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worthy of them. If they believed the resolution to be true, he expected them to say so, and to vote for it; but, if not, to say so, and to assign their reasons boldly and directly, and not to kill it by arguments foreign to the question.
In conclusion, he expressed his regret that his colleague should think proper to make the motion he did ; and would assure him that, whatever might be their difference of opinion on the great political questions of the day, he would, on all occasions, abstain from making any motion to embarrass any measure which he might think proper to introduce.
[After some further remarks from Mr. Preston, the question was taken on his motion to lay the resolution on the table, and it was adopted-Yeas, 35; nays, 9.]
On the Independent Treasury Bill, delivered in the
Senate, February 15th, 1838.
I REGARD this measure, which has been so much denounced, as very little more than an attempt to carry out the provisions of the Joint Resolution of 1816, and the Deposit Act of 1836. The former provides that no note but those of specie-paying banks shall be received in the dues of the Government, and the latter that such banks only shall be the depositories of the public revenues and fiscal agents of the Government; but it omitted to make provisions for the contingency of a general suspension of specie payments, such as the present. It followed, accordingly, on the suspension in May last, which totally separated the Government and the banks, that the revenues were thrown in the hands of
the Executive, where it has since remained under its exclusive control, without any legal provision for its safe-keeping. The object of this bill is to supply this omission ; to take the public money out of the hands of the Executive, and place it under the custody of the laws, and to prevent the renewal of a connection which has proved so unfortunate to both the Government and the banks. It is this measure-originating in an exigency caused by our own acts, and which seeks to make the most of a change effected by operation of law, instead of attempting to innovate, or to make another experiment, as has been erroneously represented—that has been denounced, under the name of the Sub-Treasury, with such unexampled bitterness.
In lieu of this bill, an amendment has been offered, as a substitute, by the Senator from Virginia, furthest from the Chair (Mr. Rives), which, he informs us, is the first choice of himself and those who agree with him, and the second choice of those with whom he is allied on this question. If I may judge from appearances, which can hardly deceive, he might have said their first choice, under existing circumstances; and have added, that despairing of a National Bank, the object of their preference, they have adopted his substitute, as the only practical alternative at present. We have, then, the question thus narrowed down to this bill and the proposed substitute. It is agreed on all sides, that one or the other must be selected, and that to adopt or reject the one, is to reject or adopt the other. The single question then is, Which shall we choose? A deeply momentous question, which we are now called on to decide in behalf of the States of this Union, and on our decision their future destiny must, in a great degree, depend, so long as their union endures.
In comparing the relative merits of the two measures, preparatory to a decision, I shall touch very briefly on the principles and details of the bill. The former is well under
stood by the Senate and the country at large, and the latter has been so ably and lucidly explained by the Chairman of the committee in his opening speech, as to supersede the necessity of further remarks on it at this stage of the discussion. I propose, then, to limit myself to a mere general summary, accompanied by a few brief observations.
The object of the bill, as I have already stated, is to take the public funds out of the hands of the Executive, where they have been thrown by operation of our acts, and to place them under the custody of law; and to provide for a gradual and slow, but a perpetual separation between the Government and the banks. It proposes to extend the process of separating to the year 1845, receiving during the first year of the series the notes of such banks as may pay specie, and reducing thereafter, the amount receivable in notes one-sixth annually, till the separation shall be finally consummated at the period mentioned.
The provisions of the bill are the most simple and effectual that an able committee could devise. Four principal receivers, a few clerks, and a sufficient number of agents to examine the state of the public funds, in order to see that all is right, at an annual charge, not exceeding forty or fifty thousand dollars at most, constitute the additional officers and expenditures required, to perform all the functions heretofore discharged by the banks, as depositories of the public money, and fiscal agents of the treasury. This simple apparatus will place the public treasury on an independent footing, and give to the Government, at all times, a certain command of its funds to meet its engagements, and preserve its honor and faith inviolate. If it be desirable to separate from the banks, the Government must have some independent agency of its own, to keep and disburse the public revenue ; and if it must have such an agency, none, in my opinion, can be devised more simple, more economical, more effectual and safe than that provided by this bill.
It is the necessary result of the separation—and to reject it, without proposing a better (if, indeed, a better can be), is to reject the separation itself.
I turn now to the substitute. Its object is directly the reverse of that of the bill. It proposes to revive the league of State banks, and to renew our connection with them, and which all acknowledge has contributed so much to corrupt the community, and to create a spirit for speculation, heretofore unexampled in our history.
The Senator (Mr. Rives) in offering it, whether wisely or not, has at least acted consistently. He was its advocate at first in 1834, when the alternative was between it and the recharter of the late Bank of the United States. He then defended it zealously and manfully, against the fierce assaults of his present allies, as he now defends it, when those, who then sustained him, have abandoned the measure. Whether wisely or not, there is something heroic in his adherence, and I commend him for it ; but, I fear I cannot say as much for his wisdom and discretion. He acknowledged, with all others, the disasters that have followed the first experiment, but attributes the failure to inauspicious circumstances, and insists that the measure has not had a fair trial. I grant that a second experiment may succeed, after the first has failed; but the Senator must concede, in return, that every failure must necessarily weaken confidence, both in the experiment and experimenter. He cannot be more confident in making this second trial, than he was in the first; and if I doubted the success then, and preferred the Sub-Treasury to his league of banks, he must excuse me for still adhering to my opinion, and doubting the success of his second trial. Nor ought he to be surprised, that those who joined him in the first should be rather shy of trying the experiment again, after having been blown into the air, and burnt and scalded by the explosion. But, if the Senator has been unfortunate in failing to secure the co-operation of those who aided him
in the first trial, he has been compensated by securing the support of those who were then opposed to him. They are now his zealous supporters. In contrasting their course, then and now, I intend nothing personal. I make no charge of inconsistency, nor do I intend to imply it. My object is truth, and not to wound the feelings of any one, or any party. I know that, to make out a charge of inconsistency, not only the question, but all the material circumstances must be the same. A change in either, may make a change of vote necessary; and with a material variation in circumstances, we are often compelled to vary our course, in order to preserve our principles. In this case, I conceive, that circumstances, as far as the present allies of the Senator are concerned, have materially changed. Then the option was between a recharter of the late bank, and a league of State banks ; but now the former is out of the question, and the option is between such a league and a total separation from the banks. This being the alternative, they may well take that, which they rejected in 1834, without subjecting themselves to the charge of inconsistency, or justly exposing themselves to the imputation of change of principle or opinion. I acquit them, then, of all such charges. They doubtless think now, as they formerly did, of the measure, which they then denounced and rejected, but which a change of circumstances now compels them to support.
But in thus acquitting them of the charge of inconsistency, they must excuse me, if I should avail myself of the factthat their opinion remains unchanged—as an argument in favor of the bill, and against the substitute. The choice is between them. They are in the opposite scales. To take from the one is, in effect, to add to the other; and any objection against the one, is an argument equally strong in favor of the other. I then avail myself of their many powerful objections in 1834 against the measure, which this substitute proposes now to revive. I call to my aid, and press