In the Senate
Monday, 1868, December 14.


NATIONAL DEBT.

Mr. Cattell. I ask the consent of the Senate to offer a resolution at this time. I send it to the desk to be read.

The resolution was read, as follows :
Resolved, That the Senate receive with profound regret the proposition of the President in his annual message to repudiate a portion of the national obligations, and regard this and all forms of repudiation as a national crime. National honor requires the payment of the public debt in the utmost good faith to all creditors at home and abroad, not only according to the letter, but the spirit of the laws under which it I was created.

Mr. Cattell. [Alexander Gilmore Cattell, (1816 - 1894), banker] Mr. President, it seems to me that the extraordinary proposition contained in the President's annual message, favoring the repudiation of the public debt, should not go to the country without a prompt and decided expression by the Senate of their unqualified disapprobation. And it is with this view I offer the resolution just read.

Lest the full scope and meaning of this passage in the message may have escaped the attention of some Senators, I beg to read it again in your hearing:

"It may be assumed that the holders of our securities have already received upon their bonds a larger amount than their original investment, measured by a gold standard. Upon this statement of facts it would seem but just and equitable that the six per cent. interest now paid by the Government should be applied to the reduction of the principal in semi annual installments, which in sixteen years and eight months would liquidate the entire national debt. Six per cent. in gold would at present rates be equal to nine per cent. in currency, and equivalent to the payment of the debt one and a half times in a fraction less than seventeen years. This, in connection with all the other advantages derived from their investment, would afford to the public creditors a fair and liberal compensation for the use of their capital, and with this they should be satisfied. The lessons of the past admonish the lender that it is not well to be over anxious in exacting from the borrower rigid compliance with the letter of the bond."

Mr. President, here is a simple, plain proposition emanating from the President of the United States in his message to Congress, and advocated as just and equitable, to pay to the public creditor simply the interest provided for by law and stipulated in the bond for a given number of years, and at the expiration of that period to repudiate the entire principal of the debt. It passes belief that a proposition so monstrous as this, so disgraceful, in my opinion, to the nation, so damaging to its credit at home and abroad, should emanate from the Chief Executive of this Government, whose duty it is to guard the honor and faith of the nation rather than to tarnish the one and to break the other. No man in the United States, so far as my knowledge extends, has been found hitherto bold enough to advocate open, undisguised, and unqualified repudiation. So indefensible a proposition as this has been reserved for Andrew Johnson, as a fitting climax to the wickedness and folly of his administration.

=========================================================================
Amount of 5-20 six per cent. bonds ........ $500,000,000.00
Interest in gold at six per cent., compounded semi-annually, for ten years ........ 403,096,132.71
Total ............... $903,096,132.71
Cost of $500,000,000 bonds at say sixty cents on the dollar ..... 300,000,000.00
Net profit in ten years, in gold ...... $603,096,132.71
==========================================================================

Mr. President, the people of the United States will repudiate the repudiator. In point of fact, they have already done so. At the recent elections the people of the United States invested with all the executive and legislative power of this nation the party which had the manliness to declare against all forms of repudiation as a crime, and to assert that the obligations of the national Government should be paid in good faith to the uttermost farthing. And, Mr. President, the people of the United States will stand by their verdict. The debt is a burdensome one, unquestionably; but it will be paid; it will be paid manfully and honestly; nay more, sir, it will be paid cheerfully, remembering that it is the final installment of the price paid for the preservation of the glorious institutions under which we live as a priceless inheritance for our children and our children's children. I move, sir, that this resolution be referred to the Committee on Finance.

[Yes, sir, their children's children paid for your manly party's glorious institutions]

Mr. Fessenden and others. Let us pass it now.

Mr. Cattell. I have not the slightest objection.

The President pro tempore. The question is on referring the resolution to the Committee on Finance.

Mr. Cattell. There seems to be a disposition to act on it now, and therefore I withdraw the motion to refer.

Mr. EDMUNDS. I am entirely in favor of the resolution, except that I should wish it to state a little more specifically, so that there should not be any double construction put upon it, what it means. That resolution is in the substantial, and for aught I know in the literal, language of the Chicago platform; and there are certain good men in the country claiming to be Republicans, claiming to be in favor of national honesty, and probably being so, who have maintained that the letter and the spirit of the obligation merely require us to pay in something else, and not in money. There are a good many such people who maintain that proposition. Therefore, in the face of such a message as we have received, to merely reassert an equivocal proposition would amount to nothing at all. Let as, then, send the resolution to the Committee on Finance, who may report it to-morrow, as I hope, in such language that it will mean, beyond equivocation or misconstruction, that we intend to pay the public funded debt of the United States in real money, in coin, or that we do not -- one or the other. Let us get rid of the equivoque which certain adroit persons maintain is found in the Chicago platform. To me there is no equivocation in that platform; but a man who really believes, as some men say they do, that the letter and spirit of our obligation are satisfied by paying only in what is called lawful money, in greenbacks, can vote for that resolution and stand just where he did before and leave the question open, just as it was before. If we are to say anything, as I am satisfied our duty requires us to say something, let us say that which is absolutely unequivocal.

Mr. WILSON. I ask to have the resolution read.

The Chief Clerk read the resolution, as follows:

Resolved, That the Senate receive with profound regret the proposition of the President, in his annual message, to repudiate a portion of the national obligations, and regard this and all forms of repudiation as a national crime. National honor requires the payment of the public debt in the utmost good faith, to all creditors at home and abroad, not only according to the letter but the spirit of the laws under which it was created.

Mr. CONNESS. Mr. President, when a resolution shall be passed on this subject, in my opinion it ought to have legislative form; that is to say, it should be the expression of opinion of the entire legislative body, both Houses included. This is a resolution of the Senate simply. While I am in favor of any resolution upon this subject which shall meet the views of a majority here, and most in favor of such a form as shall most clearly express the meaning that we have and guard the faith of the nation, I hope we shall pass no resolution until it shall be the expression of both Houses of Congress. I hope, therefore, this proposition will be referred to the Committe on Finance for the purpose of giving it such form as shall commend it further to us.

Mr. Cattell. Mr. President, my object in offering this resolution was that we should have from this body a prompt denial of the doctrine contained in this message to go out with it to the world. A legislative enactment such as the joint resolution proposed by the Senator from Vermont, which was on our tables at the last session, will necessarily bring up some debate, or require some time, at any rate, in its passage. The House of Representatives, I think, pursued the same course which I have now proposed: they introduced and passed a resolution of their own body; and I felt that it was exceedingly desirable that the Senate should at once promptly declare its views in relation to this proposition.

Moreover, sir, this proposition of the Pressident differs from all others. There is no question in this proposition as to whether the debt shall be paid in greenbacks or in coin. The suggestion is that it shall not be paid at all; and it occurs to me that so open and undisguised a proposition as this ought to be met, at least, by a prompt and decided expression of the Senate of the United States against it. When fhe other question comes up, it involves, perhaps, some points on which there will be found differences of opinion. As to this, I think there can scarcely be found a solitary individual in the Senate of the United States who will not disagree to the message of the President, at any rate as I understand it; and therefore I should prefer that the Senate would agree to pass this resolution now rather than refer it. My motion for reference was at the suggestion of a friend. I leave the question entirely for the judgment of the Senate.

Mr. Nye. Mr. President, I rise rather for the purpose of making a suggestion to the honorable mover of this resolution, to see whether he will not consent to strike out all after the word "crime." It seems to me that the rest has been so often stated that it would be useless again to repeat it. I think if the resolution could be amended in that respect no member of this body, whatever his views may be upon the manner of payment, would vote against the proposition. No right-minded man of any party, I care not where he is, would dare stand up here in the presence of the intelligence of this day and say that he was in favor of repudiating the public debt of this country. It is a great crime to suggest it; it is a crime to think of it; and a double crime for a person standing in the position of the Executive of this nation to send forth that alarming statement to the country. What we need and what our public credit needs is that it be sustained and be confidently upheld by everybody of all parties, I attribute this suggestion of this dying Executive to the fact that he is dying; that he has been so long opposed to the successful operations of the Government that involuntarily, in his death-struggle, he gives an expiring kick. He has made an attempt which I think this body and this Congress will be prepared to meet.

Mr. Hendricks. I wish to ask of the Chair if this resolution was offered this morning ?

The PRESIDENT pro tempore. The resolution was offered this morning ?

Mr. Hendricks. Is it too late to ask that it shall lie over until to-morrow ?

Several SENATORS. It has been debated.

The President pro tempore. I suppose an objection would carry it over, although the better construction of the rule ought to be that that objection should be made before debate is had.

Mr. Sherman. The Senator from New Jersey appealed to the unanimous consent of the Senate to introduce the resolution.

Mr. Edmunds. He said for reference.

Mr. Hendricks. The appeal to the Senate for unanimous leave to introduce the resolution was not a consent of the Senate that it should be considered now; but I will suggest to the Chair that when the Senator introduced it he continued to occupy the floor, and it would have been almost rude on the part of any Senator while he was expressing his views about his own resolution to object to the further consideration of it. I think this resolution ought to lie over. It is quite enough, as the distinguished Senator from Vermont has said, that it does not express any one proposition distinctly in regard to the obligations of the Government toward the public debt. If there is a difference between the letter and the spirit of the law, clearly Congress in stating anything about it ought to state what that difference is. I knew very well during all the summer that the contest, so far as it was presented at Chicago, on this important question, was made upon an equivocal proposition, as the Senator from Vermont now says. This debt is to be paid not only according to the letter but according to the spirit of the laws under which it was contracted.

The PRESIDENT pro tempore. Does the Senator insist on his objection to the consideration of the resolution ?

Mr. Hendricks. If it is to be referred, I will not.

Mr. Conness. Let it be referred.

Mr. Hendricks. Senators suggest that they are going to refer it, and so I will not insist on my objection.

The President pro tempore. The objection is withdrawn. The question is on the reference of the resolution to the Committee on Finance.

Mr. Hendricks. [Thomas Andrews Hendricks (September 7, 1819 - November 25, 1885)] I wish to make another remark or two. I understand this proposition is the platform of a political party of last year. I should like to have the opportunity to present, when this is considered, as an amendment to it or substitute for it, the proposition of another political party presented to the people in the last contest. My own opinion is that that platform presents the real doctrine in regard to our public debt more correctly, and presents it as it was claimed by very many persons during the last contest, that this resolution should be so construed as to agree with the New York platform.

If the Senator from New Jersey wishes to rebuke the President of the United States it is not becoming that the rebuke shall be contained in equivocal language. If the President be wrong and the Senate intends to state what is the right it ought to state it. This does not. This assumes that between the letter of the law and the spirit of the law under which the debt was contracted there is a difference. What is that difference ? Is the letter of the law that the debt shall be paid in the lawful money of the United States, but is the spirit of the law, according to the judgment of the Senator from New Jersey, according to the judgment of the Senator from Vermont, that it shall be paid in gold ? Now, we are not dealing with this question with a view to a political result, I presume; and if the Senate makes a declaration on this question at all, it ought to be done frankly and fully, especially if it is to be regarded as a rebuke to the Chief Magistrate of the country. He has declared his views upon it, in which I do not concur; but if he is to be rebuked, let him be rebuked plainly. If it is the business of the Senate to pass resolutions intended to be those of censure, let them declare the true doctrine as the doctrine instead of that contained in the President's message.

Now, I want to know from the Senator from New Jersey who presents this resolution what does it mean ? By this resolution does he undertake to say that there is a difference between the spirit and the letter of the law ? If so, what is that difference ? And if there be such a difference, what doctrine in regard to the payment of the public debt does he intend to declare by this resolution ? Does he intend to declare that the debt must be paid in coin, or that in part it may be paid in the lawful money of the United States ? My opinion is that the debt is to be paid according to the contract. The law is the contract. In the absence of a provision that it is to be paid in gold it is at the discretion of the Government to pay in gold or the lawful money of the United States. Now, what is the opinion of the Senator from New Jersey ? He wants to rebuke the President. By what sentiment does he intend to rebuke him ? By saying that this contract between the Government and the bondholder is a gold contract ? Is that the construction ? What was meant by this resolution as to the difference between the spirit and the letter of the law ? It is well enough now that we should state what was meant by language that entered so largely into the discussions of last year, and I am glad the Senator has offered this resolution, for now we shall know, as a matter of course, exactly what is meant.

Mr. Cattell. Mr. President, in reply to the remarks of the Senator from Indiana, I desire only to say that when the proper time arrives for the consideration of the subject to which he alludes I shall be prepared to answer any of the several inquiries which he has propounded to me. The object of this resolution was simply to express the disapprobation of the Senate in regard to that portion of the President's message which I read and commented upon; and in doing so I added to that general form of expression of opinion an expression which has been passed upon by a body higher than the Senate, or the Congress, or the Executive -- passed upon by the people of the United States; and I am somewhat surprised to find that so good a Democrat as my friend from Indiana is disposed now, after that high court has passed upon this question, to propose to incorporate upon this resolution a portion of the platform which has been condemned by the people.

Mr. Hendricks. Will the Senator allow me to ask him one question ? Did the people decide, in voting upon this resolution, in favor of paying the debt in gold or in the lawful money of the United States ?

Mr. Cattell. I think they decided that the resolution of the Chicago platform was very much preferable to that issued in New York. I think that was the great decision made on that occasion. But, Mr. President, as I remarked in rising; when it shall become necessary to discuss this question in all its length and breadth I shall be prepared to take my ground upon it with as much frankness as the Senator from Indiana will. My object was what I have stated. I should be glad to have a vote to-day on this resolution, but I submit to the better judgment of friends around me, who think it is better to refer the resolution to the committee.

Mr. Edmunds. Mr. President, I wish to ask my friend from Indiana, if I can have his attention, the same question that he asked the Senator from New Jersey: what he understands the people to have decided on that subject in the last campaign ? He has better means of knowing than almost any of us, us he lived in a region of country where a good deal was said on that subject. I should really be glad for information, to be told by the responsible head of the Democratic party precisely what the people did decide as he understands it.

Mr. HENDRICKS. Mr. President, the Senator from Vermont, inasmuch as he belongs to the majority party, ought to be able to answer that question, much more satisfactorily than I am presumed to be able to do. If, however, I were to answer the Senator just as I believe, I would say that I think the people really decided nothing upon it. I understand that in the region of the country in which he lives it was claimed that the resolution meant that the spirit of the contract was that the payment should be made in gold, and I presume the people of Vermont decided thus, while I know that in the region of the Country in which I live the advocates of the Chicago platform claimed that it meant a payment in lawful money, in very many instances, so that very many persons in our section of the country voted for the candidates standing on the Chicago platform, assuming that that meant that the debt might be paid in lawful money, that that was the spirit of the contract as well as the letter; so I cannot say what was decided.

As the Senator a few moments since remarked, the resolution is equivocal; it declares nothing; and so politicians upon the stump put such construction upon it as suited the particular locality in which they were speaking, and of course no decision was made. But now, when a Senator undertakes to rebuke the the President, and to reassert this same doctrine, that the spirit of the law is to prevail as well as the letter of the law, it is due that he should declare exactly what he means. If there be a difference between the letter and the spirit, I should like to know it. Ordinarily we gather the spirit and purpose of the law from the letter. It is to be presumed that the Congress of the United States uses language that expresses its intention. That is the presumption; but this resolution assumes that the letter does not express the intention of Congress; that there is something back of or beyond that which constitutes the spirit of the law. I want to know what that is. If that spirit is gold payment of the debt let us know.

Mr. President, I do not desire now to protract the debate. I have tried to answer the question of the Senator front Vermont, though it is a difficult one to answer.

Mr. EDMUNDS. I am really unable to see which way my friend has answered the question; but as it seems to be a little difficult one, I will relieve him from the responsibility now and ask it some other time.

Mr. Willey. Mr. President, it strikes me that the whole merit of this question depends upon the speedy and prompt action of the Senate. I doubt whether by referring it to a committee the object can be accomplished; and I question the propriety of bringing up a discussion upon the financial policy of the Government on an abstract resolution of this character. The President's message has gone out to the country. It has its influence, and is at present having its influence at home and abroad on the credit of the country and on the national honor. If we desire to counteract that we ought to do it by some expression of the Senate immediately had. I suggest, therefore, to the honorable Senator from New Jersey whether the resolution could not be so modified as simply to present to the Senate the question as to its opinion upon what the President has proposed himself, that, and no more; not a resolution in a form that will involve whether we are to pay our debt in gold or in the legal currency, or what the policy of the Government on our financial matters heretofore has been, but simply an expression on the part of the Senate condemning so much of the President's message as relates to the repudiation of our public debt, which is a matter entirely different from the manner in which we should pay it. The other day, when his message was read, I drew hastily a resolution of my own; and desire now to read it to see whether the Senator from New Jersey will not think that it will accomplish the practical purpose which he designs. Inasmuch as it cannot possibly lead to any debate the sense of the Senate can at once go out to the country, and the object of introducing the resolution be accomplished. I had intended to offer a resolution in this form:

That the Senate, properly cherishing and upholding the good faith and honor of the nation, do hereby utterly disapprove of and condemn the sentiments and proposition contained in so much of the late annual message of the President of the United States as reads as follows

And then follow exactly the very words which the Senator from New Jersey read. There is