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never, in his apprehension, intended to extend beyond embarrassments and failures amongst mercantile men. Grant that some persons, not strictly traders, may, at times, have been included in the provisions of some laws on the subject of bankruptcies; yet this was where the power of legislation was unlimited—where all legislation, as to all creditors and debtors, was invested in one body. It has but seldom occurred anywhere, and existed nowhere at the time of this grant of power to Congress.” “He was opposed to this feature of the act, because to pass it would be to bring subjects and citizens within the scope of the General Government, never contemplated by our fathers; would be sweeping all classes into this Norwegian whirlpool—this vortex of disaster and difficulty to State rights and State independence, from which he could see no means of extrication.” Mr. Woodbury, on a subsequent day, (27th January, 1s27) said: “ Under a special grant of power to us, in 1789, to pass ‘uniform laws on the subject of bankrupties,” how could we then extend those laws to persons who, at that time, were not within the letter or spirit of the bankrupt system, any more than we could extend them to distinct subjects of land titles, or forms of legal process It need hardly be argued that, if we, as the agents of the several States, with explicit powers, undertake to construe the language of those powers broader than what we know the language was then understood to mean, it is as much a violation of the constitution as it would be to usurp powers entirely new.” We may now advert to the application of these principles to another clause proposed to be inserted in the bill. On the 6th of February, 1827, Mr. Branch, of North Carolina, introduced an amendment extending the act to banking corporations. He said: “The country is inundated with paper money; and if the merchants of the country were to be made bankrupt when they cease to pay their debts promptly, why should not incorporated companies, placed in the same circumstances, be subjected to the same consequences ! The banks of the South had given circulation to a paper currency which had, in many instances, become depreciated, to the great loss of the people; and while the banks are unable or unwilling, to pay their honest obligations, no measures were pointed out by which a just disposition of their effects could be ensorced for the benefit of the numerous creditors. To place some barrier to the operation of such a state of things, was his object in proposing this amendment. There was no subject, he believed, upon which greater unanimity of sentiment existed, than upon the evils arising from the present banking system. The evils arising out of a paper currency, when not placed under restrictions sufficiently severe to restrain those engaged in bank companies from profligate or careless conduct, were universally admitted. He, therefore, wished to apply the pains and penalties of the bankrupt system to these evils.” Let us see what stand the present Executive took on this subject. I read from the Congressional Debates: “Mr. Van Buren said it could not he denied that the clause interfered with the regulation which State Governments might have adopted for the Government of their State institutions, which was an odious exercise of power not granted by the constitution. The amendment has this extent: it directs the States as to the manner in which they shall exercise their sovereignty in this particular, and points out what penalty shall be inflicted, in case the charters granted by the States are violated. In fact, it points out what the privileges granted to the incorporations shall be, by dictating the forfeiture and directing what the companies may, and what they may not do. All this has hitherto been done by the States. They have assumed the direction of these matters as a right, which they doubtless
have. And in including this subject of corporations in the bill now before the Senate, it will be taken entirely from the States and subjected to the power of the bankrupt system. This was never done, and never attempted, in any country on the face of the globe. In England, such a provision was never dreamed of; nor did he believe that, when the constitution was framed, such an attribute was imagined by those who authorized the establishment of a bankrupt system.” “The duties of banking institutions must necessarily be discharged by agents. Their essential responsibility is intangible by such a law. If the clause were to be inserted, and banks permitted to be made bankrupts, upon whom, upon what human being, could the penalty of the law be made to rest ? Would you apply the rigor of the system to those agents, who are so far from being printcipals in the delinquency of the institutions to which they are attached, that they are only the hired servants of these banks : This conlil not be. It would be the height of injustice to implicate, in a penal manner, these agents, and not for fraud, but merely for the inability of the corporations to pay their debts. The individuals employed to carry on these establishments surely should be exempt from the penalties of bankruptcy: they are persons without whom they cannot be carried on ; they are the agents of all those who hold stock in their banks; they act for the various classes of individuals whose means are confided to banking companies, and among whom are to be found the widow and the orphan, who are deeply interested in having capable and honest men to fill these agencies. But how could such men be induced to occupy those situations, if they were to be made individually responsible, not only for their own acts, but for the misfortunes and losses of their corporations. On the other hand, would you render the stockholders liable for the disasters of the institution ? In cases of misconduct by the officers employed by them, or a majority of them, would you make them answerable for an act of bankruptcy 1 Could they, in justice, be liable for the malversation of agents employed by them to transact a business of which they were, all of them, probably ignorant 1 He thought that no great expenditure of reasoning need be made to show the true answers to these inquiries; and the very questions, he conceived, illustrated the difficulties of the case. His idea of a bankrupt system was, that it could not be applied to any but individuals or principals, and that it was not capable of being made to operate on associations, or on the subordinate agents, either of individuals or corporations. He therefore objected to this amendment. He did not wish the bill to be defaced by any inappropriate provisions.” The clause was rejected; Mr. Van Buren and Mr. Woodbury voting against it. Here, then, is the doctrine distinctly, and without qualification, announced and acted on—that to extend to corporations, in any way, the provisions of a bankrupt law, would violate the constitution ; and that, even if no constitutional obstacle existed, it would be an outrage upon the dignity and sovereignty of the States. What then must be thought of the sincerity of the President, when we find in the message recently addressed to us the following paragraph: “In the mean time, it is our duty to provide all the remedies against a depreciated paper currency which the constitution enables us to afford. The Treasury Department, on several former occasions, has suggested the propriety and importance of a uniform law concerning bankruptcies of corporations and other bankers. Through the instrumentality of such a law, a salutary check may, doubtless, be imposed on the issues of paper money, and an effectual remedy given to the citizen in a way at once equal in all parts of the Union, and fully authorized by the constitution.” Thus, sir, we see that the only measure of relief for the people which the President suggests, is one that he and the
Secretary have united in denouncing and defeating. Did the President suppose it would pass 1 Was he not aware that, if passed, he would be bound to veto it ! It would be remarked, as a singular feature in the case, that in the message there was an implied reproach upon the Congress of other days for slighting the suggestions of former Secretaries on this subject, when, in truth, that very result was brought about by his own vehement resistance. We have been informed by the Judiciary Committee that they do not intend to bring forward, at the special session, any bill on a subject which the President suggests as the only remedy that has occurred to him to relieve the country from a depreciated currency. Doubtless we shall never hear a word more on the subject. Mr. B. said he was not disposed to apply harsh epithets to the conduct on which he had thus animadverted. He was willing to leave the matter to the people. It would be for them to say whether there had been manifested a genuine sympathy for their condition, and an anxiety for their relief, or whether their sufferings had been mocked and their understandings insulted. Mr. ROBERTSON said he was opposed to the bill, whether designed to raise revenue or to create a circulating medium. As a revenue measure he believed it unnecessary, and, under that impression, he was unwilling, at this time of general pressure, to incur a new debt or levy upon the people additional burdens. The Secretary of the Treasury anticipates a deficit of five or six millions of dollars only. He proposes to withhold the fourth instalment set apart for the States, or to resort to some other resource for a sum equal to ten millions of dollars; which he gives us to understand will meet all necessary expenses, and leave a surplus of one million for the mint, and three or four millions for sudden and contingent calls. The same view is presented still more distinctly by the President in his message. He tells us: “The sum necessary for the service of the year, beyond the probable receipts and the amount it was intended should be left in the Treasury at the commencement of the year, will be about six millions.” He makes this estimate on the supposition that indulgence will be extended on the merchants' bonds. Adverting to the means of supply, he says: “It is not proposed to procure the amount required by loans or increased taxation. There are now in the Treasury $9,367,214, directed by the act of 23d June, 1836, to be deposited with the States in October next.” He then recommends the use of this sum, as the whole or the greater part will be wanted to defray existing appropriations. Well, sir, we have granted the sum required, in the very mode recommended by the Executive, by violating our engagement solemnly made with the States; and now, before we have determined whether any or what indulgence shall be extended to the merchants or the banks, we are called upon to authorize an issue of ten millions in Treasury notes, making (exclusive of the sum withheld from the States) about forty-six millions for the current year. It is true the President proposes this issue, not in addition to the funds withheld from the States, but temporarily, and only until the amount can be collected from the banks. But there is no pretence that the banks are insol. vent; nor is there any proof that the whole or some part at least of what they owe may not speedily be collected or made available. We well know that hitherto drafts upon them, whether paid or not, have served the purposes of the Government; indeed, that, even when protested, these drafts have readily sold in the market at a premium of six or seven per cent. If six millions only of the sum wrested from the States can be commanded, they will suffice, as the President himself informs us, for the service of the present year. Yet we are to issue ten millions in Treasury notes, redeemable at the expiration of twelve months; six mil
lions to supply what, there is every reason to believe, we may obtain from the banks indebted to us, or make available by drafts upon them; and the residue, avowedly, to provide or keep up a surplus for the mint, and for unforeseen contingencies. I question much, sir, the propriety of this annual appropriation for the mint. There is reason to fear that we are making money there at a heavy expense, and, if so, the sooner we get rid of a losing concern the better. As for the surplus for sudden emergencies, the very contingency has occurred for using whatever portion of it may remain ; and I would sooner expend every dollar of it than issue a Treasury note, or impose a burden of any kind upon the country. This is not the time to create or retain an idle surplus of three or four millions in the Treasury. But funds, it is said, are wanting to carry on what is called the Florida war. If that be sc, profoundly ignorant as we are still kept of the true cause of that war, discreditable as its conduct has been to the administration, I an 1eady to vote adequate supplies for the protection and security of our frontier settlements. But has the Executive called for a further appropriation for that object 1 If there be in the message the most distant allusion to such an appropriation, it has escaped my notice. The President sums up in a single paragraph the objects to which he invites our in mediate attention: “To regulate, by law, the safe-keeping, transfer, and disbursement of the public moneys; to designate the funds to be received and paid by the Government; to enable the Treasury to meet promptly every demand upon it; to prescribe the terms of indulgence and the mode of settlement to be adopted as well in collecting from individuals the revcnue that has accrued, as in withdrawing it from former depositories; and to devise and adopt such further measures, within the constitutional competency of Congress, as will be best calculated to revive the enterprise and to promote the prosperity of the country.” These are the reasons assigned for the present inconvenient and unseasonable convocation of Congress. Yet my colleague [Mr. Wise] may have been right in suggesting that the true motive is to be found in the necessity of providing further means to carry on the war in Florida. For, of the various objects supposed to require immediate legislation, there is not one which the Executive, in the plenitude of its authority, had not already provided for, or which might not have been deferred without much detriment to the public interests, till the regular period of our annual session. Why are we told, sir, of the necessity of regulating the safe-keeping and disbursement of the public moneys? The deposite act already provided for the case which has occurred; directing that, where the banks shall be discontinued as depositories, the public moneys shall be kept by the Treasurer, subject to be disbursed according to law. But without regard to this provision, or waiting for any new legislation, the Executive proceeded at once to organize a new system. Circulars were addressed, in May last, to the collectors and receivers of public money, requiring them to keep it in their own hands, subject to the directions of the Treasury Department. [Mr. R. here read extracts from the circulars referred to...] The Executive, as usual, made a law to suit its own views of the exigency of the case, and the system them adopted has continued ever since in full operation. Again, Mr. Chairman, why speak of designating the funds to be received or paid by the Government The resolution of April, 1816, was in full force. It is true the famous Treasury circular had been issued in defiance of that resolution ; and that when Congress reasserted its authority, and passed an act virtually repealing it, and doing precisely what is now recommended—designating the funds to be received in public payments—that act was not regard. ed by President Jackson as meriting the honor of his notice. But the present incumbent, none can doubt, has at least Oct. 4, 1837.]
as good a right to rescind the unlawsul edict as his predecessor had to issue it. The existing regulations prescribe, moreover, the very funds, which it is apparent, from the whole scope of the message, the President considers alone admissible. Why, then, call upon Congress again to designate those funds ! What assurance have we that, bound as he is to follow the footsteps of his predecessor, another law upon the subject will not be treated like the first Or of what avail is it for Congress to enact laws which the Executive habitually supersedes at its pleasure ? As to making provision to enable the Treasury to meet the demands upon it, I have already endeavored to show that under the practice prevailing at the Treasury of drawing upon the deposite banks, and the determination adopted by the Executive of withholding the fourth instalment due the States, there were abundant means to meet all necessary expenditures during the current year, or at least to enable the Treasury to hold out until the first Monday in December. Nor was there, sir, the least occasion for an extra session to grant indulgence to public debtors, or prescribe terms of settlement with them. The same authority which the Executive has exercised in relation to those subjects, up to the present moment, might just as lawfully have been exerted for two months longer. There remains, then, but a single ground upon which the President has placed the justification of this extra session: the propriety of devising and adopting measures, within the constitutional competency of Congress, to levive the enterprise and promote the prosperity of the country. The importance of these objects none will contest. But what measures, calculated to effect them, does the President recommend? Not one. That most generally and urgently demanded by the commercial community—the establishment of a national bank-he unhesitatingly rejects, as not within our constitutional competency. , Believing, as I do, such an institution both unconstitutional and inexpedient, I am gratified to find that he speaks in reference to it in no equivocal language. More, sir, I must frankly declare that I concur most fully in the doctrine of the message, that it is not the province of this Government to legislate in favor of particular pursuits. The public credit, the public treasure collected from all, are the common right of all, and cannot justly be appropriated to the exclusive or special use of a favored class. Government owes equal protection to the industry of all ; pecuniary assistance to none : to those engaged in commercial pursuits not more than to the farmer or mechanic. Its revenues and credit cannot be legitimately applied to such purposes; and with no greater propriety indirectly, through the facilities of a national bank, than by a direct loan or grant. There is one measure, Mr. Chairman, by which it seems to me some relief may be constitutionally extended to the country: not by establishing a national bank, nor by issuing Treasury notes. The measure to which I allude—I mention it with great diffidence, for it is not, I am confident, generally approved, and is expressly discountenanced by the President—is a relaxation of the law requiring payment of public dues in specie, or in notes of specie-paying banks. Let us temporarily dispense, in part at least, with this rigorous exaction. Let us receive a portion of the revenue in such notes as the people receive from each other : such as the State Governments accept in discharge of public dues; provided they be not so far depreciated as to justify an apprehension that they will not be ultimately redeemed. Let us pay all public creditors alike in the funds we receive, provided they consent to take them; and, if not, suffer their claims to remain a charge upon the Treasury, to be paid in gold and silver, as soon as it can be procured to satisfy them. Let us reduce our extravagant expenditures, and put additional guards upon collect
ing and disbursing officers. Let us place the public money in the State banks, on special deposite, and not as a basis for loans: thus avoiding the danger of a connexion, either in political concerns or pecuniary interests, between the Government and the banking institutions of the country. By these means, while we provide for the safety of the public treasure, we may afford the people that relief which the times require: a substantial, constitutional relief. We shall not then be charged with permitting unjust discriminations among the public creditors: with providing one kind of currency for the people, and another for the Government: with extorting gold and silver at a grievous sacrifice from the many, to put in the pockets of the few : yes, sir, under the sanction of the Secretary of the Treasury, to divide among ourselves. The people have a right to complain of these things; and without imputing to the Secretary the dishonorable motive, in tendering gold and silver to members of Congress, of designing to conciliate their favor by a paltry bribe, I cannot but regret that the offer was ever made or accepted. It has subjected them to humiliating applications from brokers and money changers, to sell at a premium what has been wrung at a great loss from the people, and prevented them from feeling the inconvenience to which their constituents are subjected ; of soiling their hands and their pockets with the wretched trash currently circulating through the country. If we can apply no remedy for the evil, we ought at least to bear our share of it. But it does not become me, Mr. Chairman, at this time, nor perhaps at any time, to press upon those who administer the Government measures of the character of those to which I have alluded. We are given to understand in the message that the receipt into the Treasury of notes not redeemed in specie, on demand, ought not to be sanctioned. So far from relaxing, the President seems inclined to increase the rigor of the law, by withdrawing the privilege of paying in notes of specie-paying banks, and, during the present almost unexampled difficulty of procuring them, to exact gold and silver exclusively. With these views, why should he speak of designating the funds to be received, when the law already requires the only funds he approves? Why convene Congress to adopt measures for relieving the country, when he recommends none, and is opposed to all that promise any general or effectual relief1 . As to the particular measure before us, it is not designed to relieve the people, but to impose a new burden upon them, for the relief of the Government, and that in an unusual and odious form. I am constrained, sir, upon principlc, to vote against it; and I would now move to strike out the first section of the bill, but that I am unwilling to deprive other gentlemen of the opportunity of presenting their amendments. There is no amendment, however, which can induce me to vote for it, so long as the feature remains authorizing the issue of Treasury notes. But if the administration will submit a proposition for the necessary supplies to be raised in the ordinary way, or any gentleman will propose plans of general relief, within the pale of the constitution, I pledge myself to give such measures my humble support, regardless of the quarter from whence they corne. Mr. THOMAS said he did not rise to participate in the discursive debate which had been invited by the speech of the gentleman from Pennsylvania, [Mr. Bipple..] His attention had been attracted by the closing remarks of that gentleman, and he would do now what he had desired to do a few days since, and submit to the House and to the country a brief explanation, due to the committee of which he had the honor to be the chairman. When the gentleman from Pennsylvania heretofore called on the chairman of the Judiciary Committee to respond to certain inquiries, Mr. T. was about to give a full and detailed reply, but was warned by the Chair that such a
proceeding would not be in order. Subsequently, a resolution declaring that it is inexpedient to report a bankrupt law at this special session of Congress was adopted in the committee, and it became his duty to present it to this House. After the resolution had been agreed to by the committee, he inquired of the members present whether he should state to the House the reasons by which they had been influenced, and was told that it would be most agreeable to all concerned to have the conclusion they had come to announced without comment. This was accordingly done. The manner in which these proceedings have been adverted to by the gentleman calls for a few words in explanation, to guard against misapprehension. There has been no purpose to disguise the opinions of the Judiciary Committee, or of any of its members, on the grave subject committed to their consideration. The members have been frank with each other in the committee room, and have nothing to conceal from this House, or from their constituents. It is to be hoped that no man supposes that they have sought to avoid a direct decision on any question that could be at this time, with propriety, disposed of. At their first meeting, no opinion could be formed as to the probable duration of the present session of Congress. If it was to be extended beyond the first Monday of December, ample time would be afforded to act upon the business to be reported by the Committee of Ways and Means, and also to establish a uniform system of bankruptcy. But if the session was to be closed before that period, and in time for members to go home and return again, all foresaw that the whole time of the House would be engrossed by the measures expected from the Committee of Ways and Means. Under these impressions, the committee determined not to act upon the matter referred to them, until they could be satisfied that the House would take that subject into serious consideration at the present session. After it had been ascertained that the present session would not be blended with the regular session of Congress, the committee again assembled, all the members being present but one, [Mr. HoFFMAN.] A motion was made that the committee be discharged from the consideration of the policy of establishing a uniform system of bankruptcy. The proposition was rejected—for it two, against it six votes. The resolution declaring it to be inexpedient to report a bankrupt bill at the present session was then adopted without opposition. These particulars are given that the public may see that a decided majority of the committee are disposed to examine further at the next session, if that duty should be imposed upon them, into the propriety of exercising the powers conferred on Congress respecting bankruptcies. The establishment of a uniform system on that subject is now a work of great difficulty and delicacy. The people of the several States have been long accustomed to insolvent systems differing essentially from each other. If an attempt is to be made to supersede them by a general law of the United States, it is certainly desirable that ample opportunity should be first afforded for a full development of public opinion on the subject. Since the message of the President and the report of the Secretary were referred, a very short time has elapsed. Notwithstanding this, if the committee had supposed that there existed any necessity whatever for speedy action, they would doubtless have proceeded with the lights already before them. But this is manifestly not the case. We have been invited by the President and the Secretary of the Treasury to explore the power granted to this Government concerning bankruptcies, to see whether we cannot, in a manner authorized by the constitution, impose some salutary check upon the issue of paper money, and guard against a recurrence of that great catastrophe which has inundated the whole country with a depreciated currency. The evil to be remedied grows out of the mismanagement of the banking cor
sporations created by the several States. Now, whether the operations of a bankrupt system are to be extended to banks already in existence, or only to such as may be hereafter created, there can be no necessity for hasty action. It is not probable that any State will, under existing circumstances, create any more institutions similar to those whose dark bodies now cloud the landscape of the whole Union, and whose misconduct and mistortunes have prompted a thorough examination into all the powers of this Government, to discover, if possible, some means to make them respect our fixed policy, and act in strict subordination hereafter to the laws of the land. Neither is it probable that Congress would be inclined to subject existing banks, without delay, to the operations of a bankrupt law. Time ought to be given to these institutions, on account of their numerous stockholders and debtors, to recover from the dilemma into which they had fallen. Before we undertake to enforce a new rule of morals, altering essentially the past policy of the country, all parties to be affected should have time to prepare for the change. In no event, then, can there be a necessity for acting on the recommendation of the President concerning banks at the present session. At the regular session it can be deliberately disposed of without injustice to any interest involved. Moreover, it will be perceived that neither the message of the President, nor the report of the Secretary, referred to the committee, contains any proposition to devise a general system of bankruptcy applicable to merchants and others; and the committee believed that they would not have met the expectations and requirements of the country, if they had reported a bill applicable to banking corporations alone. Between the close of this and the commencement of the next session, the public mind may be turned to this very important subject, and Congress will reassemble in December, with the advantage of much additional information. How far these considerations, or any of them, have operated on other members of the Judiciary Committee, Mr. T. was not prepared to say. Suggestions similar to these were made when the resolution was assented to which has been handed to the House. But he was not authorized to say whether any one or all of the majority of the committee are ready to adopt or repudiate the measure recommended by the President. On that point he could speak for himself only. He had bestowed upon that measure a good deal of reflection, and had examined and listened to many of the arguments urged against it, and yet had not heard nor found any thing to bring to his mind the unwelcome conviction that there is no power in any of our Governments, State or federal, to check and control effectually the corporations of the country. He was reluctant to believe that a State can, by a grant of a charter, secure to a portion of its citizens an exemption from the obligations intended to be imposed on all the people of the United States by one of the most important articles in the federal constitution. That instrument denies to the States the power to impair the obligations of a contract. There is no distinction to be found there between the contracts of corporations and those of individual citizens. The obligations of all are to be held sacred and untouched by State legislation. Nearly all, if not all, the corporations that have secured banking privileges from the States, are required to pay specie on demand for their notes and other liabilities. In fact, nothing but specie can be made a legal tender by a State in payment of any contract into which they may enter. The notes containing such a promise are received by the community, and without that promise they would not be accepted. . And he was unwilling to believe that Congress cannot interpose when these contracts are violated, and deny to any State the right to impair their obligations by attempting to legalize a suspension of specie payments. The position of the banking institutions of the
country at this moment cannot but induce a strict search
suredly, they often set on foot a system of shaving—he
had almost said of plunder and robbery—by which the speculator snatches from the hand of industry half the bread it has earned.
The gentleman from Pennsylvania has read to the House a portion of a speech made by Mr. Van Buren in the Senate, in 1827, to show that the sentiments then entertained by that distinguished man differ widely from those contained in his late message to Congress. Supposing that he had established this inconsistency, the gentleman tells us that he will not indulge in harsh epithets. Be it so, sir. If, however, the gentleman should think proper to characterize harshly what he considers an inconsistency, Mr. T. presumed that, if the Chief Magistrate did not think proper to defend himself, some one of his friends could, without difficulty, satisfy the country that he had been unjustly assailed; but he flattered himself that this would not become necessary. When the gentleman has deliberately reviewed the speech and the message, and has taken into calm consideration the circumstances under which they have been severally uttered, he thought the gentleman would find that denunciations of their author would be misplaced.
The President, in his message, suggests “that it is our duty to provide all the remedies against a depreciated currency which the constitution enables us to afford. The Treasury Department, on several former occasions, has suggested the propriety and importance of a uniform law concerning bankruptcies of corporations, and other bankers. Through the instrumentality of such a law, a salutary check inay, doubtless, be interposed on the issues of paper money, and an effectual remedy be given to the citizen, in a way at once equal in all parts of the Union, and fully authorized by the constitution.”
This language the gentleman from Pennsylvania supposes conflicts with the declarations made by Mr. Van Buren, in a speech delivered in the Senate, in 1827, against an amendment offered by Mr. Branch to the general bankrupt bill then and there under consideration. If this supposition was well-founded, there would be no just cause to apply “harsh language” to the President. He could have avoided, without censure, making the suggestions in the message which have exposed him to the charge of inconsistency. This will not be deniede. If, then, he was not compelled to speak; if Mr. Van Buren could with propriety have been silent, let us inquire with what propriety any unworthy motive could be imputed to him 1 No one will maintain, Mr. T. imagined, that the Chief Magistrate has not a large share of sagacity and foresight. His enemies impute to him powers of mind almost magical. He must have known, then, that he has, by suggesting a bankrupt law as a remedy against depreciated currency, put in peril his popularity at home, where he must be most anxious to stand firm in the affections of the people. He has, too, by the same step, risked an addition to the number of the enemies of his administration throughout the country.
Whatever might be, therefore, thought of the wisdom of his opinions, surely no one ought to impute to him selfish or unmanly inducements, if, in fact, he had in the message contradicted the doctrines of the speech. But is this true ! To test the correctness of the charge, it will be necessary to examine what would have been the effect, and look to the object of the motion which Mr. Van Buren resisted.
The bill before the Senate in 1827 was founded on the i assumption that all who were to be subjected to its provisions were natural persons. For the enforcement of its requirements heavy personal penalties, including imprisonment, were to be resorted to. Mr. Branch proposed to amend this bill, by inserting in the first section the words “ or other banking corporations.” This amendment was opposed by Mr. Van Buren, in the speech from which extracts have been read to the House. If the motion had been assented to without other material alterations in the bill, it would have been an anomaly in legislation. | Banking corporations are intangible, ideal beings, and could, of course, do nothing which, accerding to the bill, would have amounted to an act of bankruptcy. Seeing this, Mr. Van Buren supposed, if the amendment prevailed, that it would become necessary to new model the whole bill. He therefore proceeded to inquire, if the clause were to be inserted, upon whom the pains and penalties of the law could with propriety be made to rest. He insisted that the officers of the banks ought not to sufser in their persons or private property on account of the failures of the banks. They are but the employed agents of the stockholders, and must act in obedience to the directors of the institution; and it would be the grossest injustice to make them individually responsible, not only for their own acts, but for the misfortunes and losses of corporations which they had no power to control. He maintained, also, that the private property of stockholders in banks then existing ought not to be subject to seizure by commissioners of bankruptcy, to satisfy the debts of the corporation. By the charters of these institutions, the stockholders were expressly exempted from all liability for the disasters of the corporation; and Mr. Van Buren contended that Congress could not by an er post facto law inflict upon individuals serious personal penalties, and seize their private property, to enforce contracts entered into by their agents under an authority which exempted them from all liability whatever. These opinions are not antagonistical to the suggestions contained in the Pre-ident's message. The constitution of the United States, without attempting to define the provisions or objects of a bankrupt law, clothes Congress with power to establish a uniform system of bankruptcy. The President has not pointed out any specific mode in which this power shall be exerciscd; but says that, through the instrumentality of that power, such regulations may be established as will impose a salutary check on the issues of paper money, and give to the citizen an effectual remedy, equal in all parts of the Union, against some of the evils of a depreciated currency. If this cannot be done without controlling the laws of the States, as proposed in 1837, then the suggestions of the message are inconsistent with the views of Mr. Van Buren, as expressed in the debate in the Senate, but not otherwise. This is not a proper occasion to inquire whether it is competent for Congress to bring the general authority conferred upon it by the constitution over the indebtedness of bankers, whether individual or corporate, in aid of the State laws. But it will not be difficult when that effort shall be made, to show that it can be done conveniently and in strict accordance with the constitutional doctrines contended for in the speech of Mr. Van Buren. If the bankrupt question should come, while he was a