Abraham Lincoln.

Abraham Lincoln; complete works, comprising his speeches, letters, state papers, and miscellaneous writings; online

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from Washington to General Taylor, m his preparations for the
march, and in the actual march across the desert, and not in the
President's waiting to hear the knell of peace in the fall of Herara,
or for any other object. All this is to be found in the veiy docu-
ments you seem to have used.

One other thing. Although you say at one point " I shall briefly
exhibit facts^ and leave each person to perceive the just application
of the principles already laid down to the case in hand," you very
soon get to making applications yourself, — in one instance as fol-
lows: "In view of all the facts, the conviction to my mind is irre-
sistible that the Government of the United States committed no
aggression on Mexico." Not in view of aU 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 peace-
ful 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 cot-
ton-fleld, 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, embank-
ments, 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 proof which shaU 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 1 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 ap-
plication ?

I shall be pleased if you can find leisure to write me.

Yours truly, A. Lincoln.

June 12, 1848. — Letter to Archibald Williams.

Washington, June 12, 1848.

Dear Williams : On my return from Philadelphia, where I had
been attending the nomination of " Old Eough," 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 nominar
tion of Taylor ; but since the deed has been done, they are fast fall-
ing 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, dis-
appointed 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 doubtfuU Cannot some-
thing be done even in Illinois? Taylor's nomination takes the Lo-
cos 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. Tours, as ever,

A. Lincoln.

June 20, 1848. — Speech in the United States
House of Kepresentatives.

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 talcing 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 oppor-
tunity of so deciding, and I will take my seat.

The Chair: I will not undertake to anticipate what the gentle-
man 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
vis 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 im-

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

I have carefully read the resolutions of the Democratic National Con-
vention, layiug 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 inter-
nal 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 biS of particulars. While I know
there are many Democrats, on this floor and elsewhere, who dis-
approve that message, I understand that all who shall vote 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 im-
provement 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, wiU not trouble himself to make a
constitutional argument, or perhaps any argument at all, when he
shall veto a river or harbor bill; he wiU 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 (ques-
tion 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 Toe made by the General Government— First. Because they
would overwhelm the treasury. Second. Because, while their bur-
dens would be general, their benefits would be local and partial, in-
volving 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 con-
stitutionality, applying as forcibly to what is said about making im-
provements 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 latter.

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 dis-
trict, to voting for one which does not ; and when a bill shall be ex-
panded till every district shall be provided for, that it wiU be too
greatly expanded is obvious. But is this any more true in Con-
gress 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 na-
tional treasury, so the other will overwhelm the State treasury. Go
where we will, the diflculty 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 suf-
ficient power to limit and restrain this expansive tendency within
reasonable and proper bounds. The President himself values the
evidence of the past. He teUs us that at a certain point of our his-
tory 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 Presi-
dent teUs us that " during the four succeeding years embraced by
the administration of President Adams, the power not only to ap-
propriate 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

This, then, was the period of greatest enormity. These, if any,
must have been the days of the two hundred millions. And how


nmch do you suppose was really expended for improvements during
that four years f Two hundred millions 1 One hundred ? Fifty 1
Ten? Five! No, sir ; less than two millions. As shown by authen-
tic documents, the expenditures on improvements dui-ing 1825, 1826,
1827, and 1828 amounted to one million eight hundred and seventy-
nine thousand six hundred and twenty-seven dollars 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 Con-
gress 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 bur-
dens 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 com-
mercial object of government patronage can be so exclusively gen-
eral 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 pii-ate from the track
of commerce on the broad ocean, and the removing a snag from its
more narrow path in the Mississippi River, cannot, I think, be dis-
tinguished in principle. Each is done to save life and property, and
for nothing else.

The navy, then, is the most general in its benefits of all this class
of objects ; and yet even the navy is of some peculiar advantage to
Charleston, Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York, and Boston, beyond
what it is to the interior towns of Illinois. The next most general
object I can think of would be improvements on the Mississippi
River and its tributaries. They touch thirteen of our States — Penn-
sylvania, Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, Louisiana, Ar-
kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Wisconsin, and Iowa. Now
I suppose it will not be denied that these thirteen States are a little
more interested in improvements on that great river than are the
remaining seventeen. These instances of the navy and the Missis-
sippi River show clearly that there is something of local advantage
in the most general objects. But the converse is also true. Nothing
is so local as to not be of some general benefit. Take, for instance,
the Illinois and Michigan Canal. Considered apart from its effects,
it is perfectly local. Every inch of it is within the State of Illinois.
That canal was first opened for business last April. In a very few
days we were all gratified to learn, among other things, that sugar
had been carried from New Orleans through this canal to Buffalo
in New York. This sugar took this route, doubtless, because it was
cheaper than the old route. Supposing benefit of the reduction in
the cost of carriage to be shared between seller and buyer, the result
is that the New Orleans merchant sold his sugar a little dearer, and
the people of Buffalo sweetened their coffee a little cheaper, than
before, — a benefit resulting from the canal, not to Illinois, where the


canal is, but to Louisiana and New York, where it is not. In other
transactions Illinois will, of course, have her share, and perhaps the
larger share too, of the benefits of the canal ; but this instance of the
sugar clearly shows that the benefits of an improvement are by no
means confined to the particular locality of the improvement itself.

The just conclusion from all this is that if the nation refuse to
make improvements of the more general kind because their benefits
may be somewhat local, a State may for the same reason refuse to
make an improvement of a local kind because its benefits may be
somewhat general. A State may weU say to the nation, " If you wiU
do nothing for me, I will do nothing for you." Thus it is seen
that if this argument of "inequality" is sufilcient anywhere, it is
sufilcient everywhere, and puts an end to improvements altogether.
I hope and believe that if both the nation and the States would, in
good faith, in their respective spheres do what they could in the
way of improvements, what of inequality might be produced in one
place might be compensated in another, and the sum of the whole
might not be very unequal.

But suppose, after all, there should be some degree of inequality.
Inequality is certainly never to be embraced for its own sake; but is
every good thing to be discarded which may be inseparably connected
with some degree of it? If so, we must discard all government.
This Capitol is built at the public expense, for the public benefit ;
but does any one doubt that it is of some peculiar local advantage to
the property-holders and business people of Washington? Shall we
remove it for this reason ? And if so, where shall we set it down,
and be free from the difficulty? To make sure of our object, shall
we locate it nowhere, and have Congress hereafter to hold its ses-
sions, as the loafer lodged, " in spots about"? I make no allusion
to the present President when I say there are few stronger cases in
this world of " burden to the many and benefit to the few," of " in-
equality," than the presidency itself is by some thought to be. An
honest laborer digs coal at about seventy cents a day, while the Presi-
dent digs abstractions at about seventy dollars a day. The coal is
clearly worth more than the abstractions, and yet what a monstrous
inequality in the prices! Does the President, for this reason, propose
to abolish the presidency ? He does not, and he ought not. The true
rule, in determining to embrace or reject anything, is not whether it
have any evil in it, but whether it have more of evil than of good.
There are few things wholly evil or whoUy good. Almost every-
thing, especially of government policy, is an inseparable compound
of the two; so that our best judgment of the preponderance between
them is continually demanded. On this principle the President, his
friends, and the world generally act on most subjects. "Why not ap-
ply it, then, upon this question? Why, as to improvements, magnify
the evil, and stoutly refuse to see any good in them?

Mr. Chairman, on the third position of the message — the consti-
tutional question — I have not much to say. Being the man I am,
and speaking where I do, I feel that in any attempt at an original
constitutional argument, I should not be, and ought not to be, lis-
tened to patiently. The ablest and the best of men have gone over


the whole ground long ago. I shall attempt but little more than a
brief notice of what some of them have said. In relation to Mr. Jeffer-
son's views, I read from Mr. Polk's veto message:

President Jefferson, in liis message to Congress in 1806, recommended an
amendment of the Constitntion, wiSi a view to apply an anticipated surplus
in the Treasury " to the great purposes of the pubhc education, roads.rivers,
canals, and such other objects of pubhc improvements as it may be thought
proper to add to the constitutional enumeration of the federal plowers " ; and
he adds: "I suppose an amendment to the Constitution, by consent of the
States, necessary, because the objects now recommended are not among
those enumerated in the Constitution, and to which it permits the public
moneys to be apphed." In 1825, he repeated in his pubhshed letters the
opinion that no such power has been conferred upon Congress.

I introduce this not to controvert just now the constitutional
opinion, but to show that, on the question of expediency, Mr. Jeffer-
son's opinion was against the present President — that this opinion
of Mr. Jefferson, in one branch at least, is in the hands of Mr. Polk
like McFingal's gun — "bears wide and kicks the owner over."

But to the constitutional question. In 1826 Chancellor Kent first
published his " Commentaries" on American law. He devoted appor-
tion of one of the lectures to the question of the authority of Con-
gress to appropriate public moneys for internal improvements. He
mentions that the subject had never been brought under judicial
consideration, and proceeds to give a brief summary of the discussion
it had undergone between the legislative and executive branches of
the government. He shows that the legislative branch had usually
been for, and the executive against, the power, till the period of Mi*.
J. Q. Adams's administration, at which point he considers the execu-
tive influence as withdrawn from opposition, and added to the sup-
port of the power. In 1844 the chancellor published a new edition
of his "Commentaries," in which he adds some notes of what had
transpired on the question since 1826. I have not time to read the
original text on the notes ; but the whole may be found on page 267,
and the two or three following pages, of the first volume of the edi-
tion of 1844. As to what Chancellor Kent seems to consider the
sum of the whole, I read from one of the notes :

Mr. Justice Story, in his commentaries on the Constitution of the United
States, Vol. IT., pp. 429^440, and again pp. 519-538, has stated at large the
arguments for and against the proposition that Congress have a constitu-
tional authority to lay taxes, and to apply the power to regulate commerce
as a means directly to encourage and protect domestic manufactures; and
without giving any opinion of his own on the contested doctrine, he has left
the reader to draw his own conclusions. I should thinly, however, from the
arguments as stated, that every mind which has taken no part in the discus-
sion, and felt no prejudice or territorial bias on either side of the question,
would deem the arguments in favor of the Congressional power vastly

It will be seen that in this extract the power to make improve-
ments is not directly mentioned; but by examining the context,
both of Kent and Story, it will be seen that the power mentioned


in the extract, and tlie power to make improvements, are regarded
as identical. It is not to be denied that many great and good men
have been against the power; but it is insisted that quite as many,
as great and as good, have been for it ; and it is shown that, on a
full survey of the whole. Chancellor Kent was of opinion that the
arguments of the latter were vastly superior. This is but the opin-
ion of a man; but who was that man? He was one of the ablest
and most learned lawyers of his age, or of any age. It is no dispar-
agement to Mr. Polk, nor indeed to any one who devotes much time
to politics, to be placed far behind Chancellor Kent as a lawyer.
His attitude was most favorable to correct conclusions. He wrote
coolly, and in retirement. He was struggling to rear a durable
monument of fame ; and he well knew that truth and thoroughly
sound reasoning were the only sure foundations. Can the party
opinion of a party President on a law question, as this purely is,
be at all compared or set in opposition to that of such a man, in
such an attitude, as Chancellor Kent ? This constitutional question
will probably never be better settled than it is, until it shall pass
under judicial consideration ; but I do think no man who is clear on
the questions of expediency need feel his conscience much pricked
upon this.

Mr. Chairman, the President seems to think that enough may be
done, in the way of improvements, by means of tonnage duties un-
der State authority, with the consent of the General Government.
Now I suppose this matter of tonnage duties is well enough in its
own sphere. I suppose it may be efficient, and perhaps sufficient, to
make slight improvements and repairs in harbors already in use
and not much out of repair. But if I have any correct general idea
of it, it must be whoUy inefficient for any general beneficent pur-
poses of improvement. I know very little, or rather nothing at aU,
of the practical matter of levying and collecting tonnage duties;
but I suppose one of its principles must be to lay a duty for the im-
provement of any particular harbor upon the tonnage coming into
that harbor ; to do otherwise — to collect money in one harbor, to be
expended on improvements in another — would be an extremely
aggravated form of that inequality which the President so much
deprecates. If I be right in this, how could we make any entirely
new improvement by means of tonnage duties ? How make a road,
a canal, or clear a greatly obstructed river 1 The idea that we could
involves the same absurdity as the Irish bull about the new boots.
" I shall niver git 'em on," says Patrick, " till I wear 'em a day or
two, and stretch 'em a little.'' We shall never make a canal by
tonnage duties until it shall already have been made awhile, so the
tonnage can get into it.

After all, the President concludes that possibly there may be some
great objects of improvement which cannot be effected by tonnage
duties, and which it therefore may be expedient for the General Gov-
ernment to take in hand. Accordingly he suggests, in case any such
be discovered, the propriety of amending the Constitution. Amend
it for what ? If, like Mr. Jefferson^ the President thought improve-
ments expedient, but not constitutional, it would be natural enough


for him to recommend such an amendment. But hear what he says
in this very message :

In view of these portentous consequences, I cannot but think that this
course of legislation should be arrested, even wore there nothing to forbid
it in the fundamental laws of our Union.

For what, then, would he have the Constitution amended ? With
him it is a proposition to remove one impediment merely to be met
by others which, in his opinion, cannot be removed, — to enable
Congress to do what, in his opinion, they ought not to do if they

Here Mr. Meade of Virginia inquired if Mr. Lincoln understood
the President to be opposed, on grounds of expediency, to any and
every improvement.

Mr. Lincoln answered : In the very part of his message of which

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