Page images
PDF
EPUB

the Treasury, and thus bring a remedy to that evil, this brings no relief to the disordered currency. And again: if the local currency is relieved, it does not supply the other want, namely, that of a universally accredited medium.

It has, no doubt, struck the country generally that the most important objection to the Message is, that it says nothing about relief to the country, directly and mainly; the whole amount of the proposition it contains relates to the Government itself; the interest of the community is treated as collateral, incidental, and contingent. So, in the communication made by the Secretary of the Treasury, the state of the currency, the condition in which the commerce and trade of the country now are, is not looked at as a prominent and material object. The Secretary's report, as well as the Message itself, exclusively regards the interest of the Government, forgetting or passing by the people. The outpourings of the Secretary, which are very considerable in quantity, are under seven heads, the exact number of the seven vials of which we read; but the contents of none of these is concocted or prepared in reference to the benefit of the community; all the medicine is intended for the Government Treasury, and there is none for the sickness and disease of society, except collaterally, remotely, and by-the-by. It is, however, to the credit of the President that he has given, in an unequivocal and intelligible manner, his reasons for not recommending a plan for the relief of the country; and they are that, according to his view, it is not within the constitutional province of Government. I confess (said Mr. W.) this declaration is to me quite astounding, and I cannot but think that, when it comes to be considered, it will produce a shock upon the whole country. This avowed disregard of the public distress, upon the ground of alleged want of power; this exclusive concern for the interest of Government and revenue; this broad line of distinction, now, for the first time, drawn between the interests of the Government and the interests of the People, must certainly present a new era in our politics. For one, (said Mr. W.,) I consider Government as but a mere agency; it acts not for itself, but for the country; the whole end and design of its being is to promote the general interests of the community. Peculiar interests, selfish interests, exclusive regard for itself, are wholly incompatible with the objects of its institution, and convert it from its true character as an agency for the people, into a separate dominant power, with purposes and objects exclusively its own.

Holding, Mr. President, opinions on this subject, and being prepared to stand by and maintain them, I am certainly rejoiced at the clear shape which the question has at last assumed. Now, he that runs may read; there are none but can see what the question is: Is there any duty incumbent on this Government to superintend the actual currency of the country? has it any thing to do beyond the

regulation of the gold and silver coin? In that state of mixed currency which existed when the Constitution was formed, and which has existed ever since, is it, or is it not, a part of the duty of the Government to exercise a supervisory care and concern over that which constitutes by far the greater part of that currency?

In other words, may this Government abandon to the States and to the local banks, without control or supervision, the unrestrained issue of paper for circulation, without any attempt, on its own part, to establish a paper medium which shall be equivalent to specie, and universally accredited all over the country? Or, Mr. President, to put the question in still other words, since this Government has the regulation of trade, not only between the United States and foreign states, but between the several States themselves, has it nevertheless no power over that which is the most important and essential agent or instrument of trade, the actual circulating medium? Now, Mr. President, on these questions, as already said, I entertain sentiments wholly different from those which the Message

expresses.

It is, (said Mr. W.,) in my view, an imperative duty imposed upon this Government by the Constitution, to exercise a supervisory care and control over all that is in the country assuming the nature of a currency, whether it be metal or whether it be paper; all the coinage of the country is placed in the power of the Federal Government; no State, by its stamp, can give value to a brass farthing. The power to regulate trade and commerce between the United States and foreign or Indian pations, and also between the respective States themselves, is expressly conferred by the Constitution upon the General Government. Now, it is clear that the power to regulate commerce between the States carries with it, not impliedly, but necessarily and directly, a full power of regulating the essential element of commerce, viz. the currency of the country, the money, which constitutes the life and soul of commerce. We live in an age when paper money is an essential element in all trade between the States; its use is inseparably connected with all commercial transactions. That it is so, is now evident, since by the suspension of those institutions from which this kind of money emanates, all business is comparatively at a stand. Now, sir, (said Mr. W.,) what I maintain is simply this, that it surely is the duty of some body to take care of the currency of the country; it is a duty imposed upon some power in this country, as is done in every other civilized nation in the world.

I repeat, sir, that it is the duty of some Government or other to supervise the currency. Surely, if we have a paper medium in the country, it ought only to exist under the sanction and supervision of the Government of the country. Now, sir, if the General Government does not exercise this supervision, who else, I should like

to know, is to do it? Who supposes that it belongs to any of the State Governments, for example, to provide for or regulate the currency between New Orleans and New York?

The idea has been thrown out that it is not the duty of the Government to make provision for domestic exchanges, and the practice of other Governments has been referred to; but, I think, in this particular a great mistake has been committed. It is certainly far otherwise in England: she provides for them most admirably, though by means not perhaps altogether in our power: she and other nations, however, provide for them, and it is plain and obvious that if we are to have a paper medium of general credit in this country, it must be under the sanction and supervision of the Government. Such a currency is itself a proper provision for exchanges. If there be a paper medium always equivalent to coin, and of equal credit in every part of the country, this itself becomes a most important instrument of exchange. Currency and exchange thus become united; in providing for one, Government provides for the other. If the Government will do its duty on the great subject of the currency, the mercantile and industrious classes will feel the benefit through all the operations of exchange. No doubt some modes of establishing such a currency may be more favorable to exchange than others; but by whatever mode established, such a currency must be useful to a great extent. The question, therefore, comes to this, whether we are to have such a medium. I understand there are gentlemen who are opposed to all paper money, who would have no medium whatever in circulation but gold and silver: now this, at all events, is an intelligible proposition; but as to those who say that there may be a paper medium, and yet that there shall be no such medium universally receivable, and of general credit, however honest the purposes of such gentlemen may be, I cannot perceive the sanity of such views; I cannot comprehend the utility of their intentions; I can have no faith, sir, in any such systems. Now, I would ask this plain question, whether any one imagines that all the duty of Government, in respect to the currency, is comprised in merely taking care that the gold and silver coin be not debased. If this be all its duty, that duty is performed, for there is no debasement of them; they are good and sound; if this is all the duty of Government, it has done its duty; but if Government is bound to regulate commerce and trade, and, consequently, to exercise oversight and care over that which is the essential element of all the transactions of commerce, then Government has done nothing.

I shall not, however, (said Mr. W.,) enter into this question today, nor perhaps on any early occasion; my opinions upon it are all well known, and I leave it with great confidence to the judgment of the country, only expressing my strong conviction that

until the people do make up their minds, and cause the result of their conclusions to be carried into effect by their representatives, there will be nothing but agitation and uncertainty, confusion and distress, in the commerce and trade of the country.

I shall now (continued Mr. W.) confine myself to a few remarks on the bill before us, and not detain the Senate longer than will be strictly necessary to give a plain statement of my opinion.

This measure is proposed in order to provide for the wants of the Government. I agree that this is a necessary object; but the question is, whether this bill is the proper mode of making such a provision. I do not think it is, though others may think differently if this is indeed the best mode, I should wish to see it carried into execution; for relief is wanted, both by the Treasury and by the country but first and chiefly by the country.

I do not say that, by the law providing for this deposit, the States have any fixed right to it; I prefer to put the matter entirely on the footing of convenience and expediency; and when it is considered what expectations have been raised that this money has even been already disposed of in advance by the several States for different purposes, such as Internal Improvements, Education, and other great objects it becomes a question of expediency whether it would not be better to supply the wants of the Treasury by other means.

Another consideration of great importance in my view is this: There are already many disturbing causes in operation, agitating the transactions of society in all the various ramifications of business and commerce. Now, I would ask, sir, is it advisable, is it wise, is it even politic, to introduce, at such a time as this, another great disturbing cause, producing a reversed action, altering the destiny of this money, overthrowing contracts now entered into, disappointing expectations raised, disturbing, unsettling, and deranging still more the already deranged business transactions of the whole country? I would ask, is it worth while to do this? I think not.

We are to consider that this money, according to the provisions of the existing law, is to go equally among all the States, and among all the people; and the wants of the Treasury must be supplied, if supplies be necessary, equally by all the people. It is not a question, therefore, whether some shall have money, and others shall make good the deficiency. All partake in the distribution, and all will contribute to the supply. So that it is a mere question of convenience, and, in my opinion it is decidedly most convenient, on all accounts, that this instalment should follow its present destination, and the necessities of the Treasury be provided for by other

means.

Again, if you pass this bill, what is it? It is mere brutum fulmen; of itself it will not produce any good if you do pass it. All

admit there is no money; therefore the bill will give no relief to the Treasury. This bill, Mr. President, will not produce to the Secretary one dollar; he acknowledges himself that at all events it will not produce him many, for he says he wants other aid, and he has applied to Congress for an issue of some millions in Treasury notes. He gets the money, therefore, just as well without this bill as with it; the bill itself, then, is unnecessary, depriving the States of a sum which the Secretary cannot avail himself of, and which sum, notwithstanding this bill, he proposes to supply by an issue of Govern

ment notes.

He calls this collateral aid to the measure of postponement; but this evidently reverses the order of things, for the Treasury notes are his main reliance; to them only he looks for immediate relief; and this instalment now to be withheld is (as a productive source of revenue) only subsequent and collateral to the issue of the notes.

But, now, sir, what sort of notes does the Secretary propose to issue? He proposes, sir, to issue Treasury notes of small denominations, down even as low as twenty dollars, not bearing interest, and redeemable at no fixed period; they are to be received in debts due to Government, but are not otherwise to be paid until at some indefinite time there shall be a certain surplus in the Treasury beyond what the Secretary may think its wants require. Now, sir, this is plain, authentic, statutable paper money; it is exactly a new emission of old continental. If the Genius of the old Confederation were now to rise up in the midst of us, he could not furnish us, from the abundant stores of his recollection, with a more perfect model of paper money. It carries no interest; it has no fixed time of payment; it is to circulate as currency; and it is to circulate on the credit of Government alone, with no fixed period of redemption ! If this be not paper money, pray, sir, what is it? And, sir, who expected this? Who expected that in the fifth year of the EXPERIMENT FOR REFORMING THE CURRENCY, and bringing it to an absolute gold and silver circulation, the Treasury Department would be found recommending to us a regular emission of PAPER MONEY? This, sir, is quite new in the history of this Government; it belongs to that of the Confederation, which has passed away;

Since 1789, although we had issued Treasury notes on sundry. occasions, we had issued none like these; that is to say, we have issued none not bearing interest, intended for circulation, and with no fixed mode of redemption. I am glad, however, Mr. President, that the committee have not adopted the Secretary's recommendation, and that they have recommended the issue of Treasury notes of a description more conformable to the practice of the Gov

ernment.

I think (said Mr. W.) there are ways by which the deposits

[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »