What was future President H.A. Lincoln doing in those halcyon days ?
In 1839 he already gave a speech against the Sub-Treasury; because, as Mr. Clay stated (in 1841), the rubbish had to be cleared away before the central Fiscal Bank could be established.
How about future Secretary of the Treasury, Portland Chase ?
Since 1832 he had been attorney for the Bank of the United States; where he learned everything he knew about banking, central banking, national banking, and national currency.
What of future Police Minister William Seward ?
In 1840, during the election campaign, Mr. Seward busied himself as professional liar for the Whig Party.
As a New York State Senator, on January 31, 1832, he made an elaborate defense of the Bank of the United States.
Seward was counsel for Erastus Corning, a large capitalist of Albany who was the head of the projectors of the Minnesota and Northwestern Railroad Company which, in 1854, by fraud and corruption obtained from Congress an extensive land grant of 900,000 acres.
In 1862 Erastus Corning, as Democrat!, was Representative from New York, and member of the Sub-Committe of the Committee of Ways and Means, entrusted with producing a National Currency bank bill, making of loans, issue of Treasury notes (H.R. 240), bonds, and the mode of raising the means to carry on the war.
Where was future Chairman of the Committee of Finance, Pitt Fessenden ?
In 1841 he was sitting as a Whig member of the House of Representatives.
In the House of Representatives
The Fiscal Bank.Speech of Mr. McClellan
These measures were not original; they were in accordance with the principles of Alexander Hamilton, the ancient expounder of Federalism. In the political history of the country, there was a markable coincidence between the years 1791 and 1841, just half a century after the first establishment of a Bank of the United States. In 1791, there was a separation between the money of the Government and the banks; and the revenue was collected in gold and silver, the constitutional currency of the country. There was then a standard of value, with which all commodities could be compared, and their value ascertained. Like the standard of weights and measures, it was uniform, and subject to no fluctuations. The Government, in its financial operations, started right, and it was moving in its constitutional limits, when an unfortunate impulse was given to it by one of the leading minds of the day, in the establishment of a National Bank, which have caused all the difficulties and embarrassments which have afflicted the country for the last forty years.
The administration of Mr. Van Buren terminated in 1841, and resulted in separating the revenues of the Government from bank, and requiring their collection in gold and silver. That Administration brought back the Government within its constitutional limits. It was now proposed to take a fresh departure, and to travel in the very track marked out by Alexander Hamilton in 1791. The establishment of a National Bank and a funded debt was the occasion of the first formation of parties in this country. The issue now presented was identical with the one then tried; and the same parties were rallying in their support.
The question of a National Bank has agitated this country in every period of its existence. The people have oppressed it with inflexible hostility, from 1791, till the present time; and they will continue to oppose it as institution not warranted by the Constitution, and dangerous to public liberty, no matter what may have been the opposite action of individuals. In reference to its constitutionality and expediency, the question will ever be regarded as one of the landmarks which divide the two great parties contending for the mastery in this country, at all events as long as the Constitution remains as it is. In 1781, Jefferson and Madison on the one side and Alexander Hamilton on the other, were the expounders of the great principles of their respective parties. The former maintained that Congress possessed no powers under the Constitution which were not expressly granted, or indispensably necessary to carry the granted powers into effect. They relied upon the contemporaneous history of the Constitution, and the proceedings in the convention which framed it, to show that the power to create a Bank was expressly inhibited. Mr. Madison, in his speech in 1791, said that it was proposed in the convention to vest this power in Congress; but, after three days' ardent debate, the proposition was rejected, on the ground that it was a dangerous power to entrust to the Federal Government. In support of the power, it was contended that, though it was not among the original powers, yet it was incidental to them, and therefore followed as a matter of course. The common law of interpretation was urged in support of the power, but if the rule of interpretation, as contended for by Mr. Madison had prevailed if effect had been given to the known intention and meaning of the framers of the Constitution, the question which has agitated the people of this country for so many years would have been put at rest in 1791, by a solemn decision against it.
This was the state of things in 1791, when the first Bank of the United States was established, and now, in 1841, we are met by the allegation that the constitutionality of a Bank of the United States is a settled question settled by Congress, settled by the Judiciary, and by the people. Mr. McClellan denied that the Supreme Court of the United States had ever decided that Congress had the power to charter a National Bank for the purpose for which this Bank is urged upon the country to regulate the exchanges, and restore the disordered currency to a healthy state.
The Supreme Court, in the celebrated case of McCullough against the Bank of Maryland, decided that Congress had the power to charter a Bank, if it was necessary for the fiscal operations of the Government; and that the people alone, through their Representatives in Congress, could decide upon that necessity. The court said that if a Bank was necessary to carry on the fiscal operations of the Government not that if it was necessary to regulate exchanges and furnish a currency it would be constitutional; but such a Bank would be one of exchange and deposite only, and not of circulation. It was decided that if the public revenue could be collected and disbursed to the public creditors without a Bank, Congress had no power to charter one. Then, I ask if a Bank of the United is necessary to collect the public revenue, and disburse it to the public creditors. I ask if the wants of the Government require a Bank of the United States with such tremendous powers as are given by this bill ? It would control the labor, industry, and wealth of the country, and render trade and commerce dependent upon it. It would control the State sovereignties, and even obtain a mastery over the Federal Government. By its expansions and contractions, it would raise and depress prices as its interest dictated a state of things which we Democrats, or Loco Focos if your please, never will submit.
But having the power, under this plea of necessity, to charter a Bank, it is proposed to incorporate other provisions in it which are not warranted by any interpretation that has been given to the Constitution, and that is to restore order to a deranged currency, and to regulate exchanges. Now for what object, he would ask, did the friends of this measure ask for its passage. He had seen a memorial on this subject from Boston a city which if they were to believe what was claimed for it, was to become the London of America; and if such was to be its destiny he would say amen to it, for he would rejoice to see the cradle of American liberty reach the highest pinnacle of prosperity. But to the memorial. The grounds on which the memorialists prayed for the establishment of a Bank of the United States were for the purpose of restoring order to the currency for regulating the exchanges, and promoting the industry and enterprise of the country. Now there was not one word said in the whole of this pamphlet, claiming the establishment of a Bank of the United States on the ground of making it the fiscal agent of the Government. They did not ask for a Bank to collect and disburse the public revenues, but they wanted it that they might plunder labor of its reward and take from the hand of industry the bread it has earned.
Now I deny that there is any power in this Government to regulate exchanges and restore order to a deranged paper currency. Unless you take the incidental power and draw out the Constitution like a piece of India rubber, you cannot make this Bank. There is no more power to create it then there is to provide the means for the people of Ohio and Indiana to carry their corn to market.
He recollected, Mr. McClellan said, that he had a seat in the 25th Congress, when it was contended that a National Bank was wanted to regulate the foreign exchanges which were then twenty-two per cent. against us. Well, by the operation of the laws of trade which are as uniform and as immutable as the laws of the Medes and Persians, our foreign exchanges in short time so regulated themselves as to come down to two and a half per cent, without the aid of a Bank of the United States.
This circumstances took away from the friends of a National Bank their most potent argument. What then ? Why they contended that we must have a Bank of the United States to regulate domestic exchanges. Well, sir, said Mr. McClellan, if the banks would only comply with their engagements, all this cry of deranged domestic exchanges would cease. Look, said he, at the state of exchanges between Charleston, South Carolina, and New York they are merely nominal; and the reason is, the banks of Charleston and New York comply with their engagements to the country and pay gold and silver for their obligations on demand.
Another argument in favor of a Bank of the United States is, that we must have one to establish a uniform currency. To this argument he would answer that gold and silver, the only currency known to the Constitution, is of uniform value; and that there is no power in Congress to establish any other kind of currency. By the Constitution Congress has the power to coin money, regulate the value thereof and of foreign coin. Here is an express power given to Congress to make gold and silver the legal currency of the country, and there is no other power given on the subject. He denied that Congress had the power to authorize a bank to make a currency to drive gold and silver out of circulation. He defied gentlemen to show it, either expressed or implied. It was the law of currency, that the baser circulation always drives out its superior; and here was the power given by this Bank to drive the gold out of circulation by its five dollar notes. He wished some gentleman would answer this argument, though he believed none of them would attempt it. Unless to coin money meant to coin paper yes, even the beggar's rags there was no power given to authorize a Bank to issue a paper circulation.
There was another remarkable fact connected with the grant that Congress shall have power to coin money, regulate the value thereof and of foreign coin. Now, said Mr. McClellan, I contend that Congress never performed its duty under this clause of the Constitution until the passage of the gold bill in 1834. I contend that gold was undervalued until that bill passed to suit the views of the friends of the paper system, and the consequence was it was driven out of the country by exportation.
In 1834 the gold bill was passed, restoring gold coins to their true value, and the friends of the paper system raised a clamor against General Jackson, not for hanging Arbuthnot and Ambrister, but for debasing the coin.
Another argument in favor of a National Bank was, that there was not coin enough in the country to furnish a sufficient circulation. Mr. Webster in 1832 was chairman of the Finance Committee of the Senate, and made a report, which indicated the total amount of gold and silver in the country. By this report, it appeared that there were eighteen millions in the country in 1832; but by another official report, made in 1838, it appeared that the amount of gold and silver then in the country was eighty millions, and it is now upwards of one hundred millions. Now he would ask the chairman of the Committee of Ways and Means how did that gold and silver get here ? It did not get here by the laws of trade, for the balances were then against the country. Sir, said Mr. McClellan, we have a sufficient amount of gold and silver in the country to answer all the purposes of trade; and it will remain here, the gold bill having naturalized it to the country, unless you pass this bill, and that will drive it out of the country.
I deny, said Mr. McClellan, that a Bank is necessary to aid the Government in the collection and disbursement of the public revenue. I affirm that it will be collected and disbursed without the aid of a Bank, State or National. We have had some little experience in this matter. It had been the misfortune of the Government to be connected with banks, either State or National, from the establishment of the first Bank of the United States down to this time. Before the establishment of the first Bank of the United States, the revenues of the Government were promptly collected and paid out in gold and silver. We had no difficulties at all to contend with in relation to our fiscal operations. But recently we have had a more substantial experience of the benefits resulting from collecting and keeping our own money. The administration of Mr. Van Buren has established the fact that the public revenues can be collected and disbursed without the aid of banks, State or National. This would require a short history of the administration of public affairs from the time that Mr. Van Buren came into power to the present day, and he trusted that he should not be called to order if he deviated somewhat from the strict line of debate.
Mr. Van Buren came into power on the 4th March, 1837, and it was then estimated that there were forty three millions of public money in the Treasury. I am wrong, said Mr. McClellan, it was not in the Treasury, it was in the deposite banks. No, said he, I am wrong again; it was not even in the deposite banks; it had been loaned out to shavers and speculators. Well, it was estimated that there were forty-three millions of public money belonging to the Government which had been loaned out by the deposite banks to shavers and speculators, who had invested it in cotton, in town lots, in the timber lands of the East and the fertile lands of the West. Yes, there were companies in New York, who, perhaps, like Alexander, sat down and wept that there were not new worlds to conquer, or rather to buy up with their paper money. It it was estimated, however, that there were forty three millions of public money somewhere, and during the short session of Congress, which terminated just before Mr. Van Buren came into power, Congress passed appropriations amounting to thirty seven millions, exceeding the estimates of the Departments nineteen millions of dollars, and also passed the distribution bill.
The Solons of that period believed that the paper millennium had come, and went to such extravagant lengths that he was almost ready to exclaim with a celebrated chancellor, "Go abroad into the world, my son, and see with what little wisdom it is governed." Well, in this state of things, Mr. Van Buren came into power, and all went well and as merrily as the marriage bells till the memorable 8th of May, when the banks suspended specie payments. That suspension commenced with the deposite banks, which held the public moneys, and was followed by all the other banks. It commenced with the banks in New York, and, with the rapidity of steam, it ran through every State in the Union, bringing down the nine hundred banks like a mighty avalanche on the country. The momentum which put the ball in motion was the distribution act of 1836. This was the match which fired the train and caused the tremendous explosion which struck such a panic throughout the land.
What was the effect of this suspension on the finances of the country ? When the banks suspended they were indebted to the Government fourteen to sixteen millions of dollars, and by reason of that suspension they would not pay the Government a single dollar for its ordinary expenditures. The importing merchants were indebted to the Government in the amount of four millions more for their bonds given for duties, and which they could not pay, because the banks had suspended. Here, then, were eighteen millions of dollars in the hands of the deposite banks and importing merchants, and there were appropriations to the amount of thirty-seven millions to provide for. What was to be done ?
Did Mr. Van Buren fold his arms and let the wheels of the Government stop, without an effort to keep them going ? He called Congress together to remedy the evil that had befallen the country and what did he recommend ? Did he recommend that the Government should take care of itself and let the people. take care of themselves, as he had been charged with doing in the newspapers ? Did he recommend to Congress to pass a law to compel these merchants and banks to pay up ? No, he recommended that indulgence should be given to the merchants by an extention of time on their duty bonds, and that the banks should be allowed to pay the amounts respectively due by them in instalments and at a liberal credit. Further: he recommended the issue of the much-abused Treasury notes in anticipation of the future resources of the Government, and to supply its immediate necessities. These Treasury notes operated in favor of the banks leaving them in possession of their means, and enabling them to avoid pressing their debtors. And yet the cry went from the seaboard to the Buffalo region of the West that Mr. Van Buren had recommended that the Government should take care of itself, and that the people should take care of themselves.
What further did he recommend ? The deposite law had provided that the public money should be placed only in specie-paying banks, and that when they suspended they should no longer have the custody of it. Well, the banks had suspended they rendered themselves incapable of receiving the public funds under the provisions of that law they had separated themselves from the Government, and Mr. Van Buren recommended to Congress to continue the suspension. He was here then, Mr. McClellan said, and heard the message read in the stentorian voice of the lamented Franklin, and never was there a more sublime spectacle than was exhibited by Mr. Van Buren on that occasion. In the midst of gloom and dismay, there stood the statesman, calm and undismayed. Like a skillful pilot, he stood lashed to the helm with the charts of Jefferson before him, prepared to direct the ship of state through the impending storm.
Some of the crew becoming panic struck, went off in the boats, and landed themselves at the half-way house of Conservatism. They soon, however, found their way into the Whig camp. The Democratic party was almost prostrated it seemed as if they were about to give up house-keeping. But in the elections of the twenty-sixth Congress, when the issue was tried on the Independent Treasury bill, the people sent Representatives instructed to pass it, and that was what Mr. Van Buren meant when he spoke of the sober second thought of the people, who are seldom wrong and always efficient.
Notwithstanding the difficulties Mr. Van Buren had to contend with, yet he maintained the public credit inviolate, promptly meeting every demand upon the Government carried on the Florida war, and removed the Indians, and handed over to his illustrious successor, on the 4th of March last, a Treasury free from debt; the ciphering of the Secretary of the Treasury to the contrary. He said the people had recorded their verdicts against the Bank as follow:
1st. In 1811, in refusing to re-charter it.
2d. In 1832, in re-electing Andrew Jackson, after his veto.
3d. In electing the Twenty-fourth Congress.
4th. In electing Martin Van Buren, after his letter to Sherrod Williams.
5th. In passing the Independent Treasury bill.
6th. In electing Harrison and Tyler; for the banners in his State expressly stated, No Bank of the United States.
Mr. McClellan then went into a discussion of the evils of a Bank, and contended that that established in 1816, after being wrung from a reluctant people by an appeal to their fears just when the State banks were preparing to resume specie payments, had by its subsequent expansions and contractions produced repeated commercial revulsions, and plunged the community in universal distress. In 1819, Mr. Johnson of Virginia, had introduced a resolution to take away its charter on this very ground.
Mr. McClellan said he would read a few extracts from his admirable speech, to be found in Niles's Register, to show that the commercial revulsion of 1819 was made more severe than that of 1837. Well, in 1839, this resolution was introduced by Mr. Johnson, and after his speech on the subject, followed the admirable speech of John Tyler of Virginia, a few extracts from which he would read. Mr. Tyler among other things said:
For one, I enter my protest against the banking system, as conducted in this country; a system not to be supported by any correct principle of political economy. A gross delusion the dream of a visionary a system which has done more to corrupt the morals of society than any thing else which has introduced a struggle for wealth, instead of that honorable struggle which governs the actions of a patriot, and makes ambition virtue which has made the husbandman spurn his cottage, and introduced a spirit of luxury at variance with the simplicity of our institutions. I call upon the warm advocates of banking now to surrender their errors. Shall I take them by the hand, and lead them through our cities ? Bankruptcy meets us at every step ruin stares us every where in the face. Shall I be told of the benefits arising to commerce from the concentration of capital ? Away with the delusion; experience has exposed its fallacy. True, for a moment it has operated as a stimulus; but, like ardent spirit, it has produced activity and energy but for a moment; relaxation has followed, and the torpor of death has ensued. When you first open your banks, much bustle ensues a fictitious goddess, pretending to be wealth, stands at the door, inviting all to enter, and receive accommodation. Splendid palaces arise the ocean is covered with sails but some alteration in the state of the country takes place; and, when the thoughtless adventurer, settled in the midst of his family, in the imaginary enjoyment of permanent security, sketches out to himself long and halcyon days, his prospects are overshadowed, and misery, ruin, and bankruptcy make their appearance, in the form of bank curtailments. If this be true, and I appeal to the knowledge of all men for its truth, I demand to know if you can put down the system too soon ? Can we too soon escape the dangers by which we are surrounded ? I know I shall be told that even if we put down this Bank, the State banks will still exist. Even if true, the position is not a justifiable one. If the State Legislatures do not follow the example which we set them, we shall have acquitted ourselves of our duty. It is all that can be asked of us. But, sir, we actually possess the lever of Archimedes, and have a foot of ground on which to rest it. Our revenue amounts to upwards of $20,000,000 annually. Require but a fourth, or even a sixth, to be paid in gold or silver; what would be the effect ? The merchants would collect the notes of banks, and demand specie for them; and thus a test would be adopted, by means of which to ascertain the solvency of each institution. The demand for specie, thus produced, would have the beneficial effect of introducing more of it into the country; for money is like every other article, and will find its way to the market where it is most wanting. The system might be enlarged gradually, until your wishes should be consummated. I know the ground which I occupy, when I urge these considerations upon you. A man, regardful alone of the fleeting and ephemeral popularity of the hour, would hesitate in pressing them upon you. But I should not hold myself entitled to your countenance, Mr. Chairman, to the countenance of honest men, or, what is still more important, the approbation of my conscience, if I could be operated on by such motives or fears.
Now, Mr. Chairman, if these are Virginia abstractions of which gentlemen spoke, he went for them with more than Eastern idolatry, embraced them with all a mother's affection, and was prepared to live upon them. He then referred to another commercial revulsion in 1826, passed some severe strictures on Mr. Adams's administration, so often held up as the Augustin era of American history, and insisted that if not armed with exorbitant power, and in the possession of the public deposites, the great monster itself must then have been tumbled into ruins.
But here, his hour expiring, Mr. McClellan resumed his seat.
in Committee of the Whole on the state of the Union
Mr. Chairman: I am gratified that I have been able to obtain the floor at this early stage of the debate; not because I am vain enough to believe that I can throw any new lights upon the subject now under consideration, but because I wish to place some of the reasons which have influenced my mind distinctly before the country. I come from a State which is generally supposed to have been uniformly opposed to a Bank of the United States in any form, and my vote vote in favor of the bill before the committee will differ from that of a large majority of my colleagues. These circumstances seem to impose upon me some kind of obligation to show to the people of Virginia, that, if I stand stand in an attitude of opposition to their settled opinions, I have some plausible grounds, at least, of justification; and if my course is erroneous, it is sanctioned by the example of "the fathers of the Constitution."
With regard to my immediate constituents I feel no difficulty, for I have every reason to believe that their opinions on this interesting subject harmonize entirely with my own. Let the matter be as it may in regard to other gentlemen and other portions of the country, I claim confidently to represent, upon this subject especially, the sentiments of the great central and republican district by which I was sent here. In that district the issues of "Bank or no Bank," and "Distribution or no Distribution," were distinctly raised and fully discussed. I was opposed by a gentleman [Mr. James McDowell] of distinguished abilities and of unexceptionable character. His reputation as an orator, a scholar, and a statesman, was familiar to political and literary circles of the Union. His name had been associated with the most honorable offices in the gift of the "Old Dominion," and I do not hesitate to say that, if he had been successful in obtaining a seat on this floor, he would have been one of the brightest ornaments of this enlightened assembly. The election turned upon those issues, and, under all the disadvantages arising from the disparity of age, of qualification, and of reputation, I was elected by a triumphant majority. Such, sir, was the verdict of the people, and I stand here prepared to render judgment upon it.
It has been said here, Mr. Chairman, in the course of this debate, as it has been said through the country for the last half century, that the first Bank of the United States was a monstrous conception of Federalism, and that the Bank of 1816 and the measure now under consideration are the offspring of the same political heresy. This declaration, if it were allowed to go uncontradicted, would be well calculated to do to mischief, by exciting popular prejusdices in the country, and particularly in the Southern States, which have always claimed to be the pecuculiar exponents of the republican faith.
But, sir, I do not mean that it shall go out to the country uncontradicted. So far from it, upon the responsibilities of my position as a member of this House, I deny that either the Bank of 1791 or of 1816 was incorporated by the Federal party. Nay, sir, I go still further. I pledge myself to prove from the official records of the country that the Bank of 1791 was chartered before the formation of the Federal and Republican parties, and that the Bank of 1816 was emphatically a Republican measure, recommended and sanctioned by a Republican President, and passed by a Republican Congress, in opposition to the most strenuous efforts of the Federal party to defeat it. Yes, sir, to be more distinct, I mean to say that the Bank of 1816 was just as emphatically a measure of the Republican party of that day, as the Sub-Treasury scheme was a measure of Mr. Van Buren's administration.
In order to present my views on this subject clearly and distinctly to the House, I propose to trace, very briefly, the history of the Bank question, from its origin to the present time. On this point, I have been anticipated to some extent by the very distinguished gentleman from Pennsylvania [Mr. Sergeant] who has preceded me, but I will follow in his footsteps, and add some matters of detail to what he has already placed in so clear a point of view.
The first project for a Bank having any features of nationality about it was submitted by Robert Morris of Pennsylvania, as early as the 17th of May, 1781, to the Congress assembled under the Articles of Confederation. Those articles, it is well known, conferred much less power on the Federative Government, and constituted a much less intimate union between the States which were parties to them, than now exists under our Constitution. This is apparent on the face of the Constitution itself, for it is there declared that one object in adopting the Constitution, was "to form a more perfect union" among the Sates. Yet that Congress, acting under such restricted powers, did not feel any hesitation in considering and adopting the plan for the establishment of a Bank, under the name of the Bank of North America, which was essentially a National Bank. The ordinance was passed on the 31st of December, 1781, and, among other recitals contained in the preamble, it will be found that it affirms that "the exigencies of the United States render it indispensably necessary that such an act be immediately passed." (See Journal 1781, page 705-6.)
The test vote upon this subject was taken on the 25th of May, 1781. (See Journal 1781, 1782, page 625.) At that time eleven States were represented in Congress, and of these eleven, nine, viz: New Hampshire, Rhode Island; Connecticut, New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Georgia, voted for the Bank. Massachusetts voted against it, and Pennsylvania was divided. Or, if we look to the individual votes of the members, we will find that Congress consisted of twenty-four members, of whom twenty voted for the Bank, and four against it. Thus the Bank was established; and it is a well-authenticated fact that the facilities and accommodations furnished by that Bank to the Government during the war contributed most materially to the successful termination of our Revolutionary struggle.---[Dear, oh dear; the well-established fact is: that the Bank o'North America did NOT contribute to the revolutionary struggle. The Bank did NOT go into operation until 1782, by which time the war was over. Should have read the real history of that Bank, it was published in 1833.]
Having now disposed of the Bank of North America, I will pass to the consideration of the history of the Bank of 1791, and to the circumstances which led to its recommendation and adoption.
Our present Constitution went into operation the 4th of march, 1789. The country had recently passed through that tremendous struggle which had happily resulted in the achievement of our national independence. The finances of the country were in the most embarrassed condition; public and private credit were alike prostrated; the exchanges were deranged; the currency was so degraded as to be worth only one-hundredth part of its nominal value, or a cent in the dollar; industry was paralyzed in all its departments, and discontent and distress overspread the whole country. Under these circumstances, one of the first subjects which engaged the attention of Congress was the restoration of a sound currency. With this view as early as the 9th of August, 1790, Congress adopted a resolution instructing the Secretary of the Treasury to report to that body, at its next session, "such further provisions as might, in his opinion, be necessary to establish the public credit." In fulfillment of the duty duty thus imposed on him by Congress, the Secretary, Alexander Hamilton, on the 14th December, 1790, made a report to Congress recommending the establishment of a Bank of the United States.
This report was immediately read and committed to a committee of the whole House. On the 23d December the same report was communicated to the Senate of the United States, where it was committed to a special committee, who were instructed to take the subject into consideration and report upon it. On the 3d of January, 1791, a bill was reported to the Senate, which was under consideration from time to time until the 20th of January, when it was passed.
We have no means of of knowing what were the views taken of the subject by Senators, as we have no record of their debates, nor do we know how the vote stood upon the final passage of the bill, as it appear, from the Journal that the yeas and nays were not taken upon the question. There were, however, several test votes taken upon various important amendments, upon which the votes were recorded. The most important of these was the motion to limit the charter to ten instead of twenty years. On this motion the vote stood ayes 6, noes 16; or, in other words, 16 were favorable to the Bank and 6 adverse to it. (Journal 1790-1)
This bill was immediately sent to the House, where it passed without opposition to its third reading. At this stage of its progress, it was bitterly assailed upon the grounds of unconstitutionality and expediency, and defended with equal earnestness by its friends. The debates on both sides are characterized by great ability and research. On the 8th of February, 1791, the question upon the passage of the bill was taken, and the vote stood, ayes 39, noes 20. Thus it will be seen that in the Senate the votes were near three to one in favor of the bill, and in the House of Representatives they were near two to one.
But gentlemen have told us that this was a Federal measure, carried by Federal voice. Now, sir, it is a fact, well known to all who are at all conversant with the history of the formation of parties in our country, that the lines between the Federal and Republican parties, as subsequently understood, were not drawn until near the close of Gen. Washington's administration. But I am willing to meet gentlemen on their own ground, and to suppose, for the sake of the argument, that the party lines were distinctly marked at the date of the passage of the Bank bill. Let us then look at the ayes and noes on the passage of the bill, and class them politically, and what is the result ? I affirm, on the authority of Nathaniel Macon, that of those who voted in favor of the Bank, eleven were Republicans in the great struggles of party which subsequently occurred; and of those who voted against the Bank, six were Federalists. This fact was stated upon the authority of Mr. Macon, by Mr. McKee of Kentucky, in his speech delivered in the House of Representatives on the 24th of January, 1811, and reported in Clarke's History of the Bank of the United States, p. 298.
Had gentlemen taken the trouble to look at the record of this vote, they surely would never have hazarded the assertion that the Bank of 1791 was carried by a party vote. Was Nicholas Gilman a Federalist ? Was Elbridge Gerry, the Republican Vice President of the United States, a Federalist ? Were Peter Muhlenburg, James Schureman, and Roger Sherman, Federalists ? No, sir, no. Every man who knows any thing of the history of the country, knows that these men were all staunch Republicans. And yet their names are all found recorded in favor of the Bank of 1791. These facts show conclusively that the Bank of 1791 was not decided upon party principles or by a party vote.
On the 14th of February, 1791, the bill was submitted to President Washington for his signature. The question being one of novelty and importance, the President, with that prudence which always characterized his conduct, both in war and in peace, called upon his cabinet for their advice. That cabinet consisted of Thomas Jefferson, Secretary of State; Alexander Hamilton, Secretary of the Treasury; General Knox, Secretary of War; and Edmund Randolph, Attorney General. The question was most ably and elaborately examined, and the cabinet was equally divided; Mr. Hamilton and General Knox being in favor of the bill, and Mr. Jefferson and Mr. Randolph being against it. All the members of the cabinet, except General Knox, gave formal opinions on the question in writing; which opinions cover the whole ground on both aides, and may be read with great profit at the present day.
There is one passage in the opinion of Mr. Jefferson, which contains a sentiment so honorable to him, and so truly republican in its character, that I cannot forbear from bringing it to the attention of the House, and commending it to the consideration of members. It is the last paragraph in the "opinion," and is in these words:
It must be added, however, that unless the President's mind on a view of everything which is urged for and against this bill, is tolerably clear that it is unauthorized by the Constitution; if the pro and the con hang so even as to balance his judgment, a just respect for the wisdom of the legislature would naturally decide the balance in favor of their opinion. It is chiefly for cases where they are clearly misled by error, ambition, or interest, that the Constitution has placed a check in the negative of the President."
Sir, this sentiment ought to be printed in letters of gold, and hung up at the portals of the Executive mansion.
Gen. Washington gave to this subject his most anxious consideration. He held up the bill to the last moment that he was allowed by the Constitution to retain it, and he tasked all the faculties of his great and comprehensive mind to the utmost, to come to a correct conclusion, and he finally gave to the bill the sanction of his name.
The gentleman from North Carolina [Mr. Saunders] says that this decision by the Congress and the President ought not to be regarded as authoritative, because it was made in the infancy of the Republic. Here, Mr. Chairman, I again join issue with the gentleman. I maintain that there are circumstances which give to this decision of the Government a sanctity which belongs to no other adjudication, What are these circumstances ? In the first place, it was made very recently after the Constitution was formed, and at a period when the views and meaning of its framers were necessarily much better understood than they are now.
Secondly, it was made, to a considerable extent, by the same persons who had framed the Constitution itself, and who, of course, are to be presumed to have understood its provisions better than any one else. And here, sir, let us resort to the official records, and see precisely how this matter stands. If gentlemen will consult the journals, they will find that there were in the Senate of the United States, in the year 1791, eight members who had been members of the convention which formed the Constitution. To avoid all misapprehension, I will give their names, and if any gentleman desires to make the examination for himself, he can do so by referring to the journal of the Senate, 1781, page 234. The names are: John Langdon, New Hamphire; William S. Johnson, Connecticut; Rufus King, New York; Robert Morris, Pennsylvania; Richard Bassett, Delaware; George Reid, Delaware; Pierce Butler, South Carolina; and William Few, Georgia. Of these, the six first named voted in favor of the Bank, and the two last named against it.
In the House of Representatives, there were also eight members who had been members of the Federal Convention. They were: George Clymer, of Pennsylvania; Thomas Fitzsimons, of Pennsylvania; Nicholas Gilman, of New Hampshire; Roger Sherman, of Connecticut; Abraham Baldwin of Georgia; Daniel Carroll, of Maryland; James Madison, of Virginia; and Hugh Williamson, of North Carolina. The four first named voted for the Bank, and the four last named voted against it.
It thus appears that, of the sixteen members of the Convention which formed the Constitution of the United States, who were in the Congress of 1791, ten voted for the Bank, and six against it.
We also know, officially, that George Washington, the President of the Convention, and Alexander Hamilton, one of its most distinguished members were in favor of the Bank of the United States; and we know, too, that James Madison, in 1815, relinquished his objections to the constitutionality of a Bank: on that, if we classify the members of the Convention whose opinions on this important subject have been officially declared, we will find they stand thirteen in favor of it to five against it, or nearly in the ratio of three to one ! Here I leave this point, with this single inquiry, which I throw out for the consideration of those who are to follow me in this debate, Who can be more competent to give a just exposition of the Constitution than those who framed it ?
The third consideration, which seems to me to give peculiar authority to the decision of the first Congress, is, that it was made without reference to the influences of party. The subject was taken up and considered as a financial and business measure, and it was discussed, as all great measures should be discussed in our legislative halls, with calmness and dignity and mutual forbearance; and it was decided, as I have already shown by a reference to the journal, without any regard to those party influences which sometimes sway the judgment of the most virtuous men.
The last circumstance to which I will barely advert, as giving a peculiar authority to the decision of 1791, is the character of the first President the Father of his Country. I do not propose, Mr. Chairman, to pronounce a studied eulogy on the character of Washington. Nothing that I could say could add another ray to the halo of glory which surrounds his name. Nor will I stop to combat the views of those who charge that in his administration of the Government he departed from the true principles of the Constitution. Let others think what they may, I have no hesitation in announcing it as my opinion that George Washington was not only the purest and best, but also the WISEST man that this country ever saw. A benign Providence seems to have created him for the serial purpose of achieving the independence of his country, and of establishing its liberties upon sure and permanent foundations. This man, then, fresh from the Convention which framed the Constitution, over whose deliberations he had been chosen to preside, was called on to decide this great constitutional question. His sound, discriminating, and, I may almost add, inflexible judgment, was enlightened by the able arguments of Hamilton on the one side, and Randolph and Jefferson on the other, and, after the most mature deliberation, he gave his sanction to the bill. If all these considerations do not give authority and sanctity to that judgment, what circumstances can give validity to the decisions of a human tribunal ?
Thus, sir, the Bank of 1791 was established; and during the whole period of its existence, its validity was never questioned in our judicial tribunals. And very soon the effects which resulted from its creation vindicated the wisdom of its projectors and supporters; for, in the language of the celebrated report of Mr. McDuffie in 1830, "public and private credit was raised from a prostrate to a very elevated condition, and the finances of the nation were placed on the most solid foundation."
I will now hasten on to other incidents connected with the history of the Bank. Shortly after Louisiana had been purchased by Mr. Jefferson, Congress deemed it expedient to establish a branch of the United States at New Orleans; and, with that view, a law was passed authorizing the Bank to establish branches in any part of the Territories or dependencies of the United States." To this bill Mr. Jefferson, on the 23rd of March 1804, gave his sanction. (See Laws of the United States, 1804, chapter 32.)---[Just because he signed it, doesn't mean he approved of the Bank. Letter of President Jefferson to Secretary of the Treasury Gallatin. He simply felt that there was no sufficient reason to veto it. Would he have signed a bank act ? Mr. Clay in his 1811 speech denied the validity of your argument that the establishmnet of branch banks meant acquiescence to the bank's contitutionality.]
It is well known that Mr. Jefferson was one of the earliest and most able opponents of the Bank, and his great name is always invoked as authority by the enemies of the institution; but I submit it to this House and to the country to decide whether, when Mr. Jefferson signed this bill, he did not relinquish his constitutional scruples. How is it possible that an opponent of the constitutional power to create a Bank could lend his aid to the extension of the powers and faculties of such an institution ? Where is the distinction between conferring unconstitutional powers upon an institution at the time of its inception, and extending the sphere within which those powers shall be exercised, or granting new powers to such an institution already in existence ? For myself, I must confess my inability to perceive it, and I leave the point for political casuists to decide.
But there is another law to which I will invite the attention of the House, as being calculated to throw some light upon the opinions of Mr. Jefferson. In 1807 it was found that the existing laws to punish frauds and forgeries on the Bank were defective; and, to remedy that evil, an additional act was passed on the 24th of February, 1807, and approved by Mr. Jefferson, then President of the United States, "to punish frauds committed on the Bank." This act will be found in Story's edition of the Laws of the United States, volume 2, page 1048. A very superficial examination of this law will show that Mr. Jefferson could not have sanctioned it without abandoning his constitutional scruples. In the first place, it recognizes the Bank as having a corporate existence; for it provides for the punishment of frauds against whom ? The people ? No. The stockholders ? No; but against the corporation the Bank.
Now it is perfectly clear that if the law creating the Bank was unconstitutional, the Bank could have no corporate existence; and therefore no "fraud" could be committed upon it. In other words, the law would have been nugatory and inoperative. We are bound, therefore, to suppose that Mr. Jefferson did recognise the legal existence of the Bank; and that recognition necessarily implies the power of Congress to pass the law which gave it existence.
But there is yet another link in the chain of official documentary evidence, to prove that Mr. Jefferson substantially abandoned his constitutional objections to a Bank of the United States. On the 2d of March, 1809, Mr. Albert Gallatin, Mr. Jefferson's Secretary of the Treasury, and the man who has been significantly called the "mainmast of his Administration," whilst the relation of President and Secretary still subsisted between them, submitted an able report to Congress, recommending the recharter of the Bank of the United States. I do not pretend to affirm that this recommendation was made with the assent of Jefferson; but I leave it for the country to decide whether it is probable, considering the confidential relations which existed between Mr. Gallatin and the President, that he would have concealed the fact from Mr. Jefferson that he intended to submit such a report ?
I ask whether it is to be presumed that any Secretary would have ventured to propose a measure of such vital interest without the sanction of the President ? I think not; and, if Mr. Gallatin were to feel himself at liberty to speak, I feel well assured that he would say that Mr. Jefferson was fully apprised of his intention to submit the report of 2d March, 1809, and that it met his approbation.
So much, Mr. Chairman, for the history of the Bank of 1791. I will now proceed to review some of the leading incidents connected with the abortive efforts to procure a recharter of that Bank, and with the struggles which resulted in the charter of 1816.
The charter of the Bank was limited to 1811. In 1810 an attempt was made to renew it, which was not finally acted on.
On the 4th of January, 1811, a bill to renew the charter was reported to the House of Representatives by Mr. Burwell. After this bill had undergone a discussion extending through seventeen days, Mr. Newton, of Virginia, on the 21st of Jan. 1811, moved to postpone the bill indefinitely. (See Journal, 1811, page 495.) Mr. Newton premised this motion by saying, "I am for laying the legislative axe at the root of the evil. I am for immediately deciding this question, and turning to some other business; and, for this purpose, I move that the further consideration of the bill be indefinitely postponed." (See Doc. Hist. U.S. Bank, page 196.) This proposition elicited another very able discussion, and, on the 24th of January, 1811, the vote was taken by ayes and noes (see Journal, 1811, page 500) and the result was ayes 65, noes 64. So the motion was carried. There is one fact in regard to this vote to which I will call the attention of the House, and which I beg leave to commend to the particular consideration of my colleague from the Buckingham district, [Mr. Hubard]. It is, that John Randolph of Roanoke, the gentleman's illustrious predecessor, voted against Mr. Newton's motion to "lay the axe to the root," by destroying the Bank.
The subject of a renewal of the charter was introduced into the Senate, also, at the same session; and, after full discussion, the proposition to strike out the enacting clause was carried by the casting vote of the Vice President of the United States, the Senate being equality divided 17 to 17; and this division, I will add, was without regard to party; for we find Mr. Brent of Virginia, and Mr. Wm. Crawford, in the negative; whilst Giles and Clay, and other distinguished Republicans, were in the affirmative.
Thus it, will be seen that this measure was lost by a majority of one in the House of Representatives, and by the casting vote of the Vice-President in the Senate. And yet this is the decision upon which the gentleman from North Carolina [Mr. Saunders] relies, as overruling the decision of the large majorities in the Congress of 1791, and the solemn judgment of President Washington ! For my part, Mr. Chairman, I regard this decision as having none of the authority of a constitutional precedent; for, independently of the leanness of the majorities, there are other circumstances which show that the question was decided not upon Constitutional grounds, but upon mere considerations of expediency. This is manifest from the fact that we see gentlemen of opposite political opinions voting together; as, for example, William H. Crawford, of Georgia, and Timothy Pickering, of Massachusetts.
But there are other views which show why the Bank was not rechartered. Seven-tenths of the whole Stock of the institution was owned by British subjects; and as we were, in 1811, on the eve of a war with Great Britain. Every consideration of sound policy would seem to require that such a Bank should not be rechartered under such circumstances.
Here, Mr. Speaker, let me pause for a moment to advert to a singular incident in the political history of my beloved native State, which tends more strongly than any circumstance within my knowledge to prove the strength of her devotion to what are here termed "Virginia abstractions." In 1811 the Legislature of Virginia instructed her Senators [Mr. Giles and Mr. Brent] to oppose the renewal of the charter of the Bank of the United States. Mr. Giles made a speech in the Senate in response to the instructions, in which he denied the right of the Legislature to instruct, but nevertheless he yielded practical obedience to the legislative mandate by voting against the Bank. Mr. Brent, on the other hand, promptly admitted the right to give the instruction, but practically disobeyed it by voting for the Bank ! And strange to say, Mr. Chairman, Mr. Giles, who denied the "abstraction," and yet voted in obedience to the legislative will, lost caste as a politician; whilst his colleague, Mr. Brent, who admitted the "abstraction," and practically disregarded it, retained his popularity without the smallest diminution. These facts I have from many sources, and amongst others from my venerable colleague [Mr. Taliaferro] on my right.
In the year 1814 the subject of incorporating a Bank of the United States was again renewed. On the 2d of April, 1814, Mr. Grundy of Tennessee moved the following resolution:
"Resolved, That a committee be appointed to inquire into the expediency of establishing a National Bank." (See Journal 1814 p. 330.)
This was near the close of the session, however, and no action grew out of it.
On the 19th of September, 1814, a special session of Congress commenced, and on the 14th of October John W. Eppes, the chairman of the Committee of Ways and Means, addressed a latter to Alexander Dallas, the Secretary of the Treasury, asking him to suggest measures for the revival and maintenance of the public credit. And here, Mr. Chairman, permit me to pause for a moment to note, the coincidence between the course taken by Congress in 1814 and in 1790. In both cases the Secretary of the Treasury was called on to suggest measures to establish the public credit. The language is almost the same in both cases. In 1790 Hamilton is called upon to report measures for" establishing the public credit;" still in 1814 Dallas is requested to suggest "such additional provisions as may be necessary to revive and maintain unimpaired the public credit." It would seem, from the similarity of the means used, that the Congress of 1814 was arriving indirectly at the same end which was attained by the inquiry of 1790, viz: the recommendation of a Bank of the United States. Whether such was the intention or not, it is very certain that such was the result; for, on the 17th of the same month, Mr. Dallas responded to the inquiry by recommending the establishment of a National Bank. After full consideration of this communication of Mr. Dallas, the committee reported a resolution, in these words:
Resolved, That it is expedient to establish a National Bank, with branches in the several States." (See Journal 1814, p. 504.)
Upon this resolution some proceedings were had, which I commend to the attention of those gentlemen who are opposed to the branching power of the Bank of the United States. Mr. Stanford moved to strike out the latter branch of the resolution, "with branches in the several States." Upon this question the yeas and nays were taken, and the vote stood yeas 14, nays 138. And among the nays were P.P. Barbour of Virginia, J.C. Calhoun of South Carolina, J.W. Eppes of Virginia, J. Forsyth of Georgia, C.J. Ingersoll of Pennsylvania, J.G. Jackson of Virginia, Wm. R. King, now of Alabama, W. Lowndes of South Carolina, and Alfred Cuthbert of Georgia, and a host of other distinguished Republicans. (See Journal 1814, pp. 504-5)
The amendment having been defeated, the question recurred on the adoption of the original resolution. And here I take leave to say that this is the only occasion within my knowledge on which the abstract question of Bank or no Bank has been submitted to Congress, unembarrassed by any matter of detail in the particular measure proposed. It presents the naked question, to be decided without reference to any extraneous circumstances; and hence the decision possesses more interest and more authority as a precedent than any other decision within my knowledge. Now, sir, how do you suppose the vote stood ? If you will consult the Journal of 1814, pages 505 and 506, you will find that, upon this abstract proposition, the vote stood ayes 93, noes 54, or nearly two to one in favor of it. And, if you will look at the ayes and noes, you will find recorded in the affirmative the names of John C. Calhoun, the distinguished Senator from South Carolina, who but the other day told the Senate he was always opposed to a Bank "in the abstract;" Mr. Cuthbert, now a Senator from Georgia; Mr. Forsyth, late Secretary of State; the distinguished gentlemen from Pennsylvania. [Mr. C.J. Ingersoll] whose Democracy no man will pretend to question; Mr. S.D. Ingham of Pennsylvania; Mr. W.R. King, now a Senator from Alabama; Mr. Lowndes of South Carolina; and many other distinguished Republicans, as well as those of Mr. Gaston, Mr. Webster, and other distinguished Federalists.
Without going further into details, it is sufficient to say that a bill was introduced and passed in the Senate by a vote of 17 to 14, and which was rejected in the House by the casting vote of the Speaker. (See Journal 1815, pages 638-9.) A few days afterwards this vote was reconsidered by a vote of 107 to 51 most of the Republicans voting for it. (See Journal 1816, pages 641-2) The bill was then recommitted to a select committee, who shortly afterwards reported it with amendments reducing the capital from fifty to thirty millions of dollars; and it was passed by a vote of 129 to 31 most of the leading Republicans again voting for it. (See Journal 1815, pages 652-3.)
This bill was sent to Mr. Madison for his signature, and on the 30th of January, 1815, he returned it with his objections, or, in other words, he vetoed the bill. But, sir, did he rest his objections on constitutional grounds ? Let his message answer for him. In that memorable document Mr. Madison used these strong expressions
"Waiving the question of the constitutional authority of the Legislature to establish an incorporated bank as being precluded, in my judgment, by repeated recognitions under varied circumstances of the validity of such an institution, in acts of the Legislative Executive, the Judicial branches of the Government, accompanied by indications in different modes of the concurrent will of the nation, the proposed bank does not appear to be calculated to answer the purposes of reviving the public credit, of providing a national medium of circulation, and of aiding the Treasury by facilitating the indispensable anticipations of the revenue, and by affording to the public more durable loans."
Here, Mr. Chairman, it will he seen that Mr. Madison distinctly abandons his constitutional objections, and, treating that question as settled, he rests his veto on the defects in the provisions of the bill itself.
When the bill was thus returned by Mr. Madison with his objections, an attempt was made to pass it through the Senate in opposition to the veto by a vote of two thirds, but it failed ayes 15, noes 19. On this proposition Mr. Giles, the republican Senator of Virginia, voted ay, or, in other words, for the passage of the bill. (See Doc. Hist. Bank U.S. 596)
The bill having failed, Mr. James Barbour, a distinguished republican Senator from Virginia, immediately introduced another bill, conforming to the views of the President; but this bill was not pressed, as is believed, in consequence of the news that a treaty of peace with Great Britain had been concluded.
On the 5th of December, 1815, Mr. Madison, in his annual message to Congress, called their attention to the subject of a uniform currency, and mentioned a Bank of the United States as one of the agents which would aid in furnishing it. This recommendation was seconded by a very able report from Mr. Alexander Dallas, then Secretary of the Treasury, in which he showed the indispensable necessity of such an institution. The recommendations were promptly responded to by Congress.
That part or the President's message which referred to the currency was referred to on the following day (6th December) to a special committee, consisting of Mr. Calhoun of South Carolina, Mr. Macon of North Carolina, Mr. Pleasants of Virginia, Mr. Hopkinson of Pennsylvania, Mr. Robertson of Louisiana, Mr. G. Tucker of Virginia, and Mr. Pickering of Massachusetts (See Journal 1816, p. 26.)
On the 8th of January, 1816, Mr. Calhoun reported the bill to establish a Bank of the United States. (See Journal, 1816, p. 136.) After a very protracted debate, the question was at length taken on the passage of the bill in the House of Representatives, when it passed by a vote of 80 to 71. (See Journal, 1816, pp 489 and 490.) In the Senate, this bill passed by a vote of 22 ayes to 12 noes; and it received the sanction of President Madison.
Here, Mr. Chairman, let us pause to analyze these votes, that we may see how far the charge that this Bank was a Federal measure, carried by Federal votes, is sustained by the record. The ayes and noes are now before me, and I have prepared a careful analysis of them, which exhibits the following result: In the Senate, of the twenty-two who voted for the Bank, seventeen were Republicans, and five Federalists; and of the twelve who voted against it, seven were Federalists and five were Republicans. In the House of Representatives, of the eighty members who voted for the bill, sixty-seven were Republicans and thirteen were Federalists; whilst, of the seventy-one who voted against the Bank, thirty were Republicans and forty-one were Federalists. And yet gentlemen tell us this was a Federal measure ! A Federal measure, though two-thirds of the Federalists voted against it, and two-thirds of the Republicans in both Houses voted for it !
But the gentleman from North Carolina [Mr. Saunders] tells the House that the constitutional question was not raised in 1816. The Federalists were estopped from raising it; and, as the Republicans intended to vote for it, of course they would not raise it ! I must confess this is a novel doctrine to me. The Constitutional question not raised ? How was it possible to avoid it ? Does not the constitutional power or, in other words, the jurisdiction of Congress over the subject-matter under consideration arise in every conceivable case ? Does it not be at the threshold of every question ? If you have no constitutional power over a subject, you cannot act upon it at all; and if you do act upon it, the conclusion that, in your opinion, you have the power to act, is a necessary consequence of your action.
Away, then, with the notion that the constitutional power was not drawn in question in 1816 ! It was questioned, it was debated, and it was decided.
But, sir, it may not be uninteresting or unprofitable to let the country know who some of these Federalists were who conspired to fasten this horrible monster of a Bank of the United States on the country in 1816. Taking the ayes alphabetically, I find among them Mr. John C. Calhoun, the distinguished Senator from South Carolina; next, we find Mr. Alfred Cuthbert, now a Senator from Georgia; and next, Mr. Forsyth, of Georgia, late Secretary of State. Then followed in rapid succession Mr. Ingham, the former Secretary of the Treasury under Gen. Jackson's administration; John G. Jackson, the predecessor of my colleague from the Clarksburg district, [Mr. Hays]; Mr. Kerr, the predecessor of my colleague from the Halifax district, [Mr. Coles]; Mr. Wm. R. King, then a Representative from North Carolina, but now a Senator from Alabama; Mr. Lowndes of South Carolina; Mr. Lumpkin of Georgia; Gen. William McCoy, the predecessor of my colleague from the Rockingham district, [Mr. Harris]; Mr. Samuel Smith of Maryland, late a distinguished Democratic Senator from that State, and Judge Henry St. George Tucker, at present the able and respected President of the Court of Appeals of Virginia, and the acknowledged head of the Democratic party in that State. These are a few examples, Mr. Chairman, of the Federalists who were instrumental in inflicting this deep wound upon the Constitution of their country.
Now, sir, let us look upon the other side of the picture, and see who were the staunch Democrats who resisted this monstrous encroachment on the liberties of the people. Sir, I do not mean, in any thing I may say, to be understood as casting any imputation on the motives of the Federalists, or as endorsing any of the vile calamities which have been propagated against their character. Although I dissent widely from many of their opinions, I believe that the Federal party was influenced, in the main, by as elevated and patriotic impulses as any party that ever existed. No, sir; far be it from my purpose, at any time, to denounce a party which numbered amongst its members Washington, and Adams, and Hamilton, and Marshall, and a host of the noblest spirits of the Revolution. I merely advert to the party distinctions of the day to rebuke the authors of the assertion that the Bank was a Federal measure, carried by Federal votes.
Who, then, were those who were most distinguished for their opposition to the bank ? First, Sir, I will name Gen. James Breckenridge, of Virginia, a gentleman conspicuous for his elevated character and sound judgment, but who was a consistent Federalist to the day of his death. Next in order, I will mention Judge Gaston, of North Carolina; Joseph Lewis, of Virginia; Timothy Pickering, of Massachusetts; and my lamented and distinguished personal friend, the late Daniel Shaffey, of Virginia, who then represented the district from which my colleague in front of me [Mr. Hopkins] now comes, and who always gloried in being called a Federalist. Last, but not least, among the opponents of the Bank in 1816, was Daniel Webster, now Secretary of Sate, but then a Representative from New Hampshire a man who, if Mr. Ritchie is to be taken as authority, is the very impersonation of every vile political heresy which a spirit of lawless usurpation ever generated.
Thus you see who were the Federalists who voted for this bill, and who the Democrats who voted against it.
Having now completed this general view of the subject, let me turn for a moment to examine what has been the course of Virginia, the "flagship of Democracy" on this great question. How did her delegation stand on this memorable occasion ? From the constant clamor which is kept up about the devotion of Virginia to Democracy, as gentlemen call it, and her steadfast and uniform opposition to a Bank, you would naturally be led to expect that she presented on that occasion an unbroken front. But how stand the facts ? Virginia, in 1816, had twenty-two representatives; and, upon the passage of the bill, eighteen were present, and voted as follows:
Ayes Messrs. Th. Gholson, A. Hawes, J.P. Hungerford, J.G. Jackson, J. Kerr, William McCoy, Ballard Smith, Henry St. George Tucker.
Noes Messrs. P.P. Barbour, B. Bassett, J. Breckenridge, J. Clopton, P. Goodwyn, J. Johnson, J. Lewis, T. Newton, J. Randolph, D. Sheffey.
Making eight for the bill and ten against it. Four members were absent, viz: Hugh Nelson, James Pleasants, Magnus Tate, and W.H. Roane. Classed politically, the delegation stood nineteen Republicans and three Federalists. The Federalists were Breckenridge, Lewis, and Sheffey, every one of whom voted against the bill, whilst every man of the delegation who voted for it was a Republican.
But we are not left in the dark as to the sentiments of the absent members; for, after the vote was taken on the passage of the bill, it was sent to the Senate, whence it was returned to the House with amendments; and, on the 5th of April, 1816, Mr. Randolph moved to postpone the consideration of the bill and amendments indefinitely. (See Journal, p. 598.) This motion gave rise to much debate, and the vote being taken, it stood ayes 67, noes 91. Before this vote was taken, the members from Virginia who had been absent at the former vote had returned to their seats, and three of them, viz: Messrs. Pleasants, Tate, and Nelson, voted against the motion for indefinite postponement, whilst only one, Mr. Roane, voted for it.
Yes, sir, strange as it may seem to some gentlemen, Mr. Hugh Nelson, the predecessor of my colleague on my left [Mr. Gilmer] and the immediate representative of the Monticello district, voted for the Bank. Where that gentleman was when the vote on the passage of the bill was taken whether he was in the city, or had gone home to consult the Mountain Sage as to the vote he should give I will not pretend to say; though, if I were to hazard a conjecture on the subject, it would be the latter.
Adding these absentees to the ayes and noes as given on the passage of the bill, we have eleven of the Virginia delegation voting for the Bank and eleven against it. But, of the eleven who voted against it, three were Federalists, whilst all those who voted for it were Republicans. Those, sir, are authentic facts.
But this is not all. Let us look to the Senate of the United States. There you will find that both the Republican Senators from Virginia, James Barbour and A.T. Mason, voted for the Bank. Where, then, sir, was the potential voice of Virginia ? Where were her instructions to her Senators ? Did the sentinel sleep on the watch-tower ? Let it not be said, Mr. Chairman, that this question was suddenly sprung on the public, and that Virginia had no time to make her voice heard in the councils of the nation. No, sir; the facts will not warrant such an assertion. The question had been the subject of discussion during the whole preceding session of Congress, when the Virginia Legislature was also in session, and yet not a murmur of disapprobation was heard, not a movement of opposition made.
At the commencement of the session of 1815-16 the subject was again brought to the attention of Congress by the message of the President and the report of the Secretary of the Treasury. The Legislature of Virginia commenced its sessions contemporaneously with Congress, and continued in session for months, and and yet we hear not a whisper in the from of a remonstrance ! Why was this ? Has it been the habit of Virginia to be dumb when she believes the Constitution is threatened with danger ? No sir; she has always been accustomed to give full expression to her opinions, and we are authorized to infer, from the absence of all opposition to the establishment of a Bank, that she too, like her beloved and trusted Madison, had "waived" her constitutional scruples.
Sir, need I tell this House who James Barbour is ? No, sir; he stands out in bold relief as one of the most distinguished of Virginia's sons a man and a politician without spot or blemish. He commenced his career when but a boy, as the colleague and friend of Madison, in the Legislature of Virginia, in the memorable session of 1798-9; and there, sir, he first won distinction by advocating the celebrated report of his colleague. In after life, he filled every station within the gift of his native State, to say nothing of the distinguished offices which at various times he held under the Federal Government, and he still lives to enjoy the richest reward of a well-spent life the confidence and affectionate respect of all who know him.
These facts are surely enough to sustain the proposition that Virginia herself favored, or at least did not oppose, the Bank of 1816. If gentlemen wish any further evidence, let me point them to the fact that a vacancy having occurred in the Senate of the United States, by the resignation of Mr. John W. Eppes, in December, 1819, Mr. James Pleasants, who had, as a member of the House of Representatives, voted for the Bank of 1816, was elected to fill that honorable station. And, to crown all, in 1824, Virginia, by a large majority, cast her Presidential vote in favor of William H. Crawford, the man who, through good and through evil report, had been the staunch, undeviating friend of the Bank, and whose reputation as a statesman rested more upon his able and uniform support of that institution than upon any other measure whatever.
With this historical review of the bank question, I leave it to this House and to the country to say how far I am sustained in my assertion that the Bank of 1791 was not a measure of the Federal party, and that the Bank of 1816 was emphatically a Republican measure.
There is yet another view of this question which I wish to present to the House, and particularly to Southern members. The impression has prevailed very extensively that the Bank of the United States was a Northern measure, forced upon the country by Northern votes, at the expense of Southern interests; in other words, we of the South have regarded it as a cunningly devised scheme of our Northern friends to take money out of our pockets and put it into theirs. Now I beg gentlemen to bear with me while I make an analysis of the vote of 1816, in reference to the great geographical divisions of the country into North and East, Middle, and South and West. If gentlemen will examine for themselves, they will find that the votes stand thus:
Northern and Eastern Division.
For passage. Against passage.
New Hampshire 1 ..... 5
Massachusetts 7 ..... 7
Rhode Island 2 ..... 0
Connecticut 2 ..... 5
Vermont 1 ..... 4
New York 12 ..... 8
New Jersey 4 ..... 2
Pennsylvania 6 ..... 12
Delaware 0 ..... 2
Southern and Western Division.
Maryland 4 ..... 3
Virginia 8 ..... 11
North Carolina 9 ..... 3
South Carolina 7 ..... 1
Georgia 5 ..... 1
Kentucky 4 ..... 4
Tennessee 3 ..... 1
Ohio 3 ..... 2
Louisiana 1 ..... 0
44 ..... 26
From this table it will appear that the Northern and Eastern States were strongly opposed to the Bank, that the Middle States were comparatively indifferent as to its fate, whilst the South and West carried the bill, giving nearly two-thirds of their votes in its favor. This is a very striking fact; and it has given rise to some reflections in my mind as to the probable reason of it; and I invite the attention of my friends from South Carolina especially to one view which has presented itself to my mind.
We of the South have always opposed a tariff for protection, on the ground that the duty enhanced the price of merchandise, and that the consumers in the South ultimately bore the burden; or, in other words, that the duty was a bounty to the Northern manufacturer, which was paid by the Southern consumer. Without pretending to discuss the precise extent to which this argument is sound, I am willing, for the present, to admit its truth to the full extent. But let us see if there in not another mode of taxing the South and West for the benefit of the North, which is equally objectionable in principle, and equally onerous in practice. I allude to the derangement in the exchanges of the country. We all know that the Northern are the importing and manufacturing States, while the Southern are the consuming States. In 1816, Mr. McDuffie tells us in his report, the average rate of exchange between the Northern and Southern divisions of the Union was about ten per cent. in favor of the North, and it is not a great deal less now.
Now, how did this derangement operate practically? and how does it operate now ? The whole amount of our imports are now estimated at one hundred and forty millions of dollars. Let us suppose that fifty millions of this amount are consumed in the Southern and Western States. What is the process which must be passed through before these goods are consumed ? In the first place, they are imported into the Northern cities, and the Southern merchants go there to lay in their supplies. They either take with them their local paper, which is at a discount of ten per cent. or they pay a premium of ten per cent. at home for a draft on one of the Northern cities. If they take the local paper with them to market, they are not able to buy goods with it at cash prices; and they are, therefore, compelled either to go to the broker's shop and have the money shaved at ten per cent. or they let the merchant indirectly turn broker, and exact the premium in the enhanced price of the goods.
What do the Southern merchants do next ? Do they lose this ten per cent. out of their profits ? By no means. The amount paid as a premium for the draft, or the amount paid to the broker, is essentially just as much a part of the price paid for the goods as the amount paid to the importer. The merchant so regards it; and in fixing his price on his goods, he always adds to the amount paid to the importer the amount of the brokerage or premium, and then lays his profit on the aggregate; and the consumers, the farmers and planters of the country, pay the whole.
And who enjoys the benefit ? Is it not the brokers and money changers of the North ? I beg gentlemen to look at this proposition seriously. If the South consumes fifty millions of imports, and if the brokerage, or premium, on exchange is ten per cent. I ask, does it not operate to tax the South to the amount of that ten per cent. or five millions of dollars, for the benefit of the North ? Or, to bring the case home to ourselves, do not the constituents of every gentleman on this floor, who consume $100,000 worth of merchandise brought from the North, pay a tax to the Northern brokers to the extent of five or ten thousand dollars, as the rate of exchange may happen to be five or ten per cent.?
I am aware that this state of things could not continue permanently, but it is always the case upon any sudden and violent revulsion in the business of the country which disturbs the currency and deranges the exchanges. May not this view of the subject furnish some clew to the reason which governed the votes of the different sections of the Union in 1816 ?
Our Northern brethren are shrewd and sagacious in seeing their interests, and if they found that the derangement of the currency was "inuring to their benefit," is it a matter of surprise that they should be opposed to a Bank, which would restore a uniform currency and equalize the exchanges, and deprive the swarm of brokers and money changers, who always reap in the field of a deranged currency, of the rich harvest which they were gathering ?
The Middle country occupied a position of comparative neutrality, and hence you find that the representation from that country was almost equally divided, whilst the South and West, who were the principal sufferers, were the warmest advocates of a bank and its consequences a sound currency and equal exchanges.
If this view of the subject be correct in regard to the year 1806, is it not equally correct in regard to the present time ? And I call upon members from the South and West to say whether the interests of their constituents do not imperiously require that they should now go for a Bank ?
Having thus presented an outline of the political history of the Bank, I propose to submit a few observations in regard to it as connected with the currency and business of the country. I have already adverted to the effects of the Bank of 1791, in restoring to the country a sound currency, and I shall not return to that early period of our history. But I wish to look at the state of things which followed the dissolution of the Bank in 1811.
Gentlemen here found their objections to the Bank on their hostility to the paper currency system. Now, sir, I wish it to be understood that no man can be more hostile to our present unregulated banking system than I am. But I am a friend to the credit system properly guarded. I go for a currency which is somewhat assimilated to our political institutions. I go for a local currency for local purposes, and a general or national currency for the purposes of trade between the several States. This can only be effected by means of a National Bank, as the experience of the country from the foundation of the Government has shown.
Before the Bank of 1791 was established, we had a degraded currency and a prostrate credit. That institution re-established both, and they continued in a sound condition as long as the Bank existed. As soon as it went down, we again had the currency degraded; the exchanges deranged; a general suspension of specie payments; emissions of Treasury notes, and floods of shinplasters through the whole country.
The Bank of 1816 caused the State banks to resume specie payments restored a sound currency and equal exchanges, and brought back prosperity to the country, which continued until the expiration of the charter in 1836. Scarcely had it ceased to exist before precisely the same results which had ensued upon the destruction of the Bank in 1811 again took place. We again have general suspensions of specie payments; again new emissions of Treasury notes; again new floods of shinplasters; derangement of the exchanges, and distress and ruin throughout the land.
I am for applying the game remedy now which gave efficient relief under similar circumstances in 1816. But we are told by the gentleman from North Carolina [Mr. Saunders] that the Bank did not regulate the exchanges of the Country, nor did it aid in the resumption of specie payments. To the first assertion I oppose the official tables accompanying Mr. McDuffie's report of 1830, from which it appears that the average rate of exchange during the existence of the Bank was from one-fourth to one-half of one per cent. instead of from five to ten per cent. as it has been for the last three years. And I add the further fact, stated by Mr. Gallatin in his pamphlet on banking, that, in 1832, the amount of exchanges negotiated by the Bank of the United States was two hundred and forty-two millions of dollars, at an average rate of one-eleventh of one per cent.
To the latter assertion, made by the gentleman from North Carolina, [Mr. Saunders] I oppose the statement of Mr. Calhoun, contained in the following extract from a speech delivered by him in the Senate in 1832:
"I might say with truth that the Bank owes as much to me as to any other individual in the country; and I might even add, that had it not been for my efforts it would not have been chartered.
"I must content myself with saying, having been on the political stage without interruption from that day to this, (having been an attentive observer of the question of the currency throughout the whole period,) that the Bank has been an indispensable agent in the restoration of specie payments; that without it the restoration could not have been effected short of the utter prostration of all the moneyed institutions of the country, and an entire depreciation of bank paper; and that it has not only restored specie payments, but has given a currency far more uniform, between the extremes of the country, than was anticipated, or even dreamed of at the time of its creation."
But, to illustrate my views of this subject still more clearly, I will submit a few statistical tables, which will show the effect of a National Bank in keeping a check upon the State banks, and the wild excesses into which they must inevitably run whenever that check is removed.
In 1811 the whole number of banks was 85.
In 1816 the whole number of banks was 242.
Thus it will be seen that in the brief period of five years which intervened between the banks of 1811 and 1916, the number of banks was nearly trebled the circulation was increased in the same ratio, or thirty-eight millions of dollars, whilst the specie was augmented but four millions of dollars !
Pursuing this view of the subject still further, it will be found that, in 1830, the whole number of banks was 330.
In 1838 the whole number (see Raguet on Banking, page 251) was 829.
From these tables it will be seen that the increase in the number of banks from 1816 to 1830, a period of fourteen years, when we had a Bank of the United States, was only eighty-eight, whilst the increase of the number from 1830 to 1838, a period of eight years, when we had no Bank of the United States, was four hundred and ninety-nine !
The increase in the capital of the banks in the first named period was about fifty-four millions of dollars, whilst in the last named period it way about one hundred and seventy-two millions ! And what is still more remarkable, it will be found that one hundred and thirty millions of that increase was made in those States in which the Democratic anti-bank party had the most decided political ascendancy !
But I am admonished, Mr. Chairman, by the progress of the the minute-hand of that clock [pointing to the clock of the House of Representatives] not to dwell upon these statistics, and I will dismiss this branch of the subject with one or two practical remarks.
The first is, that whenever we have had no Bank of the United States our monetary affairs have been in confusion; we have had extravagant issues of paper money, general suspensions of specie payments, and prodigal emissions of Treasury notes, whilst during the forty years we had a Bank of the United States we had a sound currency, no general suspension of specie payments, a uniform system of exchanges, and a well-regulated and substantial system of credit.
The second is, that during the forty years that a Bank of the United States was employed as the fiscal agent of the Government the country never lost a dollar by it, while, on the other hand, during the twelve years that the Government has used other agencies in collecting, keeping, and disbursing the public moneys, millions have been lost !
I shall not pretend, Mr. Chairman, to go into an examination of the constitutional power to establish a Bank as an original proposition. I have neither the time nor the inclination to do so. The arguments are familiar to the House and the country. I regard that question as settled by the judgment and acquiescence of both the great political parties of this country, in both Houses of Congress, under circumstances of the most solemn and imposing character; by the unanimous judgment of the Supreme Court of the United States, with John Marshall at its head; and by the sanction, either directly or indirectly, of every President and of every Secretary of the Treasury, from the foundation of the Government to the present day.
But there is one view of the subject which, as I have not seen it adverted to elsewhere, I will submit for the consideration of the House. The gentleman from North Carolina [Mr. Saunders] tells us that this is a Government of enumerated powers. I grant it. But the Constitution contains this among the other enumerated powers: "Congress shall have power to make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into effect the foregoing powers, and all other powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any department or office thereof." Is this provision a mere dead letter, or was it intended to have an efficient practical operation in conferring on Congress a power to discriminate in regard to the means "necessary and proper" to carry into effect the powers specifically enumerated ?
I presume the latter proposition will not be controverted by any one; and the only difficulty arises in regard to the extent of this power. Gentlemen tell us that measures, to come within the influence of this provision, must not only be "necessary," but indispensably necessary the necessity must be overruling and absolute the measure proposed must have such an intimate and inseparable relation to the specified power, that it cannot be carried into effect in any other manner. If any other means can be found to give effect to the power, then all other measures, though they may be more convenient, cease to be indispensably necessary, and are, therefore, unconstitutional.
Upon this view of the subject, gentlemen argue that, as the Government can exist and perform its functions without the aid of a National Bank, though such an institution may be highly beneficial and convenient to the people and the Government, it is not constitutional because it is not indispensably necessary ? Now, sir, I have several objections to this train of reasoning. In the first place it is in direct opposition to my principles of strict and literal construction, as applicable to the Constitution of the United States.
It assumes that you are not to take the Constitution as it stands, but that you shall be at liberty to interpolate the word "indispensably" before the words "necessary and proper," so as to qualify and restrict the meaning of those terms. In the next place, it gives to the word "necessary" a meaning entirely different from its common acceptation. And, finally, it gives to it a sense different from that to which it is used in other parts of the Constitution. It is one of the cardinal rules of construction that every instrument is its own best expositor, and hence, in endeavoring to ascertain the meaning of any particular provision, you must look to the context you must take the whole instrument together, and where the same phrases occur in different part of it, you may infer, from the use made of particular words in one part of it, what meaning was intended to be attached to them in another.
Now, let us apply this familiar principle to the Constitution of the United States, and see if it will throw no light on the subject. In the first place, by reference to the 10th section of article 1 of the Constitution, in regard to the power of the States to lay duties on imports or exports, it is limited to cases in which it is "absolutely necessary" for executing the inspection laws. Thus it will be seen that when the convention wished to convey a restricted idea, they employed qualified and restricted terms.
But in the 3d section of article 2, in which the duties of the President are prescribed, he is required "from time to time to give Congress information of the state of the Union, and recommend to their consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient." What is the meaning of the words necessary and expedient in this clause of the Constitution ? Will gentlemen give the same restricted interpretation to them here as in the section enumerating the powers of Congress ? Will they interpolate the word "indispensably" as an antecedent to the words "necessary and proper" here also ? If they follow the plain dictates of common sense, or the established rules of construction, they must do so here if they do so in the other case, for the framers of the Constitution must be presumed to have used the same words in the same sense in the same instrument.
But what would be the effect of giving this narrow and unreasonable construction to this clause of the Constitution ? The President would not be at liberty to look to the interests, and the honor, and the happiness of the country, and recommend such measures as would promote its wealth and prosperity, but would be limited to such measures as were indispensably necessary to national existence. He would be compelled to disregard all the lights of experience, to suppress all the emotions of patriotism which might swell in his bosom, to reject all the improvements which might tend to ameliorate the social and political condition of his country, and limit his recommendations to such measures as were indispensably necessary to the existence of a half-civilized nation. Need I argue to prove the absurdity of such a proposition as this ?
And yet, if the rule of construction be applicable in the one case, it is in the other. The true principle I apprehend to be this: In both cases a wide discretion is allowed in regard to the means to be used. The President is to recommend such measures as are, in his opinion, suitable and convenient to promote the general welfare of the nation, and Congress are to make such laws as are, in their opinion, most suitable and convenient to carry into effect the powers which are specifically conferred on them for the same great end.
And if, in the judgment of Congress, a Bank of the United States is such a means, it clearly falls within the influence of that clause of the Constitution.
These, Mr. Chairman, are some of my views of this important question. I have dealt but little in speculation, and have confined myself principally to a detail of historical facts. I have investigated the history of the Bank with much care; and, if I have fallen into error, I am not aware of it. But, as I intend that these facts shall go before the country, and as there will be a full opportunity afforded to gentlemen, in the course of this debate, to correct any inaccuracies in my statement, I invite the most rigid scrutiny upon every point; and, if I have inadvertently misrepresented any thing, it will give me pleasure to correct it.
Senate of the United States,
August 19, 1841.
Mr. CLAY of Kentucky rose and addressed the Senate as follows:
Mr. President: The bill which forms the present subject of our deliberations had passed both Houses of Congress by decisive majorities, and in conformity with the requirement of the Constitution, was presented to the President of the United States for consideration. He has returned to the Senate, in which it originated, according to the direction of the Constitution, with a message announcing the veto of the bill, and containing his objections to its passage. And the question now to be decided is, shall the bill pass, by the required constitutional majority of two-thirds, the President's objections notwithstanding ?
Knowing, sir, but too well, that no such majority can be obtained, and that the bill must fall, I would have been rejoiced to have found myself at liberty to abstain from saying one word on this painful occasion. But the President has not allowed me to give a silent vote. I think, with all respect and deference to him, he has not reciprocated the friendly spirit of concession and compromise which animated Congress in the provisions of this bill, and especially in the modification of the sixteenth fundamental condition of the Bank.
[compromise !?! you only discussed and debated how the central bank should be set up and operated. There was no compromise on whether a bank should be established]
He has commented, I think, with undeserved severity on that part of the bill; he has used, I am sure unintentionally, harsh, if not reproachful, language; and he has made the very concession, which was prompted as a peace offering, and from friendly considerations, the cause of stronger and more decided disapprobation of the bill. Standing in the relation to that bill which I do, and especially to the exceptionable clause, the duty which I owe to the Senate and to the country, and self respect, impose upon me the obligation of at least attempting the vindication of a measure which has met with a fate so unmerited and so unexpected.
On the 4th of April last, the lamented Harrison, the President of the United States, paid the debt of nature. President Tyler, who, as Vice President, succeeded to the duties of that office, arrived in the city of Washington on the 6th of that month. He found the whole metropolis wrapt in gloom, every heart filled with sorrow and sadness, every eye streaming with tears, and the surrounding hills yet flinging back the echo of the bells which were tolled on that melancholy occasion. On entering the Presidential mansion he contemplated the pale body of his predecessor stretched before him, and clothed in the black habiliments of death. At that solemn moment, I have no doubt that the heart of President Tyler was overflowing with mingled emotions of grief, of patriotism and gratitude above all, of gratitude to that country by a majority of whose suffrages, bestowed at the preceding November, he then stood the most distinguished, the most elevated, the most honored of all living Whigs of the United States.
It was under these circumstances, and in this probable state of mind, that President Tyler, on the 10th day of the same month of April, voluntary promulgated an address to the people of the United States. That address was in the nature of a coronation oath, which the chief of the State, in other countries, and under other forms, takes, upon ascending the throne. It referred to the solemn obligations, and the profound sense of duty, under which the new President entered upon the high trust which had devolved upon him, by the joint acts of the people and of Providence, and it stated the principles and delineated the policy by which he would be governed in his exalted station. It was emphatically a Whig address from beginnings to end every inch of it was Whig, and was patriotic.
In that address the President, in respect to the subject-matter embraced in the present bill, held the following conclusive and emphatic language:
"I shall promptly give my sanction to any constitutional measure which, originating in Congress, shall have for its object the restoration of a sound circulating medium, so essentially necessary to give confidence in all the transactions of life, to secure to industry its just and adequate rewards, and to re-establish the public prosperity. In deciding upon the adaptation of any such measure to the end proposed, as well as its conformity to the Constitution, I shall resort to the fathers of the great republican school for advice and instruction, to be drawn from their sage views of our system of Government, and the light of their ever glorious example."
This clause in the address of the President, I believe but one interpretation was given throughout this whole country, by friend and foe, by Whig and Democrat, and by the presses of both parties. It was, by every man with whom I conversed on the subject at the time of its appearance, or of whom I have since inquired, construed to mean that the President intended to occupy the Madison ground, and to regard the question of the power to establish a National Bank as immovably settled. And I think I may confidently appeal to the Senate, and to the country, to sustain the fact that this was the contemporaneous and unanimous judgment of the public. Reverting back to the period of the promulgation of the address, could any other construction have been given to its language ? What is it ? "I shall promptly give my sanction to any constitutional measure which, originating in Congress," shall have certain defined objects in view. He concedes the vital importance of a sound circulating medium to industry and to the public prosperity. He concedes that its origin must be in Congress. And, to prevent any inference from the qualification, which he prefixes to the measure, being interpreted to mean that a United States Bank was unconstitutional, he declares that, in deciding on the adaptation of the measure to the end proposed, and its conformity to the Constitution, he will resort to the fathers of the great Republican school. And who were they ? If the Father of this country is to be excluded, are Madison, (the father of the Constitution,) Jefferson, Monroe, Gerry, Gallatin, and the long list of Republicans who acted with them, not to be regarded as among those fathers ? But President Tyler declares not only that he should appeal to them for advice and instruction, but to the light of their ever glorious example. What example ? What other meaning could have been possibly applied to the phrase, than that he intended to refer to what had been done during the administrations of Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe ?
Entertaining this opinion of the Address, I came to Washington at the commencement of the session, with the most confident and buoyant hopes that the Whigs would be able to carry all their prominent measures, and especially a Bank of the United States, by far that one of the greatest immediate importance. I anticipated nothing but cordial co-operation between the two departments of Government; and I reflected with pleasure that I should find at the head of the Executive branch, a personal and political friend, whom I had long and intimately known, and highly esteemed. It will not be my fault if our amicable relations should unhappily cease, in consequence of any difference of opinion between us on this occasion. The President has been always perfectly familiar with my opinion on this Bank question.
Upon the opening of the session, but especially on the receipt of the plan of a national bank, as proposed by the Secretary of the Treasury, fears were excited that the President had been misunderstood in his Address, and that he had not waived but adhered to his constitutional scruples. Under these circumstances it was hoped that, by the indulgence of a mutual spirit of compromise and concession, a bank, competent to fulfil the expectations and satisfy the wants of the People, might be established.
Under the influence of that spirit, the Senate and the House agreed, 1st, as to the name of the proposed bank. I confess, sir, that there was something exceedingly outree and revolting to my ears in the term "Fiscal Bank;" but I thought, "What is there in a name ? A rose, by any other name, would smell as sweet." Looking, therefore, rather to the utility of the substantial faculties than to the name of the contemplated institution, we consented to that which was proposed.
2d. As to the place of location of the bank. Although Washington had passed through my mind as among the cities in which it might be expedient to place the bank, it was believed to be the least eligible of some four or five other cities. Nevertheless, we consented to fix it here.
And, lastly, in respect to the branching power, there was not probably a solitary vote given in either House of Congress for the bill that did not greatly prefer the unqualified branching power, as asserted in the charters of the two former Banks of the United States, to the sixteenth fundamental condition, as finally incorporated in this bill. It is perfectly manifest, therefore, that it was not in conformity with the opinion and wish of majorities in Congress, but in a friendly spirit of concession towards the President and his particular friends, that the clause assumed that form. So repugnant was it to some of the best friends of a national bank in the other House, that they finally voted against the bill because it contained that compromise of the branching power.
It is true that, in presenting the compromise to the Senate, I stated, as was the fact, that I did not know whether it would be acceptable to the President or not; that, according to my opinion, each department of the Government should act upon its own responsibility, independently of the other; and that I presented the modification of the branching power because it was necessary to ensure the passage of the bill in the Senate, having ascertained that the vote would stand 26 against it to 25, if the form of that power which had been reported by the committee were persisted in. But I nevertheless did entertain the most confident hopes and expectations that the bill would receive the sanction of the President; and this motive, although not the immediate one, had great weight in the introduction and adoption of the compromise clause. I knew that our friends who would not vote for the bill as reported, were actuated, as they avowed, by considerations of union and harmony, growing out of supposed views of the President, and I presumed that he would not fail to feel and appreciate their sacrifices. But I deeply regret that we were mistaken. Notwithstanding all our concessions, made in a genuine and sincere spirit of conciliation, the sanction of the President could not be obtained, and the bill has been returned by him with his objections.
And I shall now proceed to consider those objections, with as much brevity as possible, but with the most perfect respect, official and personal, towards the Chief Magistrate.
After stating that the power of Congress to establish a national bank, to operate per se, has been a controverted question from the origin of the Government, the President remarks:
"Men most justly and deservedly esteemed for their high intellectual endowments, their virtue and their patriotism, have, in regard to it, entertained different and conflicting opinions. Congresses have differed. The approval of one President has been followed by the disapproval of another."
From this statement of the case, it may be inferred that the President considers the weight of authority, pro and con, to be equal and balanced. But if he intended to make such an array of it if he intended to say that it was in equilibrium I must respectfully, but most decidedly, dissent from him. I think the conjoint testimony of history, tradition, and the knowledge of living witnesses prove the contrary. How stands the question as to the opinion of Congresses ? The Congress of 1791, the Congress of 1813-14, the Congress of 1815-'16, the Congress of 1831-'32, and, finally, the present Congress, have all respectively and unequivocally affirmed the existence of a power in Congress to establish a national bank to operate per se.
We behold, then, the concurrent opinion of five different Congresses on one side. And what Congress is there on the opposite side ? The Congress of 1811 ? I was a member of the Senate in that year, when it decided, by the casting vote of the Vice President, against the renewal of the charter of the old Bank of the United States. And I now here, in my place, add to the testimony already before the public, by declaring that it is within my certain knowledge that that decision of the Senate did not proceed from a disbelief of a majority of the Senate in the power of Congress to establish a national bank, but from combined considerations of expediency and constitutionality. A majority of the Senate, on the contrary, as I know, entertained no doubt as to the power of Congress. Thus the account, as to Congresses, stands five for and not one, or, at most, not more than one, against the power.
Let us now look into the state of authority derivable from the opinions of Presidents of the United States. President Washington believed in the power of Congress, and approved a bank bill. President Jefferson approved acts to extend branches into other parts of the United States, and to punish counterfeiters of the notes of the bank acts which were devoid of all justification whatever upon the assumption of the unconstitutionality of the bank. For how could branches be extended or punishment be lawfully inflicted upon the counterfeiters of the paper of a corporation which came into existence without any authority, and in violation of the Constitution of the land ?
James Madison, notwithstanding those early scruples which he had entertained, and which he probably still cherished, sanctioned and signed a bill to charter the late Bank of the United States. It is perfectly well known that Mr. Monroe never did entertain any scruples or doubts in regard to the power of Congress. Here, then, are four Presidents of the United States who have directly or collaterally borne official testimony to the existence of the bank power in Congress. And what President is there that ever bore unequivocally opposite testimony that disapproved a bank charter in the sense intended by President Tyler ?
General Jackson, although he did apply the veto power to the bill for rechartering the late Bank of the United States in 1832, it is within the perfect recollection of us all that he not only testified to the utility of a Bank of the United States, but declared that, if he had been applied to by Congress, he could have furnished the plan of such a bank.
Thus, Mr. President, we perceive that, in reviewing the action of the Legislative and Executive departments of the Government, there is a vast preponderance of the weight of authority maintaining the existence of the power in Congress. But President Tyler has, I presume unintentionally, wholly omitted to notice the judgment and decisions of the third co-ordinate department of the Government upon this controverted question that department whose interpretations of the Constitution, within its proper jurisdiction and sphere of action, are binding upon all; and which, therefore, may be considered as exercising a controlling power over both the other departments. The Supreme Court of the United States, with its late Chief Justice, the illustrious Marshall, at its head, unanimously decided that Congress possessed this bank power; and this adjudication was sustained and reaffirmed whenever afterwards the question arose before the court.
After recounting the occasions, during his public career, on which he had expressed an opinion against the power of Congress to charter a Bank of the United States, the President proceeds to say:
"Entertaining the opinions alluded to, and having taken this oath, the Senate and the country will see that I could not give my sanction to a measure of the character described without surrendering all claim to the respect of honorable men all confidence on the part of the People all self-respect all regard for moral and religious obligations; without an observance of which no Government can be prosperous, and no people can be happy. It would be to commit a crime which I would not willfully commit to gain any earthly reward, and which would justly subject me to the ridicule and scorn of all virtuous men."
Mr. President, I must think, and hope I may be allowed to say, with profound deference to the Chief Magistrate, that it appears to me he has viewed with too lively sensibility the personal consequences to himself of his approval of the bill; and that, surrendering himself to a vivid imagination, he has depicted them in much too glowing and exaggerated colors; and that it would have been most happy if he had looked more to the deplorable consequences of a veto upon the hopes, the interests, and the happiness of his country. Does it follow that a magistrate who yields his private judgment to the concurring authority of numerous decisions, repeatedly and deliberately pronounced, after the lapse of long intervals, by all the departments of Government, and by all parties, incurs the dreadful penalties described by the President ? Can any man be disgraced and dishonored who yields his private opinion to the judgment of the nation ? In this case, the country, (I mean a majority,) Congress, and, according to common fame, a unanimous cabinet, were all united in favor of the bill. Should any man feel himself humbled and degraded in yielding to the conjoint force of such high authority ? Does any man, who, at one period of his life shall have expressed a particular opinion, and at a subsequent period shall act upon the opposite opinion, expose himself to the terrible consequences which have been portrayed by the President ? How is it with the judge, in the case by no means rare, who bows to the authority of repeated precedents, settling a particular question, whilst, in his private judgment, the law was otherwise ? How is it with that numerous class of public men in this country, and with the two great parties that have divided it, who, at different periods, have maintained and acted on opposite opinions in respect to this very bank question ?
How is it with James Madison, the father of the Constitution that great man whose services to his country placed him only second to Washington whose virtues and purity in private life whose patriotism, intelligence, and wisdom in public councils stand unsurpassed ? He was a member of the National Convention that formed, and of the Virginia Convention that adopted, the Constitution. No man understood it better than he did. He was opposed in 1791 to the establishment of the Bank of the United States upon constitutional ground; and, in 1816, he approved and signed the charter of the late Bank of the United States. It is a part of the secret history connected with the first bank, that James Madison had, at the instance of General Washington, prepared a veto for him in the contingency of his rejection of the bill. Thus stood James Madison when, in 1815, he applied the veto to a bill to charter a bank upon considerations of expediency, but with a clear and express admission of the existence of a constitutional power in Congress to charter one. In 1816, the bill which was then presented to him being free from the objections applicable to that of the previous year, he sanctioned and signed it. Did James Madison surrender "all claim to the respect of honorable men all confidence on the part of the people all self-respect all regard for moral and religious obligations ? Did the pure, the virtuous, the gifted James Madison, by his sanction and signature to the charter of the late Bank of the United States, commit a crime which justly subjected him "to the ridicule and scorn of all virtuous men ?"---[So what induced James Madison to revive the idea of a Bank a year after the war was over ? What induced you to change your position regarding the Bank ?]
Not only did the President, as it respectfully appears to me, state entirely too strongly the consequences of his approval of the bill, but is he perfectly correct in treating the question (as he seems to me to have done) which he was called upon to decide, as presenting the sole alternative of his direct approval or rejection of the bill ? Was the preservation of the consistency and the conscience of the President wholly irreconcilable with the restoration of the blessings of a sound currency, regular and moderate exchanges, and the revival of confidence and business which Congress believes will be secured by a national bank ? Was there no alternative but to prolong the sufferings of a bleeding country, or to send us this veto ? From the administration of the Executive department of the Government, during the last twelve years, has sprung most of the public ills which have afflicted the People. Was it necessary that that source of suffering should continue to operate, in order to preserve the conscience of the President inviolated ? Was that the only sad and deplorable alternative ?
I think, Mr. President, there were other alternatives worthy of the serious and patriotic consideration of the President. The bill might have become a law in virtue of the provision which required its return within ten days. If the President had retained it three days longer, it would have been a law without his sanction and without his signature. In such a contingency, the President would have remained passive, and would not have been liable to any accusation of having himself violated the Constitution. All that could have been justly said would be, that he did not choose to throw himself in the way as an obstacle to the passage of a measure indispensable to the prosperity of the nation, in the judgment of the party which brought him into power, of the Whig Congress which he first met, and, if public fame speaks true, of the Cabinet which the lamented Harrison called around him, and which he voluntarily continued.
In an analogous case, Thomas McKean, when Governor of Pennsylvania, than whom the United States have produced but few men of equal vigor of mind and firmness of purpose, permitted a bill to become a law, although, in his opinion, it was contrary to the Constitution of that State. And I have heard, and, from the creditable nature of the source, I am inclined to believe, although I will not vouch for the fact, that, towards the close of the charter of the first Bank of the United States, during the second term of Mr. Jefferson, some consideration of the question of the renewal of the charter was entertained, and that he expressed a wish that, if the charter were renewed, it might be effected by the operation of the ten days' provision, and his consistency thus preserved.
If it were possible to consider the venerated remains of James Madison, reanimate his perishing form, and place him once more in that chair of state which he so much adorned, what would have been his course, if this bill had been presented to him, even supposing him never to have announced his acquiescence in the settled judgment of the nation ? He would have said that human controversy in regard to a single question should not be perpetual, and ought to have a termination.
This, about the power to establish a Bank of the United States, has been long enough continued. The nation, under all the forms of its public action, has often and deliberately decided it. A bank, and associated financial and currency questions, which had long slept, were revived and have divided the nation during the last ten years of arduous and bitter struggle; and the party which put down the bank, and which occasioned all the disorders in our currency and finances, has itself been signally put down by one of those great moral and political revolutions which a free and patriotic people can but seldom arouse itself to make.
Human infallibility has not been granted by God; and the chances of error are much greater on the side of one man than on that of the majority of a whole people and their successive Legislatures during a long period of time. I yield to the irresistible force of authority. I will not put myself in opposition to a measure so imperatively demanded by the public voice, and so essential to elevate my depressed and suffering countrymen.
And why should not President Tyler have suffered the bill to become a law without his signature ? Without meaning the slightest possible disrespect to him, (nothing is further from my heart than the exhibition of any such feeling towards that distinguished citizen, long my personal friend,) it cannot be forgotten that he came into his present office under peculiar circumstances. The people did not foresee the contingency which has happened. They voted for him as Vice President. They did not, therefore, scrutinize his opinions with the care which they probably ought to have done, and would have done, if they could have looked into futurity. If the present state of the fact could have been anticipated if at Harrisburg, or at the polls, it had been foreseen that General Harrison would die in one short month after the commencement of his administration; that Vice President Tyler would be elevated to the Presidential chair; that a bill, passed by decisive majorities of the first Whig Congress, chartering a national bank, would be presented for his sanction; and that he would veto the bill do I hazard any thing when I express the conviction that he would not have received a solitary vote in the nominating Convention, nor one solitary electoral vote in any State in the Union ?---[Dear, oh dear, Mr. Clay, you yourself know perfectly well that if it had been openly declared by Henry Clay and William Harrison and the Whig Party that a vote for them is a vote for a Bank because it is their goal and intention that upon election they will establish a 3rd Bank of the United States , they would not have been elected, much less receive a majority in Congress. How did the Whig Party do after their true colours were clearly shown ?]
Shall I be told that the honor, the firmness, the independence of the Chief Magistrate might have been drawn in question if he had remained passive, and so permitted the bill to become a law ? I answer that the office of Chief Magistrate is a sacred and exalted trust, created and conferred for the benefit of the nation, and not for the private advantage of the person who fills it. Can any man's reputation for firmness, independence, and honor, be of more importance than the welfare of a great people ? There is nothing, in my humble judgment, in such a course, incompatible with honor, with firmness, with independence, properly understood. Certainly, I must respectfully think, in reference to a measure like this, recommended by such high sanctions by five Congresses by the authority of four Presidents by repeated decisions of the Supreme Court by the acquiescence and judgment of the people of the United States during long periods of time by its salutary operation on the interests of the community for a space of forty years, and demanded by the people whose suffrages placed President Tyler in that second office from whence he was translated to the first, that he might have suppressed the promptings of all personal pride of private opinion, if any arose in his bosom, and yielded to the wishes and wants of his country. Nor do I believe that, in such a course, he would have made the smallest sacrifice, in a just sense, of personal honor, firmness, or independence.---[He did yield to the wishes and wants of the country the country wanted no Bank.]
But, sir, there was still a third alternative, to which I allude, not because I mean to intimate that it should be embraced, but because I am reminded of it by a memorable event in the life of President Tyler. It will be recollected that, after the Senate had passed the resolution declaring the removal of the public deposites from the late Bank of the United States to have been derogatory from the Constitution and laws of the United States, for which resolution President, then Senator, Tyler had voted, the General Assembly of Virginia instructed the Senators from that State to vote for the expunging of that resolution. Senator Tyler declined voting in conformity with that instruction, and resigned his seat in the Senate of the United States. This he did because he could not conform, and did not think it right to go counter, to the wishes of those who had placed him in the Senate. If, when the People of Virginia, or the General Assembly of Virginia were his only constituency, he would not set up his own particular opinion in opposition to theirs, what ought to be the rule of his conduct when the people of twenty-six States a whole nation compose his constituency ? Is the will of the constituency of one State to be respected, and that of twenty-six to be wholly disregarded ? Is obedience due only to the single State of Virginia ?
The President admits that the bank question deeply agitated and continues to agitate the nation. It is incontestable that it was the great, absorbing, and controlling question, in all our recent divisions and exertions. I am firmly convinced, and it is my deliberate judgment, that an immense majority, not less than two-thirds of the nation, desire such an institution. All doubts in this respect ought to be dispelled by the recent decisions of the two Houses of Congress. I speak of them as evidence of popular opinion. In the House of Representatives, the majority was 131 to 100. If the House had been full, and but for the modification of the 16th fundamental condition, there would have been a probable majority of 47. Is it to be believed that this large majority of the immediate representatives of the people, fresh from amongst them, and to whom the President seemed inclined, in his opening message, to refer this very question, have mistaken the wishes of their constituents ?
I pass to the sixteenth fundamental condition, in respect to the branching; power, on which I regret to feel myself obliged to say that I think the President has commented with unexampled severity, and with a harshness of language not favorable to the maintenance of that friendly and harmonious intercourse which is so desirable between co-ordinate departments of the Government. The President could not have been uninformed that every one of the twenty-six Senators, and every one of the hundred and thirty-one Representatives who voted for the bill, if left to his own separate wishes, would have preferred the branching power to have been conferred unconditionally, as it was in the charters of the two former Banks of the United States. In consenting to the restrictions upon the exercise of that power, he must have been perfectly aware that they were actuated by a friendly spirit of compromise and concession. Yet nowhere in his message does he reciprocate or return this spirit. Speaking of the assent or dissent which the clause requires, he says: "This iron rule is to give way to no circumstances it is unbending and inflexible. It is the language of the master to the vassal. An unconditional answer is claimed forthwith." The "high privilege" of a submission of the question, on the part of the State Representatives, to their constituents, according to the message, is denied. He puts the cases of the popular branch of the State Legislature expressing its dissent "by a unanimous vote, and its resolution may be defeated by a tie vote in the Senate," and "both branches of the Legislature may concur in a resolution of decided dissent, and yet the Governor may exert the veto power conferred on him by the State Constitution, and their legislative action be defeated." "The State may afterwards protest against such unjust inference, but its authority is gone." The President continues: "To inferences so violent, and, as they seem to me irrational, I cannot yield my consent. No court of justice would or could sanction them, without reversing all that is established in judicial proceeding, by introducing presumptions at variance with fact, and inferences at the expense of reason. A State in a condition of duress would be presumed to speak as an individual, manacled and in prison, might be presumed to be in the enjoyment of freedom. Far better to say to the States, boldly and frankly, Congress wills, and submission is demanded."
Now, Mr. President, I will not ask whether these animadversions were prompted by a reciprocal spirit of amity and kindness, but I inquire whether all of them are perfectly just.
Beyond all question, those who believed in the constitutional right of Congress to exercise the branching power within the States, unconditionally and without limitation, did make no small concession when they consented that it should be subjected to the restrictions specified in the compromise clause. They did not, it is true, concede every thing; they did not absolutely renounce the power to establish branches without the authority of the States during the whole period of the existence of the charter; but they did agree that reasonable time should be allowed to the several States to determine whether they would or would not give their assent to the establishment of branches within their respective limits. They did not think it right to leave it an open question, for the space of twenty years; nor that a State should be permitted to grant to-day and revoke to-morrow its assent; nor that it should annex onerous or impracticable conditions to its assent, but that it should definitively decide the question, after the lapse of ample time for full deliberation. And what was that time ? No State would have had less than four months, and some of them from five to nine months, for consideration. Was it, therefore, entirely correct for the President to say that an "unconditional answer is claimed forthwith ?" Forthwith means immediately, instantly, without delay, which cannot be affirmed of a space of time varying from four to nine months. And the President supposes that the "high privilege" of the members of the State Legislature submitting the question to their constituents is denied. But could they not at any time during that space have consulted their constituents ?
The President proceeds to put what I must, with the greatest deference and respect, consider as extreme cases. He supposes the popular branch to express its dissent by a unanimous vote, which is overruled by a tie in the Senate. He supposes that "both branches of the Legislature may concur in a resolution of decided dissent, and yet the Governor may exert the veto power." The unfortunate case of the State whose legislative will should be so checked by Executive authority, would not be worse than that of the Union, the will of whose Legislature, in establishing this bank, is checked and controlled by the President.
But did it not occur to him that extreme cases brought forward on the one side, might be met by extreme cases suggested on the other ? Suppose the popular branch were to express its assent to the establishment of a branch bank by a unanimous vote, which is over ruled by an equal vote in the Senate. Or suppose that both branches of the Legislature, by majorities in each exactly wanting one vote to make them two-thirds, were to concur in a resolution inviting the introduction of a branch within the limits of the State, and the Governor were to exercise the veto power, and defeat the resolution. Would it be very unreasonable in these two cases to infer the assent of the State to the establishment of a branch ?
Extreme cases should never be resorted to. Happily for mankind, their affairs are but seldom affected or influenced by them, in consequence of the rarity of their occurrence.
The plain, simple, unvarnished statement of the case is this: Congress believes itself invested with constitutional power to authorise, unconditionally, the establishment of a Bank of the United States and branches, anywhere in the United States, without asking any other consent of the States than that which is already expressed in the Constitution. The President does not concur in the existence of that power, and was supposed to entertain an opinion that the previous assent of the States was necessary. Here was an unfortunate conflict of opinion. Here was a case for compromise and mutual concession, if the difference could be reconciled. Congress advanced so far towards a compromise as to allow the States to express their assent or dissent, but then it thought that this should be done within some limited, but reasonable time; and it believed, since the bank and its branches were established for the benefit of twenty-six States, if the authorities of any one of them really could not make up their mind within that limited time either to assent or dissent to the introduction of a branch, that it was not unreasonable, after the lapse of the appointed time, without any positive action, one way or the other, on the part of the State, to proceed as if it had assented.
Now, if the power contended for by Congress really exists, it must be admitted that here was a concession a concession, according to which an unconditional power is placed under temporary restrictions a privilege offered to the States which was not extended to them by either of the charters of the two former Banks of the United States. And I am totally at a loss to comprehend how the President reached the conclusion that it would have been "far better to say to the States, boldly and frankly. Congress wills, and submission is demanded." Was it better for the States that the power of branching should be exerted without consulting them at all ? Was it nothing to afford them an opportunity of saying whether they desired branches or not ? How can it be believed that a clause which qualifies, restricts, and limits the branching power, is more derogatory from the dignity, independence, and sovereignty of the States, than if it inexorably refused to the States any power whatever to deliberate, and decide on tho introduction of branches ?
Limited as the time was, and unconditionally as they were required to express themselves, still these States (and that probably would have been the case with the greater number) that chose to announce their assent or dissent could do so, and get or prevent the introduction of a branch. But the President remarks that "the State may express, after the most solemn form of legislation, its dissent, which may from time to time thereafter be repeated, in full view of its own interest, which can never be separated from the wise and beneficent operation of this Government; and yet Congress may, by virtue of the last proviso, overrule its law, and upon grounds which, to such State, will appear to rest on a constructive necessity and propriety, and nothing more."
Even if the dissent of a Stale should be overruled, in the manner supposed by the President, how is the condition of that State worse than it would have been if the branching power had been absolutely and unconditionally asserted in the charter ? There would have been at least the power of dissenting conceded, with a high degree of probability that if the dissent were expressed no branch would be introduced.
The last proviso to which the President refers is in these words:
"And provided, nevertheless, That whenever it shall become necessary and proper for carrying into execution any of the powers granted by the Constitution, to establish an office or offices in any of the States whatever, and the establishment thereof shall be directed by law, it shall be the duty of the said directors to establish such office or offices accordingly."
This proviso was intended to reserve a power to Congress to compel the bank to establish branches, if the establishment of them should be necessary to the great purposes of this Government, notwithstanding the dissent of a State. If, for example, a State had once unconditionally dissented to the establishment of a branch, and afterwards assented, the bank could not have been compelled, without this reservation of power, to establish the branch, however urgent the wants of the Treasury might be.
The President, I think, ought to have seen, in the form and language of the proviso, the spirit of conciliation in which it was drawn, as I know. It does not assert the power; it employs the language of the Constitution itself, leaving every one free to interpret that language according to his own sense of the instrument.
Why was it deemed necessary to speak of its being "the language of the master to the vassal," of "this iron rule," that "Congress wills, and submission is demanded?" What is this whole Federal Government but a mass of powers abstracted from the sovereignty of the several States, and wielded, by an organized Government, for their common defence and general welfare, according to the grants of the Constitution ? These powers are necessarily supreme; the Constitution, the acts of Congress, and treaties being so declared by the express words of the Constitution. Whenever, therefore, this Government acts within the powers granted to it by the Constitution, submission and obedience are due from all; from States as well as from persons. And if this present the image of a master and a vassal, of State subjection and Congressional domination, it is the Constitution, created or consented to by the States, that ordains these relations.
Nor can it be said, in the contingency supposed, that an act of Congress has repealed an act of State legislation. Undoubtedly, in case of a conflict between a State Constitution or State law, and the Constitution of the United States, or an act of Congress passed in pursuance of it, the State Constitution or State law would yield. But it could not at least be formally or technically said that the State Constitution or law was repealed. Its operation would be suspended or abrogated by the necessary predominance of the paramount authority.
The President seems to have regarded as objectionable that provision in the clause which declares that a branch being once established, it should not afterwards be withdrawn or removed without the previous consent of Congress. That provision was intended to operate both upon the bank and the States. And, considering the changes and fluctuations in public sentiment in some of the States within the last few years, was the security against them to be found in that provision unreasonable ? One Legislature might invite a branch, which the next might attempt, by penal or other legislation, to drive away. We have had such examples heretofore; and I cannot think that it was unwise to profit by experience.---[Yes, yes, yes; perpetuate it, so no matter what they do, they cannot get rid of it.]
Besides, an exactly similar provision was contained in the scheme of a bank which was reported by the Secretary of the Treasury, and to which it was understood the President had given his assent. But, if I understand this message, that scheme could not have obtained his sanction, if Congress had passed it without any alteration whatever. It authorized what is termed by the President local discounts, and he does not believe the Constitution confers on Congress power to establish a bank having that faculty. He says, indeed, "I regard the bill as asserting for Congress the right to incorporate a United States Bank, with power and right to establish offices of discount and deposite in the several States of this Union, with or without their consent; a principle to which I have always heretofore been opposed, and which can never obtain my sanction." I pass with pleasure from this painful theme, deeply regretting that I have been constrained so long to dwell on it.
On a former occasion I stated that, in the event of an unfortunate difference of opinion between the Legislative and Executive departments, the point of difference might be developed, and it would be then seen whether they could be brought to coincide in any measure corresponding with the public hopes and expectations.
I regret that the President has not, in this message, favored us with a more clear and explicit exhibition of his views. It is sufficiently manifest that he is decidedly opposed to the establishment of a new Bank of the United States formed after the two old models.
I think it is fairly to be inferred that the plan of the Secretary of the Treasury could not have received his sanction. He is opposed to the passage of the bill which he has returned; but whether he would give his approbation to any bank, and, if any, what sort of a bank, is not absolutely clear. I think it may be collected from the message, with the aid of information derived through other sources, that the President would concur in the establishment of a bank whose operations should be limited to dealing in bills of exchange, to deposites, and to the supply of a circulation, excluding the power of discounting promissory notes. And I understand that some of our friends are now considering the practicability of arranging and passing a bill in conformity with the views of President Tyler. Whilst I regret that I can take no active part in such an experiment, and must reserve to myself the right of determining whether I can or cannot vote for such a bill after I see it in its matured form, I assure my friends that they shall find no obstacle or impediment in me. On the contrary, I say to them, go on: God speed you in any measure which will serve the country, and preserve or restore harmony and concert between the Departments of Government.
An Executive veto of a Bank of the United States, after the sad experience of late years, is an event which was not anticipated by the political friends of the President; certainly not by me. But it has come upon us with tremendous weight, and amidst the greatest excitement within and without the metropolis.
The question now is. What shall be done ? What, under this most embarrassing and unexpected state of things, will our constituents expect of us ? What is required by the duty and the dignity of Congress ? I repeat, that if, after a careful examination of the Executive message, a bank can be devised which will afford any remedy to existing evils, and secure the President's approbation, let the project of such a bank be presented. It shall encounter no opposition, if it should receive no support, from me.
But what further shall we do ? Never, since I have enjoyed the honor of participating in the public councils of the nation a period now of near thirty-five years have I met Congress under more happy or more favorable auspices. Never have I seen a House of Representatives animated by more patriotic dispositions more united, more determined, more business-like. Not even that House which declared war in 1812; nor that which in 1815-'16 laid broad and deep foundations of national prosperity, in adequate provisions for a sound currency, by the establishment of a Bank of the United States, for the payment of the national debt, and for the protection of American industry.
This House has solved the problem of the competency of a large deliberative body to transact the public business. If happily there had existed a concurrence of opinion and cordial co-operation between the different departments of the Government, and all the members of this party, we should have carried every measure contemplated at the extra session, which the people had a right to expect from our pledges, and should have been, by this time, at our respective homes.
We are disappointed in one, and an important one, of that series of measures; but shall we therefore despair ? Shall we abandon ourselves to unworthy feelings and sentiments ? Shall we allow ourselves to be transported by rash and intemperate passions and counsels ? Shall we adjourn and go home in disgust ? No! No! No! A higher, nobler, and more patriotic career lies before us. Let us here, at the east end of Pennsylvania avenue, do our duty, our whole duty, and nothing short of our duty, towards our common country.
We have repealed the sub-Treasury.
We have passed a bankrupt law, a beneficent measure of substantial and extensive relief.
Let us now pass the bill for the distribution of the proceeds of the public lands, the revenue bill, and the bill for the benefit of the oppressed people of this District.
Let us do all let us do every thing we can for the public good.
If we are finally to be disappointed in our hopes of giving to the country a bank which will once more supply it with a sound currency, still let us go home and tell our constituents that we did all that we could under actual circumstances; and that, if we did not carry every measure for their relief, it was only because to do so was impossible.
This seems to me to be the course now incumbent upon us to pursue; and, by conforming to it, whatever may be the result of laudable endeavors now in progress or in contemplation in relation to a new attempt to establish a bank, we shall go home bearing no self-reproaches for neglected or abandoned duty.
Mr. Rives having concluded his remarks
Mr. Clay rose in rejoinder. I have no desire, said he, to prolong this unpleasant discussion, but I must say that I heard with great surprise and regret the closing remark, especially, of the honorable gentleman from Virginia, as, indeed, I did many of those which preceded it. That gentleman stands in a peculiar situation. I found him several years ago in the half-way house, where he seems afraid to remain, and from which he is yet unwilling to go. I had thought, after the thorough riddling which the roof of the house had received in the breaking up of the pet-bank system, he would have fled somewhere else for refuge; but there he still stands, solitary and alone, shivering and pelted by the pitiless storm. The sub-Treasury is repealed the pet-bank system is abandoned the United States bank bill is vetoed and now, when there is as complete and perfect a re-union of the purse and the sword in the hands of the Executive as ever there was under General Jackson or Mr. Van Buren, the Senator is for doing nothing !
The Senator is for going home, leaving the Treasury and the country in their lawless condition ! Yet no man has heretofore, more than he has, deplored and deprecated a state of things so utterly unsafe and repugnant to all just precautions, indicated alike by sound theory and experience in free Governments. And the Senator talks to us about applying to the wisdom of practical men, in respect to banking, and advises further deliberation ! Why, I should suppose that we are at present in the very best situation to act upon the subject. Besides the many painful years we have had for deliberation, we have been near three months almost exclusively engrossed with the very subject itself. We have heard all manner of facts, statements, and arguments in any way connected with it.
We understand, it seems to me, all we ever can learn or comprehend about a national bank. And we have, at least, some conception too of what sort of one will be acceptable at the other end of the avenue. Yet now, with a vast majority of the people of the entire country crying out to us for a bank with the people throughout the whole valley of the Mississippi rising in their majesty, and demanding it as indispensable to their well-being, and pointing to their losses, their sacrifices, and their sufferings, for the want of such an institution in such a state of things, we are gravely and coldly told by the honorable Senator from Virginia that we had best go home, leaving the purse and the sword in the uncontrolled possession of the President, and, above all things, never to make a party bank !---[And leaving the purse in the hand of private bankers who will buy the sword would have been much better]
Why, sir, does he, with all his knowledge of the conflicting opinions which prevail here, and have prevailed, believe that we ever can make a bank but by the votes of one party who are in favor of it, in opposition to the votes of another party against it ? I deprecate this expression of opinion from that gentleman the more, because, although the honorable Senator professes not to know the opinions of the President, it certainly does turn out in the sequel that there is a most remarkable coincidence between those opinions and his own; and he has, on the present occasion, defended the motives and the course of the President with all the solicitude and all the fervent zeal of a number of his Privy Council. [A laugh.]
There is a rumor abroad that a cabal exists a new sort of Kitchen Cabinet whose object is the dissolution of the regular Cabinet the dissolution of the Whig party the dispersion of Congress, without accomplishing any of the great purposes of the extra session and a total change, in fact, in the whole face of our political affairs. I hope, and I persuade myself, that the honorable Senator is not, cannot be, one of the component members of such a cabal; but I must say that there has been displayed by the honorable Senator to-day a predisposition, astonishing and inexplicable, to misconceive almost all of what I have said, and a perseverance, after repeated corrections, in misunderstanding for I will not charge him with willfully and intentionally misrepresenting the whole spirit and character of the address which, as a man of honor and as a Senator, I felt myself bound in duty to make to this body.
The Senator begins with saying that I charge the President with "perfidy !" Did I use any such language ? I appeal to every gentleman who heard me to say whether I have in a single instance gone beyond a fair and legitimate examination of the Executive objections to the bill. Yet he has charged me with "arraigning" the President, with indicting him in various counts, and with imputing to him motives such as I never even intimated or dreamed, and that, when I was constantly expressing, over and over, my personal respect and regard for President Tyler, for whom I have cherished an intimate personal friendship of twenty years' standing, and while I expressly said that, if that friendship should now be interrupted, it should not be my fault !
Why, sir, what possible, what conceivable motive can I have to quarrel with the President, or to break up the Whig party ? What earthly motive can impel me to wish for any other result than that that party shall remain in perfect harmony, undivided, and shall move undismayed, boldly, and unitedly forward to the accomplishment of the all-important public objects which it has avowed to be its aim ?
What imaginable interest or feeling can I have other than the success, the triumph, the glory of the Whig party ? But that there may be designs and purposes on the part of certain other individuals to place me in inimical relations with the President, and to represent me as personally opposed to him, I can well imagine individuals who are beating up for recruits, and endeavoring to form a third party with materials so scanty as to be wholly insufficient to compose a decent corporal's guard. I fear there are such individuals, though I do not charge the Senator as being himself one of them. What a spectacle has been presented to this nation during this entire session of Congress ! That of the cherished and confidential friends of John Tyler, persons who boast and claim to be, par excellence, his exclusive and genuine friends, being the bitter, systematic, determined, uncompromising opponents of every leading measure of John Tyler's administration ! Was there ever before such an example presented, in this or any other age, in this or any other country ? I have myself known the President too long, and cherished towards him too sincere a friendship, to allow my feelings to be affected or alienated by any thing which has passed here to-day.
If the President chooses which I am sure he cannot, unless falsehood has been whispered into his ears, or poison poured into his heart to detach himself from me, I shall deeply regret it, for the sake of our common friendship and our common country. I now repeat, what I before said, that, of all the measures of relief which the American people have called upon us for, that of a national bank and a sound and uniform currency has been the most loudly and importunately demanded.---[You may repeat this mantra as many times as you want, it does not make it true. The fact is that ye (Whigs) had to lie during the election campaign. If you had openly stated your intentions ye would not have received a majority. The next 20 years ye did not receive a majority; and eventually had to change your name.]
The Senator says that the question of a bank was not the issue made before the people at the late election. I can say, for one, my own conviction is diametrically the contrary. What may have been the character of the canvass in Virginia, I will not say; probably gentlemen on both sides were, every where, governed in some degree by considerations of local policy. What issues may, therefore, have been presented to the people of Virginia, either above or below tide-water, I am not prepared to say. The great error, however, of the honorable Senator is in thinking that the sentiments of a particular party in Virginia are always a fair exponent of the sentiments of the whole Union. [A laugh.]
I can tell that Senator that wherever I was in the great valley of the Mississippi in Kentucky in Tennessee in Maryland in all the circles in which I moved every where, "Bank or no Bank" was the great, the leading, the vital question. At Hanover, in Virginia, during the last summer, at one of the most remarkable and respectable and gratifying assemblages that I ever attended, I distinctly announced my conviction that a Bank of the United States was indispensable. As to the opinions of General Harrison, I know that, like many others, he had entertained doubts as to the constitutionality of a bank; but I also know that, as the election approached, his opinions turned more and more in favor of a national bank; and I speak from my own personal knowledge of his opinions when I say that I have no more doubt he would have signed that bill than that you, Mr. President, now occupy that chair, or that I am addressing you.
I rose not to say one word which should wound the feelings of President Tyler. The Senator says that, if placed in like circumstances, I would have been the last man to avoid putting a direct veto upon the bill, had it met my disapprobation; and he does me the honor to attribute to me high qualities of stern and unbending intrepidity. I hope that in all that relates to personal firmness all that concerns a just appreciation of the insignificance of human life whatever may be attempted to threaten or alarm a soul not easily swayed by opposition, or awed or intimidated by menace a stout heart and a steady eye that can survey, unmoved and undaunted, any mere personal perils that assail this poor transient, perishing frame, I may, without disparagement, compare with other men.
But there is a sort of courage which, I frankly confess it, I do not possess a boldness to which I dare not aspire a valor which I cannot covet. I cannot lay myself down in the way of the welfare and happiness of my country. That I cannot, I have not the courage to do. I cannot interpose the power with which I may be invested a power conferred, not for my personal benefit, nor for my aggrandizement, but for my country's good to check her onward march to greatness and glory. I have not courage enough, I am too cowardly, for that. I would not, I dare not, in the exercise of such a trust, lie down, and place my body across the path that leads my country to prosperity and happiness. This is a sort of courage widely different from that which a man may display in his private conduct and personal relations. Personal or private courage is totally distinct from that higher and nobler courage which prompts the patriot to offer himself a voluntary sacrifice to his country's good.
Nor did I say, as the Senator represents, that the President should have resigned. I intimated no personal wish or desire that he should resign. I referred to the fact of a memorable resignation in his public life. And what I did say was, that there were other alternatives before him besides vetoing the bill; and that it was worthy of his consideration whether consistency did not require that the example which he had set when he had a constituency of one State, should not be followed when he had a constituency commensurate with the whole Union.
Another alternative was, to suffer the bill, without his signature, to pass into a law under the provisions of the Constitution. And I must confess I see, in this, no such escaping by the back-door, no such jumping out of the window, as the Senator talks about. Apprehensions of the imputation of the want of firmness sometimes impel us to perform rash and inconsiderate acts. It is the greatest courage to be able to bear the imputation of the want of courage. But pride, vanity, egotism, so unamiable and offensive in private life, are vices which partake of the character of crimes in the conduct of public affairs. The unfortunate victim of these passions cannot see beyond the little, petty, contemptible circle of his own personal interests. All his thoughts are withdrawn from his country, and concentrated on his consistency, his firmness, himself. The high, the exalted, the sublime emotions of a patriotism, which, soaring towards Heaven, rises far above all mean, low, or selfish things, and is absorbed by one soul-transporting thought of the good and the glory of one's country, are never felt in his impenetrable bosom.
That patriotism which, catching its inspirations from the immortal God, and leaving at an immeasurable distance below all lesser, grovelling, personal interests and feelings, animates and prompts to deeds of self-sacrifice, of valor, of devotion, and of death itself that is public virtue that is the noblest, the sublimest of all public virtues !
I said nothing of any obligation on the part of the President to conform his judgment to the opinions of the Senate and House of Representatives, although the Senator argued as if I had, and persevered in so arguing, after repeated corrections. I said no such thing. I know and respect the perfect independence of each department, acting within its proper sphere, of other departments. But I referred to the majorities in the two Houses of Congress as further and strong evidence of the opinion of the People of the United States in favor of the establishment of a Bank of the United States. And I contended that, according to the doctrine of instructions which prevailed in Virginia, and of which the President is a disciple, and in pursuance of the example already cited, he ought not to have rejected the bill.
I have heard that, on his arrival at the seat of the General Government to enter upon the duties of the office of Vice President, in March last, when interrogated how far he meant to conform, in his new station, to certain peculiar opinions which were held in Virginia, he made this patriotic and noble reply: "I am Vice President of the United States, and not of the State of Virginia; and I shall be governed by the wishes and opinions of my constituents." When I heard of this encouraging and satisfactory reply, believing, as I most religiously do, that a large majority of the People of the United States are in favor of a national bank, (and gentlemen may shut their eyes to the fact, deny or dispute, or reason it away as they please, but it is my conscientious conviction that two-thirds, if not more, of the people of the United States desire such an institution,) I thought I beheld a sure and certain guaranty for the fulfillment of the wishes of the people of the United States. I thought it impossible that the wants and wishes of a great people, who had bestowed such unbounded and generous confidence, and conferred on him such exalted honors, should be disregarded and disappointed.
It did not enter into my imagination to conceive that one, who had shown so much deference and respect to the presumed sentiments of a single State, should display less towards the sentiments of the whole nation.
I hope, Mr. President, that, in performing the painful duty which had devolved on me, I have not transcended the limits of legitimate debate. I repeat, in all truth and sincerity, the assurance to the Senate and to the country, that nothing but a stern, reluctant, and indispensable sense of honor and of duty could have forced from me the response which I have made to the President's objections.
But, instead of yielding without restraint to the feelings of disappointment and mortification excited by the perusal of his message, I have anxiously endeavored to temper the notice of it, which I have been compelled to take by the respect due to the office of Chief Magistrate, and by the personal regard and esteem which I have ever entertained for its present incumbent.[end of speech]