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what hope is there that any efficient measure will be adopted hereafter ?
The conduct of the treasury department in receiving the notes of the banks, after they had suspended payment, might, or might not, have been excused by the necessity of the case. That is not now the subject of inquiry. I wish such inquiry had been instituted. It ought to have been. It is of dangerous consequence to permit plain omissions to execute the law to pass off, under any circumstances, without inquiry. It would probably be easier to prove that the treasury must have continued to receive such notes, or that all payments to government would have been suspended, than it would be to justify the previous negotiations of great loans at the banks, which was a voluntary transaction, induced by no particular necessity, and which is, nevertheless, beyond doubt, the principal cause of their present condition. But I have expressed my belief on more than one occasion, and I repeat the opinion, that it was the duty, and in the power, of the Secretary of the Treasury, on the return of peace, to return to the legal and proper mode of collecting the
The paper of the banks rose on that occasion almost to an equality with specie; that was the favorable moment. The banks in which the public money was deposited ought to have been induced to lead the way, by the sale of their government stocks, and other measures calculated to bring about, moderately and gradually, but regularly and certainly, the restoration of the former and only safe state of things. It can hardly be doubted, that the influence of the treasury could have affected all this. If not, it could have withdrawn the deposits and countenance of government from institutions which, against all rule and all propriety, were holding great sums in government stocks, and making enormous profits from the circulation of their own dishonored paper. That which was most wanted was the designation of a time for the corresponding operation of banks in different places. This could have been made by the head of the treasury, better than by any body or every body else. But the occasion was suffered to pass by unimproved, and the credit of the banks soon fell again, when it was found they used none of the means which the opportunity afforded them for enabling them to fulfil their engagements.
As to any power of compulsion to be exercised over the State
banks, they are not subject to the direct control of the general government. It is for the State authorities which created them to decide whether they have acted according to their charters, and if not, what shall be the remedy for their irregularities. But from such of them as continued to receive deposits of public money, government had a right to expect that they would conduct their concerns according to the safe and well-known principles which should properly govern such institutions. It is bound also to collect its taxes of the people on a uniform system. These rights and these duties are too important to be surrendered to the accommodation of any particular interest or any temporary purpose.
The resolutions before the House take no notice of the State banks. They express neither praise nor censure of them. They neither commend them for their patriotism in the loans made to government, nor propose to tax them for their neglect or refusal to pay their debts. They assume no power of interfering with these institutions. They say not one word about compelling them to resume their payments; they leave that to the consideration of the banks themselves, or to those who have a right to call them to account for any misconduct in that respect. But the resolutions declare that taxes ought to be equal; that preferences ought not to be given; that the revenues of the country ought not to be diminished in amount, nor hazarded altogether, by the receipt of varying and uncertain paper; and that the present state of things, in which all these unconstitutional, illegal, and dangerous ingredients are mixed, ought not to exist.
It has been said, that these resolutions may be construed into a justification of the past conduct of the treasury department. Such an objection has been anticipated. It was made, in my opinion, with much more justice to the bill rejected yesterday, and a provision was therefore subsequently introduced into that bill to exclude such an inference. This is certainly not the time to express any justification or approbation of the conduct of that department on this subject, and I trust these resolutions do not imply it.
Nor do the resolutions propose to express any censure. A sufficient reason for declining to do either is, that the facts are not sufficiently known. What loss has actually happened, what amount - it is said to be large — may be now in the treasury, in notes which will not pass, or under what circumstances these were received, is not now sufficiently ascertained.
But before these resolutions are rejected, on the ground that they may shield the treasury department from responsibility, it ought to be clearly shown that they are capable of such a construction. The mere passing of any resolution cannot have that effect. A declaration of what ought to be done does not necessarily imply any sanction of what has been done. It may sometimes imply the contrary. These resolutions cannot be made to imply any more than this, – that the financial affairs of the country are in such a condition that the revenue cannot be instantly collected in legal currency. This they do imply, and this I suppose almost all admit to be true. An instantaneous execution of the law, without warning or notice, could in my opinion produce nothing, in a portion of the country, but an entire suspension of payments.
But to whose fault it is owing that the affairs of the country are reduced to this condition, they do not declare. They do not prevent, or in any degree embarrass, future inquiry on that subject. They speak to the fact that the finances are deranged. They say, also, that reformation, though it must be gradual, ought to be immediately begun, and to be carried to perfection in the shortest time practicable. They cannot by any fair construction be made to express the approbation of Congress on the past conduct of any high officer of government; and if the time shall ever come when this House shall deem investigation necessary, it must be a case of very unpromising aspect, and of most fearful issue, which shall afford no other hope of escape than by setting up these resolutions by way of bar to an inquiry.
Nor is it any objection to this measure that inquiry has not first been had. Two duties may be supposed to have rested on the House: the one, to inquire into the origin of the evil, if it. needed inquiry; and the other, to find and apply the remedy. Because one of these duties has not hitherto been discharged, is no reason why the other should be longer neglected. While we are deciding which to do first, the time of the session is going by us, and neither may be done. In the mean time, public mischiefs of unknown magnitude and incalculable duration threaten the country. I see no equivalent, no consolation, no mitigation, for these evils in the future responsibility of departments. Let
gentlemen show me any responsibility which will not be a name and a mockery. If, when we meet here again, it shall be found that all the barriers which have hitherto, in any degree, restrained the emissions of a paper money of the very worst sort, have given way, and that the floods have broken in upon us and come over us, - if it shall be found that revenues have failed, that the public credit, now a little propped and supported by a state of peace and commerce, has again tottered and fallen to the ground, and that all the operations of government are at a stand, what then will be the value of the responsibility of departments? How great, then, the value of inquiry, when the evil is past prevention, when officers may have gone out of place, and when, indeed, the whole, administration will necessarily be dissolving by the expiration of the term for which the chief executive magistrate was chosen? I cannot consent to stake the chance of the greatest public mischiefs upon a reliance on any such responsibility. The stakes are too unequal.
As to the opinion advanced by some, that the object of the resolutions cannot in any way be answered, that the revenues cannot be collected otherwise than as they are now, in the paper of any
, and every banking association which chooses to issue paper, it cannot for a moment be admitted. This would be at once giving up the government; for what is government without revenue, and what is a revenue that is gathered together in the varying, fluctuating, discredited, depreciated, and still falling promissory notes of two or three hundred distinct, and, as to this government, irresponsible banking companies ? If it cannot collect its revenues in a better manner than this, it must cease to be a government. This thing, therefore, is to be done; at any rate it is to be attempted. That it will be accomplished by the treasury department, without the interference of Congress, I have no belief. If from that source no reformation came when reforma. tion was easy, it is not now to be expected. Especially after the vote of yesterday, those whose interest it is to continue the present state of things will arm themselves with the authority of Congress. They will justify themselves by the decision of this House. They will say, and say truly, that this House, having taking up the subject and discussed it, has not thought fit so much as to declare that it is expedient ever to relieve the country or its revenues from a paper-money system. Whoever
believes that the treasury department will oppose this tide, aided as it will be by strong feeling and great interest, has more faith in that department than has fallen to my lot. It is the duty of this House to interfere with its own authority. Having taxed the people with no light hand, it is now its duty to take care that the people do not sustain these burdens in vain. The taxes are not borne without feeling. They will not be borne without complaint, if, by mismanagement in collection, their utility to government should be lost, and they should get into the treasury at last only in discredited and useless paper.
A bank of thirty-five millions has been created for the professed purpose of correcting the evils of our circulation, and facilitating the receipts and expenditures of government. I am not so sanguine in the hope of great benefit from this measure as others are. But the treasury is also authorized to issue twenty-five millions of treasury-notes, eighteen or twenty millions of which remain yet to be issued, and which are also allowed by law to be received for duties and taxes. In addition to these is the coin which is in the country, and which is sure to come forth into circulation whenever there is a demand for it. These means, if wisely and skilfully administered, are sufficient to prevent any particular pressure, or great inconvenience, in returning to the legal mode of collecting the revenue. It is true, it may be easier for the people in the States in which the depreciated paper exists to pay their taxes in such paper than in the legal currency of treasury-notes, because they can get it cheaper. But this is only saying that it is easier to pay a small tax than to pay a large one, or that money costs more than that which is less valuable than money, a proposition not to be disputed. But a medium of payment convenient for the people and safe for the government will be furnished, and may everywhere be obtained for a reasonable price. This is all that can justly be expected of Congress. Having provided this, they ought to require all parts of the country to conform to the same measure of justice. If taxes be not necessary, they should not be laid. If laid, they ought to be collected without preference or partiality.
But while some gentlemen oppose the resolutions because they fix a day too near, others think they fix a day too distant. In my own judgment, it is not so material what the time is, as