Imágenes de páginas
[blocks in formation]

the common law to be in force in the United States? They are certainly not recognised by the Constitution of the United States. The principles of that law, he said, were not suited to such a Government as ours. They were generally of a character strictly municipal; they had never been adopted by legislative enaction; they had never been adopted by the only branch of the Government capable of giving law to the people of this country, as a nation-the Congress of the United States. We therefore, said Mr. J., have neither the common law nor the civil law, by which to test this charter.

H. OF R.

acts of its predecessors. That this Congress, that this House, would always be actuated by the strictest regard to propriety-to the immutable principles of justice-was fair, was proper to presume. But that it ought never to be restrained from repealing any of its own acts, or those of its predecessors, when the welfare and happiness of the people required such repeal; or from dissolving any corporation, or supposed corporation, which claimed to exist by some law of the United States, when that very law had been grossly and palpably violated. He considered the right clear and indisputable. Is it expedient, under But, sir, said Mr. J., we have the charter be- existing circumstances, to exercise this right? fore us. Let us apply the fundamental rules of He considered the policy equally clear and indisthe charter, under the guidance of reason and putable. He understood the bank was now able common sense, to the conduct of this corpora- to pay all its debts, and to meet all its engagetion. Those rules which, at its creation, were ments. The claims of innocent stockholders can imposed on it, to govern and direct its course, now be secured; they can now be protected from without a due observance and obedience to which injury, if the corporation be immediately disrules it must cease to exist. This charter has solved. Permit it to go on, judging from its past been violated; and the question now occurs, has conduct, no man can tell what will be the result. Congress the power, the moral power, to repeal If, in the three first years of its existence, it be the charter, or must the question be submitted to convicted of such misuse and abuse of its pow the judiciary? Is the provision in the act of in-ers; if, during that period, the whole tenor of its corporation which provides the remedy by scire conduct be marked with acts of the most glaring facias for breaches of the charter obligatory on impropriety; and if it be permitted to escape the Congress of the United States? Cannot the with impunity, who can estimate the consepower which created this corporation dissolve it? quences? Will it not hereafter put the power of Can the faith of this nation be pledged by an act this House at defiance? What reliance could be which is contrary to the Constitution of the placed on the directors of the Government? country? Can this corporation surrender its From the report of the committee of investigacharter? To whom would the surrender be tion, it would be found that they, or a portion of made? Would it be to a member of the judi- them, had been guilty of as many violations of ciary, or to a court, in session? If so, to which their duty as the private directors, and characmember, or to which of the Federal courts? Or terized by the same culpable regard for their indiwould the surrender be made to the Congress of vidual interests, at the expense of the institution, the United States? He humbly conceived that and of the small and innocent stockholders. A the corporation had the right to surrender its due regard for the interests of the small and incharter; that the surrender, if made, must be to nocent stockholders would induce him to give the power by which it was created. He pre- his vote for the repeal of the charter. Let the sumed that it would be conceded to him, that corporation continue, and the interests of this the individual members composing the corpora- class will still be sacrificed to the interests and tion had the power and the right to dissolve it. views of the large and influential stockholders. Put the case, that they failed or refused to elect He would, then, secure the innocent by dissolvdirectors, by what process could they be coerced ing the charter; and they would, moreover, Mr. J. or compelled to perform this duty? Some mem- contended, have another security; for he held it a ber had suggested that a mandamus might be clear principle, that the president and directors awarded. What, resort to a mandamus against were responsible, in their private fortunes, for all an individual? Who would sue out the process? their iniquitous and fraudulent acts, to those who Such a process was sometimes resorted to by a had sustained injury; that the injured party superior court to compel an inferior court to dis- a clear remedy. These directors had undertaken charge its duty. But it was the first time that to negotiate for specie in Europe. The neceshe bad heard of sueing out a mandamus against sity to resort to this mode of procuring the spe an individual. If the members of this corpora-cie part of the capital, was the result of mismantion neglected or refused to appoint directors, it agement-of abuse of their powers-of a violawould, as a necessary consequence, be dissolved. tion of their charter-of an inordinate thirst for Mr. J. asked if this institution-if its members-wealth-of an ill-judged desire to put their mahad power over its duration and legal existence which Congress had not? Had they created a power greater than the creator? Had not the power which spoke this charter into existence also the power to destroy it? Mr. J. denied that a precedent Legislature could, by any act, bind its successors; contended that it was at all times competent for a legislative body to repeal the


chine into motion. By evading the payment on the part of the favored stockholders of the second specie instalment, this negotiation was ren. dered necessary. How was this business conducted? On principles of equity and justice? No, sir. An agent was sent to Europe to purchase specie; the contract was negotiated, and the specie delivered in this country, at an expense

H. OF R.

Bank of the United States.


there appeared to be an effort to attribute motives much less noble, honorable, and disinterested. He could not but believe that those who sought with so much solicitude to establish impure motives, were beguiled and led astray, by glancing the mirror which reflected the motives of their own bosoms.

Mr. J. said, he disliked to speak of himself: he would, however, to avoid the imputation of any interested or undue influence, take this occasion to remark, that he had, on all occasions, voted against the incorporation of banks; that he voted against the charter of the Farmers' Bank of Virginia-the extension of the charter of the Old Bank of Virginia; that he was not a stockholder, nor ever had been a stockholder, in any; that he had never applied for, nor received, any species of accommodation from any bank whatever.

to the bank of $525,297 38; an expense which resulted from mismanagement, and a fraudulent and culpable system of favoritism, extended to the large stockholders. Mr. J. said, as the large stockholders received indulgences and benefits, which made the expenditure of this sum neces-at sary, it ought to have fallen exclusively on them, and not equally on the innocent stockholders, and the Government, which appears to have been the fact. And this act rendered necessary by a total disregard of the fundamental articles of the charter, and for the purposes of individual speculation, was one for which the directors claimed credit from the nation. Those humane gentlemen, said Mr. J., who have such claims on our justice; those artful gentlemen who can divide thirty shares so ingeniously as to enable them to give almost as many thousand votes; who can now weep for the widow and the or- During the late war, at a period when the phan, who will be ruined by the dissolution of Treasury was empty; when the energy of the this charter; who had hearts as hard as stone nation appeared to be paralyzed; when ruin when in pursuit of their favorite object, their seemed to stare us in the face, we were told, he idol, and their god-money; who, to obtain that said, that we must have a National Bank; that desired and loved object, wealth, and its concom- without it the war could not be prosecuted-the itants, power and influence, would have feasted soldiers could not be fed, or clothed, or paid, to on the blood, and battened on the bones of those fight the battles of the country. Great efforts for whom they now affect so much sympathy were made; a bank charter was successfully carand sorrow; those disinterested, compassionate, ried through both Houses of Congress, and prehighminded, honorable gentlemen, who could sented to the President of the United States, for soften their president by a douceur of $15,000; his signature. Surrounded, as he was, by all the those gentlemen, who, we are told, have strong gloomy circumstances of the day, Mr. Madison claims on the forbearance of this House. Mr. J. returned the charter, on the express ground that regretted that this picture, this horrid picture, it did not provide sufficiently for the interest of would be seen not only in this country, but would the Government. The Constitutional difficulties necessarily be presented, in all its deformity, to were removed from his mind; the subject had the gaze of the world. It would attract the eyes been adjudicated, and put to rest. What was the of all nations to the United States. That coun- consequence? Some Republican gentlemen, Mr. try which heretofore had claimed, and received, J. said, now within the sound of his voice, must so much credit for the purity of its character; recollect the course pursued. A meeting was had that country which we have been told is still so by the Republican members of Congress, in order prosperous and so happy, in the forty-third year to agree upon principles, to determine upon a charof its age, to have produced a monster of fraud ter which would be acceptable to the then Presiand corruption without parallel. Even Eng-dent of the United States. Before this comproland, bad as he believed her, could not furnish an institution more distinguished for adroitness in swindling and fraud than this corporation. Sir, all Europe will point the steady finger of scorn at this grand shaving shop.

Mr. J. called the attention of the Committee to the struggle which was made to recharter the old Bank of the United States, and the arguments which were used on that occasion. He adverted to the feelings which were imparted to the General Assembly of Virginia, when a letter was received from Mr. Giles, a Senator from that State, on the subject of his instructions to vote against the renewal of the charter of the bank. Mr. J. said he opposed the reading of that letter; but curiosity prevailed-it was read. It seemed to him, Mr. J. said, that all acts were referred to the standard of motive. All actions appeared to be traced to some motive of interest or design. Instead of looking to the one single and grand motive which ought to be presumed to animate all in this House, the ardent and pure desire to promote the public interest and happiness,

mise of opinion could take place; before a new and unexceptionable charter could be manufactured, the messenger of peace came, with healing in his wings. Nothing more was done at that session of Congress, on the subject. The nation's joy was testified, at the seat of Government, by illuminations and bonfires. The solemn farce performed, of illuminating the monuments of our disgrace, the evidences of the vandalism and barbarism of our enemy. Every window in the city was gaily illuminated, and the ruin and desolation of the Capitol and other public buildings and edifices rendered more strikingly conspicuous by this extravagant evidence of joy at the return of a peace which the prowess of the nation had achieved.

But, Mr. Madison's objections produced at the succeeding Congress another experiment, which proved more fortunate, not for the nation, but for the interests of speculators. The charter to the existing bank was obtained. Nothing, Mr. J. said, did he more sincerely regret than that Mr. Madison should have put his signature to


Bank of the United States.

H. OF R.

charter a National Bank. But, he demanded of those who held the affirmative proposition to establish, by clear and indisputable reasoning, that

such an act. That honest, that respectable, enlightened, and patriotic statesman, who had so long and so faithfully served his country, had, in this single instance, cast a shade on the hith-the bank had been constitutionally establishederto bright and unclouded orbit, in which he had moved. Mr. J. said, it was extremely painful to him to refer to any act of that distinguished statesman, who had retired to private life, in any other terms than those of respect and approbation. Nor would he on this occasion have done so, except from a sense of duty; and with a view to the history of the banks of the United States, which he felt himself bound to give.

When the question first arose in this country, continued Mr. J., as to the powers of Congress to incorporate a National Bank, the wisest men in the nation differed in opinion on the Constitutional powers of the Government to create such corporation. General Washington himself, as appeared from the history of that day, labored under great difficulty-he called for the opinions of his secretaries, and doubted, and doubted, until the time had almost elapsed, which would have made the act of incorporation a law, without his signature. The difficulties and doubts which at that time surrounded the mind of the Chief Magistrate, produced a most elaborate and able investigation into the Constitutional powers of Congress to create corporations. We have not only the opinions, but the testimony of two of the most enlightened men of any age or country, Mr. Jefferson and Mr. Madison, on the Constitutional question, whether Congress has the power to incorporate a National Bank? Mr. Jefferson's opinion and testimony will be found in the written opinion given by him to General Washington on the question. In the year 1791, Mr. Madison, in a very eloquent speech delivered in Congress, stated the following important fact, speaking of the power to incorporate a bank. This power was proposed to be vested in Congress, in the original plan reported by the committee of the convention, among the enumeration of powers which now form the 8th section of the 1st article, but that, after three days ar'dent debate, on the special subject, in that body, 'the power was rejected and stricken out, upon the principle that it was a power improper to 'be vested in the General Government." Mr. J. said, that he was aware that an instrument of writing might convey more or less power than was intended by the contracting parties-that this result might be produced from the want of sufficient accuracy and precision in the terms



[ocr errors]


Such a charge, he presumed, could scarcely exist in reference to the Constitution of the United States. He denied that by a fair and clear deduction; that by any rational construction, this power could be derived from the Constitution. It did not belong to any of the enumerated powers. Nor was it fairly referable to any of the implied or resulting powers of the Government. He did not mean to enter on the discussion of the Constitutional powers of the Congress of the United States to create corporations, or to 15th CoN. 2d SESS.-40

or, that the faith of the Government could be pledged by an act not sanctioned by the Constitution. The act of incorporation, he said, was a dead letter; it was worse-it was an act of usurpation. It was idle to talk of the faith of the Government being pledged to sustain it.

How, then, Mr. J. asked, did the question present itself? The Supreme Court, as he had before remarked, had declared the common law not to be the law of the United States; and, consequently, in making the inquiry, whether forfeiture had been incurred by this corporation of its charter, the question could not be tested or settled by the application of the principles of this system of law. According to the settled and well established principles of the common law, settled by frequent adjudications, no doubt can exist that the charter of the Bank of the United States is forfeited. In support of this doctrine, he begged leave to refer to the case of the King against the city of London, and the cases there cited. And, said Mr. J., after the disclo sures which have been made, will the House permit this violated act to remain on the Statute Book a disgrace to the nation? Are we, said he, not to support the Constitution; and can the immaculate and patriotic gamblers in this bank induce us, for a single moment, to prolong an act which violates this instrument?

Mr. J. said, if this proposition to repeal the charter should be negatived, he could not vote for the bill reported by the bank committee, as he should, by so doing, recognise the legal existence of the bank. This, according to his most solemn convictions, would amount to a violation of his oath. He trusted there would be neither difficulty nor hesitation in putting down this corporation. He hoped in God his country would not present the melancholy, the degraded picture, sketched by the masterhand of Byron, when surrounded by the gloom resulting from a view of the glorious decay and splendid ruins of Rome.

"There is the moral of all human tales, 'Tis but the same rehearsal of the past; First freedom, and then glory-when that fails, Wealth, vice, corruption-barbarism at last." We had enjoyed the blessings of freedom. We had had a reasonable share of glory. Our arms had been triumphant on the land and on the ocean. All seemed animated, now, by the desire to accumulate wealth. He hoped the nation would still pause, and reflect, seriously reflect, on the consequences of changing the pursuit of a national character, distinguished by liberality, magnanimity, and honor, for the sordid pursuit of wealth, at the expense of vice and corruption. Mr. J. said, he had hoped much from the fair destinies of this nation, but those would be marred and destroyed, if a miserable corporation could hold the Government in check, influence its operations, plunge it into corruption, or cover it with vice and shame whenever it should please.

H. OF R.

Bank of the United States.


Mr. PINDALL, of Virginia, took the floor. He fundamentals, it departed from the orbit within was confident, he said, that the House, as well as which Congress had confined its operations. himself, was willing to acknowledge its gratitude I will now, (said Mr. P.) pray the House to to the honorable members of the select commit accompany me, in the review of another part of tee, who, by a laborious and deep investigation of the report, where will be found a feature, which the affairs of the National Bank, had been en- cannot fail to excite in the House a degree of reabled to present to our view an elaborate state- gret and disappointment. The report manifests ment of facts, not less interesting to the nation that the honorable committee have deemed themthan important with regard to their consequences. selves clothed with authority to pass an unqualiBut, whilst he remained sensible of the exalted fied censure upon the conduct of the State banks. merit of the committee, he would claim the priv- Gentlemen are now invited to show the power ilege of judging for himself, by deducing his own of the committee to investigate the concerns or conclusions from the facts contained in the re-proceedings of State banks, with which it would port, and, in so doing, he would frankly acknowl- seem the violation or non-violation of the charter edge that the report sought to inculcate a prin- of the United States Bank had no connexion. ciple to which he was unable to subscribe. The With the most profound respect for the motives committee had asserted, that there might be many and talents of the committee, I must assume the violations of the bank charter, which should not liberty of declaring that I consider this public be considered as producing a forfeiture. Against and official condemnation of the respectable banks, the assumption of such principle, Mr. P. would which pervade the respective States, as ill-timed take leave to enter his decided protest. The Le- and unjust-as produced by the statements, and gislature had enacted certain fundamental rules, probably partial complaints of their formidable to which this bank corporation was bound to con- rival, who was fully heard by the committee, form, and, by infracting those fundamental can- whilst the many respectable State institutions ons, the corporation violated its charter, and there- have incurred a heavy and cruel censure, without by incurred a forfeiture of that charter. He was being summoned, or having any opportunity, to not prepared to say, that this House would always be heard in their defence. This subject, however, feel itself disposed to enforce a forfeiture for every has been presented to us by the report, and must, violation of the charter, as a departure from the therefore, demand the attention which seems due terms of the law might possibly be imagined, un- to its importance. I am sensible that the House der circumstances which would induce the Legis- would not, at this late day, relish a discussion of lature to commiserate the institution, or excuse the remote and complicated causes which led the error, but he would contend, that every pal- the way to a suspension of specie payments by pable violation of the fundamental principles of the State banks, during the late war; topics that the institution would subject it to the discretion have given birth to arguments, or rather disputes, and mercy of the National Legislature (the author by which public patience has been long since exof its existence) which would decide on the jus- hausted. Yet, there were some circumstances tice and policy of enforcing the forfeiture, or ex- connected with the suspension of bank payments, cusing this offence. The select committee had with regard to which there could exist no differsupposed that some violations of the charter would ence of opinion. It is deemed proper to remind induce its forfeiture, whilst other violations would the House of these circumstances, the uncertainty not produce that effect, and, among the former, of which will beguile us into no disputation, althe committee had classed those violations which though their remembrance may enable us to acdefeated the very objects of the institution, as ex-count, in some measure, for our present embarpressed in the charter itself. But, it was evident, this sort of indefinite classification could afford no aid to our investigation. There was no preamble to the act of incorporation expressive of the objects of the institution. One gentleman would see, in one given violation of charter, a prostration of the objects of the institution, whilst other gentlemen, attaching less magnitude to the same crime, would look in a different avenue to find what are called the objects of the institution, and, in that predicament of vexation and perplexity, it would be seen that neither the Legislature nor the honorable select committee had been kind enough to furnish a thermometer for the true admeasurement of the objects of the incorporation. In relation, however, to one circumstance, there could arise no difficulty of opinion. Certain principles were prescribed for the control and government of the corporation, which had been dignified by the Legislature as fundamental rules and articles, and it would be equally manifest that, whensoever the corporation transcended those

rassment. It is certain, that, previous to the close of the late war, the disorder of the currency distressed the community, and imposed an evil not only on every quarter of the country, but afflicted almost every operation of trade. It is equally certain that the superabundant issue of bills by the moneyed corporations of the States, coeval with, and after the suspension of specie payments, produced the disorder in the state of the currency. If it be charged, that the State banks, in their over issues of paper, were prompted by an unwarrantable thirst of gain, I would not feel myself authorized to make a total denial of the charge, nor find it necessary to contend, that those banks were exempt from the prevalent appetite which has since so remarkably characterized the Bank of the United States, and which seems more or less to guide the deliberations of all corporations of trade. In truth, it may be affirmed that the spirit which instigated or enticed the commercial classes of our community to overtrade their means, insinuated itself into the count


Bank of the United States.

H. of R.

ing rooms of the banks, and prompted them, also, great depreciation of some bank bills, and the into exertions scarcely compatible with the maxims considerable depreciation, or par value, of others, of prudence. But, sir, can this House, as a branch mentioned in the report of the select committee, of the national Government, criticise the trans- indicated the decline of credulity with respect to gressions of the banks without a melancholy pang, the paper system, as well as a public relish of disin reflecting that this Government has also parti- crimination between banks of solid and spurious cipated in those transgressions, or at least pro- capitals. The State Legislatures, also, the authors moted them, by the extraordinary credit which and guardians of the local banks, had entered is solicited and almost demanded, from those upon an exertion of their proper and visitatorial institutions. The eighty millions of dollars, powers over these institutions, and were hastenwhich the Government found itself under the ing the return of specie payments, by compelling necessity of borrowing, from the year 1812 to the banks immediately, or at fixed periods, to re1815, inclusive, were drawn from these corpo- deem their paper in specie. At this juncture of rations, in bank notes and bank credits. The convalescence of the paper currency, when the Government, engaged in the prosecution of a danger and dread of war was gone, and when just war, found it absolutely necessary to raise, our Government found it unnecessary to imporfor its current service, enormous sums of money, tune the State banks for further loans, the proand, at the same time, saw the utter impossi-jectors of the United States Bank urged the Nabilty of acquiring the funds, without the aid tional Government to call into existence a mighty of the State banks. It, therefore, resorted to corporation, to overawe and correct the local inmeans of temptation adapted to conquer the most stitutions, that had dealt themselves almost out stubborn prudence on the part of the banks. Not of breath in supporting the Government in times only ordinary interest and premiums of bargain of peril and adversity. It was in April, 1816, were offered, but acts were passed authorizing when these local banks were contemplating, and the disbursement of bounties or bribes to brokers the public anticipating, the restoration of the age and agents, who would, on the part of Govern- of hard money, and only hesitated on the defi*ment, persuade the banks to advance their paper ciency of the quantity of specie in the country, and credit. Even the wholesome restraints in that the General Government determined to cure the charters of the banks of the District of Co- a disordered currency by the establishment of a lumbia, those prudent limitations of their discre- national bank; or, in other words, to create an tion, previously imposed by the National Gov-artificial demand in the market for seven millions ernment itself, (their legitimate guardian,) were loosened, and they too were authorized, invited and enticed, to issue paper for Government loans. The ardent solicitude of Government, that the banks should stretch their credit to its utmost extension; the appointment of several of those banks, as the receivers and depositories of the public revenue; an invitation to nearly all the local banks, to open their vaults to receive the public taxes, and proceeds of the sales of public lands most contiguous to them, (which seemed to imply a confidence on the part of Government, indicating its disposition to support these banks with its powers and vast resources)-all these considerations, I say, had their due weight in influencing the liberality of the banks, who already perceived the promotion of their own interests in accepting the contracts for the heavy loans, so essential to the operations of the country.

of dollars, specie, which, although done with the ostensible view of inducing the local banks to resume specie payments, would of necessity protract that event, by increasing the danger of opening their vaults to the prodigious demand for dollars to fill the coffers of the new bank. It is almost unnecessary to remark, that the policy thus adopted by the General Government produced an alarm which discouraged the payment of specie by the State banks. Indeed, some of the State Legislatures, that had been laudably engaged in the correction of their own banks, that had shut their ears against all excuses, and marked the time for the redemption of paper by gold and silver, now relaxed their rules of severity, so as to permit their home banks to escape as they could from the speculators and brokers of the new project.

Charity, and every amiable sentiment, predispose us to the impression, that this was only a Our Government, then, as well as the specula- mistaken policy of the General Government, ting merchant, contributed to produce the evil of whose object might have been to assist the local a disordered and depreciated currency. But, in banks to resume specie payments, and hence reApril, 1816, when the act to incorporate the Uni- form the currency; but the dissimilar or rather ted States Bank, passed, this disease in the na-opposite policy proposed by the Executive Govtional currency had begun to work its own cure; ernment when the great bank was not exempt in proof of which, I must take leave to remind gentlemen of some of the events of that epoch. It will not be forgotten, that, at and previous to April, 1816, several of the banks had ceased to discount for new customers, and could with great difficulty be prevailed on to renew the outstanding loans then existing, whilst other banks had commenced a gradual curtailment of their loans, with a view to meet the period of a resumption of specie payments. The circumstance of the

from apprehensions of being placed somewhat in the condition of the local institutions, removes the idea of friendship to them. For this, I refer gentlemen to the letter of the Secretary of the Treasury to the United States Bank, of the 29th November, 1816, at a time when the institution feared to discount for those who were indebted to the Treasury for duties, lest it might, in consequence of the scarcity of specie, be placed in the perilous situation of other banks. The Sec

« AnteriorContinuar »