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public life. In the government of his native state, we believe, he never took office of any kind ; and his first political place, therefore, was in the thirteenth Congress of the United States. He was chosen in 1812, soon after the declaration of war; and as he was then hardly thirty years old, he must have been one of the youngest members of that important Congress. His position there was difficult, aand he felt it to be so. He was opposed to the policy of the war; he represented a state earnestly opposed to it; and he had always, especially in the eloquent and powerful memorial from the great popular meeting in Rockingham, expressed himself fully and frankly on the whole subject. But he was now called into the councils of the government, which was carrying on the war itself. He felt it to be his duty, therefore, to make no factious opposition to the measures essential to maintain the dignity and honour of the country ; to make no opposition for opposition's sake; though, at the same time, he felt it to be no less his duty, to take good heed that neither the constitution, nor the essential interests of the nation, were endangered or sacrificed-ne quid detrimenti respublica accipiat. This, indeed, seems to have been his motto up to the time of the peace; and his tone in relation to it is always manly, bold, and decisive. When Mr. Monroe's bill for a sort of conscription was introduced, he joined with Mr. Eppes, and other friends of the administration, in defeating a project, which, except in a moment of great anxiety and excitement, would probably have found no defenders. But when, on the other hand, the bill for "encouraging enlistments” was before the house, he held, in January 1814, the following strong and striking language, in which, now the passions of that stormy period are hushed, all will sympathize.
“ The humble aid which it would be in my power to render to measures of government, shall be given cheerfully, if government will pursue measures which I can conscientiously support. If, even now, failing in an honest and sincere attempt to procure a just and honourable peace, it will return to measures of defence and protection, such as reason, and common sense, and the public opinion, all call for, my vote shall not be withholden from the means. Give up your futile projects of invasion. Extinguish the fires that blaze on your inland frontiers. Establish perfect safety and defence there by adequate force. Let every man that sleeps on your soil sleep in security. Stop the blood that flows from the veins of unarmed yeomanry, and women and children. Give to the living time to bury and lament their dead, in the quietness of private sorrow. Having performed this work of beneficence and mercy on your inland border, turn, and look with the eye of justice and compassion on your vast population along the coast. Unclench the iron grasp of your embargo. Take measures for that end before another sun sets upon you. With all the war of the enemy on your commerce, if you would cease to make war upon it yourselves, you would still have some commerce. That commerce would give you some reve. nue. Apply that revenue to the augmentation of your navy. That navy, in turn, will protect your commerce. Let it no longer be said, that not one ship of force, built by your hands since the war, yet floats upon the ocean. Turn the current of your efforts into the channel, which national sentiment has already
* These are the last words of the speech; and the sentiment they contain in favour of a navy and naval protection, has been maintained with great earnest ness by Mr. Webster for nearly thirty years, on all public occasions. In an ora
party consisting almost entirely of friends of the administration, who wished for a bank, provided it were such a one as they thought would not only regulate the currency of the country, and facilitate the operations of the government, but also afford present and important aid by heavy loans, which the bank was to be compelled to make, and to enable it to do which, it was to be relieved from the necessity of paying its notes in specie ;in other words, it was a party that wished to authorize and establish a paper currency for the whole country. The third party wished for a bank with a moderate capital, compelled always to redeem its notes with specie, and at liberty to judge for itself, when it would, and when it would not, make loans to the government.
The second party, of course, was the one that introduced into Congress the project for a bank at this time. The bill was originally presented to the Senate ; and its main features were, that the bank should absorb a large amount of the depreciated public debt of the United States, and grant to the government heavy loans on the security of a similar debt to be created ; that its capital should consist of fifty millions of dollars, of which five millions only were to be specie, and the rest depreciated government securities; and that the bank, when required, should lend the government thirty millions. At the time when this plan was brought forward, all the numerous state banks south of New-England had refused to redeem their notes, or, as it was called “to ears polite,” had “suspended specie payments,” in consequence of which, their notes had fallen in value from 10 to 25 per cent., and specie, of course, had risen proportionally in value, and disappeared from circulation entirely. To afford the contemplated national bank any chance for carrying on its operations, or even for beginning them, it was to be authorized “to suspend specie payments," which meant, that it was to be authorized never to begin them ; for, without this authority, their specie would be drained the moment their notes should be issued equal to its amount. On the other hand, all the taxes and revenues of the government were to be receivable in the paper of the bank, however much it might fall in value. In short, the whole scheme was one of those vast Serbonian bogs, where, from the days of Laws's Mississippi Company, armies whole of legislators and projectors have sunk, without leaving even a monument behind them to warn their followers of their fate.
We must not, however, be extravagantly astonished, that a project which we now know was in its nature so wild and dangerous, should have found favourers and advocates. The finances of the country were then in a critical, and even distressing position; and all men were anxious to devise some means to relieve VOL. IX.-NO. 18.
them. A large part of the nation, too, sincerely entertained the chimerical notion, now universally exploded, that it was practicable to establish and maintain a safe and stable paper currency, even when not convertible into specie at the pleasure of the holder ; and the example of England and its national bank was referred to with effect, though, from its history since, the same example could now be referred to with double effect on the other side of the discussion. After an earnest and able debate, then, the bill, on the whole, passed the Senate, and it was understood that a considerable majority of the House of Representatives was in its favour.
When brought there on the 9th of December, 1814, it excited a very animated discussion, which, with various interruptions from the forms and rules of the House, references to committces, and occasional adjournments, was continued till the 2d of January. In this protracted debate Mr. Webster took a conspicuous part; and his efforts, of which the speech now published is but an inconsiderable item, did much to avert the threatened evil, and to establish his reputation, not merely as an eloquent and powerful debater, which had already been settled in the previous session, but as a sagacious and sound statesman.
His principal opposition to the bill was made on the last day of its discussion. He then introduced a series of resolutions, bringing the bank proposed within the limits of the specie-paying principle, and taking off from it the restraints, which placed it too much within the power of the government to make it uscful as a monied institution, either to the finances or to the commerce of the country. The objections to the plan then before Congress, and the disasters that would probably follow its adoption, he portrayed in the following strong language, which none, however, will now think to have been too strong.
“ The capital of the bank, then, will be five millions of specie, and forty-five millions of government stocks. In other words, the bank will possess five millions of dollars, and the government will owe it forty-five millions. This debt from government, the bank is restrained from selling during the war, and government is excused from paying until it shall see fit. The bank is also to be under obligation to loan government thirty millions of dollars on demand, to be repaid, not when the convenience or necessity of the bank may require, but when debts due to the bank, from government, are paid ; that is, when it shall be the good pleasure of government. This sum of thirty millions is to supply the necessities of government, and to supersede the occasion of other loans. This loan will doubtless be made on the first day of the existence of the bank, because the public wants can admit of no delay. Its condition, then, will be, that it has five millions of specie, if it has been able to obtain so much, and a debt of seventyfive millions, no part of which it can either sell or call in, due to it from governo ment.
“The loan of thirty millions to government, can only be made by an immediale issue of bills to that amount. If these bills should return, the bank will not be able to pay them. This is certain, and to remedy this inconvenience, power is given to the directors, by the act, to suspend, at their own discretion,
the payment of thetr notes, until the President of the United States shall other. wise order. The President will give no such order, because the necessities of government will compel it to draw on the bank till the bank becomes as necessitous as itself. Indeed, whatever orders may be given or withheld it will be utterly impossible for the bank to pay its notes. No such thing is expected from it. The first note it issues will be dishonoured on its return, and yet it will continue to pour out its paper, so long as government can apply it in any degree to its purposes.
" What sort of an institution, sir, is this? It looks less like a bank, than a department of government. It will be properly the paper-money department. Its capital is government debts; the amount of its issues will depend on government necessities ; government, in effect, absolves itself from its own debts to the bank, and by way of compensation absolves the bank from its own contracts with others. This is, indeed, a wonderful scheme of finance. The government is to grow rich, because it is to borrow without the obligation of repaying, and is to borrow of a bank which issues paper, without liability to redeem it. If this bank, like other institutions which dull and plodding common sense has erected, were to pay its debts, it must have some limits to its issues of paper, and therefore, there would be a point beyond which it could not make loans to government. This would fall short of the wishes of the contrivers of this system. They provide for an unlimited issue of paper, in an entire exemption from payment. They found their bank, in the first place, on the discredit of government, and then hope to enrich government out of the insolvency of their bank. With them, poverty itself is the main source of supply, and bankruptcy a mine of inexhaustible treasure.” Pp. 224-5.
The resolutions proposed by Mr. Webster, and supported in this speech, were not passed. Probably he did not expect them to pass, when he proposed them ; but the same day, the main question was taken upon the passage of the bill itself; and, as it was rejected by the casting vote of the speaker, there can be no reasonable doubt, that without his exertions this portentous absurdity would not have been defeated. It is but justice, however, to the supporters of the measure, to say, that the mischie. vous consequences of its adoption, were by no means so apparent then as they are now.
We have since had no little experience on the whole matter. It required all the power and influence of the general government, and of the present sound and speciepaying Bank of the United States, acting vigorously in concert for several years after the war, to relieve the country from the flood of depreciated notes of the state banks with which it was inundated, and to restore a safe and uniform currency. When or how this evil could have been remedied, if, at the very close of the war, it had been almost indefinitely increased by the establishment of a vast machine, issuing every day as much irredeemable paper as would be taken at any and every discount, and thus co-operating with the evil itself, instead of opposing it, is more than any man will now be bold enough to conjecture. We should, no doubt, have been in bondage to it to this hour, and probably left it as a yoke upon the necks of our children.
But, at the time referred to, the necessities of the government were urgent; and, on motion of Mr. Webster, the rule that pre