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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
Whilst the debt existed, it furnished aliment to the national bank, and rendered increased taxation necessary to the amount of the interest, 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. A , ?roposition to tax the whole people for the purpose of enriching a fe w, was too monstrous to be openly made. The scheme was, therefore, veiled under the plausible but delusive pretext of a measure to prote. “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 involved 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
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 ån 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 cliefly 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 frangers 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
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 Hamiltor, 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 itz, were both to be counted inclusive, then the time allowed him, within which it would be competent for him to return it to the House in which it originated, with his objections, would expire on Thursday, the twenty-fourth of February. General Hamilton on the same day returned an answer, in which he states : “I give it as my opinion that you have ten days exclusive of that on which the bill was delivered to you, and Sundays; hence, in the present case, if it is returned on Friday, it will be in time." By this construction, which the President adopted; he gained another day for deliberation, and it was not until the twenty-fifth of February that he signed the bill; thus affording conclusive, proof that he had at last obtained his own consent to sign it, not without great and almost insuperable difficulty. Additional light has been recently shed upon the serious doubts which he had on the subject, amounting at one time to a conviction that it was his duty to withhold his approval from the bill. This is found among the manuscript papers of Mr. Madison, authorized to be purchased for the use of the government by an act of the last ses-sion of Congress, and now for the first time accessible to the public. From these papers, it appears that President Washington, while he yet held the bank bill in his hands, actually requested Mr. Madison, at that time a member of the House of Representatives, to prepare the draught of a veto message for hím. Mr. Madison, at his request, did prepare the draught of such a message, and sent it to him on the twenty-first of February, 1791. A.copy of this original draught, in Mr. Madison's own handwriting, was carefully preserved by him, and is among the papers lately purchased by Congress. It is preceded by a note, written on the same sheet, which is also in Mr. Madison's handwriting, and is as follows:
“February 21st, 1791. Copy of a paper made out and sent to the President, at his request, to be ready, in case his judgment should finally decide against the bill for incorporating a national bank, the bill being then before him."
Among the objections assigned in this paper to the bill, and which' were submitted for the consideration of the President, are the following:
“I object to the bill, because it is an essential principle of the government that powers not delegated by the constitution cannot be rightfully exercised; because the power proposed by the bill to be exercised is not expressly delegated, and because I cannot satisfy myself that it results from any express power by fair and safe rules of interpretation."
The weight of the precedent of the bank of 1791, and the sanction of the great name of Washington, which has been so often invoked in its support, are greatly weakened by the development of these facts. The experiment of that bank satisfied the country that it ought not to be continued, and at the end of twenty years Congress refused to recharter it. It would have been fortunate for the country, and saved thousands from bankruptcy and ruin, . had our public men of 1816 resisted the temporary pressure of the times upon our financial and pecuniary interests, and refused to charter the second bank. Of this the country became abundantly