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charge of and prosecute the public improvements; and it provided for the improvement of the navigation of the Wabash, Illinois, Rock, Kaskaskia and Little Wabash rivers; the construction of a mail route from Vincennes to East St. Louis, and the following railroads: Cairo to Galena, Alton to Mt. Carmel, Alton to Shawneetown, Quincy to Danville and the State line, a branch from the Cairo and Galena via Hillsboro and Shelbyville east to Terre Haute; Peoria to Warsaw, Lower Alton via Hillsboro, to intersect the Cairo and Galena, Belleville to intersect the Alton and Mt. Carmel, Bloomington to Pekin and Peoria. There was appropriated by this act $400,000 for the improvement of the rivers, $250,000 for the mail routes, $9,460,000 for railroads, and $200,000 to counties in which no railroads were to be built. Provision was made for creating an internal improvement fund, and certificates of stock were to be issued on the faith of the State. The journal of the House of that session shows that John Crain, John Dougherty, John Dawson, John Dement, Stephen A. Douglas, Jesse K. Dubois, Ninian W. Edwards, William F. Elkin, Augustus C. French, William W. Happy, John J. Hardin, John Hogan, Abraham Lincoln, U. F. Linder, John A. McClernand, John Moore, Joseph Naper, James Shields, Robert Smith, Dan Stone and James Semple voted for the bill, and that Milton Carpenter, John Harris, William McMurtry, William A. Minshall and William A. Richardson voted against it. It will thus be seen that the internal improvement system was not the work of bad men, nor was it the creature of a combination for speculative purposes, for it was championed by some of the purest and ablest men of the State.
In March, 1839, an act was passed by the Legislature providing for the construction of a railroad from Upper Alton via Hillsboro to Carlinville, and one from Rushville
to Era. At the same session $150,000 was appropriated to the improvement of the Little Wabash; $20,000 to improve the Big Muddy; $7,000 to improve the Embarrass, and $20,000 for mail routes.
In 1840, the Legislature passed an act prohibiting the Board of Public Works from letting any more contracts, and providing for the settlement of the debts incurred by the system, and the offices of the Board of Public Works and the Board of Fund Commissioners were abolished.
In 1841, the Legislature passed an act authorizing the Auditor and Treasurer of State to audit and settle the claims of contractors on public works. At the same session $100,000 was appropriated for the completion of the Northern Cross Railroad. Here we have the beginning and ending of the legislation relating to the internal improvement system, in which was included the construction of the Illinois and Michigan Canal.
To illustrate the utter blindness of the system, we note the fact that Ford says, there were no previous surveys of the proposed roads, nor estimates of their cost of construction, and that the work was commenced on all of them at the same time, and at each end. Large brick depots were built at different points regardless as to whether the roads were built or not. One of these was burned at Equality some years ago, and another is still standing on the bank of the Ohio river at Shawneetown, as a monument to the folly of that age.
When the affairs of the internal improvement system were settled, it was shown that the State was involved in a debt of $12,000,000, with nothing to show for it. Here, indeed, was a crisis in the affairs of the young State. The population was less than half a million. There was neither business nor commerce; and a loud cry went forth in favor of repudiation, but this was soon checked,
and by judicious legislation the people obtained temporary relief as to their personal financial burdens, and measures were devised for paying the public debt. It required years of toil and hardship, but the debt was finally paid in full, principal and interest, and the honor and credit of the State maintained.
It is a remarkable fact that while all the roads projected in 1837 failed of construction, private companies have since built them, in whole or in part.
SEVENTEENTH GENERAL ASSEMBLY-1850-52.
The first session of the Seventeenth General Assembly convened January 6, 1851, and adjourned February 17. A second session convened June 7, 1852, and adjourned June 23.
Lieut.-Gov. McMurtry presided over the Senate, and William Smith served as Secretary. Sidney Breese was elected Speaker of the House, and Isaac R. Diller Clerk.
The work of enacting laws to conform to the new constitution, was one of the grave duties of this Assembly. Of the new members there were such names as John M. Palmer, of Macoupin; Wm. B. Plato, of Kane, in the Senate; and in the House, Isham N. Haynie, of Marion; James C. Allen, of Crawford; Sidney Breese, of Clinton; William H. Snyder, of St. Clair; S. A. Buckmaster, of Madison; Wm. Thomas, of Morgan; Anthony Thornton, of Shelby; James W. Singleton, of Brown; Jesse O. Norton, of Will, and O. M. Hatch, of Pike.
Gov. French retired from office in January, 1853, leaving behind him an honorable record. He had been the Executive when the darkest clouds of the financial storm hovered over the State, but had ever counseled an honest payment of the State's obligations, and he lived to see the debt almost wholly canceled.
Gov. French was born in New Hampshire, in August, 1808; he attended Harvard University; removed to Illinois
in his youth, and as early as 1835 became closely identified with the politics of the State. He was a lawyer by profession, and was for several years President of the Board of Trustees of McKendree College, and Professor of Law in that institution. His last appearance in public life was as a member of the Constitutional Convention of 1862. He died at Lebanon, September 4, 1864.
OUR FIRST RAILROADS.
Gov. Duncan's Opposition to Railroads-Senator Gatewood's OppositionReport of Committee Favoring Canals in Preference to Railroads-Number of Miles of Railway-Number of Miles of Canal-Amount of Taxes Paid by Illinois Central Railway-Amount Paid by Other Railways in 1883-Gov. Duncan's Problem Solved.
It will be difficult for the reader to realize, amidst the many grand railways which cross and re-cross the broad domain of Illinois, that there should have ever been anybody to oppose their construction, or doubt their success, but a study of the early legislation of the State shows that there was serious opposition, even among the brightest minds of the State. Gov. Duncan, in his message to the General Assembly, in 1834, gave utterance to the thought that it was yet to be determined whether railroads would be more benefit to the State than the Illinois and Michigan canal. Said he:
"No one who has visited the different canals and railroads in the United States, and compared the country through which they pass with the fertile lands which lie between the Lakes and the Mississippi, to say nothing of the unbounded country that is washed by the twenty-five thousand miles of river and lake navigation, which this canal will unite by the shortest and most certain route that can possibly be made, can doubt that it will yield a larger
profit upon its cost, in a very few years, than any other work of the kind that has ever been, or can be, constructed in this country.
"In commencing this great work it should be borne in mind that its utility and success, as well as it expense, will greatly depend upon the kind of improvement that the Legislature shall adopt, and upon the plan of its construction. Of the different plans proposed, I find that the Board of Canal Commissioners and my worthy predecessors, have recommended a railroad, in which I regret that I am compelled to differ with them in opinion.
"In my judgment, experience has shown canals to be much more useful, and generally cheaper of construction, than railroads. When well made they require less expensive repairs, and are continually improving, and will last forever, while railroads are kept in repair at a very heavy expense, and will last but about fifteen years. In the present case especially, a canal should be preferred, because it connects, by a short and direct route, two great navigable waters, that wash the shores of most of the States and Territories of the United States and British Provinces of North America, and thus opening a commerce between the remotest parts of the continent. By using the lake as a feeder to this canal, a large body of water will be turned into the Illinois river, which will improve its navigation, and by increasing the current, will, probably, render its shores more healthy.
"An additional argument in favor of a canal, which should justly have great weight with you, is to be found in the fact, that it puts it in the power of every farmer to carry his own produce to market, which renders him independent of that monopoly which must always control the transportation on railroads. There appears to be but little force, in the present case, in the argument commonly used in favor of railroads-that transportation upon them is uninterrupted in winter-as this canal will be open several weeks longer in the fall and spring than either the lake or river, consequently no inconvenience can result from its closing, especially as at that season the roads will be sufficiently good to accommodate all the traveling which will be required." (See House Journal of 1835.)
Acting on the views of Gov. Duncan, a committee was appointed by the Senate to determine which system of internal commerce should be adopted. The committee