« AnteriorContinuar »
in as ample a manner as it was before possessed. All persons, though United States' officers, are liable to a poll tax by the states within which they reside. The lands of the United States are liable to the usual land tax, except in the new states, from whom agreements that they will not tax unsold lands are exacted when they are admitted into the Union ; horses, wagons, any beasts or vehicles, tools or property belonging to private citizens, though employed in the service of the United States, are subject to state taxation. Every private business, whether carried on by an officer of the general government or not, whether it be mixed with the public concerns or not, even if it be carried on by the United States itself, separately or in partnership, falls within the scope of the taxing power of the state. Nothing comes more fully within it than banks, and the business of banking, by whomsoever instituted and carried on. Over this whole subject matter, it is just as absolute, unlimited, and uncontrollable, as if the constitution never had been adopted, because in the formation of that instrument, it was reserved without qualification.
The principle is conceded that the states cannot rightfully tax the operations of the general government. They cannot tax the money of the government deposited in the state banks, nor the agency of those banks in remitting it; but will any man maintain that their mere selection to perform this public service for the general government, would exempt the state banks and their ordinary business from state taxation ? Had the United States, instead of establishing a bank at Philadelphia, employed a private banker to keep and transmit their funds, would it have deprived Pennsylvania of the right to tax his bank and his usual banking operations? It will not be pretended. Upon what principle, then, are the banking establishments of the Bank of the United States, and their usual banking operations, to be exempted from taxation ? It is not their public agency or the deposits of the government which the states claim a right to tax, but their banks, and their banking powers, instituted and exercised within state jurisdiction for their private emolument, those powers and privileges for which they pay a bonus, and which the states tax
in their own banks. The exercise of these powers within a state, no matter by whom, or under what authority, whether by private citizens in their original right, by corporate bodies created by the states, by foreigners, or the agents of foreign governments located within their limits, forms' a legitimate object of state taxation. From this and like sources, from the persons, property, and business that are found residing, located, or carried on under their jurisdiction, must the states, since the surrender of their right to raise a revenue from imports and exports, draw all the money necessary for the support of their governments and the maintenance of their independence. There is no more appropriate subject of taxation than banks, banking, and bank stocks, and none to which the states ought more pertinaciously to cling.
It cannot be “necessary” to the character of the bank as a fiscal agent of the government, that its private business should be exempted from that taxation to which all state banks are liable; nor can I conceive it "proper" that the substantive and most essential powers reserved by the states shall be thus attacked and annihilated as a means of executing the powers delegated to the general government. It may be safely assumed that none of those sages who had an agency in forming or adopting our constitution, ever imagined that any portion of the taxing power of the states, not prohibited to them nor delegated to Congress, was to be swept away and annihilated, as a means of executing certain powers delegated to Congress.
If our power over means is so absolute that the Supreme Court will not call in question the constitutionality of an act of Congress, the subject of which " is not prohibited, and is really calculated to effect any of the objects intrusted to the government,” although, as in the case before
me, it takes away powers expressly granted to Congress, and rights scrupulously reserved to the states, it becomes us to proceed in our legislation with the utmost caution. Though not directly, our own powers and the rights of the states may be indirectly legislated away in the use of means to execute substantive powers.
We may not enact that Congress shall not have the
exclusive legislation over the District of Columbia, but we may pledge the faith of the United States that, as means of executing other powers, it shall not be exercised for twenty years, or forever. We may not pass an prohibiting the states to tax the banking business carried on within their limits, but we may, as a means of executing power over other objects, place that business in the hands of our agents, and then declare it exempt from state taxation in their hands. Thus may our own powers and the rights of the states, which we cannot directly curtail or invade, be frittered away and extinguished in the use of means employed by us to execute other powers. That a Bank of the United States, competent to all the duties which may be required by the government, might be so organized as not to infringe on our own delegated powers, or the reserved rights of the states, I do not entertain a doubt. Had the executive been called upon to furnish the project of such an institution, the duty would have been cheerfully performed. In the absence of such a call, it is obviously proper that he should confine himself to pointing out those prominent features in the act presented, which, in his opinion, make it incompatible with the constitution and sound policy. A general diseussion will now take place, eliciting new light, and settling important principles ; and a new Congress, elected in the midst of such discussion, and furnishing an equal representation of the people according to the last census,
will bear to the capitol the verdict of public opinion, and, I doubt not, bring this important question to a satisfactory result.
Under such circumstances, the bank comes forward and asks a renewal of its charter for a term of fifteen years, upon conditions which not only operate as a gratuity to the stockholders of many millions of dollars, but will sanction any abuses and legalize any encroachments.
Suspicions are entertained, and charges are made, of gross abuse and violation of its charter. An investigation unwillingly conceded, and so restricted in time as necessarily to make it incomplete and unsatisfactory, disclosed enough to excite suspicion and alarm. In the practices of the principal bank partially unveiled, in the absence of
important witnesses, and in numerous charges confidently made, and as yet wholly uninvestigated, there was enough to induce a majority of the committee of investigation, a committee which was selected from the most able and honorable members of the House of Representatives, to recommend a suspension of further action upon the bill, and a prosecution of the inquiry. As the charter had yet four years to run, and as a renewal now was not necessary to the successful prosecution of its business, it was to have been expected that the bank itself, conscious of its purity, and proud of its character, would have withdrawn its application for the present, and demanded the severest scrutiny into all its transactions. In their declining to do so, there seems to be an additional reason why the functionaries of the government should proceed with less haste and more caution in the renewal of their monopoly.
The bank is professedly established as an agent of the executive branches of the government, and its constitutionality is maintained on that ground. Neither upon the propriety of present action, nor upon the provisions of this act, was the executive consulted. It has had no opportunity to say that it neither needs nor wants an agent clothed with such powers, and favored by such exemptions. There is nothing in its legitimate functions which makes it necessary or proper. Whatever interest or influence, whether public or private, has given birth to this act, it cannot be found either in the wishes or necessities of the executive department, by which present action is deemed premature, and the powers
its agent not only unnecessary, but dangerous to the government and country.
It is to be regretted that the rich and powerful too often bend the acts of government to their selfish purposes. Distinctions in society will always exist under every just government. Equality of talents, of education, or of wealth, cannot be produced by human institutions. In the full enjoyment of the gifts of Heaven, and the fruits of superior industry, economy, and virtue, every man is equally entitled to protection by law. But when the laws undertake to add to these natural and just advantages, artificial distinctions, to grant titles, gratuities, and ex
clusive privileges, to make the rich richer, and the potent more powerful, the humble members of society, the farmers, mechanics, and laborers, who have neither the time nor the means of securing like favors to themselves, have a right to complain of the injustice of their government. There are no necessary evils in government. Its evils exist only in its abuses. If it would confine itself to equal protection, and, as Heaven does its rains, shower its favors alike on the high and the low, the rich and the poor, it would be an unqualified blessing. In the act before me, there seems to be a wide and unnecessary departure from these just principles.
Nor is our government to be maintained, or our Union preserved, by invasion of the rights and powers of the several states. In thus attempting to make our general government strong, we make it weak. Its true strength consists in leaving individuals and states, as much as possible, to themselves; in making itself felt, not in its power, but in its beneficence; not in its control, but in its protection; not in binding the states more closely to the centre, but leaving each to move unobstructed in its
Experience should teach us wisdom. Most of the difficulties our government now encounters, and most of the dangers which impend over our Union, have sprung from an abandonment of the legitimate objects of government by our national legislation, and the adoption of such principles as are imbodied in this act. Many of our rich men have not been content with equal protection and equal benefits, but have besought us to make them richer by act of Congress. By attempting to gratify their desires, we have, in the results of our legislation, arrayed section against section, interest against interest, and man against man, in a fearful commotion, which threatens to shake the foundations of our Union. It is time to pause in our career, to review our principles, and, if possible, revive that devoted patriotism and spirit of compromise which distinguished ihe sages of the revolution and the fathers of our Union. If we cannot at once, in justice to the interests vested under improvident legislation, make our government what it ought to be, we can at least take a