Abraham Lincoln to Richard S. Thomas, 15 June 18481Washington, June 15, 1848.R. S. Thomas Esq.[Esquire],Dear Sir.—
Herewith I send you a copy of a law, by virtue of which, the inhabitants of fractional Townships, on which there are no sixteenth sections, or in which those sections are fractional, and proportionally too small for the remainder of such townships respectively, may have other lands in lieu.2 It will be seen that the law, by its letter, applies to cases where there is no school land, but, by construction here, it is applied to cases where there is too little. In cases where there is, and only have enough in addition, to make their proportion. As I was ignorant of this law when I came on here, I suppose that some others may be; and therefore, in order that all persons interested may know the law, and the way to avail themselves of its benefits, I propose that you give this letter, the law, and Judge Young’s letter, and note, a start for publication in the papers of our region.3Yours Truly,A. LINCOLN.
1Abraham Lincoln did not write or sign this letter, but it is attributed to him. No handwritten copy of this letter has been located.
2Lincoln references a law passed by Congress in May 1826. The text of this law appears in the same column of the newspaper beneath this letter.
“An Act to Appropriate Lands for the Support of Schools in Certain Townships and Fractional Townships, Not Before Provided for,” 20 May 1826, Statutes at Large of the United States 4 (1846):179.
3Thomas followed Lincoln’s advice: this letter, the letter and note of Richard M. Young, and the text of the law appeared in the same column of the Beardstown Gazette on July 12, 1848.
Federal law policy regarding school land rested on provisions of the Land Ordinance of 1785, which reserved the sixteenth section of each full thirty-six-section township to support public schools within the township. The Land Ordinance of 1785 did not address the issue of fractional townships with no sixteenth sections or partial sixteenth sections, so various state legislatures and Congress often had to pass laws or make special provisions to allow for the sale of fractional sixteenth sections or substitute sections for public education. In May 1826, Congress enacted a general law governing the appropriation of lands for the support of schools for which provision had not already been made.
During the first session of the Thirtieth Congress, Richard S. Thomas and numerous other citizens from Cass County, Illinois, had sent a petition to Congress requesting a law allowing the county, which had townships with worthless sixteenth sections or fractional townships without sixteenth sections, to select other land in lieu thereof, and the lands to be selected to be granted by the United States to the state of Illinois for the use of the inhabitants for schools. On March 30, Abraham Lincoln wrote Thomas that the House of Representatives had referred the petition to the Committee on Public Lands.
In his letter of March 30, Lincoln noted that the House Committee on Public Lands had decided against taking action on the petition unless it involved fractional townships that had no sixteenth section or only fractional ones, and noted the existence of an existing law covering the issue. In another letter written on June 13, Lincoln reiterated his belief that the House and Senate Committees on Public Lands were satisfied with existing law on the subject, and expressed his doubt that additional legislation would pass, but promised to inquire at the General Land Office on June 14 and inquire into the matter and write Thomas again, which he does on June 15.
“An Act to Appropriate Lands for the Support of Schools in Certain Townships and Fractional Townships, Not Before Provided for,” 20 May 1826, Statutes at Large of the United States 4 (1846):179; An Act Providing for the Sale of the Fractional Sixteenth Section, in Township Six North, Range Twelve West, and Such other Lands as Have Been Selected in Lieu of the Sixteenth Section in the Fractional Townships, on the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers, in Green County; An Act Granting a Half Section of Land for the Use of Schools within Fractional Township 19, South of Range 18 West, County of Lowndes, State of Mississippi.
Copy of Printed Transcription, 1 page(s), Beardstown Gazette (Beardstown, IL), 12 July 1848, 1:3