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John R. Brewer
C. Allen Browne
R. Lincoln & Co.
Edward G. Loring
W. W. Story
Charles Henry Parker
P. T. Jackson
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A. C. Lombard & Co.
T. H. Perkins
John C. Gray
Benjamin C. White
William H. Prescott
N. I. Bowditch
W. R. P. Washburn
A. A. Dame
SAFE KEEPING OF THE PUBLIC MONEYS.
A SPEECH DELIVERED IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES OF THE UNI
TED STATES, JANUARY 25, 1843.
It is with no little reluctance, Mr. Speaker, that I enter into this debate. There is a well-remembered proverb of Solomon, that " from the fulness of the heart the mouth speaketh.” I confess, Sir, that I have no fulness of the heart to speak from, in relation to the questions now before us. The whole subject of the currency has been so perplexed and embarrassed, by the deplorable collisions which have occurred between the President of the United States and the Congress of the United States, that no man can approach it without something of repugnance and aversion.
In reference to this subject of the currency, indeed, we have been tossed to and fro on the waves of party contention for almost ten years. A year or two since we were flattered with the belief that we were coming at last to port; but the objects which we took for land, and which were eagerly and joyously hailed as such from the mast-head, turned out to be only fresh reefs of rock across our course; and we seem to be now as far as ever, or even farther than ever, from the haven where we would be. In the mean time, the subject itself, as a matter of public discussion, has become “ as stale as the remainder biscuit
after a voyage."
Questions, however, seem likely to be taken before this report and resolution are disposed of, upon which any vote that one may give, will be so exceedingly liable to misconstruction, that I cannot consent to forego some explanation of my views.
Repeated challenges have been heard in this hall, for one man to rise in his place and say that he was in favor of adopting the Exchequer plan as originally presented to us by the President of the United States. I am not about to respond to these challenges, or to take up the gauntlet which has thus been thrown down. But I greatly doubt both the policy and the propriety of passing the pending resolution, and if compelled to give a vote on it at all, that vote will be in the negative.
Before proceeding, however, to any remarks upon the resolution itself, or upon the report by which it is accompanied, I desire to present some general views on the subject matter involved in them.
And, in the first place, Sir, I wish to express the strong sense which I entertain of the obligation which is resting upon the Congress of the United States to make provision, by law, in some form or other, and without further delay, for the collection, custody, and disbursement of the public moneys. How is it with these moneys now? Who knows where they are to-day, or where they will be to-morrow? Who knows how they are collected, how they are kept, how they are disbursed? Who does not know that they are collected, kept, and disbursed, under the almost entirely unregulated and discretionary authority of the Executive? There is a section or two of an old law of 1789, and there is an amendatory act of 1822, — both of them exceedingly loose in their language and indefinite in their import; and there is also the resolution of 1816. The first of these acts merely makes it the duty of the Treasurer of the United States to receive and keep the public moneys, and to disburse the same upon the warrants of the Secretary of the Treasury, leaving all the subordinate agencies, through which the receipts and pay. ments of this great nation are to be conducted, entirely without legal specification or selection. The second of them relates mainly to moneys appropriated for the War and Navy Departments, and supplies none of the defects of the previous act. And the resolution of 1816 prescribes only the medium in which the public revenue shall be collected. These comprise all the law there is on the subject. These are the disjecta membra, the dry and detached bones, of our existing fiscal system; and it is left to Executive construction to knit them together as it can, and to clothe them with what body it pleases. The report of the Committee of Ways and Means admits all this, and declares that, since the late vetoes of the President, “ the public moneys have remained in the hands of officers appointed by the Executive, without any definite regulation by law." "
For one, I cannot feel that my duty to the country, as one of its humblest Representatives, is discharged, in leaving this discretion longer unchecked. Do gentlemen tell me, that we have tried twice to accomplish this object, and that our efforts have twice been defeated by the interposition of Executive vetoes? Sir, I am no vindicator of those vetoes, and no apologist for them in any degree. I join as heartily as any man in this House in deploring and condemning the use which has been made of this odious veto power, both in relation to this and other matters; though, perhaps, I may not think it consistent with the dignity and decorum which belongs to this place, to indulge in such expressions on the subject as have too often been heard here. But, so far from finding, in such considerations as these, any ground for relaxing our efforts in relation to the public moneys, I hold them to be additional reasons for persevering, until our duty has been accomplished. We are the Representatives of the people. We have something of peculiar constitutional responsibility for the safety of the moneys of the people. And because the Executive, whose discretion we desire to control and regulate, has seen fit, from any cause, I care not whether of conscience or of contumacy, to arrest and resist our interposition, shall we, therefore, forbear altogether, and leave him in undisturbed possession of the Treasury? I cannot so read our duty. On the contrary, if there be distrust of the Executive; if there be disapprobation of his policy or principles; if there be alarm or apprehension as to his aims and ends, and as to the means by which he seeks to accomplish them; there is all the more reason, in my judgment, for persisting in our attempts, until the public moneys shall be again placed under legislative securities and safeguards. Sir, if there be fear of a union of purse and sword, we have that union now, in the very form in which it first became the subject of Whig denunciation, when General
Jackson removed the deposites from the Bank of the United States; and it is for us, if that union must, in any shape, be continued, at least to provide, that it shall henceforth be a union regulated and restricted by law. : Thus far, it is true, our Treasury has been in little danger. Our poverty has been our protection. The utter emptiness of the public coffers has made it almost a matter of indifference who kept the keys, or whether there were any keys at all. Cantabit vacuus coram latrone viator. We have enjoyed something of the security of the penniless traveller, who whistles in the face of the highwayman. But a different state of things is not far off. I have no fear that the tariff of the last session, if only allowed to go fairly into operation, is about to be so ruinous to our revenue as some gentlemen have prophesied. Let the ability of the people to consume be stimulated, until it rises above the famine standard, above the almost starving and freezing point, to which an unchecked foreign competition with their labor has reduced it, and there is nothing in the present scale of duties which will prevent an ample influx of revenue. The country has seen higher duties than these, and an overflowing Treasury at the same time. Certainly, if the rigor of the cash payments should be mitigated by the adoption of that ware. housing system, which, I am happy to say, has been matured by the Committee of Commerce this very morning, and if, too, this House could be prevailed on to impose a moderate, temporary duty on tea and coffee, - a measure which no one would feel as oppressive, and which a due regard to the public credit demands of us, in my judgment, to adopt before we adjourn, we should witness a very different condition of the finances of the country at the commencement of the next session. But, at any rate, full or empty, exuberant or exhausted, the Treasury of the nation ought now and always to be under legislative regulation and control. This, Sir, is Whig doctrine, Republican doctrine, Democratic doctrine, Constitutional doctrine.
And now, Mr. Speaker, I have no hesitation in saying that a National Bank, of moderate capital, say fifteen or twenty millions at the farthest, with such limitations and restrictions as the experience of the last ten years has abundantly suggested, always