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IN THE SENATE OF THE UNITED STATES, ON THE SPECIE
CIRCULAR, DECEMBER 21, 1836.
The Senate having again proceeded to the order of the day, which was the consideration of the following resolutions, heretofore moved by Mr. Ewing, of Ohio:
“ Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives, &c., That the Treasury order of the eleventh day of July, Anno Domini one thousand eight hundred and thirty-six, designating the funds which should be receivable in payment for public lands, be, and the same is hereby, rescinded.
Resolved, also, That it shall not be lawful for the Secretary of the Treasury to delegate to any person, or to any corporation, the power of directing what funds shall be receivable for customs, or for the public lands; nor shali he make any discrimination in the funds so receivable, between different individuals, or between the different branches of the public revenue.”
Mr. WEBSTER addressed the Senate as follows:
Mr. PRESIDENT: The power of disposing of this important subject is in the hands of gentlemen, both here and elsewhere, who are not likely to be influenced by any opinions of mine. I have no motive, therefore, for addressing the Senate, but to discharge a public duty, and to fulfil the expectations of those who look to me for opposition, whether availing or unavailing, to whatever I believe to be illegal or injurious to the public interests. In both these respects, the Treasury order of the Ilth of July appears to me objectionable. I think it not warranted by law, and I think it also practically prejudicial. I think it has contributed not a little to the pecuniary difficulties under which the whole country has been, and still is, laboring; and that its direct effect on one particular part of the country is still more decidedly and severely unfavorable.
The Treasury order, or Treasury circular, of the 11th of July last, is addressed by the Secretary to the receivers of public money, and to the deposit banks. It instructs these receivers and these banks, after the 15th day of August then next, to receive in payment of the public lands nothing except what is directed by existing laws, viz. gold and silver, and, in the proper cases, Virginia land scrip; provided, that till the 15th of December then next, the same VOL. 111.
indulgence heretofore extended, as to the kind of money received, may be continued, for any quantity of land not exceeding three hundred and twenty acres, to each purchaser who is an actual settler or bona fide resident in the State where the sales are made.
The exception in favor of Virginia scrip is founded on a particular act of Congress, and makes no part of the general question. It is not necessary, therefore, to refer further to that exception. The substance of the general instruction is, that nothing but gold and silver shall be received in payment for public lands; provided, however, that actual settlers and bona fide residents in the States where the sales are made may purchase in quantities not exceeding three hundred and twenty acres each, and be allowed to pay as heretofore. But this provision was limited to the 15th day of December, which has now passed; so that, by virtue of this order, gold and silver are now required of all purchasers and for all quantities.
I am very glad that a resolution to rescind this order has been thus early introduced; and I am glad, too, since the resolution is to be opposed, that opposition comes early, in a bold, unequivocal, and decided form. The order, it seems, is to be defended as being both legal and useful. Let its defence then be made.
The honorable member from Missouri (Mr. BENTON) objects even to giving the resolution to rescind a second reading. He avails himself of his right, though it be not according to general practice, to arrest the progress of the measure at its first stage. This, at least, is open, bold, and manly warfare.
The honorable member, in his elaborate speech, founds his opposition to this resolution, and his support of the Treasury order, on those general principles respecting currency, which he is known to entertain, and which he has maintained for many years. His opinions some of us regard as altogether ultra and impracticable ; looking to a state of things not desirable in itself, even if it were practicable, and if it were desirable, as being far beyond the power of this Government to bring about.
The honorable member has manifested much perseverance, and abundant labor, most -undoubtedly, in support of his opinions; he is understood, also, to have had countenance from high places; and what new hopes of success the present moment holds out to him, I am not able to judge, but we shall probably soon see. It is precisely on these general and long-known opinions that he rests his support of the Treasury order. A question, therefore, is at once raised between the gentleman's principles and opinions, on the subject of the currency, and the principles and opinions which have generally prevailed in the country, and which are, and have been, entirely opposite to his. That question is now about to be put to the vote of the Senate. In the progress, and by the termination of
this discussion, we shall learn whether the gentleman's sentiments are, or are not, to prevail, so far, at least, as the Senate is concerned. The country will rejoice, I am sure, to see some declaration of the opinions of Congress on a subject about which so much has been said, and which is so well calculated, by its perpetual agitation, to disquiet and disturb the confidence of society.
We are now fast approaching the day when one administration goes out of office, and another is to come in. The country has an interest in learning as soon as possible whether the new administration, while it receives the power and patronage, is to inherit, also, the topics, and the projects, of the past; whether it is to keep up the avowal of the same objects and the same schemes, especially in regard to the currency. The order of the Secretary is prospective, and, on the face of it, perpetual. Nothing in or about it gives it the least appearance of a temporary measure. On the contrary, its terms imply no limitation in point of duration, and the gradual manner in which it is to come into operation shows plainly an intention of making it the settled and permanent policy of Government. Indeed, it is but now beginning its complete existence. It is only five or six days since its full operation has commenced. Is it to stand, as the law of the land and the rule of the Treasury, under the administration which is to ensue? And are those notions of an exclusive specie currency, and opposition to all banks, on which it is defended, to be espoused and maintained by the new administration, as they have been by its predecessor? These are questions, not of mere curiosity, but of the highest interest to the whole country.
In considering this order, the first thing naturally is to look for the causes which led to it, or are assigned for its promulgation. And these, on the face of the order itself, are declared to be “complaints which have been made of frauds, speculations, and monopolies in the purchase of the public lands, and the aid which is said to be given to effect these objects by excessive bank credits, and dangerous, if not partial, facilities through bank drafts and bank deposits, and the general evil influence likely to result to the public interest, and especially the safety of the great amount of money in the Treasury, and the sound condition of the currency of the country, from the further exchange of the national domain in this manner, and chiefly for bank credits and paper money.”
This is the catalogue of evils to be cured by this order. In what these frauds consist, what are the monopolies complained of, or what is precisely intended by these injurious speculations, we are not informed. All is left on the general surmise of fraud, speculation, and monopoly. It is not avowed, or intimated, that the Government has sustained any loss, either by the receipt of bank notes, which proved not to be equivalent to specie, or in any other way. And it is not a little remarkable, that these evils of fraud, speculation, and monopoly should have become so enormous, and so notorious, on the 11th of July, as to require this Executive interference for their suppression, and yet that they should not have reached such a height as to make it proper to lay the subject before Congress, although Congress remained in session until within seven days of the date of the order. And what makes this circumstance still more remarkable, is the fact that in bis annual message at the commencement of the same session, the President had spoken of the rapid sales of the public lands as one of the most gratifying proofs of the general prosperity of the country, without suggesting that any danger whatever was to be apprehended from fraud, speculation, or monopoly. His words were, “ Among the evidences of the increasing prosperity of the country, not the least gratifying is that afforded by the receipts from the sales of the public lands, which amount, in the present year, to the unexpected sum of $ 11,000,000." From the time of the delivery of that message down to the date of the Treasury order, there had not been the least change, so far as I know, or so far as we are informed, in the manner of receiving payment for the public lands. Every thing stood on the 11th of July, 1836, as it had stood at the opening of the session, in December, 1835. How so different a view of things happened to be taken at the two periods, we may be able to learn, perhaps, in the further progress of this debate.
The order speaks of the “evil influence " likely to result from the further exchange of the public lands into “ paper money.” Now, this is the very language of the gentleman from Missouri. He habitually speaks of the notes of all banks, however solvent, and bowever promptly their notes may be redeemed in gold and silver, as “paper money." The Secretary has adopted the honorable member's phrases, and he speaks, too, of all the bank notes received at the land offices, although every one of them is redeemable in specie, on demand, but as so much “pa per money."
In this respect, also, Sir, I hope we may know more as we grow older, and be able to learn whether, in times to come, as in times recently passed, the justly obnoxious and odious character of “paper money” is to be applied to the issues of all the banks in all the States, with whatever punctuality they redeem their bills. This is quite new, as financial language. By paper money in its obnoxious sense, I understand paper, issued on credit alone, without capital, without funds assigned for its payment, resting only on the good faith and the future ability of those who issue it. Such was the paper money of our revolutionary times ; and such, perhaps, may have been the true character of the paper of particular institutions since. But the notes of banks of competent capitals, limited in amount to a due proportion of such capitals, made payable on demand in gold and silver, and always so paid on demand, are paper money
in no sense but one; that is to say, they are made of paper, and they circulate as money. And it may be proper enough for those who maintain that nothing should so circulate but gold and silver, to denominate such bank notes " paper money," since they regard them but as paper intruders into channels which should flow only with gold and silver. If this language of the order is authentic, and is to be so hereafter, and all bank notes are to be regarded and stigmatized as mere “paper money," the sooner the country knows it ihe better.
The member from Missouri charges those who wish to rescind the Treasury order with two objects — first, to degrade and disgrace the President, and next, to overthrow the constitutional currency of the country.
For my own part, Sir, I denounce nobody ; I seek to degrade or disgrace nobody. Holding the order illegal and unwise, I shall certainly vote to rescind it; and, in the discharge of this duty, I hope I am not expected to shrink back, lest I should do something which might call in question the wisdom of the Secretary, or even of the President. And I hope that so much of independence as may be manifested by free discussion and an honest vote is not to cause denunciation from any quarter. If it should, let it come.
As to an attempt to overthrow the constitutional currency of the country, if I were now to enter into such a design, I should be beginning at rather a late day, to wage war against the efforts of my whole political life. From my very first concern with public affairs, I have looked at the public currency as a matter of the highest interest, and hope I have given sufficient proofs of a disposition at all times to maintain it sound and secure, against all attacks and all dangers. When I first entered the other House of Congress the currency was exceedingly deranged. Most of the banks had stopped payment, and the circulating medium had then become, indeed, paper money. So soon as a state of peace enabled us, I took some part in an effort, with others, to restore the currency to a better state ; and success followed that effort.
But what is meant by the “ constitutional currency,” about which so much is said ? What species, or forms of currency, does the Constitution allow, and what does it forbid ? It is plain enough that this depends on what we understand by currency. Currency, in a large, and perhaps in a just sense, includes not only gold and silver, and bank notes, but bills of exchange also. It may include all that adjusts exchanges, and settles balances, in the operation of trade and business. But if we understand by currency the legal money of the country, and which constitutes a lawful tender for debts, and is the statute measure of value, then, undoubtedly, nothing is included but gold and silver. Most unquestionably there is no legal tender, and there can be no legal tender, in this country,