Summary of Legislative Debate on “A Bill Providing for the Payment of Interest upon the Public Debt,” 12 December 18401
The bill to provide for the payment of the January interest, introduced heretofore by Mr. Hicks, coming up for consideration,
Mr. TRUMBULL appealed to the House to pass the bill immediately, and make provision for the debts we legally owe. Mr. T. hoped those gentlemen who had [d]epicted so strongly the fatal results of not sustaining the credit of the State, would join with him in support of this bill, and at all events provide for the payment of those debts about which there was no dispute. The question as to illegal contracts may be arranged hereafter.
Mr. HENDERSON moved an amendment to the first section of the bill, for the purpose of testing the question The amendment proposed to include personal property as well as real estate in bearing the burden of the payment.
Mr. H. thought this amendment was in harmony with the provision of the constitution. The provision of the bill was incompatible with the constitution; it taxed the land-holder exclusively, which was not taxing according to the value of property. since the money holder would altogether escape taxation. If there were no constitution the measure would be unjust. Ought the tax to fall solely on the owners of the soil?—If so, the land owners must quit the country.
Mr. WEBB explained. He thought Mr. H. had mistaken the purport of the bill.
Mr. HENDERSON if mistaken remained so still. As to the bank bonus to be set apart, three years ago it had been set apart for internal improvement purposes, and it would be strange legislation to set it apart for other purposes. As to safety fund bonds, they could not be got ready by January. He only wished to test whether this house was willing to tax the owners of land, and let all other owners of other property go clear.
Mr. CAVARLY moved to amend the bill by striking the body out, and inserting that the Fund Commissioner be authorized to hypothecate bonds, &c.[etc] and that he pay over the money in discharge of the interest, &c.
On the suggestion of Mr. GRIDLEY, a communication from the Fund Commissioner, lying on the clerk’s table, was then read It contained information in a letter from New York as to the great difficulty of raising money, and stating what it was hoped the Legislature would do, together with some strong laudatory commendations of the Fund Commissioner, and hopes expressed that the Legislature would keep him in office by re-electing him, &c., he having made such a favorable impression on the New York community! The Commissioner himself added some declarations of his own disinterestedness and integrity, of the difficulty of his office and his wish to resign, &c.
Mr. CAVARLY had presented this amendment, which presents the simple proposition to pay the interest unembarrassed with a multitude of other questions; they could be settled hereafter. His object was to obtain the immediate action of the house, leaving the legal question to be settled in the proper courts. No time was now to be lost, every moment was precious. He wished to settle one plain simple proposition, “will the Legislature of Illinois pay the interest due on her debt?” That was the proposition now to be decided.
Mr. KITCHELL hoped the amendment would not pass; the restraint to save us from fraud was evaded. The Fund Commissioner, under the discretion left to him to decide the legal question, would undoubtedly pay the interest on all the bonds.
Mr. DOUGHERTY supported the amendment; the only object was to pay the interest. The Commissioner is only instructed to pay what we owe, and not what we do not owe. What use was there of inserting in the bill useless provisions, which would not settle the question as to the legal doubts raised on some of the bonds? The only effect of the repudiating clause urged by some gentlemen, would be to proclaim to the world that we had been cheated, and some of the bonds were illegally parted with; it would have no other effect than that of poisoning our credit, it would not settle the question as to what were legal and what not. The present amendment proposes to leave the discretion to the Commissioner to pay our debts—our just debts only—leaving it to his discretion to do what is right.
Mr. DODGE hoped the amendment would pass; he would vote for almost any thing that had for its object the payment of the interest in due time. He was not inclined to be stubborn, he would yield his own views for the sake of saving the credit of the State of Illinois. He deprecated the pertinacity which, after many questions had been found impracticable, still persisted in bringing them up again. He hoped the house would unite and pass this or some equivalent measure without any more delay.
Mr. KITCHELL maintained, that having been swindled, we ought not to be afraid to proclaim it. He objected to the amendment, because it was a mere reiteration of the finance bill.
Mr. WEBB made some observations in favor of the amendment.
Mr. McCLERNAND was opposed to it for several reasons: 1st. Because it was too general and loose, giving power to the Commissioner without limitation, in relation to the bonds. 2d. Because it made him a judge to decide a question which the house had not been able to decide. 3d. Because it was the same bill which the house had already rejected in several forms. Mr. McC. replied to the objections of Mr. Henderson as to land tax and tax on personal property, showing that this bill raised no tax but only went to apply a tax already imposed by the revenue law. The argument, therefore, as to unequal taxation did not apply in this case, and fell to the ground.
Mr. LINCOLN had thought at first that some permanent provision ought to have been made for the bonds to be hypothecated. He was in favor of such a permanent fund, but he was soon convinced that if we connect with the question at this moment matters of finance, of revenue and taxation, nothing could be done. He was willing to go for the naked proposition, simply to pay the interest due. Mr. L. therefore, now proposed to adopt this amendment, without clogging it with revenue questions. He wished to see by a direct vote if the house would adopt the naked proposition. He for one was for it; if any details required amendment, it could be done hereafter.
The question on the amendment was taken by ayes and nays, and decided in the negative—ayes 41, nays 47.
Mr. TRUMBULL moved that the amendment of Mr. Henderson, making all property and not landed property alone liable, be laid upon the table; which motion was lost—aye[s] 35, nays 43.
Mr. WHITE moved the previous question; which was not assented to—ayes 38, nays 43.
The question being on Mr. Henderson’s amendment,
Mr. TRUMBULL moved a substitute for the whole section in lieu of the amendment, providing that hereafter all the State’s portion of the revenue to be derived from lands hereafter becoming taxable, be appropriated to the redemption of the bonds. Mr. Trumbull explained his proposition, shewing that it did not interfere with the counties.
Mr. MURPHY, of Perry, objected that this amendment would make the tax fall unequally; he suggested to modify it by making personal property subject to pay this interest as well as landed property.
Mr. TRUMBULL explained, that this amendment appropriated a part of a tax already imposed, leaving the tax on personal property to go for State uses; it imposed no new tax. The amendment was then agreed to.
Mr. McCLERNAND proposed to fill up the blank in section 6 with the number 7, so that no bond would be sold under 7 per cent.
Mr. KITCHELL moved to insert revenue in lieu of bonus.
After some remarks by Mr. McCLERNAND, and reply from Mr. K., the motion was lost.
Mr. PECK wished to know if it would be possible for the Governor to prepare these bonds in time; they were to be new bonds of a new character.
Mr. McCLERNAND observed, that the bonds were already in existence; he had provided for that difficulty by retaining the old name of the bonds.
The question on the engrossment was then taken, and decided in the negative—ayes 36, nays 51; so the bill was rejected.
1On December 10, 1840, Stephen G. Hicks introduced in the House of Representatives “A Bill to Provide 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, which resulted in further debate. On December 12, the House discussed the bill and voted against reading it 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.
This text contains many individual letters in italic type. The editors have considered these as typesetting errors, and have not transcribed them.
Printed Document, 1 page(s), Illinois State Register (Springfield), 18 December 1840, 2:5-6.