Abraham Lincoln to John T. Stuart, 20 January 18401Springfield, Jany 20th 1840—Dear Stuart:
Yours of the 5th Inst[Instant] is recd[Received]2 It is the first from you for a great while— You wish the news from here— The Legislature is in session yet, but has done nothing of importance— The following is my guess as to what will be done— The Internal Improvement System will be put down in a lump, without benefit of clergy—3 The Bank will be resusitated with some trifling modifications— Whether the canal will go ahead or stop is verry doub doubtful— Whether the State House will go ahead, depends upon the law already in force—4
A proposition made in the House today to throw off to the Teritory of Wisconsin about 14 of our Northern counties—decided— Ayes 11. Noes. 70—5
Be verry sure to procure and send me the Senate Journal of New York of September 183 1814— I have a newspaper article which says that [
V?] that document proves that Van Buren voted against raisin troops in the last war—7
And, in general, send me every thing you think will be a good "war-club"— The nomination of Harrison takes first rate— You know I am never sanguine; but I believe we will carry the state—8
The chance for doing so, appears to me 25 per cent better than it did for you to beat Douglass—9 A great many of the grocery sort of Van Buren men, as formerly, are out for Harrison— Our Irish Blacksmith Gregory, is for Harrison— I believe I may say, that all our friends think the chance of carrying the state, verry good—
You have heard that the Whigs and Locos had a political discussion shortly after the meeting of the Legislature— Well, I made a big speech, which is in progress of printing in pamphlet form— To enlighten you and the rest of the world, I shall send you a copy when it is finished—10
I cant think of any thing else more—Your friend, as ever—A. Lincoln
<Page 3>SPRINGFIELD I [?]
FreeHon: John T. StuartWashingtonD.C.
[ docketing ]
1Abraham Lincoln wrote the letter, his signature, and the address. John T. Stuart penned the docketing on page three.
2Stuart’s letter of January 5 has not been located.
3In old English law, members of the clergy were exempt from the punishment of death. With this reference, Lincoln used sarcasm to report that the legislature would allow the Internal Improvement System to die.
John Bouvier, ed., A Law Dictionary Adapted to the Constitution of the Laws of the United States of America, 6th ed., (Philadelphia: Childs & Peterson, 1856), 165.
4In November 1839, Governor Thomas Carlin called the legislature into special session to modify the internal improvement system and deal with the state’s debt crisis brought on by the Panic of 1837. In December 1839, the state’s debt crisis forced the State Bank to suspend specie payments. Under provisions of the incorporation act and an act supplementary thereto, if the bank did not resume specie payments within sixty days after suspension, it would lose its charter. In his message to the General Assembly, Carlin insisted that the “general disapprobation of the people to the extent of the system,” and “the vast amount which has been and is daily expending upon costly, and at present, unnecessary work,” required modification of the internal improvement system. He also attacked the bank and demanded an investigation of its affairs. The legislators complied by establishing a joint select committee. Despite Carlin’s hostility, the legislature passed an act on January 31, 1840, resuscitating the bank with, as Lincoln described to Stuart, “some trifling modifications.” The act revived the bank’s charter and suspending stipulations on specie payments until the end of the next legislative session. The legislature also passed an act sustaining support for the Illinois and Michigan Canal, and an act incorporating the city of Springfield and reaffirming it as the location of the seat of government.
Debate over the internal improvement system proved time-consuming and contentious. After over a month of proposals and counter-proposals, in late January 1840, both houses passed a bill repealing the act creating the internal improvement system, but the bill did not become law due to a technicality. In the meantime, the legislature passed an act settling the debts and liabilities of the system in preparation for its eventual termination, and an act abolishing the two governing boards, the Board of Fund Commissioners and the Board of Commissioners of Public Works.
Michael Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln: A Life (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008), 1:147; John H. Krenkel, Illinois Internal Improvements 1818-1848 (Cedar Rapids, IA: Torch, 1958), 159-64.
6It is unknown which Harrison campaign biography Stuart sent to Lincoln. There were at least thirty-five campaign biographies published in various languages between 1836 and 1840. Three received wide distribution and one or possibly all came into Lincoln’s hands. All published in Philadelphia in 1840, the three biographies were: Jesper Harding, General William Henry Harrison, Candidate of the People (Philadephia: Jesper Harding, 1840); ___________, The Life of William Henry Harrison, The People’s Candidate (Philadelphia: W. Marshall, 1840), and __________, Life of Major-General William Henry Harrison (Philadelphia: Grigg and Elliott, 1840).
“Lincoln—Presidential Elector, 1840,” Lincoln Lore 1391 (December 5, 1955); Kenneth Stevens, comp., William Henry Harrison: A Bibliography (Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1998), 79-82.
7Van Buren’s opponents after the War of 1812 regularly condemned him for his reluctance to join the fighting--he turned down the offer of a military commission--and for not doing enough in the New York Senate to support the war effort. In point of fact, Van Buren was a War Hawk who crafted and shepherd through many piece of war legislation, included the raising of troops. In September 1814, he authored a radical measure allowing the governor to conscript 12,000 men between the ages of eighteen and forty-five to defend the state. The New York Legislature passed the bill, but the war ended before it could become operational.
“An Act to Authorise the Raising of Troops for the Defense of this State,” New York Senate Journal. 1814, 38th Session, 47-51; Donald B. Cole, Martin Van Buren and the American Political System (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984), 40-41; Ted Widmer, Martin Van Buren (New York: Henry Holt, 2005), 41-42.
8Lincoln would take charge of Harrison’s campaign in Illinois during the 1840 presidential election. He organized debates and discussions, and he canvassed the state speaking on Harrison’s behalf. Despite Lincoln’s efforts, Illinois would go for Van Buren, 47,443 to 45,576.
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), 117; Michael Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln: A Life, 1:149-61.
9In the spring and summer of 1838, Stephen A. Douglas and Stuart contested the U.S. House of Representatives seat for the Third District. When the ballots were finally tallied in August, Stuart had defeated Douglas by a scant 36 votes (18,254 for Stuart to 18,218 for Douglas). The closeness of the vote and accusations of voter irregularities prompted Douglas to contest the election, to no avail.
Robert W. Johannsen, Stephen A. Douglas (New York: Oxford University Press, 1973), 64-68, 70-72; Theodore C. Pease, Illinois Election Returns, 1818-1848, 109.
10The debates commenced in November 1839, and resumed in December, continuing through the week of Christmas. Lincoln and many other prominent Whigs and Democrats took part.
Michael Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln: A Life, 1:149-52.
Autograph Letter Signed, 3 page(s), Huntington Library (San Marino, CA).