The Writings of Abraham Lincoln Vol. 1-7

But, before he took his seat, he would remark that the Senate
during the present session had passed a bill making
appropriations of land on that principle for the benefit of the
State in which he resided the State of Illinois. The alternate
sections were to be given for the purpose of constructing roads,
and the reserved sections were to be enhanced in value in
consequence. When that bill came here for the action of this
House–it had been received, and was now before the Committee on
Public Lands–he desired much to see it passed as it was, if it
could be put in no more favorable form for the State of Illinois.
When it should be before this House, if any member from a section
of the Union in which these lands did not lie, whose interest
might be less than that which he felt, should propose a reduction
of the price of the reserved sections to $1.25, he should be much
obliged; but he did not think it would be well for those who came
from the section of the Union in which the lands lay to do so.
–He wished it, then, to be understood that he did not join in
the warfare against the principle which had engaged the minds of
some members of Congress who were favorable to the improvements
in the western country. There was a good deal of force, he
admitted, in what fell from the chairman of the Committee on
Territories. It might be that there was no precise justice in
raising the price of the reserved sections to $2.50 per acre. It
might be proper that the price should be enhanced to some extent,
though not to double the usual price; but he should be glad to
have such an appropriation with the reserved sections at $2.50;
he should be better pleased to have the price of those sections
at something less; and he should be still better pleased to have
them without any enhancement at all.

There was one portion of the argument of the gentleman from
Indiana, the chairman of the Committee on Territories [Mr.
Smith], which he wished to take occasion to say that he did not
view as unsound. He alluded to the statement that the General
Government was interested in these internal improvements being
made, inasmuch as they increased the value of the lands that were
unsold, and they enabled the government to sell the lands which
could not be sold without them. Thus, then, the government
gained by internal improvements as well as by the general good
which the people derived from them, and it might be, therefore,
that the lands should not be sold for more than $1.50 instead of
the price being doubled. He, however, merely mentioned this in
passing, for he only rose to state, as the principle of giving
these lands for the purposes which he had mentioned had been laid
hold of and considered favorably, and as there were some
gentlemen who had constitutional scruples about giving money for
these purchases who would not hesitate to give land, that he was
not willing to have it understood that he was one of those who
made war against that principle. This was all he desired to say,
and having accomplished the object with which he rose, he
withdrew his motion to reconsider.



WASHINGTON, April 30,1848.


I have this moment received your very short note asking me if old
Taylor is to be used up, and who will be the nominee. My hope of
Taylor’s nomination is as high–a little higher than it was when
you left. Still, the case is by no means out of doubt. Mr.
Clay’s letter has not advanced his interests any here. Several
who were against Taylor, but not for anybody particularly,
before, are since taking ground, some for Scott and some for
McLean. Who will be nominated neither I nor any one else can
tell. Now, let me pray to you in turn. My prayer is that you
let nothing discourage or baffle you, but that, in spite of every
difficulty, you send us a good Taylor delegate from your circuit.
Make Baker, who is now with you, I suppose, help about it. He is
a good hand to raise a breeze.

General Ashley, in the Senate from Arkansas, died yesterday.
Nothing else new beyond what you see in the papers.

Yours truly,




WASHINGTON, May 21, 1848.


….Not in view of all the facts. There are facts which you have
kept out of view. It is a fact that the United States army in
marching to the Rio Grande marched into a peaceful Mexican
settlement, and frightened the inhabitants away from their homes
and their growing crops. It is a fact that Fort Brown, opposite
Matamoras, was built by that army within a Mexican cotton-field,
on which at the time the army reached it a young cotton crop was
growing, and which crop was wholly destroyed and the field itself
greatly and permanently injured by ditches, embankments, and the
like. It is a fact that when the Mexicans captured Captain
Thornton and his command, they found and captured them within
another Mexican field.

Now I wish to bring these facts to your notice, and to ascertain
what is the result of your reflections upon them. If you deny
that they are facts, I think I can furnish proofs which shall
convince you that you are mistaken. If you admit that they are
facts, then I shall be obliged for a reference to any law of
language, law of States, law of nations, law of morals, law of
religions, any law, human or divine, in which an authority can be
found for saying those facts constitute “no aggression.”

Possibly you consider those acts too small for notice. Would you
venture to so consider them had they been committed by any nation
on earth against the humblest of our people? I know you would
not. Then I ask, is the precept “Whatsoever ye would that men
should do to you, do ye even so to them” obsolete? of no force?
of no application?

Yours truly,




WASHINGTON, June 12, 1848.

DEAR WILLIAMS:–On my return from Philadelphia, where I had been
attending the nomination of “Old Rough,” (Zachary Taylor) I found
your letter in a mass of others which had accumulated in my
absence. By many, and often, it had been said they would not
abide the nomination of Taylor; but since the deed has been done,
they are fast falling in, and in my opinion we shall have a most
overwhelming, glorious triumph. One unmistakable sign is that
all the odds and ends are with us–Barnburners, Native Americans,
Tyler men, disappointed office-seeking Locofocos, and the Lord
knows what. This is important, if in nothing else, in showing
which way the wind blows. Some of the sanguine men have set down
all the States as certain for Taylor but Illinois, and it as
doubtful. Cannot something be done even in Illinois? Taylor’s
nomination takes the Locos on the blind side. It turns the war
thunder against them. The war is now to them the gallows of
Haman, which they built for us, and on which they are doomed to
be hanged themselves.

Excuse this short letter. I have so many to write that I cannot
devote much time to any one.

Yours as ever,



JUNE 20, 1848.

In Committee of the Whole on the State of the Union, on the Civil
and Diplomatic Appropriation Bill:

Mr. CHAIRMAN:–I wish at all times in no way to practise any
fraud upon the House or the committee, and I also desire to do
nothing which may be very disagreeable to any of the members. I
therefore state in advance that my object in taking the floor is
to make a speech on the general subject of internal improvements;
and if I am out of order in doing so, I give the chair an
opportunity of so deciding, and I will take my seat.

The Chair: I will not undertake to anticipate what the gentleman
may say on the subject of internal improvements. He will,
therefore, proceed in his remarks, and if any question of order
shall be made, the chair will then decide it.

Mr. Lincoln: At an early day of this session the President sent
us what may properly be called an internal improvement veto
message. The late Democratic convention, which sat at Baltimore,
and which nominated General Cass for the Presidency, adopted a
set of resolutions, now called the Democratic platform, among
which is one in these words:

“That the Constitution does not confer upon the General
Government the power to commence and carry on a general system of
internal improvements.”

General Cass, in his letter accepting the nomination, holds this

“I have carefully read the resolutions of the Democratic national
convention, laying down the platform of our political faith, and
I adhere to them as firmly as I approve them cordially.”

These things, taken together, show that the question of internal
improvements is now more distinctly made–has become more intense
–than at any former period. The veto message and the Baltimore
resolution I understand to be, in substance, the same thing; the
latter being the more general statement, of which the former is
the amplification the bill of particulars. While I know there
are many Democrats, on this floor and elsewhere, who disapprove
that message, I understand that all who voted for General Cass
will thereafter be counted as having approved it, as having
indorsed all its doctrines.

I suppose all, or nearly all, the Democrats will vote for him.
Many of them will do so not because they like his position on
this question, but because they prefer him, being wrong on this,
to another whom they consider farther wrong on other questions.
In this way the internal improvement Democrats are to be, by a
sort of forced consent, carried over and arrayed against
themselves on this measure of policy. General Cass, once
elected, will not trouble himself to make a constitutional
argument, or perhaps any argument at all, when he shall veto a
river or harbor bill; he will consider it a sufficient answer to
all Democratic murmurs to point to Mr. Polk’s message, and to the
Democratic platform. This being the case, the question of
improvements is verging to a final crisis; and the friends of
this policy must now battle, and battle manfully, or surrender
all. In this view, humble as I am, I wish to review, and contest
as well as I may, the general positions of this veto message.
When I say general positions, I mean to exclude from
consideration so much as relates to the present embarrassed state
of the treasury in consequence of the Mexican War.

Those general positions are: that internal improvements ought not
to be made by the General Government–First. Because they would
overwhelm the treasury Second. Because, while their burdens
would be general, their benefits would be local and partial,
involving an obnoxious inequality; and Third. Because they would
be unconstitutional. Fourth. Because the States may do enough
by the levy and collection of tonnage duties; or if not–Fifth.
That the Constitution may be amended. “Do nothing at all, lest
you do something wrong,” is the sum of these positions is the sum
of this message. And this, with the exception of what is said
about constitutionality, applying as forcibly to what is said
about making improvements by State authority as by the national
authority; so that we must abandon the improvements of the
country altogether, by any and every authority, or we must resist
and repudiate the doctrines of this message. Let us attempt the

The first position is, that a system of internal improvements
would overwhelm the treasury. That in such a system there is a
tendency to undue expansion, is not to be denied. Such tendency
is founded in the nature of the subject. A member of Congress
will prefer voting for a bill which contains an appropriation for
his district, to voting for one which does not; and when a bill
shall be expanded till every district shall be provided for, that
it will be too greatly expanded is obvious. But is this any more
true in Congress than in a State Legislature? If a member of
Congress must have an appropriation for his district, so a member
of a Legislature must have one for his county. And if one will
overwhelm the national treasury, so the other will overwhelm the
State treasury. Go where we will, the difficulty is the same.
Allow it to drive us from the halls of Congress, and it will,
just as easily, drive us from the State Legislatures. Let us,
then, grapple with it, and test its strength. Let us, judging of
the future by the past, ascertain whether there may not be, in
the discretion of Congress, a sufficient power to limit and
restrain this expansive tendency within reasonable and proper
bounds. The President himself values the evidence of the past.
He tells us that at a certain point of our history more than two
hundred millions of dollars had been applied for to make
improvements; and this he does to prove that the treasury would
be overwhelmed by such a system. Why did he not tell us how much
was granted? Would not that have been better evidence? Let us
turn to it, and see what it proves. In the message the President
tells us that “during the four succeeding years embraced by the
administration of President Adams, the power not only to
appropriate money, but to apply it, under the direction and
authority of the General Government, as well to the construction
of roads as to the improvement of harbors and rivers, was fully
asserted and exercised.” This, then, was the period of greatest
enormity. These, if any, must have been the days of the two
hundred millions. And how much do you suppose was really
expended for improvements during that four years? Two hundred
millions? One hundred? Fifty? Ten? Five? No, sir; less than
two millions. As shown by authentic documents, the expenditures
on improvements during 1825, 1826, 1827, and 1828 amounted to one
million eight hundred and seventy-nine thousand six hundred and
twenty-seven dollars and one cent. These four years were the
period of Mr. Adams’s administration, nearly and substantially.
This fact shows that when the power to make improvements “was
fully asserted and exercised,” the Congress did keep within
reasonable limits; and what has been done, it seems to me, can be
done again.

Now for the second portion of the message–namely, that the
burdens of improvements would be general, while their benefits
would be local and partial, involving an obnoxious inequality.
That there is some degree of truth in this position, I shall not
deny. No commercial object of government patronage can be so
exclusively general as to not be of some peculiar local
advantage. The navy, as I understand it, was established, and is
maintained at a great annual expense, partly to be ready for war
when war shall come, and partly also, and perhaps chiefly, for
the protection of our commerce on the high seas. This latter
object is, for all I can see, in principle the same as internal
improvements. The driving a pirate from the track of commerce on
the broad ocean, and the removing of a snag from its more narrow
path in the Mississippi River, cannot, I think, be distinguished
in principle. Each is done to save life and property, and for
nothing else.

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