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until the people do make up their minds, and cause the result of their conclusions to be carried into effect by their representatives, there will be nothing but agitation and uncertainty, confusion and distress, in the commerce and trade of the country.
I shall now (continued Mr. W.) confine myself to a few remarks on the bill before us, and not detain the Senate longer than will be strictly necessary to give a plain statement of my opinion.
This measure is proposed in order to provide for the wants of the Government. I agree that this is a necessary object; but the question is, whether this bill is the proper mode of making such a provision. I do not think it is, though others may think differently: if this is indeed the best mode, I should wish to see it carried into execution; for relief is wanted, both by the Treasury and by the country — but first and chiefly by the country.
I do not say that, by the law providing for this deposit, the States have any fixed right to it; I prefer to put the matter entirely on the footing of convenience and expediency; and when it is considered what expectations have been raised — that this money has even been already disposed of in advance by the several States for different purposes, such as Internal Improvements, Education, and other great objects — it becomes a question of expediency whether it would not be better to supply the wants of the Treasury by other means.
Another consideration of great importance in my view is this: There are already many disturbing causes in operation, agitating the transactions of society in all the various ramifications of business and commerce. Now, I would ask, sir, is it advisable, is it wise, is it even politic, to introduce, at such a time as this, another great disturbing cause, producing a reversed action, altering the destiny of this money, overthrowing contracts now entered into, disappointing expectations raised, disturbing, unsettling, and deranging still more the already deranged business transactions of the whole country? I would ask, is it worth while to do this? I think not.
We are to consider that this money, according to the provisions of the existing law, is to go equally among all the States, and among all the people; and the wants of the Treasury must be supplied, if supplies be necessary, equally by all the people. It is not a question, therefore, whether some shall have money, and others shall make good the deficiency. All partake in the distribution, and all will contribute to the supply. So that it is a mere question of convenience, and, in my opinion it is decidedly most convenient, on all accounts, that this instalment should follow its present destination, and the necessities of the Treasury be provided for by other means.
Again, if you pass this bill, what is it? It is mere brutum fidmen; of itself it will not produce any good if you do pass it. All admit there is no money; therefore the bill will give no relief to the Treasury. This bill, Sir. President, will not produce to the Secretary one dollar; he acknowledges himself that at all events it will not produce him many, for he says he wants other aid, and he has applied to Congress for an issue of some millions in Treasury notes. He gets the money, therefore, just as well without this bill as with it; the bill itself, then, is unnecessary, depriving the States of a sum which the Secretary cannot avail himself of, and which sum, notwithstanding this bill, he proposes to supply by an issue of Government notes.
He calls this collateral aid to the measure of postponement; but this evidently reverses the order of things, for the Treasury notes are his main reliance; to them only he looks for immediate relief; and this instalment now to be withheld is (as a productive source of revenue) only subsequent and collateral to the issue of the notes.
But, now, sir, what sort of notes does the Secretary propose to issue? He proposes, sir, to issue Treasury notes of small denominations, down even as low as twenty dollars, not bearing interest, and redeemable at no fixed period ; they are to be received in debts due to Government, but are not otherwise to be paid until at some indefinite time there shall be a certain surplus in the Treasury beyond what the Secretary may think its wants require. Now, sir, this is plain, authentic, statutable paper money ; it is exactly a new emission of old continental. If the Genius of the old Confederation were now to rise up in the midst of us, he could not furnish us, from the abundant stores of his recollection, with a more perfect model of paper money. It carries no interest; it has no fixed time of payment; it is to circulate as currency; and it is to circulate on the credit of Government alone, with no fixed period of redemption! If this be not paper money, pray, sir, what is it? And, sir, w ho expected this? Who expected that in the fifth vear of the EXPERIMENT FOR REFORMING THE CURRENCY, and bringing it to an absolute gold and silver circulation, the Treasury Department would be found recommending to us a regular emission of PAPER MONEY? This, sir, is quite new in the history of this Government; it belongs to that of the Confederation, which has passed away.
Since 1789, although we had issued Treasury notes on sundry occasions, we had issued none like these; that is to say, we have issued none not bearing interest, intended for circulation, and with no fixed mode of redemption. I am glad, however, Mr. President, that the committee have not adopted the Secretary's recommendation, and that they have recommended the issue of Treasury notes of a description more conformable to the practice of the Government.
I think (said Mr. W.) there are ways by which the deposits with the States might be paid by the funds in the banks; there arc large sums on deposit in some of the States, and an arrangement might be made for the States to receive the notes of their own banks in payment of this instalment, while the Treasury is at the same time relieved by its own measure, and all the inconvenience, disappointment, and disturbance which this bill will necessarily create, would be avoided. At any rate, the payment of this deposit could do no more than in some measure to increase the amount of Treasury notes necessary to be issued; it is a question of quantity merely. Much of the instalment, 1 believe, might be paid by judicious arrangements, out of those funds now in the banks, which the Secretary cannot use for other purposes, so that the whole might be provided for, by no great augmentation of the proposed amount of Treasury notes. 1 am, therefore, of opinion that this instalment should not be withheld: 1st. Because the withholding of it will produce great inconvenience to the States and to the people. 2d. Because provision may be made for paying it without any large addition to the sum which it is proposed to raise, and which, at all events, must be raised for the uses of the Treasury.
In relation to the general subjects of the Message, there is one thing which I intended to have said, but have omitted; it is this. We have seen the declaration of the President, in which he says that he refrains from suggesting any specific plan for the regulation of the exchanges of the country, and for relieving mercantile embarrassments, or for interfering with the ordinary operation of foreign or domestic commerce; and that he does this from a conviction that such measures are not within the constitutional province of the General Government; and yet he hos made a recommendation to Congress which appears to me to be very remarkable; and it is of a measure which he thinks may prove a salutary remedy against a depreciated paper currency. This measure is neither more nor less than a bankrupt law against corporations and other bankers.
Now, Mr. President, it is certainly true that the Constitution authorizes Congress to establish uniform rules on the subject of bankruptcies; but it is equally true, and abundantly manifest, that this power was not granted with any reference to currency questions. It is a general power — a power to make uniform rules on the subject. How is it possible that such a power can be fairly exercised by seizing on corporations and bankers, but excluding all the other usual subjects of bankrupt laws? Besides, do such laws ordinarily extend to corporations at all? But suppose they might be so extended, by a bankrupt law enacted for the usual purposes contemplated by such laws; how can a law be defended which embraces them and bankers alone? I should like to hear what the learned gentleman at the head of the Judiciary Committee, to whom the subject is referred, has to say upon it.
How docs the President's suggestion conform to his notions of the Constitution? The object of bankrupt laws, sir, has no relation to currency. It is simply to distribute the effects of insolvent debtors among their creditors; and I must say, it strikes me that it would be a great perversion of the power conferred on Congress, to exercise it upon corporations and bankers, with the leading and primary object of remedying a depreciated paper currency.
And this appears the more extraordinary, inasmuch as the President is of opimon that the general subject of the currency is not within our province. Bankruptcy, in its common and just meaning, is within our province. Currency, says the Message, is not. But we have a bankruptcy power in the Constitution, and we will use this power, not for bankruptcy, indeed, but for currency. This, I confess, sir, appears to me to be the short statement of the matter. 1 would not do the Message, or its author, any intentional injustice, nor create any apparent, where there was not a real, inconsistency; but 1 declare, in all sincerity, that 1 cannot reconcile the proposed use of the bankrupt power with those opinions of the Message which respect the authority of Congress over the currency of the country.
Mr. Wright having nude fooie remarki—
Mr. Webster said, in reply, if the Act of 1815 authorized the issuing of Treasury notes, no circulation was ever made of such notes as the Secretary now recommends. All Treasury notes went on the ground of a temporary loan to the Government, to be paid or funded as soon as the Treasury would allow.
The member from New York (Mr. Wright) had said that the question before the Senate was a simple proposition, whether they should borrow money to be safely kept with the States. By him, and by olhers, it had also been represented as a question, whether they should borrow money to give away. IVobody, Mr. W. thought, would borrow money merely to give away, or deposit for safe-keeping. But he would put it to the honorable member, if any Government had made a contract, or excited an expectation, that a deposit would be made, and the oiher party had acted on the faith of this assurance, and had nearly completed their arrangements, whether it ought not to supply the means, even if it did not, at the time, possess them. And suppose it was the promise of a gift, instead of a deposit, might it not be found more just to borrow, than to defeat the expectation on which the other party had acted? What was the object of this bill? It was not to repeal, but to postpone what was hereafter to be fulfilled. Such being the case, it was doubtful whether it could ever be transferred to the States with more convenience than it could now from the banks.
During the late war there was great want of money, and a great disposition to use Treasury notes, and pass them as a medium of payment to the public creditors. But in the difficulties and embarrassments of a foreign war, things were done, which, in a day of peace and abundance, we should be slow to do. And one thing which we should be slow to do was, to propose by law that we should pay the public creditors any thing less in value than gold and silver, on the condition that the creditors would voluntarily take it. The Secretary had said that the protested checks now in circulation were only a little depreciated below the value of specie, and argues that these notes will be as good at least as the protested checks. But suppose these notes should be depreciated only a little below the value of silver; was it proposed that they should be offered to the public creditors, if they would receive them? What was meant when it was said that the officers of the Government may pay its creditors in Treasury notes, if they will voluntarily receive them? What was the alternative? Were the gold and silver held in one hand, and the Treasury notes in the other? On the contrary, it was a sort of forced payment, not as good as was required by law. All knew there was no choice. The men who labored in the streets of this city, on the public works, or who furnished the bricks and stones, would come for their pay, and they would be offered Treasury notes, and asked if they were willing to take them. But would there be gold and silver in the other hand? No; nothing but the Treasury notes, and they would be asked if they were willing to take them ; and then, if they should take them, that is called voluntary reception.
Now, it is evident that in such a case the only choice is between Treasury notes, on the one hand, and something worse, or nothing at all, on the other. No man can be supposed to receive voluntarily any thing of less value than that which he is legally entitled to. The reception of such inferior medium is always the result of force or necessity, either greater or smaller. Neither the justice nor the dignity of the Government could ever allow of such a course. If Treasury notes were offered to the public creditor, there ought to be an actual choice afforded between them and the specie. And especially, with what an aspect could this Government offer such payment, at the very moment when, with a stern countenance and iron hand, it was demanding of its creditors metallic money for every dollar of its dues? Was it not now the law that no officer of the Government should offer the public creditor any thing less in value than specie? Mr. W. thought, therefore, that the notes proposed by the committee were better than those recommended by the Secretary. He was in favor of that system which would put the public creditor in no such selection as between paper and nothing. Vol. in. 25 q.