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vented a reconsideration at the same session of a subject thus disposed of, was suspended the very next day, and a bill for a bank was on the same day, January 3, recommitted to a select committee. On the 6th, the committee reported a specie-paying bank, with a much diminished capital, which was carried in the house, with the fewest possible forms, on the 7th; Mr. Webster and most of his friends voting for it. It passed the senate, too, though with some difficulty ; but was refused by the president, on the ground, that it was not sufficient to meet the exigencies of the case, which, indeed, we now know, no bank would have been able to meet. This project, however, being thus rejected, another was immediately introduced into the senate, the basis of which was to be laid, like that of the first bank proposed, in a paper currency. It passed that body ; but on being brought into the house met a severe and determined opposition, which ceased only when, on the 17th, the news of peace being received, the bill was indefinitely postponed.
Mr. Webster's exertions, however, on the subject of the currency, did not cease with the overthrow of the paper bank system. He was re-elected to New Hampshire for the fourteenth Congress, and sat there during the sessions of 1815–16; and 1816–17. The whole state of things in the nation was now changed. The war was over, and the great purpose of sound statesmanship was therefore to bring the healing and renovating influences of peace into the administration and finances of the country. The present bank was chartered in April 1816, and was placed, substantially on the principles maintained in Mr. Webster's resolutions of the preceding year. But still it seemed doubtful whether this institution, however wisely managed, would alone have power enough to restore a sound currency The small depreciated notes of the state banks south of New-England, still filled the land with their loathed intrusion ; and, what was worse, the revenue of the general government, receivable at the different custom-houses, was collected in this degraded paper, to the great injury of the finances of the country, and to the still greater injury of the property of private individuals, who, in different states, paid, of course, different rates of duties to the treasury, according to the value of the paper medium in which it happened to be received. Mr. Webster foresaw the mischiefs that must follow from this state of things, if a remedy were not speedily applied. He, therefore, in the same month of April 1816, introduced a resolution, the effect of which was, to require the revenue of the United States to be collected and received only in the legal currency of the United States, or in bills equal to that currency in value.
In stating the nature of the evil, after showing by what means
paper of the state banks south of New-England had become depreciated; he says,
“What still farther increases the evil is, that this bank paper being the issue of very many institutions, situated in different parts of the country, and possessing different degrees of credit, the depreciation has not been, and is not now, uniform throughout the United States. It is not the same at Baltimore as at Philadelphia, nor the same at Philadelphia as at New.York. In New-England, the banks have not stopped payment in specie, and of course their paper has not been depressed at all. But the notes of banks which have ceased to pay specie, have nevertheless been, and still are, received for duties and taxes in the places where such banks exist. The consequence of all this is, that the people of the United States pay their duties and taxes in currencies of different values, in different places. In other words, taxes and duties are higher in some places than they are in others, by as much as the value of gold and silver is greater than the value of the several descriptions of bank paper which are received by government. This difference in relation to the paper of the District where we now are, is twenty-five per cent. Taxes and duties, therefore, collected in Massachusetts, are one quarter higher than the taxes and duties which are collected, by virtue of the same laws, in the District of Columbia.” Pp. 233--4.
A little further on, after showing that if this state of things is not changed by the government, it will be likely to change the government itself, he adds,
“ It is our business to foresee this danger, and to avoid it. There are some political evils which are seen as soon as they are dangerous, and which alarm at once as well the people as the government. Wars and invasions therefore are not always the most certain destroyers of national prosperity. They come in no questionable shape. They announce their own approach, and the general security is preserved by the general alarm. Not so with the evils of a debased coin, a depreciated paper currency, or a depressed and falling public credit. Not so with the plausible and insidious mischiefs of
paper money system. These insinuate themselves in the shape of facilities, accommodation, and relief. They hold out the most fallacious hope of an easy payment of debts, and a lighter burden of taxation. It is easy for a portion of the people to imagine that government may properly continue to receive depreciated paper, because they have received it, and because it is more convenient to obtain it than to obtain other paper, or specie. But on these subjects it is, that government ought to exercise its own peculiar wisdom and caution. It is supposed to possess on subjects of this nature, somewhat more of foresight than has fallen to the lot of indi. viduals. It is bound to foresce the evil before every man feels it, and to take all necessary measures to guard against it, although they may be measures attended with some difficulty and not without temporary inconvenience. In my humble judgment, the evil demands the immediate attention of Congress. It is not certain, and in my opinion not probable, that it will ever cure itself. It is more likely to grow by indulgence, while the remedy which must in the end be applied, will become less efficacious by delay.
"The only power which the general government possesses of restraining the issues of the state banks, is to refuse their notes in the receipts of the treasury. This power it can exercise now, or at least it can provide now for exercising in reasonable time, because the currency of some part of the country is yet sound, and the evil is not universal. If it should become universal, who, that hesitates now, will then propose any adequate means of relief? If a measure, like the bill of yesterday, or the
resolutions of to-day, can hardly pass here now, what hope is there that any efficient measure will be adopted hereafter ?" pp. 235–6.
The doctrine of this speech is as important as it is true. A sound and uniform currency is essential, not only for the convenient and safe management of the fiscal concerns of a govern
ment; but, no less so, for the security of private property. It is, indeed, at once the standard and basis of all transfer and exchange; and, whenever the circulating medium has become much deranged in any country, it has been found an arduous, and sometimes a dangerous task, to restore it to a sound state. The effort almost necessarily brings on a conflict between the two great classes of debtor and creditor, into which every community is divided, the creditor claiming the highest standard of value in the currency, and the debtor the lowest; and the results of such a conflict have not unfrequently been found in changes, convulsions, and political revolution. From such a conflict we were saved in this country, by the defeat of the papercurrency bank proposed in 1814,—by the establishment of the present specie paying bank, and by the adoption of Mr. Webster's resolution, which was approved by the President on the 30th of April, 1816.
It was at this period, however, that Mr. Webster determined to change his residence, and, of course, to retire for a time at least, from public life. He had now lived in Portsmouth nine years; and they had been to him years of great happiness in his private relations, and, in his relations to the country, years of remarkable advancement and honour. But, in the disastrous fire, which, in 1813, destroyed a large part of that devoted town, he had sustained a heavy loss, which the means and opportunities offered by his profession in New Hampshire were not likely to repair. He determined, therefore, to establish himself in a larger capital, where his resources would be more ample, and, in the summer of 1816, removed to Boston, where he has ever since resided.
His object now was professional occupation, and he devoted himself to it for six or eight years exclusively, with unremitting assiduity, refusing to accept office, or to mingle in political discussion. His success corresponded to his exertions. He was already known as a distinguished lawyer in his native state ; and the two terms he had served in Congress, had placed him, notwithstanding his comparative youth, among the prominent statesmen of the country. His rank as a jurist, in the general regard of the nation, was now no less speedily determined. Like many other eminent members of the profession, however, who have rarely been able to select at first what cases should be entrusted to them, it was not for him to arrange or determine the time and the occasion, when his powers should be decisively measured and made known. We must, therefore, account it for a fortunate accident, though perhaps one of those accidents granted only to talent like his, that the occasion was the well known case of Dartmouth College ; and, we must add, as a circumstance no less fortunate, that the forum where he was
called to defend the principles of this great cause, and where he did defend them so triumphantly, was that of the Supreme Court of the United States, at Washington.
There is, indeed, something peculiar in this grave national tribunal, especially with regard to the means and motives it offers to call out distinguished talent, and try and confirm a just reputation, which is worth notice. The judges themselves, selected from among the great jurists of the country, as above ignorance, weakness, and the temptations of political ambition,with that venerable man at their head, who for thirty years has been the ornament of the government, and, in whose wisdom has been, in no small degree, the hiding of its power-constitute a tribunal, which may be truly called solemn and august. The advocates, too, who appear before it, are no less a chosen few, full of talent and skill, and eager with ambition, who go there from all the ends of the country, to discuss the gravest and most important interests both public and private,—to settle the conflicts between domestic and foreign jurisprudence, or the more perilous conflicts between the authority of the individual states, and that of the general government;-in short, to return constantly upon the first great principles of national and municipal adjudication, and take heed, that, whatever is determined shall rest only on the deep and sure foundations of truth, right, and law. And, finally, if we turn from the bench and the bar, to the audience which is collected around them, we shall find again much that is remarkable, and even imposing. We shall find, that, large as it is, it is gathered together from a city not populous, where every thing, even the resources of fashion, must have a direct dependence on the operations of government; and where the senators themselves, and the representatives of foreign powers, no less than the crowds collected during the session of Congress, by the solicitations of an enlightened curiosity, or of a strenuous indolence, can, after all, discover no resort so full of a stirring interest and excitement, as that of the Supreme Court, into whose arena such practised and powerful gladiators daily descend, rejoicing in the combat. Taking it in all its connexions, then, we look upon this highest tribunal of the country, not only to be solemn and imposing in itself, but to be one of peculiar power over the reputations of these jurists and advocates, who appear before it, and who must necessarily feel themselves to be standing singularly in presence of the nation, represented there as it is, in almost every way, and by almost every class, from the fashion and beauty lounging on the sofas in the recesses of the court-room, up to the eager antagonists, who are impatiently waiting their time to contend for the mastery on some great interest or principle, and the judges who are ultimately to decide it.
Mr. Webster had already appeared once or twice before this tribunal;—but not in any cause which had called seriously into action the powers of his mind. The case of Dartmouth College, however, was one that might well task the faculties of any man. That institution, founded originally by charter from the king of Great Britain, had been in successful operation nearly half a century, when, in 1816, the Legislature of New Hampshire, from some movements in party politics, was induced, without the consent of the college, to annul its charter, and, by several acts, to give it a new incorporation and name. The trustees of the college resisted this interference; and, in 1817, commenced an action in the state courts, which was decided against them. A writ of error was then sued out by the original plaintiffs, to remove the cause for its final adjudication, to the Supreme Court of the United States; and it came on there for argument in March, 1818.
The court room was excessively crowded, not only with a large assemblage of the eminent lawyers of the Union, but with many of its leading statesmen,-drawn there no less by the importance of the cause, and the wide results that would follow its decision, than by the known eloquence of Mr. Hopkinson and Mr. Wirt, both of whom were engaged in it. Mr. Webster opened it, on behalf of the college. The question turned mainly on the point, whether the acts of the Legislature of New-Hampshire, in relation to Dartmouth College, constituted a violation of a contract; for, if they did, then they were contrary to the Constitution of the United States. The principles involved, therefore, went to determine the extent to which a legislature can exercise authority over the chartered rights of all corporations; and this of course gave the case an importance at the time, and a value since, paramount to that of almost any other in the books. Mr. Webster's argument is given in this volume at p. 110, et seq. ; that is, we have there the technical outline, the dry skeleton of it. But those who heard him, when it was originally delivered, still wonder how such dry bones could ever have lived with the power they there witnessed and felt. He opened his cause, as he always does, with perfect simplicity in the general statement of its facts; and then went on to unfold the topics of his argument, in a lucid order, which made each position sustain every other. The logic and the law were rendered irresistible. But, as he advanced, his heart warmed to the subject and the occasion. Thoughts and feelings, that had grown old with his best affections, rose unbidden to his lips. He remembered that the institution he was defending, was the one where his own youth had been nurtured ; and the moral tenderness and beauty this gave to the grandeur of his thoughts; the sort of religious sensibility it imparted to his urgent appeals and