THIRTY YEARS' VIEW
1820 TO 1850
LAST NOTICE OF THE BANK OF THE UNITED STATES.
For ten long years the name of this bank had resounded in the two Halls of Congress. For twenty successive sessions it had engrossed the national legislaturelauded, defended, supportedtreated as a power in the State : and vaunted as the sovereign remedy for all the diseases to which the finances, the currency, and the industry of the country could be heir. Now, for the first time in that long period, a session passed byone specially called to make a bankin which the name of that institution was not once mentioned : never named by its friends ! seldom by its foes. Whence this silence ? Whence this avoidance of a name so long, so lately, and so loudly invoked ? Alas ! the great bank had run its career of audacity, crime, oppression, and corruption. It was in the hands of justice, for its crimes and its debtswas taken out of the hands of its late insolvent directoryplaced in the custody of assigneesand passed into a state of insolvent liquidation. Goaded by public reproaches, and left alone in a state of suspension by other banks, she essayed the perilous effort of a resumption. Her credit was gone. It was only for payment that any one approached her doors. In twenty days she was eviscerated of six millions of solid dollars, accumulated by extraordinary means, to enable her to bid for a re-charter at the extra session. This was the last hope, and which had been resolved upon from the moment of General Harrisons election. She was empty. The seventy-six millions of assets, sworn to the month before, were either undiscoverable, or unavailable. The shortest month in the year had been too long for her brief resources. Early in the month of February, her directory issued a new decree of suspensionthe third one in four years; but it was in vain to undertake to pass off this stoppage for a suspension. It was felt by all to be an insolvency, though bolstered by the usual protestations of entire ability, and firm determination to resume briefly. An avalanche of suits fell upon the helpless institution, with judgments carrying twelve per cent. damages, and executions to be levied on whatever could be found. Alarmed at last, the stockholders assembled in general meeting, and verified the condition of their property. It was a wreck ! nothing but fragments to be found, and officers of the bank feeding on these crumbs though already gorged with the spoils of the monster.
A report of the affairs of the institution was made by a committee of the stockholders : it was such an exhibition of waste and destruction, and of downright plundering, and criminal misconduct, as was never seen before in the annals of banking. Fifty-six millions and three quarters of capital out of sixty-two millions and one quarter (including its own of thirty-five) were sunk in the limits of Philadelphia alone : for the great monster, in going down, had carried many others along with her; and, like the strong man in Scripture, slew more in her death than in her life. Vast was her field of destructionextending all over the United Statesand reaching to Europe, where four millions sterling of her stock was held, and large loans had been contracted. Universally on classes the ruin fellforeigners as well as citizenspeers and peeresses, as well as the ploughman and the wash-womanmerchants, tradesmen, lawyers, divines : widows and orphans, wards and guardians : confiding friends who came to the rescue : deceived stockholders who held on to their stock, or purchased more : the credulous masses who believed in the safety of their deposits, and in the security of the notes they heldallall saw themselves the victims of indiscriminate ruin. An hundred millions of dollars was the lowest at which the destruction was estimated; and how such ruin could be worked, and such blind confidence kept up for so long a time, is the instructive lesson for history : and that lesson the report of the stockholders committee enables history to give.
From this authentic report it appears that from the year 1830 to 1836the period of its struggles for a re-charterthe loans and discounts of the bank were about doubledits expenses trebled. Near thirty millions of these loans were not of a mercantile characterneither made to persons in trade or business, nor governed by the rules of safe endorsement and punctual payment which the by-laws of the institution, and the very safety of the bank, required; nor even made by the board of directors, as the charter required; but illegally and clandestinely, by the exchange committeea small derivation of three from the body of the committee, of which the President of the bank was ex officio a member, and the others as good as nominated by him. It follows then that these, near thirty millions of loans, were virtually made by Mr. Biddle himself; and in violation of the charter, the by-laws and the principles of banking. To whom were they made ? To members of Congress, to editors of newspapers, to brawling politicians, to brokers and jobbers, to favorites and connections : and all with a view to purchase a re-charter, or to enrich connections, and exalt himselfhaving the puerile vanity to delight in being called the Emperor Nicholas. Of course these loans were, in many instances, not expected to be returned—in few so secured as to compel return : and, consequently, near all a dead loss to the stockholders, whose money was thus disposed of.
The manner in which these loans were made to members of Congress, was told to me by one of these members who had gone through this process of bank accommodation; and who, voting against the bank, after getting the loan; felt himself free from shame in telling what had been done. He needed $4,000, and could not get it at home : he went to Philadelphiato the bankinquired for Mr. Biddlewas shown into an ante-room, supplied with newspapers and periodicals; and asked to sit, and amuse himselfthe president being engaged for the moment. Presently a side door opened. He was ushered into the presencegraciously receivedstated his businesswas smilingly answered that he could have it, and more if he wished it : that he could leave his note with the exchange committee, and check at once for the proceeds : and, if inconvenient to give an indorser before he went home, he could do it afterwards : and, whoever he said was good, would be accepted. And in telling me this, the member said he could read bribery in his eyes.
The loan to brokers to extort usury uponto jobbers, to put up and down the price of stocksto favorites, connections, and bank officers, were enormous in amount; indefinite in time, on loose security, or none : and when paid, if at all, chiefly in stocks at above their value. The report of the committee thus states this abuse :
These loans were generally in large amounts. In the list of debtors on bills receivable of the first of January 1837, twenty-one individuals; firms and companies, stand charged, each with in amount of one hundred thousand dollars and upwards. One firm of this city received accommodations of this kind between August 1835, and November 1837, to the extent of 4,213,878 dollars 30 centsmore than half of which was obtained in 1837. The officers of the bank themselves received in this way, loans to a large amount. In March 1836, when the bank went into operation, under its new charter, Mr. Samuel Jaudon, then elected its principal cashier, was indebted to it, 100,500 dollars. When he resigned the situation of cashier, and was appointed foreign agent, he was in debt 408,389 dollars 25 cents; and on the first of March 1841, he still stood charged with an indebtedness of 117,500 dollars. Mr. John Andrews, first assistant cashier, was indebted to the bank in March 1836, 101,000 dollars. By subsequent loans and advances made during the next three years, he received in all, the sum of 426,930 dollars 67 cents. Mr. Joseph Cowperthwaite, then second assistant cashier, was in debt to the bank in March 1836, 115,000 dollars; when he was appointed cashier in September, 1837, 326,382 dollars 50 cents : when he resigned, and was elected a director by the board, in June 1840, 72,860 dollars, and he stands charged March 3, 1811, on the books with the sum of 55,081 dollars 95 cents. It appears on the books of the bank, that these three gentlemen were engaged in making investments on their joint accounts, in the stock and loan of the Camden and Woodbury railroad company, Philadelphia, Wilmington, and Baltimore railroad company, Dauphin and Lycoming coal lands, and Grand Gulf railroad and banking company.
These enormous loans were chiefly in the year 1837, at the time when the bank stopped payment on account of the specie circular, the removal of the deposits, and other alleged misdoings of the democratic administrations : and this is only a sample of the way that the institution went on during that period of fictitious distress, and real oppressionmillions to brokers and favorites, not a dollar to the man of business.
Two agencies were established in Londonone for the bank, under Mr. Jaudon, to borrow money; the other for a private firm, of which Mr. Biddle was partner, and his young son the London headits business being to sell cotton, bought with the dead notes of the old bank. Of the expenses and doings of these agencies, all bottomed upon the money of the stockholders (so far as it was left), the committee gave this account :
When Mr. Jaudon was elected to the place of foreign agent, he was the principal cashier, at a salary of 7,000 dollars per annum. The bank paid the loss on the sale of his furniture, 5,074 dollars, and the passage of himself and family to London, a further sum of 1,015 dollars. He was to devote himself exclusively to the business of the bank, to negotiate an uncovered credit in England, to provide for the then existing debt in Europe, to receive its funds, to pay its bills and dividends, to effect sales of stocks, and generally to protect the interests of the bank and the country at large. For these services he was to receive the commission theretofore charged and allowed to Baring Brothers & Company, equal to about 28,000 dollars per annum. In addition to which, the expenses of the agency were allowed him, including a salary of 1,000 pounds sterling to his brother, Mr. Charles B. Jaudon, as his principal clerk. From the increase of money operations, arising from facilities afforded by the agency, the amount upon which commissions were charged was greatly augmented, so that the sums paid him for his country services up to January, 1841, amounted at nine per cent. exchange to 178,044 dollars 47 cents, and the expenses of the agency to 35,166 dollars 99 cents. In addition to these sums, he was allowed by the exchange committee, an extra commission of one percent. upon a loan effected in October, 1839, of 800,000 pounds, say $38,755 56; and upon his claim for a similar commission, upon subsequent loans in France and Holland, to the amount of $8,337,141 90, the board of directors, under the sanction of a legal opinion, from counsel of high standing, and the views of the former president, by whom the agreement with Mr. Jaudon was made, that the case of extraordinary loans was not anticipated, nor meant to be included in the original arrangement, allowed the further charge of $83,970 37. These several sums amount to $335,93 39, as before stated.
A pretty expensive agency, although the agent was to devote himself exclusively to the business of the bank, protecting its interests, and those of the country at large an addition to his mission, this protection of the country at large, which illustrates the insolent pretensions of this imperious corporation. Protect the country at large ! while plundering its own stockholders of their last dollar. And that furniture of this bank clerk ! the loss on the sale of which was $5,074 ! and which loss the stockholders made up : while but few of them had that much in their houses. The whole amount of loans effected by this agency was twenty-three millions of dollars; of which a considerable part was raised upon fictitious bills, drawn in Philadelphia without funds to meet them, and to raise money to make runs upon the New York banks, compel them to close again : and so cover her own insolvency in another general suspension : for all these operations took place after the suspension of 1837. The committee thus report upon these loans, and the gambling in stock speculations at home :
Such were some of the results of the resolution of March, 1835, though it cannot be questioned, that much may be fairly attributed to the unhappy situation of the business and exchanges of the country, concurring with the unfortunate policy pursued by the administration of the bank. Thus the institution has gone on to increase its indebtedness abroad, until it has now more money borrowed in Europe, than it has on loan on its list of active debt in America. To this has been superadded, extensive dealing in stocks, and a continuation of the policy of loaning upon stock securities, though it was evidently proper upon the recharter, that such a policy should be at once and entirely abandoned. Such indeed was its avowed purpose, yet one year afterwards, in March, 1837, its loans on stocks and other than personal security had increased $7,821,541, while the bills discounted on personal security, and domestic exchange had suffered a diminution of $9,516,463 78. It seems to have been sufficient, to obtain money on loan, to pledge the stock of an incorporated company, however remote its operation or uncertain its prospects. Many large loans originally made on a pledge of stocks, were paid for in the same kind of property, and that too at par, when in many instances they had become depreciated in value. It is very evident to the committee, that several of the officers of the bank were themselves engaged in large operations in stocks and speculations, of a similar character, with funds obtained of the bank, and at the same time loans were made to the companies in which they were interested, and to others engaged in the same kind of operations, in amounts greatly disproportionate to the means of the parties, or to their proper and legitimate wants and dealings. The effect of this system, was to monopolize the active means of the institution, and disable it from aiding and accommodating men engaged in business really productive and useful to the community; and as might have been anticipated, a large part of the sums thus loaned were ultimately lost, or the bank compelled, on disadvantageous terms as to price, to take in payment stocks, back lands and other fragments of the estates of great speculators.
The cotton agency seemed to be an ambidextrous concernboth individual and corporationits American office in the Bank of the United Statesthe purchases made upon ten millions of its defunct notesthe profits going to the private firmthe losses to the bank. The committee give this history :
In the course of the investigation the attention of the committee has been directed to certain accounts, which appear on the books as advances on merchandise, but which were, in fact, payments for cotton, tobacco and other produce, purchased by the direction of the then President, Mr. Nicholas Biddle, and shipped to Europe on account of himself and others. These accounts were kept by a clerk in the foreign exchange department, this department being under the charge of Mr. Cowperthwaite, until September 22, 1837, when he was elected cashier, and of Mr. Thomas Dunlap, until March 20, 1840, when he was chosen president. The original documents, necessary to enable the committee to arrive at all the facts in relation to these transactions, were not accessible, having been retained, as was supposed, by the parties interested, as private papers. A succinct view of the whole matter, sufficient to convey to the stockholders a general idea of its character, may be drawn from the report of a committee of the board of directors, appointed on the 21st of July, 1840, for the purpose of adjusting and settling these accounts, and who reported on the 21st of December, 1840, which report with the accompanying accounts, is spread at large upon the minutes. The first transactions were in July, 1837, and appear as advances, to A.G. Jaudon, to purchase cotton for shipment to Baring Brothers & Co. of Liverpool, the proceeds to be remitted to their house in London, then acting as the agents of the bank. The amount of these shipments was 2,182,998 dollars 28 cents. The proceeds were passed to the credit of the bank, and the account appears to be balanced. The results, as to the profit and loss, do not appear, and the committee had no means of ascertaining them, nor the names of the parties interested. In the autumn of 1837, when the second of these transactions commenced, it will be recollected, that Mr. Samuel Jaudon had been appointed the agent of the bank to reside in London. About the same time, a co-partnership was formed between Mr. May Humphreys, then a director of the bank, and a son of Mr. Nicholas Biddle, under the firm of Biddle & Humphreys. This house was established at Liverpool, and thenceforward acted as agents for the sale of the produce shipped to that place, which comprised a large proportion of the whole amount. In explanation of these proceedings, the committee annex to their report a copy of a letter dated Philadelphia, December 28, 1840, to the president and directors of the bank, from Mr. Joseph Cabot, one of the firm of Bevan & Humphreys, and who became a director at the election in January, 1838. This letter was read to the board, December 29, 1840, but vas not inserted on the minutes.
This arrangement continued during the years 1837, 1838 and 1839, the transactions of which amounted to 8,969,450 dollars 95 cents. The shipments were made principally to Biddle and Humphreys, were paid for by drafts on Bevan and Humphreysthe funds advanced by the bank, and the proceeds remitted to Mr. Samuel Jaudon, agent of the bank in London. It appears that there was paid to Messrs. Bevan and Humphreys by the bank in Philadelphia during the months of March, April, and May, 1839, the sum of eight hundred thousand dollars, and the account was thus balanced. The committee have reason to believe, that this sum constituted a part or perhaps the whole of the profits derived from the second series of shipments. How, and among whom, it was distributed, they have not been informed, but from the terms of the final settlement, to be adverted to presently, each one will be at liberty to make his own inferences. The third and last account, amounting to 3,241,042 dollars 83 cents, appears on the books, as bills on London, advances S.V.S.W. These letters stand for the name of S.V.S. Wilder, of New York.Messrs. Humphreys and Biddle, to whom these consignments were made, continued their accounts in the name of Bevan and Humphreys, but without the knowledge of that firm, as appears by Mr. Cabots letter of December 28, 1840. The result of these last shipments was a loss of 962,524 dollars 13 cents. Of this amount the sum of 553,908 dollars 57 cents was for excess of payments by Messrs. Humphreys and Biddle to the London agency, beyond the proceeds of sale, with interest thereon. The parties interested, claimed and were allowed a deduction for loss on 526,000 dollars of southern funds, used in the purchase of cotton, when at a discount, the sum of 310,071 dollars 30 cents; and also this sum, being bankers commission to Messrs. Humphreys and Biddle on advances to Samuel Jaudon, agent, 21,061 dollars 86 cents, making 331,133 dollars 16 cents, and leaving to be settled by the parties the sum of 631,390 dollars 97 cents.
Thus, the profit of eight hundred thousand dollars on the first shipments of cotton went to this private firm, though not shown on the books to whom; and the loss of nine hundred and sixty-two thousand five hundred and twenty-four dollars and thirteen cents on the last shipments went to the bank; but this being objected to by some of the directors, it was settled by Mr. Biddle and the restthe bank taking from them stocks, chiefly of Texas, at parthe sales of the same being slow at a tithe of their face. The bank had also a way of guaranteeing the individual contracts of Mr. Biddle for millions; of which the report gives this account :
Upon the eighteenth day of August 1838, the bank guaranteed a contract made by Mr. Nicholas Biddle in his individual capacity, for the purchase of two thousand five hundred bonds of the State of Mississippi, of two thousand dollars each, amounting in the whole to 5,000,000 dollars. The signature of Mr. Thomas Dunlap, then second assistant cashier, was affixed to the guarantee, in behalf of the bank, upon the verbal authority of the president. Upon the 29th of January, 1839, the bank guaranteed to the State of Michigan, the punctual fulfilment of the obligations of the Morris canal and banking company, for the purchase of bonds of that state, to the extent of 3,145,687 dollars 50 cents. for 2,700,000 taken at par, and including interest on the instalments payable every three months up to January, 1843. On the 29th of April, 1839, the bank guaranteed a contract entered into by Mr. Thomas Dunlap in his individual capacity for the purchase of one million of dollars of the Illinois and Michigan canal stock. In regard to these transactions, the committee can find no authority on the minutes of the board, and have been referred to none, by the president, upon whom they called for information.
Unintelligible accounts of large amounts appeared in the profit and loss side of the bank ledger; which, not explaining themselves, the parties named as receiving the money, were called upon for explanationswhich they refused to give. Thus :
In this last account there is a charge under date of June 30, 1840, of $400,000 to parent bank notes account, which has not been explained to the satisfaction of the committee. It must be also mentioned, that among the expenditures of the bank, there is entered, at various dates, commencing May 5, 1836, sums amounting in all to 618,640 dollars 15 cents. as paid on the receipts of Mr. N. Biddle, of Mr. N. Biddle and J. Cowperthwaite, and cashiers vouchers. As the committee were unable to obtain satisfactory information upon the subject of these expenses from the books or officers of the bank, application was made by letter to Mr. N. Biddle and Mr. J. Cowperthwaite, from whom no reply has been received.
These enormous transactions generally without the knowledge of the directory, usually upon the initials of a member of the exchange committee; and frequently upon a deposit of stock in the cash drawer. Besides direct loans to members of Congress, and immense fees; there was a process of entertainment for them at immense expensenightly dinners at hotelscovers for fifty : and the most costly wines and viands : and this all the time. Besides direct applications of money in elections, the bank became a fountain of supply in raising an election fund where needed, taking the loss on itself. Thus, in 1833, in the presidential election in Kentucky, some politicians went into the branch bank at Lexington, assessed the party in each county for the amount wanted in that countydrew drafts for the amount of the assessment on some ardent friends in the county, received the cash for the drafts from the bank, and applied it to the electionthemselves not liable if the assessment was not paid, but the same to go to the profit and loss account of the bank. In such operations as all these, and these are not all, it was easy for the bank to be swallowed up : and swallowed up it was totally.
The losses to the stockholders were deplorable, and in many instances attended with circumstances which aggravated the loss. Many were widows and children, their all invested where it was believed to be safe; and an ascertained income relied on as certain, with eventual return of the capital. Many were unfortunately deceived into the purchase or retention of stock, by the delusive bank reports. The makers of these reports themselves held no quantity of the stockonly the few shares necessary to qualify them for the direction. Foreign holders were numerous, attracted by the, heretofore, high credit of American securities, and by the implications of the nameBank of the United States; implying a national ownership, which guaranteed national care in its management, and national liability on its winding up. Holland, England, France suffered, but the English most of all the foreigners. The London Bankers Circular thus described their loss :
The proportion of its capital held by British subjects is nearly four millions sterling; it may be described as an entire loss. And the loss we venture, upon some consideration, to say is greater than the aggregate of all the losses sustained by the inhabitants of the British Islands, from failure of banks in this country, since Mr. Patterson established the banks of England and Scotland at the close of the seventeenth century. The small population of Guernsey and Jersey hold £200,000 of the stock of this U. States Bank. Call it an entire loss, and it is equal to a levy of three or four pounds on every man, woman, and child in the whole community, of those islandsa sum greater than was ever raised by taxation in a single year on any people in the whole world. Are these important facts ? if facts they be. Then let statesmen meditate upon them, for by their errors and reckless confidence in delusive theories they have been produced.
The credit of the bank, and the price of stock was kept up by delusive statements of profits, and fictitious exhibition of assets and false declarations of surpluses. Thus, declaring a half-yearly dividend of four per centum, January 1st, 1839, with a surplus of more than four millions; on the first of July of the same year, another half-yearly dividend of four per centum, with a surplus of more than four millions; on the 15th of January, the same year, announcing a surplus of three millions; and six weeks thereafter, on the first of January, announcing a surplus of five millions; while the assets of the bank were carried up to seventy-six millions. In this way credit was kept up. The creating of suspensionsthat of 1837, and subsequentcost immense sums, and involved the most enormous villainy; and the last of these attemptsthe run upon the New York banks to stop them again before she herself stopped for the last timewas gigantically criminal, and ruinous to itself. Mr. Joseph Cowperthwaite (perfectly familiar with the operation) describes it to the life, and with the indifference of a common business transaction. Premising that a second suspension was coming on, it was deemed best (as in the first one of 1837) to make it begin in New York; and the operation for that purpose is thus narrated :
After the feverish excitement consequent on this too speedy effort to return to cash payments had in a good degree subsided, another crisis was anticipated, and it was feared that the banks generally would be obliged again to suspend. This was, unhappily, too soon to be realized, for the storm was then ready to burst, but, instead of meeting its full force at once, it was deemed best to make it fall first upon the banks of New York. To effect this purpose, large means were necessary, and to procure these, resort was had to the sale of foreign exchange. The state of the accounts of the bank with its agents abroad did not warrant any large drafts upon them, especially that of the Messrs. Hottinguer in Paris. This difficulty, however, it was thought might be avoided, by shipping the coin to be drawn from the New York banks immediately to meet the bills. Accordingly, large masses of exchange; particularly bills on Paris, which were then in great demand, were sent to New York to be sold without limit. Indeed, the bills were signed in blank, and so sent to New York; and although a large book was thus forwarded, it was soon exhausted, and application was made to the agent of the Paris house in New York for a further supply, who drew a considerable amount besides. The proceeds of these immense sales of exchange created very heavy balances against the New York banks, which, after all, signally failed in producing the contemplated effect. The bills not being provided for, nor even regularly advised, as had uniformly been the custom of the bank, were dishonored; and although the agent in London did every thing which skill and judgment could accomplish, the credit of the bank was gone, and from that day to the present its effects upon the institution have been more and more disastrous.
Deemed best to make the storm fall first upon the banks of New York; and for that purpose to draw bills without limit, without funds to meet them, in such rapid succession as to preclude the possibility of giving noticerelying upon sending the gold which they drew out of the New York banks to Paris, to meet the same bills (all the while laying that exportation of gold to the wickedness of the specie circular), and failing to get the money there as fast as these racehorse bills wentthey returned dishonoredcame rolling back by millions, protested in Paris, to be again protested in Philadelphia. Then the bubble burst. The credit which sustained the monster was gone. Ruin fell upon itself, and upon all who put their trust in it; and certainly this last act, for the criminality of its intent and the audacity of its means, was worthy to cap and crown the career of such an institution.
It was the largest ruin, and the most criminal that has been seen since the South Sea and Mississippi schemes; yet no one was punished, or made to refund. Bills of indictment were found by the grand jury of the county of Philadelphia against Nicholas Biddle, Samuel Jaudon, and John Andrews, for a conspiracy to defraud the stockholders in the bank; and they were arrested, and held to bail for trial. But they surrendered themselves into custody, procured writs of habeas corpus for their release; and were discharged in vacation by judges before whom they were brought. It has been found difficult in the United States to punish great offendersmuch more so than in England or France. In the cases of the South Sea and Mississippi frauds, the principal actors, though men of high position, were criminally punished, and made to pay damages. While these delinquencies were going on in the Bank of the United States, an eminent banker of LondonMr. Fauntleroywas hanged at Tyburn, like a common felonfor his bank misdeedsand while some plundered stockholders are now (autumn of 1855) assembled in Philadelphia, searching in vain for a shilling of their stock, three of the greatest bankers in London are receiving sentence of transportation for fourteen years for offences; neither in money nor morals, the hundredth part of the ruin and crime perpetrated by our American bankbearing the name of the United States. The case presents too strong a contrast, and teaches too great a lesson to criminal justice to be omitted; and here it is :
The firm had been in existence for nearly two centuries. The two elder partners of the firm had been distinguished for munificent charities, for an advocacy of great moral reforms, and an active participation in the religious or philanthropic measures of the day. They had always been liberal givers, had presided at Exeter Hall meetings, built chapels, and generally acted the part of liberal and useful members of society; and one of them, Sir John Dean Paul, was a baronet by descent, and allied to some of the highest nobility of England. He was first cousin to the present Lord Ravensworth, the honorable Augustus and Adolphus Liddell, the rector of St. Pauls, Knightsbridge, the Countess of Hardwicke, Viscountess Barrington, Lady Bloomfield; and, above all, the honorable Mrs. Villiers, sister-in-law to the Earl of Clarendon. These connections, however, in a country where rank and social position have peculiar influence, did not save them from a criminal trial and utter disgrace. One of their customers, in obedience to what he believed to be a duty to society, having personally inquired into the affairs of the firm, proceeded to lay a criminal information against Messrs. Stralian, Paul, and Bates, which led to their indictment and subsequent trial before the criminal court. This gentleman was the Rev. Dr. Griffith, Prebendary of Rochester, a wealthy ecclesiastic and a personal friend of all the partners of the firm, with which he had been a large depositor for many years. On the twenty-fifth of October the trial came on before Mr. Baron Alderson, assisted by Baron Martin and Justice Willes. The defendants appeared in court, attended by Sir Frederick Thesiger, Mr. Ballantyne, Sergeant Byles, and other almost equally eminent counsel. The Attorney-general appeared for the prosecution, and the evidence adduced at the trial, disclosed the following facts : Dr. Griffith, the prosecutor in the proceedings, and who, at the time of the failure of the defendants, had money and securities on deposit with them to the amount of £22,000, about five years ago empowered them to purchase for him on three different occasions, Danish five per cent. bonds to the value of £5,000. The defendants purchased the bonds, upon which they regularly received the dividends, and credited Dr. Griffith with the same on their books. This continued until March, 1854, when Sir John D. Paul, to relieve the embarrassments under which the firm were laboring, sold these securities, together with others with which they were entrusted, and appropriated the proceeds, amounting to over £12,000, to the use of the firm. This, as we have stated, was no offence at common law, and the indictment was preferred upon a statutory provision found in the 7th and 8th of George IV., cap. 29. The rigid severity of the penal law in England on this subject will be better appreciated when we add, that the bonds were replaced by others of equal value, in the June following their misappropriation, just one year previous to the failure of the firm; and that the indictment only charged the defendants with misappropriating them in this single instance, although it was shown that the second set of bonds were again sold for the use of the firm in April, 1855; Dr. Griffith having, in the interval, regularly received his dividends; so that, although the firm might be perfectly solvent at this moment, the fact that they had sold the bonds in March, 1851, even if they had replaced them in June, 1854, and had credited Dr. Griffith with the dividends on them between those dates, would still render them liable to an indictment. The case, therefore, overlooking the final misappropriation of the bonds, and the failure of the firm in 1855, was narrowed down to the single issuewhether they bad been sold in 1854 without the consent of Dr. Griffith.
For misappropriating sixty thousand dollars of one of their customersusing it without his consentthese three great London bankers were sentenced to fourteen years transportation : for misappropriating thirty-five millions, and sinking twenty-one millions more in other institutions, the wrong-doers go free in the United Statesgiving some countenance among us to the sarcasm of the Scythian philosopher, that laws are cobwebs which catch the weak flies, and let the strong ones break through. The Judge (Mr. Baron Alderson) who tried this case (that of the three London bankers), had as much heart and feeling as any judge, or man ought to have; but he also had a sense of his own duty, and of his obligations to the laws, and to the country; and in sentencing men of such high position, and with whom he had been intimate and social, he combined in the highest degree the feelings of a man with the duties of the judge. He said to the prisoners :
William Strahan, Sir John Dean Paul, and Robert Makin Bates, the jury have now found you guilty of the offence charged upon you in the indictmentthe offence of disposing of securities which were entrusted by your customers to you as bankers, for the purpose of being kept safe for their use, and which you appropriated, under circumstances of temptation, to your own. A greater and more serious offence can hardly be imagined in a great commercial city like this. It tends to shake confidence in all persons in the position you occupied, and it has shaken the public confidence in establishments like that you for a long period honorably conducted. I do very, very much regret that it falls to my lot to pass any sentence on persons in your situation; but yet the public interest and public justice require it; and it is not for me to shrink from the discharge of any duty, however painful, which properly belongs to my office. I should have been very glad, if it had pleased God that some one else now had to discharge that duty. I have seen (continued the learned judge, with deep emotion) at least one of you under very different circumstances, sitting at my side in high office, instead of being where you now are, and I could scarcely then have fancied to myself that it would ever come to me to pass sentence on you. But so it is, and this is a proof, therefore, that we all ought to pray not to be led into temptation. You have been well educated, and held high position in life, and the punishment which must fall on you will consequently be the more seriously and severely felt by you, and will also greatly affect those connected with you, who will most sensitively feel the disgrace of your position. All that I have to say is, that I can not conceive any worse case of the sort arising under the act of Parliament, applicable to your offence. Therefore, as I cannot conceive any worse case under the act, I can do nothing else but impose the sentence therein provided for the worst case, namely, the most severe punishment which is, that you be severally transported for fourteen years.
For the admiration of all in our Americafor the imitation of those who may be called to act in the like caseswith the sad conviction that the administration of criminal justice is not equal in our Republic to what it is in the monarchies of Europe : for the benefit of a such, this brief notice of judicial action in an English court against eminent, but culpable bankers, is here givencontrasting so strikingly with the vain attempts to prosecute those so much more culpable in our own country.