide, without further argument. It is said, that this is to be a most magnificent building, without sufficiently considering the standard with which it ought to be compared. It would not be considered splendid or magnificent by the side of St. Peter’s, St. Paul’s, or the Capitol at Washington, or the State House of N. Carolina, which is estimated to have cost $700,000; or that proposed to be built in Ohio, at an expense of $550,000, and which is to cover a space more than twice as large as ours at Springfield; or the one planned for the State of Missouri, at an estimate of 325,000 dollars, or that of Arkansas, which is to be at least a size larger than what some gentlemen are pleased contemptuously to style the “cut stone palace” at Springfield.8
He was at a loss to know what gentlemen meant by applying the term magnificent to our capitol at Springfield. It might be on a somewhat more liberal scale, than the building in which he now had the honor to speak; but it was not magnificent, compared with the advantage to be gained; for, if it cost four times as much, it would, he expected, be four times as good. Is it magnificent in comparison with our system of Internal Improvments? No! For his own part, he hoped that both would answer the wishes and expectations of their most sanguine friends. The State is now somewhat richer than she was in the days of the Wiggins loan. Then, she was unable to pay her debts; now, she is able, and he hoped, willing to consult for her dignity. The State House now in progress of construction, is not on too large a scale for our prospects with respect to Illinois; nor for the accommodation of the Legislature, nor the actual resources of the State. He hoped the House, in fixing the seat of Government at Springfield, would bear in mind, that they were probably fixing it there for many years. That principle in human nature, which is constantly urging removal, and exciting to change, however allowable in individuals, should not be indulged in legislation. Before the last session of the Legislature, indeed, it would have been premature to fix the seat of Government permanently; but now, we know about where the centre of the popoulation of the State of Illinois, will fall and remain for a long time to come, and what are to be her now dawning glories, when fully risen; so that, when this question is once more settled, probably it will be settled, if not forever, at least for a hundred years to come. He then adverted to the taste and judgment exhited[exhibited] in the plan of the work, and in so much of the work itself as is already executed—the natural advantages of Springfield and its vicinity—its facilities of access, and its healthfulness; and contended that no other point could be found, combining so many advantages, any where near the centre of the State. Now, it is these that make towns, not the fiat of Legislatures. The wealth and fashion that may assemble at the seat of government, during the session of the General Assembly, will neither make nor support a town, though they may aid. Nor can you at once create a city by laying off lots, and advertising them for sale; for, wealth and enterprise will go where business is to be done. There is no board of commissioners whose designation of a capital would satisfy the people of a whole State; this is a duty that can be performed by the people alone; and it has been done by the people of Illinois, acting through their representatives. A site has been chosen, which is convenient of access; and the money of its inhabitants has been received in aid of the work.9 Why should the fixed plan of the State be now changed! The feeling which would prompt this course of legislation today, may prompt a different course to-morrow; and what security could the citizens of any place have, that you would not abandon them, after making great sacrifices on the implied good faith of the State?—What could satisfy them, save some fixed contract, that the members of the Legislature were not a vacillating, money-shaving set, willing at any time to change the location of the capital, through the influence of mere sectional or party feeling? Rather, now, let the State continue true to her pervious determination, to her plighted faith; and, though she had made a less desirable place her choice, let her consider herself as sacredly bound to abide by it, so long as there is a place to sustain the walls of the capitol. But when, in process of time, our fruitful soil, teeming everywhere with the waving wreath of the husbandman, and our three millions of citizens shall make ours the first State in the Union, and the current of emigration shall have made the north by far the most populous section of Illinois, then, let the seat of government go northward too; and there let it be fixed forever.10 In favoring the location at Springfield now, he endeavored, for his own part, to keep clear of local prejudices, and he hoped that other gentlemen would do so; and give their vote for that place, not for the sake of Sangamon county, but because that would best subserve the interests of the whole people, without suffering any ad captandum project to prevail against it.
Mr. Ficklin said, that as his constituents had an interest in this subject, he wished to say a few words to show them that he had not been unmindful of their interest. Though this is a question that has been agitated many years, it is one that is still in some measure open to debate. He did not look upon it as having been yet finally decided, either by the legislature or the people, and though he could wish that a larger part of this House were with him, (for we all delight to be cheered on by the majority) yet he felt that it would be cowardly to abandon a good cause, because its friends happen to be few.
After stating the subject, he asked whether Illinois would choose to expend the sum necessary to complete the State House at Springfield, out of her treasury? and whether the faith of the State is actually pledged to go on with that building. He challenged gentlemen to show him any such pledge. On the other hand, the State had always been most guarded, in her legislation on this subject. She had always said to the people of Springfield, if you expend money on a State House there, you expend it at your own hazard. It will not be pretended that, a law was passed at the last session absolutely fixing the Capitol at Springfield. That law is one of the most guarded laws he had ever read. It said to the corporation of Springfield—“I hold you responsible for this appropriation; your bonds must be filed within a certain time, and a certain sum must be paid into the treasury;” and after all, the State reserves to herself the right to repeal the act at any time hereafter. That money is not yet paid, though the stipulated time is past; only two instalments are paid; of course, Springfield can not now set up the claim of right.
We may, it is true, agitate this subject, but it rightfully rests with the people of Illinois in 1840 to decide. The constitution has guarantied that the Capitol of the State should be at Vandalia for twenty years; which time has not yet expired; until it has expired, the subject should not be taken up.11 When the proper time arrives, then the whole people of Illinois are to be consulted, as to the proper location. Instead of this, we are taking the business out of the hands of those to whom it properly belongs, we appropriate largely, and expend beyond all appropriations, and after laying out some $200,000 and putting up this cut-stone palace, the people are told to send their representatives thither to make laws.
It has been said that something more is necessary to make a town, than to lay off lots, and make appropriations for building a State House;—true, sir; but why haste away from this place? This House in large enough and good enough for us, and our successors, for some time to come. Let any of our constituents examine the house in which I now have the honor of speaking, and I take it upon myself to say that they would pronounce it amply large, amply commodious; and if we forsake it, and at a great expense erect another Capitol at Springfield, will they not say to us—“Why did you leave that building—why increase our already large debt, for the sake of sitting in a cut-stone palace at Springfield?” Unquestionably, sir, this building will answer the purpose ten years to come; and within that time, we can consult the people, make a suitable location, erect our State House and furnish it, and take possession. For his own part, his course would be a decided one of opposition to the contemplated removal. It is a question which ought to be submitted to the people of 1840.
Mr. Lincoln, in reply, contended that the people of 1840 would have no better right to decide the question, than the people of 1839. True, the inhabitants of Vandalia had a right to retain the seat of government here twenty years, according to the provisions of the Constitution; but, on the other hand, if the people of Illinois at large had found that they had a hard bargain, they have a right to get out of it as soon as they can. Has not the corporation of Springfield faithfully performed her part of the contract? Two thirds of the stipulated sum is paid; and for the other third which is not paid, the bonds of twenty-five responsible men are put forward, which may be sued at any time, and are perfectly secure, so far as the interest of the State is involved. He could not say, indeed, with his colleague, that he considered the faith of the State as pledged to complete the State House at Springfield; but wished that work to go on, and that place to be made the permanent seat of government; because it was the place of his residence, and because he really believed that the people would thus be best accommodated. True, when the question of a Capitol was formerly submitted to the people at large, Springfield did not receive the highest number of votes; but this can furnish no evidence that if the question were now a second time submitted to the same tribunal, Springfield would not have a larger vote than any other point.
As to making money by locating the Capitol in some new place, and selling the lots of a city that is to be, he would simply ask how much money had been made, and how many State Houses had been built out of the land received here in Vandalia, as a donation from the General Government? Depend upon it, the idea of realizing such immense sums of money in this way, is all an illusion.—As for the unconstitutionality of agitating this question at present, he hardly expected that those who bring forward a series of plans, of the same general nature with this now in progress at Springfield, would throw upon their opponents this charge; for each and all of these is equally unconstitutional.
The Hon, Speaker then rose, and read the state of the votes given for the different proposed points, when the question was submitted to the people; by which it appeared, that Alton had the highest number of votes, Vandalia the second highest number, while Springfield was third on the list, and was actually in a minority of several hundred. Have the sentiments of the people at large undergone a change since that time?12 Of 24,000 votes then polled, Springfield had but 7,730; and of course had something like 17,000 against her. It is admitted that some of the northern counties have since that period increased in population in a greater ratio than the southern ones; but it does not follow of course, that the friends of Springfield have been multiplied in the same proportion. Now some of the northern counties, as Cook, Joe Davis, Warren, Peoria and Tazewell, at that time, gave a majority of their votes against Springfield, and in favor of some other place. There are now some 40,000 voters; and perhaps, were they now consulted, they could suit themselves better than at Springfield. The House in which we are now convened, no one will deny, is sufficiently large for our accommodation; but when the legislature becomes too large to be received within its walls, and a new capitol is to be built, let the change take place without causing additional expense to the State. It has been triumphantly asked, how many State Houses were built with the proceeds of sales of the land, donated by Congress for the benefit of the Capitol here at Vandalia. He would answer the gentleman; two had been built;—a temporary one, which had given place to this that we now occupy. But, it must be recollected, that when that donation was made, and that land sold, Illinois had a population of only 10,000 votes south of this parallel, and Vandalia was a frontier settlement. Lots therefore went low;—so low, that a law was subsequently passed for the relief of the purchasers. But, times have improved; and if a new location of the seat of government were now made,—at some central point, convenient of access to all portions of the State, and with an eye to those conveniences of approach which will be furnished by our contemplated Rail-roads, the scheme of raising a revenue from the sale of its lots would be more promising. Springfield could not probably at present accommodate the General Assembly much better than Vandalia does; and it is doubtful whether it could in ten years to come; and even here, we are growing better, and shall every year furnish more comfortable quarters to the members of the Legislature. Let Vandalia continue, then, to be the seat of government, till the interests of the country absolutely require its removal, and then he would be willing to see the change made.
He made other remarks, which our limits oblige us to omit. The question being taken on his amendment, was decided in the negative.
The Hon. Speaker then rose, and said, that at the risk of being tenacious, he would introduce another amendment, the leading provisions of which, were to submit the question of location again to the people; and if there should be no choice, to return to the people the five places, having the highest number of votes, to be voted upon again. If no choice among these, then the three highest the second time returned from the people, to be voted upon by them the third time. If no choice, then the election to be made between the two highest the third time returned.
The question being taken, this proposition was rejected.13
1Another, much shorter, account of this debate appeared in the Sangamo Journal on January 19, 1839.
2The debate on the legislation regarding the construction of a new state house commenced at 2 p.m. and consumed the rest of the day.
Illinois House Journal. 1838. 11th G. A., 1st sess., 181-84.
3The act to move the capital from Vandalia to Springfield provided for the raising of $50,000 for completion of the building. It was passed in the same legislative session as the act that created the internal improvements system. Illinois’ 10th General Assembly included nine members representing Sangamon County, all of whom were Whigs: seven members in the House of Representatives—Abraham Lincoln, John Dawson, Ninian W. Edwards, William F. Elkin, Andrew McCormick, Daniel Stone, and Robert L. Wilson—and two in the Senate—Job Fletcher and Archer G. Herndon. They composed the largest block of members from any one county in that session of the legislature.
An Act Permanently to Locate the Seat of Government of the State of Illinois; An Act to Establish and Maintain a General System of Internal Improvements; Theodore C. Pease, ed., Illinois Election Returns, 1818-1848, vol. 18 of Collections of the Illinois State Historical Library (Springfield: Illinois State Historical Library, 1923), 283-303.
4In 1831, the Illinois General Assembly passed a law authorizing then governor John Reynolds to borrow $100,000 (at 6% interest) to pay for “ordinary expenses of the government.” Reynolds arranged a loan from Samuel Wiggins, a Cincinnati financier, in order to strengthen state bank paper and to replace money wrongly used from the state’s school fund. The “Wiggins Loan” became a serious political liability for all connected to it, and many critics argued that Wiggins had “purchased the whole state.” For many years after the authorization of the loan, politicians used it in political arguments related to state debts, the state bank, and internal improvements in Illinois, but the loan had infused much needed cash at a time when the state desperately needed it.
“An Act to Authorize the Governor to Borrow a Sum of Money on Behalf of the State,” 27 January 1831, Laws of Illinois (1831), 92-94; George William Dowrie, “The Development of Banking in Illinois, 1817-1863” (Ph.D. diss., University of Illinois, 1913), 50-53.
5Upon statehood, Congress granted to every township in the state the proceeds of the sale of land in each township’s Section 16. This money became known as the “common school fund.” Since 1829, the state had been borrowing from the school and seminary funds in order to pay regular government expenses.
“An Act to Enable the People of the Illinois Territory to Form a Constitution and State Government, and for the Admission of Such State into the Union on an Equal Footing with the Original States,” 18 April 1818, Statutes at Large of the United States 3 (1846):428-31; “An Act Authorizing the Commissioners of the School and Seminary Fund to Loan the Same to the State,” 17 January 1829, Revised Laws of Illinois (1829), 118-19; W. L. Pillsbury, “Early Education in Illinois,” in Sixteenth Biennial Report of the Superintendent of Public Instruction of the State of Illinois (Springfield, IL: H. W. Rokker, 1886), 106-07.
6On December 13, 1838, the auditor submitted his report, which emphasized the need to generate more state revenue. More than $43,000 was owed to the school fund and $80,000 was necessary for the funding of the legislative session then underway. The income of the state was less than $67,500.
Illinois House Journal. 1838. 11th G. A., 1st sess., 64-76.
7Between June 30, 1837, and December 1, 1838, the state appropriated $38,000 for the state house at Springfield.
Illinois House Journal. 1838. 11th G. A., 1st sess., 67.
8Reference to St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican in Rome and St. Paul’s Cathedral in London were likely hyperbole, but the comparisons to other state houses in the United States were reasonable, especially that of neighboring Missouri, where the capitol building in Jefferson City was destroyed by fire in 1837 and a new capitol was completed in 1840 at a final cost of $350,000.
“The Missouri Capitol: The Exterior of the Jefferson City Structure Was Build Entirely of Missouri Marble,” Through the Ages 1 (April 1924): 26.
9Springfield residents had pledged support in the building of the new capitol, and per the auditor’s report, Illinois had collected $33,333.34 on their bond at the time of this debate in the legislature.
Illinois House Journal. 1838. 11th G. A., 1st sess., 65; Promissory Note of John Hay and Others to State Bank of Illinois .
10Dramatic changes in the state’s population occurred between 1830 and 1840. In 1830, most Illinoisans lived south of Vandalia, in the lower third of the state. By 1840, the population center of the state had shifted north of Vandalia to the upper two-thirds of the state, and an increasing percentage of the population lived north of Springfield, which is located in the center third of the state. This northward trend continued and was increased by the rapid development of Chicago after 1840.
Douglas K. Meyer, Making the Heartland Quilt: A Geographical History of Settlement and Migration in Early Nineteenth-Century Illinois (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2000), 27, 32, 35-37; James E. Davis, Frontier Illinois (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1998), 192, 201.
11The first Illinois General Assembly had passed legislation that resulted in the laying out of the town of Vandalia as the new state capital and establishing it as the seat of government for a period of twenty years ending in 1840.
“An Act for the Removal of the Seat of Government of the State of Illinois,” 30 March 1819, Laws of Illinois (1819), 361-64.
12The election was held after the passage of an 1833 act to relocate the state’s seat of government.
“An Act Permanently to Locate the Seat of Government of Illinois,” 5 February 1833, Revised Laws of Illinois (1833), 572-73.
13The debated bill passed the House on January 11, 1839, and became law.

Copy of Printed Document, 1 page(s), Abraham Lincoln Association Files, Lincoln Collection, Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum (Springfield, IL)