Imatges de pàgina

upon moneyed corporations, would have existed, to prevent the State banks from putting an end to the very state of things, from which their excessive profits proceeded. Their very naturu must have been changed, therefore, before they could have been induced to co-operate, voluntarily, in the restoration of the currency. It is quite as improbable that the State Legislatures would have compelled the banks to do their duty. It has already been stated, that the tendency of a depreciated currency to attract importations to the points of greatest depreciation, and to lighten the relative burthens of federal taxation, would naturally produce, among the States, a rivalry in the business of excessive bank issues. But there remains to be stated, a cause, of more general operation, which would have prevented the interposition of the State Legislatures to correct those issues.

The banks were, directly and indirectly, the creditors of the whole community, and the resumption of specie payments necessarily involved a gencral curtailment of discounts, and withdrawal of credit, which would produce a general and distressing pressure upon the entire class of debtors. These constituted the largest portion of the population of all the States where specie payments were suspended, and bank issues excessive. Those, therefore, who controlled public opinion in the States, where the depreciation of the local paper was greatest, were interested in the perpetuation of the evil. Deep and deleterious, therefore, as the disease evidently was, in many of the States, their Legislatures could not have been expected to apply a remedy, so painful as the compulsion of specie payments would have been, without the aid of the Bank of the United States. And here it is worthy of special remark, that, while that bank has compelled the local banks to resume spccie payments, it has most materially contributed by its direct aid and liberal arrangements, to enable them to do so, and that with the least possible embarrassment to themselves and distress to the community. If the State Legislatures had been ever so anxious to compel the banks to resume specie "payments, and the banks ever so willing to make the effort, the committee are decidedly of the opinion that they could not have done it, unaided by the Bank of the United States, without producing a degree of distress incomparably greater than has been actually experienced. They will conclude their remarks on this branch of the subject by the obvious reflection, that, if Con: gress, at the close of the war, had left it to the States to restore the disorder. ed currency, this important function of sovereignty would have been left with those from whom the Constitution has expressly taken it, and by whom it could not be beneficially or effectually exercised. But another idea, of considerable plausibility, is not without its advocates. It is said that this Government, by making the resumption and continuance of specie payments the condition upon which the State banks should receive the Go. vernment deposites, might have restored the currency to a state of uniformity. Without stopping to give their reasons for believing that specie payments could not have been restored in this way, and that, even if they could, a uniform currency of general credit, throughout the Union, would not have been provided, the committee will proceed to give their reasons for thinking that such a connexion between the Federal Government and the State banks would be exceedingly dangerous to the purity of both. While there is a National Bank, bound by its charter to perform certain stipulated duties, and entitled to receive the Government deposites as a compensation, fixed by the law creating the charter, and only to be forfeited by the failure to perform those duties, there is nothing in the connexion at all inconsistent with the independence of the bank, and the purity of the Government, The, country has a deep interest that the bank should maintain specie payments, and the Government an additional interest that it should keep the public funds safely, and transfer then, free of expense, wherever they may be wanted. T'he Government, therefore, has no power over the bank, but the salutary power of enforcing a compliance with the terms of its charter. Ev. ery thing is fixed by the law, and nothing left to arbitrary discretion. It is true that the Secretary of the Treasury, with the sanction of Congress, would have the power to prevent the bank from using its power unjustly and oppressively, and to punish any attempt, on the part of the Directors, to bring the pecuniary influence of the institution to bear upon the polities of the country, by withdrawing the Government deposites from the offending branches. But this power would not be lightly exercised by the Treasury, as its exercise would necessarily be subject to be reviewed by Congress. It is, in its nature, a salutary corrective, creating no undue dependence on the part of the bank.

But the state of things would be widely different, if there was no National bank, and it was left to the discretion of the Secretary of the Treasury to select the local banks in which the Government deposites should be made. All the State banks would, in that case, be competitors for the favor of the Treasury; and no one, who will duly consider the nature of this sort of patronage, can fail to perceive, that, in the hands of an ambitious man, not possessed of perfect purity and unbending integrity, it would be imminently dangerous to the public liberty. The State banks would enter the lists of political controversy, with a view to obtain this patronage; and very little sagacity is required to foresee, that, if there should ever happen to be an administration disposed to use its patronage to perpetuate its power, the public funds would be put in jeopardy by being deposited in banks unworthy of confidence, and the most extensive corruption brought to bear upon the elections throughout the Union. state of things more adverse to the purity of the Government-a power more liable to be abused-can scarcely be imagined. If five millions of dollars were annually placed in the hands of the Secretary of the Treasury, to be distributed at his discretion, for the purposes of internal improvement, it would not invest him with a more dangerous and corrupting power.

In connexion with this branch of the subject, the committee will briefly examine the grounds of a complaint, sometimes made against the Bank of the United States. It is alleged that this bank, availing itself of the government deposites, consisting in some places principally, of local paper, makes heavy and oppressive draughts on the local banks for specie, and thus compels them to curiail their discounts, to the great injury of the community. In the first place, it is to be remarked, that one of the highest duties of the bank-the great object for which it was established--was to prevent the exces. sive issues of local paper; and this duty can only be performed, by enforcing lipon the State banks the payment of specie for any excess in their issues But the committee arc induced to believe, that this complaint is principally owing, so far as it now exists, to the fact, that the operations of the Federal Treasury are mistaken for the operations of the bank, because the bank is the agent by whom those' operations are performed. This institution receives the Government deposites in the paper of the local banks, certainly in no spirit of hostility to those banks. On the contrary, it tends to give them credit, and is designed to have that effect. But the Bank of the United States is not only bound to pay in specie, or its own bills, what it receives for the Government in local paper, but to transfer the funds to any part of the Union where they may be required for disbursement. Let it be assumed, that the Government collects annually, at the Custom-house in Charleston, one million of dollars in local bank notes, and disburses in South Carolina oniy one hundred thousand, it would result from this, that the Government would have nine hundred thousand dollars of local bank paper deposited in the Charleston branch, which the bank would be bound by its charter, and for the national benefit, to transfer perhaps to Washington or Norfolk. As this paper would not answer the purposes of the Government at those places, the bank would be, of course, compelled to provide specie, or bills that will command specie at those places. It is obvious, then, that it is the inequality in the collection and disbursement of the revenue, that produces the evil in question. If all the revenue collected in Charleston were disbursed in the State, no draughts would be made upon the local banks for specie. The Bank of the United States, so far from being justly obnoxious to any complaint on this score, has greatly mitigated the action of the Treasury upon the local banks, by means of the liberal arrangements which its large capital and numerous branches have enabled it to make with them. The degree in which that institution has reduced the rate of exchange, may be fairly assumed as that in which it has mitigated the action of the Treasury upon the State banks. If, for example, there existed no national bank, and the deposites of the revenue collected in Charleston were made in one of the local banks, what would be the effect of transferring, annually, nine hundred thousand dollars to Washington or Norfolk? The local banks, having no branches at either of those places, instead of transmitting draughts, as is now generally done, would be compelled to transmit specie. The bank in which the Government deposites were made, would consequently be under the necessity of demanding specie from all the other banks, in a manner, and to an extent, much more oppressive than any thing that can be imputed to the Bank of the United States. If, to avoid these specie draughts, the local banks should purchase bills on Washington or Norfolk, they would probably cost five or six per cent. even in a tolerable state of the currency, which would be a loss to the banks almost to the full extent of the premium.

Although the expediency of renewing the charter of the present bank is not a question now submitted for the decision of Congress, the committee consider it so far involved in the matter referred to them, as to render it their duty to present some considerations bearing on that question, in addition to what they have said on the general expediency of maintaining such an institution. If a national bank, similar to the present, be a necessary and proper agent for the accomplishment of the great purposes heretofore indicated, the only remaining question would seem to be, whether the charter of the present stockholders should be renewed, or a new set of stockholders incorporated.

In considering this question, Congress will, of course, be governed in some degree, by the terms on which the present stockholders will agree to accept a renewal of their charter. But, as the committee have satisfactory reasons for believing that terms eminently advantageous to the Government can be obtained, they will proceed to some other inquiries. What, then, would be the effect of refusing to renew the present. charter? And, in the first place, what are the inducements for pursuing that course?

It is sometimes alleged that the present stockholders are large capitalists, ' and, as the stock of the bank is some 20 per cent. above par, that a renewal

of the charter would be equivalent to a grant to them of 20 per cent. uport their capital. It is true that a small proportion of the capital of the company belongs to very wealthy men. Something more than two millions of that owned in the United States belongs to persons holding upwards of one hundred thousand dollars each. It is also true that foreigners own seven millions, or one-fifth of the capital. But, on the other hand, it is to be remarked that the Government, in trust for the people of the United States, holds seven millions; that persons owning less than five thousand dollars each, hold four millions six hundred and eighty-two thousand; and that persons owning between five and ten thousand dollars each, hold upwards of three millions. It is also worthy of remark, that a very considerable portion of the stockvery nearly six millions—is held by trustees and guardians, for the use of females and orphan children, and charitable and other institutions. Of the twenty-eight millions of the stock which is owned by individuals, only three millions four hundred and fifty-three thousand is now held by the original subscribers. All the rest has been purchased at the market prices--a large portion of it, probably, when those prices were higher than at present. Most of the investinents made by wills, and deeds, and decrees in equity, for the use of females and minors, are believed to have been made when the stock was greatly above par. From this brief analysis, it will appear that there is nothing in the character or situation of the stockholders, which should makeit desirable to deprive them of the advantage which they have fairly gained, by an application of their capital to purposes highly beneficial, as the committee have attempted to shew to the Government and people of the United States. If.foreigners own seven millions of the stock of the bank, our own government owns as much; if wealthy men own more than two millions, men in moderate circumstances own between seven and eight millions; and widows, orphans, and institutions devoted to charitable and other purposes, own nearly six millions.

But the objection that the stock is owned by men of large capital would apply with equal, if not greater force, to any bank that could be organized. In the very nature of things, men who have large surplus capitals are the principal subscribers at the first organization of a bank. Farmers and planters, merchants and manufacturers, having an active employment for their capitals, do not choose to be the first adventurers in a bank project. Accordingly, when the present bank went into operation, it is believed that most of the capital was owned by large capitalists, and under a much more unequal distribution than exists at present. The large amount of stock now held in trust for females and minors, has been principally, if not entirely, purchased since the bank went into operation; and the same remark is generally applicable to the stock in the hands of small holders. It is only when the character of a bank is fully established, and when its stock assumes a steady value, that these descriptions of persons make investments in it.

It is morally certain, therefore, that, if another distinct institution were created, on the expiration of the present charter, there would be a much greater portion of its capital subscribed by men of large fortunes, than is now owned by persons of this description, of the stock of the United States' Bank. Indeed, it might be confidently predicted, that the large capitalists who now hold stock in that bank, would, from their local position and other advantages, be the first to forestall the subscriptions to the new bank, while the small stockholders, scattered over the country, would be probably excluded, and the females and minors, and others interested in trust investments made by decrees in equity, would be almost necessarily excluded, as the sanction of a court could scarcely be obtained, after the passage of the new act of incorporation, in time to authorize a subscription.

To destroy the existing bank, therefore, after it has rendered such signal services to the country, merely with a view to incorporate another, would be an act rather of cruelty and caprice, ihan of justice and wisdom, as it regards the present stockholders. It is no light matter to depreciate the property of individuals, honestly obtained, and usefully employed, to the extent of five millions six hundred thousand dollars, and the property of the Government, to the extent of one million four hundred thousand dollars, purely for the sake of change. It would indicate a fondness for experiment, which a wise Government will not indulge upon slight considerations.

But the great injury which would result from the refusal of Congress to renew the charter of the present bank, would, beyond all question, be that which would result to the commuuity at large. It would be difficult to estimate the extent of the distress which would naturally and necessarily result from the sudden withdrawal of more than forty millions of credit, which the community now enjoys from the bank. But this would not be the full extent of the operation. The Bank of the United States, in winding up its concerns, would not only withdraw its own paper from circulation, and call in its debts, but would unavoidably make such heavy draughts on the local institutions for specie, as very greatly to curtail their discounts. The pressure upon the active, industrious, and enterprising classes, who depend most on the facilities of bank credit, would be tremendous. A vast amount of property would change hands at half its value, passing under the hammer, from the merchants, manufacturers, and farmers, to the large moneyed capitalists, who always stand ready to avail themselves of the pecuniary embarrassments of the community. The large stockholders of the present bank, the very persons whose present lawful gains it would be the object of some to cut off, having a large surplus money capital thrown upon their hands, would be the very first to speculate upon the distresses of the community, and build up princely fortunes upon the ruins of the industrious and active classes. On the other hand, the females and minors, and persons in moderate circumstances, who hold stock in the institution, would sustain an injury, in no degree mitigated by the general distress of the community.

A very grave and solemn question will be presented to Congress, when they come to decide upon the expediency of renewing the charter of the present bank. That institution has succeeded in carrying the country through the painful process necessary to cure a deep seated disease in the national currency. The nation, after having suffered the almost convulsive agonies of this necessary remedy, is now restored to perfect health. In this state of things, it will be for Congress to decide whether it is the part of wisdom to expose the country to a degree of suffering almost equal 10 that which it has already suffered, for the purpose of bringing back that very derangement of the currency, which has been remedied by a process, as necessary as it was distressing.

If the Bank of the United States were destroyed, and the local institutions left without its restraining influence, the currency would almost certainly relapse into a state of unsoundness. The very pressure which the present bank, in winding up its concerns, would make upon the local institutions, would compel them either to curtail their discounts when most needed, or to suspend specie payments. It is not difficult to predict which of these al.

« AnteriorContinua »