Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln. Volume 1.
Lincoln, Abraham, 1809-1865.

Remarks in Illinois Legislature
Concerning Resolutions in Relation to Purchase of Public Lands [1]

January 17, 1839

Mr. LINCOLN thought the resolutions ought to be seriously considered. In reply to the gentleman from Adams, [2] he said that it was not to enrich the State. The price of the lands may be raised, it was thought by some, by others that it would be reduced. The conclusion in his mind was that the Representatives in this Legislature from the country in which the lands lie would be opposed to raising the price, because it would operate against the settlement of the lands. He referred to the lands in the military tract. They had fallen into the hands of large speculators in consequence of the low price. He was opposed to a low price of land. He thought it was adverse to the interests of the poor settler, because speculators buy them up. He was opposed to a reduction of the price of public lands.

Mr. L. referred to some official documents emanating from Indiana, and compared the progressive population of the two States. Illinois had gained upon that State under the public land system as it is. His conclusion was that ten years from this time Illinois wouldPage  133 have no more public land unsold than Indiana now has. He referred also to Ohio. That State had sold nearly all her public lands. She was but 20 years ahead of us, and as our lands were equally saleable, more so as he maintained, we should have no more 20 years from now than she has at present.

Mr. L. referred to the canal lands, and supposed that the policy of the State would be different in regard to them, if the Representatives from that section of country could themselves choose the policy, but the Representatives from other parts of the State had a veto upon it, and regulated the policy. He thought that if the State had all the lands, the policy of the Legislature would be more liberal to all sections.

He refered to the policy of the General Government. He thought that if the national debt had not been paid, the expenses of the Government would not have doubled, as they had done since that debt was paid. [3]

Mr. Lincoln said, that the arguments in favor of the plan now under consideration were briefly summed up in his report. He looked upon it as a hopeful means of meeting the burdens of government, and providing a future revenue for sustaining our system of Internal Improvement. Admit that the price of lands is not thus diminished; nay, admit that it is somewhat enhanced above that, at which the State may purchase them of the General Government, still, we shall gain this advantage---to keep these lands out of the grasp of speculators. Wherever lands are sold low, they invariably fall into the hands of the rich. Were the public lands to be put down to-day to the price of 50 cents an acre, speculators would get the best of them before the poor man could get the news. The question put by the gentleman from Morgan (Mr. Hardin) goes upon the supposition that we shall make a bad bargain with the General Government. But the plan is based upon the expectation of purchasing these lands at a reasonable rate. Illinois has some ten millions of unsold lands. Let us see what light we can obtain on this subject from Indiana and Ohio. Now, Indiana had, last year, only about four millions and one half of acres unsold; and Ohio, only about one million and three quarters. But Illinois is only 20 years younger than Ohio, and 10 years younger than Indiana; we may therefore conclude, that this State will in ten years have not morePage  134 than 4 1/2 millions of acres remaining unsold; in twenty years, not more than 1 3/4 millions; and in this case, on the supposition that Illinois should now buy up all the lands, at a reduced price, she will have made a first rate bargain.

Now, the resources of the State must be husbanded. Economy is to be the order of the day. We must find some new sources of revenue. We need them, and shall need them, for many years to come. Our system of Internal Improvement requires them. The public debt is already enormous, and is augmenting every day. ``This is the principal reason'' said Mr. Lincoln in conclusion, ``why I have persevered in opposition to the views of many of the committee, in bringing this subject before the House.''


[1]   Illinois State Register, February 5, 1839, and Vandalia Free Press, January 24, 1839. These remarks as reported in the press were part of a general discussion following the submission of the resolutions (supra).

[2]   Archibald Williams of Quincy, Illinois.

[3]   The ``Report and Resolutions'' lay on the table until January 28, when two amendments were offered and referred to a select committee with Lincoln as chairman. Lincoln's committee reported them back without amendment and recommended their adoption. Two amendments were then rejected and the resolutions adopted as written, on February 2, 1839.