Page images

there were nothing to forbid it in the fundamental laws of our Union."

For what, then, would he have the Constitution amended? With him it is a proposition to remove one impediment, merely to be met by others, which, in his opinion, cannot be removed to enable Congress to do what, in his opinion, they ought not to do if they could.

[Here Mr. Meade, of Virginia, inquired if Mr. Lincoln understood the President to be opposed, on grounds of expediency, to any and every improvement.]

To which Mr. Lincoln answered: In the very part of his message of which I am now speaking, I understand him as giving some vague expressions in favor of some possible objects of improvements; but, in doing so, I understand to be directly in the teeth of his own argument in the other parts of it. Neither the President, nor any one, can possibly specify an improvement, which shall not be liable to one or the other objections he has urged on the score of expediency. I have shown, and might show again, that no work-no object-can be so general as to dispense its benefits with precise equality; and this inequality is among the "portentous consequences" for which he declare the improvements should be arrested. No, sir; when the President intimates that something in the way of improvements may properly be done by the general government, he is shrinking from the conclusions to which his own argument would force him. He feels not that the improvements of this broad and goodly land are a mighty interest, and he is unwilling to confess to the people, and perhaps to himself, that he has built an argument which, when pressed to its conclusion, utterly annihilate this interest.

I have already said that no one who is satisfied of the expediency of making improvements, need be much uneasy in his conscience about its unconstitutionality. I wish now to submit a few remarks on the general proposition of amending the Constitution. As a general rule, I think we would do much better to let it alone. No slight occasion should tempt us to touch it. Better not take the first step, which may lead to a habit of altering it. Better, rather, to habituate ourselves to think it unalterable. It can scarcely be made better than it is. New provisions would introduce new difficulties. and thus create and increase still further appetite for change.

No, sir; let it stand as it is.

it. The men who made it

New hands have never touched have done their work, and have passed away. Who shall improve on what they did?

Mr. Chairman, for the purpose of reviewing this message in the least possible time, as well as for the sake of distinctness, I have analyzed its arguments as well as I could, and reduced them to the propositions I have stated. I have now examined them in detail. I wish to detain the committee only a little while longer, with some general remarks on the subject of improvement. That the subject is a difficult one, cannot be denied. Still, it is no more difficult in Congress than it is in the State legislatures, in the counties, or in the smallest municipal districts which anywhere exist. All can recur to instances of this difficulty in the case of country roads, bridges, and the like. One man is offended because the road passes over his land; another is offended because it does not pass over his; one is dissatisfied because the bridge, for which he is taxed, crosses the river on a different road from that which leads from his house to town; another cannot bear that the county should get in debt for these same roads and bridges; while not a few struggle hard to have roads located over their lands, and then stoutly refuse to let them be opened, until they are first paid the damages. Even between the different wards and streets of towns and cities, we find the same wrangling and difficulty. Now these are no other than the very difficulties against which, and out of which, the President constructs his objections of "inequality," "speculation" and "crushing the treasury." There is but a single alternative about them-they are sufficient, or they are not. If sufficient, they are sufficient out of Congress as well as in it, and there is an end. We must reject them as insufficient, or lie down and do nothing by any authority. Then, difficulty though there be, let us meet and overcome it.

"Attempt the end, and never come to doubt;
Nothing so hard, but search will find it out."

Determine that the thing can and shall be done, and then we shall find the way. The tendency to undue expansion is unquestionably the chief difficulty. How to do something, and still not do too much, is the desideratum. Let each contribute his mite in the way of suggestion. The late Silas Wright, in a letter to the Chicago Convention, contributed his, which was worth some.

thing; and I now contribute mine, which may be worth nothing. At all events it will mislead nobody, and therefore will do no harm. I would not borrow money. I am against an overwhelming, crushing system. Suppose that at each session Congress shall first determine how much money can, for that year, be spared for improvements; then apportion that sum to the most .important objects. So far all is easy; but how shall we determine which are the most important? On this question comes the collision of interests. I shall be slow to acknowledge that your harbor, or your river, is more important than mine, and vice versa. To clear this difficulty, let us have that same statistical information which the gentleman from Ohio (Mr. Vinton) suggested at the beginning of this session. In that information we shall have a stern, unbending basis of facts—a basis in no wise subject to whim, caprice, or local interest. pre-limited amount of means will save us from doing too much, and the statistics will save us from doing what we do in wrong places. Adopt and adhere to this course, and, it seems to me, the difficulty is cleared.


One of the gentlemen from South Carolina (Mr. Rhett) very much deprecates these statistics. He particularly objects, as I understand him, to counting all the pigs and chickens in the land. I do not perceive much force in the objection. It is true, that if everything be enumerated, a portion of such statistics may not be very useful to this object. Such products of this country as are to be consumed where they are produced, need no roads and rivers, no means of transportation, and have no very proper connection with this subject. The surplus, that which is produced in one place to be consumed in another; the capacity of each locality to produce a greater surplus; the natural means of transprrtation, and their susceptibility of improvement; the hindrances, delays, and losses of life and property during transportation, and the causes of each, would be among the most valuable statistics in this connection. From these it would readily apper where a given amount of expenditure would do the most good. These statistics might be equally accessible, as they would be equally useful, to both the nation and the States. In this way, and by these means, let the nation take hold of the larger works, and the States the smaller ones, and thus, working in a meeting direction, discreetly, but steadily and firmly, what is made unequal in one


place may be equalized in another, extravagance avoided, and the whole country put on that career of prosperity which shall correspond with its extent of territory, its natural resources, and the intelligence and enterprise of its people.





MR. HAMLIN was born in Paris, county of Oxford, State of Maine, August 27, 1809. His father, Dr. Cyrus Hamlin, was a surgeon and physician, and a native of Massachusetts. He was clerk of the courts for several years, and subsequently sheriff of Oxford county. He was one of the leading influential citizens of his town and county, and died in 1828, aged about fifty-eight years.

Mr. Hamlin's mother was a daughter of Dea. Elijah Livermore, of the town of Livermore, Oxford county, Maine. She was a very estimable lady, and died in 1851, aged about seventy. Mr. Hamlin was fitted for college, but his father dying, he abandoned the idea of a college course, and for a while labored at home upon the old homestead farm. Before commencing the study of law, he worked in a printing office in his native town, and for more than a year conducted the Jeffersonian, since merged in the Oxford Democrat, in connection with the Hon. Horatio King. Subsequently, he studied law with the late Judge Cole, and after completing his course of study, he was admitted to the bar, and removed to Hampden, Maine, where he enjoyed an extensive practice until he voluntarily retired from it. His first entrance into public life was in 1836, when he was elected a representative from the town of Hampden to the Maine legislature. He was re

« PreviousContinue »