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BANKS AND BANKING
(Speech of Mr. Prentiss, October 12, 1846)
Mr. Prentiss said he had no desire to discuss the subject of banks and banking, but, that his course might not be liable to misconception, he wished to state briefly some of the reasons why he could not vote for the article as reported from the committee. Whenever it was his duty to act in any manner to affect the general interests of the country or of any portion of it, he would so act as he believed would best promote those interests, whatever might be the consequences to himself as an individual. If he could not please all his friends, he could only say it was as much a source of regret to him as to them. The question was not whether there should be a bank, but whether they would give the power, with proper guards and under proper restrictions, to the legislature of authorizing banking in any form, at any future time, or in any possible contingency that might occur. That is the true question at issue. The great principle involved in this article, if fairly developed, would reduce the currency, which is now a mixed one, to one of a purely metallic character. The mere inhibition upon the legislature of authorizing banking in any form is but half of the work; to carry out the principle they must expel from the currency everything but hard money, and that in the present age he believed was utterly impossible. In viewing this question they should not act with reference to first principles merely, they should not look upon the thing in the abstract only, as if it were new and untried, but they should have regard to the circumstances in which they were placed and the relations which they bear to other states, and see how they would be affected by attempting to carry out the principle. If they were an isolated people, separated from all the rest of the civilized world, perhaps the principle as contained in the article would be well enough in practice; but as they now were, in their present condition, the principle he believed was utterly impracticable. If they were to inhibit every species of banking, as a necessary consequence they must pre
vent the influx of foreign bank bills; it is in vain to inhibit all banking and yet permit here the circulation of bank notes of other states, over which banks they can exercise no control or regulating power, and of the character of their notes they can know little or nothing. He would have no banking under any circumstances unless it could be done safely to the public and for their convenience; he was as unfriendly as anyone to irresponsible banking, and he was equally as unfriendly to any principle which, if carried out, would tend to impair or check the increasing prosperity of the country.
This article forever prohibits the legislature from authorizing banking of any kind, under any restrictions. He was not willing that the legislature should have no power at any future time when, perhaps, the circumstances and necessities of the people might require it, to permit banking with proper guards, and under proper restrictions. Nor was he willing that the present population of the territory, of one hundred and sixty thousand, should bind half a million of people, to which the population of the territory would soon swell, upon a matter of at least doubtful policy.
Besides, a constitution, in his apprehension, should consist of few, single, and fundamental principles, and not of matters of questionable expediency or doubtful policy; those should be left to the legislature properly restricted; and especially should they not insert into the constitution provisions which cannot be enforced.—Democrat, Oct. 31, 1846.
TUESDAY, OCTOBER 13, 1846
Prayer by the Rev. Mr. McHugh.
Mr. Judd called the attention of the convention to an error in punctuation in printing the report of the committee on finance, taxation, and the public debt, whereby the meaning of the report is essentially altered.
N. F. Hyer called up the resolution offered by him some days since, relative to obtaining certain information from clerks of courts.
The Chair was of opinion that his motion would be in order when the unfinished business came up.
Mr. Judd begged leave to differ with the Chair in his construction of the rules.-Express, Oct. 20, 1846.
Moses M. Strong moved that the rules relative to the order of business be suspended and that the convention do now resolve itself into committee of the whole for the further consideration of No. 1, “Article relative to banks and banking,” and the minority report relative thereto, which was decided in the affirmative. And a division having been called for, there were 53 in the affirmative and 13 in the negative.
The convention then resolved itself into committee of the whole for the consideration of said article, Mr. Agry in the chair. And after some time spent in the consideration thereof the committee rose and reported progress and asked leave to sit again thereon. Leave was granted.
On motion of N. F. Hyer the convention adjourned until two o'clock, P. M.
Mr. Baker took the floor in opposition to the penal clauses contained in the majority report of the committee. He did not pretend to enter into the principles of banking, as he considered that principle definitely settled, no member having yet spoken in favor of banks or banking, although much time had been already spent in this discussion. He believed it to be a settled principle with every member of the committee that we were to have no banks nor banking operations whatever within the state. He thought the prohibition of the circula
tion of bank notes of other states would be injudicious and inexpedient and did not believe the people would uphold the convention in inserting such a clause in the constitution. He feared the rejection by the people of the constitution containing such a prohibition. With the views he entertained upon the subject he would not be deterred from frankly and fearlessly expressing his sentiments by any such epithets as “Old Hunker,” “Progressive Democrat,” “Tadpole,” or “Fourfooted Democrat.” He would ask if we were prepared to exclude all the foreign paper money from our state. He considered such a prohibition uncalled for and prejudicial to the best interests of the people. It was true, he said, that the western portion of the territory had driven out paper, which was all right so far as they were concerned, and the east could also do it by making laws to banish it. But they have never done it, nor have they ever wished to do it. The east was essentially different from the west. A constant influx of emigration pouring in, most of whom brought with them the paper of good, sound, specie paying banks, it was impossible in every case to bring specie in lieu of paper; specie was not so plenty there. If a man sold his farm for four or five thousand dollars, it was a difficult matter in many cases and sometimes impossible to obtain specie in payment. Therefore, if this amendment of the member from Grant should prevail, it would have the effect of checking emigration to our state and turn it off to some other quarter where their money could be used with less inconvenience. Mr. Baker regarded the operation of this law vastly differently west than at the east. Should you say to an emigrant coming into our lake ports, “You shall not bring your paper into our state,” it would most effectually check the tide of emigration. He said the main export of the west was lead, and of the east wheat; specie was plenty at the west because there was not that competition in lead that there was in wheat. The eastern staple of wheat must compete with the vast wheat region of New York, that of Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio; and buyers will be apt to purchase where they can do so with the least inconvenience. If they are obliged to bring with them the specie to purchase our wheat, when they can purchase their