« AnteriorContinuar »
has been, and is still, my first choice for the fiscal agent of the Government. Nor has the profligate mismanagement of such an institution, which has recently been exhibited, destroyed or impaired my confidence in its value. No, Sir, no more than the monstrous misrule to which this nation has been subjected from time to time, during the last twelve years, has destroyed my confidence in the free and glorious form of government under which we live. I am rash enough to think, too, that this very moment would be, in many respects, a favorable moment for establishing such an institution; believing that, while our experience of the evils to which its bad management has exposed us, is still fresh and uneffaced, a bank would be established on safer and stricter principles, and on a less magnificent and dangerous scale, than at almost any time hereafter. The principles of the President have, however, rendered this an utterly impracticable idea.
But there are other modes which might be tried, and which ought to be tried, for the same end. If this Congress is willing to do nothing else, it might call upon the Secretary of the Treasury to set down in black and white, and to present to us in the form of a statute, his present working plan for keeping, collecting, and disbursing the public funds. We might examine it, amend it, and give it the sanction of a law. Better have any system, even a bad one, resting on written law, than no system at all, or than a bad system, resting on mere Executive will.
So strongly, Mr. Speaker, have I felt the impropriety of leaving the custody of the public treasures of the country longer at the mere discretion of the Executive, that, as events have turned out, I have more than once been inclined to regret, that the Sub-Treasury system itself was so summarily repealed. Odious and abhorrent as that system was regarded, I could hardly bring myself to vote for its entire repeal at this moment, were it still in existence, except by voting for the simultaneous substitution of something better. And I will do the justice to the party with which I am associated here, to say, that I believe it was no part of their original purpose, at the extra session, to repeal that system as an independent measure. It has often been charged, and often, as I think, most unjustly charged, that the Whig party were actuated, at the extra session, by a desire to embarrass and perplex the President of the United States. There is far more ground, Sir, for charging them, in some cases, with too great a willingness to yield to his suggestions. That accusation of a spirit of com. pliance, which the honorable gentleman from Virginia, (Mr. Wise,) arrayed against us the other day, has, in my opinion, much more of foundation; though, perhaps, it hardly lies with the President's immediate friends to cast it in our teeth. The outright repeal of the Sub-Treasury system, as a separate act, was, as I understand it, a measure of pure complaisance towards the Executive. Its history was on this wise: The first bank charter had passed, and was under Executive advisement. Its signature would have repealed the Sub-Treasury system prospectively. Its veto would have left that system standing permanently, A suggestion was made, from some quarter or other, that the President took this course unkindly, - that it looked like a purpose to make him either sign the bank charter, or be responsible for the continuance of a system which he himself admitted had been condemned. It was thought that it would put him in better humor for a favorable consideration of the bank, if he were relieved from this predicament. And upon this hint, the Sub-Treasury repeal bill was hastily carried through. For one, I can hardly help regretting that such a course was taken. I would rather have left the Sub-Treasury system on the statute book, on the joint responsibility of those who originated it, and of those who prevented the adoption of the proposed substitute, until some third system should have been devised. We might have taken out the teeth of the monster. We might have extracted the poison from its fangs. We might have abolished the specie clause, a provision, which, as Mr. Gallatin has well remarked, was operative against those banks alone which continued to pay in specie, — “a warfare directed exclusively against those institutions which performed their duty, and, not without difficulty, sustained a sound currency.” And perhaps other beneficial modifications might have been ingrafted on it at a future day, But, as a system for keeping the public moneys, it was at least better than none, and might better have been left in existence until we could agree upon something to take its place.
After the expression of these views, Mr. Speaker, no one can be surprised, when I say that I prefer even to adopt that part of the Exchequer plan, which provides for the custody and disbursement of the public funds, to doing nothing; and that I am, therefore, entirely unwilling to cut myself off from the opportunity of supporting so much at least of the President's plan, by voting for the resolution before us.
But this is not the only part of the Exchequer plan, for which, under all circumstances, I am disposed to vote. I am not one of those who hold that the duty of the Government on this subject ends with making provision for the management of its own finances. I am no subscriber to the doctrine, which was heard a few years ago, that the Government should look out for itself, and should let the people look out for themselves. On the contrary, in relation both to revenue and to finance, the interests of the people should be embraced in every consideration of the wants of the Government. Especially, at a moment of such commercial embarrassment and depression as the present, we should contemplate, if possible, no measure of relief to the Treasury, which does not hold out some hope of relief to the community also. We all regret, — all of us at least who constitute the majority in this House, - that circumstances have prevented us from doing what we desired to do in this behalf. But, if we cannot do all that we wish, let us not fail to do all that we conscientiously and constitutionally can, trusting to other and greater opportunities for the ultimate fulfilment of our desires.
Now, Sir, I am one of those who believe, that a simple issue of fifteen or twenty millions of Exchequer notes, redeemable in specie, at sight, (and I would prefer them redeemable in the city of New York alone, or, at most, at one or two other points,) and resting on a basis sufficient to secure their redeemability from all danger and all doubt, at any and every instant when they might be presented, would be a very considerable convenience and relief, both to the Government and to the people. Government paper is, indeed, no prime favorite of mine, in any form. I regret that we have been under the necessity of resorting to it at all. But, as we have lived upon it already for five or six years, and seem not likely, at present, to obtain a national medium of cir
culation of any other kind, I am willing to try it in the most convenient shape. Nor can I agree with gentlemen who pronounce such a medium, based upon specie even to the extent of dollar for dollar, as not worth having. Something a little more liberal, so it were safe, might undoubtedly be preferable. Something more liberal would indeed be indispensable, so far as any relief to the Treasury is concerned ; and the President's plan, accordingly, makes provision for basing an issue of fifteen millions of notes upon five millions of specie, and five millions of Government bonds to be negotiated as needed. Increase the authority to issue bonds to the full amount which might be necessary in any emergency for redeeming the entire issue of notes, and the safety of such a provision could hardly be questioned. The bonds would, in all probability, never be called for, and the Treasury would have an addition of ten millions to its resources at a moment when such an addition may be absolutely indispensable to the preservation of the public credit. But the mere substitution of paper for metal is certainly a great convenience to the people ; and gentlemen forget one of the heads of their old arguments against a hard-money currency, when they spurn such a substitution as so utterly worthless and contemptible. Such a paper would be convenient for local payments, convenient for Treasury payments, and, more especially, convenient as a medium of exchange. Even Treasury notes, as now issued, at interest, and on time, are acknowledged to have been a great convenience and relief in all these respects. Indeed, it is almost impossible to conceive how the business either of the Treasury or of the people could have been conducted, during the difficulties and distresses of the last five years, without the aid of such an instrument of receipt and payment.
Mr. Speaker, there are other features of the Executive plan of an Exchequer about which I have many misgivings, and for which, I confess, I do not see my way clear to vote. I refer particularly to the power to purchase bills of exchange. There is certainly room to apprehend, that such a power would not be exercised wisely, even if it were exercised honestly, by those to whom it is proposed to be intrusted. In such hands it would, undoubtedly, be liable to great abuses, both from ignorance and from intention. I have the strongest reluctance, too, to making any part of our fiscal system dependent on the assent of the States, - a condition without which this Exchange power could hardly receive the sanction of the President. I confess, Sir, it is rather late in the day for some of us to take umbrage at this condition. My venerable colleague (Mr. Adams) and the honorable member from Kentucky (Mr. Marshall) are perhaps the only members on our side of the House who are privileged to carp at it. All the rest of us voted for a most miserable compromise of this principle of State assent, in the first bank charter of the extra session, and we all remember the opening thunders of the gentleman from Kentucky on that occasion. We gave those votes with an honest desire to satisfy the President's conscience; but they only served to wound our own; and, for one, I am more willing to cry peccavi, in relation to that vote, than to have it recorded as a precedent for my future action. Nor do I believe that this Exchange feature of the bill, under all the limitations and restrictions which must be imposed upon it, would be so very great a boon to the country. Public opinion, in some quarters of the country certainly, has undergone great mutations on the subject of exchanges. Government regulation of exchanges is much less called for than it used to be. As the local currencies of the country become sound, the enormous rates of exchange are found to disappear. The aid which is now demanded of the government, is aid through the medium of currency; and to supply this aid to the exchanges is undoubtedly as far as any positive duty of the government can extend. The substitution of gold for silver, as the main ingredient of our metallic medium, as is strongly stated by my respected predecessor, (Mr. Appleton,) in his able pamphlet on the currency, has exerted a most salutary influence in lessening the rates of exchange. While the transportation of silver would hardly have been attempted between New York and Boston, for instance, with an exchange below one per cent., — gold is transported from one city to the other before the exchange can rise to a quarter of one per cent. But I will not dwell longer on the subject of exchanges, nor indeed on any of the other features of the Exchequer system. When the bill itself shall come up for