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But why, if this was not a duty of the federal government, is it mentioned at all? In his last message, in December, 1836, reviewing the benefits (!) of his experiments on the currency, he thus speaks: —
"At the time of the removal of the deposits, it was alleged by the advocates of the Bank of the United States, that the State banks, whatever might be the regulations of the treasury department, could not make 'he transfers required by the government, or negotiate the domestic exchanges of the country. It is now well ascertained, that the real domestic exchanges performed through discounts by the United States Bank and its twenty-five branches were one third less than those of the deposit banks for an equal period of time; and if a comparison be instituted between the amounts of services rendered by these institutions on the broader basis which has been used by the advocates of the United States Bank, in estimating what they consider the domestic exchanges, the result will be still more favorable to the deposit banks."
Here we have the distinct assertion, that, through the State banks, he had accomplished more in establishing a good currency and easy exchanges than had been done by the Bank of the United States. However this fact may be, all this, I say, amounts to an acknowledgment of the duty of the general government, as a natural consequence of the power to coin money and regulate commerce, to take a supervision over that paper currency which is to supply the place of coin.
I contend for this truth, — that, down to the end of General Jackson's administration, no administration of this country had turned their back upon this power; and I now proceed to show, by extracts from Mr. Van Buren's letter to Sherrod Williams, to which, since he has largely referred to it of late, there can be no unfitness in my referring, that he, too, admitted the obligation of supplying a uniform currency and a convenient medium of exchange, which he thought could be effected by the State deposit banks.
"Sincerely believing, for the reasons which have just been stated, that the public funds may be as safely and conveniently transmitted from one portion of the Union to another, that domestic exchange can be as successfully and as cheaply effected, and the currency be rendered at least as sound, under the existing system, as those objects could be accomplished by means of a national bank, I would not seek a remedy for the evils to which you allude, should they unfortunately occur, through such a medium, even if the constitutional objections were not in the way." *
He denies not the duty of superintending the currency, but thinks the deposit banks of the States, under the control of Congress, can effect the purpose. This letter was written when Mr. Van Buren was a candidate for the Presidency.
Two months only after General Jackson had retired, and when his vigorous hand was no longer there to uphold it, the league of State banks fell, and crumbled into atoms; and when Mr. Van Buren had been only three months President, he convoked a special session of Congress for the ensuing September. The country was in wide-spread confusion, paralyzed in its commerce, its currency utterly deranged. What was to be done? What would Mr. Van Buren recommend? He could not go back to the Bank of the United States, for he had committed himself against its constitutionality; nor could he, with any great prospect of success, undertake to reconstruct the league of deposit banks; for it had recently failed, and the country had lost confidence in it. What, then, was to be done? He could go neither backward nor forward. What did he do? I mean not to speak disrespectfully, but I say he — escaped! Afraid^to touch the fragments of the broken banks, unable to touch the United States Bank, he folded up his arms, and said, The government has nothing to do with providing a currency for the people. That I may do him no wrong, I will read his own language. His predecessors had all said, We will not turn our backs upon this duty of government to provide a uniform currency; his language is, We will turn our backs on this duty. He proposes nothing for the country, nothing for the relief of commerce, or the regulation of exchanges, but simply the means of getting money into the treasury without loss. In his first message to Congress, he thus expresses himself:—
"It is not the province of government to aid individuals in the transfer of their funds, otherwise than through the facilities of the PostOffice Department. As justly might it be called on to provide for the transportation of their merchandise.
» Mr. Van Buren's letter to Sherrod Williams of the 8th of August, 1836
"If, therefore, I refrain from suggesting to Congress any specific plan for regulating the exchanges or the currency, relieving mercantile embarrassments, or interfering with the ordinary operations of foreign or domestic commerce, it is from a conviction that such are not within the constitutional province of the general government, and that their adoption would not promote the real and permanent welfare of those they might be designed to aid."
I put it to you, my friends, if this is a statesman's argument . You can transport your merchandise yourselves; you can build ships, and make your own wagons; but can you make a currency? Can you say what shall be money, and what shall not be money, and determine its value here and elsewhere? Why, it would be as reasonable to say, that the people may make war for themselves, and peace for themselves, as to say that they may exercise this other not less exclusive attribute of sovereignty, of making a currency for themselves. He insists that Congress has no power to regulate currency or exchanges, none to mitigate the embarrassments of the country, none to relieve its prostrate industry, and even if the power did exist, it would be unwise, in his opinion, to exercise it!
These are the doctrines of the President's first message; and I have no opinion of it now that I did not then entertain, and then express. I desire not to appear wise after the event, I am not a prophet nor the son of a prophet, and yet I declare that when I heard the declarations of this message, and reflected on its consequences, I saw, or thought I saw, all of suffering, loss, and evil that is now before us.
Let us compare this declaration with that of one now numbered with the mighty dead; of one who has left behind a reputation excelled by that of no other man, as understanding thoroughly the Constitution; of one taking a leading part in its inception, and closing his public career by administering its highest office; I need not name James Madisox.
In his message to Congress, in December, 1815, when the war had closed, and the country was laboring under the disordered currency of that period, the President thus spoke: —
"It is essential to every modification of the finances, that the benefits of a uniform national currency should be restored to the community. The absence of the precious metals will, it is believed, be a temporary evil; but until they can again be rendered the general medium of exchange, it devolves on the wisdom of Congress to provide a substitute, which shall equally engage the confidence and accommodate the wants of the citizens throughout the Union. If the operation of the State banks cannot produce this result, the probable operation of a national bank will merit consideration," &c.
At that session, Congress incorporated the Bank of the United States; and at the next session, the President held this language respecting the currency and that bank: —
"For the interests of the community at large, as well as for the purposes of the treasury, it is essential that the nation should possess a currency of equal value, credit, and use, wherever it may circulate. The Constitution has intrusted Congress, exclusively, with the power of creating and regulating a currency of that description; and the measures taken, during the last session, in execution of the power, give every promise of success. The Bank of the United States has been organized under auspices the most favorable, and cannot fail to be an important auxiliary to those measures."
How that sounds now as an argument for the sub-treasury! The new doctrine which the administration has set up is one vitally affecting the business and pursuits of the people at large, extending its efforts to the interests of every family, and of every individual; and you must determine for yourselves if it shall be the doctrine of the country. But, before determining, look well at the Constitution, weigh all the precedents, and if names and authority are to be appealed to, contrast those of President Van Buren with those of the dead patriarch whose words I have just read to you, and decide accordingly.
We have heard much from the administration and its friends against banks and banking systems. I do not mean to discuss that topic; but I will say, that their tampering with the currency, and their course in relation to it, has, more than all other causes, increased the number of these banks.
But Mr. Van Buren's message contains a principle, — one altogether erroneous as a doctrine, and fatal in its operations, — the principle that the government has nothing to do with providing a currency for the country; in other words, proposing a separation between the money of the government and the money of the people. This is the great error, which cannot be compromised with, which is susceptible of no amelioration or modification, like a disease which admits no remedy and no palliative but the caustic which shall totally eradicate it.
Do we not know that there must always be bank paper? Is there a man here who expects that he, or his children, or his children's children, shall see the day when only gold coin, glittering through silk purses, will be the currency of the country, to the entire exclusion of bank-notes? Not one. But we arc told that the value of these notes is questionable. It is the neglect of government to perform its duties that makes them so. You here, in New York, have sound bank paper, redeemable in coin; and if you were surrounded by a Chinese wall, it might be indifferent to you whether government looked after the currency elsewhere or not. But you have daily business relations with Pennsylvania, and with the West, and East, and South, and you have a direct interest that their currency too shall be sound; for otherwise the very superiority of yours is, to a certain degree, an injury and loss to you, since you pay in the equivalent of specie for what you buy, and you sell for such money as may circulate in the States with which you deal. But New York cannot effect the general restoration of the currency, nor any one State, nor any number of States short of the whole, and hence the duty of the general government to superintend this interest.
But what does the sub-treasury propose? Its basis is a separation of the concerns of the treasury from those of the people. The law creating it directs, —
That there shall be provided, in the new treasury building at Washington, rooms for the use of the treasurer, and fireproof vaults and safes for the keeping of the public moneys; and these vaults and safes are declared to be the treasury of the United States:
That the vaults and safes of the mint in Philadelphia and the branch mint at New Orleans shall also be places for the deposit and safe-keeping of the public moneys; and that there shall be fireproof vaults and safes also in the custom-houses of New York and Boston, and in Charleston, South Carolina, and St. Louis, Missouri, and that these also shall be places of deposit:
That there shall be a receiver-general at New York, Boston