Summary of Legislative Debate on “A Bill Providing for the Payment of Interest upon the Public Debt”,” 11 December 18401
Mr. Peck from the committee on finance, to which was referred a bill, introduced by Mr. Hicks, to provide for the payment of interest on the public debt, reported a substitute for the bill as an amendment—the same heretofore proposed by the finance committee.
Mr. Trumbull moved to lay the amendment upon the table; which was agreed to, ayes 40, noes 39.
Mr. Hardin moved to amend the bill by adding two additional sections, providing that an additional one tenth of one per cent. should be collected and paid into the State Treasury, to be pledged and applied to the payment of interest on the bonds hereby hypothecated, and those heretofore sold; and restricting the counties to 50 cents on the one hundred dollars to be levied for county purposes.
Mr. Hardin said he was anxious to test the sense of the House, on the measure proposed in the amendment—that of a direct tax. He was for adopting some permanent measure for the payment of this interest.—We had been together for near three weeks, and notwithstanding the Governor, had told us, that this was the only democratic mode of raising a tax, yet we had heard nothing from the dominant party in this House, or from the finance committee on this subject. If this bill passed as proposed by the committee he thought it highly problematical, whether any permanent measure would be adopted whatever. The next step would be to hypothecate bonds to pay our July and next January interest, which interest amounted to about $300,000, and for which about $600,000 in bonds must be hypothecated, and these bonds would eventually become forfeited and be sold for 40 or 50 cents on the dollar. Were gentlemen determined to pursue this ruinous policy, rather than take the responsibility of coming up to the question of a direct tax? We were chosen to represent the interests and honor of the State for two years, and we should make some provision, that would sustain that honor so long as it was in our keeping. We must give some assurance to our creditors, that we intend in good faith to pay them. By no other means could our credit be sustained, and he should vote for no bill, of this character, without an assurance that some such measure as that proposed in the amendment, would be adopted. He called upon the chairman of the finance committee and the majority in this House, to come forward with their propositions to relieve and sustain the country. They had the power to adjourn sine die, or make fat offices for themselves, at half a days warning; but they had not yet had the power to make known their policy to the country.
Mr. Lincoln said he was already committed to the principle contained in the amendment proposed by the gentleman from Morgan. The only difference between the measure he had formerly proposed, and that now proposed by the gentleman, was that by his plan, a provision was made for increasing our means for defraying the ordinary expenses of the State, as well as to meet our accruing interest. It was just as bad to be bankrupt in one respect as in the other, and while we were adjusting the one, the other had as well be attended to at the same time.
Mr. Hardin modified his amendment, as the suggestion of Mr. Lincoln, so as to provide, that the surplus if any, should go into the State treasury for ordinary expenses.
Mr. Parsons spoke against the amendment and in favor of the original bill. Under other circumstances he would not vote for the bill reported by the finance committee. As a representative he believed it was wrong to pay interest on money, which we had never received. But the time was now so short, in which provisions could be made for meeting our interest in January, that he felt he should not be justifiable in longer opposing the bill. If this interest was not paid at the time, the credit of the State was gone. Our present action was of the utmost importance not only to the present, but to future generations. This was a sovereign State—should we proclaim her bankrupt to the world?—There were those who were striving to ruin our credit abroad. We had heard much of our “blighted” and “withered” prospects.—Why were these terms used in reference to a State as exhaustless in her resources as Illinois? He believed she was yet destined to be the granary of the world. He acknowledged his responsibility to his constitueuts, but he believed he represented an high-minded and honorable community, who would not consent, that the character of the State should be tarnished.
Mr. English moved to lay the bill and amendment on the table; lost, ayes 37, noes 39.
Mr. Cavarly moved to lay the amendment on the table, which was carried, ayes 40, noes 38.
Mr. Cavarly then offered an amendment, providing that all the revenue arising from real estate should go into the State treasury, and so much as was necessary should be pledged for the interest on our bonds.
1This summary of the debate is from the Whig-leaning Sangamo Journal. Another account is from the Democratic-leaning Illinois State Register.
On December 10, 1840, Stephen G. Hicks introduced in the House of Representatives “A Bill Providing for the Payment of Interest upon the Public Debt.” There is no extant text of the bill. The House read it twice and referred it to the Committee on Finance, of which Abraham Lincoln was a member. The committee reported back on December 11 with a substitute for the bill. After more debate on December 12, the House voted against reading the bill a third time by a vote of 36 yeas to 51 nays, with Abraham Lincoln voting nay.
Illinois House Journal. 1840. 12th G. A., 99-100, 103-4, 108-9.
Printed Document, 1 page(s), Sangamo Journal (Springfield, IL), 15 December 1840, 3:1-2.