The Writings of Abraham Lincoln Vol. 1-7

Again, it is charged, or rather insinuated, that officers of the
Bank have loaned money at usurious rates of interest. Suppose
this to be true, are we to send a committee of this House to
inquire into it? Suppose the committee should find it true, can
they redress the injured individuals? Assuredly not. If any
individual had been injured in this way, is there not an ample
remedy to be found in the laws of the land? Does the gentleman
from Coles know that there is a statute standing in full force
making it highly penal for an individual to loan money at a
higher rate of interest than twelve per cent? If he does not he
is too ignorant to be placed at the head of the committee which
his resolution purposes and if he does, his neglect to mention it
shows him to be too uncandid to merit the respect or confidence
of any one.

But besides all this, if the Bank were struck from existence,
could not the owners of the capital still loan it usuriously, as
well as now? whatever the Bank, or its officers, may have done, I
know that usurious transactions were much more frequent and
enormous before the commencement of its operations than they have
ever been since.

The next insinuation is, that the Bank has refused specie
payments. This, if true is a violation of the charter. But
there is not the least probability of its truth; because, if such
had been the fact, the individual to whom payment was refused
would have had an interest in making it public, by suing for the
damages to which the charter entitles him. Yet no such thing has
been done; and the strong presumption is, that the insinuation is
false and groundless.

>From this to the end of the resolution, there is nothing that
merits attention–I therefore drop the particular examination of

By a general view of the resolution, it will be seen that a
principal object of the committee is to examine into, and ferret
out, a mass of corruption supposed to have been committed by the
commissioners who apportioned the stock of the Bank. I believe
it is universally understood and acknowledged that all men will
ever act correctly unless they have a motive to do otherwise. If
this be true, we can only suppose that the commissioners acted
corruptly by also supposing that they were bribed to do so.
Taking this view of the subject, I would ask if the Bank is
likely to find it more difficult to bribe the committee of seven,
which, we are about to appoint, than it may have found it to
bribe the commissioners?

(Here Mr. Linder called to order. The Chair decided that Mr.
Lincoln was not out of order. Mr. Linder appealed to the House,
but, before the question was put, withdrew his appeal, saying he
preferred to let the gentleman go on; he thought he would break
his own neck. Mr. Lincoln proceeded:)

Another gracious condescension! I acknowledge it with gratitude.
I know I was not out of order; and I know every sensible man in
the House knows it. I was not saying that the gentleman from
Coles could be bribed, nor, on the other hand, will I say he
could not. In that particular I leave him where I found him. I
was only endeavoring to show that there was at least as great a
probability of any seven members that could be selected from this
House being bribed to act corruptly, as there was that the
twenty-four commissioners had been so bribed. By a reference to
the ninth section of the Bank charter, it will be seen that those
commissioners were John Tilson, Robert K. McLaughlin, Daniel
Warm, A.G. S. Wight, John C. Riley, W. H. Davidson, Edward
M. Wilson, Edward L. Pierson, Robert R. Green, Ezra Baker,
Aquilla Wren, John Taylor, Samuel C. Christy, Edmund Roberts,
Benjamin Godfrey, Thomas Mather, A. M. Jenkins, W. Linn, W.
S. Gilman, Charles Prentice, Richard I. Hamilton, A.H.
Buckner, W. F. Thornton, and Edmund D. Taylor.

These are twenty-four of the most respectable men in the State.
Probably no twenty-four men could be selected in the State with
whom the people are better acquainted, or in whose honor and
integrity they would more readily place confidence. And I now
repeat, that there is less probability that those men have been
bribed and corrupted, than that any seven men, or rather any six
men, that could be selected from the members of this House, might
be so bribed and corrupted, even though they were headed and led
on by “decided superiority” himself.

In all seriousness, I ask every reasonable man, if an issue be
joined by these twenty-four commissioners, on the one part, and
any other seven men, on the other part, and the whole depend upon
the honor and integrity of the contending parties, to which party
would the greatest degree of credit be due? Again: Another
consideration is, that we have no right to make the examination.
What I shall say upon this head I design exclusively for the law-
loving and law-abiding part of the House. To those who claim
omnipotence for the Legislature, and who in the plenitude of
their assumed powers are disposed to disregard the Constitution,
law, good faith, moral right, and everything else, I have not a
word to say. But to the law-abiding part I say, examine the Bank
charter, go examine the Constitution, go examine the acts that
the General Assembly of this State has passed, and you will find
just as much authority given in each and every of them to compel
the Bank to bring its coffers to this hall and to pour their
contents upon this floor, as to compel it to submit to this
examination which this resolution proposes. Why, Sir, the
gentleman from Co1es, the mover of this resolution, very lately
denied on this floor that the Legislature had any right to repeal
or otherwise meddle with its own acts, when those acts were made
in the nature of contracts, and had been accepted and acted on by
other parties. Now I ask if this resolution does not propose,
for this House alone, to do what he, but the other day, denied
the right of the whole Legislature to do? He must either abandon
the position he then took, or he must now vote against his own
resolution. It is no difference to me, and I presume but little
to any one else, which he does.

I am by no means the special advocate of the Bank. I have long
thought that it would be well for it to report its condition to
the General Assembly, and that cases might occur, when it might
be proper to make an examination of its affairs by a committee.
Accordingly, during the last session, while a bill supplemental
to the Bank charter was pending before the House, I offered an
amendment to the same, in these words: “The said corporation
shall, at the next session of the General Assembly, and at each
subsequent General Session, during the existence of its charter,
report to the same the amount of debts due from said corporation;
the amount of debts due to the same; the amount of specie in its
vaults, and an account of all lands then owned by the same, and
the amount for which such lands have been taken; and moreover, if
said corporation shall at any time neglect or refuse to submit
its books, papers, and all and everything necessary for a full
and fair examination of its affairs, to any person or persons
appointed by the General Assembly, for the purpose of making such
examination, the said corporation shall forfeit its charter.”

This amendment was negatived by a vote of 34 to 15. Eleven of
the 34 who voted against it are now members of this House; and
though it would be out of order to call their names, I hope they
will all recollect themselves, and not vote for this examination
to be made without authority, inasmuch as they refused to receive
the authority when it was in their power to do so.

I have said that cases might occur, when an examination might be
proper; but I do not believe any such case has now occurred; and
if it has, I should still be opposed to making an examination
without legal authority. I am opposed to encouraging that
lawless and mobocratic spirit, whether in relation to the Bank or
anything else, which is already abroad in the land and is
spreading with rapid and fearful impetuosity, to the ultimate
overthrow of every institution, of every moral principle, in
which persons and property have hitherto found security.

But supposing we had the authority, I would ask what good can
result from the examination? Can we declare the Bank
unconstitutional, and compel it to desist from the abuses of its
power, provided we find such abuses to exist? Can we repair the
injuries which it may have done to individuals? Most certainly we
can do none of these things. Why then
shall we spend the public money in such employment? Oh, say the
examiners, we can injure the credit of the Bank, if nothing else,
Please tell me, gentlemen, who will suffer most by that? You
cannot injure, to any extent, the stockholders. They are men of
wealth–of large capital; and consequently, beyond the power of
malice. But by injuring the credit of the Bank, you will
depreciate the value of its paper in the hands of the honest and
unsuspecting farmer and mechanic, and that is all you can do.
But suppose you could effect your whole purpose; suppose you
could wipe the Bank from existence, which is the grand ultimatum
of the project, what would be the consequence? why, Sir, we
should spend several thousand dollars of the public treasure in
the operation, annihilate the currency of the State, render
valueless in the hands of our people that reward of their former
labors, and finally be once more under the comfortable obligation
of paying the Wiggins loan, principal and interest.



January 27, 1837.

As a subject for the remarks of the evening, “The Perpetuation of
our Political Institutions “is selected.

In the great journal of things happening under the sun, we, the
American people, find our account running under date of the
nineteenth century of the Christian era. We find ourselves in
the peaceful possession of the fairest portion of the earth as
regards extent of territory, fertility of soil, and salubrity of
climate. We find ourselves under the government of a system of
political institutions conducing more essentially to the ends of
civil and religious liberty than any of which the history of
former times tells us. We, when mounting the stage of existence,
found ourselves the legal inheritors of these fundamental
blessings. We toiled not in the acquirement or establishment of
them; they are a legacy bequeathed us by a once hardy, brave, and
patriotic, but now lamented and departed, race of ancestors.
Theirs was the task (and nobly they performed it) to possess
themselves, and through themselves us, of this goodly land, and
to uprear upon its hills and its valleys a political edifice of
liberty and equal rights; it is ours only to transmit these–the
former unprofaned by the foot of an invader, the latter undecayed
by the lapse of time and untorn by usurpation–to the latest
generation that fate shall permit the world to know. This task
gratitude to our fathers, justice to ourselves, duty to
posterity, and love for our species in general, all imperatively
require us faithfully to perform.

How then shall we perform it? At what point shall we expect the
approach of danger? By what means shall we fortify against it?
Shall we expect some transatlantic military giant to step the
ocean and crush us at a blow? Never! All the armies of Europe,
Asia, and Africa combined, with all the treasure of the earth
(our own excepted) in their military chest, with a Bonaparte for
a commander, could not by force take a drink from the Ohio or
make a track on the Blue Ridge in a trial of a thousand years.

At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I
answer: If it ever reach us it must spring up amongst us; it
cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot we must
ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen we
must live through all time, or die by suicide.

I hope I am over-wary; but if I am not, there is even now
something of ill omen amongst us. I mean the increasing
disregard for law which pervades the country–the growing
disposition to substitute the wild and furious passions in lieu
of the sober judgment of courts, and the worse than savage mobs
for the executive ministers of justice. This disposition is
awfully fearful in any community; and that it now exists in ours,
though grating to our feelings to admit, it would be a violation
of truth and an insult to our intelligence to deny. Accounts of
outrages committed by mobs form the everyday news of the times.
They have pervaded the country from New England to Louisiana;
they are neither peculiar to the eternal snows of the former nor
the burning suns of the latter; they are not the creature of
climate, neither are they confined to the slave holding or the
non-slave holding States. Alike they spring up among the
pleasure-hunting masters of Southern slaves, and the order-loving
citizens of the land of steady habits. Whatever then their cause
may be, it is common to the whole country.

It would be tedious as well as useless to recount the horrors of
all of them. Those happening in the State of Mississippi and at
St. Louis are perhaps the most dangerous in example and
revolting to humanity. In the Mississippi case they first
commenced by hanging the regular gamblers–a set of men certainly
not following for a livelihood a very useful or very honest
occupation, but one which, so far from being forbidden by the
laws, was actually licensed by an act of the Legislature passed
but a single year before. Next, negroes suspected of conspiring
to raise an insurrection were caught up and hanged in all parts
of the State; then, white men supposed to be leagued with the
negroes; and finally, strangers from neighboring States, going
thither on business, were in many instances subjected to the same
fate. Thus went on this process of hanging, from gamblers to
negroes, from negroes to white citizens, and from these to
strangers, till dead men were seen literally dangling from the
boughs of trees upon every roadside, and in numbers almost
sufficient to rival the native Spanish moss of the country as a
drapery of the forest.

Turn then to that horror-striking scene at St. Louis. A single
victim only was sacrificed there. This story is very short, and
is perhaps the most highly tragic of anything of its length that
has ever been witnessed in real life. A mulatto man by the name
of McIntosh was seized in the street, dragged to the suburbs of
the city, chained to a tree, and actually burned to death; and
all within a single hour from the time he had been a freeman
attending to his own business and at peace with the world.

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