United States Notes.
speech of hon. J.R. Doolittle, of Wisconsin,
in the Senate,
Thursday, February 13, 1862.
Mr. Doolittle said:
Mr. PRESIDENT: I regret exceedingly that this bill for the issue of Treasury notes must be acted upon before the tax bill comes from the other House. If I could see the tax bill, and know to a certainty that its provisions were sufficient to sustain the credit of the Government, I should be willing to vote for the amendment proposed by the Senator from Vermont, and allow this bill to pass without making the notes to be issued under it a tender in payment of debts, either public or private. But, sir, that cannot be. The chairman of the Committee on Finance informs us that there is an absolute necessity for action on this bill this week, and that the great measure of finance -- the tax bill -- cannot come from the House of Representatives for some weeks; and that this bill to issue Treasury notes, either with or without the legal tender clause, must be passed, or the Government cannot go on. I regret this, deeply regret it. Words can hardly express that regret. I declare for one, that if it were in my power I would postpone this bill until the tax bill shall come from the House of Representatives. I would see the whole financial budget at once. I wish it had been presented and opened on the first day of the session, and pressed before, and even to the exclusion of all else, until perfected. That ought to have been done. If we pass this bill to issue $100,000,000 to the Government, I fear that in the House of Representatives, relieved by this measure from the necessity of immediate action, controversies may arise as to particular objects of taxation, and delay it there for a month, perhaps two months, until this $100,000,000 is gone; and then we shall be just where we are now, with a new and more insatiate necessity upon us demanding of us a new issue of these legal tender Treasury notes. I trust I am no alarmist, taking counsel of my fears; but in this matter I confess that I do fear that unless we have immediate action by both Houses of Congress upon the tax bill, the necessity to which we yield to-day will grow with what it feeds upon, to return upon us more exacting and insatiate than ever.
I listened with great interest, as I confess I always do, to any remarks that fall from the honorable Senator who addressed us yesterday, and who sits before me, [Mr. Collamer] It is not enough for me to say that his speech was an able one; it was a great speech on his side of the question; and if it were possible for him to go with me to the logical results of his own reasoning, and the teachings of those authorities which he has read, and stand upon what I believe was the original intention of the framers of this Government, for a hard-money, constitutional currency, and against all paper money whatever, I would go with him with all my heart, and stand firmly by his side. Sir, all my teachings, I believe all the teachings of history, prove that a disordered paper currency is the greatest of all evils that ever afflicted a civilized nation, except the greater evil of war. What he showed yesterday from the debates in the convention which formed the Constitution demonstrates as clear as the daylight that the men who made it intended to have no money but gold and silver, and that no paper money should be issued under the authority of the States, or of the Federal Government either. Vexed and goaded as they had been by paper money, having drank of its bitterness to the very dregs, they met, in that convention, hard-money men. They had learned from experience what all philosophy teaches, that a thing to be done is not yet done; that the future is not the present; that a mere promise to pay money is not money itself.
What he read from the debates of those great men showed clearly their intention. Gouverneur Morris declared that "the moneyed interest will oppose the plan of Government, if paper emissions be not prohibited." Mason declared "he had a mortal hatred to paper money." Ellsworth thought it "a favorable moment to shut and bar the door against paper money." "Paper money," said another, "can in no case be necessary." Wilson would "remove the possibility of paper money." Randolph expressed "his antipathy to paper money." Langdon "had rather reject the whole plan than retain the three words 'and emit bills;'" and Read thought those words as alarming "as the mark of the beast in Revelation." That intention was to give to the Federal Government complete control not only of weights and measures -- of the pound, the bushel, and the yard-stick -- but the power to fix the standard of value, the medium of exchange, for products and services, as well as for the payment of debts, and that that standard should be fixed in gold and silver coin only. And it is equally certain, in my opinion, that they intended to provide, and believed they had provided, against the possibility of paper money, to be issued under either State or Federal authority. Had their intentions been carried out; had we always held fast to the constitutional currency; had not paper money, under both Federal and State authority, become the actual currency of our people; had we to-day no other currency but gold and silver, I could not tolerate the idea of passing this bill for a single moment. The Secretary of the Treasury and the honorable chairman of the Committee on Finance would appeal in vain to me to vote for this bill, with or without the legal tender clause. Were such the actual condition of things, I would much sooner support the measure proposed by the Senator from New York, and put our bonds in the market for coin only, if they did not bring over seventy-five cents on the dollar, than to issue these Treasury notes to go into and become a part of the paper currency of the country.
But, sir, such is not our condition; we are in the midst of a gigantic war; we cannot go back; we must go forward; we must go through; we must start from where we are, and not from where we would be; we must behold the real necessities of our position as it is, and not as we would have it, and look those necessities squarely in the face.
The truth is, while in theory the only money of our people is gold and silver, the fact is other wise. It is almost exclusively of paper. Ay, sir, at this moment it is the irredeemable paper of suspended bank corporations. Most unfortunately paper money does now exist, and has existed so many years in this country, issued under the sanction of State authorities in violation, as I admit, of the spirit and intentions of those who framed the Constitution, that a man must be blind indeed who would not now, in time of war, in a measure of practical legislation recognize the stubborn fact that these banking corporations, created by the States, so long acquiesced in by this Government, have become great and powerful institutions, and have practically displaced the currency of the Constitution by substituting in its stead their own paper money. At all times, it is much the greater part of our circulating medium, and when, in times of panic and disaster, comes suspension of specie payments, it becomes our only currency. Such is our condition now.
What shall we do ? We must have deeds, not words; facts, not theories. Shall we send our bonds abroad to be sold for gold ? We could not sell them now if we would, except at most ruinous rates. The time has not come for that. With a single exception, we have not the sympathies of the great foreign Powers. We are too great, too gigantic in all our proportions, to expect or to receive their sympathy. We must command their respect. When we put down this rebellion, they will know, judging our future by our past, that we are to become the greatest and most powerful nation of the earth -- like unto the man-child of prophecy, "in righteousness making war and peace," ruling yet, it may be, the nations with a rod of iron, and maintaining on sea and land the freedom of the world. Sir, that time may be near at hand; but it is not yet. We must crush this rebellion; we must crush this rebel army near Washington; we must crush them in Kentucky and Tennessee; and I believe that, under God, we shall do it. We may not close the war as soon as some of our sanguine friends predict; but we can break their power in the next three months; and then our bonds will command any amount of money in Europe. Then, if we do not have their sympathies, we shall command their respect and regain their confidence. We must win victories; we must restore State governments in North Carolina and Tennessee to the loyal people there, whose agonizing prayers are going up to heaven for our success. Thank God, even in Alabama the people wept for joy at the sight of the old flag, and thousands there are ready to enlist under it, and fight for its rightful supremacy.
But the question returns, what shall we do now ? We cannot sell our bonds abroad. The paper money issued by banking corporations is all, or nearly all, the money our own people have. Shall we sell our bonds for the paper money of suspended banks ? No, sir; no man will advocate that.
The only alternative is to issue these Treasury notes, which will go into the circulation of the country as a part of its currency. If, as I have said, the question now were whether we should begin to build up a paper currency in this country, or hold fast to the currency of the Constitution, I would oppose this measure. But we cut our moorings from the solid ground long, long ago. We have been embarked upon a sea of paper money for years. We have suffered periodically financial crashes and revulsions, tossed upon its uncertain waves, blown up and down by the breath of speculation. We are still at sea, and in the beginning of a terrific financial storm, and the question is whether we shall seize the rudder and direct the ship, or suffer it to go without direction, to founder and make shipwreck of all public and private securities and values, to become the prey and spoils of wreckers along the shore.
The simple question which presses upon us in this extremity is, whether we shall rule this currency created by these corporations, in violation, in my opinion, of the original intention of the Constitution of the United States, or whether they shall rule us.
For their good, for the security of all, as well as for its own safety, this Government must assert its constitutional authority over the currency of the country in some practicable way, and it seems to me that the mode proposed in this bill is the simplest and most direct in the present exigencies, as a temporary measure, until the great measure of finance, the tax bill, can be perfected and set in operation.
The argument of the Senator from Ohio [Mr. Sherman] is exceedingly powerful. He shows that it is impossible for us now to sell our bonds in our own market, because gold has been almost banished from circulation by the paper money of bank corporations; and since they have suspended specie payments gold has disappeared altogether, and unless you issue these notes, receivable in payment for the bonds which you propose to sell, it is impossible for our citizens to purchase them at all; and therefore, without this measure, it becomes impossible to go on. You cannot make loans unless these notes be issued, nor can the people pay their taxes to this Government.
I confess that I should prefer to have this legal tender clause so amended as to apply only to debts hereafter contracted. I believe the effect upon the value of the notes would be substantially the same. If made a tender in all contracts hereafter made, the banks, as a matter of course, will be compelled to receive them, or to stop doing business. If not made a tender in payment of debts already existing, that will avoid the great objection urged against this clause by the Senator from Vermont [Mr. Collamer], that it is a violation of plighted faith between man and man, and may avoid having the constitutional question presented to the courts.
The great objection to paper money is that it keeps the standard of value in constant fluctuation, expanding and contracting like an India-rubber yard-stick, two feet long to-day, and four feet long to-morrow. While in theory the word "dollar," in which debts are paid and values measured, is fixed and certain, under the Constitution, it has, in fact, been an ever varying quantity. I feel the full force of the obligation to discharge debts by a certain measure of value. Never under our paper money system, however, since the Government began, was there a debt incurred for money borrowed payable one year from date, that the value of the dollar had not changed in the mean time, and been made to depend upon the amount of paper issues of bank corporations. Now it goes up, and now it goes down.
One other thing is certain, in my judgment; we must take measures, by taxation or in some other way, to rest and control the amount of issues of the State banks. There is no disguising the fact that we enter upon a dangerous experiment not to be repeated. We are upon the downhill road of depreciation, and the only question is the rapidity with which we shall go down; whether we shall plunge so rapidly down as to destroy everything in our course, or whether we shall put down the brakes and steady our course downward. I believe, as has been said, that no legislation in the world is capable of making any paper currency which is not redeemable upon demand in specie, equivalent to specie or at par with specie. Specie may be quoted above par -- but another form of saying paper is below par. Such is not the teaching of the history of the world. Such is not found in the history of any nation; neither of Great Britain, France, or the United States. They have all made the trial.
While I am willing and will move to amend the legal tender clause so as to apply it only to debts hereafter contracted, I am not willing to go to the full length of the proposition of the Senator from Vermont, to strike out the whole provision in relation to the legal lender. If my amendment shall be rejected, I shall still support the bill as a measure of war necessity, with more misgivings as to its effect at home and abroad than of any other measure for which I have given my vote in this body. I believe, as I have said already, that next to the calamity of war itself, are the evils of a depreciated paper currency. To use the strong language of the great statesman of Massachusetts, Mr. Webster--
"A disorganized currency is one of the greatest of political evils. It undermines the virtues necessary for the support of the social system, and encourages propensities destructive of its happiness. It wars against industry, frugality, and economy, and it fosters the evil spirits of extravagance and speculation. Of all the contrivances for cheating the laboring classes of mankind, none has been more effectual that that which deludes them with paper money. This is the most effectual of inventions to fertilize the rich man's field by the sweat of the poor man's brow. Ordinary tyranny, oppression, excessive taxation, these bear lightly on the happiness of the most of the community compared with fraudulent currencies and the robberies committed by depreciated paper."
Now, Mr. President, all that I desire in this hour of our extremity is, to defend, so far as we may, our people from the evils of depreciated paper currency. All concur that if these notes must be issued, and that if we put them into the hands of our soldiers without defending them by all the power of the Government, they will suddenly depreciate under the operations of bankers and brokers, and we shall be guilty of inflicting upon our people an evil next to war itself.
While upon this subject allow me to say that the real truth is, that these paper money banks, with few exceptions, so far from lending money to anybody, are mere borrowers themselves. They give nothing but their credit in exchange for other men's promises, with this remarkable difference, that they give their notes without interest and take the people's notes on interest, and with good security. It is a simple and ingenious contrivance, such as the philosophers of old could never discover, to turn nothing into gold, by which certain shrewd and clever men get interest on what they owe. Other people have to pay interest on what they owe; but banks of issue are contrivances to get interest not on the money they lend, but on what they owe the Community. The more they owe the richer they become. Banks of loan and deposit are useful in many commercial transactions; I speak of banks of issue.
If we could have a tax bill in such a form as to satisfy me, I should be perfectly willing to vote for the issue of these notes without anything in the bill on the subject of tender; but as this note bill comes first and must be acted upon first, as it is determined to use our credit before we lay our hands upon our actual resources, I must insist that we shall go just as far as we can to keep these notes from depreciating in the hands of those who are compelled to receive them from the Government -- those brave and heroic men who peril their lives to defend and maintain the very existence of the Government itself, upon which the rights of all, debtors and creditors, and the values of all property and securities depend.
Mr. President, I do not know that this is the proper time to offer an amendment to the proposition of the Senator from Vermont, his being an amendment to the amendment of the Committee on Finance; but if it were now in order, I would move to amend his amendment, so as to provide that this tender clause shall affect only those private debts which may be hereafter contracted.
Mr. Fessenden. That will not be an amendment to his, his is a motion to strike out.
Mr. Doolittle. As I understand that I can propose my amendment afterwards, I shall not move it now.
Mr. PRESIDENT: I am not disposed to vote upon a question as grave and important as the one before the Senate, and involving so much of responsibility, without giving at least some reasons for my action. In doing this, I will not undertake to say that they, in all respects, satisfy my own judgment, but they furnish me a sufficient, or at least the best direction I have been able to find, in giving my vote upon the pending measure.
If I had sought the place and occasion where I could have best studied that greatest of lessons, the extent of one's own ignorance, I would have found it in this place, and on this occasion; for about this entire question I have wandered in darkness, a darkness almost equal to that of the great cave of Kentucky. I have heard the question discussed in committee, I have heard the very able discussion on this floor on yesterday, continued with great ability to-day. I have read the very full debates in the other Hall of Congress. I have read the numerous publications of the day, and conversed with intelligent gentlemen outside of the Government, and have found after all little more than a conflict of arguments, and that the ablest of our masters of finance were still seekers after opinions. With all these aids I am still compelled to a great extent to advance in darkness. But as I have a duty to perform I will act, whether wisely or unwisely, regarding action at this time as necessary, and even ignorant action better than no action at all.
The first question presented here is whether or not a measure of this general character and purpose is a present necessity. This is a very grave question, as grave as any that can present itself in this Hall. Necessity, it is said, is above all law; it is better said, "Necessity makes its own laws."
We are in the midst of a war, in its magnitude and in its demand for pecuniary resources, without a parallel. Our Treasury is now exhausted. Money, which is the first term in the maintenance of vigorous and successful war, is not only not to be found in the Treasury, but the Government at present has not the means of supplying it. We have been already great sufferers for want of it. There has been the want of prompt payments, or the fair assurance of payments, at many important points for months past.
I was at Cairo, the key point of the valley of the Mississippi, during the recess of Congress, and I was there informed not only by the officers of the quartermaster and commissary departments, but by the generals in command, that the Government had to pay, or contract to pay, one hundred per cent. advance upon cash value for its purchases; the fair credit of the Government had been exhausted. I have now in my possession a letter from a wealthy and intelligent gentleman residing at Cairo, who has no connection with the Government either as officer or contractor, stating that the certificates issued for purchases made by the Government, through its proper officers, could not be negotiated at fifty cents on the dollar.
I have been advised from time to time from the same point that such has continued to be the case. I was at St. Louis near the same time, and found the condition of things but little better. The Government had neither money nor credit, nor had the officers of the Government anything within their control which would secure credit. It was supposed by many that this evil would be overcome as soon as we should assemble here for purposes of legislation. More than two months have now passed since we met, and we have now before us but one of the measures necessary to the reëstablishment of our finances; and I regret to say the one that should have been the second, not the first, in the order of the establishment of a sound financial policy; with this, however, we can have nothing to do, as over it we have no control.
Some gentlemen of the Senate are of the opinion that this war is to be concluded in sixty days. I hope the sound judgment of those gentlemen may come to be verified; but it is but a faint hope, Mr. President. Yet, if the hope is justified, it cannot be accomplished without means. The provision of those means in money is a necessity, a present necessity.
Let the measure under consideration fail, a new system for the supply of means must be inaugurated. Observe that the system now proposed is the result of an elaborate investigation made by the head of the Treasury Department, whose duty it is to superintend and comprehend the financial affairs of the country. He studied the subject with the aid and advice of the best informed men of the country, and we all know he labored faithfully. His views were presented at an early day in the session, and went, in the due course of business, to the Committee of Ways and Means of the House of Representatives. After two months of labor that committee matured this bill, embodying a part of the policy of the Secretary, and immediately related to his entire system.
It now comes to us. When we shall conclude its consideration is yet doubtful. Strike out this measure -- I speak of it as a measure, though but part of the entire system -- and how long before another can be matured into the forms of completed legislation ? To whom shall we look as the person to originate this new policy ? Shall we look to the Secretary of the Treasury ? He has exhausted his knowledge of finance upon the policy now presented to us. Is there any gentleman in this Senate, or in the other branch of Congress, who will undertake the enterprise, or undertaking, will accomplish it ? We will be compelled to look to the head of the Treasury Department for counsel in this matter.
The Secretary will again have to go through the long processes of investigation, consultation, and combination, and with care construct a new financial policy, one to be sufficient to accomplish its object, and not only that, but one that shall meet the views of both branches of Congress, the Executive, and the country. The Secretary will have to commence his work de novo. The Committee of Ways and Means in the House of Representatives, the House of Representatives, the Committee on Finance, and this Senate, each will have to commence its work de novo, and not only to commence the work de novo, they will have to conclude it, before any measure equal to that which is demanded by a present exigent necessity can be of any value to the country.
Mr. President, how long will it take with all the appliances that can be brought into action thus to mature and to give legislative life to any such new policy ? Longer, much I fear, than the period assigned by the Senators to whom I have referred for the final termination of this war. Longer, I think, than with proper facilities need be required for the complete reestablishment of the Union. Now, I say that such delay is a thing not to be contemplated -- not to be permitted. Prompt present action is a necessity, and therefore the measure before us is a necessity. Not the measure emasculated; not the measure deprived of those features without which its originator and its friends say it would be worthless, and worse than worthless; but the measure complete in all its substantive parts. If this measure is a sufficient one, upon which I am not able to pronounce, it should, I think, have been a law long before this; it would have saved us millions upon millions, and I confess I cannot well understand why, with all the machinery of the Government, it has been so long delayed.
I have said I was not able to pronounce on the sufficiency of this particular measure, neither can I pronounce as to its wisdom. I again confess myself very much in the dark, and in my ignorance I feel how important it is that those who undertake to legislate, in times of great trial, for a Republic like ours, should be deeply instructed in public affairs. I confess my want of instruction; my pursuits in life have been such that, in matters of financial State policy, I have almost everything to learn; and therefore I have to look around me, not for scientific resolutions, but for opinions, considerations, and counsel; and to a great extent, as I am advised, I feel bound to act.
This measure as it stands, in substance, is the result of all the consideration which the very able Secretary of the Treasury has been able to bestow upon it. The Secretary is not merely an able man -- one of the ablest of the Republic -- he is a most careful, cautious, painstaking, just man. He would not, and I believe has not, left anything undone which he could accomplish with his own ability, aided by the best counsel with which he found practicable to advise. The measure before us is the substantial result of his labors, and the embodiment of his best judgment. It has also, I understand, the approval of the executive head of the Government.
I understand, then, that the executive head of the Government, to whom belongs the conduct of this war and its responsibilities, and the officer of the Government under him, whose special duty it is to comprehend and manage the resources necessary to the maintenance of the war, as well as the other executive officers immediately about the chief Executive, concur in the opinion that this measure, in all its substantive parts, is sufficient for its purposes; that emasculated in any of its substantive parts, it would not be; and that the measure, as a whole, is a necessary one.
This is something. The necessity of the particular clause now under consideration is particularly insisted upon, and I can say further, that all the opinions I have been able to gather from men out of office who have reputation as financiers has been to the effect that the bill without the legal tender clause would be ineffectual in answering the purposes of the Government. This view was pressed earnestly this morning by the Secretary in conversation, and I have great confidence in his judgment in all that relates to our financial affairs, much more than in any other man in the Republic -- I might say than many of any men in the Republic. I certainly shall not measure my judgment upon a subject about which I confess ignorance against that of one who should be, and I believe is, very thoroughly instructed.
I say I am ignorant. It seems that I am not alone. Even my distinguished, able, and learned friend, the chairman of the Committee on Finance, says that upon this subject he also is ignorant. I prefer, then, to go to him I deem best informed when I have to take advice, the same as if I sought advice in matters of law I should go to the most learned lawyer.
If I have to take advice, I prefer to seek it of those who have most and best studied the subject of my inquiry.
All the advice I have been able to secure outside of the discussion here has been one way. I will say now that the discussion of yesterday was one of the ablest to which I ever listened, and it has been continued with marked ability to-day; but about the value of that discussion I felt I was about as much of a judge as a layman going into a high court would be able to judge of the exact merits of the arguments of the adversaries contending be fore the court in a case involving the most abstract questions in legal science, he having small knowledge of the premises involved, and small skill in the special deduction of legal logic. I was strongly impressed by the objections advanced by the chairman of the Committee on Finance, and the following argument of the Senator from Vermont [Mr. Collamer] almost convinced me. I was very much inclined at the time to think that I saw light on this subject, but as I reflected further, it seemed to me that the light they shed only made darkness more visible.
The result has been, Mr. President, that with the light of the opinions I have mentioned before me, under the influence of the consciousness of a present necessity, I have been compelled to the conclusion that if we have the right to pass this law it is our duty to do it, and that now.
I shall not detain the Senate with anything like an elaborate argument; but I will state some reasons why I think we have the right. And here let me say that I have been raised in the school of what is called strict constructionists, and such I hold myself now to be; but I have lived long enough to learn that there is more than one school of strict constructionists. One school -- and a very large one, perhaps the largest -- is that which claims to construe it strictly, but always strictly as they please. They can interpret a word in a dozen different ways, and always find an interpretation that suits themselves, ingenious in the sophisms of logic, and who seek not how the Constitution should be, but how it can be construed. That school devised and gave color of pretense to this rebellion. I am not of that school. It is not important here, however, what are my views of the rules of constitutional construction. Some gentlemen here would agree with me, probably; others would not.
I will proceed to the question; and I will request the learned Senator from Pennsylvania, [Mr. Cowan] who has presented his argument against the constitutionality of the legal tender clause, to permit me to ask him a question.
Mr. Cowan. Certainly.
Mr. McDougall. I ask the Senator may the Government declare, by law, that the money which the Government is by the Constitution authorized to coin, shall be a legal tender ?
Mr. Cowan. The gold and silver coin ?
Mr. McDougall. To coin money, is the term of the Constitution. I ask him, may the money which the Government is authorized to coin under the Constitution be made a legal tender ?
Mr. Cowan. If it is coin of gold or silver.
Mr. McDougall. I do not interpret the terms; every man may interpret them for himself. I ask, when it is constitutionally done, when money is coined, can it be made a legal tender ? Is there any dispute about that, I ask the Senator ?
Mr. Cowan. I do not dispute it, if the coin is of gold or silver.
Mr. McDougall. But I ask the question, and I should like to get a categorical answer. May the money which the Constitution authorizes the Government to coin be made a legal tender ?
Mr. Cowan. Certainly; I should think so.
Mr. McDougall. That is all I want. The Government may make its constitutionally-coined money a legal tender. I may as well say here, and it requires but a remark, that the Constitution in this connection does not say anything about the subject of coinage, that is, of gold, silver, or other metal or thing.
One of the wisest teachers the world has known held that the understanding of the true meaning of words was not only the whole mystery of logic, but the true key to the truth. His mode of teaching was, what does that word you use mean ? He affirmed that this art was the one least known; and if it was so then, it may be so now.
I propose a brief inquiry into the meaning of these two talismanic words, money and coin; and I say to Senators, let us not confine ourselves to our popular impressions -- the impressions of the day -- but let us inquire fairly what these words do in truth mean.
I affirm, to start with, that the true meaning of the word money, at the time the Constitution was established, was that currency which, with the stamp of authority on the part of the sovereign power, is used to facilitate the exchanges of a country. I will remark here that, while the term money is generic, it has an infinite variety of species.
What did money ever mean ? Webster defines the word money as describing paper money when it constitutes a currency as well as gold and silver. Money of iron was used in Sparta. Money of brass is used in China. Money of shells is used by many barbarous States. The tusks of the elephant constitute money in parts of Africa. And if any one were curious, he might collect a long catalogue of material made to constitute money; that is, the currency of a country authorized by the sovereign authority to affect the exchanges. It is simply the exercise of this sovereign authority stamping it or authorizing it as currency which makes it money. I say authorizing -- foreign coin is money in the United States; it is authorized to be passed as money by our laws. Thus much for the use of the word; and now a word more as to its origin and application.
Its origin will be found in the Latin moneo; from which moneta, also monitor and monitus. Each of these words have several significations in the Latin, but the leading one is advise, or rather direction or authority; as originally the advice or direction signified by these words was supposed to come from the gods, and expressed by their own voice or omens, tokens, or prophecy, and their will more particularly, by oracles, lightning, &c. The particular reason why the name has its present signification is, that the Roman money was coined in the temple of Juno Moneta, under her supposed direction and protection, and it was at first rather descriptive of the place than the thing.
That paper money was unknown to the Romans, that it was unknown until within a comparatively brief period, is no argument against the fact that paper may not be made money. The progress of modern art, the demands of a commercial age, and the schemes of modern enterprise, have facilitated and forced into existence a new form of money to meet the new demands of a new age. This money, or stamped paper if you please, the Government denominates five or fifty dollars, and declares that it shall be given and received as such. It is this act of sovereign authority which makes the stamped paper money just as it makes the stamped bullion money.
The truth about it is, money has no such limited meaning as has been assumed. I am confident I can rest upon the definition I have first given: all that is required is the stamp of sovereign authority; and this money while it is of many species is also of many places -- that is, it is local. Money in Afghanistan may not be money in Egypt; Money in Egypt may not be money at Constantinople; so of France, England, Austria, Russia, and the United States. I content myself with throwing out my ideas on this subject without elaborating them. I think my position cannot be questioned; we are only failing to embrace the full meaning of the word when we say the word money means only gold and silver coin. We have not accepted it even practically in that form, for we call bank notes money, and not without reason -- they are authorized by law, although issued by corporations. They have the sanction of sovereign authority, and when current are used in effecting the exchanges of the country.
Next, as to the meaning of the word coin. Here again there seems to be a necessity for looking beyond first impressions to get at the true meaning of this word. It is true that for some time past, I do not know for what period, it has been customary to use the term stamping to describe impressions upon paper and coining as the particular process of forming money out of the metals, yet it is true that the meaning of the two words is precisely the same. We have the word coin from the Arabians through the Spanish and French into the English, and it has properly no relation to the work of stamping or forming money. Its primitive meaning appears simply to have been to strike, to beat, or to drive. Its present proper meaning is nothing more than to stamp or impress.
I am aware that a more limited meaning is generally given to the word; but I ask gentlemen who appear to be in the dark upon the subject to consult the authorities. For myself, I am compelled to think that the very great and learned men who engaged in the construction of our Constitution understood the weight of the very important words they used, and weighed them in the scales of the best authorities of their day, if not of ours. Even the word "mint," or more correctly, "to mint," means nothing but to strike or impress, although generally used in the sense of striking or impressing money; but the meaning of the word "coin" is much less limited by authority and use than "mint."
I then conclude that money is that which having been stamped by sovereign authority, for the purpose of currency, is used in the effecting of the exchanges of the country, and that coining is the act of stamping, and when duly authorized by law, the coining of money within the literal and true meaning of the Federal Constitution.
For myself, I have no difficulty in understanding that, when, by the exercise of so much of the power as exists in Congress, we authorize the stamping and issuance of paper money as it currency for the country, it is justly as well money and just as well-coined money as if it were stamped out of the richest metals to be found in the Sierras of California. This Government has the power to make money out of paper or out of timber or out of iron, out of the rocks of the hills or the shells on the sea-shore. It might not be wise, it might not be just, it might not be in the order of the progress of civilization to do these things; but I affirm that the power exists in the Government, and that is sufficient, so far as the constitutional question is concerned. To this conclusion, I add the admission of the Senator from Pennsylvania, the correctness of which admission no Senator will dispute; and if my reasoning has been just, the clause making the Treasury notes of the United States a the legal tender, is one beyond all question within the power conferred on us by the Constitution.
Thus much, and briefly as to the constitutional question. I concede that it does not follow necessarily that is right.
It is said that the provision is a violation of the contracts between the Government and individuals, and authorizes the violation of contracts between individual citizens, and therefore wrong. Well, in the first place, as a general rule, law overcomes contracts, it is true that we have denied to States the power thus to legislate, but not so as to the General Government; and so far as the General Government is concerned, whether the obligations of contracts shall be impaired or not, is a question not merely of speculation or abstract justice, but is to be more or less governed by considerations of state policy and state necessity. I state boldly that a general state necessity is the higher and greater right, and swallows up, if you please, extinguishes, the individual wrong.
Such necessity has justified such action by Governments in all ages, and will have to justify it in all the ages to come. I hold such necessity a perfect justification.
How often, let me ask, if this be a violation of contract, (which I deny,) have contracts been violated by this government and by all the modern civilized Governments ? How often has England, by alloy and debasement, changed the standard of her gold and silver currency ? How often by the same process, have we done the same thing by debasing our own coin ? How often have we changed the current value of foreign gold and silver coin ? There was a time when an American and a Mexican silver dollar were of equal weight, purity, and value, and what is the difference now ? In all these proceedings under the authority of law, have we not directly taken from the country the former measure of value, and thus operated upon the contracts and interests of individuals in the very manner which it is alleged by gentlemen we now propose. If this provision is a violation of contract, we certainly have had experience enough in the practice not to be shocked by its repetition.
But suppose it is a violation of contract, and suppose the violation operates a loss -- suppose a loss to the creditor, who is required to accept notes not equal to gold and silver, and a loss to the holder on his own account in the course of comparative depreciation: is there no other word than loss that may be properly used to express this operation ? For instance, may we not call it a tax ? I think this worth considering.
This measure is necessary for the maintenance of the Government. Taxes are necessary for the maintenance of the Government. Taxes are directly demanded, and the burden is borne because of its necessity. This loss occurs by reason of the same necessity. The object and result of each is the same. If it is said that it is unequal, perhaps so; but one thing is certain, those cannot lose it who have not got it, and, besides, no system of taxation can be made equal. Our import system is not equal -- one direct tax law is any thing but equal.
But suppose we treat it as an excise tax, a tax discriminating against, the wealthy and luxurious, which assumes a specific tax upon every article of luxury. Why not treat money as a luxury -- it is the mother of all luxuries ? If you may take from the man for his carriage, his horses, and his dogs, the lady for jewelry and instruments of music, and Herr Blitz for his tricks in magic, why not from the creditor for the interest-bearing money out in a thousand hands ?
A tax is a sacrifice made for the common good. This loss is to be suffered, if loss there be, for the common good, and why not the same kind of sacrifice.
I am not the special advocate of this measure; it is no creature of mine. I was not at its birth, nor have I had anything to do with its development. It may not be a politic law; but I feel that some such law is necessary; and as I have not the skill to improve it, I will not lend my voice or vote to defeat it.
I am not able to maintain against it any good constitutional objection, and I do not see in it any special injustice. The gentleman from Vermont illustrates his views of its injustice by its effect upon small depositors in the savings banks of his State. This kind of appeal in behalf of the poor is not new. I suppose the persons who have got it there have it laid by, and are not in debt; well, they are not what I call poor people. If they are poor, then let me say, that the poorest are sometimes the richest; if they are poor they certainly are not needy; but I undertake to say that there is not in the State of Vermont, or elsewhere in the Republic, one good, true, loyal man or woman who will ever cast one regretful thought after the trifling percentage sacrificed to meet the necessities, the pressing necessities, of that country which has from their and our births till now bestowed upon us her lavish love, as well as her maternal care. They, whose sons and brothers are now offering life sacrifices, will not think of these sacrifices.
Mr. President, we are at war. This is a war measure; we must take war responsibilities. This measure can ruin no one, destroy no one, and we are advised upon the highest authority that it is needed for the maintenance of the Republic. Sir, when I arose I did not design going beyond a brief expression of opinion. I have trespassed beyond my intention. Let me say but one word more. I believe the law constitutional, just, and necessary. I hope to see it passed, and when passed, I shall hope on.