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said, “ Martin Van Buren.”] If that be so, it was the production of mighty consequences by a cause not at all proportioned. I will state, in connection with, and in elucidation of, this subject, certain transactions, which constitute one of those contingencies in human affairs, in which casual circumstances, acting upon the peculiar temper and character of a man of very decided temper and character, affect the fate of nations. A movement was made in the summer of 1829, for the purpose of effecting a change of certain officers of the branch of the Bank of the United States in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Mr. Woodbury, then a Senator from New Hampshire, transmitted to the president of the bank at Philadelphia a request, purporting to proceed from merchants and men of business of all parties, asking the removal of the president of that branch, not on political grounds, but as acceptable and advantageous to the business community. At the same time, Mr. Woodbury addressed a letter to the then Secretary of the Treasury, Mr. Ingham, suggesting that his department should, on political grounds, obtain from the mother bank the removal of the branch president. This letter was transmitted to the president of the mother bank, and reached him about the same time with the other; so that, looking upon this picture and upon that, upon one letter, which urged the removal on political grounds, and upon the other, which denied that political considerations entered into the matter at all, he concluded to let things remain as they were. Appeals were then artfully made to the President of the United States. His feelings were enlisted, and it is well known that, when he had an object in view, his character was to go ahead. I mean to speak no evil nor disrespect of General Jackson. He has passed off the stage to his retirement at the Hermitage, which it would be as well, perhaps, that friends should not disturb, and where I sincerely wish he may, in tranquillity, pass the residue of his days. But General Jackson's character was imperious; he took the back track never; and however his friends might differ, or whether they concurred or dissented, they were fain always to submit. General Jackson put forth the pretension, that appointments by the bank should have regard to the wishes of the treasury; the matter was formally submitted to the directors of the bank, and they as formally determined that the treasury could not rightly or properly have any thing to say in
the matter. A long and somewhat angry correspondence ensued; for General Jackson found in the president of the bank a man who had something of his own quality. The result was that the bank resisted, and refused the required acquiescence in the dictation of the treasury.
This happened in the summer and autumn of 1829, and in December we had the message in which, for the first time, the bank was arraigned and denounced. Then came the application of the bank for re-incorporation, the passage of a bill for that purpose through both houses, and the Presidential veto. The Bank of the United States being thus put down, a multitude of new State banks sprang up; and next came a law, adopting some of these as deposit banks. Now, what I have to say in regard to General Jackson in this matter is this: he said he could establish a better currency; and, whether successful or not in this, it is at least to be said in his favor and praise, that he never did renounce the obligation of the federal government to take care of the currency, paper as well as metallic, of the people. It was in furtherance of this duty, which he felt called on to discharge, of “ providing a better currency,” that he recommended the prohibition of small bills. Why? Because, as it was argued, it would improve the general mixed currency of the country; and although he did not as distinctly as Mr. Madison admit and urge the duty of the federal government to provide a currency for the people, he never renounced it, but, on the contrary, in his message of December, 1835, held this explicit language:
“ By the use of the State banks, which do not derive their charters from the general government, and are not controlled by its authority, it is ascertained that the moneys of the United States can be collected and distributed without loss or inconvenience, and that all the wants of the community, in relation to exchange and currency, are supplied as well as they have ever been before." *
It is not here a question whether these banks did, or did not, effect the purpose which General Jackson takes so much praise to himself for accomplishing through their agency, that of supplying the country with as good a currency as it ever enjoyed.
But why, if this was not a duty of the federal government, is it mentioned at all? In his last message, in December, 1836, reviewing the benefits (!) of his experiments on the currency, he thus speaks :
“ At the time of the removal of the deposits, it was alleged by the advocates of the Bank of the United States, that the State banks, whatever might be the regulations of the treasury department, could not make the transfers required by the government, or negotiate the domestic exchanges of the country. It is now well ascertained, that the real domes. tic exchanges performed through discounts by the United States Bank and its twenty-five branches were one third less than those of the deposit banks for an equal period of time; and if a comparison be instituted between the amounts of services rendered by these institutions on the broader basis which has been used by the advocates of the United States Bank, in estimating what they consider the domestic exchanges, the result will be still more favorable to the deposit banks."
Here we have the distinct assertion, that, through the State banks, he had accomplished more in establishing a good currency and easy exchanges than had been done by the Bank of the United States. However this fact may be, all this, I say, amounts to an acknowledgment of the duty of the general government, as a natural consequence of the power to coin money and regulate commerce, to take a supervision over that paper currency which is to supply the place of coin.
I contend for this truth, - that, down to the end of General Jackson's administration, no administration of this country had turned their back upon this power; and I now proceed to show, by extracts from Mr. Van Buren's letter to Sherrod Williams, to which, since he has largely referred to it of late, there can be no unfitness in my referring, that he, too, admitted the obligation of supplying a uniform currency and a convenient medium of exchange, which he thought could be effected by the State deposit banks.
“Sincerely believing, for the reasons which have just been stated, that the public funds may be as safely and conveniently transmitted from one portion of the Union to another, that domestic exchange can be as successfully and as cheaply effected, and the currency be rendered at least as sound, under the existing system, as those objects could be accomplished by means of a national bank, I would not seek a remedy for the evils to which you allude, should they unfortunately occur,
through such a medium, even if the constitutional objections were not in the
He denies not the duty of superintending the currency, but thinks the deposit banks of the States, under the control of Congress, can effect the purpose. This letter was written when Mr. Van Buren was a candidate for the Presidency.
Two months only after General Jackson had retired, and when his vigorous hand was no longer there to uphold it, the league of State banks fell, and crumbled into atoms; and when Mr. Van Buren had been only three months President, he convoked a special session of Congress for the ensuing September. The country was in wide-spread confusion, paralyzed in its commerce, its currency utterly deranged. What was to be done? What would Mr. Van Buren recommend? He could not go back to the Bank of the United States, for he had committed himself against its constitutionality; nor could he, with any great prospect of success, undertake to reconstruct the league of deposit banks; for it had recently failed, and the country had lost confidence in it. What, then, was 'to be done? He could go neither backward nor forward. What did he do? I mean not to speak disrespectfully, but I say he - escaped ! Afraid to touch the fragments of the broken banks, unable to touch the United States Bank, he folded up his arms, and said, The government has nothing to do with providing a currency for the people. That I may do him no wrong, I will read his own language. His predecessors had all said, We will not turn our backs upon this duty of government to provide a uniform currency; his language is, We will turn our backs on this duty. He proposes nothing for the country, nothing for the relief of commerce, or the regulation of exchanges, but simply the means of getting money into the treasury without loss. In his first message to Congress, he thus expresses him. self:
“ It is not the province of government to aid individuals in the transfer of their funds, otherwise than through the facilities of the PostOffice Department. As justly might it be called on to provide for the transportation of their merchandise.
* Mr. Van Buren's letter to Sherrod Williams of the 8th of August, 1836.
“ If, therefore, I refrain from suggesting to Congress any specific plan for regulating the exchanges or the currency, relieving mercantile embarrassments, or interfering with the ordinary operations of foreign or domestic commerce, it is from a conviction that such are not within the constitutional province of the general government, and that their adoption would not promote the real and permanent welfare of those they might be designed to aid.”
I put it to you, my friends, if this is a statesman's argument. You can transport your merchandise yourselves; you can build ships, and make your own wagons; but can you make a currency? Can you say what shall be money, and what shall not be money, and determine its value here and elsewhere? Why, it would be as reasonable to say, that the people may make war for themselves, and peace for themselves, as to say that they may exercise this other not less exclusive attribute of sovereignty, of making a currency for themselves. He insists that Congress has no power to regulate currency or exchanges, none to mitigate the embarrassments of the country, none to relieve its prostrate industry, and even if the power did exist, it would be unwise, in his opinion, to exercise it! These are the doctrines of the President's first
and I have no opinion of it now that I did not then entertain, and
I desire not to appear wise after the event, I am not a prophet nor the son of a prophet, and yet I declare that when I heard the declarations of this message, and reflected on its consequences, I saw, or thought I saw, all of suffering, loss, and evil that is now before us.
Let us compare this declaration with that of one now numbered with the mighty dead; of one who has left behind a reputation excelled by that of no other man, as understanding thoroughly the Constitution; of one taking a leading part in its inception, and closing his public career by administering its highest office; I need not name JAMES Madison.
In his message to Congress, in December, 1815, when the war had closed, and the country was laboring under the disor. dered currency of that period, the President thus spoke:
“ It is essential to every modification of the finances, that the benefits of a uniform national currency should be restored to the community. The absence of the precious metals will, it is believed, be a temporary