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woollen fabrics, on which, in my opinion, the duties ought to be raised. I would not hasten, indeed, the discussion of the general tariff question; but that question is now before us, not far off, and must soon be upon us.
Mr. President, our imports, the last year, reached the unprecedented amount of one hundred and fifty-seven millions of dollars, exceeding by nearly fifty millions the import of the year before. Yet even this seems not to satisfy us all. Public men appear to have ruling passions or strong tendencies of preference toward particular objects. It seems to me that our Government, and many of our people, have imbibed an extravagant and morbid love of importation. They seem to judge of the prosperity of the country, and the happiness of its people, exclusively by the quantities of foreign merchandise which they annually consume. With all respect, the President himself, I think, has feelings with this tendency. 1 find this paragraph in his last annual Message: —
"Our people will not long be insensible to the extent of the burdens entailed upon them by the false system that has been operating on their sanguine, energetic, and industrious character, nor to the means necessary to extricate themselves from these embarrassments. The weight which presses upon a large portion of the People and the States, is an enormous debt, foreign and domestic. The foreign debt of our States, corporations, and men of business, can scarcely be less than two hundred millions of dollars, requiring more than ten millions of dollars a year to pay the interest. This sum has to be paid out of the exports of the country, and must, of necessity, cut off imports to that extent, or plunge the country more deeply in debt from year to year. It is easy to see that the increase of this foreign debt must augment the annual demand on the exports to pay the interest, and to the same extent diminish the imports; and in proportion to the enlargement of the foreign debt, and the consequent increase of interest, must be the decrease of the import trade. In lieu of the comforts which it now brings us, we might have our gigantic banking institutions, and splendid, but in many instances profitless, railroads and canals, absorbing, to a great extent, in interest upon the capital borrowed to construct them, the surplus fruits of national industry for years to come, and securing to posterity no adequate return for the comforts which the labors of their hands might otherwise have secured."
Now, Sir, I would ask, most respectfully, whether any one can mention any railroad or canal more profitless to the country than this enormous importation of foreign luxuries. Or, I would ask, what those imported comforts are, of which we get so much less than we ought to desire. Does our comfort require a greater importation of silks or wines? Or should we be better off by adding to the six or eight millions of imported woollen fabrics, further to depress and distress our own manufactures? Or is the aggregate of one hundred and fifty-seven millions of dollars, of imported merchandise, not enough, on the whole, to satisfy our eager appetite for foreign productions? Inasmuch as we lay and collect no duties on silks and wines, we arc likely to fall short of sufficient revenue; inasmuch as we are likely to fall short of revenue, we refuse all appropriations to the Cumberland road, and to harbors on the lakes. It would seem to follow, from this, that we deem silks and wines more a necessity of life than a good road through a new country, or ports and havens, in which ships, employed in useful commerce, can take shelter for the preservation of lives and property.
Mr. President, it is remarkable that this spirit for importation should become so strong, just when our own occupations and employments are most depressed. The cotton manufactures, practically, are in a worse state than they have been for twenty years. It is supposed that at least one half the woollen machinery in the United States has ceased to work, and many of the establishments might be purchased at one third their cost. The iron trade and the coal trade suffer with the rest. If the condition of Eastern and Northern manufactures be as I have stated, I doubt whether one would receive much more favorable accounts, if he were to inquire into the condition of trade and business at Pittsburg, at Wheeling, or at Cincinnati.
Under the circumstances of the country, Sir, I confess I do not comprehend how any man should desire to see a greater importation of foreign commodities.
The Secretary of the Treasury expresses sentiments, if not entirely like those which I have been considering, yet such as seem to belong to the same general system of policy. He says in bis annual report,—
"Should the States not speedily suspend more of their undertakings, which are unproductive, but, by new loans or otherwise, find means to employ armies of laborers in consuming rather than raising crops, and should prices thus continue, in many cases, to be unnaturally inflated, as they have been of late years, in the face of a contracting currency, the effect of it on our finances will be still more to lessen exports, and, consequently, the prosperity and revenue of our foreign trade."
Foreign trade is here presented as the prominent object of national pursuit, and a reduction of prices at home clearly intimated as a measure of reform. Those armies of laborers now employed on public works, it is here distinctly recommended, instead of thus consuming crops, should go to raising them. This, I think, is rather cold comfort, at the present prices of agricultural products.
Gentlemen around me know the prices at which wheat and flour are selling in the North-Western States, and in Pennsylvania and New York. Carolina corn, I notice, is selling in Boston for fifty cents a bushel. I doubt whether any of the producers think these prices unnaturally inflated, or whether they will warmly sympathize with the Secretary in the opinion that there ought to be further reduction.
Mr. President, my own opinion of our condition, and of our true policy, is quite different from all this. I hope the States will be able to go on, and that they will go on, with their public works, unless in cases where the objects are plainly beyond the ability of the State. I hope they will keep good heart, use the strictest economy, persevere, and not lose the benefit of all they have done already.
I am for bringing about no reduction in the price of labor. On the other hand, I regard high rates of labor as the surest proofe of general prosperity.
I have no desire to see a greater or more unrestrained importation of foreign goods.
On the contrary, I am for laying a tax on imported luxuries, thus securing an adequate revenue to Government.
And with this revenue I am for defraying the ordinary expenses of Government, making reasonable provisions for unexpected contingencies, and for accomplishing important and useful works, for which we have been so much solicited, and which, in my opinion, the several parts of the country have a right to call on us not longer to neglect.
Vol. in. 56
IN THE SENATE OF THE UNITED STATES, MAY 18, 1840, ON THE PROPOSED AMENDMENT TO THE BANKRUPT BILL.
I Feel a deep and anxious concern for the success of this bill, and, in rising to address the Senate, my only motive is a sincere desire to answer objections which have been made to it, so far as I may be able, and to urge the necessity and importance of its passage. Fortunately, it is a subject which does not connect itself with any of the party contests of the day; and although it would not become me to admonish others, yet I have prescribed it as a rule to myself, that, in attempting to forward the measure, and to bring it to a successful termination, I shall seek no party ends, no party influence, no party advancement. The subject, so far as I am concerned, shall be sacred from the intrusion of all such objects and purposes. I wish to treat this occasion, and this highly-important question, as a green spot, in the midst of the fiery deserts of party strife, on which all may meet harmoniously and amicably, and hold common counsel for the common good.
The power of Congress over the subject of bankruptcies—the most useful mode of exercising the power under the present circumstances of the country — and the duty of exercising it — are the points to which attention is naturally called by every one who addresses the Senate.
In the first place, as to the power. It is fortunately not an inferred or constructive power, but one of the express grants of the Constitution. "Congress shall have power to establish uniform laws on the subject of bankruptcies throughout the United States." These are the words of the grant; there may be questions about the extent of the power, but there can be none of its existence.
The bill which has been reported by the committee provides for voluntary bankruptcies only. It contains no provisions by which creditors, on an alleged act of bankruptcy, may proceed against their debtors, with a view to subject them and their property to the operation of the law. It looks to no coercion by a creditor to make his debtor a subject of the law against his will. This is the first characteristic of the bill, and in this respect it certainly differs from the former bankrupt laws of the United States, and from the English bankrupt laws.
The bill, too, extends its provisions not only to those who, either in fact or in contemplation of law, are traders, but to all persons who declare themselves insolvent, or unable to pay their debts and meet their engagements, and who desire to assign their property for the benefit of their creditors. In this respect, also, it differs from the former law, and from the law of England.
The questions, then, are two: 1st. Can Congress constitutionally pass a bankrupt law which shall include other persons besides traders? 2d. Can it pass a law providing for voluntary cases only; that is, cases in which the proceedings originate only with the debtor himself?
The consideration of both these questions is necessarily involved in the discussion of the present bill, inasmuch as it has been denied that Congress has power to extend bankrupt laws farther than to merchants and traders, or to make them for voluntary cases only. This limitation in the power of Congress is asserted on the idea that the framers of the Constitution, in conferring the power of establishing bankrupt laws, must be presumed to have had reference to the bankrupt laws of England, as then existing; and that the laws of England, then existing, embraced none but merchants and traders, and provided only for involuntary or coercive bankruptcies.
Wow, Sir, in the first place, allow me to remark, that the power is granted to Congress in the most general and comprehensive terms. It has one limitation only, which is, that laws on the subject of bankruptcies shall be uniform throughout the United States. With this qualification, the whole subject is placed in the discretion and under the legislation of Congress. The Constitution does not say that Congress shall have power to pass a bankrupt law, nor to introduce the system of bankruptcies. It declares that Congress shall have power to " establish uniform laws on the subject of bankruptcies throughout the United States." This is the whole clause; nor is there any limitation or restriction imposed by any other clause.
What, then, is " the subject of bankruptcies " ? or, in other words, what are " bankruptcies "? It is to be remembered that the Constitution grants the powers to Congress by particular or specific enumeration; and, in making this enumeration, it mentions bankruptcies as a head of legislation, or as one of the subjects over which Congress is to possess authority. Bankruptcies are the subject, and the word is most certainly to be taken in its common and popular sense; in that sense in which the people may be supposed to have understood it, when they ratified the Constitution. This is the true rule of interpretation. And 1 may remark that it is always a little dangerous, in construing the Constitution, to search for the opinions or understanding of members of the Convention in any