The Writings of Abraham Lincoln Vol. 1-7


How to do something, and still not do too much, is the
desideratum. Let each contribute his mite in the way of
suggestion. The late Silas Wright, in a letter to the Chicago
convention, contributed his, which was worth something; and I now
contribute mine, which may be worth nothing. At all events, it
will mislead nobody, and therefore will do no harm. I would not
borrow money. I am against an overwhelming, crushing system.
Suppose that, at each session, Congress shall first determine how
much money can, for that year, be spared for improvements; then
apportion that sum to the most important objects. So far all is
easy; but how shall we determine which are the most important?
On this question comes the collision of interests. I shall be
slow to acknowledge that your harbor or your river is more
important than mine, and vice versa. To clear this difficulty,
let us have that same statistical information which the gentleman
from Ohio [Mr. Vinton] suggested at the beginning of this
session. In that information we shall have a stern, unbending
basis of facts--a basis in no wise subject to whim, caprice, or
local interest. The prelimited amount of means will save us from
doing too much, and the statistics will save us from doing what
we do in wrong places. Adopt and adhere to this course, and, it
seems to me, the difficulty is cleared.

One of the gentlemen from South Carolina [Mr. Rhett] very much
deprecates these statistics. He particularly objects, as I
understand him, to counting all the pigs and chickens in the
land. I do not perceive much force in the objection. It is true
that if everything be enumerated, a portion of such statistics
may not be very useful to this object. Such products of the
country as are to be consumed where they are produced need no
roads or rivers, no means of transportation, and have no very
proper connection with this subject. The surplus--that which is
produced in one place to be consumed in another; the capacity of
each locality for producing a greater surplus; the natural means
of transportation, and their susceptibility of improvement; the
hindrances, delays, and losses of life and property during
transportation, and the causes of each, would be among the most
valuable statistics in this connection. From these it would
readily appear where a given amount of expenditure would do the
most good. These statistics might be equally accessible, as they
would be equally useful, to both the nation and the States. In
this way, and by these means, let the nation take hold of the
larger works, and the States the smaller ones; and thus, working
in a meeting direction, discreetly, but steadily and firmly, what
is made unequal in one place may be equalized in another,
extravagance avoided, and the whole country put on that career of
prosperity which shall correspond with its extent of territory,
its natural resources, and the intelligence and enterprise of its



WASHINGTON, June 22, 1848.

DEAR WILLIAM:--Last night I was attending a sort of caucus of the
Whig members, held in relation to the coming Presidential
election. The whole field of the nation was scanned, and all is
high hope and confidence. Illinois is expected to better her
condition in this race. Under these circumstances, judge how
heartrending it was to come to my room and find and read your
discouraging letter of the 15th. We have made no gains, but have
lost "H. R. Robinson, Turner, Campbell, and four or five more."
Tell Arney to reconsider, if he would be saved. Baker and I used
to do something, but I think you attach more importance to our
absence than is just. There is another cause. In 1840, for
instance, we had two senators and five representatives in
Sangamon; now we have part of one senator and two
representatives. With quite one third more people than we had
then, we have only half the sort of offices which are sought by
men of the speaking sort of talent. This, I think, is the chief
cause. Now, as to the young men. You must not wait to be
brought forward by the older men. For instance, do you suppose
that I should ever have got into notice if I had waited to be
hunted up and pushed forward by older men? You young men get
together and form a "Rough and Ready Club," and have regular
meetings and speeches. Take in everybody you can get. Harrison
Grimsley, L. A. Enos, Lee Kimball, and C. W. Matheny will do
to begin the thing; but as you go along gather up all the shrewd,
wild boys about town, whether just of age, or a little under age,
Chris. Logan, Reddick Ridgely, Lewis Zwizler, and hundreds such.
Let every one play the part he can play best,--some speak, some
sing, and all "holler." Your meetings will be of evenings; the
older men, and the women, will go to hear you; so that it will
not only contribute to the election of "Old Zach," but will be an
interesting pastime, and improving to the intellectual faculties
of all engaged. Don't fail to do this.

You ask me to send you all the speeches made about "Old Zach,"
the war, etc. Now this makes me a little impatient. I have
regularly sent you the Congressional Globe and Appendix, and you
cannot have examined them, or you would have discovered that they
contain every speech made by every man in both houses of
Congress, on every subject, during the session. Can I send any
more? Can I send speeches that nobody has made? Thinking it
would be most natural that the newspapers would feel interested
to give at least some of the speeches to their readers, I at the
beginning of the session made arrangements to have one copy of
the Globe and Appendix regularly sent to each Whig paper of the
district. And yet, with the exception of my own little speech,
which was published in two only of the then five, now four, Whig
papers, I do not remember having seen a single speech, or even
extract from one, in any single one of those papers. With equal
and full means on both sides, I will venture that the State
Register has thrown before its readers more of Locofoco speeches
in a month than all the Whig papers of the district have done of
Whig speeches during the session.

If you wish a full understanding of the war, I repeat what I
believe I said to you in a letter once before, that the whole, or
nearly so, is to be found in the speech of Dixon of Connecticut.
This I sent you in pamphlet as well as in the Globe. Examine and
study every sentence of that speech thoroughly, and you will
understand the whole subject. You ask how Congress came to
declare that war had existed by the act of Mexico. Is it
possible you don't understand that yet? You have at least twenty
speeches in your possession that fully explain it. I will,
however, try it once more. The news reached Washington of the
commencement of hostilities on the Rio Grande, and of the great
peril of General Taylor's army. Everybody, Whigs and Democrats,
was for sending them aid, in men and money. It was necessary to
pass a bill for this. The Locos had a majority in both houses,
and they brought in a bill with a preamble saying: Whereas, War
exists by the act of Mexico, therefore we send General Taylor
money. The Whigs moved to strike out the preamble, so that they
could vote to send the men and money, without saying anything
about how the war commenced; but being in the minority, they were
voted down, and the preamble was retained. Then, on the passage
of the bill, the question came upon them, Shall we vote for
preamble and bill together, or against both together? They did
not want to vote against sending help to General Taylor, and
therefore they voted for both together. Is there any difficulty
in understanding this? Even my little speech shows how this was;
and if you will go to the library, you may get the Journal of
1845-46, in which you will find the whole for yourself.

We have nothing published yet with special reference to the
Taylor race; but we soon will have, and then I will send them to
everybody. I made an internal-improvement speech day before
yesterday, which I shall send home as soon as I can get it
written out and printed,--and which I suppose nobody will read.

Your friend as ever,



JUNE 28, 1848.

Discussion as to salary of judge of western Virginia:--Wishing to
increase it from $1800 to $2500.

Mr. Lincoln said he felt unwilling to be either unjust or
ungenerous, and he wanted to understand the real case of this
judicial officer. The gentleman from Virginia had stated that he
had to hold eleven courts. Now everybody knew that it was not
the habit of the district judges of the United States in other
States to hold anything like that number of courts; and he
therefore took it for granted that this must happen under a
peculiar law which required that large number of courts to be
holden every year; and these laws, he further supposed, were
passed at the request of the people of that judicial district.
It came, then, to this: that the people in the western district
of Virginia had got eleven courts to be held among them in one
year, for their own accommodation; and being thus better
accommodated than neighbors elsewhere, they wanted their judge to
be a little better paid. In Illinois there had been until the
present season but one district court held in the year. There
were now to be two. Could it be that the western district of
Virginia furnished more business for a judge than the whole State
of Illinois?


JULY, 1848,


The question of a national bank is at rest. Were I President, I
should not urge its 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.



WASHINGTON, July 10, 1848.


Your letter covering the newspaper slips was received last night.
The subject of that letter is exceedingly painful to me, and I
cannot but think there is some mistake in your impression of the
motives of the old men. I suppose I am now one of the old men;
and I declare on my veracity, which I think is good with you,
that nothing could afford me more satisfaction than to learn that
you and others of my young friends at home were doing battle in
the contest and endearing themselves to the people and taking a
stand far above any I have ever been able to reach in their
admiration. I cannot conceive that other men feel differently.
Of course I cannot demonstrate what I say; but I was young once,
and I am sure I was never ungenerously thrust back. I hardly
know what to say. The way for a young man to rise is to improve
himself every way he can, never suspecting that anybody wishes to
hinder him. Allow me to assure you that suspicion and jealousy
never did help any man in any situation. There may sometimes be
ungenerous attempts to keep a young man down; and they will
succeed, too, if he allows his mind to be diverted from its true
channel to brood over the attempted injury. Cast about and see
if this feeling has not injured every person you have ever known
to fall into it.

Now, in what I have said I am sure you will suspect nothing but
sincere friendship. I would save you from a fatal error. You
have been a studious young man. You are far better informed on
almost all subjects than I ever have been. You cannot fail in
any laudable object unless you allow your mind to be improperly
directed. I have some the advantage of you in the world's
experience, merely by being older; and it is this that induces me
to advise. You still seem to be a little mistaken about the
Congressional Globe and Appendix. They contain all of the
speeches that are published in any way. My speech and Dayton's
speech which you say you got in pamphlet form are both word for
word in the Appendix. I repeat again, all are there.

Your friend, as ever,



JULY 27, 1848.

Mr. SPEAKER, our Democratic friends seem to be in a great
distress because they think our candidate for the Presidency
don't suit us. Most of them cannot find out that General Taylor
has any principles at all; some, however, have discovered that he
has one, but that one is entirely wrong. This one principle is
his position on the veto power. The gentleman from Tennessee
[Mr. Stanton] who has just taken his seat, indeed, has said there
is very little, if any, difference on this question between
General Taylor and all the Presidents; and he seems to think it
sufficient detraction from General Taylor's position on it that
it has nothing new in it. But all others whom I have heard speak
assail it furiously. A new member from Kentucky [Mr. Clark], of
very considerable ability, was in particular concerned about it.
He thought it altogether novel and unprecedented for a President
or a Presidential candidate to think of approving bills whose
constitutionality may not be entirely clear to his own mind. He
thinks the ark of our safety is gone unless Presidents shall
always veto such bills as in their judgment may be of doubtful
constitutionality. However clear Congress may be on their
authority to pass any particular act, the gentleman from Kentucky
thinks the President must veto it if he has doubts about it. Now
I have neither time nor inclination to argue with the gentleman
on the veto power as an original question; but I wish to show
that General Taylor, and not he, agrees with the earlier
statesmen on this question. When the bill chartering the first
Bank of the United States passed Congress, its constitutionality
was questioned. Mr. Madison, then in the House of
Representatives, as well as others, had opposed it on that
ground. General Washington, as President, was called on to
approve or reject it. He sought and obtained on the
constitutionality question the separate written opinions of
Jefferson, Hamilton, and Edmund Randolph,--they then being
respectively Secretary of State, Secretary of the Treasury, and
Attorney general. Hamilton's opinion was for the power; while
Randolph's and Jefferson's were both against it. Mr. Jefferson,
after giving his opinion deciding only against the
constitutionality of the bill, closes his letter with the
paragraph which I now read:

"It must be admitted, however, that unless the President's mind,
on a view of everything which is urged for and against this bill,
is tolerably clear that it is unauthorized by the Constitution,--
if the pro and con hang so even as to balance his judgment, a
just respect for the wisdom of the legislature would naturally
decide the balance in favor of their opinion. It is chiefly for
cases where they are clearly misled by error, ambition, or
interest, that the Constitution has placed a check in the
negative of the President.
"February 15, 1791."

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