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the use of those faculties which have been given to him— and for what? Does the creditor gain by it? Has he a chance of obtaining more? I have the authority of experience for saying, that the chance is not worth estimating. Look at the operation of those laws, which grant only a partial discharge. Is a creditor in a better condition for the hold he has upon the future earnings of the debtor? One of two consequences inevitably follows; the debtor either sinks into a state of hopeless and helpless inaction, or conceals the fruits of his industry by various contrivances that are hurtful to his and to the public morals. Besides, we must never forget, that it is for misfortune that this provision is to be made; for misfortune, which no prudence can avert or prevent, but which is inseparably incident to the pursuits of those who are proposed to be comprehended in this law. But I forbear, at present, to press this part of the Case. I would beg leave to remark, however, that I confine myself to the exemption of the earnings of his industry. I have no objection to give to his creditors whatever he may afterwards acquire by gift, devise, descent, or any other means, in short, but his own exertions. Of these he should have the full benefit, not only for his own sake, but for the sake of society. It was not my intention to notice the objections to particular parts of the bill, nor will I at this time notice them. There are two or three objections of a more general character, upon which I will ask the indulgence of the committee to say a very few words. A system, it is said, must be a bad one, and contain in itself very strong temptations to fraud, which requires such bloody penalties as are to be found in the English statutes. The whole penal code of England is deeply stained with blood. When Blackstone composed his Commentaries, he mentioned, with regret, that of the offences which a man may commit, no less than one hundred and forty were
ON THE BANK OF THE UNITED STATES, DELIVERED IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, FEBRUARY 22, 1819.
[On the 30th November 1818, on motion of Mr. Spencer, of New-York, a resolution instituting a committee of inquiry into the affairs of the Bank of the United States, passed the House of Representatives. The committee, consisting of Mr. Spencer, Mr. Lowndes, Mr. M'Lane, Mr. Burwell, and Mr. Tyler, reported on the 16th January 1819. A majority of the committee, Messrs. Spencer, Burwell, and Tyler, were of opinion that the charter of the Bank had been violated in the following instances: 1. In purchasing two millions of public debt, in order to substitute them for two other millions of similar debt, which it had contracted to sell, or had sold in England, and which the Secretary of the Treasury claimed the right of redeeming. 2. In not requiring the fulfilment of the engagement made by the stockholders, on subscribing, to pay the second and third instalments on the stock in coin or funded debt. 3. In paying dividends to stockholders who had not completed their instalments. 4. By the judges of the first and second elections allowing many persons to give more than thirty votes each, under the pretence of their being attorneys for others in whose names shares then stood; when those judges, the directors, and officers of the Bank, knew that these shares belonged to the persons offering to vote upon them as attorneys. On the 19th January, Mr. Trimble, of Kentucky, offered the following resolution. Resolved, That the Attorney General of the United States, in conjunction with the District Attorney of Pennsylvania, shall immediately cause a scire facias to be issued, according to the 23d Section of the Act “to incorporate the subscribers to the Bank of the United States,” calling on the corporation created by the said act to show cause wherefore the charter thereby granted shall not be declared forfeited, &c. On the 31st January, Mr. Spencer offered a resolution directing the Secretary of the Treasury to withdraw the public deposites from the Bank, and the Attorney General to cause a scire facias to be sued out, with the view to try the question of forfeiture, unless the Bank should assent to a series of propositions, which, when assented to, were to be made, by Act of Congress, part of the charter of the Bank. On the 9th February, Mr. Johnson, of Virginia, submitted a resolution instructing the committee on the Judiciary to report a bill repealing the charter of the Bank. It was during the discussion of these resolutions that this speech was delivered. The principal other speakers were Messrs. Spencer, Pindall, Barbour, and Tyler, against the Bank, and Messrs. Lowndes, M'Lane, and Storrs, in defence of it.—The resolutions were rejected.]
MR. CHAIRMAN: I must beg the permission of the committee, to offer to them some observations upon the several propositions that are now submitted for their consideration and decision.
The inquiry in which we are engaged, is attended with some intrinsic difficulties, of no inconsiderable magnitude, and calculated very much to embarrass our deliberations, as they must have been to embarrass he deliberations of the select committee, to whom the examination of this subject was more particularly confided. In the first place, it is retrospective, and I admit it is necessarily so. We are called upon to take a review of the management and conduct of the bank, during all the period of its existence, and we expect to find that the best has been done in every instance, which, with the full light derived from a knowledge of all that has since happened, appears to us to have been possible. In this manner it is, that battles are fought over again in discussion; and, whether they have been lost or whether they have been won, it seldom happens that those who thus sit in judgment upon them, cannot detect some errors that have been committed-point out advantages that have been lost—and opportunities that have been suffered to pass unimproved. The just rule of judgment in such cases, if, indeed, its application were practicable, would be to place ourselves in the situation of those, upon whose conduct we are called to pass, in the midst of the difficulties by which they were surrounded, and with no better view of the future than what their own judgment could afford them.
It is in the nature, too, of this inquiry, conducted as it has been, to group and connect together all the exceptionable acts that have been done by those to whom the management of the institution has been confided: while, to use a bank phrase, it gives no credit for those things which were right, and even entitled to some commendation. I wish, sir, to be distinctly understood. I am not using the language either of complaint or censure. I only say, that as the inquiry, from its nature, was in a great measure confined to exceptionable acts, it must necessarily present them in a body, without relief from their association with the mass of good deeds with which, in their order, they stood
connected. This is a sort of judgment which none of us would be willing to submit to, or could expect to endure. Let the life of any man, the most honest and honourable, be exposed to the same kind of examination. Begin with his infancy, (to use the language of the gentleman from Virginia) and, following him through the different periods of his progress, put together, as constituting his history, whatever, from the severest scrutiny, you can find, that has deserved reproach or censure. What a dark exhibition would it be Besides, sir, what is at last the test we apply? We set opinion against opinion, upon a subject of a very comprehensive, and of a very complicated nature, involving much detail, and every detail involving more or less speculative inquiry. There are extrinsic difficulties, of no less magnitude. It cannot be denied that there has been a vast deal of prejudice in the public mind against this institution, which, whatever may be our resolutions to the contrary, affects us insensibly, and, when we neither know nor suspect it. The sources of this prejudice are sufficiently apparent. The state institutions have many of them been induced to regard the national bank as an enemy, and the spirit of hostility which they have felt, has had a most powerful influence throughout the community, with which they are so extensively and intimately connected.—It is in the ordinary course, too, of the operations of the bank, to give frequent offence to individuals. Every man who is refused a discount, thinks himself aggrieved, and indulges a feeling of resentment, not at all mitigated by any consideration of the circumstances that may have rendered it prudent, or even necessary, to reject his application. The same remark might be made, with equal truth, of every sort of accommodation which the bank is supposed to have the capacity to afford, but which events, beyond its power to control, frequently oblige it to withhold. When the directors, not