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Summary of Legislative Debate on Expenditures for Public Printing, 19 December 18401
Mr. Lincoln offered for adoption a resolution raising a select committee, to inquire into the causes which have produced so large an expenditure for public printing, and to report a bill for the purpose of reducing the expenditures for that item, if in their opinion it can be done, without detriment to the public good.
Mr. Lincoln said he did not offer this resolution by way of attack upon the public printer, or any one else.2 He was in possession of no fact which would justify him in so doing. He did not expect that any more was printed, than was ordered, or that more was charged for it than the law allowed. He was disposed to believe if there was any fault, it was at our own door. He had just read the message of the Governor of Indiana, in which he called the attention of their legislature to the enormous expenditure of 12,000 dollars for public printing.3 Thus it would be seen that in our sister state, with a population doubling ours, 12,000 dollars was called an enormous expenditure, whilst we, with only half the population and doubly more embarrassed, were paying 23,000 dollars for this same object!4 To remove all suspicion of his having the management of this committee for the purpose of making a party matter of it, he desired that the chair would not appoint him upon the committee.
Mr. Olds moved to lay the resolution upon the table; which was lost.
After some discussion, in which Messrs.[Messieurs] Cavarly, Dodge, Ormsbee and Olds opposed the resolution, and Messrs. Lincoln, Webb, Trumbull and Murphy of Cook supported it, and several unsuccessful attempts made to amend it, the resolution was adopted.5
1A longer version of this debate appeared in the Illinois State Register, 1 January 1841.
Illinois State Register (Springfield) 1 January 1841, 1:6-7.
2Abraham Lincoln might not have been entirely ingenuous in his reasons for introducing the resolution. In January 1835, the General Assembly passed an act defining the duties of and the method for selecting the public printer. Section one stipulated that the House of Representatives and Senate would select the public printer by joint ballot at the beginning of each session. As party divisions solidified and hardened, partisanship came to the fore in these elections, enabling the majority party, which was the Democratic Party during most of this period, to hold sway in these contests. During Lincoln’s time in the House, the public printers were John Y. Sawyer (1835-36), founder, editor, and publisher of the solidly Democratic-Republican Illinois Advocate; and William Walters (1837-1841), editor and publisher of the Illinois State Register, successor of the Advocate and also strongly Democratic. Lincoln voted for other candidates in each of the four elections in which he cast a ballot. He had particular animus toward Walters and clamored to replace him, as evidenced by his impassioned letter to Andrew McCormick in January 1839, in which he castigated McCormick for voting for Walters. Lincoln proposed this resolution in part to embarrass Walters and help his friend Simeon Francis, editor of the Whig-leaning Sangamo Journal, in the upcoming election for public printer.
Franklin W. Scott, "Newspapers and Periodicals of Illinois, 1814-1879" (PhD diss., University of Illinois, 1910), 167, 322, 341, 342; Illinois House Journal. 1835. 9th G. A., 1st sess., 293-94; Illinois House Journal. 1836. 10th G. A., 1st sess., 275-76; Illinois House Journal. 1838. 11th G. A., 1st sess., 211; Illinois House Journal. 1840. 12th G. A., 124, 273.
3Governor David Wallace made this statement in his message to the Indiana General Assembly on December 8, 1840.
Dorothy Riker, ed., Messages and Papers Relating to the Administration of David Wallace Governor of Indiana 1837-1840 (Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Bureau, 1963), 455.
4“Report of the Auditor of Public Accounts of the State of Illinois, Transmitted to Both Houses of the General Assembly,” 10 December 1840, Reports Made to the Senate and House of Representatives, of the State of Illinois (1841), [70]:6.
5The House appointed Lincoln, Lyman Trumbull, and Ormsbee a select committee to investigate expenditures for public printing. Lincoln was chairman, but the Democrats held a two to one majority. On January 16, 1841, Ormsbee, not Lincoln, presented the committee’s report. The House Journal does not record the report's contents, but both the Sangamo Journal and the Illinois State Register opined that the report found nothing untoward in the expenditure for public printing and exonerated Walters of any wrong-doing. The Illinois State Register revelled in the report, but the Sangamo Journal labelled it a “white-washing affair altogether.” Lincoln did not issue a minority report, a fact explained in part by his poor health. Lincoln was absent from the House from January 13 to 19 suffering from what he termed “hypochondriaism” presumably brought on by his reputed breaking of his engagement to Mary Todd on, as Lincoln described it later to his friend Joshua F. Speed, the “fatal first of Jany[January] 41[1841].” Lincoln spent several hours each of those days receiving treatment from Anson G. Henry. His condition was common knowledge among his colleagues, as indicated in a letter from Martinette McKee to John J. Hardin, written on January 22: “We have been very much distressed, on Mr. Lincoln’s account; hearing that he had two Cat fits and a Duck fit since we left.” The Sangamo Journal claimed that “Mr. Lincoln’s health did not permit him to examine the Report, and he did not read it until several days after it made its appearance before the House.” The State Register countered on January 29 that “Mr. Lincoln has recovered from his indisposition, and has attended the House for more than a week past during which time he made no minority report; although he attended every meeting of the committee of Investigation.”
Along with its report, the select committee introduced two bills, HB 120 and HB 121. HB 120 amended the 1835 act which defined the duties of the public printer, fixed the time and manner of performing printing for the state, and set prices for various publications. The House and Senate passed HB 120 on February 11 and 18, respectively, and the act became law on February 23. HB 121 proposed election of a public printer. The House passed the bill on February 10, but the Senate postponed further consideration on February 26.
Illinois House Journal. 1840. 12th G. A., 137, 235; Sangamo Journal (Springfield, IL), 22 January 1841, 2:3, 29 January 1841, 2:3; Illinois State Register (Springfield), 22 January 1841, 3:4-5, 29 January 1841, 3:6; Paul Simon, Lincoln’s Preparation for Greatness: The Illinois Legislative Years (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1971), 242; Martinette McKee to John J. Hardin, 22 January 1841, John J. Hardin Papers, Chicago History Museum, Chicago, IL, as quoted in Roy P. Basler, The Collected Works of the Papers of Abraham Lincoln (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1953), 1;229; Abraham Lincoln to Joshua F. Speed; Abraham Lincoln to John T. Stuart; Abraham Lincoln to John T. Stuart; Abraham Lincoln to Joshua F. Speed; Michael Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln: A Life (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008), 1:183; See also other letters between Lincoln and Speed in 1841-42.

Printed Document, 1 page(s), Sangamo Journal (Springfield, IL), 22 December 1840, 3:4.