Notes on What General Taylor Ought to Say, [March 1848]1
The question of a national bank is at rest; were I President I should not urge it's reagitation upon Congress; but should Congress see fit to pass an act to establish such an institution, I should not arrest it by the veto, unless I should consider it subject to some constitutional objection, from which I believe the two former banks to have been free–
It appears to me that the national debt created by the war, renders a modification of the existing tariff indispensable; and when it shall be modified, I should be pleased to see it adjusted with a due reference to the protection of our home industry– The particulars, it appears to me, must and should be left to the untramelled discretion of Congress–2
As to the Mexican war, I still ^think^ the defensive line policy the best to terminate it– In a final treaty of peace, we shall probably be under a sort of necessity of taking some teritory; but it is my desire that we shall not acquire any extending so far South
<Page 2>as to enlarge and agrivate the distracting question of slavery– Should I come into the presidency before these questions shall be settled, I should act in relation to them in accordance with the views here expressed–3
Finally, were I president, I should desire the legislation of the country to rest with Congress, uninfluenced by the executive in it's origin or progress, and undisturbed by the veto unless in very special and clear cases–4
1Abraham Lincoln wrote these notes.
John G. Nicolay and John M. Hay in the Complete Works of Abraham Lincoln dated this document “July 1?,” without attribution. The third paragraph suggests that the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ending the Mexican War had yet to be ratified, making the July date seemingly untenable, the treaty having been ratified in mid-March 1848 and ratifications exchanged in May, though the treaty was not proclaimed until July. Roy P. Basler, editor of The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, offers the date of March 1848, arguing that the date “assigned here seems as appropriate as can be assigned on the available evidence.” Although lacking any attribution, Basler has a strong argument, as Lincoln and other supporters of Zachary Taylor, who was a potential presidential candidate for both the Whig and Democratic parties in 1848, were urging him in the winter and spring of 1848 to make a statement regarding his political principles. The editors have kept Basler’s date, but Lincoln could have offered these recommendations at any point during the winter and spring of 1848.
Lincoln penned these recommendations in the context of his work as a member of the so-called “Young Indians,” a Whig Executive Committee founded by Truman Smith in the spring of 1847 to provide the Whig Party with a unified national organization for the imminent presidential campaign of 1848. Including principally but not exclusively Southern Whigs, the Young Indians made it their goal to nominate Zachary Taylor as the Whig Party standard bearer in 1848. Some Whigs condemned the movement for Taylor, a southern slaveholder who had no previous political affiliation, as an abandonment of Whig principles. In the lead up to the presidential election of 1848, Taylor initially insisted on an independent candidacy separate from party, but his advisors convinced him that a public declaration of Whig principles was necessary for him to secure that party’s nomination. Taylor issued this declaration on April 22 in a letter addressed to John S. Allison, a Kentucky tobacco factor who was visiting him at the time. The Allison Letter included Taylor’s declaration, “I am a Whig, but not an Ultra Whig,” reiterating his intention to act above party. The letter had the desired effect of convincing doubters that Taylor was a Whig.
The title is taken from what John M. Hay wrote on the last page.
John G. Nicolay and John Hay, eds., Complete Works of Abraham Lincoln, new and enlarged ed. (New York: Francis D. Tandy, 1905), 2:55-56; Roy P. Basler, ed., The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1953), 1:454; Michael Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln: A Life (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008), 1:275-76; Holman Hamilton, Zachary Taylor: Soldier in the White House (Hamden, CT: Archon, 1966), 63-64; Michael F. Holt, The Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party: Jacksonian Politics and the Onset of the Civil War (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 309-10, 333-39; K. Jack Bauer, Zachary Taylor: Soldier, Planter, Statesman of the Old Southwest (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1985), 233-34.
2The United States expended approximately $58 million for direct military operations, plus $15 million paid to Mexico under terms of the peace treaty.
K. Jack Bauer, The Mexican War 1846-1848 (New York: MacMillan, 1974), 397.
3The vast territorial acquisitions received under the terms of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo re-opened the slavery issue, leading to the Compromise of 1850.
K. Jack Bauer, The Mexican War 1846-1848, 392.
4Ever since President Andrew Jackson made broad use of the veto power to reject internal improvements, a National Bank, and other parts of Henry Clay’s American System, the Whigs had railed against “executive usurpation.” Congressional supremacy became a mantra for the Whig Party, and Whig orators made what they deemed unconstitutional use of the veto power by Jackson’s successors a theme in most elections up to 1848. In the presidential campaign of 1848, Whigs sought to mobilize their supporters and gain neutral voters by claiming that Lewis Cass, the Democratic candidate, would continue James K. Polk’s unconstitutional usurpation of power, most notably in commencing and waging the Mexican War. In his letter to John S. Allison, Taylor embraced the Whig notion of a weak executive, declaring that Congress should exercise leadership on the tariff, banks, and internal improvements, and that the executive should only use the veto power when a law was clearly unconstitutional.
Norma Lois Peterson, The Presidencies of William Henry Harrison & John Tyler (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1989), 14, 89-90, 97; Michael F. Holt, The Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party, 27-30, 49, 60, 67, 69, 110, 128, 130-34, 137-39, 146-50, 166, 310, 350-51.
Autograph Document, 3 page(s), Abraham Lincoln Papers, Library of Congress (Washington, DC).