Abraham Lincoln in Illinois
A Selection of Documents from the Illinois State Archives
DOCUMENT 15HOUSE JOINT RESOLUTION CONCERNING PURCHASE OF UNSOLD FEDERAL LANDS
January 17, 1839
For the Eleventh General Assembly, Lincoln served on the powerful House Finance Committee, which oversaw the state's financial well-being. On January 17, 1839 he introduced this resolution on behalf of the committee. It called for the federal government to sell its land holdings in Illinois to the state. Lincoln felt this would give the state control over its own land and provide state government with revenue when it later sold the land to individuals.
Illinois had been a state for twenty years but Lincoln estimated the federal government controlled some twenty million acres within its borders. That represented more than fifty-five percent of the state's land. In remarks about the resolution, Lincoln said state control over the land would help with the failing internal improvements program by allowing the state to funnel resources to areas where the improvements were needed.
Lincoln also felt the land could provide Illinois with a new source of revenue. The resolution called for buying the land at 25¢ an acre for a total cost of $5 million. Lincoln hoped the state could sell the land to individuals for $1.25 an acre. The state was already deeply in debt because of the internal improvements plans but Lincoln felt the state had gone too far to stop those plans. While this proposal would have put the state an additional $5 million in debt, Lincoln felt the large number of settlers looking to buy land would allow the state to quickly repay the loan and then repay some of the debts incurred by the internal improvements plan.
Although the General Assembly passed the resolution, the federal government ignored it. Illinois remained in debt from the internal improvements plan until 1881.
It is interesting to note that the resolution "requested" that Illinois' congressmen work for the passage of the bill and "instructed" Illinois' two senators to work for it. Before 1913, United States senators were not elected by direct vote of the people. Instead, the legislature selected who would serve. As such, state legislators felt that U. S. senators worked for the legislature and could be "instructed" by it on how to vote. The people elected U. S. congressmen and so the legislature "requested" their help.
Points to Consider
Why did the state of Illinois need money in the late 1830s?
How would state control over the land help the internal improvements program?
Why do you think the federal government ignored this resolution?