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in the war with England, the same cloud might still have rested upon the navy; it might still have been unpopular, and we should have been without the great inheritance of fame secured by our naval heroes, which those wars have left us.
The unpopularity of the bankrupt law, was owing chiefly if not wholly, to the circumstances in which it came into being. I never said, it was a party measure. I do not know whether it was or not, for I have not examined the journal, and if I bad, I should not be able to decide. I know it ought not to be, and cannot now be justly so considered. But it came into being in violent party times, was characterized as a measure of the party who then wielded the power of the government, and from whom the power soon after departed; and it has been, and even at this moment, continues to be (as we are obliged to know and feel) associated in the feelings and opinions of many with the character of the stormy day when it first appear. ed. There were other circumstances attending the passage of the law in the house, calculated to make it odious, and the spirit of warm party contest which then prevailed, suffered nothing of this sort to fail of due effect, for want of being sufficiently pressed upon the public attentionHence its unpopularity.
But now let us see what it is that a bankrupt law promises to effect. Exaggeration would be as dangerous on one side as on the other-it would be as foolish to overstate its advantages, as it is to overstate its defects. A bankrupt law does not promise to cure all the evils of society ; nor to relieve all the distress in the world ; nor to correct all the vices and follies of men. Nay, sir, its friends cannot soberly undertake that it will be altogether free from some peculiar evils of its own-for that is the case with every human institution. Let us not deceive ourselves. Good and evil are found mixed in some proportion in whatever comes from the hand of man, as virtues and vices, wisdom and
folly, strength and weakness are found mixed in his character. The true question is this-is it better or is it worse than the present state of things? Is it our duty under the constitution ? Let us take a fair and liberal and rational view. It is very possible, and even very easy, by presenting only the objectionable parts of any human establishment, to give it a bad appearance. Perhaps to hasty and superficial observers, the evil is more apparent than the good. The law's delay, the expense of judicial establishments, occasional hardship and inconvenience from the rigorous demands of justice—these are often insisted upon. If we forget that judicial tribunals, are the great conservators of private rights and public tranquillity—that their mere existence is a perpetual safeguard, of which we feel the benefit when they are at rest, as when they are in exercise—that the number of cases they may have to decide, is of little importance compared with the knowledge that they are always open to give redress, and thus are exercising a constant preventive and conservative influence-if we forget that the authority of the judge is the authority of the law, that the independence of the judge is indispensable to enable him to perform his stern duty, and that the unvarying rigour of judgment, is the dispensation of justice according to law-I say, forgetting all these things, we may prove that courts of justice are almost
The good which is done, is silent, unostentatious, gently but efficaciously pervading the community, and scarcely attracting observation, while each instance of what any man or set of men choose to think a grievance, is instantly the topic of complaint, and often of loud and importunate complaint.
The same thing has happened to us, I mean, to congress. We have been freely censured, and we have censured ourselves; perhaps the censure may in part be just; but those who see in this body, nothing but a collec
tion of men, who waste their time in fruitless discussion, do not do justice to representative government or to the body itself. They do not know that even here, there are many who are silently and laboriously occupied in doing public work, which makes no noise, and engages no attention, however faithfully done. Let us endeavour to avoid deserving such censure.
The press, too, the great intellectual light of the world —what should we say of that, if we looked only at one side of the case? But I must not enter further into such inquiries. What is it, I repeat, that the friends of this bill promise ? That it will do some good. What do its enemies say? That it will not cure all evil. Granted. Will it be better or worse than the present state of things? I firmly believe things cannot be worse than they now are.
The laws, as they stand at present, are sufficient for creditors in general, but not for the creditors of a failing debtor. They are limited in territorial operation, they are strongly tinctured with local feeling and views, are repugnant and contradictory, and occasion conflicts, where one uniform system would produce harmony throughout the nation. They are inadequate, because they have no efficient power to compel, and can offer no adequate motive to induce an honest surrender.
The laws are insufficient for failing or for fallen debtors. They are limited in territory, and they are limited in the relief they can give. They are wholly inefficacious against foreign creditors, while the foreign debtor finds a sure refuge from his creditors in the institutions of his own country, the benefit of which is extended to him here. The merchant of the United States, whether creditor or debtor, is in a worse condition than the merchant of any European nation.
Where is the remedy? Here, in a bankrupt law—and here only, the states can do nothing, they have surrendered all their power to you-Such a law will establish
peace between the citizens of different states, by extending a common rule to all who are likely to have relations with each other, in a case where a common rule is of the greatest importance. It will give relief to the unfortunate; restore them to society, and to usefulness, and teach them to look with affection and gratitude to the government of their country—It will place your merchants upon a footing of equality with foreigners, while even to foreigners it will do equal justice-It will give greater security to the revenue; and it will have a tendency to perpetuate the blessings of this union, by extending the hand of constitutional authority with parental power, but with parental tenderness too, throughout every part of the nation.'
And at whose expense will all this good be done? I answer, unhesitatingly, at the expense of no one. Gentlemen have indeed told us, that creditors may be in distress as well as debtors, and the Speaker has indulged himself in sketching for us a picture of the misery that may be brought into the family of a creditor by the failure of a debtor. It may happen, that is certainly true. What then? You cannot relieve the creditor, nothing would be relief to him but the payment of his debt, and that you cannot pay—if you could, you would effectually relieve both debtor and creditor. The debtor you can relievebut, as you cannot give relief to both, according to this argument, you will give relief to neither. Because the misfortune of one more or less as it may happen to be) is inevitable and incurable, therefore you will not administer the aid you can give to the extreme misery of the other. Because you are not certain that you can do all possible or conceivable good, you will do none at all. Is this wise, or humane, or just ? It is of the same class with another objection that has been made, and amounts to this, that if we cannot relieve all debtors, of every description, we ought not to relieve
any. Is the bill perfect, or is it even such that any one would
undertake to pronounce that no better can be devised? Assuredly we need not insist that it is. It has been fully and deliberately and carefully examined. If there be those among us who think some bankrupt law may be made, let them now join us to make it. Here is the basis. How else can we answer to our fellow citizens who are praying for such a law? Let us not turn a deaf ear to their complaints, nor repel them with a cold suggestion, that we have not yet devised a perfect system. They will be satisfied with the bill on the table, much better at any rate than with such an answer.
And the unfortunate who now stand in need of its relief, what shall we say to them? They are waiting in anxious and trembling expectation, their eyes turned towards you with an intensely earnest and imploring look. If that bill pass, imperfect as you may deem it to be, their suspense will terminate in tears of joy and gratitude. Many a glad hcart will you make, now weighed down with sorrow.
We will say to them, be patient, be patient-stay till we make a persect system, till we devise something which the wit of man never yet devised. We, who are here entirely at our ease, enjoying in abundance the good things of the world—we will counsel them to be patient.
They will answer us, that they are suffering every moment, in daily want of the necessary comforts of life, without freedom to exert their industry, and without even the consolation of hope to cheer them on their way—“ the flesh will quiver where the pincer tears." We will still coolly council them to be patient. But remember, that the sand in the glass is all this time rapidly running down—with some of them, it will soon be empty. Then, yes, then, without our aid, they will obtain a discharge, which we, nor no human power can prevent-an effectual discharge. The cold clod will not press more heavily on the debtor than on the creditor; the breath of heaven over the silent depository in which he lies will be as sweet, and the verdure be as quick