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Charleston, and St. Louis: that the treasurers of these mints, and the receivers-general, shall keep the public money, without loaning or using it, until ordered to be paid out; and into the hands of these treasurers and receivers-general all collectors of public money are to pay what they receive:
That the resolutions of Congress of April, 1816, be so far altered, as that hereafter, of all duties, taxes, and debts due and becoming due to the United States after June of this year, one fourth shall be paid in specie; after June of next year, one half; after June of 1842, three fourths; and after June, 1843, the whole; so that after June, 1843, all debts due the United States, whether for duties, taxes, sales of public lands, patents, postages of letters, or otherwise, "shall be paid in gold and silver only'-j
That from and after June, 1843, every officer or agent in the government, in making disbursements or payments on account of the United States, shall make such payments in gold and silver coin only:
The receiver-general in New York to be paid $ 4,000 salary, the others, each, $ 2,500.
I propose to say a few words on these provisions. In the first place, it seems very awkward to declare by law certain rooms in Washington, and certain safes and vaults therein, the treasury of the United States. We have been accustomed heretofore to look upon the treasury as a department of the government, recognized by the Constitution, which declares that no money shall be drawn from the treasury, but in consequence of appropriations made by law. It may, however, be made a question whether any thing but these rooms and safes at Washington are now within this protection of the Constitution. It is senseless. It is absurd. It is as if the Legislature of New York should declare that a certain large room in the United States Hotel, and certain desks and tables therein, should constitute the Court for the Correction of Errors of the State of New York.*
What else does this bill do? It directs that there shall be certain vaults, and safes, and rooms. But it has not been for want of adequate vaults and rooms that we have lost our money, but owing to the hands to which we have intrusted the keys. It is in the character of the officers, and not in the strength of bars and vaults, that we must look for the security of the public treasure. What would be thought in private life, if some rich merchant, John Jacob Astor, for instance, should determine no longer to trust his money with banks and bank directors, who, nevertheless, have a common interest with him in upholding the credit and stability of the currency, and in the safe-keeping, too, of their own money, and should build for himself certain safes and vaults, and, having placed his treasures therein, should, of some forty or fifty hungry individuals who might apply for the office of treasurer, give the keys to him who would work the cheapest?
* Tha Court of Errors was at the time holding a session at the United Stales Hotel at Saratoga.
I . You might not, perhaps, pronounce him insane, but you would certainly say he acted very unlike John Jacob Astor. Now, what is true of private affairs is equally true of public affairs; and what would be absurd in an individual is not less so in a government . What is doing in Boston, where I belong? There are banks, respectable, specie-paying, trustworthy banks, managed by prudent and discreet men; and yet the treasure of the country is withdrawn from the keeping of one of those institutions, with a capital paid in of two millions of dollars, and locked up in safes and vaults, and one of the President's political friends from another State is sent for to come and keep the
i key. There is, in this case, no president to watch the cashier, no cashier to watch the teller, and no directors to overlook and control all; but the whole responsibility is vested in one man. Do you believe that, if, under such circumstances, the United States, following the example of individuals, were to offer to receive private funds in deposit in such a safe, and allow interest on them, they would be intrusted with any? There are no securities under this new system of keeping the public moneys that we had not before; while many that did exist, in the personal character, high trusts, and diversified duties of the officers and directors of banks, are removed. Moreover, the number of receiving and disbursing officers is increased; and the danger to the public treasure is increased in proportion.
The next provision is, that money once received into the treasury is not to be lent out; and if this law is to be the law of the land, this provision is not to be complained of, for dangerous indeed would be the temptation, and pernicious the consequences, if these treasurers were to be left at liberty to lend to
favorites and party associates the moneys drawn from the people. Yet the practice of this government hitherto has always been opposed to this policy of locking up the money of the people, when and while it .is not required for the public service. Until tins time the public deposits, like private deposits, were used by the banks in which they were placed, as some compensation for the trouble of safe-keeping, and in furtherance of the general convenience. When, in 1833, General Jackson formed the league of the deposit State banks, they were specially directed by Mr. Taney, then Secretary of the Treasury, to use the public funds in discounts for the accommodation of the business of the country. And why should this not be so? The President now says, If the money is kept in banks, it will be used by them in discounts, and they will derive benefit therefrom. What then? Is it a sufficient reason for depriving the community of a beneficial measure, that the banks that carry it out will also derive some benefit from it? The question is, Will the public be benefited? and if this be answered affirmatively, it is no objection that the banks will be too. The government is not to play the part of the dog in the manger. The doctrine is altogether pernicious, opposed to our experience, and to the habits and business of the nation.
The next provision is that requiring, after 1843, all dues to the government to be paid in gold and silver; and however onerous or injurious this provision, it is to be conceded that the government can, if they choose, enforce it. They have the power; and, as good citizens, we must submit. But such a practice will be inconvenient, I will say, oppressive. How are those who occupy three fourths of the surface of the United States to comply with this provision? Here, in commercial neighborhoods, and in large cities, and where the banks pay specie, the difficulty will be less; but where is the man who is to take up lands in the Western States to get specie? How transport it? The banks around him pay none, he gets none for his labor. And yet, oppressive as all this is, I admit that the government have a right to pass such a law, and that, while it is a law, it must be obeyed.
But what are we promised as the equivalent for all this inconvenience and oppression? Why, that the government in its turn will pay its debts in specie, and that thus what it receives" with one hand it will pay out with the other, and a metallic cir
culation will be established. I undertake to say, that no greater fallacy than this was ever uttered; the thing is impossible, and for this plain reason. The dues which the government collects come from individuals; each pays for himself. But it is far otherwise with the disbursements of government. They do not go down to individuals, and, seeking out the workmen and the laborers, pay to each his dues. Government pays in large sums, to large contractors, and to these it may pay gold and silver But do the gold and silver reach those whom the contractor employs? On the contrary, the contractors deal as they see fit with those whom they employ, or of whom they purchase. The Army and the Navy are fed and clothed by contract; the materials for expensive custom-houses, fortifications, for the Cumberland Road, and for other public works, are all supplied by contract. Large contractors flock to Washington, and receive their tons of gold and silver; but do they carry it with them to Maine, Mississippi, Michigan, or wherever their residence and vocation may be? No, not a dollar; but, selling it for depreciated paper, the contractor swells his previous profits by this added premium, and pays off those he owes in depreciated bank-notes. This is not an imaginary case. I speak of what is in proof. A contractor came to Washington last winter, and received a draft of $ 180,000 on a specie-paying bank in New York. This he sold at ten per cent. premium, and with the avails purchased funds in the West, with which he paid the producer, the farmer, the laborer. This is the operation of specie payments. It gives to the government hard money, to the rich contractor hard money; but to the producer and the laborer it gives paper, and bad paper only. And yet this system is recommended as specially favoring the poor man, rather than the rich, and credit is claimed for this administration as the poor man's friend.
Let us look a little more nearly at this matter, and see whom, in truth, it does favor. Who are the rich in this country? There is very little hereditary wealth among us; and large capitalists are not numerous. But some there are, nevertheless, who live upon the interest of their money; and these, certainly, do not suffer by this new doctrine; for their revenues are increased in amount, while the means of living are reduced in value. There is the money-lender, too, who suffers not by the reduction of prices all around him. Who else are the rich in this country? Why, the holders of office. He who has a fixed salary of from $2,500 to $5,000 finds prices falling; but does his salary fall? On the contrary, three fourths of that salary will now purchase more than the whole of it would purchase before; and he, therefore, is not dissatisfied with this new state of things.
There is, too, another class of our fellow-citizens, wealthy men, who have prospered during the last year; and they have prospered when nobody else has. I mean the owners of shipping. What is the reason? Give me a reason. Well, I will give you one. The shipping of the country carries on the trade, the larger vessels being chiefly in the foreign trade. Now, why have these been successful? I will answer by an example. I live on the sea-coast of New England, and one of my nearest neighbors is the largest ship-owner, probably, in the United States. During the past year, he has made what might suffice for two or three fortunes of moderate size; and how has he made it? He sends his ships to Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, to take freights of cotton. This staple, whatever may be the price abroad, cannot be suffered to rot at home; and therefore it is shipped. My friend tells his captain to provision his ship at Natchez, for instance, where he buys flour and stores in the currency of that region, which is so depreciated that he is able to sell his bills on Boston at forty-eight per cent, premium! Here, at once, it will be seen, he gets his provision for half price, because prices do not always rise suddenly, as money depreciates. He delivers his freight in Europe, and gets paid for it in good money. The disordered currency of the country to which he belongs does not follow and afflict him abroad. He gets his freight in good money, places it in the hands of his owner's banker, who again draws at a premium for it. The ship-owner, then, makes money, when all others are suffering, because he can escape from the influence of the bad laws and bad currency of his own country.
Now, I will contrast the story of this neighbor with that of another of my neighbors, not rich. He is a New England mechanic, hard-working, sober, and intelligent, a tool-maker by trade, who wields his own sledge-hammer. His particular business is the making of augers for the South and Southwest . He has for years employed many hands, and been the support thereby of many families around him, himself, meanwhile, mod