Summary of Legislative Debate on Resolutions Protesting the Sub-Treasury, 9 February 1839
Sir—Among the curiosities of this place and age, is the following document, which was presented to the House on Saturday last, but was so presented, it seems, without proper consultation, as, during the afternoon, some of the members, among whom was Mr. H. T. Pace of Jefferson, rose in his place and stated that when he signed it, he had not calculated that any other use was to be made of it than to send it to our members of Congress: but if it was to be placed on the journal, and examined by the people, he would ask the privilege of expunging his name.* The Speaker said any member might erase his name who wished to do so; and to give them an opportunity, he would direct the Clerk not to place it on the journal; and, subsequently, on Tuesday morning, he permitted it to be withdrawn entirely. This appears rather a strange matter, but the Speaker is a good Democrat. I will, however, give you the Protest, as copied from the original document; so that you may lay it before your readers, as it will doubtless undergo considerable changes before the people shall be permitted to see it, although in its present shape it has doubtless been sent to Washington:—
The undersigned, Democratic members of the House of Representatives of the Legislature of Illinois, do respectfully, but firmly protest against the resolutions which have
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recently been adopted in this Legislature, instructing our Senators and requesting our Representatives in Congress to vote against the Sub-Treasury system of the present Administration.1
We would not be understood to impugn or deny the right of the State Legislature to instruct their Senators in Congress on any question of public policy, or the corresponding duty of these functionaries to obey.—That right is inherent in the representative system and inseparable from it. It is, however, liable to abuse and perversion like all other principles of Government, and it is against this abuse and perversion that we protest.—We do emphatically deny the right of this Legislature to send such instructions to our delegation in Congress, because we are fully convinced that such instructions, and the principles on which they are predicated, are in direct opposition to the wishes and principles of a large majority of the people of this State, as expressed at the last general election.2 This is the legitimate criterion to decide the state of public opinion on that great question; and to that criterion we confidently appeal and invite public attention.
While, therefore, we distinctly recognize the Democratic principle, that the Representative is bound to obey the will of the constituent—a principle uniformly repudiated by the Whig party, unless when some party interest of their own would be subserved—we would insist that our Senators in Congress are not bound to obey the mandates of a State Legislature, when they do not embody the wishes of a majority of the people of the State. Were our delegation in Congress liable to be instructed out of their seats by the fiat of every trifling and fluctuating majority, which may happen to predominate in our State Legislature—majorities often obtained by dereliction of principles and a violation of pledged faith to their constituents—it would lead to great practical evils. It would besides subvert the great Democratic principle of our institutions, that the will of the majority of the people should be the paramount rule, and not the will of an accidental or casual majority in the State Legislature. Such is not the genius or spirit of our free institutions; and although the insatiable ambition of a desperate political party, may endeavor to prevent the true spirit and meaning of the charter of our liberties, for the purpose of elevating themselves to power and office, we feel confident that the sound sense and practical wisdom of our delegation in Congress will repudiate the reckless attempt to deprive the majority of the people of this State of their representation in Congress by means of instructions emanating from a minority of the people.
That these representations are strictly true, can be fully proved by recurring to the few following facts, derived from the public records:—
1st. It is notorious that the Governor and Lieut. Governor of this State, previous to their election, issued circulars containing clear and specific declarations of their political principles. They avowed themselves unequivocally to be in favor of the Sub-Treasury system, and opposed to the U. S. Bank, or any connection of the Government with Banks. These circulars were sedulously disseminated throughout the State and discussed by the people. The political tenets of their opponents were equally known and promulgated. Both parties came before the people on strict party grounds, and the Sub-Treasury system was the test. The Governor and Lieut. Governor came out under disadvantageous circumstances, having been nominated but a short time previous to the election, and being consequently unable to visit the different parts of the State and address the people according to custom. Although they labored under this disadvantage, and although their opponents were among the most popular men in the State—had been a long time before the public—had visited most of the counties in the State, and addressed the people; yet the Democratic candidates were elected by an average majority of 1247 votes.
2d. It is notorious that the members of this Legislature were not elected on party grounds; and that in the great majority of the counties of this State, no question of National policy was made a test at the election. This will appear evident from the fact, that thirteen Whig members have been elected from counties which gave large Democratic majorities for Governor and Lieut. Governor and members of Congress, and that nine Democratic members were returned from counties which gave Whig majorities. This is a sufficient proof that general politics were not made a test in the election of members.
The truth is, the minds of the citizens of the State were so much absorbed with the vast system of Internal Improvements adopted at the last session—it was a subject of such vital importance to every portion of the people—that they elected their members more from their opinions in reference to that system than to any question of National politics.
It follows clearly, from these considerations, that a large majority of the people of this State are Sub-Treasury Democrats, and consequently that the resolutions against which we protest are instructions to our Senators and Representatives in Congress to vote against the wishes of a majority of their constituents; and that such instructions are anti-Republican, and in their tendency of no moral or political obligation whatever.—Signed by the following members of the House, viz:
* Mr. Lincoln remarked, that if the gentleman from Jefferson wished to withdraw his name from that document, he for one was willing to admit it; but he would say to the member and the House, there were statements made in that document which were false and unfounded, and he would call on the authors of the protest, at the proper time, to retract. He would not deny the right of gentlemen to protest; but he would maintain his right to lay before the people a contradiction of their unfounded statements. Yet, while he wished to hold the signers of this document responsible to the people for what they had said, if the gentleman from Jefferson, or any one else, was ashamed of it, he hoped the House would permit them to withdraw their names.—Mr. Flood, Register of the Quincy Land Office, said his name was to that paper, but he had not read it; and if, as the gentleman from Sangamon (Mr. Lincoln) said, there were false statements in it, he would beg permission to have an opportunity to examine it, and would, therefore, move that the House adjourn.
1In his inaugural address of December 7, 1838, Governor Thomas Carlin opined that “the present condition of the currency and the interests of the country generally seem to require the establishment of an Independent Treasury...” On December 11, the General Assembly adopted a resolution referring that part of the address related to currency to the Committee on Finance, of which Abraham Lincoln was a member. On December 18, the Committee on Finance issued majority and minority reports. The majority report concluded with a resolution opposing establishment of an Independent Treasury and calling for re-charter of the Second Bank of the United States or charter of a new national bank. The minority report closed with a resolution calling on Illinois’s representatives and senators to vote “for any bill having for its object the disconnection of the Bank and State.” On January 22, 1839, the House of Representatives adopted a resolution affirming “That it is not the policy of the United States to establish an Independent Treasury or a Sub-treasury system,” by a vote of 46 yeas to 40 nays, with Lincoln voting yea. The House also adopted a resolution instructing the state’s senators and requesting its representatives to vote against any law or resolution having for its object the creation of an Independent Treasury in any form by a vote of 46 to 40, with Lincoln voting yea. The Senate concurred on January 28.
Illinois House Journal. 1838. 11th G. A., 1st sess., 108, 257-63, 299-300; Illinois Senate Journal. 1838. 11th G. A., 1st sess., 212, 237-39.
2Reference to the state elections in August 1838, where Democrats Thomas Carlin and Stinson H. Anderson defeated Whigs Cyrus Edwards and William H. Davidson for governor and lieutenant governor, respectively.
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), 111-16.
3President Martin Van Buren called for the creation of an independent sub-treasury in his message to a special session on Congress on September 5, 1837--a session called to address the Panic of 1837. Silas Wright introduced the first sub-treasury bill, formally titled “A Bill Imposing Additional Duties as Depositories, in Certain Cases, on Public Officers,” on September 14, 1837. This bill passed the Senate on October 4, but the House of Representatives tabled it on October 14. Wright introduced a second sub-treasury bill, titled “A Bill to Impose Additional Duties, as Depositaries, upon Certain Public Officers, to Appoint Receivers General of Public Money, and to Regulate the Safe-Keeping, Transfer, and Disbursement of the Public Moneys of the United States,” on January 16, 1838. This bill passed the Senate, but failed in the House. In December 1838, Van Buren in his annual message to Congress renewed calls for an independent sub-treasury, and Wright and Churchill C. Cambreleng wrote and introduced another bill on January 30, 1839. The Senate passed the bill, but the House did not bring it up for a vote. On July 4, 1840, Congress finally managed to pass an independent treasury bill. It would survive only a little over one year; the Whigs, who gained majorities in the House and Senate and the presidency in the election of 1840, repealed the law on August 13, 1841.
Message of the President of the United States, to the Two Houses of Congress, at the Commencement of the First Session of the Twenty-Fifth Congress, September 5, 1837 (Washington, DC: Blair and Rives, 1837), 3-22; S. 6 25th Cong. (1837); U.S. Senate Journal. 1837. 25th Cong., 1st sess., 50-55; U.S. House Journal. 1837. 25th Cong., 1st sess., 193-97; S. 157, 25th Cong. (1838); U.S. Senate Journal. 1838. 25th Cong., 2nd sess., 145; S. 258, 25th Cong. (1839); “An Act to Provide for the Collection, Safe Keeping, Transfer, and Disbursement of the Public Revenue,” 4 July 1840, Statutes at Large of the United States 5 (1856):385-92; “An Act to Repeal ‘An Act to Provide for the Collection, Safe Keeping, Transfer, and Disbursement of the Public Revenue,’ and to Provide for the Punishment of Embezzlers of Public Money, and for Other Purposes,” 13 August 1841, Statutes at Large of the United States 5 (1856):439-40; Major L. Wilson, The Presidency of Martin Van Buren (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas), 101-10; 126-27; Message of the President of the United States, to the Two Houses of Congress, at the Commencement of the Third Session of the Twenty-Fifth Congress, December 4, 1838 (Washington, DC: Thomas Allen, 1838), 11-12.

Printed Document, 2 page(s), Alton Telegraph (Alton, IL), 2 March 1839, 2:7; 3:1-2.