Слике страница

rassments which had attended its prosecution, had left on the minds of many of our statesmen the impression that our government was not strong enough, and that, to wield its resources successfully in great emergencies, and especially in war, more power should be concentrated in its hands. This increased power they did not seek to obtain by the legitimate and prescribed mode--an amendment of the constitution—but by construction. They saw governments in the old world based upon different orders of society, and so constituted as to throw the whole power of nations into the hands of a few, who taxed and controlled the many without responsibility or restraint. In that arrangement they conceived the strength of nations inwar consisted. There was also something fascinating in the ease, luxury, and display of the higher orders, who drew their wealth from the toil of the laboring millions. The authors of the system drew their ideas of political economy from what they had witnessed in Europe, and particularly in Great Britain. They had viewed the enormous wealth concentrated in few hands, and had seen the splendor of the overgrown establishments of an aristocracy which was upheld by the restrictive policy. They forgot to look down upon the poorer classes of the English, population, upon whose daily and yearly labor the great establishments they so much admired were sustained and supported. They failed to perceive that the scantily-fed and half-clad operatives were not only in abject poverty, but were bound in chains of oppressive servitude for the benefit of favored classes, who were the exclusive objects of the care of the government.

It was not possible to reconstruct society in the United States upon the European plan. Here there was a written constitution, by which orders and titles were not recognized or tolerated. A. system of measures was therefore devised, calculated, if not intended, to withdraw power gradually and silently from the States and the mass of the people, and by construction to approximate our government to the European models, substituting an aristocracy of wealth for that of orders and titles.

Without reflecting upon the dissimilarity of our institutions, and of the condition of our people and those of Europe, they conceived the vain idea of building up in the United States a system similar to that which they admired abroad. Great Britain had a national bank of large capital, in whose hands was concentrated the controlling monetary and financial power of the nation; an institution wielding almost kingly power, and exerting vast influence upon all the operations of trade, and upon the policy of the government itself. Great Britain had an enormous public debt, and it had become a part of her public policy to regard this as a "public blessing." Great Britain had also a restrictive policy, which placed fetters and burdens on trade, and trammelled the productive industry of the mass of the nation. By her combined system of policy, the landlords and other property holders were protected and enriched by the enormous taxes which were levied upon

the labor of the country for their advantage. Imitating this foreign policy, the first step in establishing the

new system in the United States was the creation of a national bank. Not foreseeing the dangerous' power and countless evils which such an institution might entail on the country, nor perceiving the connexion which it was designed to form between the bank and the other branches of the miscalled "American system,” but feeling the embarrassments of the treasury, and of the business of the country, consequent upon the war, some of our statesmen who had held different and sounder views were induced to yield their scruples, and, indeed, settled convictions of its unconstitutionality, and to give it their sanction, as an expedient which they vainly hoped might produce relief. It was a most unfortunate error, as the subsequent history and final catastrophe of that'dangerous and corrupt institution have abundantly proved. The bank, with its numerous branches ramified into the States, soon-brought many of the active political and commercial men in different sections of the country into the relation of debtors to it, and dependants upon it for pecuniary favors; thus diffusing throughout the mass of society a great number of individuals of power and influence to give tone to public opinion, and to act in concert in cases of emergency. The corrupt power of such a political engine is no longer a matter of speculation, having been displayed in numerous instances, but most signally in the political struggles of 1832–'3—4, in opposition to the public will represented by a fearless and patriotic President.

But the bank was but one branch of the new system. A public debt of more than one hundred and twenty millions of dollars existed; and it is not to be disguised that many of the authors of the new system did not regard its speedy payment as essential to the dublic prosperity, but looked upon its continuance as no national és il. Whilst the debt existed, it furnished aliment to the national bank, and rendered increased taxation necessary to the amount of the i. 7terest, exceeding seven millions of dollars annually.

This operated in harmony with the next branch of the new system, which was a high protective tariff. This was to afford bounties to favorea' classes and particular pursuits, at the expense of all others. Avroposition to tax the whole people for the purpose of enriching a te w, was too monstrous to be openly made. The scheme was, therefore, veiled under the plausible but delusive pretext of a measure to prote, "t“home industry ;” and many of our people were, for a time, led to believe that a tax, which, in the main, fell upon labor, was for the benefit of the laborer who paid it. This branch of the system involv, ed a partnership between the government and the favored classes-, he former receiving the proceeds of the tax

, imposed on articles imų orted, and the latter the increased price of similar articles produced at home, caused by such tax. It is obvious that the portion to be rec, "ived by the favored classes would, as a general rule, be increased in proportion to the increase of the rates of tax imposed, and diminish ed as those rates were reduced to the revenue standard required by the wants of the government. The rates required to produce a sufh cient revenue for the ordinary expenditures of government, for necessary purposes, were not likely to give to the private partners in this scheme profits sufficient to

[ocr errors]

satisfy their cupidity; and hence a variety of expedients and pretexts were resorted to for the purpose of enlarging the expenditures, and thereby creating a necessity for keeping up a high protective tariff. The effect of this policy was to interpose artificial restrictions upon the natural course of the business and trade of the country, and to advance the interests of large capitalists and monopolists, at the expense of the great mass of the people, who were taxed to increase their wealth.

Another branch of this system was a comprehensive scheme of internal improvements, capable of indefinite enlargement, and sufficient to swallow up as many millions annually as could be exacted from the foreign commerce of the country. This was a convenient and necessary adjunct of the protective tariff. It was to be the great absorbent of any surplus which might at any time accumulate in the treasury, and of the taxes levied on the people, not for necessary revenue purposes, but for the avowed object of affording protection to the favored classes.

Auxiliary to the same end, if it was not an essential part of the system itself, was the scheme which, at a later period, obtained, for distributing the proceeds of the sales of the public lands among the States. Other expedients were, devised to take money out of the treasury, and prevent its coming in from any other source than the protective tariff. The authors and supporters of the system

were the advocates of the largest expenditures, whether for necessary or useful purposes or not, because the larger the expenditures the greater was the pretext for high taxes in the form of protective duties.

These several measures were sustained by popular names and plausible arguments, by which thousands were deluded. The bank was represented to be an indispensable fiscal agent for the government; was to equalize exchanges, and to regulate and furnish a sound currency, always and everywhere of uniform value. The protective tariff was to give employment to "American labor” at advanced prices; was to protect “home industry," and furnish a steady market for the farmer. Internal improvements were to bring trade into every_neighborhood and enhance the value of every man's property. The distribution of the land money was to enrich the States, finish their public works, plant schools throughout their borders, and relieve them from taxation. But the fact, that for every dollar taken out of the treasury for these objects, a much larger sum was transferred from the pockets of the people to the favored classes, was carefully concealed, as was also the tendency if not the ultimate design of the system to build up an aristocracy of wealth, to control the 'masses of society, and monopolize the political power of the country.

The several branches of this system were so intimately blended together, that in their operation each sustained and strengthened the others. Their joint operation was, to add new burthens of taxation and to encourage a largély increased and wasteful expenditure of public money. It was the interest of the bank that the revenue collected and the disbursements made by the government



should be large, because, being the depository of the public money, the larger the amount, the greater would be the bank profits by its

It was the interest of the favored classes, who were enriched by the protective tariff, to have the rates of that protection as high as possible; for the higher those rates, the greater would be their advantage. It was the interest of the people of all those sections and localities who expected to be benefitted by expenditures for internal improvements, that the amount collected should be as large as possible, to the end that the sum disbursed might also be the larger. The States being the beneficiaries in the distribution of the land money, had an interest in having the rates of tax imposed by the protective tariff large enough to yield a sufficient revenue from that source to meet the wants of the government, without disturbing or taking from them the land fund; so that each of the branches constituting the system had a common interest in swelling the public expenditures: They had a direct interest in maintaining the public debt unpaid, and increasing its amount, because this would produce an annual increased drain upon the treasury, to the amount of the interest, and render augmented taxes necessary. The "operation and necessary effect of the whole system were, to encourage large and extravagant expenditures, and thereby to increase the public, patronage, and maintain a rich and splendid government at the expense of a taxed and impoverished people.

It is manifest that this scheme of enlarged taxation and expenditures, had it continued to prevail, must soon have converted the government of the Union, intended by its framers to be a plain, cheap, and simple confederation of States, united together for common protection, and charged with a few specific duties, relating. chiefly to our foreign affairs, into a consolidated empire, depriving the States of their reserved rights, and the people of their just power and control in the administration of their government. In this manner the whole form and character of the government would be changed, not by an amendment of the constitution, but by resorting to an unwarrantable and unauthorized construction of that instrument.

The indirect mode of levying the taxes by a duty on imports, prevents the mass of the people from readily perceiving the amount they pay, and has enabled the few, who are thus enriched, and who seek' to wield the political power of the country, to deceive and delude them. Were the taxes collected by a direct levy upon the people, as is the case in the States, this could not occur.

The whole system was resisted from its inception by many of our ablest statesmen, some of whom doubted its constitutionality and its expediency, while others believed it was, in all its branches, a flagrant and dangerous infraction of the constitution.

That a national bank, a protective tariff, levied not to raise the revenue needed, but for protection merely, internal improvements, and the distribution of the proceeds of the sale of the public lands, are measures without the warrant of the constitution, would, upon the maturest consideration, seem to be clear. It is remarkable


that no one of these measures, involving such momentous consequences, is authorized by any express grant of power in the constitution. No one of them is “incident to, as being necessary and proper for the execution of, the specific powers” granted by the constitution. The authority under which it has been attempted to justify each of them is derived from inferences and constructions of the constitution which its letter and its whole object and design do, not warrant. Is it to be conceived that such immense powers would have been left by the framers of the constitution to mere inferences and doubtful constructions? Had it been intended to confer them on the federal government, it is but reasonable to conclude that it would have been done by plain and unequivocal grants. This was not done; but the whole structure of which the "American system” consisted was reared on no other or better foundation than forced implications and inferences of power, which its authors assumed might be deduced by construction from the constitution.

But it has been urged that the national bank, which constituted so essential a branch of this combined system of measures, was not a new measure, and that its constitutionality had been previously sanctioned; because a bank had been chartered in 1791, and had received the official signature of President Washington. A few facts will show the just weight to which this precedent should be entitled, as bearing upon the question of constitutionality.

Great division of opinion upon the subject existed in Congress. It is well known that President Washington entertained serious doubts both as to the constitutionality and expediency of the measure; and while the bill was before him for his official approval or disapproval, so great were these doubts, that he required the opinion in writing of the members of his cabinet to aid him in arriving at a decision. His cabinet gave their opinions, and were divided upon the subject-General Hamilton being in favor of, and Mr. Jefferson and Mr. Randolph being opposed to the constitutionality and expediency of the bank. It is well known, also, that President Washington retained the bill from Monday, the fourteenth, when it was presented to him, until Friday, the twenty-fifth day of February-being the last moment permitted him by the constitution to deliberate, when he finally yielded to it his reluctant assent, and gave it his signature. It is certain that, as late as the twenty-third of February-being the ninth day after the bill was presented to him—he had arrived at no satisfactory conclusion; for on that day. he addressed a note to General Hamilton, in which he informs him that “this bill was presented to me by the joint committee of Congress at 12 o'clock on Monday, 'the fourteenth instant;” and he requested his opinion “to what precise period, by legal interpretation of the constitution, can the President retain it in his possession, before it becomes a law by the lapse of ten days.” If the proper construction was, that the day on which the bill was presented to the President, and the day on which his action was had upon it, were both to be counted inclusive, then the time allowed him, within which it would be competent for him to

« ПретходнаНастави »