Senator Webster to Nicholas Biddle
Washington, December 21, 1833.
Since I have arrived here, I have had an application to be concerned,
professionally, against the Bank, which I have declined, of course, although
I believe my retainer has not been renewed, or refreshed as usual.
If it be wished that my relation to the Bank should be continued,
it may be well to send me the usual retainers.
Speech of Daniel Webster,
In the Senate of the United States,
on Tuesday, March 18, 1834.
Continuance of the U.S. Bank Charter.
Mr. Webster, on notice before given, asked leave to introduce a Bill for continuing six years longer the charter of the Bank of the United States.
Mr. Webster rose and said: I rise, sir, pursuant to notice, to ask leave to bring in a bill to continue, for six years, the act incorporating the subscribers to the Bank of the United States; and shall hope for that indulgence of the Senate which is usually granted on such occasions, if I accompany its introduction with some remarks on the general state of the country, as well as on the nature of the measure proposed. If leave be granted, it is my purpose to move to refer the bill to the Committee on Finance, that it may take the usual course, and come up for the consideration of the Senate in due season.
Mr. President, in the midst of ample means of national and individual happiness, we have unexpectedly fallen into severe distress. Our course has been suddenly arrested. The general pulse of life stands still, and the activity and industry of the country feel a pause. A vastly extended and beneficent commerce is checked; manufactures suspended, with incalculable loss to those concerned in them, and the labors of agriculture threatened with the loss of their usual reward. Our resources are, nevertheless, at the same time, abundant, and all external circumstances highly favorable and advantageous; such as fairly promised us, not only a continuance of that degree of prosperity which we actually enjoyed, but its rapid advancement, also, to still higher stages.
The condition of the country is, indeed, singular. It is like that of a strong man chained. In full health, with strength unabated, and all its faculties unimpaired, it is yet incapable of performing its accustomed action. Fetters and manacles are on all its limbs. If we could but unbind it, if we could break these iron chains, if we could once more set it free, it would in a moment resume its activity, and go on again in its rapid career. It is our duty, sir, to relieve this restraint, to unshackle the industry of the people, and give play, once more, to their common action and their common energies. The evils, all the evils, which we now feel, and feel so acutely, result from political measures; and by political measures, and political measures alone, can they be redressed. They have their origin in acts of Government, and they must find their cure in other acts of Government.
Only six months ago, sir, the country presented an aspect, in regard to all its great interests, exceedingly satisfactory and gratifying. Our commerce was highly prosperous, and our manufactures, for the present at least, flourishing. Agricultural products commanded fair prices, and the general appearance of things exhibited more than a usual degree of activity. The year elapsing between the autumn of 1832 and that of 1833 was a year of great prosperity. In the activity of commerce, it is possible enough that some degree of overtrading had taken place, but there is nothing to show that great excess had been committed in that particular. In general, the state of things was sound, as well as prosperous for the present. The commerce of the country had reached, I think, to a greater extent than in any former year; the amount of exports for the year 1833 being, according to the Treasury estimate, no less than ninety millions of dollars, and that of the imports no less than one hundred and nine millions. The internal and coasting trade was, perhaps, in a still more flourishing condition. -- This branch of the national industry has grown into the very highest importance, affording a vast field for active usefulness, enriching all parts of the country by its mutual exchanges of commodities, and affording profitable employment to great numbers of the people. It was carried on last year, both by sea and land, with great vigor; and the situation of the currency of the country gave it facilities such as never existed elsewhere over so broad an extent. The money circulation was free, and the banks in good credit. They were doubtless somewhat too economical in the use of specie, and sustained their credit on a basis not sufficiently broad to be quite secure. But no great degree of danger to the circulation was felt or generally feared.
Such was our condition in September last; and the change which has since taken place must strike all minds. How do we stand now, in respect to these great interests ? Let us look to our commerce, the main source of our revenue, as well as a source of wealth, and let us see how that is affected, or likely to be affected by recent occurrences. I have stated the amount of exports and imports for last year; those for the present cannot, of course, be yet estimated with accuracy, but we are not without some means of forming opinions upon this interesting point. I think it is evident that there must be a failing off in the imports, and consequently a falling off in the revenue. I shall be very glad to find myself mistaken in this opinion, but it appears to me there is much reason to entertain it. As one of the Committee on Finance, I have fell it my duty, of course, to look to the state of the Treasury, and to form some opinion, if I could, of what may be its future condition. Its present state, as we learn from the Secretary's report, with his estimate of the receipts and expenditures of the year, is substantially as follows.
Estimated balance in the Treasury, January 1st, 1834, $7,983,790.
But from this deduct the amount of appropriation already made, and which remain unsatisfied, which amount, the Secretary supposes, may yet be required for the objects for which it was appropriated, 5,190.28.
Balance remaining in the Treasury unappropriated, 2,793,503.Estimated amount of receipts for 1834:
Bank dividends and miscellaneous, 500,000.
Total of means for the use of 1834, 21,293,503.
Estimated expenditures for 1834, 23,501,994.
This statement would seem to exhibit a deficit of more than two millions: and this would doubtless be the result, should the appropriations of the year all be called for within the year; but experience shows that this is not to be expected. What amount of appropriations may remain uncalled for, however, is necessarily uncertain.
Among the expenditures, it is to be observed is included the sum of five millions, within a fraction, for the payment of the balance of the public debt, which becomes "reimbursable at the commencement of next year."
The Secretary supposes, even without making any allowance for the effect of recent measures, that the receipts for 1835 will be still less than those for 1834; and that unless the revenue should be more productive than is anticipated, it will be necessary in two years from this time to retrace our steps, and to impose duties on articles which are now free, in order to meet the current expenses of the Government.
If such were the prospects of the country in regard to revenue, before the late measures had so much disturbed its commerce, it cannot but be expected that, under the influence of that cause, there may be a very considerable deficiency, especially should the cause continue.
It is not very easy to ascertain what extent the importations of the year may fall short of previous importations, in consequence of the disturbed state of things; but I know an opinion is entertained among those who have the best means of forming a correct judgment, that there may be a falling off in the receipts of the customs, from a quarter to a third of the amount anticipated. Should this prove to be true, which there is certainly too much reason to fear, Congress may be called on, much earlier than within two years, to furnish additional means of revenue.
The diminution will be mainly felt in the last half of the year; it being generally understood that orders for fall importations have been countermanded to a great extent. It is not thought improbable that the receipts of the year from customs, estimated at fifteen millions, will fall down to twelve. This, should it happen, would no otherwise disturb the intended course of things, than as it would postpone the payment of the balance of the public debt; but this effect it is not unlikely to produce. On such subjects, however, no very sure anticipations can be founded, and therefore I speak with no positiveness. But it is my expectation that the receipts of the year will fall below the estimate and probably to the extent I have mentioned; and that this effect will be produced by no other cause than the deranged state of things, occasioned by the removal of the public moneys.
If such be the consequences of the measure on foreign commerce, and on the revenue, its effect on the internal trade of the country is a thousand times more disastrous. Here it produces, not only diminution, but stagnation; and such a stagnation as has caused a cessation of production. The industry of the country is arrested, and its useful labor suspended. Great activity prevailed in the manufacturing districts, under a sanguine expectation that the law of the last session would, for a time at least, insure success to that great interest. But the new measure has struck this interest with a sudden and deadly blow. It is now but little more than twelve months since the manufacturing interest was deeply alarmed, by the pendency of a measure in the other House, known usually as Mr. Verplanck's bill. Throughout the middle and northern States, and wherever that interest existed, the apprehension of change diminished the value of property, embarrassed all calculations for the future, and disturbed and deranged the course of private occupation and industry. But how small was all that evil, compared with the effects produced by the Secretary, when he interferred with the public revenues ? I will not go over the long list of cases, in which prosperous manufacturing establishments have been compelled to discontinue their operations, under the pressure of the times. I will only advert to an instance or two, taken without selection, from papers and letters before me. Let Patterson, in New Jersey, be one of these instances, the state of which interesting and afflicted town has been, indeed, repeatedly presented to the Senate, by the members from that State. The population of Patterson, I believe, is about ten thousand; and it is known to be a population almost exclusively engaged in manufactures. In September last, 43,500 spindles were in operation in it. Of these, 24,500 have stopped, and 5,000 others are expected to stop as soon as stock on hand is worked up. I am informed that the manufactures at Patterson cannot prevail on their consignees in Philadelphia and New York, to come under responsibilities for them, even to the amount of one-third the cost of producing the article. The means, therefore, of paying labor and purchasing new stock are completely cut off.---[Let this be a warning and lesson to those who think a nation's circulating medium should be furnished by private banks --for profit, at interest, based on nothing but the good name of the bank, issuing in notes 16 to 50 times of their capital; suddenly the bubble bursts (and it has to burst, always), the paper pyramid collapses, and people are thrown out of employment. But, according to Mr. Webster, this is not the fault of the system of banking; no, it is the fault of the government, because it took its own money away from Biddle's bank (which, of course, put an end to the pyramid scheme); now Mr. Webster (attorney for the Bank of the United States) wants this pyramid scheme re-started and re-flated; far be it from him to advocate the putting the country on a proper footing and instituting an honest system.]
We may see another instance, sufficiently appalling, in the manufactories in New Hampshire. I understand a cotton mill at Dover, of 6000 spindles, has ceased operation, and another was to cease the 15th of this month; a mill with 4000 spindles, at New Market, and another at Nashua, of 5000, have ceased also; and a large woollen mill, at a place called the Great Falls, employing two or three hundred hands, has stopped with the rest. These, sir, are instances, of the effect of the experiment upon our manufacturing interests.
It is often asked how this enormous amount of evil could spring from a cause so apparently inadequate to produce it ? Can it be possible, that the Secretary has brought about all this distress, simply by removing a few millions of dollars from one bank into other banks ? Sir, nothing is more true, and nothing more easily accounted for. Every commercial country has one great representative, constantly passing and acting between all its citizens. This universal representative is money, or credit, in some form, as its substitute. Without this agency, nothing can be bought, and nothing can be sold -- capital has no income, and labor no reward. It is no more possible to maintain the ordinary business and intercourse between man and man, without money and credit, than to maintain an intercourse between nations, without ministers or public agents; or to maintain punctual correspondence by letter, without the mail. And all the distress which the country now suffers, arises solely from acts which have deranged the currency of the country, and the credit of the commercial community. The country is as rich, in its general appearance, as it was before the experiment begun; that is to say, men have the same houses, lands, ships, and merchandise. But the value of these has fallen; or to speak more correctly, they have lost the power of being exchanged; and they have lost their power, because of the embarrassment which ahs befallen the general medium of exchange.---[So, obviously, this medium of exchange (bank paper) proved itself unfit to be a medium of exchange; (one of the definition of insanity has not been coined for another hundred years, therefore Mr. Webster did not know that it is insane to keep repeating the same process and expecting a different outcome); instead of proposing a suitable medium of exchange, Mr. Webster insists on using this unfit medium again and re-chartering the bank that circulated it, promising that this time the outcome will be different; no, he is not insane, he is a well practiced, professional liar.]
Six months ago a state of things existed, highly prosperous and advantageous to the country, but liable to be injuriously affected by precisely such a cause as has now been put into operation upon it. Business was active, and carried to a great extent. Commercial credit was expanded, and the circulation of money was large. This circulation, being of paper, of course rested on credit, and this credit was founded on banking capital, and bank deposites.
---[But the banking capital (of the Bank of the United States) 10% or less of the number of circulating notes of the bank; so the credit was NOT founded on capital, and the credit was make-belief.]
The public revenue, from the time of their collection, to the time of their disbursement, was in the bank and its branches; and, like other deposites, contributed to the means of discount. Between the Bank of the United States and the State banks, there was a degree of watchfulness, perhaps rivalry, but there was no enmity, no hostility. All moved in their own spheres, harmoniously and in order. The Secretary [Roger B. Taney] disturbed this state of the system. He broke up all the harmony of the system. By suddenly withdrawing all the public moneys from the Bank of the United States, he forced that bank to an immediate correspondent curtailment of its loans and discounts. It was obliged to strengthen itself, and the State banks, taking the alarm, were obliged to strengthen themselves also, by similar measures.
---[Wich means that none of the banks had real capital and real credit, they all used the government's money to generate the impression of capital and credit.]
So that the amount of credit actually existing, and on which men were doing business, was suddenly greatly diminished.
---[No; the truth came out, that the only actually existing credit was the credit of the government; the banks were ponzi schemes (a decades before Mr. Ponzi was born).]
Bank accommodations were withdrawn; men could no longer fulfil their engagements by the customary means; property fell in value, thousands failed, many thousands more maintained their individual credit by enormous sacrifices, and all being alarmed fro the future, as well as distressed for the present, forbore from new transactions and new engagements. Finding enough to do to stand still, they do not attempt to go forward. This deprives the industrious and labouring classes of their occupations, and brings want and misery to their doors. This, sir, is a short recital of cause and effect. This is the history of the first six months of the "Experiment."
Mr. President, the recent measures of the Secretary, and the opinions which are said to be avowed by those who approve and support them, threaten a wild and ruthless attack on the commercial credit of the country, on that most delicate, and at the same time most important agent, in producing general prosperity. Commercial credit is the creation of modern times, and belongs, in its highest perfection only, to the most enlightened and, best governed nations. In the primitive ages of commerce, article is exchanged for article; without the use of money or credit. This is simple barter. But in its progress, a symbol of property, a common measure of value, is introduced, to facilitate the exchanges of property, and this may be iron, or any other article, fixed by law or by consent; but has generally been gold and silver. This, certainly, is a great advance beyond simple barter, but no greater than has been gained, in modern times, by proceeding from the mere use of money to the use of credit. Credit is the vital air of the system of modern commerce. It has done more, a thousand times, to enrich nations, than all the mines of all the world. It has excited labor, stimulated manufactures, pushed commerce over every sea, and brought every nation, every kingdom, and every small tribe, among the races of men, to be known to all the rest. It has raised armies, equipped navies, and, triumphing over the gross power of mere numbers, it has established national superiority on the foundation of intelligence, wealth, and well directed industry. Credit is to money, what money is to articles of merchandise. As hard money represents property, so credit represents hard money; and it is capable of supplying the place of money so completely, that there are writers of distinction, especially of the Scotch school, who insists that no hard money is necessary for the interest of commerce. I am not of that opinion. I do not think any government can maintain an exclusive paper system, without running to excess, and thereby causing depreciation.
I hold the immediate convertibility of bank notes into specie to be an indispensable security to their retaining their value: but, consistently with this security, and indeed founded upon it, credit becomes the great agent of exchange. -- It is allowed that it increases consumption, by anticipating products, and that it supplies present wants, out of future means. And as it circulates commodities, without the actual use of gold and silver, it not only saves much, by doing away with the constant transportation of the precious metals from place to place but accomplishes exchanges with a degree of dispatch and punctuality, not otherwise to be attained. -- All bills of exchange, all notes running upon time, as well as the paper circulation of the banks, belong to the system of commercial credit. They are parts of one great whole. And, sir, unless we are to reject the lights of experience, and to repudiate the benefits which other nations enjoy, and we ourselves have hitherto enjoyed, we should protect this system, with unceasing watchfulness; take care, on the one hand, to give it full and fair play, and, on the other, to guard it against dangerous excess. We shall show ourselves unskilful and unfaithful statesmen, if we do not keep clear of extremes on both sides.
It is very true that commercial credit, and the system of banking, as a part of it, does furnish a substitute for capital. It is very true that this system enables men to do business, to some extent, on borrowed capital; and those who wish to destroy all such, act wisely to that end by decrying it.
This commercial credit, sir, depends on wise laws, steadily administered. Indeed the best governed countries are always the richest. -- With good political systems, natural disadvantages, competition, and the world, may all be defied. Without such systems, climate, soil, position, and every thing else, may favor the progress of wealth, and yet a nation be poor. What but bad laws and bad Government has retarded the progress of commerce, credit, and wealth, in the peninsula of Spain and Portugal -- a part of Europe distinguished for its natural advantages, and especially suited, by its position, for an extensive commerce, with the sea on three sides of it, and as many good harbors as all the rest of Europe ? The whole history of commerce shows that it flourishes or fades just in proportion as property, credit, and the fruits of labor are protected by free and just political systems. Credit cannot exist under arbitrary and rapacious Governments; and commerce cannot exist without credit. Tripoli and Tunis and Algiers, are countries, above all others, in which hard money is indispensable, because, under such Governments, nothing is valuable which cannot be secreted and hoarded. And as Government rises, in the scale of intelligence and liberty, from these barbarous despotisms, to the highest rank of free States, its progress is marked, at every step, by a higher degree of security and of credit. And this undeniable truth should make well-informed men ashamed to cry out against banks and banking, as being aristocratical, oppressive to the poor, or partaking of the character of dangerous monopoly. Banks are a part of the great system of commercial credit, and have done much, under the influence of good government, to aid and elevate that credit. What is their history ? Where do we first find them ? Do they make their first appearance in despotic governments, and show themselves as inventions of power to oppress the people ? The first Bank was that of Venice; the second that of Genoa. From the example of these republics they were next established in Holland and the free city of Hamburg. England followed these examples, but not until she had been delivered from the tyranny of the Stuarts, by the revolution of 1688. It was William the deliverer, not William the conqueror, that established the Bank of England. Who supposes, that a Bank of England could have existed in the time of Empson and Dudly ? Who supposes it could have lived under those Ministers of Charles the Second, who shut up the Exchequer, or that its vaults could have been secure against the arbitrary power of the brother and successor of that monarch ?
The history of banks belongs to the history of commerce, and the general history of liberty. It belongs to the history of those causes, which in a long course of years raised the middle and lower orders of society to a state of intelligence and property, in spite of the iron sway of the feudal system. In what instance have they endangered liberty, or overcome the laws ? Their very existence depends on the security and the rule, both of liberty and law. Why, sir, have we not been taught, in our earliest reading, that, to the birth of a commercial spirit, to associations for trade, to the guilds and companies formed in the towns, we are to look for the first appearance of liberty, from the darkness of the middle ages; for the first faint blush of that morning, which has grown brighter and brighter, till the perfect day has come ? And it is just as reasonable to say that bills of exchange are dangerous to liberty, that promissory notes are dangerous to liberty, that the power of regulating the coin is dangerous to liberty, as that credit, and banking as a part of credit, are dangerous to liberty.
Sir, I hardly know a writer on these subjects who has not selected the United States as an eminent and striking instance, to show the advantages of well established credit, and the benefit of its expansion, to a degree not incompatible with safety, by a paper circulation. Or, if they do not mention the United States, they describe just such a country; that is to say, a new and fast growing country. Hitherto, it must be confessed, our success has been great. With some breaks and intervals, our progress has been rapid, because our system has been good. We have preserved and fostered credit, till all have become interested in its further continuance and preservation. It has run deep and wide into our whole system, of social fife. Every man feels the vibration, when a blow strikes it. And this is the reason why nobody has escaped the influence of the Secretary's recent measure. While credit is delicate, sensitive, easily wounded, and more easily alarmed, it is also infinitely ramified, diversified, extending every where, and touching every thing.
There never was a moment in which so many individuals felt their own private interests to be directly affected by what has been done, and what is to be done. There never was a moment, therefore, in which so many straining eyes were turned towards Congress. It is universally felt, by every one, that this is a case in which the acts of Government come directly home to him, and produce either good or evil, every hour, upon his personal and private condition. And how is the public expectation met ? How is this intense, this agonized expectation answered ? I am grieved to say, I am ashamed to say, it is answered by declamation against the bank, as a monster, by loud cries against moneyed aristocracy, by pretended zeal for a hard money system and by professions of favor and regard to the poor. The poor ! We are waging war for the benefit of the poor ! We slay that monster, the bank, that we may defeat the unjust purposes of the rich, and elevate and protect the poor ! And what is the effect of all this ? What happens to the poor, and all the middling classes, in consequence of this warfare ? Where are they ? Are they well clothed, well employed, independent, happy, and grateful ? They are all at the feet of the capitalists. They are in the jaws of usury. If there be hearts of stone in human bosoms, they are at the mercy of those who have such hearts and breasts. Look to the rates of interest, amounting to twenty, thirty, fifty per cent. Sir, this measure of Government has transferred millions upon millions of hard earned property, in the form of extra interest, from the poor to the rich. And this is called putting down a moneyed aristocracy ! Sir, there are thousands of families who have diminished, not their luxuries, not their amusements, but their meat and their bread, that they might be able to save their credit, by paying enormous interest. And there are other thousands who, having lost their employment, have lost every thing, and who yet hear, amidst the bitterness of their anguish, that the great motive of Government is kindness to the poor.
It is difficult, sir, to restrain one's indignation, when, to so much keen distress, there is added so much which has the appearance of mere mockery. Sir, let the system of the administration go on, and we shall soon not know our country. We shall see a new America. On the map where these United States have stood, we shall behold a country that will be strange to us. We shall see a class of idle rich, and a class of idle poor; the former a handful, the latter a host. We shall no longer see a community of men, with spirits all active and stirring, contributing, all of them, to the public welfare, while they partake in it, pushing on their fortunes, and bettering their own condition, and helping to swell, at the same time, the cup of the general prosperity to overflowing ! We shall see no more of that credit, which reaches out its hand to honest enterprise; of that certainty of reward which cheers on labor to the utmost stretch of its sinews; of that personal and individual independence, which enables every man to say that no man is his master. Sir, I will not look on the picture. I will not imagine what spectacle shall be exhibited, when this country not only halts, in her onward march, but recedes; when she tracks back, in the long and rapid strides of her forward movement, obstructs credit, destroys enterprise, arrests commerce, and smothers manufactures.
Mr. President: I confess I find it difficult to respect the intelligence, and at the same time the motives, of those who alarm the people with the cry of danger to their liberties from the bank. Do they see the same danger from other banks ? I think not. With them, bank capital and bank credit is dangerous or harmless, according to circumstances. It is a lion, whose conduct and character appear to depend on his keeper. Under the control of this Government, it is fearful and dangerous; but under State authority, it "roars an gently as a sucking dove; it roars as it were any nightingale."
Both the members from New York have labored to persuade us that the public liberties of this whole country are in imminent danger from a bank with thirty five millions. And yet, sir, they feel no fears for the liberty of the people of their own State, with a banking capital of twenty-three millions, and a proposed addition of ten millions, all lodged in banks associated under the Safety Fund System, and all under the supervision of a political board, appointed by the Government. In all this, they see no danger to liberty. But their anxiety is intense, lest a bank of thirty-five millions should enslave all the people of the twenty-four States.
Again, sir, from the time of the veto message to the present moment the country has been assailed with the cry of danger, from the small portion of foreign capital which is in the stock of the bank. Republicanism, it is said, cannot exist in a country where there is a bank with Dukes and Marquisses, and Lords, among its stockholders. And yet, sir, have we not seen the Executive approving of an enormous loan by the cities of this District of Dutch capitalists, and sanctioning a law binding down all their citizens and all their property to pay the interests of this foreign debt, by provisions vastly more strict and severe than those which compel the payment of taxes to their own Government ? And is not Pennsylvania now deliberating whether she will not send an agent to Europe to borrow money to meet that very exigency which the present state of things creates ? And is not the new bank, too, proposed to be established in New York, to be created on foreign capital ?
Sir, are arguments of this nature altogether creditable to the country ? Do they exhibit in a respectable light abroad ? Do intelligent observers elsewhere behold our public men addressing themselves to the people in fair discussion on the real merits of the public questions, or may they not think, rather, that they see them attempting to carry favorite measures of party by false cries of danger to liberty ?
The truth is, that banks, every where, and especially with us, are made for the borrowers. They are made for the good of the many, and not the good of the few. Even their ownership, to a very great extent, is in the hands of men of moderate property. I have seen a very able speech, by Mr. Cushing, in the Legislature of Massachusetts, in which he states that he has taken pains to examine the list of stockholders, in several banks in his neighborhood, and he finds a majority of the stock, I think more than two-thirds, in the hands of the charitable societies, guardians, widows, and traders with small capital. And, sir, at this moment, the stockholders of the bank of the United States have infinitely less interest, in the questions which we are discussing, as stockholders, than they have as citizens of the country. The stock is constantly in the market, and daily changing hands, and any one who wishes for it, may always buy it. It is not permanently vested, in any hands, and this of itself shows that the corporation is, in its nature, incapable of prosecuting any purpose hostile to the public liberties. Indeed, sir, I think it time, high time, that there should be a pause in this outcry against the bank, as dangerous from its political power, or as favoring wealth, in its masses rather then in its distribution.
Sir, prejudice, excited against the bank, is a much more powerful engine, for political purposes, than the bank itself. It is more than a match for ten banks. Not long ago, a member, not now with us, declared on this floor, that, in the course of his political struggles, some years ago, he felt sure of triumph, the moment an impression was made that the bank had taken part against him; and that if he were again to be a candidate, he should wish for no surer pledge of success. His own experience, thus candidly stated, seems not to have been lost on others. I full well known, sir, the power of such prejudices. I know easily they may be excited, and how potent is their agency. Efforts to excite them, and calculations on their efficacy, when excited, have sometimes succeeded, and must be expected sometimes to succeed, in popular governments. They are among the means by which little men occasionally become great. But they are not among the means by which lasting character is to be attained, any more than they are among the means by which substantial and important public service is to be rendered to the country.
I now proceed, Mr. President, to the state of opinion existing, both in and out of Congress, as to the remedy proper for the present condition of things.
There are three classes of persons holding on this subject different opinions.
1. Those who believe a bank to be constitutional and necessary; and, seeing no danger from the present institution, would prefer, if they could follow their own choice, to recharter the bank, for the usual period, with the usual powers, modified, however in any manner that the experience of the past may suggest.
2. There are those who think a bank useful, but who do not believe Congress has the power to incorporate a bank, under any form.
3. There are those who admit the power of Congress to make a bank, and are in favor of some bank, but oppose the continuance of the present.
It is obvious, sir, that, if any relief come to the country, it must come from some degree of union between these classes, or some of them.
And the question is, is there any common ground on which these can meet ? Is there any expedient which they will consent to lay hold on to save the country ? Or will they leave it a prey to their differences of opinions ?
Now, sir, among those who oppose these measures of Government, which have brought the present distress on the country, a great majority would prefer a continuance of the charter of the present bank for the usual term. This would be their wish, and i am one of them. We passed a bill for such a recharter through both Houses, two years ago, but it was negatived by the President. I would prefer a bank of fifteen or twenty years duration; either this, or a new one, for I do not act from a regard to the pecuniary interest of the stockholders in the present bank, although I would not consent to do them any injustice.
But, sir, I see no chance of renewing this charter, at present, for a long period, it appears to me that the minds of members of Congress are in a state to render this hopeless. I give up, therefore, my own preference, I sacrifice my opinions to that necessity, which I feel to be imposed upon me by the condition of the country. I go for relief, for efficient relief, and for immediate relief. I feel this to be demanded of me, by every dictate of duty and patriotism, and by the loud voice of the country. I obey that voice, and cheerfully yield every thing to the accomplishment of the object. When I ask others to make sacrifices, I begin with making them myself.
Preferring a permanent measure, I yet agree to a temporary measure. Desirous of settling the question for a length of years, I yet consent to leave it open, in the hope of obtaining present relief and security; and I earnestly entreat all those with whom I have generally concurred in opinion, to concur in a temporary measure. If we cannot do all we would, let us do what we can. Let us make a proposition which no reasonable man, who really desires to relieve the country, can object to. That is my object; and with that single object have I prepared this bill.
And now, sir, I will say a word to the gentlemen who have constitutional scruples about all banks. They find a bank actually existing. They find that this bank, or another like it, has existed through more than three fourths of the whole period of Government. They find Congress to have asserted the constitutional power to establish a bank, over and over again; they find all the judicial tribunals to have sanctioned the power, and four fifths of the State Legislatures, and as great a proportion of the people, to have confirmed it. Now, sir, as sensible and candid men, they cannot say that it is a clear case against the power. They must admit there is some reason for supposing the power to exist. The most they can say is that the bank stands on a doubtful authority. Now, suppose that to be true. Let it be admitted that the bank stands on a doubtful title. Does it follow that they must suddenly destroy it ? Will not they give it time to wind up its affairs, without producing excessive injury to the people ? Shall it be brought to a sudden termination, at whatever cost, at whatever ruin, to the public happiness ?
Besides, sir, if the bank be unconstitutional, what is that state of things into which the country must fall, when the bank charter expires ? Can any thing be more unconstitutional than the state of things ?
Again, sir, I must say, that some of those States, now most opposed to the bank, on constitutional ground, helped to make it. Look to New York, look even to Virginia -- these States had much more hand in creating this bank than Massachusetts. In 1816, there was no majority, in these two Houses, of the members from Virginia opposed to the Bank on constitutional grounds. Virginia actually gave much more support to it than Massachusetts, and a Virginia President approved the bill. May not a degree of forbearance, then, be justly expected, even though the opinion should now be that the bank stands on a doubtful right ? Sir, it is enough to state these suggestions, without arguing them at length, to candid and honorable men. In the next place, sir, as I have said, there are those who are for a new bank.
Sir, gentlemen may well be for a new bank, but they cannot be for that and for nothing else, if they really intend to relieve the country. No new bank can be established before 1836. This we all know. And what are we to do in the mean time ? I am not against a new bank.
When the proper time comes to make it, if that should be the general voice of the country; but it is idle to talk of a new bank now. Those cannot feel the exigency of the moment, they do not realize the pressure of the times, who talk of a new bank, and nothing but a new bank. Let them bring forward a project for a new bank, whenever they please; but let us, in the mean time, not suffer the present distress of the country to go on, and to increase, for the want of a more immediate measure. I do not object to take the question of a new bank into consideration at any time, either in this Congress or the next; but I do object to holding out any hope to the country of immediate relief from such a measure, because we know it can not afford such relief. We are in an emergency. Great interests are in danger of being overwhelmed; we need some plank, something to lay hold on, to buoy us up; and keep our heads above water, till more effectual and permanent provision for our safety can be made.
I will now, sir, state the general substance of the bill, which I ask leave to introduce.
The first section proposes to continue the present bank for six years, but with this provision, viz: that so much of the present charter as gives the bank an exclusive right, shall not be continued, but that Congress may make any other bank, if it see fit, to come into existence at any time after 1836.
This is the great feature of the bill. It continues the bank for a short period, and takes away the exclusive right. Congress is thus left at perfect liberty to make another bank whenever it chooses. When the present agitation shall have subsided, when a day of calm consideration comes, and the people have had time for deliberation, then Congress may make a permanent provision, satisfactory to itself and to the country. Can any thing be more reasonable than this ? Can the bitterest enemy of the present bank refuse to give it time to wind up its affairs without distress to the people ? Can the most ardent advocate of a new bank refuse, meantime, to allow the country to relieve itself, by the use of the present, till a new one shall be established.
Sir, I am not dealing in plausibilities only. I mean to leave the whole question between this bank and a new one, fairly open. I mean to give to neither any manner of advantage. If Congress establish a new bank, it may easily go into operation, while the present is easily retiring from operation, and the business of the country will feel no violent shock.
I mean to give the present bank no claim to a renewal; but, on the contrary, the only new power conferred on it by this bill, is a power to enable it to wind up its concerns.
As to the time. I think six years not too long. If we were now certain, that a new bank would come into existence in 1836, I think it would be convenient, for all parties, that this bank should have six years to run. The new bank would hardly get into full operation under a year or two, and time is absolutely necessary to enable this bank gradually to collect its debts. A hastened collection must distress the people. But if six years be thought too long, I will consent to five, or to four. But my opinion is, that six years is not too long.
The second section provides, that the public moneys, becoming due after the first of July, shall be deposited in the bank and its branches as heretofore, subject, however, at any time after this act shall be accepted, to be removed a by order of Congress. If Congress shall establish a new bank, they will of course remove the deposites into it.
Then comes the section, by which the bank is to pay 200,000 dollars a year, for each of the six years, as compensation for the benefits of this continuance of its charter. This provision is adopted from the bill of 1832 [Sec. 7]. For one, I should have been willing that a fixed per centage should have been paid, instead of this bonus, to be divided among the States, according to numbers; but others objected to this, and I have sought to avoid all new causes of difference.
The next section authorizes Congress to restrain the bank from issuing notes of less denomination than twenty dollars, if it shall see fit so to do, any time after March 1836. This, too, is borrowed from the bill of 1832 and its object was fully discussed on that occasion. That object is, to get rid of the circulation of all notes under five dollars, and by so doing to extend the specie basis of our circulation. When the States shall direct their own banks to issue no notes less than five dollars, then it is proposed that Congress shall direct the bank of the United States to issue no notes below twenty dollars. The state of our currency will then be, as I explained the other day, that, up to five dollars, the currency will be silver and gold, and above five dollars it may be silver and gold, and notes of States banks; and above twenty dollars, silver and gold, and notes of State banks, and notes of the bank of the U. States. This greater use of silver and gold for common purposes, and small payments, I have thought to be a desirable object, as I have often before said.
Tne next section looks to the winding up of the affairs of the bank, and it provides that, at any time within the last three years of its continuance, its directors may divide among the stockholders any portion of the capital, which they may have withdrawn from active operation. The remaining sections are only such as are formal and necessary; one continues the acts of Congress connected with the bank, much as those providing for forging its notes, and the other requires the acceptance of this bill, by the bank, in order to give it validity and effect.
Such, Mr. President, are the provisions of this bill. They we few and simple.
1. The bank is to be continued for six years.
2. The deposites are to be restored after the 1st of July.
3. Congress is to be at perfect liberty to create any new bank, at any time after March, 1836.
4. The Directors, in order to wind up their concerns, may, three years before the six years expire, begin to divide the capital among the stockholders.
Mr. President, this a the measure which I propose, and it is my settled belief, that if we cannot carry this, we can carry nothing.
I have thus, sir, stated my opinions, and discharged my duty. I see the country laboring, and struggling, and panting under an enormous political evil. I propose a remedy which, I am sure, will produce relief, if it be adopted, and which seems to me most likely to obtain support. And now, sir, I put it to every member of Congress, how he can resist this measure, unless by proposing another, and a better ? Who among the agents and servants of the people assembled in these Houses, is prepared, in the present distressed state of the country, to say that he will oppose every thing, and propose nothing ? For one, sir, I can only say, that I have been driven to this proposition by an irresistible impulse of duty. If I had been suddenly called to my great reckoning in another world, I should have felt that one duty was left unattempted, if I had no measure to recommend, no expedient to propose, no hope to hold out to this suffering community.
As to the success of this bill, sir, or any other I have only to repeat what I have so often said, that every thing rests with the people themselves. In the distracted state of the public councils, any measure of relief can only be obtained by the decisive demand of the public will.
By an exercise of Executive power, which I believe to be illegal, and which all must see to have been injurious, by an unrelenting adherence to the measure which has thus been adopted, in spite of all consequences, and by the force of those motives which influence men to support the measure, though they entirely disapprove it, the country is brought to a condition such as it never before witnessed, and which it cannot long bear. But it is not a condition for despair. Nothing will ruin the country, if the People themselves will undertake its safety, and nothing can save it, if they leave that safety in any bands but their own.
Would to God, sir, that I could draw around me all these twelve millions of people; would to God that I could speak audibly to every independent elector in the whole land. I would not say to them, vainly and arrogantly, that their safety and happiness required the adoption of any measure recommended by me. But I would say to them, with the sincerest conviction that ever animated man's heart, that their safety and happiness do require their own prompt and patriotic attention to the public concerns, their own honest devotion to the welfare of the State. I would say to them, that neither this measure, nor any measure, can be adopted except by the cogent and persisting action of popular opinion. I would say to them, that the public revenue cannot be restored to their accustomed custody; that they cannot be again placed under the control of Congress; that the violation of the law cannot be redressed, but by manifestation, not to be mistaken, of public sentiment. I would say to them, that the Constitution and the laws, their own rights and their own happiness, all depend on themselves; and if they esteem these of any value -- if they were not too dearly bought by the blood of their fathers --if they be an inheritance, fit to be transmitted to their posterity, I would beseech them --I would beseech them to come now to their salvation.
A BILL to continue for the term of six years the act entitled "An act to incorporate the subscribers to the Bank of the United States."
Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the act entitled "An act to incorporate the subscribers of the Bank of the United States," approved on the 10th day of April, in the year 1916, shall continue in full force and effect far the term of six years, from and after the period therein limited for its expiration, to wit, the 3d day of March, 1836, and that all the rights, interests, properties, powers, and privileges, secured by the same act, with all the rules, conditions, restrictions, and duties therein prescribed and imposed, be and remain, after the said 3d day of March, 1836, during the said six years, as if the said limitation in the said act had not been made: Provided nevertheless, That so much of the said act as declares that no other bank shall be established by any future law of the United States, during the continuance of the corporation thereby created, shall not be continued by this act, but that it shall be lawful for Congress, whenever it shall see fit, to establish any other bank to come into existence and operation at any time on or after the 4th day of March, 1836.
And be it further enacted, That all public moneys accruing to the United States, and becoming payable from and after the passage of this act, in places where the said bank, or any of its offices, is established, shall be deposited in the Bank of the United States, and its offices, as heretofore; provided, that at any time after this act shall have been accepted, Congress may, by law or joint resolution, cause such moneys to be withdrawn and removed to any other custody or place of deposite.
And be it further enacted, That, in consideration of the benefits and privileges conferred by this act, the said bank shall pay to the United States the annuity or yearly sum of two hundred thousand dollars, which said sum shall be paid by the said bank on the 4th day of March, in each and every year, during the said term of six years.
And be it further enacted, That Congress may provide by law that the said bank shall be restrained, at any time after the 3d day of March, 1836, from making, issuing, or keeping in circulation, any notes or bills of said bank, or any of its offices, of a less sum or denomination than twenty dollars.
And be it further enacted, That at any time or times, within the last three years of the existence of said corporation, as continued by this act, it shall be lawful for the president and directors to divide among the several stockholders thereof, such portions of the capital stock of the said corporation as they may have withdrawn from active use, and may judge proper so to divide.
And be it further enacted, That so much of any act or acts of Congress, heretofore passed and now in force, supplementary to, or in anywise connected with, the said original act of incorporation, approved on the 10th day of April, in the year 1816, as is not inconsistent with this act, shall be continued in full force and effect during the said six years after the 3d day of March, 1836.
And be it further enacted, That it shall be the duty of the president and directors of the said bank, on or before the first day of the next session of Congress, to signify to the President of the United States their acceptance, on behalf of the Bank of the United States, of the terms and conditions in this act contained, and if they shall fail to do so, on or before the day above-mentioned, then this act shall cease to be in force.