Speech of Mr. Duncan,
In the House of Representatives, July 3, 1838.
Mr. Duncan [Alexander Duncan (1788-1853), Democrat, Ohio; studied and practiced medicine.] addressed the House as follows:
Mr. Speaker: Advanced as the session is, and aware of the vast quantity of unfinished business of an important character, both of a private and public nature --important to individuals and important to the public-- I feel a diffidence in asking the attention of the House while I offer a few ideas which I entertain in relation to this measure; and let me assure you, sir, I do it not from any disposition to make a vain show, or from a pride to be heard in the great councils of the American Government for, let me assure you, that when I rise to express myself on any subject, I rise from a sense of duty that I owe to those I represent, and always with embarrassment and great diffidence, knowing, as I do, that I am surrounded by those of far superior talents and acquirements to those of my own --statesmen who grace this country, and who would be an ornament to any country and to any people. No, sir; it is the importance of the measure, and a paramount duty, that induce me to ask your attention at this time.
Almost on every question of a general nature, when and where it is possible to drag a party feeling, party facts, and patty arguments into discussion, it is universally done. I know of no instance where this has not been the case. Political effect is the object; but it seems to me that the result will hardly warrant the design, more especially when it is done at the expense of private and public business, and of the public money, at so great a disproportion. We have witnessed the sacrifice of day after day in the discussion of a simple appropriation for the Florida war, or, rather, such was the measure before the House for discussion; and yet no man could tell, by the debate, what the question was. The whole song was the extravagance and profligacy of this Administration; the ruin of the people; the financial embarrassments of the country; the destruction of our manufactories; the prostration of the merchants; the ruin of the banks, and forfeiture of credit and confidence --all by the base and wicked mismanagement of this Administration, and the one that preceded it.
When will the people learn intelligence from these modern Whigs ? From the commencement of the Government to this day, (while the Democracy administered the Government) this has been the cry --an imbecile Administration, corrupt men, and ruinous measures ! This kind of Federal howling has been so long kept up, and is so well understood to be a kind of hypocritical, crocodile Federal whimpering that it is no longer regarded or seriously listened to. Such murmuring and such fault-finding are the characteristics of Federalism, and have their foundation in a want of confidence in the honesty, integrity, and capacity of the people to govern themselves, or, which is the same in a representative Government, of electing those who are capable of making, adjudicating, and executing the laws.
All the Democratic Administrations that have existed since the organization of our Government, have been administrations of the people. They have been elected by the people, and not from personal attachment on the part of the people to those they elected, but upon principle, and upon some one or more important questions in which the whole community felt a deep interest.
Such was the fact in relation to the present Administration, and to denounce an Administration which has been elected under such circumstances, and to denounce the measures that the Administration are bound, by the nature of its official existence, and every obligation connected with its duty, to carry out, is revolutionary in its character, subversive of our free institutions, and an indirect denial or denunciation of one of the most important and fundamental principles of our Government, viz: the capacity for self-government and the right to govern.
Such, I say, is the situation of the present Administration, and such its obligations. Certain great and important and leading measures were commenced by the Administration --measures in which a great majority of the American people felt an interest in carrying out, and for that purpose was the present Chief Magistrate elected: so was, the Vice President, and many of both branches of Congress. One of the most important of those measures was the improvement of the national currency; and for that purpose was this measure introduced. Its object is declared by its title, its various provisions. Its importance and utility I am about to discuss; but the very circumstances that made its introduction not only necessary, but absolutely obligatory, on the powers that be, constitute the strongest argument in its favor. It provides that the Government shall collect, safely keep, and disburse its own revenue, and, further, that it shall gradually establish the constitutional currency as the Government revenue currency; that is, gold and silver. The suspension of specie payments by the banks, while they had upwards of $30,000,000 of the public money in their possession, (not a dollar of which could be procured for a time) produced the separation which this bill contemplates; and vast injury, loss, and expense to the Government, by this unwarrantable measure, and, I might say, highhanded fraud, practiced upon the Government, makes it important that this unnatural and dangerous connection never should be revived. And the great reduction in the value of bank paper, produced by the want of intrinsic value and public confidence in it, makes it important to the highest interest of the people that the Government should return to the collection for its revenue to the only currency known to the Constitution.
Sir, I am in favor of continuing the separation which exists between the Government and the banks --a separation produced by the malfeasance of the banks themselves. I think the connection that has existed heretofore was in violation of the Constitution, and most unquestionably impolitic and unwise, calculated to embarrass the Government and derange the currency. I say I believe such a connection to be unconstitutional. Permit me, sir, here to lay down a proposition, to which I may have to recur in the course of my remarks. It is this: that Congress can exercise no constitutional power, except that power be plainly authorized by expression contained in the Constitution, and that the State Legislatures can exercise all legitimate legislative powers not expressly prohibited by the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of their respective States: that is to say, Congress can do nothing but what the Constitution expressly authorizes, and the State Legislatures can do every thing (not morally wrong) that is not expressly prohibited by the Constitution.
We find in the ninth section of the first article of the Constitution these words: "No money shall be drawn out of the Treasury but in consequence of appropriations made by law." This provision proves, beyond a doubt, that the framers of the Constitution intended that the General Government should have an independent Treasury, and in that Treasury the public funds should be kept, and from it they should be drawn out by law. There is no other meaning that can be given to this provision, without running into absolute absurdity and ridiculous sophistry. If it be a fact that the General Government shall have a Treasury, it is equally true that the revenue should be kept in that Treasury; and it is a violation of the Constitution to keep the public money in any other place than the public Treasury.
Sir, it is of the first importance that the Government should be in actual possession of its own money, so that it may draw that money "in consequence of appropriations, made by law;" but money deposited in the banks is not in possession of the Government, but is a debt due the Government by the banks, and it cannot be drawn as the Government may want it, and as "appropriations made by law" may authorize its application, of which we have had sad experience in the high-handed transactions of the banks in May, 1837. But the act authorizing the deposite of the public moneys in the local banks contained another violation of the Constitution. By one of the provisions of the Constitution, (article 1, section 8,) Congress shall have power to borrow money on the credit of the United States; but Congress has no constitutional authority to lend money. In that deposite transaction, the Government money, was lent to the banks for a per centum -- a consideration. But another evidence of the unconstitutionality of the act authorizing the deposite of the public money in the local banks, will be found in the fact that Congress cannot interfere with the local banks to make deposites in them, without the consent of the banks, or, in some instances, the States, and in some instances: both the banks and States.
When the Government wishes to use the banks for such or any other purposes, she must, with humility, ask their consent or the consent of the States, or both, as the case may be. This kind of humility is unworthy of and degrading to the character of the Federal Government. Whatever is proper and right for the Government to do, she can issue her mandate to have done; and the very fact that she cannot interfere with State institutions without the consent of such institutions, or the States that create them, is the strongest evidence that she not only wants the constitutional authority, but that it is unconstitutional to do so. Hence I infer that it is a violation of the Constitution to deposite the Federal revenue in the State and local banks.
But I have another constitutional objection to that act. It is, that it authorizes and requires the Secretary of the Treasury to take the notes of specie-paying banks, under certain restrictions, in the payment of the Government revenue. The Constitution (article 1 section 10) provides that nothing shall be made a lawful tender in the payment of debts, but gold and silver. That act makes bank paper a lawful tender in debts due the Government, a violation of that provision so express and so unequivocal.
The receivers of public money, when they know that bank paper can be disbursed without loss to the Government and sacrifice to Government creditors, will collect bank paper to the amount of the immediate disbursements; (they may and will frequently do it) I have, no objections that they should, when it can be done safely, they being held responsible; but to make paper a lawful tender by law, which is made unlawful by the Constitution, is a violation of that Constitution.
These are my constitutional objections to the financial connection of the Government with the local banks; but I believe such a connection is inexpedient, impolitic, and dangerous.
Permit me, before I undertake to show the reasons that bring me to these conclusions, to deny a charge made against the Administration and the Democratic party. The charge to which I allude is, that this Administration and its supporters have declared war against the banks, and upon commerce. Sir, I can only oppose this with a direct denial, so far as I am concerned, and I am one of the warmest (in feeling) supporters of the Administration, and I believe I may venture to pronounce the charge, on behalf of those who act with me on this measure, one of the foul, false, Federal slanders of the day, conceived in a benighted brain, cultivated by a malignant heart, and given birth to by the pen of poison, and the tongue of pollution, to do its part to the destruction of the confidence of the people in this Administration.
Sir, let us refer to some facts, and see whether I have grounds and evidence to sustain this indictment for slander which I have presented to the jury, (country.) When the American people (Democratic part) had determined to put down the Bank of the United States, or rather to let it expire on the limitation of its charter, it became necessary for the public deposites to be removed; and in order that the public might sustain no sudden shock from the loss of the use of them, (for they had been discounted upon while in the United States Bank,) they were placed in the local banks, where they were also discounted upon. Here, then, is a manifestation of friendship towards the local banks in giving them this great and valuable boon.
But that was not all. By an act of Congress (to which I have before referred) their notes were made payable in the Government revenue, which gave them a credit far and wide, which they could not otherwise have had; which credit, as I stall show, or rather the improper use of it, has been the cause of all the pecuniary embarrassments and commercial ruin about which we have heard so much piteous whining and howlings. Those advantages were extended to the banks by the last Administration, and was sustained by the almost entire Democratic party; while the Federalists were unmeasured in their abuse, as well of the measure as of the banks themselves. The measure was denounced as ruinous to the country --and a criminal violation of the "chartered rights !" of the Bank of the United States, and the local banks were sneeringly denounced as pet institutions, unworthy of the Government's confidence, and incapable of performing the trust and the duties imposed upon them.
In these predictions there seems to have been some truth; but they have performed the trust and duty to the Government and the people about as well as the Bank of the United States: --both bad enough --too bad to be again trusted. So much for the last Administration and its course towards the banks.
How has it been with the present Administration and its supporters ? Why, sir, the present Chief Magistrate had hardly been fairly seated in his chair, when he and every body else was shocked and astounded with one of the most violent pecuniary tornadoes that ever rolled its destructive torrents over a land, crushing and prostrating every institution in the country in its desolating sweep. (I give the Whig account.) A Government that had funds on hand to the amount of more than 20,000,000 of dollars was made bankrupt in one night; and to save the character, reputation, and honor of the nation, the Executive was obliged to call Congress together, at an expense of more than $200,000 dollars to the people.
But what was the course of the Administration and the Democratic party towards the banks ? War, do you think ? No. The course of the Executive was indulgence to the banks and indulgence to the people. Suspend the debts of the banks, said the Chief Magistrate, and use as a substitute for Government money in their vaults, the Government credit. This was done and the banks were saved, and the people, who were their debtors, indulged. But war is waged upon commerce. Ah! how so ? During the last Administration, a system of credit was established toward the importing merchants; the same policy was pursued by the present; and when the banks suspended payment, the custom-house bonds due the Government amounted to upwards of $14,000,000. What was the course of the Administration, think you ? Was it to prosecute on the bonds, obtain judgment, issue execution, expose to sale all the property the merchants had, sell them out, bed and bedding, cow and calf, dog, broom, and tea kettle, for a part of the debt, and send them to jail for the balance, as would be the course of a soulless corporation with the Shylock principles of a bank. No, sir. No, sir. No such course was pursued. What was done ? Why, a bill was introduced by the Democratic party, on the recommendation of the President, to give the banks indulgence, and a like bill to give indulgence on the merchants' bonds, extending the time of payment, I think, in the first instance, four, eight, and twelve months; and, I think, in the latter, six, twelve, and eighteen months; and this, sir, is the kind of warfare that this Administration has declared against the banks and against commerce.
Twice, sir, has the Government been compelled to use her credit in the issuing of Treasury notes to the amount of ten millions of dollars each time to favor the banks and the importing merchants. Who, sir, in this measure, was found wanting in kindness and good feeling to the banks and merchants ? Look at your journals, sir. You will find the entire Federal vote against the measure to a man, I think; and the last bill that passed this House, (owing to the absence of some of the Democratic members,) passed by the casting vote of the Speaker. But for his vote, the bill which saved the country from ruin and bankruptcy would have failed. Yes, sir, the wheels of Government would have stopped from want of Treasury oil; and this great Federal fabric would now be mouldering with the fallen and almost forgotten Republics of Greece and Rome; and there were more gentlemen than one [Mr. Menefee] who said on this floor, in discharge of official functions, that they would rejoice to see this Government prostrated, if it would secure the downfall of this worthless and corrupt Administration.
But to return to the subject. I am in favor of establishing the Independent Treasury. I believe there is no other method by which the public money will be safe, and the Government secure at all times in its possession and use.
It must be manifest to every impartial man that there is no safety in depositing the public revenue in corporations over which the Government has no control. Give me your attention while I present you some of the difficulties and dangers that must always attend such a connection with the banks, and such an abandonment on the part of the Government over the control of her revenue, the only means by which she has to carry on her operations. I say that the Federal Government can exercise no control over State institutions contrary to their corporate privileges, or contrary to what may be the wish or desire of the several States from which they receive their charters. Hence it was, no sooner did banks suspend specie payments, than some of the States, by their Legislatures, justified them in it, though they were in possession of millions of the public money; and I believe not one State attempted peremptorily to coerce payment.
Sir, what would have been the situation of the country and the Government had we been at war with a foreign nation during the suspension ? The question is easily answered. Universal ruin and national degradation would have been the result. Some of the difficulties under which the Government labored during the last war must be too fresh in the mind of every true friend to his country, to desire to see the national means put from under the control of the Government, and into the hands of capitalists, who generally carry what little patriotism they have in their pockets, and have much more attachment to the means by which their wealth is augmented than to our free institutions, our national character and honor, and the equal rights of individuals.
Out of the vast number of international difficulties which give rise to just causes of war, there is none, nor indeed are all put together, half so likely to produce war as violations of national commercial rights, (which involve the preservation of the rights of sailors.) It was violations of this character on the part of Great Britain that superinduced the last war, commonly called the second war for independence. Who was most interested in the defence of American commerce ? We would suppose the Northern capitalists. But, sir, who was found on the side of the war ? Not they. No indeed, they (with some honorable exceptions,) were found assisting the enemy, like the tories of the revolution, aiding and abetting and performing the part of spies for the enemy, carrying on daily intercourse with them, and furnishing them with provisions and munitions of war.
Every thing that could prattle, from the corrupt tory of the gown, down to the tete a tete of the cap and ribbon, was employed in denouncing the war as unjust and unholy. It was considered a crime to rejoice at the victories gained over the enemy, and the man was denounced and execrated with religious anathemas, as bringing blood upon his head, and divine judgment and wrath upon his soul, who would give aid, comfort, or support to unjust and so unholy a cause as the American war. So odious was the war in northern estimation, that all efforts to obtain loans had to be made in secret. It was dangerous for the man who had money, and felt disposed to befriend and assist the Government, for him to do so. Hence, it was not uncommon for advertisements for loans to contain a promise that the purpose for which the loan was made should be kept secret. This was not the worst: when Ohio's frontier soil was fertilized with Ohio and Kentucky's richest and best blood --when the land was desolated, and the swamps and dense thickets were the hiding places and only home of hundreds of women and children-- when the red scalping knife was hardly permitted to dry --when the farmers chests were drained of their last dollar, their barns of their last bushel of grain, and their houses of their choicest sons, to support the drooping and desponding troops, and fill up their thin ranks-- it was then, when application was made to Congress for men, means, and munitions of war, the Government was derided, the war denounced, and its friends and supporters sneeringly asked "if this was the entertainment to which we were invited at the declaration of war?" and this by men now high in the confidence of a certain party. All this hostility to the war was felt and manifested by northern capitalists, and so long as the same causes exist, so long will the same effects and feelings be produced.
What, sir, would be the situation of your Government, in time of war, with your revenue in the possession of the banks, and the banks owned (as they all almost are, or their capital, which is the same,) by northern and British capitalists, with British feelings and British attachments, such as the capitalists were during the last war, and as they will be during the next. Then, sir, I think the policy bad and dangerous to connect the Government with banks, under such unequal circumstances, under such great disadvantages to the Government, and the people whose Government it is.
Sir, much as I would dread, fear, and abhor a union of Church and State, I would not consider such a union half so dangerous as a union of Bank and State. The former would operate to the prejudice of our liberties, through the medium of the conscience --a very slender and a very scarce article these days of political corruption, and moral and pecuniary depravity; but the latter would operate to the destruction of our liberties, through the medium of the purse, which is the god of our souls, and divinity of our worship. Sir, since the hard and tory times about which I have been talking, one of the great parties of this country has often changed its name, but men and principles are the same.
But, sir, I am afraid to try this scheme again of giving the banks the control of the Government finances. I fear another bank explosion, then will follow the cry of panic; ruin, mismanagement, corruption, and profligacy of the Administration, will be howled, hyena like, from Maine to Mexico. Yes, sir, this is the object. It is to have another explosion, to ripen the people for a great central National Bank, about which Federalism can rally and consummate its political schemes, and establish its favorites in power. The Opposition care little about the prosperity of the local bank system; that is, the leaders of it. Their interests are too much diversified, and they are too widely spread over the country, to bring them to bear with sufficient force and power upon their political efforts. There is, in the local bank system, too great a want of concert of action for their purposes. They will take them rather than have nothing of the kind; for so far as they can be brought to bear, they answer generally a good purpose. Yes, they would even take the Conservative plan into their keeping, rather than be without the assistance of corporations in their political movements. It is a great National Bank they want; and I trust the people will not permit themselves to be gulled.
The question is, a National Bank, or a complete and undivided Independent Treasury system. There is no middle ground. The half-way house (Conservatism) is now deserted; it stands in the wilderness "solitary and alone." The highway has been taken from it; its windows are shattered; its doors are broken from their hinges. The raven croaks from its chimney top by day; the owl hoots from its garret by night; the wild wolf howls from its threshold unscared; and not a solitary human foot enters it but that of the prowling midnight thief and robber. Misnamed Conservatives are now seen wandering in small, scattered remnants, like the lost children of Israel, waiting for a call or edict of admission into the Whig ranks, whom they can join without much sacrifice of feeling or principle; for the real difference between them is the difference between Twedledum and twedledee.
Although they have claimed to belong to the Democratic party, yet they never were of the true blue. They were not dyed in the wool. They were the calico Democracy. These Conservatives are an upright class of politicians. So far as my experience and acquaintance of them goes, I must pronounce them the most upright politicians I have ever seen. Indeed, they are so very upright that, let the political wind come from what point of the compass it may, whether from the North, the South, the East, or West, it never fails to incline them to the modern Whig side of the party line.
Sir, I see too much of the treachery of Sinon, and too much of the cunning of Ulysses, in the Conservatives, for my purpose. Their scheme is like the Trojan horse; it is too enormous to be admitted into the Democratic city without breaking down her walls, demolishing her ramparts, and destroying her sentinels, which have defended her liberties for more than half a century. Moreover, sir, when admitted it will be found to be filled with armed Greeks, ready to open the gates to their companions in crime and in arms, who will murder your citizens, and lay waste your city. Sir, the Democracy are unwilling that this monster shall be consecrated to Minerva. But I hope for thus hurling our javelin against the side of this horse, whose hollow sound is sufficient to convince all that it is filled with hypocrisy and danger, we shall not share the fate of the unfortunate Laocoon. I hope we shall not invoke the wrath of Neptune, and be strangled to death with serpents.
Sir, the propositions of the Conservatives are like the earthen pots of Hannibal. They are full of snakes and poisonous reptiles, which, if thrown into the Democratic ship, will coil round the Constitution, crush and strangle our free institutions, and poison and corrupt the fountains of Democracy, from which flow the pure principles of civil and religious liberty.
Sir, when the banks suspended specie payments, the Conservative plan, which is now recommended, was in full operation; and yet the whole argument of the friends of this measure is to establish confidence in the banks, and the business and prosperity of the country will instantly revive. Yes, sir, we have heard this cry of confidence, confidence, until our ears have been shattered and our stomachs nauseated. How, sir, are you going to establish confidence in a set of institutions that are destitute, from their very natures, of the moral and intrinsic requisites which entitle them to confidence, and especially to so great a trust as that of the management of the finances of this Government.
And why, sir, in May, 1837, when they were in the full possession of not only the confidence of the Government, but were in possession of her broad panoply of protection and in the practical use of her vast revenue --when their credit constituted the circulating medium of this vast, wide-spread dominion, and their paper was received in payment of the Government revenue and in all the vast and extensive commercial and mercantile transactions, and in domestic consumption-- I ask, when the banks enjoyed all these advantages, public and private, why did they suspend specie payments ? And I ask further, if this Government patronage --the possession and use of the vast funds of the Government, as well her deposited revenue as her undrawn balances, together with the unlimited public and private confidence which they enjoyed-- was not all-sufficient to enable then to sustain themselves and to continue to redeem their bills, how will the simple act of the Government to receive in payment of her revenue the notes of specie-paying banks, restore confidence in the banks, so as to enable them to resume specie payments and revive the prosperity of the country ? I leave the Conservatives to answer these questions.
The gentleman from Virginia [Mr. Garland] says tauntingly, "these principles [Conservative] were good Democratic doctrines in '35-36; why are they not good Democratic doctrines now?" I answer, because the local banks have forfeited the confidence that Government, or rather the Democratic party, reposed in them; and further, the question really involves no party principles, and ought to be treated as an abstract question of financial expediency. It has been made a party question for political effect.
If it was Democracy in 1835-36 to give banks the control of the Government revenue, while they had the confidence of the Government, it is no reason why it should be Democracy in 1837-38, since they have forfeited all confidence of the Government. Prior to the American Revolution, obedience, and submission to British mandates was considered patriotic, but such obedience during the Revolution, and after the confirmation of our independence, would have been considered toryism. We have been frequently asked, in rather taunting tones, by the modem Whigs, why it is that we are now seeking a divorce from the banks, when in 1835-'36, we were their friends, and used them to put down the Bank of the United States ? I would ask in return why it is that the modern Whigs are now seeking an alliance of friendship, (pretended I suspect only for political effect) with the banks, when in 1835-'36, they denounced them corrupt and imbecile institutions, unfit to regulate the currency --pet banks ?
Yes, it is said that the Government is trying to be divorced from the State banks.
Sir, I deny that ever the Federal Government was wedded to the banks. There is an alliance between the Government and the States: you may regard that alliance in the character of a husband, friend, protector, guardian, or what you please. To accommodate the Whigs, we will call it husband; we will agree that the sister States confederated, and gave up certain portions or parts, of their independence, supremacy, and means, and out of those constructed a Federal Government and imposed on that Government the duties of a husband towards them, defining specially the power he shall exercise over them in a written Constitution, which was to stand for all time as a wall of fire to secure them from any Federal innovations upon their reserved rights and sovereignties. All this we know to be true; but was the Federal Government thereby to play the husband with and for every handmaid that the States might take into their employ. Was she to bed and board with every wrinkled yellow and toothless washer women that the States might engage to do that which was beneath their dignity to do themselves ?
When the Federal Government united in the honorable bonds of matrimony with the States, that union was superinduced by their youth, beauty, intelligence, wealth, and chastity, and every other requisite necessary to make such an union desirable and permanent. And the defence of the peace and tranquility of the States from foreign invasions and domestic insurrection, and some other expressed duties constitute the object for which the Federal Government was formed, all which have been imposed upon him. By uniting the Federal Government with the local banks in any Union like political matrimony, you would impose duties upon the Government which it has no power to enforce, because it cannot interfere with State institutions, this I have before stated. But, supposing that there has been something like matrimonial union between the banks and the Government, the only condition upon which that union was predicated was the just, faithful, and honest management of the Government revenue as her fiscal agents; this condition the banks have not only failed to perform, but violated in the most injurious manner, and therefore made the marriage contract not only voidable, but ipso facto void.
But, sir, I have another objection to this system which partakes of the constitutional character; and in accordance with that objection, I put the same question that the gentleman from Virginia [Mr. Dromgoole] raised. It is this: are not the officers, directors, stockholders, debtors, agents and attorneys of banks disqualified from holding a seat in Congress, owing to the direct interest which they may respectively have in those institutions, when they are made the fiscal agents of the Government ? Or if you please, is a member of Congress not disqualified from acting officially on a proposition of measure connected with the banks, in which he may have a direct pecuniary interest ? Should the banks be employed as fiscal agents to the Government, I trust that all banks that involve the pecuniary interest of members of Congress, shall, without exception, be excluded from such employment.
Why is it the trial by jury has time out of mind been regarded as a sacred and almost apostolic mode of doing justice between man and man ? It is a palladium of liberty; an institution that has done more to secure the liberty and protect the property of the citizen, as well in England as in this country, and where ever it exists, than magna charta, or the bill of rights of England, or the Revolution or the Constitution of this country, and all other causes put together. Why is it so ? It is because the jury is to be composed of men good and true, who are to be neither of kin to the parties litigant nor are they to have an interest to the amount of a farthing; neither shall the facts be established upon which they are to predicate their judicial decision, be presented by witnesses who can be supposed by any possibility interested; neither is the judge who has an interest in the decision of the cause to be tried, permitted to expound or explain the law upon which the cause may turn or rest. And herein consists the value of the trial by jury; it is stripping it of every thing like interest. When so much care was deemed necessary by the common law, and our Anglo Saxon ancestors, and when our immediate ancestors have adopted the same caution and care, and made the trial by jury, with all its common-law guards and protections a part of our Constitution, to secure to us for all time in the civil protection it affords, and its security and protection consists in removing every thing savoring of interest in the trial, why is the law-making power not equally to be guarded from the corrupting influence of interest ?
We all remember well the national interest that was felt when the question of the recharter of the Bank of the United States was before the American people. There was a strong party who were in favor of the recharter of that institution; there was a stronger party who were opposed to it. The interest was intense on both sides; so much as even to threaten violence and revolution. The action and decision of Congress was looked to with agonizing anxiety. The removal of the deposites of the public money from the Bank of the United States and the branches thereof, and the deposite of the same in the local banks produced the same feverish excitement. And what do you think, sir ? I hold in my hand the Senate Journal of that time; it contains the report of a committee appointed to examine the Bank of the United States, with a view to ascertain whether any members were interested in a pecuniary sense in the Bank. This report contains the astounding fact, that the Bank had loaned to members of Congress, who then owed it, the enormous sum of $400,000. Yes, sir, members of Congress, whose pecuniary salvation from ruin, and the support of whose families may have depended on the favor and indulgence of the Bank, were a part of the men who had to decide this great question between the people and the Bank. Ought such a state of things to have existed ? Ought they ever to exist again ? Ought the frailty of man to be exposed to such overwhelming temptations? and ought our free institutions to be exposed to the blighting and withering effects of such temptations ?
The law-making power is supreme over every temporal institution, except the Constitution; it is the fountain and source of all power; and if poisoned, all the streams that flow from it, will carry poison and death, by every medium through which it flows, to all our institutions; and even the Constitution, which is protected mainly by the sanctity of an oath of those who administer its powers, may totter and tumble by the same poisoning and corrupting influence of pecuniary interest.
I hope for the honor and reputation of this Congress, and for the credit of the nation, the sanctity and preservation of the Constitution, our great charter of rights, and anchor of our political hopes and civil liberty, that no member of this Congress has an interest in local banks that could possibly sway his vote, or swerve his judgement; or, if he has, I hope he has not so far forgotten his duty to his conscience, his God, and his country, as to have voted on a question involving that interest. I do not charge those members of Congress, who were indebted to the United States Bank, with being interested in the recharter of the Bank in consequence of the accommodations which they had received at its hands, or of being overawed by its threats; but to show that the Bank had some interest in making friends to its cause, I will refer you to a portion of the same report of the Senate committee.
I allude to that part of the report which relates to the New York Courier and Enquirer and its editor. I defy any man to come to any other conclusion, who will carefully and impartially examine that part of the report, than that the Courier and Enquirer, type, press, printers' devil, editor, books, and bonds, were bought by the Bank of the United States for the consideration of $52,000. Yes, sir, that vile sheet of slander and corruption --that polluted sewer, through which Bank slander, foul detraction, and the basest and most infamous falsehoods are continually flowing in one uninterrupted torrent to the public mind, is now the property of the United States Bank, or its friends and allies, bought and used for corrupt political purposes, to serve the degrading and servile ends of the Bank, together with its editor, the degraded coward, and the bought up vassal, James Watson Webb.
Let me hope, that so long as there is a connection between the Government and the banking interests of this country, that the great interest of the Government and the rights of the people may be defended from the corrupting effects of selfish and interested legislation. Should Congress neglect, or refuse to interpose, their authority against a principle and a practice so pernicious in its nature, and so dangerous in its practice, so subversive of justice, and degrading to the character of our free institutions, I hope the people will take the matter in hand, and do justice to themselves, and honor to their country.
But it is said that there is less security in keeping the public money by the Sub-Treasury plan than by banks. This seems to me to be a strange objection, and must rest upon one of two reasons, perhaps both; one must be that Government cannot make vaults, boxes, or safes as strong as the vaults of the banks. The best way to get clear of this objection is, to treat it as unworthy of notice --so I leave it.
The other objection may be, that there is not as much moral honesty among men as there is among banks; this may be, but it is unnecessary to speculate in theory and probabilities, when we have experience and facts to govern us. From an examination of financial reports in a given time, perhaps since 1814 to this time, we have the exhibit of about $13,000,000 lost by banks, and about one million of dollars by individuals, when the chances to lose by individuals were two to one, as all the revenue was twice in the hands of individuals, and once in the hands of the banks, viz: once in the hands of the receiving officers, then in the banks; next and last, in the hands of the disbursing officers. I ask, then, if the public money must be, and has been, first in the hands of public officers; and last in the hands of public officers, what benefit does the Government gain by placing her money in the banks, by way of handing it over from the first class of officers to the second. So much for practice and experience.
This objection to the Sub-Treasury scheme, only deserves answering from the respectability of those who make it, and not from any force in itself. Let us examine the theory and moral of the objection.
Men have an honorable and a moral reputation to maintain, involving pride of character and standing in society, far above any pecuniary consideration; banks have a pecuniary credit to maintain, involving nothing higher than dollars and cents, and whatever course of civil conduct will secure the most of them is their course, without a conscience to dictate in the matter. Men have a conscience whose peace must be consulted; they also have a body to be imprisoned for purloining the public money, or to be punished corporally for crime or fraud. "Banks have neither bodies to be kicked, or souls to be damned." Therefore, in every moral and respectable sense, men have the advantage over banks as fiscal agents of the Government.
Moreover, this bill has provisions that go as far as strong boxes, strong safes, and strong vaults; moral obligations, penal, and pecuniary bonds, corporal punishments, degrading imprisonment, and loss of liberty and reputation, can go to make the public money safe.
But it is said that the Independent Treasury will be more costly to the Government than the method of using the banks. The additional expense is a matter so inconsiderable, that it is unworthy of consideration. The advantage of always having the money in possession, for the support of the Government, the security of the country, and the protection of the people under all emergencies, is more than a compensation for the small additional expense. The expense of four receivers general, and four or five additional clerks, which cannot exceed fifteen o; twenty thousand dollars; and the establishment of places of security, which may cost fifteen or twenty thousand dollars more, which would make thirty or forty thousand dollars for the first year, and half that sum each year after. This is a small sum to constitute a serious objection to a scheme so much wanted, and so absolutely necessary.
But it is said that this plan is going to increase the Executive influence and Executive power. This is a stale cry. We have heard the cry of Executive power and Executive influence raised on a thousand changes this session. But this objection comes in bad time, and bad taste, from a party whose fundamental principles are an increase of Executive power, and whose watchword is Federal influence. But, sir, this objection is like many of the others: it is without foundation; and if it were for me to invent a plan of stripping the Executive of a portion of his influence and power, I would think myself happy and lucky in the discovery of the Independent Treasury plan.
How is it in regard to the plan that connects the Government with the banks ? The President may, through his Executive officers of the Treasury, control, for political purposes, the banks. Having in the selection of the local banks in which the deposites are to be made, he may make a compliance on their part with his political plans a condition. The alliance and connection may be of that character, and the control of that nature, that he may make all persons interested in the deposite banks subservient to his purpose. He might, through the banks, wield an influence dangerous, yes, destructive, to this Government, and the overturning of all our free institutions. The thought is shocking to the man who will properly appreciate the danger of throwing into the hands of the Executive the control (it may be for political purposes) of the whole American revenue, through as many banks as he may see fit to employ, or as many as could be brought to his own corrupt terms.
Sir, it seems to me that no more powerful method could be invented to bring this Government to any terms, and to any situation that a corrupt Executive might see fit, than to give him the control of the banking interests and powers over the country. Suppose that the President was to form an alliance with the banks, and that alliance had for its object the increase of his Executive power, and the augmentation of their capital and its profits: here would be a union of interests at the expense of our free institutions and the liberty of the people, but perfectly in harmony with each of their natures and characters: for it is natural for Executive power to desire to increase its influence, and extend and augment its powers indefinitely; and it is natural for banking institutions to extend their credit, augment their influence, and increase their profits; and whenever those two influences are brought to bear upon one or more objects, for the political influence of the one and the pecuniary interests of one other, the result may be dangerous to the liberties of this country.
It seems to me that the direct tendency that the Sub-Treasury plan has to strip the Executive of power, by his connection with, and control over, the banks; that might be dangerous, is one of its greatest commendations; and if there were no other advantages to attend its adoption, that alone is sufficient to recommend it, at least to those who look with a jealous eye upon Executive powers and Federal influence. The Sub-Treasury plan contemplates the increase of four principal officers, whose duty it shall be to receive the public moneys; (this duty is now performed by Executive officers;) and perhaps six subaltern officers, such as clerks. It is possible there may be an increase of ten or twelve Executive officers, added to ten thousand that now exist; (a mere drop in the Ohio.)
And what does the bill provide as an offset to this increase of Executive officers ? Why, sir, it places the Government revenue beyond the control of the Executive influence, strips him of all power to exercise an undue influence over the banks or any other corporate institutions or private individuals, by means of the public revenue.
But the enemies of this Administration say that this Independent Treasury scheme is an attempt secretly to establish a Government Bank. This is not the fact, nor are those who make the charge sincere. If they thought so, they would sustain the measure to a man; for a Government Bank is the watchword with them. Every local interest, and every general interest too, is made to yield to the establishment of a National Bank with them.
What is a bank, sir ? My experience teaches me that it is an office of discount and deposite. It has stockholders, directors, a president, a cashier, and tellers. It discounts its paper, that is, its promises to pay, on the silver and gold in its vaults. Sometimes it discounts without either gold or silver. It receives money in deposite, and discounts upon its deposites. It deals in exchanges, that is, it buys and sells bills of exchange. It grants credits on its books, and transfers the amount of credit from one merchant to another. It buys and sells stocks. These are attributes and functions of a bank. Now will any gentleman here point to me any one of these powers as connected or belonging to the bill establishing the Independent Treasury, though all are necessary to make it a Government Bank, or bank of any kind; and, until that is done, I will hope to hear no charge of this kind against this measure.
Some of the enemies of this Administration say that the attempt to establish an Independent Treasury is an attack upon the whole credit system. Sir, I repel the charge, and repudiate it as I would the attempt, let it be made by whom or by what party it may. I know no better method of regulating the credit system, than by the check which the collection of the Government revenues in gold and silver would establish.
The great objections of the Democratic party to banks, grow out of their hostility to the establishment of institutions that have for their object inequality of privileges; but in addition to this general objection, (which has its origin in the Constitution and in the nature of our Government,) they object to banks, because the currency of the country is made unsteady. By the fluctuations of the currency, all pursuits in life are made uncertain, and the whole credit system made as unsteady and as uncertain as April weather. To-day, a man may be worth $50,000 in paper prices; he may owe $10,000 in paper contracts. To-morrow, the credit of the paper system may be blasted, and it may take the man's $50,000 to pay the $10,000 which he owed. Hundreds and thousands of instances of this character can be produced, where men, who, by industry and economy, have laid up what they supposed would be a competent living for themselves in the afternoon of life, have, by the destruction of credit and the consequent downfall of property, been reduced, in ten short days, from supposed affluence to poverty and wretchedness.
There are none of us who have reached the meridian of life, but have seen more than one period of universal destruction of credit, confidence, trade, and commerce; and it is the nature of unrestrained banking to produce periodical prostration and ruin, with all the effects of poverty and its train of evils, such as the loss of private and public confidence, and the destruction of every moral and social feeling that constitutes the ties of society and civilization. The evil does not consist in banking or the credit system; it consists in the unrestrained exercise of the banking powers and the improper and imprudent issues of paper money. In proportion to the increase of circulating medium, whether of gold or silver, so will the price of every, marketable commodity, as well of personal as of real property, increase.
If there are five dollars in paper in circulation to one in specie for the redemption of that paper, so long as it has credit, and the confidence of those who receive it and pay it out, property of every description will be estimated in proportion to the amount of paper actually in circulation. Purchases are made, and debts contracted, all with reference to the fictitious value. When the time comes that this paper must be redeemed --that is, when the people begin to lose confidence in the ability of the banks to redeem, or a demand comes from abroad for the liquidation of our commercial debts, which must be paid in gold and silver, bank paper having no circulation or credit abroad-- then it is the banks are compelled to stop issuing, contract their credits, call in their debts, and generally shut up shop; that is, stop specie payments. Money, by this operation, becomes scarce; property falls in value to the specie basis; debts which were contracted in paper times must be paid in specie, the effect of which is to compel the debtor to pay to the creditor five dollars for every one he really owes him, or for which he ever received consideration. When the paper balloon was inflated to the extent of its capacity and elasticity, large contracts were made for real estate, merchandise, or commerce, and half the price paid down. Now the paper balloon has burst, the price of property has fallen four-fifths. The consequence is, that the money advanced upon the real estate, merchandise, or commerce, is lost to the purchaser, and the property will not sell for more than half as much as will pay the balance which is due on it. This is the financial operation by which thousands of as honest and industrious citizens as ever adorned any country, or any society, are brought to sudden and unexpected poverty and ruin, by circumstances and operations over which they have no control. And these are some of the effects produced by unrestrained banking.
I stated that this state of pecuniary ruin --which, ever since the introduction of the banking system, as now conducted, has produced periodically-- may be brought about by foreign demands for specie, and generally is. I will tell you how it is; and to illustrate it more clearly, I will confine illustrations to the operations of a single bank, but which will, and does, apply to all. Supposing a bank is authorized with a capital of $500,000: the requisite number of instalments is paid in; the bank commences operations; discounts paper on the specie paid in on its stock shares; deposites are made in it; it discounts on its deposites; and its paper, now spread far and wide, has become the circulating medium of the country. Its paper answers all the purposes of domestic exchange and consumption. Prices rise in proportion to the quantity of paper in circulation, but the credit and circulation of the paper being confined to its own country, the price of our produce is not raised abroad; foreign produce is invited here, while our produce bears so high a price at home, that it will not admit of exportation. The consequence is, that our specie must be taken out of the country, or exported, to pay for our own importations. This produces a constant flow of the precious metals from our country, and no return. This operation is made more fatal by the contracts of foreign and domestic debts contracted in the course of commercial trade. Exchanges are now against us; the balances must be paid. The commercial or importing merchants are called upon to pay their foreign debts in hard coin; they, in turn, are compelled to call upon their customers, the country merchants; and the country merchants are compelled to call upon their customers, the people, and the people upon their debtors and the banks. Then the calamities begin which I have before described; and this development accounts for the causes of all the difficulties that this country, this people, and this Government, have suffered for the last year in their commercial and financial affairs, although the whole blame, for political effect, is laid at the feet of the Administration.
I have said all those pecuniary and commercial difficulties grew out of unrestrained banking. It is true, and there are other difficulties which I have not named, nor have I time to name then. I will name one: when money is made plenty, and prices are thereby made high, great inducements are held out to all classes to engage in speculations. The carpenter's bench, the shoemaker's seat, and the tailor's board, are robbed; the anvil is deserted, "and the plough is left to rust in the half-finished furrow;" all by the alluring prospects which a bloated paper currency holds out to make fortunes suddenly by speculation. The more honorable, but slow, methods of making a living by honest industry and useful employment, are given up for speculating pursuits about which more than two-thirds of those who engage in them know nothing.
Soon after I arrived here at the extra session last summer, I visited the port of Alexandria. I became acquainted with the Danish Consul, who invited me on board a ship which was then in port. On being introduced to the captain, I asked him where he was from. His answer was, from Prussia. What is your lading ? Wheat. I felt surprised that wheat should be imported between four or five thousand miles across a boisterous and tempestuous ocean, with all the risk of the sea, from a frozen and sterile country between the 55th and 60th degree of north latitude, and a land of despotism, to this fertile and mild climate and land of liberty, which is proverbially all over the world an agricultural country. I was so much surprised, that I was induced to inquire what he paid for his wheat in Prussia, and think he said $1.25 per bushel. What do you get for it here ? $1.75. What do you pay your sailors ? $8 per month. What is the price of labor in your country ? $8 per month. What kind of money constitutes your circulating medium ? Gold and silver is our consumptive medium. These answers unfolded the secret.
Here it is proper to remark, that nothing in the currency way could be taken for this wheat but gold and silver. Our paper would not pass in Prussia, and what produce we had to spare bore so bloated a paper price, that it would not bear shipping to Prussia. But the secret was, that labor and produce in Prnssia was at the specie standard; here it was at the paper standard; or, in other words, produce and labor there bear their real value; here they bear a fictitious value. This was produced by the unbridled manner in which banking was conducted.
Permit me, sir, to read an article from a German paper, printed in the district which I have the honor to represent. I think the article excels any thing I ever read for brevity, truth, candor, and comprehension. Here, sir, it is: it is in point:
Causes of the Late Revulsion.-- I believe that justice requires that we should attribute the disorders of the times to other causes than the measures of the late or the present National Administration; and, first, among those causes I would name--
The excessive issues of bank paper with which the country has been flooded, and the consequent abuses of bank credits.
2d. The vast sums invested in unproductive lands, city and village lots, fancy stocks, and other property, by men of limited resources.
3d. The great excess of our importations above our exports --contracting large debts abroad, the payment of which is quired the withdrawal of an equal amount of our capital from the ordinary channels of business at home.
4th. The almost total neglect of that most useful, as well as most honorable, of all employments, the cultivation of the soil, observable in some sections of the country, and the consequent necessity for the importation of bread stuffs.
5th. Extravagance in expenditures of all kind; and the luxurious style of living, and the habits of idleness in which too many have, for years past, indulged.
Then, sir, I say that the principle in the Independent Treasury scheme that makes the Government revenue collectible in the constitutional currency, is one of the best principles or means that could be adopted to regulate the discounts of the banks, and balance trade, commerce, credit, and agriculture; and any man whose mind is unswerved by party considerations, and uninfluenced by selfish interest, can see in this provision of the Independent Treasury scheme sufficient reasons why it should become the settled and permanent law of the land. While it exists, the banks will always be kept under proper restraint, and the currency of the country will always be redeemable, and of a creditable quality; nor will it ever in quantity (as it never should) exceed the wants of the country.
But take away the restraint from the banks, and we are subject periodically to all the distressing and desolating effects by the violent and sudden expansion and contractions consequent upon an unrestrained paper circulating medium.
But, sir, we have been told that it is the office-holders who are urging this ruinous measure upon the country; and we hear a great deal about office-holders. This measure is the measure of the office-holders, and that measure is the measure of the office-holders: it is office holders in the morning, office holders at noon, and office-holders in the evening: we can hear the hyena howl about the office-holders on our going out, and on our coming in; in our eating, our drinking, in our sleeping, in our waking, and in our praying, (when we do pray.) Sir, there may be something degrading and criminal in holding an office; but I believe I would a little rather be a comfortable, fat, well-fed office holder, than a lean, lank, hungry office seeker. The former situation is quite as honorable as the latter, and much more comfortable.
Constant murmurings and complaints about the office holders have ever been considered worthy of a demagogue. What is meant by this incessant cry against the office holders ? Is it to disband, all the office holders, and dissolve the Federal Government, and return to a state of originality, or is it merely to open the way for a new and hungry swarm of office seekers, to sap the last drop of Uncle Sam's blood from his already exhausted veins ? Where is the Government that ever had a spark of freedom, but what was conducted by office holders, and a regularly organized system, with proper checks and balances to guard against usurpation, or the undue exercise of power ? We may disband our Federal officers when we wish to establish the Agrarian system, or exchange our free institutions and our republican Constitution for an unlimited despotism, like the Autocrat of Russia.
But suppose the ins are ousted to make room for the outs, as that is the object of the cry with which our ears are incessantly grated, would the public be benefited by the change ? Would the expenses of the Government be diminished ? The Federalists have had the sway twice since the organization of our Government, and they were hardly well seated in power, when the people flirted them into the mud; and it will be so again, whenever they get into power. A few Federal strides of official power will bring down the popular indignation upon them. What power they may gain by the sleeping apathy or unsuspecting carelessness of the people, will soon be wrested from them by a fearful wakening up.
The gentleman from Maryland [Mr. Kennedy] advanced some strange doctrines on the subject of banking, calculated, I think, to arouse the most unsuspecting. He tells us that the banks are never able to redeem their paper. It is preposterous to suppose that they can. Such a supposition is vulgarism; and it is such vulgar ideas that make people rush to a bank whenever they suspect its ability to redeem its paper. This may be vulgarism, sir, on the part of the people, but it is a vulgarism that has its foundation in justice and self-defence, and will never be cured in a land of freedom by any species of Bank refinement. If it is a vulgarism in the people to expect the banks to pay their debts, and to call upon them, upon their promises, to do so, it is immoral and fraudulent in them not to pay.
I think he told us that the banks of England had a provision in this charters, by which they were guarded against captious calls for specie redemption of their paper. I would like to see one of our western buckeye woalhats interrogated at the counter of a bank whether he made his demand for the redemption of his note in a captious manner or not. I think Mr. Corset would be apt to get his stays broken.
Gentlemen, who have been singing praises to the banks, and the banking system, constantly refer as to the wealth, the power, the independence, and the grandeur of England. The gentleman from Virginia, [Mr. Garland] tells us that she has ruled the commercial world, as she sways the ocean, against the combined powers of Europe; and all this by the glorious and happy influence of her credit and banking system.
Mr. Speaker, I will not detain you now, by giving you an account of the English national debt, which is more than all the dray horses in her kingdom could draw in dollars. Her ecclesiastic estate, her entails, her rotten boroughs, her tythes, her lords --spiritual and temporal-- her monarchical department, &c.
I have never heard of the powers of Europe being combined but once, and that was to put Bonaparte down, and England was in the combination; and Bonaparte would have whipped the whole concern, had it not been for the treachery of some of his officers. But this is not the first time in the history of our political and legislative service that we have had England offered to us as the proper model of a Government.
The argument is a Tory and a Federal argument. It is the same that was used by the Tories during, the Revolutionary war against the Patriots. It was that argument that prolonged the war for many years, and increased all its hardships --the loss of thousands of lives, and the destruction of millions of property. It is an argument that true hearted Americans never want to hear. It is the argument that was used by the Federalists and Tories at the formation of our Government. The very man who introduced the English banking system into this country, [Alexander Hamilton,] said that the British Government was one of the most splendid fabrics on the face of the earth. It is the same argument that was used to establish the alien, and sedition laws, that brought disgrace on our free institutions, infamy upon the memory of our Government, and placed a foul and everlasting stain upon the American statute book.
It is the same argument that was used to prevent the repeal of the same odious laws; it is the same argument that was used to prevent the election of the distinguished statesman, philosopher, and patriot, Thomas Jefferson, by whom Federalism was routed, "horse, foot, and dragoons," for a time, the Costitution restored to its original principles, and many who mere imprisoned in loathsome and pestilential dungeons by the alien and sedition laws were restored to the light of heaven and the bosom of society. It is the same argument that was used against the declaration of our second war for independence, though our seamen had been pressed, our navy disgraced, our commerce assailed, and our national flag dishonored.
It is the same argument that was used by the same Tories and Federalists against our rejoicing in honor and gratitude over our national victories, which was regarded as a sin, inasmuch as the war was "an unjust and an unholy war. It is the same argument that was used to justify the treasonable practice daily exercised, of giving comfort and aid to our enemies, and of denying aid and munitions of war for the relief of our suffering frontier. It is the same argument that was used to cheat the people out of their Republican President, fairly elected in 1824, in violation of the principles of our Constitution, our free institutions, and the sacred rights of the elective franchise.
It is the same argument that was used to prevent the election of General Jackson in 1828, and urged with double energy, because he had thrashed the red coats of their beloved England on the plains of New Orleans. But the argument was unavailing, Jackson was elected; the Augean stable was swept, and the rolling tide of Federalism was thrown back.
It is the same argument that was used to prevent his re-election, and to renew the charter of the United States Bank, by which it was intended to merge the pecuniary interests and political liberties of this country in British capital and British power. But the people met the argument, put down the Bank, and redeemed the country, by the re-election of General Jackson. It is the same argument that was used against the confirmation of Martin Van Buren as Minister to the Court of St. James. He was rejected because he was a little too much given to the institutions of his own country, and a little too much opposed to the institutions of England, whose praises we have heard sang in such loud and long strains in the discussion of this question.
It is the same that was used to prevent the election to the Vice Presidency of the same distinguished and talented individual; and the same that was used to prevent his election to the Presidency. It is the same that was used to prevent the election of Richard M. Johnson to the seat he now occupies in honor to his patriotism, his services to his country, and the scars that cover his body received in her defence, and the duties of which he discharges with so much ability, credit to himself, and advantage, the country, and the satisfaction of those over whom he presides.
In short, sir, the glories and splendor of England is a standing argument with a certain party against every thing proposed to advance the interests of this country, to establish on a firmer basis our free institutions, or to spread broader, and wider the principles of Democracy. The enemies to Democracy, and this Administration, are daily singing praises to their Whig victories: bright prospects of glory await them. You may see them in groups by night and day congratulating each other and the Federal party, on the success that awaits their toils in the Federal field for their promotion, the success of the Federal party and the establishment of Federal principles. It requires but little stretch of the imagination to see them with their leader [Mr. Clay] parcelling out the spoils, and assigning stations to the commanding officers from their first general to their fourth corporal.
But, sir, disappointment awaits them, till disappointed hope must be their lot for a time ! Yes, sir, the little Duchman blockades their passage to glory. About the year forty he will again move his wand over the heads of the American people, and their hearts will beat in his breast; his patriotism, his talents, his political integrity, his sound Democratic principles, and his services to his country will rise vividly in the recollection of every lover of American freedom, and the Magician is again placed in the President's chair; while old Tecumseh's claim to national gratitude will retain him in the possession of his present situation, and the laurels that his gallantry and dauntless bravery so gloriously won for him at the battle of the Thames will still adorn his memory.
Sir, we have some struggling about currency; some is for one kind and some for another; some for a National Bank paper; some for local bank paper; some for shinplasters; some for all kinds of paper, so that it smacks of the beauties and glories of the British banking system; and here and there we find one who is inclined to the American constitutional currency, viz: gold and silver. There may be some uncertainty how this game may end, and what the financial currency may eventually be; but I can tell you, sir, of one kind of currency we will have for the next seven years. It is a political currency, signed by the magician of Kinderhook, and endorsed by Tecumseh of Thames memory.
This paper will pass all over these United States; and it will not be like your common paper currency, five per cent. below par at New York; twenty per cent. below par at New Orleans; fifteen per cent. at St. Louis, and so varying at every principal mart or seaport town in the United States. No, sir, it will be at par at all times and all places, and compared with its antagonist, paper will be at least 33.1/3 per cent. above par.
The Kinderhook paper will pass current with the Dutch, who deal in nothing but sound currency; it will pass current with the Irish, who are Democrats by nature, and it will pass current with all who love freedom and equal rights; all who go in for the support of the Constitution, the defence of our free institutions, and against the establishment of a British Bank upon American soil.
But, sir, we have been told by the gentleman from Maryland [Mr. Kennedy] that this bill contains a provision embracing the principles of the Treasury Circular, which was repealed but the other day by a large majority of both branches of Congress. Yes, sir, it contains such a provision in part. The Treasury Circular made a discrimination in the kind of currency that should be received in the payment of land over a certain amount, (320 acres,) and the kind of currency that should be received from custom-house and other officers --the former being made payable in gold or silver, and the latter in the paper of specie paying banks. This bill provides for the gradual collection of the whole Government revenue in the constitutional currency, and that is one of its most valuable features, as I think has already been shown.
The object of the Treasury or Specie Circular was to prevent the whole public domain from being engulfed in the vortex of speculation. Such was the rage for land speculation, that the poor and industrious man, for whose use the lands are really held in trust, who, when he purchases, purchases for the purpose of settling on and improving the land, to the advancement of agriculture, the benefit of society, and the pecuniary interests of the State or Territory in which the land may lie --I say such was the rage for speculation, that the poor man, after travelling perhaps many hundreds of miles with his knapsack on his back, and his staff in his hand, for the purpose of purchasing a home for himself and his family, was not unfrequently compelled to return to his home without being able to make a purchase; or he was driven to the dilemma of purchasing second handed at a great advance, or taking land of an inferior quality.
It was to remedy this evil that the Specie Circular was put in operation --an evil which ought not to be tolerated. It is an evil which no friend to equal rights, if he properly appreciates it, would be willing should exist. It is an evil that I shall ever while I have a stand here oppose; and the specie provision of this bill is well calculated to restrain within some bounds this evil, but not to the extent that it should. I shall never feel satisfied on this point until I see the sales of wild land limited to the actual settler, and in amount to half a section. If this rage for speculation in the public domain is permitted to go on unlimited, it will not be half a century until all political names and party distinctions will be merged in the feudal names of land lord and tenant. Then we will have the beauties and glories of the British Government, indeed, to the satisfaction of a certain party, who are always singing hallelujahs to her.
One gentleman, [Mr. Prentiss, of Mississippi,] in his praises of the banking system, stated that there was no real difference between capital and labor; and, between the capitalist and the laborer, both enjoyed equal advantages from capital; they were so intimately connected that they were the same. Well, this is very fine. If it is true, I suppose the capitalists will have no objection to exchanging situations with the laborer; that he will give up his capital to the laborer; and all his lands, and houses, and chattel property, and introduce him into his parlor, upon his soft, brilliant, Turkey carpeting; give him the key to his costly sideboard, and the freehold to his rich wines, gold goblets, cut glass decanters, and his massy plate, together with his soft sofa to lounge upon; and he, the capitalist, will enter the field of toil and sweat, and there labor from morning till night, day after day, week after week, and month after month, to the end of the year, when he will find that be has just made, with all his toil, a scanty living to the end of the year for his family; and that the last scanty supper that he and his family eats at the evening of the first year makes it necessary for him to be early in the field on the morning of the second year to procure by his continued toil their next breakfast.
When will such an exchange as this take place think you ? It will be when the lion and the lamb shall lie down in peace together. It will be found that there is a great difference between labor and capital; a great difference between the comforts and happiness of the
"King in the parlor, counting up his money,and the laborer, who too frequently, owing to some of our monopolizing institutions, and unequal systems, has to eat bread in sorrow, and frequently gets but little to eat.
The maid in the kitchen, eating bread and honey;"
Mr. Speaker, I hope you will not infer from what I have said, that I am an enemy to the banks, or to the banking system, if conducted on proper principles. I know that the people of this country will have banks; perhaps the commercial interests of the country require that there should be banks, at least, of exchange and deposite, if not of discount. But I see no necessity, justice, or political propriety, in keeping up a system of banking which has powers and privileges that have a direct and unavoidable tendency to make the rich richer, and the poor poorer, or that banks have untramelled sway over the whole moneyed interest of the country, and control of the value of property of every description.
I am unfriendly to the system that puts it in the power of banks to make money plenty or scarce --to raise the price of property a hundred per cent. above its value, or reduce it twice that sum below par, at their will and pleasure, and benefit themselves by the operation, at the expense of the fortunes and happiness of the balance of the community; and such is the nature and tendency of the present system.
I believe I voted for the incorporation of most of the banks in Ohio, incorporated since 1828. I done so, not because I was in favor of the principle of banking, but because I was instructed so to do by those I had the honor to represent in the State Legislature, and because I thought the immediate interests of the country required the establishment of local banks at that time, at least in Ohio, for reasons which probably apply to other sections of the Union.
I think it was between the years 1832 and 1834 that the most of the modern banks were incorporated in Ohio. The people of the United States had determined, through the ballot-boxes, in a manner and by a vote which could not be misunderstood, that the Bank of the United States should not be rechartered. The debts in the State due the branch of Cincinnati, I think, amounted to near $2,500,000. I think our canal debt, about that time, was about $5,000,000. The branch bank was calling in twenty per cent. every sixty or ninety days, as the case might be, and the interest on the canal debt had to be paid annually, in addition to keeping up the canal sinking fund.
To support all this, as well as the necessary quantity of circulating medium for domestic consumption and the ordinary exchanges, as well as the necessary and indispensable Government revenue --I say, to sustain all this, there was (exclusive of the capital of the United States Branch Bank) only about four and a half millions of bank capital in Ohio, one-third of which was domestic. This, sir, is a general view of the finances of Ohio when her late banks were incorporated. She was in an embarrassed situation, and it was to give her temporary relief that the banks were established. It was by inviting foreign capital to the State, and to bring into active use the dormant capital that was in the State, and to supply the place of the capital and circulation of the branch bank, which was about to be withdrawn from circulation and from the State, and to prevent a state of pecuniary ruin and desolation which had swept over the State of Ohio like a pestilence, that withered and blighted every thing living that fell within its influence, once before, (in 1819) by the sudden curtailments of the branch bank at Cincinnati. It was to prevent a return of a calamity of this kind that the late banks were incorporated; and I am happy to say, and it is due to them to say, they had the effect; they warded off the blow, until the State was relieved from her embarrassments by her own resources, by the economy and industry of her citizens, and the fertility of her soil.
Although I am opposed to some of the privileges these banks possess --believing, as I do, that they are contrary to the spirit of our free institutions, and dangerous in their tendency to equal rights-- yet I shall never regret the part I took in their establishment. I believe they have done some harm, but I believe they have done more good. I know that, let them take what course they may, or terminate in what evil they will, they never can produce more evil than the winding up of the United States Bank would have produced, had they not have been established.
I think the charters of the banks of Ohio, generally, expire by their own limitation in 1843. I am no enemy to them. I hope they may be permitted to live out their days in peace, and that they may be permitted to enjoy, uninterruptedly, the benefits which their charters entitle them to; and when the time comes for their renewal, if it is thought expedient to renew them, such restraints may be interposed as will secure equal justice to them and political and pecuniary security to the State and the people. The intelligence and patriotism of the people will provide for the times; they will do what is right and just for the country and the banks.
The feeling which I have expressed in relation to the banks of the State which I have the honor, in part, to represent, I extend to the banks of other States, so far as such a feeling is necessarily connected with my representative duty, as a member of the American Congress.
We have heard another objection to this measure, and I give the gentleman from Mississippi [Mr. Prentiss] credit for his candor in openly making the objection. I like such honest, unsophisticated candor.
His great objection rests upon the fact that this is an Administration measure. It is alone sufficient to call down all his hostility and opposition, that it comes from the Administration. Yes, sir; and I suspect that this is the great pinch with some other gentlemen, if they would be candid. This measure smacks of Democracy; there is something wrong about it; it comes from an Administration elected by the people; an Administration, in every possible way identified with the people, and an Administration solemnly pledged to carry out the will and the wishes of the people to their best interests.
Yes, sir, there is where the shoe pinches. If it had been a measure of the banks, in place of the people's Administration, the gentleman would have better understood it, and been ready and willing to have appreciated its importance.
Sir, we have heard an almost incessant torrent of abuse against this and the preceding Administrations; and most of this abuse has been poured forth upon the devoted heads of the Administrations for carrying out measures which have originated with the people, or which the people have expressly required them to carry out. Do gentlemen reflect, that in denouncing this Administration in such unmeasured terms, and the measures which they are bound to carry out, they are calling in question, not only the political capacity of the people to elect their representative and executive officers, but also their qualifications to judge of the propriety and necessity of measures in which they have a right to instruct, and to call their officers to an account at the bar of public opinion if they disobey ?
Sir, there has been no man in this House at whose hand the Administration has received more abuse than the gentleman from Tennessee [Mr. Bell.] There is no man who has more violently assailed and opposed every leading measure of the Administration than he has --as well measures that have originated with this Administration as those that fell to it to carry out, that had their origin with the last Administration. Such a course I did not expect from him. I came here expecting a different course. If I were asked, what is the greatest qualifications in a statesman, I would answer, patriotism and virtue. What would you require as evidence to establish in your mind those qualities in any given statesman ? I would say, consistency must be one of the evidences.
Mr. President, I hold in my hand a pamphlet containing a political speech, made by the gentleman at Vaxhall Garden, in the State of Tennessee. Sir, I will not detain you to read extracts from his speech, whenever and wherever they occur favorable to General Jackson's administration, and to the measures of a leading character which that administration was bound to carry out. Let it be sufficient for me at present to say, that his speech abounds in eulogy to Jackson's administration, and in strong and powerful appeals to the people of Tennessee to carry out his leading measures. He tells the people of Tennessee in substance, that General Jackson is soon to retire from office, and that the welfare of this Union, the preservation of the great leading principles (Democratic) of the party and the highest interests of Tennessee, require that Judge White should be General Jackson's successor. Judge White has always been a firm and decided supporter of General Jackson, a Jeffersonian in principle. No man was more thoroughly acquainted with the leading measures of General Jackson's administration than was judge White.
I was delighted when I read this speech. I expected to find in Judge White and the gentleman two devoted friends to the Administration, (now that Judge White had failed in his election, and no longer a candidate,) but what was my surprise when I came here, to find the gentleman himself, and Judge White also, the most violent opposers, not only of the Administration, but of all the important measures commenced in the late Administration, and which this Administration stands pledged to carry out ! The party, the Administration, the measures of the Administration, the honorable Speaker, and even the retired patriot of the Hermitage, have been alike the subjects of the gentlemen's abuse.
Yes, sir, the honorable Speaker [James K. Polk], whose situation places him beyond the power of retort and defence, without a violation of the dignity and character of his station, the dignity and character of the body over which he presides, and the dignity and character of the nation for which they legislate --I say, even his situation has not secured him from the gentleman's abuse, although his tongue has been tied, and his hands bound.
Nor, sir, has the bleached head and withered form of the retired inmate of the Hermitage been sufficient to secure him from the outpourings of slander and detraction. His palsied hand and tottering frame, together with the recollection that the tooth of Time has been wasting him for seventy winters, admonish him that the sun of his day has sat -the death bell of three score and ten begins to ring in his ears, and the clouds of eternal night begin to thicken and darken about his pillow, yet his enemies are unwilling that he should cease to be the subject of base detraction; and even his fellow statesmen and one of his followers and political disciples is found to be the foremost and most unrelenting in persecution, still holding the poisoned cup of slander to his quivering lips, even to the outpouring of the last dregs of bitterness and bonds of iniquity.
The gentleman and Judge White had always been supporters of General Jackson and of the Democratic principles, or at least so professed to be. All the constitutional principles recognised by the Democratic party, from the commencement of the Government to the time they left the Democratic party and the people's administration, they professed to support; such as financial economy, and strict construction of the Constitution; hostility to a National Bank; legislation confined to the actual wants of the people, and within the limits of the Federal Constitution; opposed to extravagant appropriations, or any other appropriations not warranted by the Constitution. All these, and many other principles of a like nature which characterize the Democratic party, and make up their code of principles, these gentlemen professed to believe in, and by them, in their political course, to be governed; more especially political hostility to all institutions that have for their object the establishment of exclusive privileges, and unequal pecuniary and political advantages to a favored few at the expense of the many, and to the prejudice of our free institutions, that have for their object equal rights to all.
But where do we find the gentleman [Mr. Bell] now ? Fighting with the Democracy and the Administration, on whose flag is inscribed equal rights to all ? No, sir, the American motto, simple and short, "E pluribus unum," has no charms for him; he goes the royal banner, bearing the inscription of a British bank. Is the gentleman exerting himself now to prevent the necessity of incorporating a National Bank ? Is he now exerting himself with the Democratic party, to establish a sound, constitutional currency, which has ever been a favorite measure with the Republican party and the supporters of the Constitution, and always opposed by the British bank party ? Is he now engaged in sustaining all those principles, in short, that have for their object the security of justice and equal rights between citizen and citizen, and to prevent Government encroachments upon any ? I hope his private feelings may justify an answer in the affirmative to all these interrogatories; but his speeches, votes, and the party with which he is acting, will not.
How will the gentleman account for the extraordinary position he occupies, and the course he is pursuing ? Has he left the Democratic party, or have the Democratic party, consisting of more than two-thirds of all the people of the United States, of men, woman, and children, with all the long and well established Democratic principles and practices that have existed from the commencement of the Government to this time, left him ? One or the other must be the case; and which is most credible, according to our understanding of men and things ?
When the gentleman goes to a good comfortable fire on a cold winter evening, and gets one side warmed, does he turn round to warm the other, or does he sit still, his chair on a pivot, and cause the fireplace, chimney, house and household, to be turned round ? When the gentleman feels disposed to discharge his representative duties, does he come to the Capitol, walk in with hat in hand, take his seat by his desk as other members do, or does he cause this magnificent pile of noble and grand architectures surpassing any thing of the kind in the world, to be carried to him ? Lastly: does this world turn round on its axis once in twenty-four hours, by which night is produced, so well suited to the repose of the wearied creation, and by which the morning sun is made to rise to cheer the busy world; or does the sun travel round the world to produce these desirable effects ? Certainly the former is most natural, as well as most credible; more in accordance with the well- established principles of astronomy.
In the first proposition, the surface of the earth would have to move but 24,000 miles in twenty-four hours. This distance is astronomically credible, within the pale of human understanding, perfectly finite, and within our comprehension of divine power. But, by the second proposition, the sun would have to move in his orbit an incredible distance; let us see how far, sir. The sun is, in round numbers, 95,000,000 of miles from this earth; a great distance, but this is but one-half of the diameter of the circle of the orbit he would have to perform: the whole diameter would be 190,000,000 of miles. This is a greater distance, and almost incredible; but it is but one-third the distance of the cycle. The whole distance would be three times the diameter, which would be 570,000,000 of miles, which the sun would have to move in the space of each twenty-four hours --a distance incredible; a distance almost infinite, a motion of velocity beyond the capacity of human comprehension, and almost beyond Divine power.
I hope, sir, that the gentleman will not drive his friends to the dilemma of believing what is incredible in itself. I hope he will agree, and permit his friends to believe, that when he takes his seat by the fire on a cold evening, where he gets one side warmed he turns the other to the fire, and does not require the fire to be turned to the cold side; that when he is disposed to give his attention to his official duties he comes to the Capitol, and does not require the Capitol to be taken to him; that when it pleases the Almighty to produce, through his Divine goodness, the pleasing, useful, and delightful changes of day and night, he causes the world to move round its own axis once in twenty-four hours, in place of causing the sun to move round the world; and that the gentleman has left the great Democratic party, and that it has not left him.
Mr. Speaker, I have seen some service in the political wars. I have been an attentive observer of political men and political measures. I have read some history, (not much.) I have seen some deserters from the Democratic standard, some traitors to the Democratic cause and the Democratic party, and the result of my experience in this matter is, that all the tracks of traitors go from the Democratic standard --none directed towards it. Of all the tracks that I have seen, the heel is towards the Democratic standard, and the toe towards the Federal Bank standard. I suppose pecuniary avidity accounts for this singular fact. I suppose it proceeds from the same principle that induced the children of Israel to desert the standard of Moses, (although witnessing and enjoying the daily manifestation of Divine goodness,) and bow down in humble adoration to Aaron's golden calf; for, sir, Democracy has nothing to pay her troops with but patriotism and love of country; but her dissenters, those who can sing hosannahs to the Bank, can be accommodated with "honorable facilities."
I find by what little history I have read, mankind is the same in all countries, at all times, and in all Governments; and such is his depravity, that his civil, moral, and religious obligations constitute but frail ligaments, when attacked by the "shears of the fatal sisters, Ambition, Avarice, and Power."
Sir, there is no crime that is capable of entering the human heart, that is so abominable as that of treachery. If there is any one crime of an infamous and base character that is more abominable than another in the sight of God and man, it is treachery. If there is any one infamous crime that more deserves the curse of the Almighty and the universal execration of man than another, it is treachery. The best men that ever lived, and bound society together, have been brought to infamy, the stake, and the guillotine, by treachery. Even the Savior of mankind was brought to an infamous death and the cross by the treachery of one of his own disciples. Kingdoms, Empires, and Republics have been prostrated, subverted, and brought to ruin and annihilation, by treachery. There has been no Government or party of a Government since the first dawn of civilization and political organization, but has been cursed and tortured with traitors.
There is no one who cries louder for the liberties of a country than a traitor, and that, too, frequently when the vilest plots may be ripe in his heart for execution. Patriotism and economy dwell upon his lips, when foul conspiracy, despotism, and extravagance rankle in his heart. Prostration of the Government, the downfall of its free institutions, and the degradation and poverty of the people, are watchwords and cardinal maxims with him, so that he can thereby obtain the rule, and sway the sceptre. Carthage had her Hanno. When the brave Hannibal, at whose approach the lofty Alps bowed, and the rivers, as it were, dried up, planted the Carthaginian standard on the plains of Cannæ, and one victory seemed but to make way for another over the arms of Rome, until the very walls of her city shook, and her citadel trembled; it was under circumstances so honorable to the arms of his country, that Hannibal dispatched his brother Mago to Carthage with the news of his greatest and last victory, and at the same time, to demand succors, in order that he might be enabled to put an end to the war. Mago, being arrived, made in full Senate a lofty speech, in which he extolled his brother's exploits, and displayed the great advantages he had gained over the Romans. And to give a more lively idea of the greatness of the victory, by speaking, in some measure to the eye, he poured out, in the middle of the Senate, a bushel of gold rings, which had been taken from the fingers of such of the nobility as had fallen in the battle of Cannæ. He concluded with demanding money, provisions, and fresh troops.
Hanno, who headed a faction opposed to Hannibal, and opposed to the war with Rome, said that the exploits of which Hannibal boasted so much, were wholly chimerical and imaginary. "I have cut to pieces (says he, continuing Mago's speech) the Roman armies; send mie some troops." "What more could you ask, had you been conquered ?" "I have twice seized upon the enemies' camp, (full, no doubt, of provisions of every kind,) send me provisions and money." "Could you have talked otherwise, had you lost your camp ?"
What must have been the surprise of every one whose hearts beat in gratitude for Hannibal, and in patriotism for Carthage, to hear one of her Senators, in the face of his country, attempt to blight the ardor of so successful a General, and dishonor her armies in the face of the world ? Such was the fact. Here we have an instance of vile treachery in the person of Hanno, who would prefer to see the whole expedition against Rome fail, the proud and terrible name of Carthage sink, her victorious arms disgraced, and her proud fame wither and wilt, rather than that Hannibal, towards whom he was inimical, and of whom he was jealous, should succeed in subduing Rome.
Sir, I have not time to specify particular instances of treachery in the several Governments of the old world. But history informs us that the orators who were loudest, most eloquent, and apparently most zealous, in protecting and defending the liberties of Athens, were easiest seduced and the soonest bribed to the standard of Macedon by the gold of Philip.
Sempronius, who had declared for the standard of Cato and for the patricians of Rome, was loudest and most boisterous against Cæsar when in the Senate at Utica; and in the presence of Cato, such were his outward displays of patriotism and zeal for the cause of Cato, that he would shake the Senate walls with denunciations against Cæsar; and yet all his patriotism dwelt upon his lips. Foul treachery and infamous conspiracy saturated his heart, and every secret moment was used with Syphax, the Numidian general, and his partner in treachery, in preparing his troops to fly to the standard of Cæsar, and drench the streets of Rome with the remainder of the patrician blood.
Sir, in honor of my own country, I would conceal the fact that America has had, and I am afraid now has, her traitors. Did not the history of the vile Arnold spread far and wide over the civilized world; and the name of Aaron Burr, not less to be abhorred, but which still lives in infamy in our own recollections, and to the disgrace of some who survive him, has had his biographers, his adherents, and his eulogists !
Mr. Speaker, I hope the Independent Treasury scheme will become a law; I hope so, because I think the highest interests of the country require it --I mean every interest connected with trade which requires the establishment of a sound currency. I think it of vast importance to the banks that it should become a law. I would be at a loss to know what better to recommend for their interest, and I am in possession of letters from presidents and cashiers of banks, and intelligent merchants, sustaining me in this opinion. I think the preservation of the Constitution and the sovereignty and independence of the Government requires that it should become a law; and lastly, a look upon the establishment of the Independent Treasury, as the only means of preventing the establishment of a National Bank which I would look upon as the greatest calamity that could befall this nation and this people.