Imágenes de páginas

not now touch the question of elections; it belongs to a different part of the inquiry.

I will make but one observation more upon this branch of the subject. It is essential to the interests of the stockholders, and it is no more than just to the directors, that the latter should be 'free, while they are performing the duties that are assigned to them; that they should be free, not only from all restraints except those to which the law subjects them, but that they should be free from the apprehension of an unlimited and undefined accountability. Many things are exclusively confided to them, and must be so confided. Their own judgment, fairly applied—their own discretion-is what must guide them. Who will undertake an office like this—whom can we rely upon to execute it with fidelity--if he is to act under the terror of an investigation, which may put the worst construction upon well meant efforts, which may even expose his best acts to censure, and which, governed by no known rule in its course, and limited by no measure in its result, is calculated to confound all distinction between the officer and the individual, between error and misconduct, and by a hasty sentence to inflict the keenest punishment that an honourable man can endure? And this, too, upon what a member of the select committee has termed, and properly termed, an ex parte inquiry, where the accused has not the opportunity either of explanation or defence, and where the first notice he receives is in the heavy condemnation going forth against him under the respected authority of a committee of this honourable body.

Sir, other objections will readily present themselves to such an inquiry. We have no better rule or principle to direct us, than one man would have in judging whether another managed his estate to the greatest advantage. If the inquiry were simply whether the charter had been violated, we should have a comparatively easy duty. There might, and from what has occurred, I think it probable

there would be difference of opinion. Still, we should differ only about the application of established rules, and should be relieved from the most unpleasant part of the present inquiry.

But I know well that every public body, however constituted, listens with reluctance and with some displeasure, to any argument or suggestion that tends to bring in question its own power. I do not mean—for it is no longer material—to question the power of this house, in its immediate application to the business in hand. It is too late. Still less do I mean to avoid the full examination of all the grounds of complaint and censure which are displayed in the report of the committee. But, I have thought it right, to submit, with candour and freedom, such observations as occurred to me, upon the general nature of the authority possessed by this house, chiefly with a view to expose the mischiefs that might result from transcending it. Every member will allow to them such weight as he thinks they deserve, and no more.

I will now proceed to consider the subject, under the two aspects in which it is presented by the committee.

1. As regards the general management of the institution. II. As regards the alleged violations of the charter.

1. We all of us remember distinctly the state of things that existed when the law passed for incorporating the subscribers to the Bank of the United States. We had a currency, or rather, to speak more accurately, we had currencies, local in their circulation, and variously depreciated in different parts of the Union; in some quarters of the country as much as 20 per cent. We had no general currency; none that would circulate freely everywhere. The evil effects were already very manifest, and threatened to increase. To say nothing of the obstructions and difficulties which were thrown in the way of domestic commerce and exchange, nor of the continual irritation that was occasioned by the changes in value which took place at every step by

what was called money, in its progress, either with travellers or traders, through different parts of the Union-to say nothing of the effect upon the credit of the countrybut passing these by, as evils familiarly known and felt, there still remained one great source of grievance and public mischief, which it became peculiarly the duty of the government of the United States to endeavour to remove. The revenue of the government was received in the paper of the state banks; its debts were paid in the same paper. What was the consequence? Its funds were not transferable from place to place, according to its wants; but confined in their use to the local limits which bounded the circulation of the paper in which they happened to be paid. Again

- There was nothing like uniformity in the payments made to the government. A merchant in Boston, owing precisely the same nominal amount, paid twenty per cent. more than a merchant in Baltimore. There was the same inequality in the disbursement, as in the receipt of the revenue. The public creditor, who had the good fortune to receive his money at Boston, received twenty per cent. more than the creditor who was obliged to receive it at Baltimore or Washington. In addition to all the inevitable evils belonging to such a state of things, (sufficient surely, if allowed to continue, to have endangered the well being of the Union) there was one, perhaps, also, inseparably incident, which began to manifest itself. I allude, sir, to the power it gave to those who were intrusted with the collection and disbursement of the public moneys. They had the opportunity of benefiting themselves, and of favouring their friends, at the expense of the treasury, and at the expense of the public creditor. The very possibility of such an abuse was a sufficient ground of suspicion. At the period we are speaking of, an officer of the government found it necessary to ask of this house an investigation of his conduct, in order that he might vindicate himself from certain injurious rųmours circulated against him, upon no better foundation

than the one I have mentioned. The investigation took place; the result was satisfactory; and I refer to it only to bring into view one of the many kinds of mischief growing out of the disordered condition of the currency. Whether the state institutions would of themselves have corrected the evil, I do not think it necessary to inquire. The government of the United States had no direct controlling power over them; and, if they had so far sacrificed their own interests, in deference to the public good, as to restrict their business, and, of course, their profits, it must have been from a voluntary submission to motives of a higher character than ordinarily govern the conduct of individuals or bodies. But this I will say, that if they were to be brought back by any thing deserving the name of coercion, it could not have been gentler than that which has been employed by the Bank of the United States. Sir, when this subject was before Congress at the time of passing the act of incorporation, it was thought by many that the destruction of the state institutions would rapidly follow the establishment of the National Bank. I confess myself to have been one of those who were influenced by this apprehension. I thought the new institution would press heavily upon the old, and through them would press severely upon the community. I did not then see how the great public views were to be realized, without departing from that course of lenity towards the state banks which the interests of the community seemed most imperiously to require.

The objects to be attained were thus immense: the interests to be conciliated were of the highest importance, and at the same time apparently irreconcilable. The task was a fearful one; and the manner in which it has been executed, when it comes to be fairly developed, will seem little short of marvellous. If proof were necessary of what was generally thought at the time, to be the burden the bank had assumed, and of its capacity to bear that burden, we might refer to the history of the subscription at the opening of the

« AnteriorContinuar »