Abraham Lincoln.

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

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I am speaking, I understand him as giving some vague expression
in favor of some possible objects of improvement ; but in doing so
I understand him to be directly on the teeth of his own arguments
in other parts of it. Neither the President nor any one can possibly
specify an improvement which shall not be clearly liable to one or
another of the objections he has urged on the score of expediency.
I have shown, and might show again, that no work — no object —
can be so general as to dispense its benefits with precise equality ;
and this inequality is chief among the "portentous consequences"
for which he declares that improvements should be arrested. No,
sir. When the President intimates that something in the way of
improvements may properly be done bj' the General Government,
he is shrinking from the conclusions to which his own arguments
would force him. He feels that the improvements of this broad
and goodly land are a mighty interest; and he is unwilling to con-
fess to the people, or perhaps to himself, that he has built an ar-
gument which, when pressed to its conclusions, entirely annihilates
this interest.

I have already said that no one who is satisfied of the expe-
diency of making improvements needs be much uneasy in his con-
science about its constitutionality. I wish now to submit a few
remarks on the general proposition of amending the Constitution.
As a general rule, I think we would much better let it alone.
No slight occasion should tempt us to touch it. Better not take
the first step, which may lead to a habit of altering it. Better,
rather, habituate ourselves to think of it as unalterable. It can
scarcely be made better than it is. New provisions would intro-
duce new difficulties, and thus create and increase appetite for
further change. No, sir; let it stand as it is. New hands have
never touched it. The men who made it have done their work,
and have passed away. Who shall improve on what tliey did?

Mr. Chairman, for the purpose of reviewing this message in the
least possible time, as well as for the sake of distinctness, I have
analyzed its arguments as well as I could, and reduced them to
the propositions I have stated. I have now examined them in
detail. 1 wish to detain the committee only a little while longer
Vol. L— 9.


with some general remarks upon the subject of improvements.
That the subject is a difilcult one, cannot be denied. Still it is
no more difficult in Congress than in the State legislatures, m the
counties, or in the smallest municipal districts which anywhere ex-
ist. AH can recur to instances of this difficulty m the ease of
county roads, bridges, and the like. One man is offended because
a road passes over his land, and another is offended because it
does not pass over his ; one is dissatisfied because the bridge for
which he is taxed crosses the river on a different road from that
which leads from his house to town; another cannot bear that
the county should be got in debt for these same roads and
bridges; whUe not a few struggle hard to have roads located
over their lands, and then stoutly refuse to let them be opened
until they are first paid the damages. Even between the different
wards and streets of towns and cities we find this same wrangling
and difficulty. Now these are no other than the very difficulties
against which^ and out of which, the President constructs his ob-
jections of "inequality," "speculation," and "crushing the trea-
sury." There is but a single alternative about them : they are
sufficient, or they are not. If sufficient, they are sufficient out of
Congress as well as in it, and there is the end. We must reject
them as insufficient, or lie down and do nothing by any author-
ity. Then, difficulty though there be, let us meet and encounter
it. "Attempt the end, and never stand to doubt; nothing so
hard, but search will find it out." Determine that the thing can
and shall be done, and then we shall find the way. The tendency
to undue expansion is imquestionably the chief difficulty.

How to do something, and still not do too much, is the desidera-
tum. Let each contribute his mite in the way of suggestion. The
late SUas 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 de-
termine which are the most important? On this question comes the
collision of interests. I shall be slow to acknowledge that your har-
bor or your river is more important than mine, and vice versa. To
clear this difficulty, let us have that same statistical information
which the geatleman from Ohio [Mr. Vinton] suggested at the be-
ginning 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 pre-limited 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 per-


ceive mucli force in the objection. It is true that if everything be
enumerated, a portion of such statistics may not he very useful to
this object. Such products of the country as are to he consumed
where they are produced need no roads or rivers, no means of trans-
portation, 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 sur-
plus; the natural means of transportation, and their susceptibility
of improvement ; the hindrances, delays, and losses of life and prop-
erty 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 di-
rection, 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 cor-
respond with its extent of territory, its natural resources, and the
intelligence and enterprise of its people.

June 22, 1848. — Letter to "William H. Herndox.

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 hi^h 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. E. 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 oflSces 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 for-
ward 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. Bnos,
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 womeD,
will go to hear you ; so that it wiU not only contribute to the elec-
tion of " Old Zaeh," but will be an interesting pastime, and improv-
ing 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 regu-
larly 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 ses-
sion made arrangements to have one copy of the " Globe "and "Ap-
pendix" regularly sent to each Whig paper of the district. And
yet, with the exception of my own little speech, which was pub-
lished 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 f uU means on
both sides, I wUl venture that the " State Register" has thrown be-
fore 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
imderstand the whole subject. You ask how Congress came to de-
clare 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 hos-
tilities 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 biU 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 lor


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 yes-
terday, which I shaU send home as soon as I can get it written out
and printed, — and which I suppose nobody wiU read.

Your friend as ever, A. Lincoln.

June 27, 1848. — Letter to Horace Greeley.

Washington, June 27, 1848.

Friend Greeley: In the " Tribune " of yesterday I discovered a lit-
tle editorial paragraph in relation to Colonel Wentworth of Illinois,
in which, in relation to the boundary of Texas, you say: "All Whigs
and many Democrats having ever contended it stopped at the
Nueces." Now this is a mistake which I dislike to see go uncorrected
in a leading Whig paper. Since I have been here, I know a large
majority of such Whigs of the House of Representatives as have
spoken on the question have not taken that position. Then- position,
and in my opinion the true position, is that the boundary of Texas
extended just so far as American settlements taking part in her revo-
lution extended; and that as a matter of fact those settlements did
extend, at one or two points, beyond the Nueces, but not anywhere
near the Rio Grande at any point. The "stupendous desert" be-
tween the valleys of those two rivers, and not either river, has been
insisted on by the Whigs as the true boundary.

Will you look at this ? By putting us in the position of insisting
on the line of the Nueces, you put us in a position which, in my
opinion, we cannot maintain, and which therefore gives the Demo-
crats an advantage of us. If the degree of arrogance is not too great,
may I ask you to examine what I said on this very point in the
printed speech I send you. Yours truly,

A. Lincoln.

June 28, 1848. — Remarks in the United States
House of Representatives.

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 ungener-
ous, and he wanted to understand the real case of this judicial offi-
cer. 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 any-
thing 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 their 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?

[Julyl?] 1848.— Fragment.

The following paper was written by Lincoln in 1848 as being what
he thought General Taylor ought to say:

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 con-
stitutional objection from which I believe the two former banks to
have been free.

It appears to me that the national debt created by the war renders
a modification of the existing tariff indispensable; and when it shall
be modified I should be pleased to see it adjusted with a due refer-
ence to the protection of our home industry. The particulars, it ap-
pears to me, must and should be left to the untrammeled discretion
of Congress.

As to the Mexican war, I still think the defensive line policy the
best to terminate it. In a final treaty of peace, we shall probably
be under a sort of necessity of taking some territory ; but it is my
desire that we shall not acquire any extending so far south as to
enlarge and aggravate the distracting question of slavery. Should
I come into the presidency before these questions shall be settled, I
should act in relation to them in accordance with the views here

Finally, were I President, I should desire the legislation of the
country to rest with Congress, uninfluenced by the executive in its
origin or progress, and undisturbed by the veto unless in very
special and clear cases.

July 10, 1848.— Letter to "William H. Herndon.

Washington, July 10, 1848.
Bear William : Your letter covering the newspaper slips was re-
ceived last night. The subject of that letter is exceedingly painful
to me ; and I cannot but think there is some mistake in your im-
pression 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 are 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 old 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 laborious, studious young man. Ton are far better informed
on almost all subjects than I have ever been. You cannot fail in
any laudable object, unless you allow your mind to be improperly
directed. I have somewhat the advantage of you in the world's ex-
perience, merely by being older ; and it is this that induces me to
advise. You stiU seem to be a little mistaken about the " Congres-
sional 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, A. Lincoln.

July 27, 1848. — Speech in the United States House of

General Taylor and the Veto.

Mr. Speaker, our Democratic friends seem to be in 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 sufBcient detraction from General Taylor's posi-
tion 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 bUls as in their judgment may be of doubtful con-
stitutionality. 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 ques-
tion. When the biU 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 con-
stitutionality 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 Jeffer-
son'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 wMch is urged for and against tbis biU, is tolerably clear
that it is unauthorized by the Constitution, — i£ the pro and con. hang so even
as to balance Ms judgment, — a just respect for the wisdom of the legisla-
ture 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. Thomas Jeffeeson.

General Taylor's opinion, as expressed in his Allison letter, is as
I now read :

The power given by the veto is a high conservative power j but, in my
opinion, should never be exercised except in cases of clear violation of the
Constitution, or manifest haste and want of consideration by Congress.

It is here seen that, in Mr. Jefferson's opinion, if on the constitu-
tionality of any given biU the President doubts, he is not to veto it,
as the gentleman from Kentucky would have him do, but is to
defer to Congress and approve it. And if we compare the opinion
of Jefferson and Taylor, as expressed in these paragraphs, we shall
find them more exactly alike than we can often find any two expres-
sions having any literal difference. None but interested faultfinders,
I think, can discover any substantial variation.

Taylor on Measures of Policy.

But gentlemen on the other side are unanimously agreed that
General Taylor has no other principles. They are in utter darkness
as to his opinions on any of the questions of policy which occupy
the public attention. But is there any doubt as to what he will do
on the prominent questions if elected ? Not the least. It is not pos-
sible to know what he will or would do in every imaginable case,
because many questions have passed away, and others doubtless will
arise which none of us have yet thought of ; but on the prominent
questions of currency, tariff, internal improvements, and Wilmot
proviso, General Taylor's course is at least as well defined as is Gen-
eral Cass's. Why, m their eagerness to get at General Taylor, sev-
eral Democratic members here have desired to know whether, in


case of his' election, a bankrupt law is to be established. Can they
tell us G-eueral Cass's Of)imon on this question ? [Some in<'inl)er iiu-
swered, " He is against it."] Aye, how do you know he is 1 There
is nothing about it in the platform, nor elsewhere, that I havo seen.
If the gentleman knows of anything which I do not, he can show it.
But to return. General Taylor, in his Allison letter, says :

Upon the subject of the tariff, the currency, the improvement of our
great highways, rivers, lakes, and harbors, the will of the people, as ex-
pressed through their representatives in Congress, ought to be respected
and carried out by the executive.

Now this is the whole matter. In substance, it is this. The peo-
ple say to General Taylor, " If you are elected, shall we have a na-

Online LibraryAbraham LincolnAbraham Lincoln; complete works, comprising his speeches, letters, state papers, and miscellaneous writings; → online text (page 17 of 91)