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ment for debt. The acts of bankruptcy, according to the British statute, are very much like those in this bill. But a trader may declare himself insolvent, and thereupon a commission may issue against him; and that is supposed to be now the common course. Creditors will seldom, if ever, use this power. A creditor, desirous of proceeding against his debtor for payment or security, naturally acts for himself alone. He arrests bis person, attaches his property, if the law allows that to be done, or gets security for his own debt the best way he can, leaving others to look out for themselves. Concert among creditors, in such cases, is not necessary, and is uncommon; and a single creditor, acting for himself only, is much more likely to take other means for the security of his debt than that of putting his debtor into bankruptcy. Nevertheless, I admit there are possible cases in which the power might be useful. I admit it would be well if creditors could sometimes stop the career of their debtors; and, if the honorable member from New York, or any other gentleman, can frame a clause for that purpose, at once efficient and safe, I shall vote for it. Even as these clauses now stand, I should prefer to have them in the bill; my original proposition having been, as is well known, that there should be both compulsory and voluntary bankruptcy; and I vote now to strike the provision out, only because others, I find, object to it, and because I do not think it of any great importance.
I proceed, Sir, to take some notice of the remarks of the honorable member from New York; and what I have first to say is, that his speech appeared to me to be a speech against the whole bill, rather than a speech in favor of retaining the compulsory clause. He pointed out the evils that might arise from the voluntary part of the bill; but every one of them might arise, too, under the other part. He spoke of the hardship to creditors in New York, — that they should be obliged to take notice of the insolvency of their debtors in the Western States, and to go thither to prove their debts, or resist the discharge. But this hardship, certainly, is no greater when the Western debtor declares himself bankrupt, than when he commits an act of bankruptcy, on which some Western creditor sues out a commission against him.
All the other inconveniences, dangers, or hardships to creditors, which the honorable gentleman enumerated, were, in like manner, as far as I recollect, as likely to arise when a creditor puts the debtor into bankruptcy, as when he puts himself in. The gentleman's argument, therefore, is an argument against the whole bill. He thinks Eastern creditors of Western debtors will be endangered, because State Legislatures, in States where debtors live, as well as commissioners, assignees, &c., will have all their sympathies on the side of the debtors. Why, Sir, State Legislatures will have nothing to do with the matter, under this bill; and as to the rest, how is it
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now? Are not creditors, now in the power of local administrations, affected, in all respects, by these same sympathies ? Are there no instances, indeed, and is there no danger of laws staying process, embarrassing remedies, or otherwise interrupting the regular course of legal collection ? For my own part, I cannot doubt that a New York merchant, learning that his debtor in the South or West was in insolvent or failing circumstances, would prefer that his affairs should be settled in bankruptcy, in the courts of the United States, much sooner than he should settle them himself, paying whom he pleased, and disposing of his property according to his own will, or under the administration of the insolvent laws of the State.
The gentleman seemed to fear that, if Western traders may make themselves bankrupts, New York merchants will be shy of them, and that Western credit will be impaired or checked. Perhaps there would be no great harm if this should be so. A little more caution might not be unprofitable ; but the answer to all such suggestions is, that the bill applies only to cases of insolvents, actual, real insolvents; and, when traders are actually insolvent, the sooner it is known the better, nine times out of ten. Nor do I feel any alarm for our mercantile credit abroad, which has awakened the fears of the gentleman. What can foreign merchants suppose better for them than such an administration of the effects of debtors here, as that, if there be foreign creditors, they shall be sure of a just and equal dividend, without preference either to creditors at home or endorsers ? It is not long since, in some of the States, I hope it is not so any where now, — that creditors within the State had preference over creditors out of it. And, if we look to other countries, do we find that well-administered systems of bankruptcy enfeeble or impair mercantile credit? Is it so in regard to England, or to France ?
The honorable member feels alarm, too, lest the banks should be great sufferers under the operation of this bill. He is apprehensive that, if it shall pass, very many debtors of the banks will become bankrupts, pay other creditors, more or less, and pay the banks nothing. Sir, this is not according to my observation. Bank debts are usually preferred debts, because they are debts secured by endorsement. But, by mentioning the case of the banks, the gentleman has suggested ideas which I have long entertained, and which I am glad of this opportunity to express briefly, though I shall not dwell on them.
Sir, a great part of the credit of the country is bank credit. A great part of all endorsement and suretiship is bank endorsement and bank suretiship. I do not speak particularly of the great cities; I speak of the country generally. Now, endorsement, as I have already said, rests on the idea of preference. And, if we
take away preference, do we not diminish bank endorsement and bank accommodation ? And do we not, in this way, act directly on the quantity of bank paper issued for circulation? Do we not keep the issues of paper nearer to the real wants of society? This view of the case might be pressed and amplified. There is much in it, if I am not mistaken. For the present, I only suggest it; but he who shall consider the subject longest, and deepest, will be most thoroughly convinced that, in this respect, as well as others, the abolition of preference to endorsers will act beneficially to the public.
The immediate motion before the Senate, Mr. President, does not justify a further extension of my observations on this part of the case. My object has been to prove that this bill is not one-sided, is not a bill for debtors only, but is, what it ought to be, a bili making just, honest, and reasonable provisions for the distribution of the effects of insolvents among their creditors; and that the voluntary part of the bill alone secures all these principal objects, because, in the great and overruling motive of obtaining a discharge, it holds out an object to debtors, who know themselves to be insolvent, to stop, to stop seasonably, to assign honestly, and to conform, in good faith, to all the provisions intended for the security of their creditors.
DELIVERED AT THE GREAT MASS-MEETING AT SARATOGA,
NEW YORK, AUGUST 19, 1840.
We are, my friends, in the midst of a great movement of the people. That a revolution in public sentiment on some important questions of public policy has begun, and is in progress, it is vain to attempt to conceal, and folly to deny. What will be the extent of this revolution - what its immediate effects upon political men and political measures — what ultimate influence it may have on the integrity of the Constitution, and the permanent prosperity of the country, remains to be seen. Meantime, no one can deny that an extraordinary excitement exists in the country, such as has not been witnessed for more than half a century — not local, nor confined to any two or three, or ten States, but pervading the whole, from North to South, and from East to West, with equal force and intensity. For an effect so general, a cause of equal extent must exist. No cause, local or partial, can produce consequences so general and universal. In some parts of the country, indeed, local causes may in some degree add to the flame; but no local cause, nor any number of local causes, can account for the general excited state of the public mind.
In portions of the country devoted to agriculture and manufactures, we hear complaints of want of market and of low prices. Yet there are other portions of the country which are consumers, and not producers, of food and manufactures ; and, as purchasers, they should, it would seem, be satisfied with the low prices of which the sellers complain ; but in these portions, too, of the country, there is dissatisfaction and discontent. Every where, there is complaining and a desire for change.
There are those who think this excitement among the people transitory and evanescent. I am not of that opinion. So far as I can judge, attention to public affairs among the people of the United States has increased, is increasing, and is not likely to be diminished; and this not in one part of the country, but all over it. This certainly is the fact, if we may judge from recent information. The breeze of popular excitement is blowing every where. It sans the air in Alabama and the Carolinas; and I am of opinion, that
when it shall cross the Potomac, and range along the northern Alleghanies, it will grow stronger and stronger, until, mingling with the gales of the Empire State, and the mountain blasts of New England, it will blow a perfect hurricane.
There are those, again, who think these vast popular meetings are got up by effort ; but I say that no effort could get them up, and no effort can keep them down. There must, then, be some general cause that animates the whole country. What is that cause? It is upon this point I propose to give my opinion to-day. I have no design to offend the feelings of any, but I mean in perfect plainness to express my views to the vast multitude assembled around. I know there are among them many who from first to last supported General Jackson. I know there are many who, if conscience and patriotism had permitted, would support his successor ; and I should ill repay the attention with which they may honor me by any reviling or denunciation. Again, I come to play no part of oratory before you. If there have been times and occasions in my life when I might be supposed anxious to exhibit myself in such a light, that period has passed, and this is not one of the occasions. I come to dictate and prescribe to no man. If my experience, not now short, in the affairs of government, entitle my opinions to any respect, those opinions are at the service of my fellow-citizens. What I shall state as facts, I hold myself and my character responsible for ; what I shall state as opinions, all are alike at liberty to reject or to receive. I ask such consideration for them only as the fairness and sincerity with which they are uttered may claim.
What, then, has excited the whole land, from Maine to Georgia, and gives us assurance that while we are meeting here in New York in such vast numbers, other like meetings are holding throughout all the States ? That this cause must be general, is certain, for it agitates the whole country, and not parts only.
When that Auid in the human system indispensable to life becomes disordered, corrupted, or obstructed in its circulation, not the head or the heart alone suffers, but the whole body — head, heart, and hand, all the members, and all the extremities — is affected with debility, paralysis, numbness, and death. The analogy between the human system and the social and political system, is complete; and what the life-blood is to the former, circulation, money, currency, is to the latter; and if that be disordered or corrupted, paralysis must fall on the system.
The original, leading, main cause, then, of all our difficulties and disasters, is the disordered state of the circulation. This is, perhaps, not a perfectly obvious truth; and yet it is one susceptible of easy demonstration. In order to explain this the more readily, 1 wish to bring your minds to the consideration of the internal condition, and the vast domestic trade, of the United States. Our