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1Gentlemen of the Senate, and House of Representatives:
It is indeed with unaffected humility, and a deep sense of my incapacity for the important duties of the high office to which the voice of my fellow-citizens have called me, but with a gratitude which I can find no language adequate to express, united with a zeal which can never experience abatement in their service, that I enter upon my present duties.
Having been absent from the State a greater part of the past seven or eight years on public duties, and detained on my journey home, after my election, by the ill health of my family, I have found it impossible to possess myself with such an acquaintance with the affairs of the State, as will enable me to present such a view of them as I would wish, and which may perhaps be expected from me; but in the judgment and experience, you, gentlemen of both houses of the Legislature, I repose the fullest confidence, and from your familiar acquaintance with the wants of the people, and your patriotic devotion to the interest of our State, I look for the suggestion and adoption of such measures, as will best promote their prosperity and happiness: for the accomplishment of which I earnestly invoke the assistance of the Great Ruler of the Universe, and I pledge my most unwavering exertions, and hearty co-operation with you, in every measure calculated to accomplish it.2
Illinois was the first, or among the first of the States, to adopt the humane and benevolent policy of abolishing imprisonment for debt, and the absurdity of placing misfortune upon a level with crime has never blotted our stat-
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ute books. By thus depriving the heartless of the temptation and the power to persecute, under color of law, we have the satisfaction to witness a happy and prosperous community, in which every honest man, however poor, has his liberty secured to him, while the rich are comparatively free from a spirit of tyranny,—a vice that is always engendered where the law can be made an instrument of oppression. It is gratifying to observe that this liberal principle is diffusing itself and that some of our sister States have recently adopted it into their constitutions.3
It appears to me that the time has arrived, when this benevolent policy might be extended still farther, by exempting from execution, (for all debts contracted after the passage of the act,) a few acres, or a lot of land, with its improvements, so long as the family shall continue to occupy them as a place of residence. Such an act would have a tendency to induce every family, however poor, to procure a permanent home, and would further tend to render our population more stationary, and to secure the families of the unfortunate against those casualties and misfortunes to which we are all liable, and which fall too frequently upon the widow and her children, at a time when their helpless and desolate situation should render them the peculiar objects of our sympathy. As such a law would be prospective no fraud could grow out of it, while all would feel the beneficial influence of rendering every family independent, and every man responsible to the society in which he lives for the proper education of his children, and the moral conduct of himself and family.4
As every country is prosperous and respected in proportion to the virtue and intelligence of its inhabitants, the subject of education will doubtless again form an important part of your deliberations. The State possesses a fund devoted to this purpose, amounting to something over one hundred thousand dollars.5 As this amount, if invested in stocks, is too small to produce an annual income at all proportionate to the wants of the present generation, I would recommend that a system be adopted, by which the amount of this fund may be divided equally among the people, and applied to the purposes of education, which may also provide for the future division, upon the same principle, of such other sums as may hereafter be derived from the United States, on account of three per cent. set a-part from receipt on sales of the public lands, the school sections, and such other sources as can, with propriety, be provided.

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In a State like this, many parts of which are sparsely settled by people encountering those difficulties incident to the improvement of a new country, it would be wrong to think of accumulating a fund out of our present resources, for the exclusive education of future generations; while those, who are in a few years to give character to our society, and to direct the operations of our government, are permitted to grow up without the possibility of obtaining an education—that greatest of human blessings.
It becomes us to use every exertion in our power to instruct those who are immediately dependent upon us, and leave to those who come after us, the rich revenues to be derived from the lands, canals and other improvements, to form a permanent fund to carry out any plans you may now adopt for the purposes of education.
This view of the case derives force from the fact, that the general government in setting apart this fund and a portion of the public land for education, intended it is an inducement to the early settlement of the country. It would seem unjust therefore, that those who have done so much to fill the national treasury, and advance the interests of the country, should be compelled to witness a fund, intended as a reward for their labors and sacrifices, laid by for the benefit of those who may come after them.
A government like ours, controlled and carried on by the will of the people, should be careful to use all the means in its power, to enlighten the minds of those who are destined to exercise so important a trust. This, and every consideration connected with the virtue, elevation, and happiness of man, and the character and prosperity of our State, and of our common country, calls upon you to establish some permanent system of common schools, by which an education may be placed within the power, nay, if possible, secured to every child in the State. As the first establishment may from want of experience, be attended with difficulty and loss, it may be found most expedient to commence the system while the funds are small, so that when they increase, we may have acquired experience by which they may be employed more judiciously.
The State has also at its disposal, a considerable fund for the establishment and support of colleges, institutions of learning of a more liberal character, (although of less vital importance than a system of common schools, and are second only to them in importance. Nor can the inestimable value
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of education be properly appreciated, until provision is made for instruction in the higher branches of literature. The subject is one whose importance will doubtless recommend it to your serious consideration.
The acts heretofore adopted by the legislature, for granting pre-emption claims to the settlers on the seminary lands, appears to me to have been passed under a mistaken view of the object and condition of the grant, and of what was due to the public and to the nation who gave them. These lands were to be selected by the State for a specific purpose. It is the duty of the legislature faithfully to carry it into effect. Pre-emption rights are given by Congress for reasons of policy, connected with the value and sale of the public lands. It is the interest of the general government, which owns a great and almost unbounded tract of wild lands, to enhance their value and expedite their sale, by inducing our enterprising citizens to go in advance of the sales, form settlements, and prepare the way for those who are more able to purchase. It should be the duty of the legislature on the contrary, faithfully to execute the trust confided to them, and to sell those lands which were given for the common benefit of our citizens, for the full value, which their quality or location may impart to them.
The present is a favorable time to commence a general system of internal improvements. Our State is comparatively in its infancy, and if roads, trackways, rail roads, and canals, are now laid out, they can be made straight between most of the important points, with very little expense and difficulty, compared with what will result, if their location is postponed until lands increase in value, and settlements are formed on roads which are now in use, or which are daily making.—When such settlements are formed, however unfavorable may be their location, or indirect their route, experience proves that it is extremely difficult to make private interests and prejudices give way to public convenience. To accomplish so desirable an object either, as it relates to the convenience, beauty, or commerce of our country, it may be expedient for the legislature to make an appeal to the justice of Congress, for a grant of the right of way and a small tract of the public lands through which all the canals and great public roads made, or authorized to be made, by the State, shall pass.
The construction of a canal from Chicago, on Lake Michigan, to the Illinois river, has long occupied the public attention; and the time has arrived, in my opinion, when a proper
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respect for the interest of this, and all the States, requires that the work be commenced and completed without further delay.
It is now more than seven years since Congress made a grant of land which was then supposed to be sufficient for the construction of this canal; which canal was then, and is now, generally considered a work of greater national importance than any work of the kind that has yet been proposed to be made in our country. Such is the universal estimate of its importance by all men of intelligence, that I have no hesitation in believing that ample funds can be procured on the most favorable terms, for its speedy accomplishment. I would, therefore, suggest the propriety of reserving all the lands on the route from sale, except town sites, which it might be well to lay out into lots, and dispose of in part; and I most earnestly recommend that a loan or loans be effected, to commence the work, and after the value of the lands, so reserved, shall have been expended, I have no doubt Congress will make another appropriation to complete, or assist in completing it.
This recommendation has not been made without duly weighing its importance, and deliberately estimating the difficulties and expense which must attend it.
No one who has visited the different canals and rail roads in the United States, and compared the country through which they pass, with the fertile lands which lie between the Lakes and the Mississippi, to say nothing of the unbounded country that is washed by the twenty-five thousand miles of river and lake navigation, which this canal will unite by the shortest and most certain route that can possibly be made, can doubt that it will yield a larger profit upon its cost, in a very few years than any other work of the kind that has ever been, or can be, constructed in this country.
In commencing this great work it should be borne in mind, that its utility and success, as well as its expense, will greatly depend upon the kind of improvement that the legislature shall adopt, and upon the plan of its construction. Of the different plans proposed, I find that the board of canal commissioners and my worthy predecessors, have recommended a rail road, in which I regret that I am compelled to differ with them in opinion.
In my judgment, experience has shewn canals to be much more useful, and generally cheaper of construction, than rail roads. When well made they require less expensive repairs, and are continually improving, and will last forever; while
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rail roads are kept in repair at a very heavy expense, and will last but about fifteen years. In the present case especially, a canal should be preferred, because it connects by a short and direct route, the two great navigable waters, that wash the shores of most of the States and Territories of the United States and British Provinces of North America; and thus opening a commerce between the remotest parts of the continent. By using the lake as a feeder to this canal a large body of water will be turned into the Illinois river, which will improve its navigation, and by increasing the current will, probably, render its shores more healthy.
An additional argument in favor of a canal, which should justly have great weight with you, is to be found in the fact, that it puts it in the power of every farmer to carry his own produce to market, which renders him independent of that monopoly which must always control the transportation on rail roads. There appears to be but little force in the present case, in the argument commonly used in favor of rail roads; that transportation upon them is uninterrupted in winter—as this canal will be open several weeks longer in the fall and spring than either the lake or river, consequently no inconvenience can result from its closing, especially, as at that season the roads will be sufficiently good to accommodate all the traveling that will be required.
It is very desirable in the commencement of this work to lay the foundation, if possible, of a steam boat canal, as there can be no doubt that such a channel will be required in a very few years, to accommodate the commerce of this country. The New York canal has already been found at some seasons of the year, insufficient to pass the produce on its borders to market, and it is now contemplated, either to construct an other on the same route or to widen the old channel.
With such facts before us, when we consider the great superiority in point of soil, and extent of territory, of the country to be accommodated by the Illinois canal, we cannot doubt the necessity of some early period, of making it wide enough for steam boats to pass. I would, therefore, suggest the propriety of giving such a channel to that proportion of the canal which lies in the valley of the Illinois and Duplane rivers, embracing about seventy miles of the route, and which, it is believed, can be made sufficiently wide for any purpose, at very little if any additional expense. The cut through the summit level will
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be most expensive, and can be widened at a future period, when it shall be found necessary.
It is no argument, either against the work, or the scale proposed, that the country is new, and parts of it comparatively unsettled. The country through which the great New York canal passes, was, at the period when that work was constructed, a wilderness, covered with a heavy growth of timber. In a few years these heavy forests have been subdued, and the country brought to a state of cultivation that is not surpassed in any part of America. Towns and cities have sprung up as if by enchantment; agriculture, and the mechanical arts are richly rewarded, and are already carried to the highest degree of perfection.6
The slightest reflection upon the ease with which our praries may be brought under cultivation, compared with the labor, expense, and delay which attend the clearing and cultivating a heavy timbered forest, must convince the most sceptical of the splendid results which will follow from the completion of a work, that will enable us to sell at an increased value, our agricultural, mineral, and other productions.
But is not merely in the ease with which farms are opened, that the superiority of the agricultural prospects of this State consist. The fertility of the soil yields a rich product; its lightness renders it easy of cultivation, while its depth almost certainly secures the prudent and industrious farmer against those vicissitudes of the season which so frequently destroys the crops in other countries.
Judging of the future by the past and present rapid improvement, which is every where in progress in our State, and estimating its future population, by the inexhaustible resources of the country, and by the flood of enterprising citizens pouring into it from every quarter of the civilized world, the imagination is lost in contemplating the millions of happy and independent people which it is destined to sustain, and whose surplus produce will scarcely find room to float upon the majestic rivers, the Mississippi and St. Lawrence, flowing to the north and to the south, which Providence, in the fullness of its beneficence, has provided on a scale only equalled by the vast country they are destined to accommodate.
An extensive commerce has grown up on several of our rivers, especially the Illinois and Wabash, which renders the improvement of their channels a subject of deep interest, and will doubtless receive a portion of your deliberations.

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By the ordinance of 1787, both of these streams and the carrying places between them and the Lakes, are declared and made public highways, to be kept open for the use of all the States. In conformity with this ordinance, Congress have made large grants of land to improve the carrying places, and will doubtless hereafter extend their aid for the improvement of those noble rivers. At the late session a bill passed both houses of Congress, making a liberal appropriation in money for improving the channel of the Wabash river, which the President refused to approve, and it did not become a law; but as his opinion must have been hastily formed, I have no doubt, (as in the case of the Chicago harbor,) he will review his decision, and sign a bill should Congress again pass one for this object.
Among the great works of internal improvement now in progress, which are calculated to bind all the States of our happy Republic in the bonds of friendship and perpetual union, this State has a deep interest in the success of a rail road about to be constructed by the State of New York, along the southern tier of counties in that State, from the Hudson river to lake Erie, and which is intended to be continued, or to form a part of a rail road from New York to the Mississippi. The corps of Engineers who have examined and surveyed this route, give the most favorable account of the practicability and cheapness of the work, and hold out great hopes of its early completion. Should it be practicable to unite with New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Indiana, in forwarding this great improvement, I am certain it will be your pleasure to do so.
Should you pass an act for constructing the canal between the lake and Illinois river, I would suggest the propriety of setting apart the entire revenue arising from it, for the promotion of Education. Nothing in my opinion could be so unwise, or more fatal to the purity of our government, than to have so large a sum as must eventually arise from this source, introduced into the Treasury. Men in power, having the control of such unlimited means, are too prone to acquire habits of extravagant and prodigal expenditure, and to create places for partisans and favorites, with less reference to the public interest than for the purpose of corrupting those who they can use in promoting their schemes of self-aggrandizement. Nor is it desirable that the people should be entirely relieved from the burden of supporting the government, lest they might become indifferent to its administration, careless in selecting
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their officers, and less vigilant in scrutinizing their public conduct. To keep the government poor, and the people rich, is a political maxim which ought never to be forgotten by those who are charged with preserving the purity of our institutions, and jealously guarding those democratic republican principles in our constitution, which secure the rights, the power, and freedom of the People.7
Should it be considered expedient to establish a bank, (a measure I cannot at present advise,) I would suggest the propriety of providing, that, in no event, should more than six per cent. per annum be divided to the stockholders, and that the stock be sold at public auction to the highest bidder, and the advance on it put into the State Treasury. Banks may be made exceedingly useful in society, not only by affording an opportunity to the widow, the orphan and aged, who possess capital without the capacity of employing it in ordinary business, to invest it in such stock; but by its use the young and enterprising mechanic, merchant and tradesman, may be enabled more successfully to carry on his business, and improve the country. But unfortunately, banks are too often established to benefit the rich speculator, with no reference to the interest and convenience of the industrious poor, which has justly excited a jealousy among the people against all banks, and should admonish us to be exceedingly careful in the first permanent introduction of them into our State.8
That we should be divided in opinion on those great questions of power and public policy, which have recently divided, and which are agitating the whole nation, and threaten to shake it to its centre, is no more than is to be expected; but as none of us can claim to be perfect, we should judge charitably of the motives and lights that may influence the judgment of those with whom we may differ in opinion. In this spirit alone can we expect success, in our exertions to promote those interests which, I am certain, we all most earnestly desire.
In conclusion, permit me again to urge, that no party spirit shall be permitted to distract and interrupt our councils, or to interfere with our duties and obligations to those we represent. With proper forbearance and harmony, under the favor of that All-wise, All-mighty, and perfect Being, who directs and governs the Universe, we may hope to accomplish some good for our country, and leave unimpared that constitution which each of us has sworn to support.
1Joseph Duncan was elected Governor of Illinois on August 4, 1834. On December 3, he took the oath of office and delivered this address to the General Assembly. The House of Representatives voted to print 2,000 copies of the Governor’s speech for the use of the members of the General Assembly.
Illinois House Journal. 1835. 9th G. A., 1st sess., 20, 25-34.
2Illinois’ constitution required the Governor to give a state of the state address to the General Assembly, which was generally done at the opening of every session. These messages tend to inform the direction of legislation of that session.
Ill. Const. (1818), art. 3, §4.
Duncan represented Illinois in the U.S. Congress from 1827 to 1834, and was elected Governor of Illinois while living in Washington, DC His wife Elizabeth’s illness detained the Duncans from arriving in Illinois until after the election.
Robert P. Howard, Mostly Good and Competent Men: Illinois Governors, 1818-1988 (Springfield, IL: Sangamon State University, 1988), 61-62, 64.
3Illinois’ 1818 state constitution expressly forbade imprisonment for debt with two exceptions: cases of fraud and instances wherein the convict refused to sell property to settle the debt. In 1823, the legislature passed an act further detailing in which cases debtors could be imprisoned. Many of the states preceding Illinois in statehood (including Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Vermont, Kentucky, Tennessee, Ohio, and Indiana) had similarly outlawed the practice in their state constitutions. Other states, like New York, passed laws during the 1830s abolishing the imprisonment of debtors.
“An Act to Abolish Imprisonment for Debt in Certain Cases,” 17 February 1823, Laws (1823), 158-59; Ill. Const. (1818), art. VIII, §15; Ind. Const. (1816), art. I, §17; Penn. Const. (1790), art. IX, §16; N. Car. Const. (1776), art. XXXIX; Vt. Const. (1793), art. II, § 33; Ken. Const. (1792), art. XII, § 17; Tenn. Const. (1796), art. XI, § 18; O. Const. (1803), art. VIII, § 15 ; Robert Wyness Millar, Civil Procedure of the Trial Court in Historical Perspective (New York: National Conference of Judicial Councils, 1952), 456-57.
4In 1825, the General Assembly passed an act stating that when any person was found by a court of law to owe a debt, much of that person’s personal property and all of his real estate was subject to sale in order to satisfy the debt. In 1839, the House of Representatives considered a bill that addressed Governor Duncan’s concerns, but the bill did not pass the House.
“An Act concerning Judgments and Executions,” 17 January 1825, Revised Laws of Illinois (1833), 370-78.
5Upon statehood, Congress granted to Illinois three percent of the net proceeds of all federal land sales in the state to be used exclusively for education; this became known as the “three percent fund”. Congress additionally granted to every township in the state the proceeds of the sale of land in each township’s Section 16. This money became known as the common school fund. One-sixth of the three percent fund was to be used for the establishment of a college or university; this became known as the “college fund.” Congress furthermore specified that the proceeds from the sales of land in two entire townships would be reserved for a seminary of learning; this became known as the “seminary fund.” Since 1829, the state had been borrowing from the school and seminary funds in order to pay regular government expenses.
“An Act to Enable the People of the Illinois Territory to Form a Constitution and State Government, and for the Admission of Such State into the Union on an Equal Footing with the Original States,” 18 April 1818, Statutes at Large of the United States, 3:428-31; “An Act Authorizing the Commissioners of the School and Seminary Fund to Loan the Same to the State,” 17 January 1829, Revised Code of Laws, of Illinois (1829), 118-19; W. L. Pillsbury, “Early Education in Illinois,” in Sixteenth Biennial Report of the Superintendent of Public Instruction of the State of Illinois (Springfield, IL: H. W. Rokker, 1886), 106-07.
6The parts of Duncan’s speech relating to the Illinois and Michigan Canal were referred to the Senate’s Committee on Internal Improvements, which resulted in the passing of the first of several acts to construct the canal.
7The entirety of the revenue from the Illinois and Michigan Canal was needed for the state to pay the loans taken out to build the canal, and was not diverted to fund education in the state.
8Duncan’s immediate predecessor in office, William L. D. Ewing, advocated the charter of a state bank. The General Assembly passed an act chartering the third State Bank of Illinois as well as an act reviving the charter of the Bank of Illinois, which had been dormant since its suspension in 1821.
Charles Hunter Garnett, State Banks of Issue in Illinois (Champaign: University of Illinois, 1898), 23-25.

Printed Transcription, 9 page(s), Journal of the House of Representatives of the Ninth General Assembly of the State of Illinois, at Their First Session (Vandalia, IL: J. Y. Sawyer, 1835), 25-33