1Fellow-Citizens of the Senate, and House of Representatives:
It is with great diffidence that I assume the responsibilities devolving upon the Executive of this State; and while I regret that the choice of the people did not fall upon some more competent individual, I can only promise, in the discharge of the duties which my station enjoins, unremitted vigilance and my best exertions to maintain and promote the public welfare generally. In carrying out such measures as will be most conducive of, and subservient to, the various interests of the State, I shall confidently rely upon the joint wisdom and co-operation of this General Assembly.2
Duly impressed with a sense of the solemn trusts which the partiality and kindness of my fellow-citizens have induced them to confide to my care, it is to me, as I doubt not it is to each of you, a source of infinite gratification to contemplate the present prosperous and happy condition of our State and the country generally.
The mighty energies and inexhaustible resources of the nation have enabled it, in a much shorter period than could have been expected, to overcome the pecuniary embarrassments and pressure occasioned by the mismanagement and over-action of the Banks. Specie payments have generally been resumed, confidence is restored, commerce and business have revived, and every circumstance affords convincing evidence of a season of prosperity and plenty. Amid the calamities and difficulties from which the country has just emerged, Illinois has been particularly fortunate. While the advancement and growth of other States have perhaps been retarded and checked, she has kept steadily on in the march
<Page 2>of improvement, rapidly increasing in population and wealth, her enterprising and industrious citizens always reaping the richest rewards for their labor, and receiving the highest prices for every species of production and property. Her prospects are truly bright and flattering. Possessing in an eminent degree the advantages of navigation, blessed with a soil of almost unequalled fertility and admirably adapted to all the purposes of cultivation, with a surface inviting the construction of Internal Improvements, and inhabited by an enterprising and thriving population, with wise and judicious legislation, she will in a few years be second to no State in the Nation.3
The history of government, however, demonstrates that a system of legislation, to be efficient and salutary, must provide for the moral and intellectual as well as the physical condition of the community. The most effectual means for advancing the interests of the people, and developing the resources of a country, is the general diffusion of knowledge; this is true under all forms of government, but more especially in a republic. In order to maintain republican institutions, it is indispensably necessary that the community be sufficiently intelligent to comprehend their own rights and obligations and the fundamental principles of government. This can only be attained through the medium of an enlarged and comprehensive system of Common Schools; and to this subject I beg leave most respectfully, but most earnestly, to solicit your attention.
The School Fund of the State, exclusive of 16th sections, amounts to six hundred and fourteen thousand six hundred and seventy-seven dollars and thirty-eight cents, and provision has been made for distributing the interest arising from it among the various townships in a rateable proportion to the number of inhabitants.4
Owing, however, to imperfections in the acts, or to the indifference of the people, but a limited portion of the townships have availed themselves of the advantages thus afforded.
I would, therefore, respectfully recommend that such a disposition be made of this fund as will amply secure the principal, and at the same time yield the greatest possible amount of interest, and that the various acts for establishing and maintaining a general system of Common Schools be carefully revised and amended.
There are few measures in which the people are more deeply interested than the faithful management of the banking institutions of the State. The regulation of Banks in general, is a question of the most perplexing and difficult nature—one which has baffled the exertions of the wisest and most profound statesmen both of this country and of Europe, and one which at present remains in a very unsettled and imperfect state. The whole history of our Government, and especially the occurrences of the last few years, prove that the principles upon which the banking institutions of the United States have been chartered and conducted are radically and fundamentally defective. Under a judicious and well regulated Banking System, I am persuaded that no exigency or vicissitude that could possibly happen would render a general suspension of specie payments necessary. And such a measure, instead of being sanctioned by legislative enactments, should be carefully guarded against, and, when resorted to by the Banks, should be punished with the utmost rigor. All acts authorising such suspension, and relief laws in general, are so many acts
<Page 3>legalising the violation of law and of moral obligation, and cannot fail to exert a pernicious and corrupting influence upon the morals of the people. Among the various defects in the Banking System, I regard the following as a few of the most prominent: the difficulty of exacting from them a strict and rigid compliance with the provisions of their charters and of compelling them by process of law to meet their various obligations and contracts—the impossibility of preventing them from using their power and influence to affect and control the politics of the country.
Another and perhaps more serious objection is, that they often confine their accommodations and loans to speculators and large dealers, to the exclusion of the more numerous classes of the community, who are, in turn, compelled to borrow of those individuals at an advanced and frequently enormous interest.
These being my sentiments in relation to Banks generally, I am of opinion that the deep interest the State has in those institutions as the depositories of its various funds, and in consequence of the large amount of capital it has invested in them, together with the interest the community for whom you are assembled to legislate must feel as the holders of their notes, would warrant you in enacting such penal statutes as would compel them to confine themselves strictly within their legitimate spheres of action, and in instituting, and from time to time repeating, such examinations into their condition and conduct as will most effectually prevent any abuse of their privileges, and secure the interest of the State and people.
The subject of Internal Improvements is one of absorbing interest to the people, and one which merits your most serious and patriotic consideration. The signal success which has attended our sister States in the construction of their extensive Systems of Improvements can leave no doubt of the wise policy and utility of such works. They open new channels of commerce and trade, furnish the farmer and mechanic the means of transporting the products of their labor to market, develop the natural and hidden resources of the country, and stimulate the enterprise and industry of the people.
In view of these great and numerous advantages, the General Assembly of this State, at its last regular session, adopted a general System of Improvements, to be constructed and owned exclusively by the State. In the principles and policy of this plan, contrasted with that of joint stock companies and private corporations, I entirely concur. Had I occupied my present situation at the establishment of this system, I would have recommended its adoption on a less extensive scale, and the construction of the most important works first. Under the present plan of proceeding, however, near two millions of dollars have been expended, and whatever diversity of opinion may now exist as to the expediency of the system as originally projected, all must admit that the character and credit of the State forbid its abandonment. I shall therefore submit it for your consideration, and should you, in your wisdom adopt any modifications which will render it more useful and better suited to the condition and wants of the country, they will meet my hearty co-operation and approval; and whatever course may be pursued, I would recommend a rigid economy in the expenditure of the funds of the State.
The Illinois and Michigan canal is a subject of great importance to this State, and the country generally. No one measure would so directly and so materially advance the commercial, agricultural and manufacturing interests of the
<Page 4>whole State as the completion of this stupendous work. The most liberal and enlarged course of legislation in regard to it should be uniformly pursued, and every prudent means employed to promote its vigorous prosecution and speedy completion.
The draining and improvement of the American Bottom, although a local measure, is one of a very laudable nature, and one which would materially advance the interest of that and the surrounding countryThis and the improvement of the river bottoms, generally, merit the encouragement of the Legislature, either by memorializing Congress to donate the unsold lands lying within them, or in any other manner that may harmonise with the general interest of the State.
The question of the currency, which has so long agitated, and still continues to agitate, every portion of the Union, is one which so deeply involves all the great interests of the country, that it perhaps merits an allusion here. Upon this subject, and upon the policy of the late and present administrations of the United States Government in general, I differ greatly in opinion with my worthy and much esteemed predecessor. In relation to the currency, three distinct measures have been proposed—the continuance of the State Bank deposite system—the incorporation of a National Bank, and the establishment of an Independent Treasury.
The injuries and losses which have resulted to the Government and people, by the failure of the State Bank deposite system, are sufficient to deter a considerate and prudent community from its longer continuance. This is so manifestly true that, throughout the whole extent of the country, but few advocates for this measure can be found, and even those few seem to advocate it for political effect and to subserve party purposes, rather than with any real expectation of its ultimate success. The final issue, therefore, seems to be between a National Bank and an Independent Treasury; and under these opposite measures, the two great political parties of the country have ranged themselves. It is truly astonishing, to my mind, that between these two measures an intelligent and enlightened public should hesitate. The incorporation of a National Bank, under any of the various forms which have been proposed, I should regard as among the greatest calamities that could befall a free people. The creation of such an institution, as the fiscal agent of the Government, would be unconstitutional, irrepublican and dangerous.5
In relation to the unconstitutionality of this measure, I do not entertain the slightest doubt. The Congress of the United States is a body which owes its existence to, and derives all its powers from, the constitution. These powers are of two kinds: those which are expressly delegated, and those which are incidental and necessary to the exercise of delegated powers.
The power to incorporate cannot be regarded as an incidental, contingent power, to be derived by implication and construction, but as a distinct, independent substantive power, and one that as absolutely requires an express grant as the power to declare war. That the constitution expressly delegates to Congress no such power, every individual who has ever read it must know.
These considerations afford to my mind conclusive evidence that this power was neither directly nor indirectly delegated to Congress by the constitution, and that, in the language of that instrument, it was reserved to the States respectively; and for that body to exercise it would be a manifest violation of the constitution and an act of flagrant usurpation. All acts of incorporation and charters creating monopolies, in granting exclusive privileges, operate unequally and unjustly upon the community, and tend to the establishment of fictitious and unnatural distinctions in society. The legitimate and inevitable effect of the privileges which have been extended to banking institutions, both by the National and State Legislatures, is to throw wealth and commercial influence into
<Page 5>the hands of the few to the exclusion and injury of the many, and to create and perpetuate a moneyed aristocracy in the country, which is openly at war with equal, simple republican principles, upon which our Government was founded and should be administered.
An institution owned either by the Government or by individual stockholders, with the privilege of using and loaning the public moneys, and possessing capital, power, and resources sufficient to regulate the currency of the country, could not fail to prove dangerous and ultimately destructive to the rights and liberties of the people. A Government Bank would concentrate in the General Government an undue and perhaps fatal amount of power,—would give a new impulse to the tendencies to centralism and consolidation which are already sufficiently strong, and would entirely defeat the objects for which that Government was instituted. The plan of a private corporation upon such a scale is equally objectionable. The late United States Bank was measurably an institution of this kind, and its history should forever deter us from creating another. We have seen it violating the provisions of its charter, defying the authorities of the Government, interfering with the politics of the country, corrupting the public press, bribing the members of Congress, waging war upon the National Executive, and, by wanton panics and pressures, attempting to subdue the republican spirit of the people and coerce them into a submission to its recharter.
Such was the conduct of an institution of moderate capital and limited resources. What, then, have we not to fear from one of almost unlimited power? Every dictate of wisdom and experience forbids its establishment. The tremendous influence such a great central moneyed power could wield, would enable it not only to regulate the currency, but to control the entire commercial and political interests of the whole country, to render itself superior to the authority of the Government and people, to determine our policy at home and abroad, and dictate the terms of peace and of war. The present condition of the currency and the interests of the country generally seem to require the establishment of an Independent Treasury, and the collection and disbursement of the public revenue in specie. This measure, without increasing the influence of any department of the Government, or concentrating power any where, will be attended with the most beneficial results. It will dissolve the connexion between the Government and Banks—a connexion as unnatural and dangerous as the union of church and state—and amply secure the public funds, give to the General Government that degree of freedom and independence which was contemplated by the constitution, and, by creating a constant demand for specie, elevate the precious metals to a proper degree of importance, restrain the banks from over issues, insure a sound and uniform circulating medium, diminish the temptations to extravagant speculations, and effectually secure the people from a recurrence of revulsions and panics and pressures in the money market.
There are various other subjects pertaining to the general interest and policy of the State, which deserve your attention, some of which have been presented in the late communication of my predecessor; and others will present themselves during the progress of your legislation. I shall therefore conclude by reminding you that her condition seems peculiarly to require the vigilant and protecting care of the Legislature; and hope that the sectional prejudices and local interests may be merged in the general welfare, and that harmony and unanimity may characterize your deliberations, and that they may result in promoting the prosperity of the whole State.THOMAS CARLIN.Vandalia, December 7, 1838.
1On August 6, 1838, voters in Illinois elected Thomas Carlin as Governor. On December 7, he took his oath of office and delivered his inaugural message to the General Assembly. On December 11, the House referred the portions that related to currency to the Committee on Finance, of which Abraham Lincoln was a member.
Illinois House Journal. 1838. 11th G.A., 1st session, 26-30, 56.
2Carlin, a Democrat, defeated Cyrus Edwards, a Whig, with just 51% of the vote.
Theodore Calvin Pease, ed., Illinois Election Returns (Springfield: Illinois State Historical Library, 1923), 111.
3The Panic of 1837 and the ensuing economic depression was still gripping Illinois in December 1838, when Governor Carlin painted this somewhat rosy portrait of the Illinois economy.
Robert P. Howard, Illinois: A History of the Prairie State (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1972), 205-207.
4The Land Ordinance of 1785 designated section 16 of every Illinois township as school lands.
5Generally speaking, Democrats opposed a federal bank and strong state banks, whereas Whigs tended to support strong federal and state banking institutions. The debate over the banking issues was a heated political issues of the 1830s, particularly during Andrew Jackson’s presidency, at the national level as well as in Illinois.
Robert V. Remini, Andrew Jackson and the Bank War (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1967); Summary of Legislative Debate on Resolution Relative to Public Depositories; Summary of Legislative Debate on Resolutions Protesting the Sub-Treasury; Speech on the Sub-Treasury; Report of Legislative Debate on the State Bank; Summary of Legislative Debate on the State Bank; Summary of Legislative Debate on Bill concerning the State Bank
Printed Transcription, 5 page(s), Laws of the State of Illinois, Passed by the Eleventh General Assembly (Vandalia, IL: William Walters, 1838), 26-30