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questions, on either side of the Atlantic. I have studied by close observation the laws of paper currency, as they have exhibited themselves in this and in other countries, from 1811 down to the present time. I have expressed my opinions at various times in Congress, and some of the predictions which I have made have not been altogether falsified by subsequent events. I must therefore be permitted, Gentlemen, without yielding to any flippant newspaper paragraph, or to the hasty ebullitions of debate in a public assembly, to say, that I believe the plan for an exchequer, as presented to Congress at its last session, is the best measure, the only measure for the adoption of Congress and the trial of the people. I am ready to stake my reputation upon it, and that is all that I have to stake. I am ready to stake my reputation, that, if this Whig Congress will take that measure and give it a fair trial, within three years
it will be admitted by the whole American people to be the most beneficial measure of any sort ever adopted in this country, the Constitution only excepted.
I mean that they should take it as it was when it came from the Cabinet, not as it looked when the committees of Congress had laid their hands upon it.
For when the committees of Congress had struck out the proviso respecting exchange, it was not worth a rush; it was not worth the parchment it would be engrossed upon. The great desire of this country is a general currency, a facility of exchange; a currency which shall be the same for you and for the people of Alabama and Louisiana, and a system of exchange which shall equalize credit between them and you, with the rapidity and facility with which steam conveys men and merchandise. That is what the country wants, what you want; and you have not got it. You have not got it, you cannot get it, but by some adequate provision of government. Exchange, ready exchange, that will enable a man to turn his New Orleans means into money to-day, (as we have had in better times millions a year exchanged, at only three quarters of one per cent.,) is what is wanted. How are we to obtain this ? A Bank of the United States founded on a private subscription is out of the question. That is an obsolete idea. The country and the condition of things have changed. Suppose that a bank were chartered with a capital of fifty millions, to be raised by private subscription. Would it not be out
of all possibility to find the money? Who would subscribe? What would you get for shares? And as for the local discount, do you wish it? Do you, in State Street, wish that the nation should send millions of untaxed banking capital hither to increase your discounts? What then shall we do? People who are waiting for power to make a Bank of the United States may as well postpone all attempts to benefit the country to the incoming of the Jews.
What, then, shall we do? Let us turn to this plan of the exchequer, brought forward last year. It was assailed from all quarters. One gentleman did say, I believe, that by some possibility some good might come out of it, but in general it met with a different opposition from every different class. Some said it would be a perfectly lifeless machine, – that it was no system at all, — that it would do nothing, for good or evil; others thought that it had a great deal too much vitality, admitting that it would answer the purpose perfectly well for which it was designed, but fearing that it would increase the executive power: thus making it at once King Log and King Serpent. One party called it a ridiculous imbecility; the other, a dangerous giant, that might subvert the Constitution. These varied arguments, contradicting, if not refuting, one another, convinced me of one thing at least, – that the bill would not be adopted, nor even temperately and candidly considered.
And it was not. In a manner quite unusual, it was discussed, assailed, de. nounced, before it was allowed to take the course of reference and examination.
The difficulties we meet in carrying out our system of constitutional government are indeed extraordinary. The Constitution was intended as an instrument of great political good; but we sometimes so dispute its meaning, that we cannot use it at all. One man will not have a bank, without the power of local discount, against the consent of the States; for that, he insists, would break the Constitution. Another will not have a bank with such a power, because he thinks that would break the Constitution. A third will not have an exchequer, with authority to deal in exchanges, because that would increase executive influence, and so might break the Constitution. And between them all, we are like the boatman who, in the midst of rocks and currents and whirlpools, will not pull one stroke for safety,
lest he break hisoar. Are we now looking for the time when we can charter a United States Bank with a large private subscription? When will that be? When confidence is restored. Are we, then, to do nothing to save the vessel from sinking, till the chances of the winds and waves have landed us on the shore? He is more sanguine than I am, who thinks that the time will soon come when the Whigs have more power to work effectually for the good of the country than they now have. The voice of patriotism calls upon them not to postpone, but to act at this moment, at the very next session; to make the best of their means, and to try. You say that the administration is responsible; why not, then, try the plan it has recommended. If it fails, let the President bear the responsibility. If you will not try this plan, why not propose something else?
Gentlemen, in speaking of events that have happened, I ought to say, and will, since I am making a full and free communication, that there is no one of my age, and I am no longer very young, who has written or spoken more against the abuse and indiscreet use of the veto power than I have. And there is no one whose opinions upon this subject are less changed. I presume it is universally known, that I have advised against the use of the veto power on every occasion when it has been used since I have been in the Cabinet. But I am, nevertheless, not willing to join those who seem more desirous to make out a case against the President, than of serving their country to the extent of their ability, vetoes notwithstanding. Indeed, at the close of the extra session, the received doctrine of many seemed to be, that they would undertake nothing until they could amend the Constitution so as to do away with this power. This was mere mockery. If we were now reforming the Constitution, we might wish for some, I do not say what, guards and restraints upon this power more than the Constitution at present contains ; but no convention would recommend striking it out altogether. Have not the people of New York lately amended their constitution, so as to require, in certain leg. islative action, votes of two thirds ? and is not this same restriction in daily use in the national House of Representatives itself, in the case of suspension of the rules? This constitutional power, therefore, is no greater a restraint than this body imposes on itself. But it is utterly hopeless to look for such an amend
ment; who expects to live to see its day? And to give up all practical efforts, and to go on with a general idea that the Constitution must be amended before any thing can be done, was, I will not say trifling, but treating the great necessities of the people as of quite too little importance. This Congress accomplished, in this regard, nothing for the people. The exchequer plan which was submitted to it will accomplish some of the objects of the people, and especially the Whig people. I am confident of it; I know it. When a mechanic makes a tool, an axe, a saw, or a plane, and knows that the temper is good and the parts are well proportioned, he knows that it will answer its purpose. And I know that this plan will answer its purpose.
There are other objects which ought not to be neglected, among which is one of such importance that I will not now pass it by; I mean, the mortifying state of the public credit of this country at this time. I cannot help thinking, that if the statesmen of a former age were among us, if Washington were here, if John Adams, and Hamilton, and Madison were here, they would be deeply concerned and soberly thoughtful about the present state of the public credit of the country. In the position I fill, it becomes my duty to read, generally with pleasure, but sometimes with pain, communications from our public agents abroad. It is distressing to hear them speak of their distress at what they see and hear of the scorn and contumely with which the American character and American credit are treated abroad. Why, at this very time, we have a loan in the market, which, at the present rate of money and credit, ought to command in Europe one hundred and twenty-five per cent. Can we sell a dollar of it? And how is it with the credit of our own Commonwealth ?
own Commonwealth? Does it not find itself affected in its credit by the general state of the credit of the country? Is there nobody ready to make a movement in this matter? Is there not a man in our councils large enough, comprehensive enough in his views, to undertake at least to present this case before the American people, and thus do something to restore the public character for morals and honesty ?
There are in the country some men who are indiscreet enough to talk of repudiation, — to advise their fellow-citizens to repudiate public debt. Does repudiation pay a debt? Does it discharge the debtor? Can it so modify a debt that it shall not be
always binding, in law as well as in morals? No, Gentlemen; repudiation does nothing but add a sort of disrepute to acknowl. edged inability. It is our duty, so far as is in our power, to rouse the public feeling on the subject; to maintain and assert the universal principles of law and justice, and the importance of preserving public faith and credit. People say that the intelligent capitalists of Europe ought to distinguish between the United States government and the State governments. So they ought; but, Gentlemen, what does all this amount to? Does not the general government comprise the same people who make up the State governments? May not these Europeans ask us how long it may be before the national councils will repudiate public obligations?
The doctrine of repudiation has inflicted upon us a stain which we ought to feel worse than a wound; and the time has come when every man ought to address himself soberly and seriously to the correction of this great existing evil. I do not undertake to say what the Constitution allows Congress to do in the premises. I will only say, that if that great fund of the public domain properly and in equity belongs, as is maintained, to the States themselves, there are some means, by reg. ular and constitutional laws, to enable and induce the States to save their own credit and the credit of the country.
Gentlemen, I have detained you much too long. I have wished to say, that, in my judgment, there remain certain important objects to engage our public and private attention, in the national affairs of the country. These are, the settlement of the remaining questions between ourselves and England; the great questions relating to the reciprocity principle; those relating to colonial trade; the most absorbing questions of the currency, and those relating to the great subject of the restoration of the national character and the public faith; these are all objects to which I am willing to devote myself, both in public and in private life. I do not expect that much of public service remains to be done by me; but I am ready, for the promotion of these objects, to act with sober men of any party, and of all parties. I am ready to act with men who are free from that great danger that surrounds all men of all parties, – the danger that patriotism itself, warmed and heated in party contests, will run into partisanship. I believe that, among the sober men of this coun