Proceedings of Whig Meeting at Springfield regarding Van Buren State Convention, 11-12 December 1839
GREAT WHIG [MEETI]NG.
[A]t a meeting of the Whigs of the State of [Illin]ois, at Springfield, held in the Representative Hall, on the evening of the 11th of Dec.[December], 1839. The meeting was called to order by Col.[Colonel] R. B. Servant, of Randolph county, and, on his motion, Cyrus Edwards, Esq.[Esquire], of Madison county, was chosen President, and James B. Moore & H. I. Mills, Esqs.[Esquires] were chosen Vice Presidents; and, on the further motion of Col. Servant, B. Bond, Esq., of Clinton county, and J. H. Murphy, Esq., of Vermilion county, were chosen Secretaries—when, on motion of J. J. Hardin, Esq., of Morgan county, the President appointed Messrs.[Messieurs] J. J. Hardin, Joseph Gillespie, O. H. Browning, Cyrus Walker and R. B. Servant, a committee to prepare resolutions expressive of the object and views of this meeting; which said committee retired for said purpose. Mr. Lincoln, of Sangamon county, then offered for adoption the following preamble and resolutions, viz:
Whereas, the Van Buren State Convention, which adjourned on the 10th inst., passed various resolutions denouncing Whig individuals, Whig policy, and the Whig party in general.—1
Resolved, That every member of that Convention, who introduced any such resolution or resolutions, or any amendment thereto, be respectfully requested to bring the same, or a correct copy thereof, into this Hall, and to attempt to sustain it by facts and arguments.
Resolved, That on the discussion of said resolutions, we will meet their authors, man for man, and speech for speech, in order that the public may see with whom are the facts, and with whom the arguments.
Resolved, That for the purpose of discussing said resolutions, we will meet their auth[or]s on to-morrow evening, at 7 o’clock, P.M. [at] this Hall, or at any other time and place [which ]2 may better suit their convenience; which sa[id] preamble and resolutions were unanimously adopted. When,
J. J. Hardin, Esq., from the committee appointed to draft resolutions expressive of the sense of the meeting, reported the following, viz:
Whereas, the time is fast hastening, when a proper organization of the Whig party, (opposed to the administration of Martin Van Buren, and the ruinous policy advocated by him and his friends,) will be necessary to save the country and the Constitution from impending ruin; and whereas, the present party in power, have adopted the appellation of “Democrat,” for the purpose of misleading the honest portion of the people, while they are continually practising upon the principle of the old Federal party; and whereas, the said party are in the habit, like their leader, Martin Van Buren, of advocating or denouncing any measure, as it may suit their immediate interest.
And whereas, the said party have, contrary to the sentiment of Jefferson and all other truly democratic leaders of former times, enlisted in their cause, the active energies of all the Federal officers in the nation, who hold their offices upon the tenure of carrying out the views and behests of their Patron and President;3 therefore, it becomes highly necessary, in order to effectuate the overthrow of said party, to adopt a system and policy, which will enable the real friends of the country to act in concert. Therefore,
Resolved, That we recommend that a Convention of the Whig Young Men of Illinois, be held in Springfield on Wednesday after the second Monday of June next, for the purpose of more effectually organizing the Whig party—4
Resolved, That the State Bank System was adopted in some of the States of the Union, and was greatly enlarged in others, for the purpose of carrying out the experiment of Gen. Jackson and his administration—to improve the currency, and to put down the United States Bank; and that the State Bank of Illinois was advocated and created by an administration Legislature for the purpose of carrying out the experiment of the present Locofoco party.5
Resolved, That the attempt of the Locofocos, to throw off their paternity of the State Bank of Illinois, comes with an ill grace from that party, after they have created that Bank; and that we utterly repudiate the charge that the Whig party are responsible for its creation or management.6
Resolved, That we are opposed to the creation of so large a debt, as it is now discovered, would be entailed on the State by carrying out the Internal Improvement system, as contemplated by law; and that we believe that system needs classification, curtailment or suspension.7
Resolved, That we look with feelings of indignation and sorrow upon the attempts of misguided political fanatics, and of dishonest political partisans, to render the decisions of the Judges of the Supreme Court obnoxious to the people, by unwarrantably ascribing their decisions to party or political motives, without reason, when such decisions are upon points on which the greatest, wisest and best men of the country honestly differ—which attempts are calculated to lower the character and dignity of the court, and intended to make it subservient to party purposes.
Resolved, That we deny explicitly the charge of desiring to make the Secretary of State an officer for life; that we recognise the Supreme Court, the highest judicial tribunal of the State, as the proper authority to determine, under the existing Constitution and laws, the power of the Governor to remove that officer; and that we assert the right of the Legislature to limit the tenure of the said office, by law, whenever it shall think proper so to do.8
Resolved, That the wasteful expenditures of the people’s money, and the unexampled increase of offices and officers, under Mr. Van Buren’s administration, are incontrovertible evidences of the mal-administration of the General Government by the party in power, and call loudly upon every friend of his country to aid in reforming the administration, and curtailing its expenditures.
Resolved, That the Sub-treasury system as advocated by the administration party, in the language of the Globe, is “disorganising, revolutionary and subversive of the fundamental principles of the Constitution, and tends to unite the purse and the sword in the hands of the Executive, and exposes the Treasury to be plundered by a hnndred hands, where before one could not touch it.”9
Resolved, That the imbecility of the present administration is fully manifest from the fact, that whilst the administration of the democrats, under Madison, carried on a war by land and sea with the most powerful nation on the globe, for three years, at an expense of seventy millions, which covered our army and navy with glory, and the administration with the gratitude of the nation; yet this mis-named democratic administration has carried on a three years war with a handful of Florida Indians; at an expense of ten millions of dollars, which has resulted in the disgrace of our army, the violation of our national honor, and the abandonment of all South Florida to less than a thousand Indian warriors.
Resolved, That the attempts of the party in power, to regulate the currency and afford a gold and silver circulation, are on a perfect par with their efforts to regulate the Florida Indians—attended, in every instance, with disaster, defeat and disgrace.
Resolved, That the Sub-treasury system is the best, safest and most ingenious method ever yet devised, for effecting that which seems to be one of the chief aims of the sub-treasurers of this administration, that is, robbing the people of their money, filling their own bottomless pockets, and giving leg bail for pay.10
Resolved, That, although we have no doubt that the penitentiary section of the Sub-treasury Bill ought to be enforced on hundreds of the leg treasurers of this administration,11 yet, in the experience of the past, we see an assurance for the future, that every facility will be afford- them for avoiding their just punishment, by [escaping?] to Texas, or Swart-outing to France;12 w[hi]ch were severally unanimously adopted.
Col. Field, not being able to conclude his speech on this evening, gave way for an adjournment, so as to conclude at the next meeting.
Before adjournment, Col. A. P. Field moved that the President appoint a committee of ten to prepare an address to the people of the State; which motion was agreed to.
Whereupon, the Chair appointed the following named gentlemen:
A. P. Field, O. H. Browning, J. J. Hardin, R. B. Servnnt, S. H. Little, Wm. Fithian, A. G. Henry, A. Williams, A. Lincoln and E. B. Webb, Esqrs., said committee. When,
The meeting adjourned to meet on to-morrow evening at 6 o’clock.
The meeting met [pursuant to?] adjournment.
The meeting be[ing] [call]ed to order by the Chair, Col Field proceeded to conclude his speech; after which, the following resolution was unanimously adopted, viz:
Resolved, That a committee of 3 Whigs, be appointed by the Chair, to meet as many Democrats to appoint officers for a general meeting—of citizens to take place to-morrow evening, and to make such other arrangements as may be proper for a fair and impartial debate, on the principles upon which the two great political parties differ.13
In pursuance of which, the Chair appointed Messrs. Hardin, Browning and Baker, said committee.
On motion of Col. R. B. Servant, the following resolution was unanimously adopted, viz:
Resolved, That the proceedings of this meeting be signed by the President, Vice Presidents and Secretaries, and that the Jouanal and all other Whig papers in the State, the Missouri Republican, St. Louis Bulletin and Louisville Journal, be requested to publish the proceedings of this meeting.
And then the meeting adjourned.CYRUS EDWARDS, Pres’t[President],
|H. J. MILLS,||}|
|Vice Pres’ts[Vice Presidents].|
|J. B. MOORE,|
|J. H. Murphy,|
1This convention commenced on December 9 at the Second Presbyterian Church. The Illinois State Register provided detailed coverage of the convention.
Illinois State Register (Springfield), 14 December 1839, 2:1, 7, 3:1-2; Sangamo Journal (Springfield, IL), 13 December 1839, 2:1.
2A section of the original source text is torn. The supplied text comes from the transcription in The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln.
Roy P. Basler, The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1953), 1:156.
3Reference to Democrats appointed to federal offices, who received federal income. Whigs believed this made these men dangerously loyal to their party and President Van Buren, giving them an advantage in the upcoming presidential election. The Whigs had good reasons to fear: the number of federal officeholders had been greatly expanded by the system to take the 1840 census, and the officeholders did involve themselves in advancing the Democratic cause. This was particularly true of postmasters, who distributed copies of the Extra Globe, the official Democratic campaign sheet and, according to some, blocked distribution of Whig campaign literature.
Sangamo Journal (Springfield, IL), 21 February 1840, 2:2; Major L. Wilson, The Presidency of Martin Van Buren (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1984), 197; Michael F. Holt, The Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party: Jacksonian Politics and the Onset of the Civil War (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), 111.
4The Democratic convention adopted a resolution calling for a convention of young Democrats to meet on the second Monday of June 1840.
Illinois State Register (Springfield), 14 December 1839, 3:2.
5Reference to President Andrew Jackson’s “war” with the Second Bank of the United States, typified by Jackson removing public deposits from the bank and depositing the money in selected state banks, called “pet banks” by Jackson’s critics. The implication is that the Democrats created the State Bank, which was incorporated by an act on February 12, 1835, to become a federal depository.
Robert V. Remini, Andrew Jackson and the Bank War: A Study in the Growth of Presidential Power (New York: W. W. Norton, 1967), 67-153.
6The Democrats at their convention adopted a resolution disavowing their “paternity” of the State Bank, claiming that its was a “bantling” (young child) of the Whigs who, they insisted, owned most of the stock, filled a majority of the executive positions, and supported it in the General Assembly.
Illinois State Register (Springfield), 14 December 1839, 3:2.
7By 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. The General Assembly ignored his 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 (Cedar Rapids, IA: Torch, 1958), 153-54; Sangamo Journal (Springfield, IL), 5 January 1839, 2:2.
8This resolution and the one preceding it related to two legal cases attracting much public interest. The first involved a controversy over the office of secretary of state. In January 1839, newly-elected Governor Thomas Carlin nominated John A. McClernand, a political ally, to replace Alexander P. Field, the incumbent since 1829. The Illinois Senate refused to confirm McClernand’s nomination, arguing that the Illinois Constitution did not give the governor power to nominate someone as secretary of state unless there was a vacancy, and the Senate had not been informed of a vacancy, as Field still occupied the office. The legislative session ended in March, and in April Carlin, acting by virtue of his authority as governor, appointed McClernand secretary of state in place of Field, and McClernand demanded that Field give up the office and records and papers belonging to the same. Field refused to vacate the office, and the attorney general filed suit against Field in the Fayette County Circuit Court, arguing that Field was unlawfully occupying and exercising the office, and that McClernand was the lawful secretary of state. The court ruled in favor of McClernand, and Field appealed to the Illinois Supreme Court.
This controversy evolved as the state capital was being transferred from Vandalia, Illinois, to Springfield, Illinois. To safeguard the records of his office, Field stored them with Robert and John Irwin. In July, McClernand sued Robert Irwin & Company in the Sangamon County Circuit Court for the recovery of the records. Robert Irwin & Company retained Abraham Lincoln, and Stephen A. Douglas represented McClernand. The court quashed McClernand’s action, and on July 22, the Supreme Court reversed the decision of the Fayette County Circuit Court. Shortly thereafter, a handbill attributed to McClernand appeared denouncing the Supreme Court for its decision. Among the charges was the intention to make Field secretary of state for life. This case created such controversy that the General Assembly sought to enact legislation to define the tenure of the office of secretary of state. The Senate passed, but the House rejected, such a bill in January 1840.
The second case was Thomas Spragins v. Horace H. Houghton, better known as the “Galena Alien Case.” Argued before the Jo Daviess County Circuit Court in its May 1839 term, the suit was brought to test the rights of aliens to vote, with the hope of getting a Supreme Court decision on the matter. Daniel Stone, presiding judge of the Sixth Circuit, ruled that aliens were not entitled to exercise the elective franchise. As expected, Spragins, an election judge sued for allowing a unnaturalized Irish immigrant to vote in the state elections of August 1838, appealed to the Supreme Court, which heard arguments in its December 1839 term. Clerical errors in the record caused a continuance until the December 1840 term, after the presidential election. When finally decided, the court reversed the lower court’s ruling, according aliens voting rights under current law. Both these cases generated criticism of the Supreme Court, and in 1841, the General Assembly passed an act reorganizing it.
Illinois Senate Journal. 1838. 11th G. A., 1st sess., 151-52; Richard L. Kiper, Major General John Alexander McClernand: Politician in Uniform (Kent, OH: The Kent State University Press, 1999), 3; McClernand v. Robert Irwin & Co., Martha L. Benner and Cullom Davis et al., eds., The Law Practice of Abraham Lincoln: Complete Documentary Edition, 2d edition (Springfield: Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, 2009), http://www.lawpracticeofabrahamlincoln.org/Results.aspx; Sangamo Journal (Springfield, IL), 26 July 1839, 2:1, 4; 2 August 1839, 2:1-3; Alexander P. Field v. The People of the State of Illinois ex rel., John A. McClernand 2 IL 79-185 (1839); Orrin C. Carter, “Lincoln and Douglas as Lawyers,” Proceedings of the Mississippi Valley Historical Association for the Year 1910-1911 4 (1912), 219-21; Thomas Spragins v. Horace H. Houghton, 2 IL 377-417 (1840).
9This is a variation of a quote from the Globe in 1834 when William F. Gordon proposed a sub-treasury plan similar to that adopted by Congress in 1840.
Remarks of Mr. John W. Allen, of Ohio, on the Sub-Treasury Bill (Washington, DC: Madisonian, 1840), 6.
10Congress found some of the sub-treasurers had embezzled substantial sums of money.
U.S. House. Report of the Committee of Investigation, Chosen by Ballot in the House of Representatives, January 17 and 19, 1839, on the Subject of the Defalcations of Samuel Swartwout and others, and the Correctness of the Returns of Collectors and Receivers of Public Money; Also the Report of the Minority of the Committee (Washington, DC: Thomas Allen, 1839), 191-92.
11Section seventeen of the sub-treasury bill, which would finally pass on July 4, 1840, made embezzlement of public monies a felony, punishable by imprisonment for no less than six months and no more than five years, plus a fine equal to the amount embezzled.
“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.
12Reference to Samuel Swartwout, collector of the Port of New York during the Jackson and Van Buren administrations, who allegedly embezzled over $1,ooo,ooo and fled the country in 1839. Abraham Lincoln and other Whigs during the 1840 presidential campaign cited Swartwout as typical of the corruption plaguing the Van Buren administration.
Daniel Walker Howe, What God Hath Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 334; U.S. House. Report of the Committee of Investigation, Chosen by Ballot in the House of Representatives, January 17 and 19, 1839, on the Subject of the Defalcations of Samuel Swartwout and others, and the Correctness of the Returns of Collectors and Receivers of Public Money; Also the Report of the Minority of the Committee, 191-92; Speech of Mr. Lincoln, at a Political Discussion, in the Hall of the House of Representatives, December 1839, at Springfield, Illinois.
13 Debates were already underway in the capital city. In November and December 1839, Lincoln helped organized a series of debates in Springfield between the Democrats and Whigs in anticipation of the upcoming presidential election. Lincoln, Cyrus Walker, and Edward D. Baker carried the Whig standard; Stephen A. Douglas, John Calhoun, Josiah Lamborn, and Edmund R. Wiley spoke on behalf of the Democrats. The first debate occurred on November 19, coinciding with a session of the Sangamon County Circuit Court, which brought many politicians of both parties to Springfield. Debates occurred nightly for one week. Lincoln closed the debate on November 19, and the next night, Lincoln and Douglas debated the Bank of the United States.
After the Whig National Convention nominated William Henry Harrison for president, Lincoln took charge of Harrison’s campaign in Illinois. Coinciding with the Whig National Convention, politicians gathered for a special session of the General Assembly. The debates resumed during the week of Christmas.
Illinois State Register (Springfield), 23 November 1839, 2:2; 30 November 1839, 2:3; Sangamo Journal (Springfield, IL), 22 November 1839, 2:4; Paul M. Angle, “Four Lincoln Firsts” [Separate from the Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America] 36 (First Quarter, 1942), 1-4; Michael Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln: A Life (Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008), 1:149-50.
Printed Document, 1 page(s), Sangamo Journal (Springfield, IL), 20 December 1839, 3:1-2.