Abraham Lincoln in Illinois
A Selection of Documents from the Illinois State Archives
DOCUMENT 22A BILL FOR AN ACT AUTHORIZING CERTAIN DEBTORS OF THE STATE TO DISCHARGE THEIR INDEBTEDNESS IN ILLINOIS INTERNAL IMPROVEMENT SCRIP
January 27, 1841
In the book Lincoln's Preparation for Greatness: The Illinois Legislative Years, historian Paul Simon is extremely critical of this bill, which Lincoln supported as chairman of the House Committee on Finance.
As part of the inducement to move the capital from Vandalia to Springfield, the citizens of Springfield pledged to raise $50,000 for the construction of a new capitol building. Lincoln's bill would have allowed that money to be paid in internal improvements scrip, which was similar to bonds that the state issued and distributed to finance the internal improvements plan. The value of scrip was tied to the success of the internal improvements plan and the financial well-being of the state.
However, by 1841 the internal improvements plan was a huge failure that had resulted in deep debt for the state. Indeed, scrip was selling well-under its face value. To allow the Springfield residents to pay in scrip meant that they were actually paying back much less than the $50,000 they had committed to the state. As Simon noted, for the state to be paid in scrip rather than real money set a dangerous precedent that it simply could not afford.
For Lincoln, however, the bill did many things. It helped out his constituents. Lincoln had already supported measures that would have relieved Springfield's citizens from their pledge, although those measures failed to pass the House. This bill also would have led to a quicker payment on the building of the capitol.
Points to Consider
What is scrip?
Why was the value of scrip so low?
Give instances when helping one's constituents hurts the rest of the state.