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

Campaign Circular from Whig Committee [1]

March 4, 1843


FELLOW-CITIZENS: By a resolution of a meeting of such of the Whigs of the State, as are now at Springfield, we, the undersigned, were appointed to prepare an address to you. [2] The performance of that task we now undertake.

Several resolutions were adopted by the meeting; and the chief object of this address is, to show briefly, the reasons for their adoption.

The first of those resolutions declares a tariff of duties upon foreign importations, producing sufficient revenue for the support ofPage  310 the General Government, and so adjusted as to protect American industry, to be indispensably necessary to the prosperity of the American People; and the second declares Direct Taxation for a National Revenue to be improper. Those two resolutions are kindred in their nature, and therefore proper and convenient to be considered together. The question of protection is entirely too broad to be crowded into a few pages only, together with several other subjects. On that point, we therefore content ourselves with giving the following extracts from the writings of Mr. Jefferson, Gen. Jackson, and the speech of Mr. Calhoun:

``To be independent for the comforts of life, we must fabricate them ourselves. We must now place the manufacturer by the side of the agriculturalist. The grand inquiry now is, shall we make our own comforts, or go without them at the will of a foreign nation? He, therefore, who is now against domestic manufactures must be for reducing us either to dependence on that foreign nation, or to be clothed in skins and to live like wild beasts in dens and caverns. I am not one of those; experience has taught me that manufactures are now as necessary to our independence as to our comfort.''---Letter of Mr. Jefferson to Benjamin Austin. [3]

``I ask, what is the real situation of the agriculturalist? Where has the American farmer a market for his surplus produce? Except for cotton, he has neither a foreign nor a home market. Does not this clearly prove, when there is no market at home or abroad, that there is too much labor employed in agriculture? Common sense at once points out the remedy. Take from agriculture 600,000 men, women and children, and you will at once give a market for more breadstuffs than all Europe now furnishes. In short, we have been too long subject to the policy of British merchants. It is time we should become a little more Americanized, and instead of feeding the paupers and laborers of England, feed our own; or else, in a short time, by continuing our present policy, we shall all be rendered paupers ourselves.''---Gen. Jackson's letter to Dr. Coleman. [4]

``When our manufactures are grown to a certain perfection, as they soon will be, under the fostering care of Government, the farmer will find a ready market for his surplus produce, and, what is of equal consequence, a certain and cheap supply of all he wants; his prosperity will diffuse itself to every class of the community.''---Speech of Hon. J. C. Calhoun on the tariff. [5]

Page  311The question of Revenue we will now briefly consider. For several years past, the revenues of the Government have been unequal to its expenditures, and consequently, loan after loan, sometimes directly, and sometimes indirectly in form, have been resorted to. By this means a new National debt, has been created, and is still growing on us with a rapidity fearful to contemplate---a rapidity only reasonably to be expected in time of war. This state of things has been produced by a prevailing unwillingness, either to increase the tariff, or resort to direct taxation. But the one or the other must come. Coming expenditures must be met, and the present debt must be paid; and money cannot always be borrowed for these objects. The system of loans is but temporary in its nature, and must soon explode. It is a system, not only ruinous while it lasts, but one that must soon fail and leave us destitute. As an individual who undertakes to live by borrowing, soon finds his original means devoured by interest, and next no one left to borrow from---so must it be with a government.

We repeat, then, that a tariff sufficient for revenue, or a direct tax, must soon be resorted to; and, indeed, we believe this alternative is now denied by no one. But which system shall be adopted? Some of our opponents, in theory, admit the propriety of a tariff sufficient for revenue; but even they, will not in practice vote for such a tariff; while others boldly advocate direct taxation. Inasmuch, therefore, as some of them boldly advocate direct taxation, and all the rest, or so nearly all, as to make exceptions needless, refuse to adopt the tariff---we think it is doing them no injustice to class them all as advocates of direct taxation. Indeed, we believe, they are only delaying an open avowal of the system, till they can assure themselves that the people will. Let us then briefly compare the two systems. The tariff is the cheaper system, because the duties, being collected in large parcels at a few commercial points, will require comparatively few officers in their collection; while by the direct tax system, the land must be literally covered with assessors and collectors, going forth like swarms of Egyptian locusts, devouring every blade of grass and other green thing. And again, by the tariff system, the whole revenue is paid by the consumers of foreign goods, and those chiefly, the luxuries, and not the necessaries of life. By this system, the man who contents himself to live upon the products of his own country, pays nothing at all. And surely, that country is extensive enough, and its products abundant and varied enough, to answer all the real wants of its people. In short, by this system, the burthen of revenue falls almost entirely on the wealthy and luxurious few, while the substantialPage  312 and laboring many who live at home, and upon home products, go entirely free.

By the direct tax system, none can escape. However strictly the citizen may exclude from his premises, all foreign luxuries---fine cloths, fine silks, rich wines, golden chains, and diamond rings; still, for the possession of his house, his barn, and his homespun, he is to be perpetually haunted and harassed by the tax-gatherer. With these views we leave it to be determined, whether we or our opponents are the more truly democratic on this subject.

The third resolution declares the necessity and propriety of a National Bank. During the last fifty years so much has been said and written both as to the constitutionality and expediency of such an institution, that we could not hope to improve in the least on former discussions of the subject, were we to undertake it. We, therefore, upon the [question of?] constitutionality, content ourselves with remarking the facts, that the first National Bank was established chiefly by the same men who formed the constitution, at a time when that instrument was but two years old, receiving the sanction, as President, of the immortal Washington; that the second received the sanction, as President, of Mr. Madison, to whom common consent has awarded the proud title of ``Father of the Constitution''; and subsequently the sanction of the Supreme Court, the most enlightened judicial tribunal in the world.

Upon the question of the expediency, we only ask you to examine the history of the times, during the existence of the two Banks, and compare those times with the miserable present.

The fourth resolution declares the expediency of Mr. Clay's Land Bill. [6] Much incomprehensible jargon is often urged against the constitutionality of this measure. We forbear, in this place, attempting to answer to it, simply because, in our opinion, those who urge it, are, through party zeal, resolved not to see or acknowledge the truth.

The question of expediency, at least so far as Illinois is concerned, seems to us the clearest imaginable. By the bill, we are to receive annually a large sum of money, no part of which we otherwise receive. The precise annual sum cannot be known in advance; it doubtless will vary in different years; still it is something to know, that in last year,---a year of almost unparalleled pecuniary pressure---it amounted to more than forty thousand dollars.

This annual income, in the midst of our almost insupportable difficulties, in the days of our severest necessity, our political opponents are furiously resolving to take and keep from us. And forPage  313 what? Many silly reasons are given, as is usual in cases when a single good one is not to be found. One is, that by giving us the proceeds of the public lands, we impoverish the National Treasury, and thereby render necessary an increase of the tariff. This may be true, but if so, the amount of it only is, that those whose pride, whose abundance of means, prompt them to spurn the manufactures of our own country, and to strut in British cloaks, and coats, and pantaloons, may have to pay a few cents more on the yard for the cloth that makes them. A terrible evil, truly, to the Illinois farmer, who never wore, nor never expects to wear, a single yard of British goods in his whole life.

Another of their reasons is, that by the passage and continuance, of Mr. Clay's bill, we prevent the passage of a bill which would give us more. This if it were sound, in itself, is waging destructive war with the former position; for if Mr. Clay's bill impoverishes the Treasury too much, what shall be said of one that impoverishes it still more? But it is not sound in itself. It is not true that Mr. Clay's bill prevents the passage of one more favorable to us of the new States. Considering the strength and opposite interest of the old States; the wonder is, that they ever permitted one to pass so favorable as Mr. Clay's. The last twenty odd years' efforts to reduce the price of the lands, and to pass graduation bills, and cession Bills, prove the assertion to be true; and even if there were no experience in support of it, the reason itself is plain. The States in which none, or few, of the public lands lie, and those consequently interested against parting with them, except for the best price, are the majority; and a moment's reflection will show, that they must ever continue the majority---because by the time one of the original new States (Ohio for example) becomes populous, and gets weight in Congress, the public lands in her limits are [so] nearly sold out, that in every point material to this question, she becomes an old State. She does not wish the price reduced, because there is none left for her citizens to buy; she does not wish them ceded to the States in which they lie, because they no longer lie in her limits, and she will get nothing by the cession. In the nature of things, the States interested in the reduction of price, in graduation, in cession, and in all similar projects, never can be the majority. Nor is there reason to hope that any of them can ever succeed as a democratic party measure, because we have heretofore seen that party in full power, year after year, with many of their leaders making loud professions in favor of these projects, and yet doing nothing. What reason then is there, to believe they will hereafter do better? In every light in which we can view this question, it amounts simplyPage  314 to this. Shall we accept our share of the proceeds, under Mr. Clay's bill; or shall we rather reject that, and get nothing?

The fifth resolution recommends that a Whig candidate for Congress be run in every District, regardless of the chances of success.

We are aware that it is sometimes a temporary gratification, when a friend cannot succeed, to be able to choose between opponents; but we believe that that gratification is the seed time which never fails to be followed by a most abundant harvest of bitterness. By this policy we entangle ourselves. By voting for our opponents, such of us as do it, in some measure estop ourselves to complain of their acts, however glaringly wrong we may believe them to be. By this policy, no one portion of our friends, can ever be certain as to what course another portion may adopt; and by this want of mutual and perfect understanding, our political identity is partially frittered away and lost. And again, those who are thus elected by our aid, ever become our bitterest prosecutors [persecutors]. Take a few prominent examples: In 1830 Reynolds [7] was so elected Governor; in 1835, we exerted our whole strength to elect Judge Young [8] to the United States Senate, which effort, though failing, gave him the prominence that subsequently elected him; in 1836 Gen. Ewing [9] was so elected to the United States Senate, and yet let us ask what three men have been more perseveringly vindictive in their assaults upon all our men and measures than they. During the last summer the whole State was covered with pamphlet editions of misrepresentations against us, methodized into chapters and verses, written by two of these same men, Reynolds and Young; in which they did not stop at charging us with error merely, but roundly denounced us as the designing enemies of human liberty itself. If it be the will of Heaven that such men shall politically live, be it so, but never, never again permit them to draw a particle of their sustenance from us.

The sixth resolution recommends the adoption of the convention system for the nomination of candidates. [10]

This we believe to be of the very first importance. Whether the system is right in itself, we do not stop to enquire; contenting ourselves with trying to show, that while our opponents use it, it is madness in us not to defend ourselves with it. Experience has shown that we cannot successfully defend ourselves without it. For examples, look at the election last year. Our candidate for

Page  315Governor, with the approbation of a large portion of the party, took the field without a nomination, and in open opposition to the system. Wherever in the counties the whigs had held Conventions and nominated candidates for the Legislature, the aspirants, who were not nominated, were induced to rebel against the nominations, and to become candidates, as is said, ``on their own hook.'' And go where you would into a large whig county, you were sure to find the whigs, not contending shoulder to shoulder against the common enemy, but divided into factions, and fighting furiously with one another. The election came, [and] what was the result? The Governor beaten, the whig vote being decreased many thousands since 1840, although the democratic vote had not increased any. Beaten almost every where for members of the Legislature. Tazewell, with her four hundred whig majority, sending a delegation half democratic. Vermillion, with her five hundred, doing the same. Coles, with her four hundred, sending two out of three; Morgan, with her two hundred and fifty, sending her three out of four; and this, to say nothing of the numerous other less glaring examples; the whole winding up with the aggregate number of twenty-seven democratic representatives sent from whig counties. As to the Senators, too, the result was of the same character. And it is most worthy to be remembered, that of all the whigs in the State, who ran against the regular nominees, a single one only was elected. Although they succeeded in defeating the nominees almost by scores, they too, were defeated, and the spoils chucklingly borne off by the common enemy.

We do not mention the fact of many of the whigs opposing the Convention System heretofore, for the purpose of censuring them. Far from it. We expressly protest against such a conclusion. We know they were generally, perhaps universally, as good and true whigs, as we ourselves claim to be. We mention it merely to draw attention to the disastrous result it produced, as an example forever hereafter to be avoided.

That ``union is strength'' is a truth that has been known, illustrated and declared, in various ways and forms in all ages of the world. That great fabulist and philosopher, Aesop, illustrated it by his fable of the bundle of sticks; and he whose wisdom surpasses that of all philosophers, has declared that ``a house divided against itself cannot stand.'' It is to induce our friends to act upon this important, and universally acknowledged truth, that we urge the adoption of the Convention System. Reflection will prove, that there is no other way of practically applying it. In its application, we know there will be incidents temprorarily painful; but, afterPage  316 all, we believe those incidents will be fewer and less intense, with, than without, the system. If two friends aspire to the same office, it is certain both cannot succeed. Would it not, then, be much less painful to have the question decided by mutual friends some time before, than to snarl and quarrel till the day of election, and then both be beaten by the common enemy?

Before leaving this subject, we think proper to remark that we do not understand the resolution as intended to recommend the application of the Convention System to the nomination of candidates for the small offices no way connected with politics; though we must say, we do not perceive that such an application of it would be wrong.

The seventh resolution recommends the holding of District Conventions in May next, for the purpose of nominating candidates for Congress.

The propriety of this, rests upon the same reasons with that of the sixth, and therefore needs no further discussion.

The eighth and ninth also, relate merely to the practical application of the foregoing, and therefore need no discussion.

Before closing, permit us to add a few reflections on [the present condition and future prospects of] the whig party. In almost all the States we have fallen into the minority, and despondency seems to prevail universally among us. Is there just cause for this? In 1840 we carried the nation by more than a hundred and forty thousand majority. Our opponents charged that we did it by fraudulent voting; but whatever they may have believed, we knew the charge to be untrue. Where now is that mighty host? Have they gone over to the enemy? Let the results of the late elections answer. Every State which has fallen off from the whig cause since 1840 has done so, not by giving more democratic votes than they did then, but by giving fewer Whig. Bouck, [11] who was elected democratic Governor of New York last fall by more than 15,000 majority, had not then as many votes as he had in 1840, when he was beaten by seven or eight thousand. And so has it been in all the other States which have fallen away from our cause. From this, it is evident, that tens of thousands, in the late elections, have not voted at all. Who and what are they? is an important question, as respects the future. They can come forward and give us the victory again. That all, or nearly all of them, are whigs, is most apparent. Our opponents, stung to madness by the defeat of 1840, have ever since rallied with more than their usual unanimity. It has not been they that have been staid from the polls. These facts show what the result must be, once the people again rally in their entire strength.

Page  317Proclaim these facts and predict this result, and, although unthinking opponents may smile at us, the sagacious ones will ``believe and tremble.'' And why shall the whigs not all rally again? Are their principles less dear now than in 1840? Have any of their doctrines, since then, been discovered to be untrue? It is true, the victory of 1840 did not produce the happy results anticipated, but it is equally true, as we believe, that the unfortunate death of Gen. Harrison [12] was the cause of the failure. It was not the election of Gen. Harrison that was expected to produce happy effects, but the measures to be adopted by his administration. By means of his death, and the unexpected course of his successor, those measures were never adopted. How could the fruits follow? The consequences we always predicted, would follow the failure of those measures, have followed, and are now upon us in all their horrors. By the course of Mr. Tyler the policy of our opponents has continued in operation; still leaving them with the advantage of charging all its evils upon us as the results of a whig administration. Let none be deceived by this somewhat plausible, tho' entirely false charge. If they ask us for the sufficient and sound currency we promised, let them be answered, that we only promised it, through the medium of a National Bank, which, they aided by Mr. Tyler, prevented our establishing. And, let them be reminded too, that their own policy in relation to the currency, has all the time been, and still is, in full operation. Let us then again come forth in our might, and by a second victory, accomplish that, which death only prevented in the first. We can do it. When did the whigs ever fail if they were fully aroused and united? Even in single States and Districts, under such circumstances, defeat seldom overtakes them. Call to mind the contested elections within the last few years, and particularly those of Moore and Letcher from Kentucky; [13] Newland [sic] and Graham from North Carolina, [14] and the famous New Jersey case. [15] In allPage  318 those districts Loco Focoism had stalked omnipotent before; but when the whole people were aroused by its enormities, on those occasions, they put it down never to rise again.

We declare it to be our solemn conviction, that the whigs are always a majority of this Nation; and that to make them always successful, needs but to get them all to the polls, and [to] vote unitedly. This is the great desideratum. Let us make every effort to attain it. At every election, let every whig act as though he knew the result to depend upon his action. In the great contest of 1840, some more than twenty-one hundred thousand votes were cast---and so surely as there shall be that many, with the ordinary increase added, cast in 1844, that surely will a whig be elected President of the United States. A. LINCOLN.

March, 4, 1843 S. T. LOGAN.



[1]   North Western Gazette and Galena Advertiser, March 17, 1843. This seems the best source available for the text of this circular. However, certain variations merit attention in the printing which appears in the Quincy Whig, March 22, 1843. Bracketed passages are from the Whig, which is, however, in general an inferior printing.

[2]   Supra, March 1, 1843.

[3]   Date of this letter is January 9, 1816.

[4]   Date of this letter to Dr. Littleton Coleman, a member of the Virginia legislature and a Jackson supporter who had professed opposite views, is April 26, 1824.

[5]   Speech of April 6, 1816.

[6]   See ``Resolutions at a Whig Meeting,'' March 1, 1843, supra, n. 2.

[7]   John Reynolds.

[8]   Richard Montgomery Young.

[9]   William L. D. Ewing.

[10]   See letter to John Bennett, March 7, 1843, where Lincoln specified his authorship of this argument in favor of conventions.

[11]   William C. Bouck.

[12]   President Harrison died on April 4, 1841, one month after his inauguration, and was succeeded by John Tyler.

[13]   Robert P. Letcher, Whig, contested the election of Thomas P. Moore, Democrat, to the Twenty-third Congress, but the House of Representatives did not seat either candidate and declared a new election necessary. Letcher won and took his seat on December 1, 1834.

[14]   James Graham, Whig, presented credentials to the Twenty-fourth Congress, served March 4, 1835 to March 29, 1836, when his seat was declared vacant by a Democratic House, but was not given to his competitor, David Newlands. Graham was subsequently reelected.

[15]   Ephraim Bateman, Whig, presiding in the joint convention of the General Assembly of New Jersey in 1826, cast the deciding vote to elect himself United States Senator against Theodore Frelinghuysen, Democrat. A select committee of five senators considered a remonstrance against the legality of his election, reported on May 22, 1828, that he had only exercised a legal right by thus voting, and discharged the remonstrance.