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moment. I may add that the endowment of public charities, the contributions to objects of general benevolence, whether foreign or domestic, the munificence of individuals towards whatever promises to benefit the community, are all so many proofs of national prosperity. And, finally, there is no defalcation of revenue, no pressure of taxation.
The general result, therefore, of a fair examination of the present condition of things, seems to me to be, that there is a considerable depression of prices, and curtailment of profit; and, in some parts of the country, it must be admitted, there is a great degree of pecuniary embarrassment, arising from the difficulty of paying debts which were contracted when prices were high. With these qualifications, the general state of the country may be said to be prosperous; and these are not sufficient to give to the whole face of affairs any appearance of general distress.
Supposing the evil, then, to be a depression of prices, and a partial pecuniary pressure, the next inquiry is into the causes of that evil; and it appears to me that there are several-and, in this respect, I think, too much has been imputed, by Mr. Speaker, to the single cause of the diminution of exports. Connected, as we are, with all the commercial nations of the world, and having observed great changes to take place elsewhere, we should consider whether the causes of those changes have not reached us, and whether we are not suffering by the operation of them, in common with others. Undoubtedly, there has been a great fall in the price of all commodities throughout the commercial world, in consequence of the restoration
of a state of peace. When the Allies entered France in 1814, prices rose astonishingly fast, and very high. Colonial produce, for instance, in the ports of this country, as well as elsewhere, sprung up suddenly from the lowest to the highest extreme. A new and vast demand was created for the commodities of trade. These were the natural consequences of the great political changes which then took place in Europe.
We are to consider, too, that our own war created new demand, and that a government expenditure of 25,000,000, or 30,000,000, a year, had the usual effect of enhancing prices. We are obliged to add, that the paper issues of our Banks carried the same effect still further. A depreciated currency existed in a great part of the country; depreciated to such an extent as that, at one time, exchange between the centre and the north, was as high as 20 per cent. The Bank of the United States was instituted to correct this evil; but, for causes which it is not necessary now to enumerate, it did not for some years, bring back the currency of the country to a sound state. This depreciation of the circulating currency, was so much, of course, added to the nominal prices of commodities, and these prices thus unnaturally high, seemed, to those who looked only at the appearance, to indicate great prosperity. But such prosperity is more specious than real. It would have been better, probably, as the shock would have been less, if prices had fallen sooner. At length, however, they fell; and, as there is little doubt that certain events in Europe had an influence in determining the time at which this fall should take place, I will advert shortly to some of the principal of those events.
In May, 1819, the British House of Commons decided, by an unanimous vote, that the resumption of cash payments by the Bank of England, should not be deferred beyond the ensuing February. The restriction had been continued from time to time, and from year to year, Parliament always professing to look to the restoration of a specie currency, whenever it should be found practicable. Having been, in July, 1818, continued to July, 1819, it was understood that, in the interim, the important question of the time at which cash payments should be resumed, should be finally settled. In the latter part of the year '18, the circulation of the Bank had been greatly reduced, and a severe scarcity of money was felt in the London market. Such was the state of things in England. On the continent, other important events took place. The French Indemnity Loan had been negotiated in the summer of 1818, and the proportion of it belonging to Austria, Russia, and Prussia, had been sold. This created an unusual demand for gold and silver in these Eastern States of Europe. It has been stated, that the amount of the precious metals transmitted to Austria and Russia in that year, was at least twenty millions sterling. Other large sums were sent to Prussia and to Denmark. The effect of this sudden drain of specie, felt first at Paris, was communicated to Amsterdam and Hamburg, and all other commercial places in the north of Europe.
The paper system of England had certainly communicated an artificial value to property. It had encouraged speculation, and excited overtrading. When the shock therefore came, and this violent pressure for money acted at the same moment on the continent and in England, inflated and unnatural prices could be kept up no longer. A reduction took place, which has been estimated to have been at least equal to a fall of 30, if not 40 per cent. The depression was universal; and the change was felt in the United States severely, though not equally so in every part of them. There are those, I am aware, who maintain that the events to which I have alluded did not cause the great fall of prices; but that that fall was natural and inevitable, from the previously existing state of things, the abundance of commodities, and the want of demand. But that would only prove that the effect was produced in another way, rather than by another cause. If these great and sudden calls for money did not reduce prices, but prices fell, as of themselves, to their natural state, still the result is the same; for we perceive that after these new calls for money, prices could not be kept longer at their unnatural height.
About the time of these foreign events, our own bank system underwent a change; and all these causes, in my view of the subject, concurred to produce the great shock which took place in our commercial cities, and through many parts of the country. The year 1819 was a year of numerous failures, and very considerable distress, and would have furnished far better grounds than exist at present, for that gloomy representation of our condition which has been presented. Mr. Speaker has alluded to the strong inclination which exists, or has existed, in various parts of the country to issue paper money, as a proof of great existing difficulties. I regard it rather as a very productive cause of those difficulties; and the committee will not fail to observe, that there is, at this moment, much the loudest complaint
of distress precisely where there has been the greatest attempt to relieve it by systems of paper credit. And, on the other hand, content, prosperity, and happiness, are most observable in those parts of the country, where there has been the least endeavour to administer relief by law. In truth, nothing is so baneful, so utterly ruinous to all true industry, as interfering with the legal value of money, or attempting to raise artificial standards to supply its place. Such remedies suit well the spirit of extravagant speculation, but they sap the very foundation of all honest acquisition. By weakening the security of property, they take away all motive for exertion. Their effect is to transfer property. Whenever a debt is allowed to be paid by anything less valuable than the legal currency in respect to which it was contracted, the difference, between the value of the paper given in payment and the legal currency, is precisely so much property taken from one man and given to another, by legislative enactment. When we talk, therefore, of protecting industry, let us remember that the first measure for that end, is to secure it in its earnings; to assure it that it shall receive its own. Before we invent new modes of raising prices, let us take care that existing prices are not rendered wholly unavailable, by making them capable of being paid in depreciated paper. I regard, sir, this issue of irredeemable paper as the most prominent and deplorable cause of whatever pressure still exists in the country; and, further, I would put the question to the members of this Committee, whether it is not from that part of the people who have tried this paper system, and tried it to their cost, that this Bill receives the most earnest support? And I cannot forbear to ask, further, whether this support does not proceed rather from a general feeling of uneasiness under the present condition of things, than from the clear perception of any benefit which the measure itself can confer? Is not all expectation of advantage centred in a sort of vague hope, that change may produce relief? Debt certainly presses hardest, where prices have been longest kept up by artificial means. They find the shock lightest, who take it soonest; and I fully believe that, if those parts of the country which now suffer most, had not augmented the force of the blow by deferring it, they would have now been in a much better condition than they are. We may assure ourselves, once for all, sir, that there can be no such thing as payment of debts by legislation. We may abolish debts indeed; we may transfer property, by visionary and violent laws. But we deceive both ourselves and our constituents, if we flatter, either ourselves or them, with the hope that there is any relief against whatever pressure exists, but in economy and industry. The depression of prices and the stagnation of business, have been in truth the necessary result of circumstances. No government could prevent them, and no government can altogether relieve the people from their effect. We had enjoyed a day of extraordinary prosperity; we had been neutral while the world was at war, and had found a great demand for our products, our navigation, and our labor. We had no right to expect that that state of things would continue always. With the return of peace, foreign nations would struggle for themselves, and enter into competition with us in the great objects of pursuit.
Now, sir, what is the remedy for existing evils? what is the course of policy suited to our actual condition? Certainly it is not our wisdom to adopt any system that may be offered to us without examination, and in the blind hope that whatever changes our condition may improve it. It is better that we should
"Bear those ills we have,
Than fly to others that we know not of."
We are bound to see that there is a fitness and an aptitude in whatever measures may be recommended to relieve the evils that afflict us; and before we adopt a system that professes to make great alterations, it is our duty to look carefully to each leading interest of the community, and see how it may probably be affected by our proposed legislation.
And, in the first place, what is the condition of our commerce? Here we must clearly perceive, that it is not enjoying that rich harvest which fell to its fortune during the continuance of the European wars. It has been greatly depressed, and limited to small profits. Still, it is elastic and active, and seems capable of recovering itself in some measure from its depression. The shipping interest, also, has suffered severely, still more severely, probably, than commerce. If anything should strike us with astonishment, it is that the navigation of the United States should be able to sustain itself. Without any government protection whatever, it goes abroad to challenge competition with the whole world; and, in spite of all obstacles, it has yet been able to maintain 800,000 tons in the employment of foreign trade. How, sir, do the ship owners and navigators accomplish this? How is it that they are able to meet, and in some measure overcome, universal competition? Not, sir, by protection and bounties; but by unwearied exertion, by extreme economy, by unshaken perseverance, by that manly and resolute spirit which relies on itself to protect itself. These causes alone enable American ships still to keep their element, and show the flag of their country in distant seas. The rates of insurance may teach us how thoroughly our ships are built, and how skilfully and safely they are navigated. Risks are taken, as I learn, from the United States to Liverpool, at 1 per cent.; and from the United States to Canton and back, as low as 3 per cent. But when we look to the low rate of freight, and when we consider, also, that the articles entering into the composition of a ship, with the exception of wood, are dearer here than in other countries, we cannot but be utterly surprised, that the shipping interest has been able to sustain itself at all. I need not say that the navigation of the country is essential to its honor, and its defence. Yet, instead of proposing benefit for it in this hour of its depression, we propose by this measure to lay upon it new and heavy burdens. In the discussion, the other day, of that provision of the bill which proposes to tax tallow for the benefit of the oil merchants and whalemen, we had the pleasure of hearing eloquent eulogiums upon that portion of our shipping employed in the whale fishery, and strong statements of its importance to the public interest. But the same Bill proposes a severe tax upon that interest, for the benefit of the iron manufacturer and
the hemp grower. So that the tallowchandlers and soapboilers are sacrificed to the oil merchants, in order that these again may contribute to the manufacturers of iron and the growers of hemp.
If such be the state of our commerce and navigation, what is the condition of our home manufactures? How are they amidst the general depression? Do they need further protection? and if any, how much? On all these points, we have had much general statement, but little precise information. In the very elaborate speech of Mr. Speaker, we are not supplied with satisfactory grounds of judging in these various particulars. Who can tell, from anything yet before the Committee, whether the proposed duty be too high or too low, on any one article? Gentlemen tell us, that they are in favor of domestic industry; so am I. They would give it protection: so would 1. But then all domestic industry is not confined to manufactures. The employments of agriculture, commerce, and navigation, are all branches of the same domestic industry; they all furnish employment for American capital, and American labor. And when the question is, whether new duties shall be laid, for the purpose of giving further encouragement to particular manufactures, every reasonable man must ask himself, both, whether the proposed new encouragement be necessary, and, whether it can be given without injustice to other branches of industry.
It is desirable to know, also, somewhat more distinctly, how the proposed means will produce the intended effect. One great object proposed, for example, is, the increase of the home market for the consumption of agricultural products. This certainly is much to be desired; but what provisions of the Bill are expected wholly, or principally to produce this, is not stated. I would not suggest that some increase of the home market may not follow, from the adoption of this Bill, but all its provisions have not an equal tendency to produce this effect. Those manufactures which employ most labor, create of course, most demand for articles of consumption; and those create least, in the production of which capital and skill enter as the chief ingredients of cost. I cannot, sir, take this Bill, merely because a Committee has recommended it. I cannot espouse a side, and fight under a flag. I wholly repel the idea, that we must take this law, or pass no law on the subject. What should hinder us from exercising our own judgments upon these provisions, singly and severally? Who has the power to place us, or why should we place ourselves, in a condition where we cannot give to every measure, that is distinct and separate in itself, a separate and distinct consideration? Sir, I presume no member of the Committee will withhold his assent from what he thinks right, until others will yield their assent to what they think wrong. There are many things in this Bill, acceptable probably to the general sense of the House. Why should not these provisions be passed into a law, and others left to be decided upon their own merits, as a majority of the House shall see fit? To some of these provisions, I am myself decidedly favorable; to others, I have great objections; and I should have been very glad of an opportunity of giving my own vote distinctly on propositions, which are, in their own nature, essentially and substantially distinct from one another.