Report of Legislative Debate on Internal Improvements, 15 February 18391
. . . soundness of the system, or to break their allegiance to its friends.2
Mr Baker took the ground, that, upon the admission of gentlemen that this is a system of compromise, it ought not to be expected that the Representatives of those counties that were parties to such compromise, should adhere, through a course of years, to its terms; when it was a compromise made out of doors, and not written in the statue books. He said that he, for one, would not agree to stand up to any such compromise, as that made by his predecessors, in regard to supporting the Internal Improvement system on condition of removing the public offices to Springfield;3 but that the plan of compromise ought to be sacrificed, whenever the interests of the State are likely to suffer injury by it. He said, that if classification were clearly advisable, he would give his influence, were it necessary, to throw the northern Cross Railroad into the second class.4
Mr Thornton said that he would meet the gentleman on this ground; and if he (Mr B.) would take that course, he (Mr T.) would use his influence in throwing the Altrn and Terre Haute Railroad also into the second class.5
Mr Lincoln admitted that Sangamon county had received great and important benefits, at the last session of the Legislature, in return for giving support, thro’ her delegation to the system of Internal Improvement; and that though not legally bound, she is morally bound, to adhere to that system, through all time to come!
Mr Hardin scouted the idea that the people are bound by the acts of bargain and sale, which their Representatives may have made out of doors; and inveighed, with much severity, against the delay which the inquiries propounded early in the session, in regard to classifying and reducing the public works, had met with from the friends of the system. He replied, in detail, to the arguments of his opponents and argued that the system cannot possibly be sustained without resorting to direct taxation; and this the people could not, and would not bear. He said that the promises of its early advocates had all failed, and their fair visions had all vanished; and that nothing was now left, but an empty treasury, and prospects of bankruptcy, if we go on with the present extravagant system. In short, that the only remedy is, an immediate reduction of the system to suit the resources of the State.6
1This debate occurred as the members of the House of Representatives considered a bill to relocate part of the central railroad provided for in the internal improvement act of 1837 south of Vandalia.
2The debate began on a previous page but, unfortunately, editors were unable to locate the February 21, 1839, issue of the Vandalia Free Press & Illinois Whig in original newsprint or microfilm. The source text used for the transcription is a copy of the newspaper page found in the Abraham Lincoln Association Files.
3Reference to the oft repeated charge--a charge unsubstantiated by a careful examination of the legislative journals--that politicians, particularly the Sangamon County delegation, traded and bartered votes for the internal improvement act in exchange for voters for the act moving the state capital to Springfield.
John H. Krenkel, Illinois Internal Improvements 1818-1848 (Cedar Rapids, IA: Torch, 1958), 72-74.
4By the winter of 1838-39, concern was growing over the size, scope, and cost of the internal improvement system. In his annual message to the General Assembly in December 1838, Governor Thomas Carlin voiced his support for the system, though he would have recommended its adoption on a lesser scale, with emphasis on constructing the most important works. Carlin suggested the General Assembly consider “modification” that would render the system “more useful and better suited to the conditions” of the state, leading the Sangamo Journal to wonder if by “modification” the governor meant “curtailment or classification.” Classification in this context might have meant differentiating between important and lesser projects and concentrating first on the former instead of pursuing all of the provisions of the internal improvement act at the same time. Whatever course the General Assembly pursued, Carlin recommended “a rigid economy” in spending state funds.
John H. Krenkel, Illinois Internal Improvements 1818-1848, 153-54; Sangamo Journal (Springfield, IL), 5 January 1839, 2:2.
5The “Altrn and Terre Haute Railroad” was an allusion to one of two railroads envisioned by the internal improvement act, one in section eighteen, clause ten, and another in section eighteen, clause twelve.
6The General Assembly ignored Hardin’s and Carlin’s advice, increasing the size and expense of the system. Carlin repeated the call for modification in his annual message of December 1839.
John H. Krenkel, Illinois Internal Improvements 1818-1848, 153-54.
Copy of Printed Document, 1 page(s), Abraham Lincoln Association Files, Lincoln Collection, Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum (Springfield, IL).