Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln. Volume 1.
Lincoln, Abraham, 1809-1865.
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Discussion in Illinois Legislature
Concerning Expenditures for Public Printing [1]

December 19, 1840

Mr LINCOLN offered for adoption a resolution for a select committee to enquire into the causes of the large amount of the item of public printing, and to enquire into the possibility of reducing the expense &c.

Mr. LINCOLN in offering this resolution distinctly stated that he contemplated and intended no attack on any individual: his only object was to ascertain if it might → be in the power of the House to reduce this heavy item of public expenditure.

Mr BENTLEY [2] suggested that the committee on public accounts and expenditures was the proper committee to entrust with this enquiry, and moved to amend accordingly.

Mr LINCOLN objected to the shuffling off of responsibility, and said that as for himself, he would prefer not to be on the select committee to be appointed. He was not inclined to believe that more printing was done than was ordered, or that more was charged for than the law allowed. He was disposed to believe if there was any fault, it was at our own door. He had just read the message of the Governor of Indiana, in which he called the attention of their Legislature to the enormous expenditure of 12,000 dollars for public printing. Thus it would be seen that in our sister state, with a population doubling ours, 12,000 was called an enormous expenditure, whilst we, with only half the population, and doubly more embarrassed, were paying $23,000 for the same object! So far was he from wishing to make this matter a party business, that he would distinctly say, it was his desire that he himself should not be placed upon the committee to be appointed.

Mr ORMSBEE [3] referred the House to a resolution now before the committee of which he was chairman, and which covered the whole ground of the resolution now offered.

Page  223Mr OLDS [4] said he could view this resolution in no other light than as an effort to get up political capital; it must be evident that this was the sole motive of bringing forward such a proposition at such a time as this, when gentlemen reflect that a resolution for an inquiry upon this very subject had already been committed to one of the standing committees of the House. What, he would ask, was the use of the Speakers appointing committees, if gentlemen should be permitted to take out of their hands the proper and legitimate objects submitted to them, in order to get up special committees for the mere purpose of making flaming reports intended to produce false impressions among the people. He (Mr O) was as strenuous an advocate of economy as the gentleman could be who had offered this resolution, but he must say that it appeared somewhat suspicious to him that this resolution should be bro't forward at this time. The House must well remember that the item of printing expense has been incurred mainly if not altogether by the party which is known as the whig party. How is it, that if they are sincere in their present movement, they did not make enquires and aim at a curtailment of expenses when they had a majority in the House? The very fact that they did not, plainly proved to his mind what was the true object and intent of this resolution. He would therefore oppose it, not because he was willing to sustain any unnecessary or profuse expenditure---far from it; but because he considered it an unnecessary and wanton waste both of time and money to take up such a resolution as this, when already there was before the House a resolution of the very same nature, having the same object in view, and fully adequate to every purpose required. He would therefore move to lay the resolution on the table.

Mr O subsequently withdrew his motion to afford Mr Lincoln an opportunity to explain.

Mr LINCOLN, in reply to the gentleman from Macoupin, said that the gentleman was a stranger to him, as he had never been introduced to him, but he hoped the gentleman would give him the credit of being candid in the statement of the motives which had induced him to offer this resolution; he would repeat, that he had no motive which he had not expressed; he had not introduced this resolution in a fault finding spirit, he was only desirous of doing his duty, and in reply to the gentleman from Scott he would say that if he considered it as a slur on his committee he would candidly and sincerely assure him that he (Mr L) did not mean or contemplate any such thing. His view was that if a change could be brought about advantageous to the people, it was our duty to setPage  224 about the correction of abuses, and he would ask if this was not becoming and honest to the people of the country? He had put the resolution into its present form because he considered that the resolution offered some days ago did not cover all the ground: he was for bringing in the best bill that could be brought in, on the subject: if the gentleman from Macoupin thought otherwise, and supposed he (Mr L) was for making an attack on the public printer, he hoped the House would believe him when he said that he did not believe that the public printer got more work or more pay than the law allowed him, or that he made more than he was warranted by that law. Mr L had proposed a select committee, because he thought it could be done without casting imputations on the committee, which had been referred to by the gentleman from Scott. Mr L had no right to think that it had not been as faithful in the performance of its duties as any other committee. If gentlemen would reflect that the appointment of the select committee as proposed would be within the power of the Speaker, he thought that would afford a sufficient guarantee that no political movement had been contemplated by him.

Annotation

[1]   Illinois State Register, January 1, 1841.

[2]   Richard Bentley of Bond County.

[3]   Joseph W. Ormsbee of Scott County.

[4]   Francis A. Olds of Macoupin County.

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