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which dull and plodding common sense has erected, were to pay its debts, it must have some limits to its issues of paper, and therefore, there would be a point beyond which it could not make loans to government. This would fall short of the wishes of the contrivers of this system. They provide for an unlimited issue of paper, in an entire exemption from payment. They found their bank, in the first place, on the discredit of government, and then hope to enrich government out of the insolvency of their bank. With them, poverty itself is the main source of supply, and bankruptcy a mine of inexhaustible treasure. They rely not in the ability of the bank, but in its beggary; not in gold and silver collected in its vaults, to pay its debts, and fulfil its promises, but in its locks and bars, provided by statute, to fasten its doors against the solicitations and clamors of importunate creditors. Such an institution, they flatter themselves, will not only be able to sustain itself, but to buoy up the sinking credit of the government. A bank which does not pay, is to guaranty the engagements of a government which does not pay! “John Doe is to become security for Richard Roe.” Thus the empty vaults of the treasury are to be filled from the equally empty vaults of the bank, and the ingenious invention of a partnership between insolvents is to restore and reestablish the credit of both.
Sir, I can view this only as a system of rank speculation, and enormous mischief. Nothing in our condition is worse, in my opinion, than the inclination of government to throw itself upon such desperate courses. If we are to be saved, it is not to be by such
If public credit is to be restored, this is not one of the measures that will help to restore it. If the treasury is exhausted, this bank will not fill it with anything valuable. If a safe circulating medium be wanted for the community, it will not be found in the paper of such a corporation.
I wish, sir, that those who imagine that these objects or any of them will be effected by such a bank as this, would describe the manner in which they expect it to be done. What is the process, which is to produce these results? If it is perceived, it can be described. The bank will not operate either by miracle or magic. Whoever expects any good from it, ought to be able to tell us in what way that good is to be produced. As yet, we have had nothing but general ideas, and vague and loose expressions. An indefinite and indistinct notion is entertained, nobody here seems to know on what ground, that this bank is to reanimate public credit, fill the treasury, and remove all the evils that have arisen from the depreciation of the paper of the existing banks.
Some gentlemen who do not profess themselves to be, in all respects, pleased with the provisions of the bill, seem to content themselves with an idea that nothing better can be obtained, and that it is necessary to do something. A strong impression that something must be done, is the origin of many bad measures. It is easy, sir, to do something, but the object is to do something useful. It is better to do nothing than to do mischief. It is much better, in my opinion, to make no bank, than to pass the bill as it now is.
The interests to be affected by this measure, the finances, the public credit, and the circulating medium of the country are too important to be hazarded in schemes like these. If we wish to restore the public credit, and to reestablish the finances, we have the beaten road before us. All true analogy, all experience and all just knowledge of ourselves and our condition point one way. A wise and systematic economy, and a settled and substantial revenue, are the means to be relied on; not excessive issues of bank notes, a forced circulation, and all the miserable contrivances to which political folly can resort, with the idle expectation of giving to mere paper the quality of money.
These are all the inventions of a shortsighted policy, vexed and goaded by the necessities of the moment, and thinking less of a permanent remedy, than of shifts and expedients to avoid the present distress. They have been a thousand times adopted, and a thousand times exploded as delusive and ruinous, as destructive of all solid revenue, and incompatible with the security of private property:
It is, sir, sufficiently obvious, that to produce any benefit, this bank must be so constructed, as that its notes shall have credit with the public. The first inquiry, therefore, should be, whether the bills of a bank of this kind will not be immediately and greatly depreciated. I think they will. It would be a wonder if they should not. This effect will be produced by that excessive issue of its paper which the bank must make in its loan to government. Whether its issues of paper are excessive, will depend not on the nominal amount of its capital, but on its ability to redeem it. This is the only safe criterion. Very special cases may perhaps furnish exceptions, but there is, in general, no security for the credit of paper, but the ability, in those who emit, to redeem it. Whenever bank notes are not convertible into gold and silver, at the will of the holder, they become of less value than gold and silver. All experiments on this subject have come to the same result. It is so clear, and has been so universally admitted, that it would be waste of time to dwell upon it. The depreciation may not be sensibly perceived the first day, or the first week, it takes place. It will first be discerned in what is called the rise of specie; it will next be seen in the increased price of all commodities. The circulating medium of a commercial community, must be that which is also the circulating medium of other commercial communities, or must be capable of being converted into that medium, without loss. It must be able, not only to pass in payments and receipts, among individuals of the same society and nation, but to adjust and discharge the balance of exchanges between different nations. It must be something, which has a value abroad, as well as at home, and by which foreign as well as domestic debts can be satisfied. The precious metals alone answer these purposes. They alone, therefore, are money, and whatever else is to perform the offices of money, must be their representative, and capable of being turned into them at will. So long as bank paper retains this quality, it is a substitute for money; divested of this, nothing can give it that character. No solidity of funds, no sufficiency of assets, no confidence in the solvency of banking institutions has ever enabled them to keep up their paper to the value of gold and silver, any longer than they paid gold and silver for it, on demand. This will continue to be the case so long as those metals shall continue to be the standard of value and the general circulating medium among nations.
A striking illustration of this common principle is found in the early history of the bank of England. In the year 1697, it had been so liberal of its loans, that it was compelled to suspend the payment of its notes. Its paper immediately fell to a discount of near twenty per cent. Yet such was the public opinion of the solidity of its funds, that its stock then sold for one hundred and ten per cent. although no more than sixty per cent. upon the subscription had been paid in.
The same fate, as is well known, attended the banks of Scotland, when they adopted the practice of inserting in their notes a clause, giving the banks an option of paying their notes on demand, or six months after demand, with interest. Paper of this sort was not convertible into specie, at the pleasure of the holder; and no conviction of the ability of the bank which issued it, could preserve it from depreciation.
The suspension of specie payments by the bank of England, 1797, and the consequences which followed, afford no argument to overthrow this general experience. If bank of England notes were not immediately depreciated, on that occasion, depreciation, nevertheless, did ensue. Very favorable causes existed to prevent their sudden depression. It was an old and rich institution. It was known to be under the most discreet and independent management. Government had no control over it, to force it to make loans, against its interest or its will. On the contrary, it compelled the government to pay, though with much inconvenience to itself, a very considerable sum, which was due to it. The country enjoyed, at that time, an extensive commerce, and a revenue of three hundred millions of dollars was collected and distributed through the bank. Under all these advantages, however, the difference of price between bank notes and coin became at one time so great, as to threaten the most dangerous consequences.
Suppose the condition of England to have been reversed. Suppose that instead of a prosperous and increasing commerce, she had suffered the ruin of her trade, and that the product of her manufactures had lain upon her hands, as the product of our agriculture now perishes in ours. Does any one imagine that her circulating paper could have existed and maintained any credit, in such a change of her condition? What ought to surprise us is not that her bank paper was depreciated, but that it was not depreciated sooner and lower than in fact it was. The reason can only be found in that extraordinary combination of favorable circumstances, which never existed before, and is hardly to be expected again. Much less is it to be discovered in our condition at present.
But we have experience nearer home. The paper of all the banks south of New England, has become depreciated to an alarming extent. This cannot be denied. All that is said of the existence of this depreciation remote from the banks, is unfounded and idle. It exists everywhere. The rates of exchange, both foreign and domestic, puts this point beyond controversy. If a bill of exchango on Europe can be purchased, as it may, twenty per cent. cheaper in Boston than in Baltimore, the reason must be that it is paid for, in Boston, in money, and in Baltimore, in something twenty per cent. Jess valuable than money.
Notwithstanding the depression of their paper, it is not probable that any doubt is entertained of the sufficiency of the funds of the principal banks. Certainly no such doubt is the cause of the fall of their paper; because the depression of the paper of all the banks in any place, is, as far as I learn, generally uniform and equal; whereas if public opinion proceeded at all upon the adequacy or inadequacy of their funds, it would necessarily come to different results, in different cases, as some of these institutions must be supposed to be richer than others.
Sir, something must be discovered which has hitherto escaped the observation of mankind, before you can give to paper, intended for circulation, the value of a metallic currency, any longer than it represents that currency, and is convertible into it, at the will of the holder.
The paper, then, of this bank, if you make it, will be depreciated, for the same reason that the paper of other banks that have gone before it, and of those which now exist around us has been depreciated, because it is not to pay specie for its notes.
Other institutions, setting out perhaps on honest principles, have fallen into discredit, through mismanagement or misfortune.
But this bank is to begin with insolvency. It is to issue its bills to the amount of thirty millions, when everybody knows it cannot pay them. It is to commence its existence in dishonor. It is to draw its first breath in disgrace: The promise contained in the first note it sends forth, is to be a false promise, and whoever receives the note, is to take it, with the knowledge that it is not to be paid according to the terms of it.
But this, sir, is not all. The framers of this bill have not done their work by halves. They have put the depreciation of the notes of their bank beyond all doubt or uncertainty. They have made assurance doubly sure.
In addition to excessive issues of paper, and the failure to make payments, both which they provide for by law, they make the capital of the bank, to consist principally of public stock.
If this stock should be sold as in the former bank of the United States, the evil would be less. But the bank has not the power to sell it, and for all purposes of enabling it to fulfil its engagements, its funds might as well be at the bottom of the ocean, as in government stocks, of which it cannot enforce payment, and of which it cannot dispose.
The credit of this institution is to be founded on public funds, not on private property, or commercial credit. It is to be a financial not a commercial bank. Its credit can hardly, therefore, be better at any time than the credit of the government. If the stocks be depreciated, so of course must everything be which rests on the stocks.
It would require extraordinary ingenuity to show how a bank, which is founded on the public debt, is to have any better reputation than the debt itself. It must be some very novel invention, which makes the superstructure keep its place, after the foundation has fallen. The argument seems to stand thus: The public funds, it is admitted, have little credit; the bank will have no credit which it does not borrow of the funds; but the bank will be in full credit.
If, sir, we were in a temper to learn wisdom from experience, the history of most of the banks on the continent of Europe might teach us the futility of all these contrivances. Those were, like this before us, established for the purposes of finance, not purposes of commerce. The same fortune has happened to them all. Their credit has sunk. Their respective governments go to them for money when they can get it nowhere else; and the banks can relieve their wants, only by new issues of their own paper. As this is not redeemed, the invariable consequence of depreciation follows; and this has sometimes led to the miserable and destructive expedient of depreciation of the coin itself.
Such are the banks of Petersburg, Copenhagen, Vienna, and other cities of Europe; and while the paper of these government banks has been thus depressed, that of other banks existing in their neighbourhood, unconnected with government, and conducting their business on the basis of commercial credit, has retained a value equivalent to that of coin.
Excessive issues of paper and a close connexion with government, are the circumstances which of all others are the most certain to destroy the credit of bank paper. If there were no excessive issues, or, in other words, if the bank paid its notes in specie, on demand, its connexion with government and its interest in the funds would not, perhaps, materially affect the circulation of its paper, although they would naturally diminish the value of its stock. But when these two circumstances exist in the condition of any bank, that it does not pay its notes and that its funds are in public stocks, and all its operations intimately blended with the operations of government, nothing further need be known, to be quite sure that its paper will not answer the purpose of a creditable circulating medium.
I look upon it, therefore, sir, as certain, that a very considerable discount will attach itself to the notes of this bank, the first day of their appearance; that this discount will continue to increase; and unless Congress should be able to furnish some remedy, which is not certain, the paper, in the end, will be worth nothing. If this happens, not only will no one of the benefits proposed be obtained, but evils of the most alarming magnitude will follow. All the horrors of a paper-money system are before us. If we venture on the present expedient, we shall hardly be able to avoid them. The ruin of public affairs and the wreck of private property will ensue. .
I would ask, sir, whether the friends of this measure have well considered what effect it will produce on the revenue of the country? By the provisions of this bill, the notes of this bank are to be received in payment of all taxes and other dues to government. They cannot be refused on account of the depreciation of their value. . Government binds itself to receive them at pår; although it should be obliged immediately to pay them out, at a discount of a hundred
per cent. It is certain, then, that a loss in the revenue will