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ing nature. The capital is to be fifty millions of dollars; five millions in gold and silver, twenty millions in the public debt created since the war, ten millions in treasury notes, and fifteen millions to be subscribed by government, in stock to be created for that purpose. The ten millions in treasury notes, when received in payment of subscriptions to the bank, are to be funded also in United States' stocks. The stock subscribed by government on its own account, and those in which the treasury notes are to be funded, to be redeemable only at the pleasure of the government. The war stock will be redeemable according to the terms upon which the late loans have been negotiated.
The capital of the bank, then, will be five millions of specie and forty-five millions of government stocks. In other words, the bank will possess five millions of dollars, and the government will owe it forty-five millions. This debt from government, the bank is restrained from selling during the war, and government is excused from paying, until it shall see fit. The bank is also to be under obligation to loan government thirty millions of dollars on demand, to be repaid, not when the convenience or necessity of the bank may require, but when debts due to the bank, from government, are paid; that is, when it shall be the good pleasure of government. This sum of thirty millions is to supply the necessities of government, and to supersede the occasion of other loans. This loan will doubtless be made on the first day of the existence of the bank, because the public wants can admit of no delay. Its condition, then, will be, that it has five millions of specie, if it has been able to obtain so much, and a debt of seventy-five millions, no part of which it can either sell or call in, due to it from government.
The loan of thirty millions to government can only be made by an immediate issue of bills to that amount. If these bills should return, the bank will not be able to pay them. This is certain, and to remedy this inconvenience, power is given to the directors, by the act, to suspend, at their own discretion, the payment of their notes, until the President of the United States shall otherwise order. The President will give no such order, because the necessities of government will compel it to draw on the bank till the bank becomes as necessitous as itself. Indeed, whatever orders may be given or withheld, it will be utterly impossible for the bank to pay its notes. No such thing is expected from it. The first note it issues will be dishonored on its return, and yet it will continue to pour out its paper, so long as government can apply it in any degree to its purposes.
What sort of an institution, sir, is this? It looks less like a bank, than a department of government. It will be properly the papermoney department. Its capital is government debts; the amount of its issues will depend on government necessities; government, in effect, absolves itself from its own debts to the bank, and by way of compensation absolves the bank from its own contracts with others. This is, indeed, a wonderful scheme of finance. The government is to grow rich, because it is to borrow without the obligation of repaying, and is to borrow of a bank which issues paper without liability to redeem it. If this bank, like other institutions
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 means. 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 exchange
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. less 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