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were saved in this country, by the defeat of the paper-currency 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.
And yet, notwithstanding all this ;-notwithstanding the long discussion about the first bank, whose charter was so deliberately approved and signed by Washington in 1791; notwithstanding the able and thorough discussion of 1815 and 1816, which resulted in the establishment of the present bank,--the child not so much of the policy as of the absolute necessities of the State; notwithstanding too, that both banks have amply fulfilled the purposes of their establishment while the last has restored and still continues to us the sound currency, which we had lost by a refusal to recharter the first ;-notwithstanding all this, there are persons, who, even now, stand ready to reject the whole experience of the past, to give up a National Bank, and throw us back again into the disasters and conflicts of a fluctuating and degraded paper currency. Some of these persons have, or seem to have, metaphysical scruples about the constitutionality of such an institution. But, if the constitutionality of the Bank of the United States is not settled, what is? It has been admitted and acted upon by every administration which has been at the head of our affairs; it has been twice elaborately discussed and decided by Congress, and received their sanction; and it has been repeatedly drawn into controversy in the courts of law, and as repeatedly recognized on appeal by the highest tribunals of the country. In short, the three co-ordinate branches of our government, comprising, of course, the whole of its powers and sanctions, have uniformly, for the space of forty years, either silently sustained or directly asserted the constitutionality of the Bank of the United States. Is it, then, too much to say, that there is not a citizen of our union, who holds a foot of land or a dollar of property, by a safer tenure and right, than the Bank of the United States holds its chartered privileges ?*
But, others, who admit fully its constitutionality, deny that is a useful or valuable institution. How, then, stands this view of the case? Every secretary of the treasury has maintained, not merely its usefulness, but its absolute necessity to the government; and the two wisest and ablest of them, Hamilton and Gallatin, who agreed in political opinion about little else, are found united on this cardinal point; and no small portion of their respective reputations now rests on the distinguished ability with which they have defended it. Besides, is not the utility of the Bank obvious to every man, who will look abroad into the country fairly and independently? No sober man, we believe, can see, how the general government, while there are twenty-four States, with un
* Since the above remarks were written, Mr. Madison's admirable letter to Mr Ingersoll, dated June 25, 1831, has been published. It is marked with all his pecu liar wisdom and power; and, we apprehend, puts at rest the question it discusses.
limited powers for creating Banks, can do common justice to its own affairs without a similar institution. Our revenue is collected by eight or nine thousand persons, scattered over our immense territory, who now remit it to the national treasury, by means of the Bank of the United States, through a safe channel and in a uniform and sound currency. But, what would become of it, if there were no such safe medium? The answer is plain. Each collector, of the eight or nine thousand, would then be left to his own discretion, and to the currency of the part of the country with which he may happen to be connected; the revenue would be wasted away by losses in its tranmissions, and especially by losses in depreciated paper; and the different portions of the country, paying different rates of duty to the government, from their different currencies, would, from this circumstance alone, be speedily brought into controversy and conflict. All this, too, is not only obvious to every one, who will reason on the consequences of what is before his own eyes, but to every one who will recall what has absolutely happened within his own recollection. It is the state of things, into which we were actually brought no longer ago, than in 1814–1816, for want of a national Bank; and, out of which, the present Bank and the treasury, acting under Mr. Webster's resolution of April 30, 1816, have, with great wisdom and with great difficulty, rescued us. The true question, therefore, so far as the usefulness of the Bank is concerned, is, whether, with our eyes open and with full warning and experience of the consequences, we shall voluntarily plunge back again into the confusion, embarrassment, losses, and collisions arising from an unsound currency, out of which we have so recently escaped ?
Some persons, however, have proposed a remedy for this, without resorting to a Bank. Restore, they say very coolly, restore a metallic currency, and put down the State Banks, and let all government transactions be carried on in gold and silver. This, to be sure, would be safe enough, though it would, undoubtedly, be an inconvenient approximation to the institutions of Lycurgus. But before we admit it to be a benefit, there are two questions to be settled :—first; is it desirable to put down the State Banks ?-and, second; is it possible to restore a metallic currency? Every practical and judicious man in the country, we believe, would answer both of them in the negative. The State Banks, when wisely managed, are great public benefits, and, even when ill managed, the States cannot be prevented from establishing them, and will not give up the power to sustain them. And, as to a metallic currency, all the legislation of all the governments in the country could not introduce it, at a less cost, than the universal destruction of enterprise and industry.
What, then, remains ? Unquestionably we must come back to the old and tried remedy of a National Bank. It is the only power, which can, at the same time, sustain and assist the State Banks, when they ought to be upheld, and control them, when they
threaten to become injurious from excessive issues ;-exercising towards them, functions similar to those which the General Government exercises towards the States. This control, too, enjoys the immense advantage of having been tried and found at once kindly and safe in its operations. The whole people of the United States have been witnessing it. They know it works well; and that is all they require. While it continues, and continues under its present excellent and efficient management, the old difficulty of some States with a sound currency, and some with an unsound, by which a part of the citizens should pay their debts to the government in good money and a part of them in money worth 20 per cent. less ;this difficulty, and the vast mischiefs that necessarily follow it, cannot recur. But, take away the Bank, and this vast evil comes back of course. The people of the United States, however, we are persuaded, are not ready to offer this premium on the insolvency of States and State Banks, or to introduce the conflicts between different portions of the country, and the injury to industry and enterprise, that would be its speedy and inevitable consequence.
The question, therefore, must be, not whether any National Bank shall exist; but whether the present one shall be continued, or whether a new one shall be created. We are in favor of the continuance and re-chartering of the present Bank. For, in the first place, its mere existence; its wise and judicious management; the great good it has done, and is doing, are all in favor of its continuance. We are all familiar with it, and know how it operates; we know, it is fulfilling the very purpose for which it was created, and that it is fulfilling them beneficially and effectually. Why, then, destroy it!-In the second place, there would be not a little confusion, embarrassment and injury to different interests, in the intermediate state between the operations of the old Bank and the new one ;—while winding up one concern and opening another ;-and all, too, to change a machine which works well for one which has not been tried. And in the third place, the nation would sustain, at the same time, a severe and needless loss. For the government now owns seven millions of stock in the present Bank, worth this day $130 for each $100. To destroy the present Bank is, to reduce the value of its stock to par ;-that is, so far as the 'nation is concerned, to sink $2.100.000 of national property. But the new Bank may be able and willing to give the same bonus the present one would ;-say $1.500.000, so that the absolute dead loss of this part of the transaction will be $600.000. But then, on the other hand, by continuing the present Bank, the nation gains the $2.100.000 and the bonus besides, or three millions six hundred thousand dollars. The difference, then, between losing $600,000 and making $3.600.000; that is the sum of four millions, two hundred thousand dollars, is the least loss the nation will sustain, in a merely pecuniary point of view, by the change, as any body can understand who is acquainted with common accounts. And all this, too, in order to substitute a machine,
whose operation has not been tried, for one which we know works well.
And what would be gained, or what is proposed to be gained by a change, which should create a new Bank? Nothing but a new set of stockholders. And suppose the new stock to be given to exactly such favorites as the administration, for the time being, might desire, or suppose it to be as much subdivided as possible, and to be carried into the smallest channels of private investment; what would be the consequence? Speculations would at once take place; the stock would be sold and resold; and, just as surely as the principle of gravitation will bring water to its level, just so surely the new stock, like all similar property, would find its way into the hands that have held the old ;--that is, the hands of the capitalists. Thus we should end just as we began; though, probably, not until the Bank itself should have gone through the seasoning of a good deal of mismanagement; and certainly not until individual property should have been much injured, and four millions three hundred thousand dollars of the money of the country sacrificed.
But suppose the present Bank to be re-chartered,-shall any change be made in its chartered rights? Some have thought, the States should have a share in its management. But why so ? The United States have none in the management of the State Banks. The most important object of the United States' Bank is, to exercise a beneficial control over the currency, and thus prevent the State Banks from running into excessive issues of paper, and so degrading it and rendering it unsound. But many of the State Banks, like those of Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina, are the exclusive property of their respective States. Shall, then, these same States have power over the Bank of the United States? It is absurd. The true principle undoubtedly is, to make them, as far as possible, independent of each other; and then they can act on each other only for the benefit of the community.
This, in truth, is the point, upon which the whole question turns or ought to turn ;-What course in relation to the Bank of the United States is most for the benefit of the community; for the benefit of the whole people? Certainly, nothing the national Legislature can do for the Nation, or give to it, or continue to it, is a more direct and important blessing to every individual it contains, than a sound currency. We have it now, we had it not in 1815 and 1816. What lost it to us? The surrender of all control over it by the United States, when the re-chartering of the old Bank was refused. What restored it to us, and placed us where we now are? The resumption and exercise of that control in 1816. Why, then, are men found, who, with such facts as these, which no sophistry can mystify, and such a plain and bitter experience which we all have felt; -why are there men, who wish that all these facts and all this experience should be lost upon us? Let their consciences, their interests, and their passions answer.
But, to return to Mr. Webster ;-it was at this period, 1816, that he determined to change his residence, and, of course, to re
tire, 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 honor. 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 intrusted 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,