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

Remarks in Illinois Legislature Concerning Petition of Norman H. Purple [1]

December 4, 1840

Mr. LINCOLN moved that the reports [2] be referred to a committee of the whole House, and that the House do now resolve itself into committee of the whole on the subject. . . . Mr. LINCOLN considered the question of the highest importance, whether an individual had a right to sit in this House or not. The course he should propose would be to take up the evidence and decide upon the evidence and decide upon the facts seriatim. . . .

Mr. DRUMMOND [3] was opposed to taking up: he wished for time to investigate the matter thoroughly. . . .

[Mr. LINCOLN said it would afford him pleasure to oblige his friend from Joe Davies, (Mr. Drummond) but he thought his objections to taking up the matter now, were not well founded. His objection was, that he had not heard the testimony. This is the very reason why we should now go into the testimony---we should go into it like a jury without prepossessions, and be the better prepared to arrive at correct conclusions from the testimony. The gentleman had deprecated party feeling. He confessed he had this much feeling about it, honestly. The gentleman who held his seat, was a political friend of his, and if, after an investigation, it is shown that he is fairly the representative, he should feel gratified. But he did not believe that his mind would be swayed by party feeling, from deciding honestly and justly in this case. The sooner we could decide this matter, the better---there was less party excitement now than there would be to-morrow, and less to-morrow, than there would be the day after.] [4]

Mr. LINCOLN thought that the question had better be gone into now. In courts of law Jurors were required to decide on evidence without previous study or examination. They were required to know nothing of the subject untill the evidence was laid before them for their immediate decision. He thought that the heat of party would be augmented by delay.

Page  215The Speaker called Mr. L. to order as being irrelevant no mention had been made of party-heat.

Mr. DRUMMOND said he had spoken only of debate.

Mr. LINCOLN asked what caused the heat, if it was not party? Mr. L. concluded by urging that the question would be decided now better than hereafter, and he thought with less heat and excitement.


[1]   Illinois State Register, December 11, 1840.

[2]   Partisanship split the select committee into a majority (Democrat) reporting in favor of Norman H. Purple (Democrat) and a minority (Whig) reporting in favor of William J. Phelps (Whig). Phelps had won over Purple by a slim majority of seven votes. Purple's contest of the election hinged on a claim that fifteen illegal votes had been cast for Phelps, whereas only eight illegal votes had been cast for Purple. Also, Purple maintained that two of his would-be supporters had been rejected at the polls without proper cause. These two votes provided the margin of victory for Purple, upon which the Democratic majority report sought to seat him in place of Phelps. The upshot of the contest was that Phelps retained his seat and the testimony in the case was ordered to be printed.

[3]   Thomas Drummond, Whig, Jo Daviess County.

[4]   Sangamo Journal, December 8, 1840. The Journal report is less adequate than the report taken from the Register except for this paragraph which gives Lincoln's argument somewhat more in detail.