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Gentlemen, the Andover Committee have desired me to ad. dress this assembly on a number of vastly important topics. It is quite impossible that I should enter far into so broad a field; I shall confine myself, in the remarks I have to make, to some of the subjects suggested by them.
They desire that I should express my sentiments upon the respective duties of the national and State governments; upon the duties of the general government to farmers, merchants, and manufacturers ; upon the importance, the necessity, of a sacred observance of public faith; upon the currency and its relations, and the utility and importance of a universal medium of payment
In reference to the discussion of these topics, I am embarrassed by the fact, that I have little new to say of any of them. By the favor of the people, I have been a good deal in public life, and upon these subjects my opinions are well known. They are unchanged. And I avail myself of this occasion, not so much to announce any new doctrines held by me, as to refer to senti. ments long entertained, and often expressed.
The general government, all agree, is vested with certain powers, and held to certain duties. It is its duty to defend the coun. try from foreign invasion, to provide armies and equip navies; the treaty-making power is confided to it; the superintendence of the foreign relations, and the maintenance of the country's honor in foreign States, belong to it. This all acknowledge. But upon its domestic duties there has grown up a difference of opinion of great breadth, leading to diverse conclusions on the one side and the other.
Upon these duties it is my intention briefly to say something, and it is my wish that all remarks made upon the subject may be taken in that spirit of conciliation and candor from which they proceed. I wish to persuade others of their correctness. I know we have a common destiny; that the good of the whole country embraces the good of all its parts; and I desire that at all times, by free and candid discussion and consideration, the differences of opinion which men entertain on these topics may be reconciled, and that all may approach, and finally stand upon, the same ground.
A contest has agitated the country for years upon the true extent of the powers of Congress in two particulars;
1. As to its authority over the currency;
2. As to its power to encourage domestic industry by discrimination in laying duties on articles of manufacture imported from abroad.
And first, as to the currency. All agree that Congress possesses the power to regulate commerce, for that provision is found in the Constitution in terms; and that it has the power to coin money, for those words are also found in the Constitution. But there is a wide difference of opinion as to what duties are or are not fairly inferable from these grants of power. In regard to this matter, which has so long divided the country, and which will continue to agitate it till it shall be effectually settled, I must begin by a reference to some general principles and leading facts.
Congress possesses the commercial power, that is, the power of regulating commerce, and the power of coining money; and it may issue its own bills of credit. No State can either coin money, regulate commerce, or emit its own bills of credit. But, right or wrong, banking corporations are established under State authority, and issue bills; and these bills form, in fact, the mass of the circulating medium of the country. And now, since the use of these bills has become almost, if not wholly, universal, the question arises, On what government devolves the power of regulating the paper currency? Now, Gentlemen, in my opinion, which I have entertained for many years, the general government is bound to take care of the currency of the country; I think that it has a duty beyond merely coining money and fixing value; that the power to regulate commerce gives Congress authority over that great instrument and means of commerce, the actual circulating medium of the country; and that if paper is to take the place of coin, Congress is bound to see that it is safe paper, and such as is not likely to defraud and oppress the people, to become base in character, or run to ex
On these topics my opinions have been frequently expressed, and are well known.*
As I have observed already, Gentlemen, I have very little * In the original pamphlet edition of this speech, large extracts were here made from speeches in the Senate of the 28th of September, 1837, and the 12th of March, 1838, which will be found in a subsequent volume of this collection ; and from the speech in Faneuil Hall, of the 24th of July, 1838, in Volume I. p. 417.
that is new to say on these points. The ground I have ever taken, and to which I adhere to this day, is, that if Congress is bound to furnish a currency for the people, as well as for the government, then something beyond a sub-treasury, something more than a vault, or series of vaults, where the public money can be collected, and whence it can be distributed, is necessary; on the other hand, if Congress is not bound to do this, then it may resort to any scheme it may deem proper for the collection and disbursement of revenue; although, even for that purpose, it is quite idle and ridiculous, in my opinion, to talk about vaults, and safes, and bolts, and locks.
Now, Gentlemen, there are three propositions which I would gladly submit to every candid man in every part of the country; because it is my wish to establish the principles I espouse, in the minds of men, by convincing them that they are honest, just, and will tend to the benefit of community. These propo
1st. That paper, in the present state and condition of society, will, and must, constitute the greater part of the currency, the mass of the circulation.
All the humbug about a specie currency, a hard-money system, is altogether unworthy of a man of sense. We know that we must, from some source or other, have paper for circulation, and for the greater part of the circulation. Is there a man here, is there a man anywhere, who will say without a blush, that he expects an exclusive specie currency? Can any sensible man so say, without feeling his cheek burn with shame? There is none such. Well, then, is there any one not satisfied,
2d. That a part, at least, of this paper currency, should be in every part of the country of equal value, and that value equivalent to specie?
Is it not highly desirable that we should have a circulating medium of universal receivability, if I may use such a word? The inhabitants of Maine, Georgia, the valley of the Mississippi, - is it not to be wished that they all may have some paper which every body will take? All candid men must admit that it is. It is an object of high importance that the people of Illinois, Indiana, Alabama, should have something which they can remit, without loss, to pay the manufacturers of Essex for their goods; it is as great an object to the Essex manufacturers that
But if any
they should. Well, if this be admitted, there is only one more proposition, and that is,
3d. That no State institution, nothing but the authority of the United States, can furnish such a universal circulating me. dium.
Can any State institution furnish such a currency? Have we seen any instance of it whatever ? We all know the contrary. We have, in Massachusetts, bills of State banks which are good and current throughout Massachusetts. They have the same in Virginia.
you were to go to-morrow Richmond, or Petersburg, you would not find your Massachusetts money current there, although, indeed, you might find brokers who would give you a premium on the bills, for the purpose of Northern remittances; still, your Massachusetts bills would not be generally received.
The citizens of each State know the condition of their own institutions; and they trust them as far as they ought. But they do not know, and ought not to be expected to know, the condition and credit of all the institutions of all the States. On the other hand, they do know the general laws and the general institutions of the general government, and the credit to which those institutions are entitled. We must then revert to the government which has the control of commerce and the control of the currency, whose “spread eagle” is good everywhere. And it is but a reasonable and just demand, to require such a government to give us a currency which shall be welcome everywhere, and trusted everywhere.
Now, where is this power? I answer, In the authority of Congress to regulate commerce, and the great agent of commerce, money. Congress has the power of commercial regulation by the Constitution; it has also the power to coin; and according to Mr. Madison's matured judgment, the power to coin implies the power to say what shall take the place of the coinage, if that coinage be displaced by paper. I will not go over the whole range of the constitutional argument. Suffice it to say, that those who made the Constitution did not doubt this power. General Washington did not doubt it, for he established an institution for this very purpose; or at least, it was established under his immediate authority and sanction. Mr. Madison did not doubt it, and I mention his name because his
authority is much relied on, as not generally favoring liberal constructions of constitutional powers. If not convinced in his own private judgment, he said, as any reasonable man would say, that the Constitution had thus been long interpreted, that its meaning was fixed and must not be disturbed.
That was right. We have had a bank for forty years; some say now it is unconstitutional. Will they say so forty years hence? Will they then think that what was thought right by our fathers and grandfathers, who formed the Constitution and established the government, was wholly wrong? I suspect not. We must take the meaning of the Constitution as it has been solemnly fixed, — fixed by practice, fixed by successive acts of Congress, fixed by solemn judicial decision, — or we never shall have any settled meaning at all. It is absurd to say, that no precedent, no practice, no judicial decision, no assent of successive legislators, nor all these together, can fix the meaning of an article in the fundamental law.
I am well aware, Gentlemen, that at the present moment, and in the commercial States, the evils of a disordered currency are partially remedied, and not so severely felt. But in some parts of the country they are as great as ever. In the South and West, there is no money which deserves the name. The people trade almost wholly by barter. What they do call money is entirely without a fixed or general value; and the great depreciation and fluctuation in the currency is the cause of much demoralization in the community, and a fruitful source of other evils. Of all bad systems this is the worst. And though we in this part of the country, just now, feel no particular harm from this source, yet the evil day will come.
There are certain laws of trade which will always operate, so long as man is man, and which cannot be violated with impunity; and just as surely as this is the case, just so sure shall we again feel the effects of a disordered currency. There is now, in the mercantile phrase, a better feeling in the community, at least in the Atlantic States. There is an appearance of returning prosperity and a revival of business; but there are a thousand banks in the country, ready to lend money to good customers, under the doctrine, to which I cannot wholly agree, that all safe business paper may be discounted without danger. A plenty of money will raise prices, prosperity will beget excess,