« AnteriorContinuar »
struct ions were ever given by the Treasury Department to tender bank notes of any denomination to public creditors or officers; and he says, at the same time, that it was impracticable to pay all the public creditors, especially on the sea-board, in specie, as sufficient could not be collected. The law, therefore, has been plainly one way, and the practice the other. The act of Congress says, no bills not equivalent to specie shall be offered in payment; and I commend this report to the particular and careful perusal of those who suppose they can maintain a specie currency for Government, while they suffer the general paper currency of the country to be depreciated. In my opinion, the state of things detailed in this report is a correct sample, or a foretaste of what we shall experience, on a large scale, when the sub-treasury bill shall have become law, and a nominal specie currency, for revenue purposes, shall have been established. Although the law now existing is precise and positive, that Government officers shall pay all public creditors in specie, or bills equivalent to specie, and shall offer them nothing else, yet the Secretary says that it has been impracticable to obtain specie for this purpose, either of the banks or the merchants; and this he says at a time when there is supposed to be a large quantity of specie in the country. Here, then, is exactly such a state of things as we propose to establish by sub-treasuries and an exclusive specie currency. We see here precisely how the system will work. While there are banks (and banks there will be) the specie will inevitably get into the banks ; and whenever any disaster happens to the banks, so that they suspend specie payments, neither the Government nor the merchants can get the specie out. Dues to Government, therefore, will not be received in specie, and dues from Government will not be paid in specie. On the other hand, if the banks maintain their credit, and redeem their notes in specie on demand, an exclusive specie currency will be useless and unnecessary. The result of all will be, that an exclusive specie currency will be always either unnecessary or impracticable. It will be a superfluity or an impossibility.
The following sums of public money appear, by the Secretary's report, to be now in deposit in that bank:—
1st The sum standing to the credit of the Treasurer of the United States $.TJ>,r?W
2d. Sum reported as standing to the credit of Uie collector 65,941
3d. Amounts to the credit of the late pension agency 154,848
4th. Amount standing to the credit of the commissioners for building the custom-house 70,000
5th. Amount to the credit of Maj. Craig, Ordnance Department 1,119
6th. Amount to credit of the Post OfhVe Department 7,644
7th. Amount to the credit of the Paymaster General 346
Making a total of 9339,537
The Secretary represents these deposits to have been rnade, generally, before the suspension of specie payments; but that $150,000 was received by the bank in October and December last, on drafts which had been issued by the Treasury in favor of the bank before the suspension. No money has been directed to be deposited in the bank since the suspension. It is not stated what security exists for the payment of this large sum, or what is the chance of its payment.
As to the manner in which the lunik paid pensions and bounties, I find attached to the report a letter from the president of the bank, in which he says, that " in all cases where the bills of this bank, or any other bank, have been paid by this bank to pensioners, or their attorneys, they were voluntarily received by them "! The nature of these voluntary receipts of payments, in depreciated paper, has been sufficiently shown by the letter and the affidavit which I have laid before the Senate. The affidavit seems not to be deficient in facts.
The statement is —
^I,Asa Pickering, of Bellingham, in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, residing at present in Boston, as a member of the Legislature, on oath do declare and say, That, on the third day of October now last past, I called at the office of the Pension Agent in the city of Boston, to receive a pension due to my father, Benjamin Pickering, for revolutionary services. He already had on hand a quantity of the bills of the Commonwealth Bank, and instructed me to procure other money, if possible. I called, and was requested to step into a room to make the necessary affidavit, for which I was charged, and paid in specie, twenty-five cents. I then received a check for sixty-three dollars, and was directed to present the check at the opposite counter. I did so, and had tendered to me a fifty dollar bill of the Commonwealth Bank, also a ten and a three dollar bill of the same bank. I declined receiving them, and stated that I wanted something better. I told them at least I wanted a little specie; I should like the thirteen dollars in specie. They told me I must take that or nothing. I asked them for the ten or the three in specie; both were refused. I then asked at least for the twentyfive cents in specie which I had just paid, and it was refused. I then read one of their bills to them, and asked if they would pay old revolutioners in nothing but lies. I was obliged to take their bitls, contrary to my wishes and instructions.
This, too, is a fair specimen of what will happen hereafter, when we shall have, nominally, a system of exclusive specie payments and receipts. Forty statutes could not forbid payments of bank notes more distinctly and peremptorily than the present law forbids all payments in depreciated bank notes. Yet, here it is admitted, both by the disbursing officers and by the Secretary himself, that such depreciated bank notes have been offered in payment and received; although the very offering of them, that is, the act of proposing to make payments in such notes, is in the teeth of the act
of Congress. So it will be hereafter. The law will be positive that nothing but gold and silver shall be offered; yet paper will be offered, and often taken; and just such contests will arise as that which arises in this case ; the Government officers insisting that the paper was voluntarily received, and the party receiving it, on the other hand, insisting, and making oath, that he resisted the receipt of it as long as he could, and took it at last simply because he could get nothing else. I think any man must be short-sighted who docs not perceive that occurrences of this sort will be constantly happening under a system in which the Government uses, or pretends to use, one currency, and the People another.
But, sir, there is another important matter disclosed in this report, to which I wish to call the attention of the Senate.
It is known that during the existence of the Bank of the United States, the United States' pensions were paid by that bank, without cost or charge; and as the bank was a safe depository, no losses happened to Government or to individuals.
When the bank charter expired, Congress was called on to make some other provision for paying pensions, and the act of April 20, 1836, was passed. That act provides that, in future, "payments of pensions shall be made by such persons or corporations as the Secretary of War may direct, but no compensation or allowance shall be made to such persons or corporations for making such payments, without authority of law."
This act was passed under that clause of the Constitution which authorizes Congress, by law, to rest the appointment of such inferior officers as they think proper in the Heads of Departments.
Under this law the Secretary of War appointed these officers, and a list of them has been recently sent by him to the Senate. It will appear from the report from the War Department that, like other disbursing officers, they have been called on to give official bonds; and there is no manner of doubt that, to all intents and purposes, they are officers under the Government of the United States.
But now to their pay. The act of April 20, 1836, creating the office and providing for the appointing of the officer, declares, as I have already said, that no allowance or compensation shall be made to thorn, without authority of law. Now, Congress has passed no further law on the subject; and yet how stands the matter of their p»y? . n .,
It will be remembered that, in 1834, the President, or Secretary of War, before the bank charter expired, undertook to transfer the pension funds from the Bank of the United States to the deposit banks; and on that occasion, those deposit banks were told, as will be seen by this report, that in consideration of the benefit* which they would derive from the deposits, no commission or salary would be allowed.
Tbe same course was adopted after the act of 1836 passed; so that, from that time to the present, pension agents, appointed by the Secretary of War, get their pay by the use of the Government funds in their hands. And I find, by inquiry at the proper source, that the general rule is, to advance the necessary funds six months before they will be needed; so that the agent has the use of the money for that period; and when the time comes for paying it to the pensioners, he pays it, and immediately receives from the Treasury an advance for the next six months; so that he has, the whole year round, the use of a sum of money equal to one half the whole annual amount of pensions paid at his office.
For instance, the whole annual amount of pensions, paid at Boston, is three hundred and twenty thousand dollars, or thereabouts. One half this sum is one hundred and sixty thousand dollars; and the agent, as his compensation for paying the pensions, actually enjoys the use of this sum the whole year.
Suppose the use of the money to be worth six per cent, per annum ; the compensation thus made to the pension agent in Boston is more than nine thousand dollars.
So in New Hampshire, where there are two pension agencies, one at Portsmouth, and one at Concord. At the Portsmouth agency, thirty-three thousand dollars, or thereabouts, is annually paid out. The agent, therefore, has usually on hand the one half of this sum, say fifteen thousand five hundred dollars, the interest of which would be near a thousand dollars.
At the Concord pension office, the amount of annual payments is sixty-six thousand dollars. One half of this sum being usually on hand, the agent receives, for discharging the duties of his office, the use of that one half, say of thirty-three thousand dollars, which, at the rate of six per cent, per annum, amounts to nineteen hundred or two thousand dollars. These sums are taken from official statements, and I believe are correct; and the other general facts are obtained from authentic sources.
It will probably strike the Senate, in the first place, that these rates of compensation are exceedingly large, especially in these days of professed economy and reform; and, in the next place, all will admit that this mode of making compensation is the worst in the world, as it places the funds of the Government every day at hazard. How this mode of making compensation, or this amount of compensation, can be reconciled to the words of the act of Congress, which declare that there shall be no compensation without , authority of law, I hope some gentleman will undertake to explain.
In most cases, but I believe not in all, the list will show these agents are presidents of State banks; but the appointments, nevertheless, are personal appointments, and the banks themselves are not responsible for the agents' fidelity. As I have already said, the agents, like other disbursing officers of Government, give bonds for the due discharge of the duties of their office. I trust, sir, that the Committee on Finance will see the necessity of some further legal provision on this subject.
Since I am speaking on this subject, I will (said Mr. W.) take leave to make a remark or two on a personal matter. The Globe of Saturday, still pursuing a course of meddling with the private concerns of public men, which course,nevertheless, it admits is exceedingly despicable, reiterates charges of my having had paper dishonored at this Commonwealth Bank. The obvious object of all this, as of the former article, it is evident, is to hold out an appearance that I owe the bank, or have owed it in times past. I think it very likely that, by the time this statement of the Globe gets a hundred miles from Washington, it will be so amplified as to represent me as an acknowledged debtor to the bank to a great amount; and, by the time it gets over the mountains, the failure of the bank will be mainly ascribed, very possibly, to its loans to me. I repeat, therefore, that I never owed the bank a dollar, so far as I remember, nor ever had any pecuniary transaction with it whatever.
The statement is, that a bill drawn by me, and accepted, was sent to the bank for collection, and not duly paid by the acceptor. It was of course returned upon the drawer, and duly paid and taken up by him. All this is very unimportant and innocent; but it is stated as if with studious design to represent me as a debtor to the bank; whereas, in the first place, the bank had no interest in it whatever; and, in the second place, it was duly paid by the drawer on the acceptor's neglect. As to any acceptance of my own, sent to that bank for collection, being protested, I never heard of it, to my knowledge. If such a thing happened, it must have been accidental, and owing to some mistake as to the day, which was seasonably corrected. IVor can it be true that any note or bill with my name on it was handed over to another bank on the failure of this Commonwealth Bank, unless it was some dead note or bill which had been already paid to those who were entitled to receive payment. This apparent and obvious purpose of representing me as a debtor to the bank, or as ever having been a borrower at it, is founded in sheer misrepresentation and falsehood.
I perceive that the directors, or officers, of this bank have been busying themselves to help out the statements of the Globe; yet no one of them says I ever owed the bank a dollar in the world; they might, I think, be better employed. It has been stated publicly that these officers have helped themselves to loans, from their own bank, to an amount exceeding the amount of all its capital, and