Monday, July 2, 2012

Lincoln and Congress Change History


When the Congressmen and Senators (mostly Democrats) of the Southern states chose to resign from the legislative branch of government when secession began in 1860, the door was left wide open for the remaining members (nearly all Republican) to pass pieces of legislation.  President Abraham Lincoln signed these Congressional Acts into law throughout his presidency.  The early days of July  1862 saw the signing into law of some of the most historic pieces of Congressional legislation in our history.

July 1st of that crucial year featured Lincoln signing into law the United States' first-ever graduated national income tax. The Revenue Act of 1862 imposed a 3% tax on any annual income in excess of $600 (about $13,600 in 2012 dollars) with a tax of 5% imposed on incomes greater than $10,000 (roughly $227,000 in 2012).  The Act was signed into law by Lincoln in order to provide money for fighting the Civil War.  The legislation called for the expiration of the tax in 1866.  It replaced the flat-tax which had been imposed in 1861, the Revenue Act of 1861 repealed by the 1862 Act.

The next day featured an incredible flurry of signings into law of legislation, some of which affect us even today.  My previous post discusses the Morrill Land-Grant Act of 1862 which led to the creation of nearly 100 institutions of higher learning across the United States.

Lincoln also signed that day the Pacific Railroad Act of 1862, which eventually led to the building of the nation's first transcontinental railroad.  The Act permitted the Union Pacific Railroad to construct a railroad from east to west, the eastern terminus being in Council Bluffs, IA and Omaha, Nebraska.  It also called for the Central Pacific Railroad to begin construction in California (western terminus) and continue east.  Eventually, of course, the two railroads linked in Promontory Point, Utah in 1869.  Ironically, it was Lincoln himself who had been invited to choose the eastern terminus (or beginning point) of the Union Pacific Railroad in 1857.

A Treaty of Commerce between the United States and The Ottoman Empire (now modern Turkey) was also signed on July 2, 1862 by Lincoln.  The treaty basically established the process for business, including customs and duties, for business between the two governments.

Finally on July 8, 1862, Lincoln signed the Morrill Anti-Bigamy Act of 1862.  The new law banned bigamy or polygamy in the Utah Territory, "disincorporated" the Mormon Church, and restricted its ability to own land.  Although the Act did become law, the U.S. government did not enforce it and the act was superseded by other legislation in the 1880's.

These Congressional Acts and Lincoln's signing of them, are just a few examples of the numerous pieces of legislation passed by a Republican Congress during the American Civil War.  I would never advocate one-party government for our nation today.  But 1862 serves as proof that when Congress and the President can work together, great things can be achieved for the betterment of all of us.  I wish today's "leaders" would learn from the examples set 150 years ago.

The Morrill Land-Grant Act 150th Anniversary


July 2, 2012 marks the 150th anniversary of the signing of one of the most important pieces of legislation in the history of the United States of America.  Abraham Lincoln signed the Morrill Land-Grant Act on July 2, 1862.  The Act led to the creation of numerous universities and colleges which have gone on to be some of the finest in the nation.

The photo above is of Vermont Congressman (later U.S. Senator) Justin Smith Morrill, who sponsored the legislation later named for him.  The purpose of the Act was to provide each state with federal public lands for the establishment of public universities or colleges for teaching the agricultural and mechanic arts.  Under the Act, each state would be allocated 30,000 acres of public land for each representative and senators the particular state had in Congress as of the Census of 1860.  Therefore, the more populous states received more land than did the western states.  Once the states agreed to receive the federal lands, it was up to them to either sell the lands to raise money for construction of the institution(s) or to use the land itself for the colleges.

Such an Act had first been proposed at least 20 years prior to passage, but Southern states were opposed to such a use of federal lands.  When the Act was originally passed in 1859, President James Buchanan, always a friend to the South, vetoed it.  With the secession of the Southern states beginning in 1860, the Act gained fresh momentum and President Lincoln signed the new Act.  The states then in rebellion against the federal government were specifically banned from receiving any public lands under the legislation, but the Act was later used to expand the benefits to those states once the Civil War was over.  The Act was renewed in 1890 to force the Southern states to prove that race was not used to prevent admissions of students.  And in 1994 the Act was used again to provide for Native-American institutions of learning.

The Hawkeye State, Iowa, has the proud claim of being the first to accept the terms of the Morrill Land-Grant Act of 1862.  The Act helped provide financial support to Ames College, which is now Iowa State University.  The list of land-grant institutions is an impressive one.  Just some of the universities are:  University of Maryland; Pennsylvania State University; West Virginia University; Purdue University; Clemson; Texas A&M; Michigan State University; and The Ohio State University.  There are two private universities which were created under the auspices of the Act, and they are among the best in the nation:  Cornell University in New York and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).  

Few people may have ever heard of the Morrill Land-Grant Act of 1862 and even fewer have ever heard of Justin Smith Morrill.  But thanks to his sponsorship of this Act, countless millions have benefited from it.

Most people know of Abraham Lincoln's lack of formal education.  By his own estimates, he had not more than twelve (12) months of formal schooling in his entire life.  That fact embarrassed him throughout his life, and he was a strong supporter of education.  He encouraged education in many speeches, and in personal letters to those who sought his advice.


Thanks to Representative Justin Smith Morrill and President Abraham Lincoln, all of us have excellent institutions of higher learning where we all can further our own education.  We all should be grateful to these two men.  The Morrill Land-Grant Act of 1862, signed into law 150 years ago today.

 
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