Summary of Legislative Debate on Resolution to Adjourn, 27 January 18411
The adjournment resolution introduced by Mr. Hardin on yesterday, to adjourn sine die on the 22d of February, was taken up.2
The question was on the amendment of Mr. Olds—“provided, the necessary business had been transacted.”
The amendment was lost—ayes 39—noes 46.3
Mr. Wheeler offered an amendment, striking out the resolution and inserting a preamble and resolutions, reciting that the Legislature had been convened to do the peoples’ business, and that the Legislature could not adjourn until it had been completed, when the members should return home, then and there to give an account to their constituents.
Mr. Gillespie said some of us might find ourselves in rather an unpleasant situation by the passage of this resolution.—There might be some old bachelor members on this floor who were not so high in the affections of the fair six at home as the gentleman from Pike (Mr. Wheeler,) and who might prefer to cut out in some different direction. As for himself, he had no such notion at present, but there were others on this floor for whom he could not speak so positively.
Mr. Minshall said he was opposed to that part of the resolution, making it obligatory on all members to go home after the adjournment, whether their business called them home or not.
It might be that some of us might desire to “cut” for Texas; and whether it was desirable or not, he thought it high time that some of us were leaving for that region.
Mr. Wheeler withdrew the preamble of his resolution.
Peck spoke against fixing an early day for adjournment. There was much important business yet to be transacted. He thought these resolutions were gotten up for other purposes than to save the peoples’ money,—they were for display abroad. He was for taking time and doing the business deliberately, he was opposed to hurried Legislation.
Mr. Hardin said, in the whole course of his life he had never seen a man, so much opposed to haste as the gentleman from Cook, (Mr. Peck.) On every occasion he was deprecating haste and hurry. We had been in session now more than two months, and still he has not had time to prepare the only important measure which was before the finance committee.4 There was no haste in adjourning at the time fixed in this resolution. We shall have then been in session three months—as long a session as was ever held; long enough to have enabled us to have done double the business we will do, and too long by far for the means of the people.
Two months in session and when it is proposed to add another and then adjourn, the cry of the gentleman is still for more time. When will he agree that we shall adjourn? Will it be next summer?
The business never could be done until a day of adjournment was fixed; we should then go to work in earnest and do business.
He hoped the resolution as reported from the Judiciary Committee would be adopted.
Mr. Peck said the House need not expect to drive the Finance committee into action by the passage of this resolution. There was another way in which they might be called upon to report.
Mr. Hardin replied that we had tried that “other way” long enough. That committee had repeatedly been called upon to report, but as yet, we had heard nothing.
Mr. McClernand opposed the original resolution. He was opposed to adjourning until the business of the people was transacted. The gentleman from Morgan, and his party, were constantly throwing obstructions in the way of the business of this Legislature, and yet complained that we did not fix an early day for adjournment. He had no objection to the amendment of the gentleman from Pike, (Mr. Wheeler) except to that part compelling us to go home after adjournment. We might not all be so fortunate, as he doubted not the gentleman from Pike was, as to have languishing “sweet hearts,” to welcome our return.
He would move, therefore, to strike out that part of his amendment.
Mr. Henderson said, if the preamble was withdrawn, and the latter part stricken out of the amendment, he saw nothing left, which amounted to any thing; in fact, there was nothing at first either in the beginning, middle, or end, worth voting on, he should, therefore, move to lay the whole amendment on the table.
The motion to lay on the table carried.
Messrs.[Messieurs]Cavarly and Parsons spoke against the resolution, and Messrs. Hardin and Lincoln, supported it.
Mr. Brown of Vermillion, said he did not often trouble the House, by inflicting speeches upon it; but he could not tamely sit by and hear such aspersions and charges reiterated time and again in this House, against the party with which he acted, without, at least, entering his solemn protest against it. What had he, or his party done to merit such indignity as was constantly heaped upon them in this House? Why was the charge repeated day after day, and upon every occasion, that the Whig party were retarding the business of this House? Could it be possible that the majority of this House could expect to blind the people by such a miserable subterfuge? It was preposterous to suppose that the Whigs—that Spartan band—that powerless minority with which it was his pride and glory to act, could check and defeat the will of the powerful and overshadowing majority of this body. When, and upon what measure was it, calculated to advance the interests of the people, that the Whigs were recreant to their duty, and endeavoring to thwart and retard it? When the interest bill was before the House, we used every means in our power to have some permanent provision, connected with it, by which such miserable expedients might be avoided hereafter.
It was our conviction, said Mr. B., that if such a provision was not then provided, none whatever would be made, and the subsequent conduct of this House, has but strengthened that conviction. Was it for this, that we were charged with being false to our oaths, as “Bank bought slaves,” obstructing measures calculated to benefit the people? He had the proud satisfaction of knowing that the Whig party here had used the little power they possessed, in accordance with their honest convictions of right—knowing the motives which had governed them, it was with pride he owned himself a member of that party, and only desired, that if the sinking ship of State must go to the bottom, the privilege of clinging to a Whig plank, (Mr. B. was here called to order.) Mr. B. continued—he hoped the resolution fixing the day of adjournment, would be adopted. He received, almost daily, instructions from his constituents, beseeching him to make this a paramount consideration.
The resolution would give a three months session, as long as was ever held in the palmy days of our history, and still, gentlemen complained of hurry and precipitation. It might be that the time was too short to bring to perfection all the mad schemes of a party intoxicated with power, but it was too long for the State of our finances, and the patience of the people.
Mr. Peck replied, at some length, to Mr. Brown. It was very true the Whigs were in a minority in this House; but by some hocus pocus or arts of legerdemain, they always contrived to get enough of democrats with them to retard the action and views of the body of the democratic party. He thought the minority in this House were peculiarly hostile to him, on account of his ultra democratic notions. As chairman of the Finance committee, the duties devolving upon him were very arduous, and because he had not yet reported a revenue bill, was on account of the great difficulty of agreeing upon its details, and getting the committee to sit upon it. He thought it impossible that the diversified acts which it was necessary for us to pass, before we adjourned, could be properly matured and acted upon by the time fixed in the resolution.6
Mr. Webb said he could give the gentleman from Cook, (Mr. Peck) a reason for the Whigs sometimes being in a majority here without ascribing it to “hocus pocus” or “legerdemain.” It was in the language of the gentleman from La Salle, (Mr. Dodge) because some of the democratic members were like young backsliding Methodists—they would not obey the Minister. Mr. W. thought it absolutely necessary that some day of adjournment should be fixed, and believed this resolution allowed ample time. By reference to the Journals of Congress, it would be seen that more business was done during the short session, than the long one. The Legislature would not apply itself to business until the adjournment was fixed.
Mr. Carpenter moved to strike out the 22d of February, and insert the 1st of March.
2Adjournment sine die means without assigning a date or time for resumption. Hardin introduced this resolution on behalf of the Committee on the Judiciary. Other members were Wickliffe Kitchell, Alfred W. Cavarly, Albert G. Leary, Edwin B. Webb, Lyman Trumbull, John Dougherty, Stephen G. Hicks, and Thomas Drummond.
Governor Thomas Carlin had called for the opening of the Twelfth General Assembly on November 23, 1840, two weeks before the constitutionally-mandated date for the regular session, in order to deal with the state debt crisis. Particularly vexing was that the state had no funds in the treasury to satisfy the interest payment on the debt due January 1, 1841.
The Democrats and Whigs in the House of Representatives already had an ugly confrontation over attempts to adjourn sine die during this special session. In December 1839, the state’s debt crisis forced the State Bank of Illinois to suspend specie payments for a second time. The bank’s incorporation act and an act supplementary gave the bank sixty days to resume specie payments or forfeit its charter. On January 31, 1840, the General Assembly passed an act suspending stipulations on specie payments until the end of the next legislative session. On December 5, 1840, the Whigs, hoping to protect the bank against Democrat demands that it resume specie payments by the end of the special session or forfeit its charter, boycotted the General Assembly, thereby preventing the necessary two-thirds quorum for adjournment sine die. When the situation became acute, Abraham Lincoln, Joseph Gillespie, and Asahel Gridley, occupying their seats as a token representation of Whigs for procedural votes, exited the House chamber through windows to prevent a quorum and frustrate plans of the Democrats.
Illinois House Journal. 1840. 12th G. A., 33, 283; Michael Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln: A Life (Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008), 1:162; John H. Krenkel, Illinois Internal Improvements 1818-1848 (Cedar Rapids, IA: Torch, 1958), 166.
4On December 16, 1840, the House and Senate passed an act to pay the interest payment due January 1, 1841, but the finance committee was still debating several pieces of legislation--including a bill from Lincoln--for a compensative solution to the debt crisis.
6On February 4, 1841, the Finance Committee, of which Lincoln was a member, reported the long-awaited bill on paying the interest on the state debt.
Printed Document, 1 page(s), Sangamo Journal (Springfield, IL), 2 February 1841, 2:5-7.