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IN THE SENATE OF THE UNITED STATES, ON PRESENTING A PETITION OF MERCHANTS OF NEW YORK, FOR THE ESTAB, LISHMENT OF A NATIONAL BANK. FEBRUARY 8, 1837.
Mr. WEBSTER addressed the Chair nearly as follows:
I RISE, Mr. President, for the purpose of presenting to the Senate a petition signed by fourteen or fifteen hundred mercantile houses in the city of New York, praying the establishment of a National Bank in that city. These petitioners, sir, set forth that, in their opinion, a National Bank is the only remedy, of a permanent character, for the correction of the evils now affecting the currency of the country and the commercial exchanges. The petition is accompanied by a short communication from the committee raised for the purpose of preparing the petition, in which they state, what I believe to be true, from some knowledge of my own, that the petition is subscribed without reference to political distinction; and they inform us, on the authority of their own observation and knowledge, that, in their opinion, on no subject did the mercantile community of New York ever address Congress with more entire unanimity than they now approach it, in favor of a National Bank.
Mr. President, (said Mr. W.,) my own opinions on this subject have long been known; and they remain now as they always have been. The constitutional power of Congress to create a bank is made more apparent by the acknowledged necessity which the Government is under to use some sort of banks as fiscal agents. The argument stated the other day by the member from Ohio, opposite to me, (Mr. MORRIS,) and which I have suggested often, heretofore, appears to me unanswerable; and that is, that, if the Government has the power to use corporations in the fiscal concerns of the country, it must have the power to create such corporations. I have always thought that, when, by law, both Houses of Congress declared the use of State banks necessary to the administration of the revenue, every argument against the constitutional power of Congress to create a Bank of the United States was thereby sur
rendered; that it is plain that, if Congress has the power to adopt banks for the particular use of the Government, it has the power to create such institutions also, if it deem that mode the best. No Government creates corporations for the mere purpose of giving capacity to an artificial body. It is the end designed, the use to which it is to be applied, that decides the question, in general, whether the power exists to create such bodies. If such a corporation as a bank be necessary to Government; if its use be indispensable, and if, on that ground, Congress may take into its service banks created by States, over which it has no control, and which are but poorly fitted for its purposes, how can it be maintained that Congress may not create a bank, by its own authority, responsible to itself, and well suited to promote the ends designed by it?
Mr. President, when the subject was last before the Senate, I expressed my own resolution not to make any movement towards the establishment of a National Bank, till public opinion should call for it. In that resolution I still remain. But it gives me pleasure to have the opportunity of presenting this petition, out of respect to the signers; and I have no objection certainly to meet with a proper opportunity of renewing the expression of my opinions on the subject, although I know that so general has become the impression hostile to such an institution, that any movement here would be vain till there is a change in public opinion. That there will be such a change I fully believe; it will be brought about, I think, by experience, and sober reflection among the People; and when it shall come, then will be the proper time for a movement on the subject in the public councils. Not only in New York, but from here to Maine, I believe it is now the opinion of five sixths of the whole mercantile community, that a national bank is indispensable to the steady regulation of the currency, and the facility and cheapness of exchanges. The board of trade at New York presented a memorial in favor of the same object some time ago. The Committee on Finance reported against the prayer of the petitioners, as was to have been expected from the known sentiments of a majority of that committee. In presenting this petition now to the consideration of the Senate, I have done all that I purpose on this occasion, except to move that the petition be laid on the table and printed.
Sir, on the subjects of currency and of the exchanges of commerce, experience is likely to make us wiser than we now are. These highly interesting subjects—interesting to the property, the business, and the means of support of all classes-ought not to be connected with mere party questions and temporary politics. In the business and transactions of life, men need security, steadiness, and a permanent system. This is the very last field for the
exhibition of experiments, and I fervently hope that intelligent men, in and out of Congress, will coöperate in measures which may be reasonably expected to accomplish these desirable objects desirable and important alike to all classes and descriptions of people.
The petition and accompanying letter were then ordered to be printed.
IN THE SENATE OF THE UNITED STATES, FEBRUARY 20, 1837, IN RELATION TO THE MANUSCRIPT PAPERS OF MR. MADISON.
The joint resolution for making an appropriation for the purchase of the manuscript papers of the late President Madison, relative to the proceedings of the Convention who framed the Constitution of the United States, being under consideration,
MR. WEBSTER said he supposed that there was no member of the Senate who regarded the sum proposed to be given for these manuscripts as too large, if the appropriation was within the just field of their constitutional powers. Now, what was the object of this appropriation? The Senate sat under a Constitution which had now endured more than fifty years, and had been formed under very peculiar circumstances, under a great exigency, and in a manner that no Constitution had ever been formed in any other country, on principles of united and yet divided legislation, altogether unexampled in the history of free states. Mr. W. agreed fully in the sentiment that the constant rule of interpretation to be applied to this instrument was, that its restrictions were contained in itself, and that it was to be made, as far as possible, its own interpreter. He also agreed that the practice under the Government, for a long course of years, and the opinions of those who both formed the instrument, and afterward aided in carrying it into effect by laws passed under its authority, was to be the next ground of interpretation; and it seemed to him that the measure now proposed was of great importance, both in connection with the Constitution itself, and with the history of its interpretation. He should not now speak of the political opinions of Mr. Madison. He looked only to the general facts of the case. It was well known that the Convention of great men who formed our Constitution sat with closed doors; that no report of their proceedings was published at that time; and that their debates were listened to by none but themselves and the officers in attendance. We had, indeed, the official journal kept by their order. It was an important document, but it informed us only of their official acts. We got from it nothing whatever of the debates in that illustrious body. Besides this, there were only a few published sketches, more or less valuable. But the connection
of Mr. Madison with the Constitution and the Government, and his profound knowledge of all that related to both, would necessarily give to any reports which he should have taken, a superior claim to accuracy. It was his purpose, when he entered the body, to report its whole proceedings. He chose a position which best enabled him to do so; nor had he been absent a single day during the whole period of its sittings. It was further understood that his report of the leading speeches had been submitted to the members for correction. The fact was well known to them all that he was thus collecting materials for a detailed report of their proceedings. Without, therefore, having seen a page of these manuscripts, it was reasonable to conclude that they must contain matter not only highly interesting, but very useful; and it was his impression that, among this class of cases, the Senate could not better consult the wishes and interests of the American People than to let them see a document of this character, from the pen of such a man as Madison. That gentleman had been more connected with the Constitution than almost any other individual. He had been present in that little assemblage that met at Annapolis in '86, with whom the idea of the Convention originated. He was afterwards a member of the Convention of Virginia, which ratified the Constitution. He had then been a member of the first Congress, and had taken an important lead in the great duties of its legislation, under that Constitution, in the formation of which he had acted so conspicuous a part. He had afterwards filled the important station of Secretary of State, and had subsequently been for eight years President of the United States. Thus, his whole life had been intimately connected, first with the formation, and then with the administration of the Constitution.
Mr. W. said that he saw no constitutional objection to the purchase of these manuscripts. Why did Congress purchase every year works on History, Geography, Botany, Metaphysics, and Morals? How was it that they had purchased a collection of works of the most miscellaneous character from Mr. Jefferson ? The manuscripts in question stood in a different relation. They related immediately and intimately to the nation's own affairs, and especially to the construction of that great instrument under which the Houses of Congress were now sitting. If the doctrine advanced by the Senator from South Carolina was to prevail, Congress ought forthwith to clear its library of every thing but the State papers. Mr. W.'s views on the Constitution were well known; whether an inspection of these papers would confirm and strengthen the views he entertained respecting that instrument, he could not say; but certainly, if they were now within his reach, he should be very eager to read them; and their examination would be one of the very first things that he should engage in. A report of such de