TRUE FUNCTIONS OF GOVERNMENT, Evening Post, November 21, 1834.
“There are no necessary evils in Government. Its evils exist only in its abuses. If it would confine itself to equal protection, and, as heaven does its rains, shower its favours alike on the high and the low, the rich and the poor, it would be an unqualified blessing.”1
This is the language of our venerated President, and the passage deserves to be written in letters of gold, for neither in truth of sentiment or beauty of expression can it be surpassed. We choose it as our text for a few remarks on the true functions of Government.
The fundamental principle of all governments is the protection of person and property from domestic and foreign enemies; in other words, to defend the weak against the strong. By establishing the social feeling in a community, it was intended to counteract that selfish feeling, which, in its proper exercise, is the parent of all worldly good, and, in its excesses, the root of all evil. The functions of Government, when confined to their proper sphere of action, are therefore restricted to the making of general laws, uniform and universal in their operation, for these purposes, and for no other.
Governments have no right to interfere with the pursuits of individuals, as guarantied by those general laws, by offering encouragements and granting privileges to any particular class of industry, or any select bodies of men, inasmuch as all classes of industry and all men are equally important to the general welfare, and equally entitled to protection.
Whenever a Government assumes the power of discriminating between the different classes of the community, it becomes, in effect, the arbiter of their prosperity, and exercises a power not contemplated by any intelligent people in delegating their sovereignty to their rulers. It then becomes the great regulator of the profits of every species of industry, and reduces men from a dependence on their own exertions, to a dependence on the caprices of their Government. Governments possess no delegated right to tamper with individual industry a single hair’s-breadth beyond what is essential to protect the rights of person and property.
In the exercise of this power of intermeddling with the private pursuits and individual occupations of the citizen, a Government may at pleasure elevate one class and depress another; it may one day legislate exclusively for the farmer, the next for the mechanic, and the third for the manufacturer, who all thus become the mere puppets of legislative cobbling and tinkering, instead of independent citizens, relying on their own resources for their prosperity. It assumes the functions which belong alone to an overruling Providence, and affects to become the universal dispenser of good and evil.
This power of regulating—of increasing or diminishing the profits of labour and the value of property of all kinds and degrees, by direct legislation, in a great measure destroys the essential object of all civil compacts, which, as we said before, is to make the social a counterpoise to the selfish feeling. By thus operating directly on the latter, by offering one class a bounty and another a discouragement, they involve the selfish feeling in every struggle of party for the ascendancy, and give to the force of political rivalry all the bitterest excitement of personal interests conflicting with each other. Why is it that parties now exhibit excitement aggravated to a degree dangerous to the existence of the Union and to the peace of society? Is it not that by frequent exercises of partial legislation, almost every man’s personal interests have become deeply involved in the result of the contest? In common times, the strife of parties is the mere struggle of ambitious leaders for power; now they are deadly contests of the whole mass of the people, whose pecuniary interests are implicated in the event, because the Government has usurped and exercised the power of legislating on their private affairs. The selfish feeling has been so strongly called into action by this abuse of authority as almost to overpower the social feeling, which it should be the object of a good Government to foster by every means in its power.
No nation, knowingly and voluntarily, with its eyes open, ever delegated to its Government this enormous power, which places at its disposal the property, the industry, and the fruits of the industry, of the whole people. As a general rule, the prosperity of rational men depends on themselves. Their talents and their virtues shape their fortunes. They are therefore the best judges of their own affairs, and should be permitted to seek their own happiness in their own way, untrammelled by the capricious interference of legislative bungling, so long as they do not violate the equal rights of others, nor transgress the general laws for the security of person and property.
But modern refinements have introduced new principles in the science of Government. Our own Government, most especially, has assumed and exercised an authority over the people, not unlike that of weak and vacillating parents over their children, and with about the same degree of impartiality. One child becomes a favourite because he has made a fortune, and another because he has failed in the pursuit of that object; one because of its beauty, and another because of its deformity. Our Government has thus exercised the right of dispensing favours to one or another class of citizens at will; of directing its patronage first here and then there; of bestowing one day and taking back the next; of giving to the few and denying to the many; of investing wealth with new and exclusive privileges, and distributing, as it were at random, and with a capricious policy, in unequal portions, what it ought not to bestow, or what, if given away, should be equally the portion of all.
A government administered on such a system of policy may be called a Government of Equal Rights, but it is in its nature and essence a disguised despotism. It is the capricious dispenser of good and evil, without any restraint, except its own sovereign will. It holds in its hand the distribution of the goods of this world, and is consequently the uncontrolled master of the people.
Such was not the object of the Government of the United States, nor such the powers delegated to it by the people. The object was beyond doubt to protect the weak against the strong, by giving them an equal voice and equal rights in the state; not to make one portion stronger, the other weaker at pleasure, by crippling one or more classes of the community, or making them tributary to one alone. This is too great a power to entrust to Government. It was never given away by the people, and is not a right, but a usurpation.
Experience will show that this power has always been exercised under the influence and for the exclusive benefit of wealth. It was never wielded in behalf of the community. Whenever an exception is made to the general law of the land, founded on the principle of equal rights, it will always be found to be in favour of wealth. These immunities are never bestowed on the poor. They have no claim to a dispensation of exclusive benefits, and their only business is to “take care of the rich that the rich may take care of the poor.”
Thus it will be seen that the sole reliance of the labouring classes, who constitute a vast majority of every people on the earth, is the great principle of Equal Rights; that their only safeguard against oppression is a system of legislation which leaves all to the free exercise of their talents and industry, within the limits of the GENERAL LAW, and which, on no pretence of public good, bestows on any particular class of industry, or any particular body of men, rights or privileges not equally enjoyed by the great aggregate of the body politic.
Time will remedy the departures which have already been made from this sound republican system, if the people but jealously watch and indignantly frown on any future attempts to invade their equal rights, or appropriate to the few what belongs to all alike. To quote, in conclusion, the language of the great man, with whose admirable sentiment we commenced these remarks, “it is time to pause in our career—if we cannot at once, in justice to the interests vested under improvident legislation, make our government what it ought to be, we can at least take a stand against all new grants of monopolies and exclusive privileges, and against any prostitution of our Government to the advancement of the few at the expense of the many.”
RICH AND POOR, Evening Post, November 4, 1834.
The rich perceive, acknowledge, and act upon a common interest, and why not the poor? Yet the moment the latter are called upon to combine for the preservation of their rights, forsooth the community is in danger! Property is no longer secure, and life in jeopardy. This cant has descended to us from those times when the poor and labouring classes had no stake in the community, and no rights except such as they could acquire by force. But the times have changed, though the cant remains the same. The scrip nobility of this Republic have adopted towards the free people of this Republic the same language which the Feudal Barons and the despot who contested with them the power of oppressing the people, used towards their serfs and villains, as they were opprobiously called.
These would-be lordlings of the Paper Dynasty, cannot or will not perceive, that there is some difference in the situation and feelings of the people of the United States, and those of the despotic governments of Europe. They forget that at this moment our people, we mean emphatically the class which labours with its own hands, is in possession of a greater portion of the property and intelligence of this country, ay, ten times over, than all the creatures of the paper credit system put together. This property is indeed more widely and equally distributed among the people than among the phantoms of the paper system, and so much the better. And as to their intelligence, let any man talk with them, and if he does not learn something it is his own fault. They are as well acquainted with the rights of person and property, and have as just a regard for them, as the most illustrious lordling of the scrip nobility. And why should they not? Who and what are the great majority of the wealthy people of this city—we may say of this country? Are they not (we say it not in disparagement, but in high commendation) are they not men who began the world comparatively poor with ordinary education and ordinary means? And what should make them so much wiser than their neighbours? Is it because they live in better style, ride in carriages, and have more money—or at least more credit than their poorer neighbours? Does a man become wiser, stronger, or more virtuous and patriotic, because he has a fine house over his head? Does he love his country the better because he has a French cook, and a box at the opera? Or does he grow more learned, logical and profound by intense study of the daybook, ledger, bills of exchange, bank promises, and notes of hand?
Of all the countries on the face of the earth, or that ever existed on the face of the earth, this is the one where the claims of wealth and aristocracy are the most unfounded, absurd and ridiculous. With no claim to hereditary distinctions; with no exclusive rights except what they derive from monopolies, and no power of perpetuating their estates in their posterity, the assumption of aristocratic airs and claims is supremely ridiculous. To-morrow they themselves may be beggars for aught they know, or at all events their children may become so. Their posterity in the second generation will have to begin the world again, and work for a living as did their forefathers. And yet the moment a man becomes rich among us, he sets up for wisdom—he despises the poor and ignorant—he sets up for patriotism: he is your only man who has a stake in the community, and therefore the only one who ought to have a voice in the state. What folly is this? And how contemptible his presumption? He is not a whit wiser, better or more patriotic than when he commenced the world, a waggon driver. Nay not half so patriotic, for he would see his country disgraced a thousand times, rather than see one fall of the stocks, unless perhaps he had been speculating on such a contingency. To him a victory is only of consequence, as it raises, and a defeat only to be lamented, as it depresses a loan. His soul is wrapped up in a certificate of scrip, or a Bank note. Witness the conduct of these pure patriots, during the late war, when they, at least a large proportion of them, not only withheld all their support from the Government, but used all their influence to prevent others from giving their assistance. Yet these are the people who alone have a stake in the community, and of course exclusively monopolize patriotism.
But let us ask what and where is the danger of a combination of the labouring classes in vindication of their political principles, or in defence of their menaced rights? Have they not the right to act in concert, when their opponents act in concert? Nay, is it not their bounden duty to combine against the only enemy they have to fear as yet in this free country, monopoly and a great paper system that grinds them to the dust? Truly this is strange republican doctrine, and this is a strange republican country, where men cannot unite in one common effort, in one common cause, without rousing the cry of danger to the rights of person and property. Is not this a government of the people, founded on the rights of the people, and instituted for the express object of guarding them against the encroachments and usurpations of power? And if they are not permitted the possession of common interest; the exercise of a common feeling; if they cannot combine to resist by constitutional means, these encroachments; to what purpose were they declared free to exercise the right of suffrage in the choice of rulers, and the making of laws?
And what we ask is the power against which the people, not only of this country, but of almost all Europe, are called upon to array themselves, and the encroachment on their rights, they are summoned to resist? Is it not emphatically, the power of monopoly, and the encroachments of corporate privileges of every kind, which the cupidity of the rich engenders to the injury of the poor?
It was to guard against the encroachments of power, the insatiate ambition of wealth that this government was instituted, by the people themselves. But the objects which call for the peculiar jealousy and watchfulness of the people, are not now what they once were. The cautions of the early writers in favour of the liberties of mankind, have in some measure become obsolete and inapplicable. We are menaced by our old enemies, avarice and ambition, under a new name and form. The tyrant is changed from a steel-clad feudal baron, or a minor despot, at the head of thousands of ruffian followers, to a mighty civil gentleman, who comes mincing and bowing to the people with a quill behind his ear, at the head of countless millions of magnificent promises. He promises to make every body rich; he promises to pave cities with gold; and he promises to pay. In short he is made up of promises. He will do wonders, such as never were seen or heard of, provided the people will only allow him to make his promises, equal to silver and gold, and human labour, and grant him the exclusive benefits of all the great blessings he intends to confer on them. He is the sly, selfish, grasping and insatiable tyrant, the people are now to guard against. A concentrated money power; a usurper in the disguise of a benefactor; an agent exercising privileges which his principal never possessed; an impostor who, while he affects to wear chains, is placed above those who are free; a chartered libertine, that pretends to be manacled only that he may the more safely pick our pockets, and lord it over our rights. This is the enemy we are now to encounter and overcome, before we can expect to enjoy the substantial realities of freedom.
UNCURRENT BANK NOTES, Evening Post, March 10, 1835.
We wish some public spirited man who has access to data that would afford a reasonable basis for a conjectural calculation, would furnish us with an estimate of the immense amount of money which is annually lost in this city, by the labouring classes, in the discount upon uncurrent bank notes in circulation. Do the mechanics and the labourers know, that every dollar which is paid in the discounting of uncurrent notes in Wall-street, is filched out of their pockets? That such is the fact is susceptible of the clearest demonstration.
In the first place, the circulation of uncurrent bank notes is chiefly kept up by a direct and infamous fraud upon the working classes. It is a common practise with employers when they pay off their hands on Saturday, to go into Wall-street and purchase of some broker for the purpose, a lot of notes of depreciated value, varying from half to one and a half per cent. below par. These notes they palm off upon their workmen as money. If a master mechanic has a thousand dollars a week to pay to his hands, it is clear that he pockets every week by this operation some ten or fifteen dollars; and it can be shown with equal clearness that those in his employment are defrauded out of this sum. If a man hesitates to take this depreciated paper, he is told that it passes as currently as silver in payment of any thing he may wish to purchase; and so, in truth, it does. Yet he could not exchange it for silver, without paying the broker a discount, and let him not imagine, though he may seem to pass it away to his grocer or his baker at par, that he does not lose this discount all the same. Nay, the mechanic and labouring man whose employers are conscientious enough to pay them their wages in real money, bear their full proportion of the loss on the uncurrent notes in circulation, equally with those to whom the depreciated paper is paid. The entire sum paid for the discount of depreciated bank paper falls on the mechanics and labourers, and is wrung out of their sweat and toil. Nay more: they not only lose the amount which is actually paid for discount to the money changers, but they also pay a per centage on that amount equal to the average rate of profit which merchants charge on their goods. We can make this plain to the dullest apprehension.
The labouring man, when he returns home of a Saturday evening, with his week’s wages in his pocket, in this depreciated paper, stops at his grocer’s, and pays him the amount of his weekly bill. The grocer in the course of a few days pays this money away into the hands of the wholesale merchant from whom he purchases his commodities. The merchant, when a certain amount of this kind of paper has accumulated on his hands, sends it into Wall-street, and sells it to the brokers, and when his clerk returns, an entry is made in his books of the amount paid for discount. The sum total paid in the course of a year for the discount of depreciated paper forms an item of expense which is calculated as one of the elements in the cost of his goods. To pay for his goods he is obliged to buy bills of exchange, or in other words, to remit specie to Europe. Whatever this specie costs him, his goods cost him; and he therefore looks upon the amount he had to pay to turn the uncurrent paper received from his customers into specie as a constituent part of the first cost of his merchandize. Upon the whole sum of the cost, thus ascertained, he puts a certain per centage profit, and fixes his prices accordingly. The retail trader then buying a lot of goods of him, pays him not only a proportional part of the discount which the wholesale merchant actually paid on his uncurrent paper, but a profit thereon. This, however, makes no difference to him, for he has only to put his own profit on above all, and let the loss fall on the labourer, when he comes for his tea and sugar and other little necessaries and comforts for his family. That this is a true, though homely exposition of the case, any body must see who will only give himself the trouble to think about it.
The whole amount of uncurrent notes which pass through the broker’s hands annually may be stated at a given sum, and the discount thereupon amounts, on an average to a given per-centage. This sum, whatever it is, (and it must be immense) is a tax on the business of the community, which each individual shuffles off his own shoulders on those of the persons next beneath him, and so it descends by gradation till it reaches the broad backs and hard hands of the mechanics and labourers, who produce all the wealth and bear all the burdens of society.
But the mechanics and labourers have it in their power to rid themselves of this imposition. The task is very easy: it is only to learn the efficacy of the word COMBINATION. There is a magic in that word, when rightly understood and employed, which will force the scrip nobility to do them justice, and yield them, without drawback and without cheatery, the full fruits of their toil. Let them inquire by what means it is that this immense amount of depreciated paper is kept in circulation. They will find it is chiefly through the instrumentality of master-workmen and others having mechanics and labourers in their employment. They will find that this wretched substitute for money is bought, for the express purpose of palming it off upon them as real value, while their task-masters and the brokers share the spoils between them. A mechanic dare not refuse to take the wretched trash; because, if he does, he will be turned away to starve. But what a single mechanic may not be able to compass alone, could be easily effected by combination. Will the mechanics and labourers wait for eighteen months, in the hope that the juggling law now before the legislature will by that time go into operation, and rid them of the paper money curse? Let them not rest in any such belief. Let them know their own strength and resolve to be imposed on no longer. Why are the producers of all the wealth of society the poorest, most despised and most down-trodden class of men? Because they submit to be the dupes of the scrip nobility—because they are ignorant of their own strength. Let them combine together to demand whatever the plain principles of justice warrant, and we shall see what power there is which can deny them.
THE COURSE OF THE EVENING POST, Evening Post, May 18, 1835.
Saturday last was the semi-annual dividend day of this office. It is presumed that a majority of the subscribers of the Evening Post feel sufficient interest in its prosperity to justify our adverting, for a single moment, and in the most general terms, to the private affairs of this office. It is with satisfaction, then, we have it in our power to state, that the business of our establishment, during the past six months, has been flourishing and profitable, and was never more thoroughly and soundly prosperous than at the present moment. The number of subscribers to our journal is larger than at any previous period; the amount received for advertising is undiminished; and the total receipts of the establishment greater than they ever were before.
This result is exceedingly gratifying to us for considerations of a higher kind than those which merely relate to the success of our private business. It furnishes us with an evidence of the public sentiment in relation to those cardinal principles of democratic government which this journal, for a long time past, has laboured zealously to propagate and defend. That evidence is in our favour, and animates us to fresh exertions. We start afresh, then, from this resting-place on our editorial road, invigorated with renewed confidence of ultimately attaining the goal for which we strive, the reward for which we toil, the victory for which we struggle—the establishment of the great principle of Equal Rights as, in all things, the perpetual guide and invariable rule of legislation.
It is now about two years since the Evening Post—having at length seen successfully accomplished one of the great objects for which it had long and perseveringly striven, namely, the principles of free-trade in respect of our foreign commerce—turned its attention to a kindered subject, of equal magnitude, in our domestic policy, and began the struggle which it has ever since maintained in favour of the principles of economic science, as they relate to the internal and local legislation of the country. We had long seen with the deepest regret that the democracy, unmindful of the fundamental axiom of their political faith, had adopted a system of laws, the inevitable tendency of which would be to build up privileged classes and depress the great body of the community. We saw that trade, not left in the slightest respect to the salutary operation of its own laws, had been tied up and hampered in every limb and muscle by arbitrary and unjust statutes; that these restrictions furnished employment for an almost innumerous army of office-holders; and that the phalanx of placemen was yearly augmented by the multiplication of unequal and oppressive restrictions and prohibitions on the body politic. We could not help seeing, also, that this multitude of unnecessary public offices, to be disposed by the Government, was exercising a most vitiating influence on politics, and was constantly degrading, more and more, what should be a conflict of unbiassed opinion, into an angry warfare of heated and selfish partisans, struggling for place.
But besides the various and almost countless restrictions on trade, for the support of a useless army of public stipendiaries, we saw our State Governments vieing with each other in dispensing to favoured knots of citizens trading privileges and immunities which were withheld from the great body of the community. And to such an extent was this partial legislation carried, that in some instances, a State Government, not content with giving to a particular set of men valuable exclusive privileges, to endure for a long term of years, also pledged the property of the whole people, as the security for funds which it raised, to lend again, on easy terms, to the favoured few it had already elevated into a privileged order. These things seemed to us to be so palpable a violation of the plainest principles of equal justice, that we felt imperatively called upon to make them objects of attack.
Of all the privileges which the States were lavishing on sets of men, however, those seemed the most dangerous which conferred banking powers; authorized them to coin a worthless substitute for gold and silver; to circulate it as real money; and thus enter into competition with the General Government of the United States, in one of the highest and most important of its exclusive functions. There was no end to the evils and disorders which this daring violation of the fundamental principle of democratic doctrine was continually occasioning. It was placing the measure of value (the most important of all measures) in the hands of speculators, to be extended or contracted to answer their own selfish views or the suggestions of their folly. It was subjecting the community to continual fluctuations of prices, now raising every article to the extremest height of the scale, and now depressing it to the bottom. It was unsettling the foundations of private right, diversifying the time with seasons of preternatural prosperity and severe distress, shaking public faith, exciting a spirit of wild speculation, and demoralizing and vitiating the whole tone of popular sentiment and character. It was every day adding to the wealth and power of the few by extortions wrung from the hard hands of toil; and every day increasing the numbers and depressing the condition of the labouring poor.
This was the state of things to reform which, after the completion of the tariff compromise, seemed to us an object that demanded our most strenuous efforts. We have consequently sought to draw public attention to the fact that the great principle on which our whole system of government is founded, the principle of Equal Rights, has been grossly departed from. We have sought to show them that all legislative restrictions on trade operate as unjust and unequal taxes on the people, place dangerous powers in the hands of the Government, diminish the efficiency of popular suffrage, and render it more difficult for popular sentiment to work salutary reforms. We have sought to illustrate the radical impropriety of all legislative grants of exclusive or partial privileges, and the peculiar impropriety and various evil consequences of exclusive banking privileges. We have striven to show that all the proper and legitimate ends of Government interference might easily be accomplished by general laws, of equal operation on all. In doing this, we necessarily aroused bitter and powerful hostility. We necessarily assailed the interests of the privileged orders, and endangered the schemes of those who were seeking privileges. We combated long rooted prejudices, and aroused selfish passions. In the midst of the clamour which our opinions provoked, and the misrepresentations with which they have been met, to find that our journal has not merely been sustained, but raised to a higher pitch of prosperity, is certainly a result calculated to afford us the liveliest pleasure, independent altogether of considerations of private gain. We look on it as a manifestation that the great body of the democracy are true to the fundamental principles of their political doctrine; that they are opposed to all legislation which violates the equal rights of the community; that they are enemies of those aristocratic institutions which bestow privileges on one portion of society that are withheld from the others, and tend gradually but surely to change the whole structure of our system of Government.
Animated anew by this gratifying assurance that the people approve the general course of our journal, we shall pursue with ardor the line we have marked out, and trust the day is not distant when the doctrines we maintain will become the governing principles of our party.
THE STREET OF THE PALACES, Plaindealer, December 10, 1836.
There is, in the city of Genoa, a very elegant street, commonly called, The Street of the Palaces. It is broad and regular, and is flanked, on each side, with rows of spacious and superb palaces, whose marble fronts, of the most costly and imposing architecture, give an air of exceeding grandeur to the place. Here reside the principal aristocracy of Genoa; the families of Balbi, Doria, and many others of those who possess patents of nobility and exclusive privileges. The lower orders of the people, when they pass before these proud edifices, and cast their eyes over the striking evidences which the lordly exteriors exhibit of the vast wealth and power of the titled possessors, may naturally be supposed to think of their own humble dwellings and slender possessions, and to curse in their hearts those institutions of their country which divide society into such extremes of condition, forcing the many to toil and sweat for the pampered and privileged few. Wretched indeed are the serfs and vassals of those misgoverned lands, where a handful of men compose the privileged orders, monopolising political power, diverting to their peculiar advantage the sources of pecuniary emolument, and feasting, in luxurious idleness, on the fruits of the hard earnings of the poor.
But is this condition of things confined to Genoa, or to European countries? Is there no parallel for it in our own? Have we not, in this very city, our “Street of the Palaces,” adorned with structures as superb as those of Genoa in exterior magnificence, and containing within them vaster treasures of wealth? Have we not, too, our privileged orders? our scrip nobility? aristocrats, clothed with special immunities, who control, indirectly, but certainly, the political power of the state, monopolise the most copious sources of pecuniary profit, and wring the very crust from the hard hand of toil? Have we not, in short, like the wretched serfs of Europe, our lordly masters,
“Who make us slaves, and tell us ’tis their charter?”
If any man doubts how these questions should be answered, let him walk through Wall-street. He will there see a street of palaces, whose stately marble walls rival those of Balbi and Doria. If he inquires to whom those costly fabrics belong, he will be told to the exclusively privileged of this land of equal laws! If he asks concerning the political power of the owners, he will ascertain that three-fourths of the legislators of the state are of their own order, and deeply interested in preserving and extending the privileges they enjoy. If he investigates the sources of their prodigious wealth, he will discover that it is extorted, under various delusive names, and by a deceptive process, from the pockets of the unprivileged and unprotected poor. These are the masters in this land of freedom. These are our aristocracy, our scrip nobility, our privileged order of charter-mongers and money-changers! Serfs of free America! bow your necks submissively to the yoke, for these exchequer barons have you fully in their power, and resistance now would but make the burden more galling. Do they not boast that they will be represented in the halls of legislation, and that the people cannot help themselves? Do not their servile newspaper mouth-pieces prate of the impolicy of giving an inch to the people, lest they should demand an ell? Do they not threaten, that unless the people restrict their requests within the narrowest compass, they will absolutely grant them nothing?—that they will not relax their fetters at all, lest they should next strive to snap them entirely asunder?
These are not figures of speech. Alas! we feel in no mood to be rhetorical. Tropes and figures are the language of the free, and we are slaves!—slaves to most ignoble masters, to a low-minded, ignorant, and rapacious order of money-changers. We speak, therefore, not in figures, but in the simplest and soberest phrase. We speak plain truths in plain words, and only give utterance to sentiments that involuntarily rose in our mind, as we glided this morning through the Street of the Palaces, beneath the frowning walls of its marble structures, fearing that our very thoughts might be construed into a breach of privilege. But thank heaven! the day has not yet come—though perhaps it is at hand—when our paper money patricians deny their serfs and vassals the right to think and speak. We may still give utterance to our opinions, and still walk with a confident step through the Street of the Palaces of the Charter-mongers.
THE CREDIT SYSTEM AND THE ARISTOCRACY, Plaindealer, August 26, 1837
It is curious to observe what studied and elaborate panegyricks are bestowed by the aristocratick press generally on what they term “the credit system.” They seem to be fully impressed with the truth of the sentiment, “interdum fucata falsitas, in multis est probabilior, sape rationibus vincit nudam veritatem.”1 It is for this reason they invent sounding names, and use such a profusion of false colours, to deck out a system, which, if called by its proper appellation, and shown in its true, undisguised features, would repel every body by its ugliness. What is their credit system but a system which bestows exclusive privileges on the scheming few, at the expense of the industrious and hard handed many? Credit, we admit, in the broadest terms, is a useful and beneficial agent in carrying on the great and various intercourse of society. We avow ourselves the friend of credit—so much its friend, that we are unwilling to see it cramped by arbitrary restrictions. We would have it left to the unbounded freedom of nature. We would have it, like the sunshine and dew of heaven, to dispense its blessings equally upon all. We would have it, like a bounding river, to flow wither it listeth in its natural channels, not dammed up between artificial barriers, and forced to run only in particular directions, fertilizing the lands of a favoured few, and leaving the rest to be parched with drought, or lie in sterile loneliness. We are the friend of credit, for the same reason that we are the friend of any other generous impulse or affection of the human heart, and we would no more regulate its action by law, than we would that of hope, benevolence, friendship or love. If by “the credit system,” free spontaneous, natural credit is meant, then we are the friend of the credit system; but if, on the other hand, a system of legislation is meant, by which exclusive privileges of exercising credit, are conferred on a set of men and prohibited to the rest of the community, then are we its determined and unappeasable foe. We are for leaving capital free, and credit free. We are, in all things, for trusting to the glorious principle of freedom—that principle which recognizes the equality of the rights of all mankind, and considers government as having no legitimate functions beyond the mere preservation of those rights. “There is no more reason,” says Raymond in his Political Economy,2“why a man, or body of men, should be permitted to demand of the publick interest for their reputation of being rich, than there would be in permitting a man to demand interest for the reputation of being wise, learned, or brave. If a man is actually rich, it is enough for him to receive interest for his money, and rent for his land, without receiving interest for his credit also.” We oppose this sentiment not less strenuously than we oppose the opposite system which would annex peculiar privileges to “the reputation of being rich.” We would neither confer upon men by law nor deny to them the right of receiving interest on their credit. We see no reason why a man or body of men should not be permitted to demand interest for their credit, as well as for their actual means, provided the rest of men are left equally free to give or refuse that interest as they please. If you go to a wealthy person, and ask him to lend you his promissory note for a given sum, telling him that, by reason of his known wealth, his note will answer all the purposes of money to you, he has a perfect natural right, and we can perceive no good argument in favour of that right being interdicted, to charge you a price for the accommodation he affords by the loan of his credit.—The true credit system is the free trade system. Leave credit free, and the relations of demand and supply will “regulate and preserve,” far better than all the quackery and tyranny of special legislation.
But when we pass beyond the ground of mere permission to charge an interest on credit, and come to that of express and exclusive legislative authority to do so, the question assumes a very different shape. With this limitation we wholly agree with the writer. What reason is there, which has not its foundation in palpable injustice, why any particular set of men should be specially privileged by law to issue their promises to pay, their mere acknowledgements of indebtedness, and force the community to pay an interest of seven per cent, not on the money they have, but on that which they have not, on their mere credit? It may be said they do not force the community to do so. They virtually force the community to do so, however, by reason of the false character which their exclusive privileges give to the notes they issue. The law considers those notes as money; the government receives them as such, and becomes, in some measure answerable for their punctual payment on demand; and thus they are necessarily received into general circulation as money. This is a gross and crying injustice.
If the money business of the community were left to take its natural course, does the reader suppose that the principal financial stations would be filled, as many of them now are, by men, not of wealth, not of financial talent nor experience, but mere party electioneerers, mere brawlers at pot houses and ward meetings? Does he suppose, under a system of free trade, that mere fidelity to “party usages,” the mere fact of a certain equivocal sort of political influence, the mere having some dozens or some hundreds of voters at one’s heels, would constitute such ability to transact banking business, as would be certain to give those possessing such qualifications the confidence of the community? What made Cornelius W. Lawrence, and Gideon Lee, and George D. Strong, and Walter Bowne, presidents of banks? Were they appointed solely in reference to their ability in financial transactions, or was the office given to them as a reward for party services and sacrifices? These are plain questions, but they relate to proceedings of the utmost notoriety, and on such a subject it is needless to mince matters. The time has arrived for plain questions, and plain answers too, and the argumentum ad hominem is sometimes a very useful division of logick. We have too long submitted to a system of banking founded on political capital, instead of money capital, and hedged around with exclusive privileges, instead of being left open to the wholesome influence of the freest competition. If we do not wish to be slaves forever, we must no longer deceive ourselves and others by honeying affairs over with sweet words. “Let the candied tongue lick absurd pomp;” but the honest tongue should speak out boldly, and call things by their right names.
If the political services of Mr. Lawrence, or Mr. Lee, or Mr. Strong, or Mr. Bowne, were of that magnitude and general importance as to entitle them to publick rewards, let them be rewarded openly and liberally, and we shall never utter a word in censure of the act. We give, from the coffers of the federal government, a beggarly annual stipend to the remaining soldiers of the revolution. The only complaint we have ever heard on this account is that the country is so parsimonious in its gratitude. The great body of the people would be willing that a much larger sum should be given to the remnant of the revolutionary veterans, in token of the sense entertained by the country of their heroick services and sacrifices. A similar sentiment would govern them no doubt in relation to Messrs. Lawrence, Lee, Strong and Walter Bowne, if it were distinctly pointed out in what way the signal patriotism of those worthies has been displayed. But they would still ask, and with good reason, that the reward, or token of gratitude, or whatever it might be called, should be bestowed openly and without disguise or indirection. Such a course is due alike to the character of the state, and to that of the patriots for whom the publick purse is opened. The reward, and the illustrious services for which it was rendered, should be inscribed in enduring letters on the muniments of our state, so that all future times might profit by the example of patriotism exhibited by Messrs. Lawrence, Lee, Strong, and Walter Bowne, and by the example of gratitude exhibited by their countrymen. But we protest against the creation of exclusive privileges for the purpose of paying these men for their political services. We protest, in the name of freedom, against such a violation of its fundamental principle. We protest, in the name of the worthies themselves, against fobbing them off with so poor and equivocal an acknowledgement of their claims on legislative munificence.
But gesting apart—for it is a subject which hardly admits of gest—we desire once more to raise our voice against monopoly legislation on the subject of banking. Our state banking system is an odious system of exclusive privileges, dangerous, in their very nature, to the principles of political, as well as gross violations of the plainest fundamental maxims of economick freedom. It is a system of exclusive privileges built up for the especial reward of party services. It is instituted to provide sinecures for a band of gentlemen pensioners. It was conceived in the stews of legislative prostitution, born in corruption, and smells to heaven with the rank odour of hereditary rottenness. How long will freemen—or men claiming to be free—consent to have this bastard offspring of fraud and folly for their master? How long will they consent to be the cringing vassals of a feudal system instituted for the support of such a contemptible baronage as our paper-money lords?
From Andrew Jackson’s message to the Senate, July 10, 1832, vetoing the rechartering of the Bank of the United States .—Ed.
Roughly, “it stands to reason that painted falsehood, in much it is more likely, occasionally conquers the naked truth.’’—Ed.
A reference to Daniel Raymond, The Elements of Political Economy, the second edition of which was published in 1823.—Ed.