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evil; but until they can again be rendered the general medium of exchange, it devolves on the wisdom of Congress to provide a substitute, which shall equally engage the confidence and accommodate the wants of the citizens throughout the Union. If the operation of the State banks cannot produce this result, the probable operation of a national bank will merit consideration," &c.
At that session, Congress incorporated the Bank of the United States; and at the next session, the President held this language respecting the currency and that bank:
“For the interests of the community at large, as well as for the purposes of the treasury, it is essential that the nation should possess a currency of equal value, credit, and use, wherever it may circulate. The Constitution has intrusted Congress, exclusively, with the power of creating and regulating a currency of that description ; and the measures taken, during the last session, in execution of the power, give every promise of success. The Bank of the United States has been organized under auspices the most favorable, and cannot fail to be an important auxiliary to those measures."
How that sounds now as an argument for the sub-treasury! The new doctrine which the administration has set up is one vitally affecting the business and pursuits of the people at large, extending its efforts to the interests of every family, and of every individual; and you must determine for yourselves if it shall be the doctrine of the country. But, before determining, look well at the Constitution, weigh all the precedents, and if names and authority are to be appealed to, contrast those of President Van Buren with those of the dead patriarch whose words I have just read to you, and decide accordingly.
We have heard much from the administration and its friends against banks and banking systems. I do not mean to discuss that topic; but I will say, that their tampering with the currency, and their course in relation to it, has, more than all other causes, increased the number of these banks.
But Mr. Van Buren's message contains a principle, altogether erroneous as a doctrine, and fatal in its operations, the principle that the government has nothing to do with providing a currency for the country; in other words, proposing a separation between the money of the government and the money of the people. This is the great error, which cannot be compro
mised with, which is susceptible of no amelioration or modification, like a disease which admits no remedy and no palliative but the caustic which shall totally eradicate it.
Do we not know that there must always be bank paper? Is there a man here who expects that he, or his children, or his children's children, shall see the day when only gold coin, glittering through silk purses, will be the currency of the country, to the entire exclusion of bank-notes ? Not one. But we are told that the value of these notes is questionable. It is the neglect of government to perform its duties that makes them so. You here, in New York, have sound bank paper, redeemable in coin; and if you were surrounded by a Chinese wall, it might be indifferent to you whether government looked after the currency elsewhere or not. But you have daily business relations with Pennsylvania, and with the West, and East, and South, and you have a direct interest that their currency too shall be sound; for otherwise the very superiority of yours is, to a certain degree, an injury and loss to you, since you pay in the equivalent of specie for what you buy, and you sell for such money as may circulate in the States with which you deal. But New York cannot effect the general restoration of the currency, nor any one State, nor any number of States short of the whole, and hence the duty of the general government to superintend this interest.
But what does the sub-treasury propose? Its basis is a separation of the concerns of the treasury from those of the people. The law creating it directs,
That there shall be provided, in the new treasury building at Washington, rooms for the use of the treasurer, and fireproof vaults and safes for the keeping of the public moneys; and these vaults and safes are declared to be the treasury of the United States:
That the vaults and safes of the mint in Philadelphia and the branch mint at New Orleans shall also be places for the deposit and safe-keeping of the public moneys; and that there shall be fireproof vaults and safes also in the custom-houses of New York and Boston, and in Charleston, South Carolina, and St. Louis, Missouri, and that these also shall be places of deposit:
That there shall be a receiver-general at New York, Boston
Charleston, and St. Louis: that the treasurers of these mints, and the receivers-general, shall keep the public inoney, without loaning or using it, until ordered to be paid out; and into the hands of these treasurers and receivers-general all collectors of public money are to pay what they receive:
That the resolutions of Congress of April, 1816, be so far altered, as that hereafter, of all duties, taxes, and debts due and becoming due to the United States after June of this year, one fourth shall be paid in specie; after June of next year, one half; after June of 1842, three fourths; and after June, 1843, the whole; so that after June, 1843, all debts due the United States, whether for duties, taxes, sales of public lands, patents, postages of letters, or otherwise, “ shall be paid in gold and silver
That from and after June, 1843, every officer or agent in the government, in making disbursements or payments on account of the United States, shall make such payments in gold and silver coin only:
The receiver-general in New York to be paid $ 4,000 salary, the others, each, $ 2,500. I propose
to say a few words on these provisions. In the first place, it seems very awkward to declare by law certain rooms in Washington, and certain safes and vaults therein, the treasury of the United States. We have been accustomed heretofore to look upon the treasury as a department of the government, recognized by the Constitution, which declares that no money shall be drawn from the treasury, but in consequence of appropriations made by law. It may, however, be made a question whether any thing but these rooms and safes at Washington are now within this protection of the Constitution. It is senseless. It is absurd. It is as if the Legislature of New York should declare that a certain large room in the United States Hotel, and certain desks and tables therein, should constitute the Court for the Correction of Errors of the State of New York.*
What else does this bill do? It directs that there shall be certain vaults, and safes, and rooms. But it has not been for want of adequate vaults and rooms that we have lost our money, but owing to the hands to which we have intrusted the keys. It is in
* The Court of Errors was at the time holding a session at the United States Hotel at Saratoga.
the character of the officers, and not in the strength of bars and vaults, that we must look for the security of the public treasure. What would be thought in private life, if some rich merchant, John Jacob Astor, for instance, should determine no longer to trust his money with banks and bank directors, who, nevertheless, have a common interest with him in upholding the credit and stability of the currency, and in the safe-keeping, too, of their own money, and should build for himself certain safes and vaults, and, having placed his treasures therein, should, of some forty or fifty hungry individuals who might apply for the office of treasurer, give the keys to him who would work the cheapest? You might not, perhaps, pronounce him insane, but you would certainly say he acted very unlike John Jacob Astor. Now, what is true of private affairs is equally true of public affairs; and what would be absurd in an individual is not less so in a government. What is doing in Boston, where I belong? There are banks, respectable, specie-paying, trustworthy banks, managed by prudent and discreet men; and yet the treasure of the country is withdrawn from the keeping of one of those institutions, with a capital paid in of two millions of dollars, and locked up in safes and vaults, and one of the President's political friends from another State is sent for to come and keep the key. There is, in this case, no president to watch the cashier, no cashier to watch the teller, and no directors to overlook and control all; but the whole responsibility is vested in one man. Do you believe that, if, under such circumstances, the United States, following the example of individuals, were to offer to receive private funds in deposit in such a safe, and allow interest on them, they would be intrusted with any? There are no securities under this new system of keeping the public moneys that we had not before; while many that did exist, in the personal character, high trusts, and diversified duties of the officers and directors of banks, are removed. Moreover, the number of receiving and disbursing officers is increased; and the danger to the public treasure is increased in proportion.
The next provision is, that money once received into the treas. ury is not to be lent out; and if this law is to be the law of the land, this provision is not to be complained of, for dangerous indeed would be the temptation, and pernicious the consequences, if these treasurers were to be left at liberty to lend to
favorites and party associates the moneys drawn from the people. Yet the practice of this government hitherto has always been opposed to this policy of locking up the money of the people, when and while it is not required for the public service. Until this time the public deposits, like private deposits, were used by the banks in which they were placed, as some compensation for the trouble of safe-keeping, and in furtherance of the general convenience. When, in 1833, General Jackson formed the league of the deposit State banks, they were specially directed by Mr. Taney, then Secretary of the Treasury, to use the public funds in discounts for the accommodation of the business of the country. And why should this not be so ? The President now says, If the money is kept in banks, it will be used by them in discounts, and they will derive benefit therefrom. What then? Is it a sufficient reason for depriving the community of a beneficial measure, that the banks that carry it out will also derive some benefit from it? The question is, Will the public be benefited ? and if this be answered affirmatively, it is no objection that the banks will be too. The government is not to play the part of the dog in the manger. The doctrine is altogether pernicious, opposed to our experience, and to the habits and business of the nation.
The next provision is that requiring, after 1813, all dues to the government to be paid in gold and silver; and however onerous or injurious this provision, it is to be conceded that the government can, if they choose, enforce it. They have the power; and, as good citizens, we must submit. But such a practice will be inconvenient, I will say, oppressive. How are those who occupy three fourths of the surface of the United States to comply with this provision? Here, in commercial neighborhoods, and in large cities, and where the banks pay specie, the difficulty will be less; but where is the man who is to take up lands in the Western States to get specie? How transport it? The banks around him pay none, he gets none for his labor. And yet, oppressive as all this is, I admit that the government have a right to pass such a law, and that, while it is a law, it must be obeyed.
But what are we promised as the equivalent for all this inconvenience and oppression? Why, that the government in its turn will pay its debts in specie, and that thus what it receives with one hand it will pay out with the other, and a metallic cir