Imágenes de páginas

to nothing, what is affirmed against that law, or what can with truth be affirmed against it? Let us come to particulars, to the unvarnished matter of fact, and not be carried away by sweeping allegations, which may be entirely unfounded. It cannot be asserted with truth, nor have I heard it asserted at all, that there was fraud and abuse in its administration. It was every where executed by respectable men, with fidelity and intelligence. Nor has it been stated, nor do I believe it can be truly stated, that frauds to any considerable extent were committed under it or by its means. There


have been some, as there probably will be under every system of bankrupt or insolvent law, and as there are, unquestionably, wherever insolvencies occur, even though there be no bankrupt laws at all; as there are, even where rigorous imprisonment for debt prevails. I hazard nothing in saying it was better administered than any insolvent law in the United States ever has been, or probably ever will be.

Neither has it produced the great evil, so much apprehended, of certificated bankrupts afterward acquiring large fortunes and riding over their destitute creditors without paying their debts. That is a mere creature of the imagination, of which I will say a few words presently. And here I must express my obligations to the gentleman from South Carolina (Mr. Blair) for bringing within our reach the means of knowledge upon what would otherwise have been matter only of speculation and opinion; and 1 confess that the examination of the lists, especially of that from Pennsylvania, has afforded views that are highly encouraging of the practical operation of the law. That list contains about two hundred cases, (fewer than I supposed) and it gives the names of the persons who were bankrupts, of most of whom I have been able to obtain some knowledge. By far the greater part of them were worthy men, who well deserved the relief. Of the two hundred in the list, seventy three are since dead; there may be more. Not one of them died rich. Of the living, whose real condition is still uncertain, there are but two who are reputed to be rich. One of the two, I have understood, has paid his former debts, and it is probable the other has, for I do not recollect to have ever heard any complaints made of him. The rest are, generally, as far as my knowledge of them extends, men of good character and useful citizens. Some of them have been in the public service, and others occupy respectable and useful places in society, but of an unambitious and in a certain sense inferior kind—that is, inferior to their former occupationswhich enable them with industry to maintain themselves reputably, and to educate, and bring forward their children qualified for usefulness in their day. It was probably the same in other districts-and if such be the practical operation of the law, who will say it is not desirable ?

Why, sir, it is a mere phantom that has haunted the gentleman from South Carolina, (Mr. Blair,) raised by dwelling too long upon a single view, and that a conjectural one, instead of looking at the truth which experience teaches, or which reflection, directed by what we all know, instead of being vaguely indulged, would equally teach. He is afraid of the demoralizing example of certificated bankrupts acquiring wealth. Is there any such danger ? Let him examinine the thing soberly and candidly. Let him suppose one hundred men, for instance, to engage in commercial enterprize, beginning in the spring time of life, with all the advantages of youth, health, spirits, untouched credit, and what fortune may belong to them. How many of them will arrive at great wealth ?, Again, sir, let him suppose one hundred bankrupts to recommence their life ; advanced in years; with broken spirits; their credit tainted; no capital to begin with, and every thing against them. How many of this second set are likely to arrive at the dangerous distinction of great wealth? And if there be any, how many of these does he suppose will deprive themselves

of the high enjoyment of paying their debts?— The chance is not worth computing. Every profession or occupation has prizes, but they are few in proportion to the blanks. In the occupation of a merchant, one would almost be led to doubt-such is the scene of individual ruin our commercial history presents—whether there are any prizes at all. We

may be sure the high ones are very, very few indeed : And if he has no other objection to the bill than this, he ought at once to yield it as resting upon no real foundation. It is not worthy of being received into a rational calculation.

But it is supposed that under the act of 1800, there were very few dividends. Indeed from what has been said, we should conclude there were none.

Few or many, are always comparative terms, and are absolutely unmeaning words unless we have something in our minds with which the comparison is to be made. Would there have been as many or more without the bankrupt law? Has the whole estate in every case been fairly divided? These are the true enquiries to be made, as to the point now in question, and they are answered by the lists more satisfactorily than I believe any one anticipated. It will be born in mind, that the early operation of the law would be principally in cases of previously existing and stale insolvency, where the estate had been already consumed for want of adequate inducement to surrender, or disposed of by assignments under insolvent laws or otherwise. The law was repealed too soon to give it a chance to exhibit its real usefulness. It must also be recollected, that before any dividend could be made among creditors in general, the United States were to be paid in full; and as those who are liable to commissions of bankruptcy, are of the class of persons who are generally debtors for duties, this right of preference would exist in many of the cases. Creditors having specific securities must also be paid; and neither of these would appear in the dividends. Now let us see what this calum.

piated law effected. The Pennsylvania list, though it gives us two hundred cases of bankruptcy, (the whole that occurred) furnishes the history of but thirty-seven cases. The rest have not been returned to the clerk's office, we have no account of them, and it does not appear how many or what dividends were declared—of the thirty-seven cases there were ten in which there were dividends—the lowest was six per cent, they varied from that to fifty, and in one case the creditors were paid in full with interest ! In New York, where there were in all one hundred and sixty-six commissions, we have an account of only serentyone, that is, of the cases which occurred from the first of July, 1802, to the repeal of the law in December, 1803. of the cases before the first of July, 1802, we are not in. formed. Of the seventy-one cases, there were twenty-two in which there were dividends, varying from three or four per cent to seventy per cent, and in one case the creditors were paid in full with interest! From the other districts, there is no information.

This is much better, I repeat, than any of us supposed, and better-far better, it may be safely asserted, than can be predicated of any insolvent law, or of any equal number of voluntary assignments. And when you consider the two circumstances before adverted to, which would have a necessary effect upon the dividends, in the early cases, the law of 1800 is placed in a very fair and respectable light as it regards the interests of the creditor by this single glance at its operation. That the operation was beneficial, I have no doubt that it would have been more so, if it had been suffered to continue, is matter of very strong probability. Such is the opinion of nearly all the commercial men in the union, as you see from their memorials; and they have the best means of forming a correct judgment.

But that law was certainly unpopular, say gentlementhe sense of the country was against it; and that is urged as an argument of great force. Why was that law odious,


and why was it so hastily repealed by such an immense majority ? it may be that il was misunderstood, as it is even

It may be that its mischievous tendencies were greatly exaggerated, as they have been in this debate. It may be, that the fancied right of the creditor, to pursue the future effects of an insolvent debtor, worthless as it is in any practical estimate, was swelled into the same theoretical magnitude, as it has been in this House; and that some were persuaded to believe that to interfere with this right, to take this shadow from the creditor, even upon the most urgent motives, transcended the just power of legislation. It may be that it was unpopular then, as it is perhaps now, because it concerns chiefly but a small portion of our fellow citizens. A thousand circumstances, having no connexion with its real merits, may have influenced its fate, and it was not suffered to continue long enough in existence to establish its real character in the public estimation.

To establish that a measure is unpopular, without proving that it deserves to be so, is altogether inconclusive. To establish even that it deserved to be unpopular twenty years ago, would by no means prove that it ought to be unpopular now. It might have been unfit then, and be very fit and proper at the present time. The change in human affairs which is continually going on, is precisely what gives occasion for continual legislation, and we are all of us obliged repeatedly to admit that we have been in error. Time conquers even the pride of opinion. Look at the history of your navy. Many a gallent battle was fought for it in this house by the venerable gentleman who sits before me, (Mr. Bassett) many a prejudice had he and others to contend against, for its support, before it had fought its own way to renown and favour. Now it is the favorite of the nation, universally popular, and it deserves to be so-every man is its friend and forward to be its champion. But for the opportunity offered by the war with the Barbary powers, but for its heroic achievements

« AnteriorContinuar »