A COMPILATION OF THE MESSAGES AND PAPERS OF THE PRESIDENTS
BY JAMES D. RICHARDSON
Martin Van Buren
March 4, 1837, to March 4, 1841
Martin Van Buren
Martin Van Buren was born in Kinderhook, Columbia County, N.Y., December 5, 1782. He was the eldest son of Abraham Van Buren, a small farmer, and of Mary Hoes (originally spelled Goes), whose first husband was named Van Alen. He studied the rudiments of English and Latin in the schools of his native village. At the age of 14 years commenced reading law in the office of Francis Sylvester, and pursued his legal novitiate for seven years. Combining with his professional studies a fondness for extemporaneous debate, he was early noted for his intelligent observation of public events and for his interest in politics; was chosen to participate in a nominating convention when only 18 years old. In 1802 went to New York City and studied law with William P. Van Ness, a friend of Aaron Burr; was admitted to the bar in 1803, returned to Kinderhook, and associated himself in practice with his half-brother, James I. Van Alen. He was a zealous adherent of Jefferson, and supported Morgan Lewis for governor of New York in 1803 against Aaron Burr. In February, 1807, he married Hannah Hoes, a distant kinswoman. In the winter of 1806-7 removed to Hudson, the county seat of Columbia County, and in the same year was admitted to practice in the supreme court. In 1807 supported Daniel D. Tompkins for governor against Morgan Lewis, the latter having come to be considered less true than the former to the measures of Jefferson. In 1808 became surrogate of Columbia County, displacing his halt-brother and partner, who belonged to the defeated faction. In 1813, on a change of party predominance at Albany, his half-brother was restored to the office. Early in 1811 he figured in the councils of his party at a convention held in Albany, when the proposed recharter of the United States Bank was the leading question of Federal politics. Though Albert Gallatin, Secretary of the Treasury, had recommended a recharter, the predominant sentiment of the Republican party was adverse to the measure. Van Buren shared in this hostility, and publicly lauded the "Spartan firmness" of George Clinton when as Vice-President he gave his casting vote in the United States Senate against the bank bill, February 20, 1811. In 1812 was elected to the senate of New York from the middle district as a Clinton Republican, defeating Edward P. Livingston; took his seat in November of that year, and became thereby a member of the court of errors, then composed of senators in connection with the chancellor and the supreme court. As senator he strenuously opposed the charter of "The Bank of America," which was then seeking to establish itself in New York and to take the place of the United States Bank. Though counted among the adherents of Madison's Administration, and though committed to the policy of declaring war against Great Britain, he sided with the Republican members of the New York legislature in 1812, and supported De Witt Clinton for the Presidency. In the following year, however, he dissolved his political relations with Clinton and resumed the entente cordiale with Madison's Administration. In 1815, while still a member of the senate, was appointed attorney-general of the State, superseding the venerable Abraham Van Vechten. In 1816 was reelected to the State senate, and, removing to Albany, formed a partnership with his life-long friend, Benjamin F. Butler. In the same year was appointed a regent of the University of New York. Supported De Witt Clinton for governor of New York in 1817, but opposed his reelection in 1820. In 1819 was removed from the office of attorney-general. February 6, 1821, was elected United States Senator. In the same year was chosen from Otsego County as a member of the convention to revise the constitution of the State. Took his seat in the United States Senate December 3, 1821, and was at once made a member of its Committees on the Judiciary and Finance. For many years was chairman of the former. Supported William H. Crawford for the Presidency in 1824. Was reelected to the Senate in 1827, but soon resigned his seat to accept the office of governor of New York, to which he was elected in 1828. Was a zealous supporter of Andrew Jackson in the Presidential election of 1828, and in 1829 became premier of the new Administration. As Secretary of State he brought to a favorable close the long-standing feud between the United States and England with regard to the West India trade. Resigned his Secretaryship in June, 1831, and was sent as minister to England. The Senate refused in 1832 to confirm his nomination by the casting vote of John C. Calhoun, the Vice-President. In 1832 was elected Vice-President of the United States, and in 1833 came to preside over the body which a year before had rejected him as a foreign minister. On May 20, 1835, was formally nominated for the Presidency, and was elected in 1836 over his three competitors, William H. Harrison, Hugh L. White, and Daniel Webster, by a majority of 57 in the electoral college, but of only 25,000 in the popular vote. On May 5, 1840, was nominated for the Presidency by the Democratic national convention at Baltimore, Md. At the election on November 10 was defeated by William Henry Harrison, who received 234 electoral votes and a popular majority of nearly 140,000. Van Buren received but 60 votes in the electoral college. Retired to his country seat, Lindenwald, in his native county. Was a candidate for the Presidential nomination at the Democratic national convention at Baltimore, Md., May 27, 1844, but was defeated by James K. Polk. Was nominated for the Presidency by a Barnburner convention at Utica, N.Y., June 22, 1848, a nomination which he had declined by letter in advance. He was also nominated for the Presidency by the Free Soil national convention of Buffalo, August 9, 1848. At the election, November 7, received only a popular vote of 291,263, and no electoral vote. Supported Franklin Pierce for the Presidency in 1852 and James Buchanan in 1856. In 1860 voted the fusion ticket of Breckinridge, Douglas, and Bell in New York against Mr. Lincoln, but when the civil war began gave to the Administration his zealous support. Died at Kinderhook July 24, 1862, and was buried there.
Fellow Citizens: The practice of all my predecessors imposes on me an obligation I cheerfully fulfill—to accompany the first and solemn act of my public trust with an avowal of the principles that will guide me in performing it and an expression of my feelings on assuming a charge so responsible and vast. In imitating their example I tread in the footsteps of illustrious men, whose superiors it is our happiness to believe are not found on the executive calendar of any country. Among them we recognize the earliest and firmest pillars of the Republic—those by whom our national independence was first declared, him who above all others contributed to establish it on the field of battle, and those whose expanded intellect and patriotism constructed, improved, and perfected the inestimable institutions under which we live. If such men in the position I now occupy felt themselves overwhelmed by a sense of gratitude for this the highest of all marks of their country's confidence, and by a consciousness of their inability adequately to discharge the duties of an office so difficult and exalted, how much more must these considerations affect one who can rely on no such claims for favor or forbearance! Unlike all who have preceded me, the Revolution that gave us existence as one people was achieved at the period of my birth; and whilst I contemplate with grateful reverence that memorable event, I feel that I belong to a later age and that I may not expect my countrymen to weigh my actions with the same kind and partial hand.
So sensibly, fellow-citizens, do these circumstances press themselves upon me that I should not dare to enter upon my path of duty did I not look for the generous aid of those who will be associated with me in the various and coordinate branches of the Government; did I not repose with unwavering reliance on the patriotism, the intelligence, and the kindness of a people who never yet deserted a public servant honestly laboring in their cause; and, above all, did I not permit myself humbly to hope for the sustaining support of an ever-watchful and beneficent Providence.
To the confidence and consolation derived from these sources it would be ungrateful not to add those which spring from our present fortunate condition. Though not altogether exempt from embarrassments that disturb our tranquillity at home and threaten it abroad, yet in all the attributes of a great, happy, and flourishing people we stand without a parallel in the world. Abroad we enjoy the respect and, with scarcely an exception, the friendship of every nation; at home, while our Government quietly but efficiently performs the sole legitimate end of political institutions—in doing the greatest good to the greatest number—we present an aggregate of human prosperity surely not elsewhere to be found.
How imperious, then, is the obligation imposed upon every citizen, in his own sphere of action, whether limited or extended, to exert himself in perpetuating a condition of things so singularly happy! All the lessons of history and experience must be lost upon us if we are content to trust alone to the peculiar advantages we happen to possess. Position and climate and the bounteous resources that nature has scattered with so liberal a hand—even the diffused intelligence and elevated character of our people—will avail us nothing if we fail sacredly to uphold those political institutions that were wisely and deliberately formed with reference to every circumstance that could preserve or might endanger the blessings we enjoy. The thoughtful framers of our Constitution legislated for our country as they found it. Looking upon it with the eyes of statesmen and patriots, they saw all the sources of rapid and wonderful prosperity; but they saw also that various habits, opinions, and institutions peculiar to the various portions of so vast a region were deeply fixed. Distinct sovereignties were in actual existence, whose cordial union was essential to the welfare and happiness of all. Between many of them there was, at least to some extent, a real diversity of interests, liable to be exaggerated through sinister designs; they differed in size, in population, in wealth, and in actual and prospective resources and power; they varied in the character of their industry and staple productions, and [in some] existed domestic institutions which, unwisely disturbed, might endanger the harmony of the whole. Most carefully were all these circumstances weighed, and the foundations of the new Government laid upon principles of reciprocal concession and equitable compromise. The jealousies which the smaller States might entertain of the power of the rest were allayed by a rule of representation confessedly unequal at the time, and designed forever to remain so. A natural fear that the broad scope of general legislation might bear upon and unwisely control particular interests was counteracted by limits strictly drawn around the action of the Federal authority, and to the people and the States was left unimpaired their sovereign power over the innumerable subjects embraced in the internal government of a just republic, excepting such only as necessarily appertain to the concerns of the whole confederacy or its intercourse as a united community with the other nations of the world.
This provident forecast has been verified by time. Half a century, teeming with extraordinary events, and elsewhere producing astonishing results, has passed along, but on our institutions it has left no injurious mark. From a small community we have risen to a people powerful in numbers and in strength; but with our increase has gone hand in hand the progress of just principles. The privileges, civil and religious, of the humblest individual are still sacredly protected at home, and while the valor and fortitude of our people have removed far from us the slightest apprehension of foreign power, they have not yet induced us in a single instance to forget what is right. Our commerce has been extended to the remotest nations; the value and even nature of our productions have been greatly changed; a wide difference has arisen in the relative wealth and resources of every portion of our country; yet the spirit of mutual regard and of faithful adherence to existing compacts has continued to prevail in our councils and never long been absent from our conduct. We have learned by experience a fruitful lesson—that an implicit and undeviating adherence to the principles on which we set out can carry us prosperously onward through all the conflicts of circumstances and vicissitudes inseparable from the lapse of years.
The success that has thus attended our great experiment is in itself a sufficient cause for gratitude, on account of the happiness it has actually conferred and the example it has unanswerably given. But to me, my fellow-citizens, looking forward to the far-distant future with ardent prayers and confiding hopes, this retrospect presents a ground for still deeper delight. It impresses on my mind a firm belief that the perpetuity of our institutions depends upon ourselves; that if we maintain the principles on which they were established they are destined to confer their benefits on countless generations yet to come, and that America will present to every friend of mankind the cheering proof that a popular government, wisely formed, is wanting in no element of endurance or strength. Fifty years ago its rapid failure was boldly predicted. Latent and uncontrollable causes of dissolution were supposed to exist even by the wise and good, and not only did unfriendly or speculative theorists anticipate for us the fate of past republics, but the fears of many an honest patriot overbalanced his sanguine hopes. Look back on these forebodings, not hastily but reluctantly made, and see how in every instance they have completely failed.
An imperfect experience during the struggles of the Revolution was supposed to warrant the belief that the people would not bear the taxation requisite to discharge an immense public debt already incurred and to pay the necessary expenses of the Government. The cost of two wars has been paid, not only without a murmur, but with unequaled alacrity. No one is now left to doubt that every burden will be cheerfully borne that may be necessary to sustain our civil institutions or guard our honor or welfare. Indeed, all experience has shown that the willingness of the people to contribute to these ends in cases of emergency has uniformly outrun the confidence of their representatives.
In the early stages of the new Government, when all felt the imposing influence as they recognized the unequaled services of the first President, it was a common sentiment that the great weight of his character could alone bind the discordant materials of our Government together and save us from the violence of contending factions. Since his death nearly forty years are gone. Party exasperation has been often carried to its highest point; the virtue and fortitude of the people have sometimes been greatly tried; yet our system, purified and enhanced in value by all it has encountered, still preserves its spirit of free and fearless discussion, blended with unimpaired fraternal feeling.
The capacity of the people for self-government, and their willingness, from a high sense of duty and without those exhibitions of coercive power so generally employed in other countries, to submit to all needful restraints and exactions of municipal law, have also been favorably exemplified in the history of the American States. Occasionally, it is true, the ardor of public sentiment, outrunning the regular progress of the judicial tribunals or seeking to reach cases not denounced as criminal by the existing law, has displayed itself in a manner calculated to give pain to the friends of free government and to encourage the hopes of those who wish for its overthrow. These occurrences, however, have been far less frequent in our country than in any other of equal population on the globe, and with the diffusion of intelligence it may well be hoped that they will constantly diminish in frequency and violence. The generous patriotism and sound common sense of the great mass of our fellow-citizens will assuredly in time produce this result; for as every assumption of illegal power not only wounds the majesty of the law, but furnishes a pretext for abridging the liberties of the people, the latter have the most direct and permanent interest in preserving the landmarks of social order and maintaining on all occasions the inviolability of those constitutional and legal provisions which they themselves have made.
In a supposed unfitness of our institutions for those hostile emergencies which no country can always avoid their friends found a fruitful source of apprehension, their enemies of hope. While they foresaw less promptness of action than in governments differently formed, they overlooked the far more important consideration that with us war could never be the result of individual or irresponsible will, but must be a measure of redress for injuries sustained, voluntarily resorted to by those who were to bear the necessary sacrifice, who would consequently feel an individual interest in the contest, and whose energy would be commensurate with the difficulties to be encountered. Actual events have proved their error; the last war, far from impairing, gave new confidence to our Government, and amid recent apprehensions of a similar conflict we saw that the energies of our country would not be wanting in ample season to vindicate its rights. We may not possess, as we should not desire to possess, the extended and ever-ready military organization of other nations; we may occasionally suffer in the outset for the want of it; but among ourselves all doubt upon this great point has ceased, while a salutary experience will prevent a contrary opinion from inviting aggression from abroad.
Certain danger was foretold from the extension of our territory, the multiplication of States, and the increase of population. Our system was supposed to be adapted only to boundaries comparatively narrow. These have been widened beyond conjecture; the members of our Confederacy are already doubled, and the numbers of our people are incredibly augmented. The alleged causes of danger have long surpassed anticipation, but none of the consequences have followed. The power and influence of the Republic have risen to a height obvious to all mankind; respect for its authority was not more apparent at its ancient than it is at its present limits; new and inexhaustible sources of general prosperity have been opened; the effects of distance have been averted by the inventive genius of our people, developed and fostered by the spirit of our institutions; and the enlarged variety and amount of interests, productions, and pursuits have strengthened the chain of mutual dependence and formed a circle of mutual benefits too apparent ever to be overlooked.
In justly balancing the powers of the Federal and State authorities difficulties nearly insurmountable arose at the outset, and subsequent collisions were deemed inevitable. Amid these it was scarcely believed possible that a scheme of government so complex in construction could remain uninjured. From time to time embarrassments have certainly occurred; but how just is the confidence of future safety imparted by the knowledge that each in succession has been happily removed! Overlooking partial and temporary evils as inseparable from the practical operation of all human institutions, and looking only to the general result, every patriot has reason to be satisfied. While the Federal Government has successfully performed its appropriate functions in relation to foreign affairs and concerns evidently national, that of every State has remarkably improved in protecting and developing local interests and individual welfare; and if the vibrations of authority have occasionally tended too much toward one or the other, it is unquestionably certain that the ultimate operation of the entire system has been to strengthen all the existing institutions and to elevate our whole country in prosperity and renown.
The last, perhaps the greatest, of the prominent sources of discord and disaster supposed to lurk in our political condition was the institution of domestic slavery. Our forefathers were deeply impressed with the delicacy of this subject, and they treated it with a forbearance so evidently wise that in spite of every sinister foreboding it never until the present period disturbed the tranquillity of our common country. Such a result is sufficient evidence of the justice and the patriotism of their course; it is evidence not to be mistaken that an adherence to it can prevent all embarrassment from this as well as from every other anticipated cause of difficulty or danger. Have not recent events made it obvious to the slightest reflection that the least deviation from this spirit of forbearance is injurious to every interest, that of humanity included? Amidst the violence of excited passions this generous and fraternal feeling has been sometimes disregarded; and standing as I now do before my countrymen, in this high place of honor and of trust, I can not refrain from anxiously invoking my fellow-citizens never to be deaf to its dictates. Perceiving before my election the deep interest this subject was beginning to excite, I believed it a solemn duty fully to make known my sentiments in regard to it, and now, when every motive for misrepresentation has passed away, I trust that they will be candidly weighed and understood. At least they will be my standard of conduct in the path before me. I then declared that if the desire of those of my countrymen who were favorable to my election was gratified "I must go into the Presidential chair the inflexible and uncompromising opponent of every attempt on the part of Congress to abolish slavery in the District of Columbia against the wishes of the slaveholding States, and also with a determination equally decided to resist the slightest interference with it in the States where it exists." I submitted also to my fellow-citizens, with fullness and frankness, the reasons which led me to this determination. The result authorizes me to believe that they have been approved and are confided in by a majority of the people of the United States, including those whom they most immediately affect. It now only remains to add that no bill conflicting with these views can ever receive my constitutional sanction. These opinions have been adopted in the firm belief that they are in accordance with the spirit that actuated the venerated fathers of the Republic, and that succeeding experience has proved them to be humane, patriotic, expedient, honorable, and just. If the agitation of this subject was intended to reach the stability of our institutions, enough has occurred to show that it has signally failed, and that in this as in every other instance the apprehensions of the timid and the hopes of the wicked for the destruction of our Government are again destined to be disappointed. Here and there, indeed, scenes of dangerous excitement have occurred, terrifying instances of local violence have been witnessed, and a reckless disregard of the consequences of their conduct has exposed individuals to popular indignation; but neither masses of the people nor sections of the country have been swerved from their devotion to the bond of union and the principles it has made sacred. It will be ever thus. Such attempts at dangerous agitation may periodically return, but with each the object will be better understood. That predominating affection for our political system which prevails throughout our territorial limits, that calm and enlightened judgment which ultimately governs our people as one vast body, will always be at hand to resist and control every effort, foreign or domestic, which aims or would lead to overthrow our institutions.
What can be more gratifying than such a retrospect as this? We look back on obstacles avoided and dangers overcome, on expectations more than realized and prosperity perfectly secured. To the hopes of the hostile, the fears of the timid, and the doubts of the anxious actual experience has given the conclusive reply. We have seen time gradually dispel every unfavorable foreboding and our Constitution surmount every adverse circumstance dreaded at the outset as beyond control. Present excitement will at all times magnify present dangers, but true philosophy must teach us that none more threatening than the past can remain to be overcome; and we ought (for we have just reason) to entertain an abiding confidence in the stability of our institutions and an entire conviction that if administered in the true form, character, and spirit in which they were established they are abundantly adequate to preserve to us and our children the rich blessings already derived from them, to make our beloved land for a thousand generations that chosen spot where happiness springs from a perfect equality of political rights.
For myself, therefore, I desire to declare that the principle that will govern me in the high duty to which my country calls me is a strict adherence to the letter and spirit of the Constitution as it was designed by those who framed it. Looking back to it as a sacred instrument carefully and not easily framed; remembering that it was throughout a work of concession and compromise; viewing it as limited to national objects; regarding it as leaving to the people and the States all power not explicitly parted with, I shall endeavor to preserve, protect, and defend it by anxiously referring to its provision for direction in every action. To matters of domestic concernment which it has intrusted to the Federal Government and to such as relate to our intercourse with foreign nations I shall zealously devote myself; beyond those limits I shall never pass.
To enter on this occasion into a further or more minute exposition of my views on the various questions of domestic policy would be as obtrusive as it is probably unexpected. Before the suffrages of my countrymen were conferred upon me I submitted to them, with great precision, my opinions on all the most prominent of these subjects. Those opinions I shall endeavor to carry out with my utmost ability.
Our course of foreign policy has been so uniform and intelligible as to constitute a rule of Executive conduct which leaves little to my discretion, unless, indeed, I were willing to run counter to the lights of experience and the known opinions of my constituents. We sedulously cultivate the friendship of all nations as the condition most compatible with our welfare and the principles of our Government. We decline alliances as adverse to our peace. We desire commercial relations on equal terms, being ever willing to give a fair equivalent for advantages received We endeavor to conduct our intercourse with openness and sincerity, promptly avowing our objects and seeking to establish that mutual frankness which is as beneficial in the dealings of nations as of men. We have no disposition and we disclaim all right to meddle in disputes, whether internal or foreign, that may molest other countries, regarding them in their actual state as social communities, and preserving a strict neutrality in all their controversies. Well knowing the tried valor of our people and our exhaustless resources, we neither anticipate nor fear any designed aggression; and in the consciousness of our own just conduct we feel a security that we shall never be called upon to exert our determination never to permit an invasion of our rights without punishment or redress.
In approaching, then, in the presence of my assembled countrymen, to make the solemn promise that yet remains, and to pledge myself that I will faithfully execute the office I am about to fill, I bring with me a settled purpose to maintain the institutions of my country, which I trust will atone for the errors I commit.
In receiving from the people the sacred trust twice confided to my illustrious predecessor, and which he has discharged so faithfully and so well, I know that I can not expect to perform the arduous task with equal ability and success. But united as I have been in his counsels, a daily witness of his exclusive and unsurpassed devotion to his country's welfare, agreeing with him in sentiments which his countrymen have warmly supported, and permitted to partake largely of his confidence, I may hope that somewhat of the same cheering approbation will be found to attend upon my path. For him I but express with my own the wishes of all, that he may yet long live to enjoy the brilliant evening of his well-spent life; and for myself, conscious of but one desire, faithfully to serve my country, I throw myself without fear on its justice and its kindness. Beyond that I only look to the gracious protection of the Divine Being whose strengthening support I humbly solicit, and whom I fervently pray to look down upon us all. May it be among the dispensations of His providence to bless our beloved country with honors and with length of days. May her ways be ways of pleasantness and all her paths be peace!
MARCH 4, 1837.
WASHINGTON, March 6, 1837.
To the Senate of the United States:
I nominate to the Senate Powhatan Ellis, of Mississippi, to be envoy extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary of the United States to the United Mexican States, to be sent whenever circumstances will permit a renewal of diplomatic intercourse honorably with that power.
M. VAN BUREN.
[From Statutes at Large (Little & Brown), Vol. V, p. 802.]
BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.
Whereas by an act of Congress of the 7th of June, 1836, it was enacted that when the Indian title to all the lands lying between the State of Missouri and the Missouri River should be extinguished the jurisdiction over said land should be ceded by the said act to the State of Missouri and the western boundary of said State should be then extended to the Missouri River, reserving to the United States the original right of soil in said lands and of disposing of the same; and
Whereas it was in and by the said act provided that the same should not take effect until the President should by proclamation declare that the Indian title to said lands had been extinguished, nor until the State of Missouri should have assented to the provisions of the said act; and
Whereas an act was passed by the general assembly of the State of Missouri on the 16th of December, 1836, expressing the assent of the said State to the provisions of the said act of Congress, a copy of which act of the general assembly, duly authenticated, has been officially communicated to this Government and is now on file in the Department of State:
Now, therefore, I, Martin Van Buren, President of the United States of America, do by this my proclamation declare and make known that the Indian title to all the said lands lying between the State of Missouri and the Missouri River has been extinguished and that the said act of Congress of the 7th of June, 1836, takes effect from the date hereof.
Given under my hand, at the city of Washington, this 28th day of March, A.D. 1837, and of the Independence of the United States of America the sixty-first.
MARTIN VAN BUREN.
By the President: JOHN FORSYTH, Secretary of State.
[From Statutes at Large (Little, Brown & Co.), Vol. XI, p. 783.]
BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.
Whereas great and weighty matters claiming the consideration of the Congress of the United States form an extraordinary occasion for convening them, I do by these presents appoint the first Monday of September next for their meeting at the city of Washington, hereby requiring the respective Senators and Representatives then and there to assemble in Congress in order to receive such communications as may then be made to them and to consult and determine on such measures as in their wisdom may be deemed meet for the welfare of the United States.
In testimony whereof I have caused the seal of the United States to be hereunto affixed, and signed the same with my hand.
Done at the city of Washington, the 15th day of May, A.D. 1837, and of the Independence of the United States the sixty-first.
MARTIN VAN BUREN.
By the President: JOHN FORSYTH, Secretary of State.
BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.
Whereas by the third section of the act of Congress of the United States of the 13th of July, 1832, entitled "An act concerning tonnage duty on Spanish vessels," it is provided that whenever the President shall be satisfied that the discriminating or countervailing duties of tonnage levied by any foreign nation on the ships or vessels of the United States shall have been abolished he may direct that the tonnage duty on the vessels of such nation shall cease to be levied in the ports of the United States; and
Whereas satisfactory evidence has lately been received from His Majesty the King of Greece that the discriminating duties of tonnage levied by said nation on the ships or vessels of the United States have been abolished:
Now, therefore, I, Martin Van Buren, President of the United States, do hereby declare and proclaim that the tonnage duty on the vessels of the Kingdom of Greece shall from this date cease to be levied in the ports of the United States.
Given under my hand, at the city of Washington, the 14th day of June, A.D. 1837, and of the Independence of the United States the sixty-first.
M. VAN BUREN.
By the President: JOHN FORSYTH, Secretary of State.
HEADQUARTERS OF THE ARMY,
Washington, March 7, 1837.
GENERAL ORDER No. 6.
I. The Major-General Commanding in Chief has received from the War Department the following order:
WASHINGTON, March 6, 1837.
General Andrew Jackson, ex-President of the United States, being about to depart from this city for his home in Tennessee, and the state of his health rendering it important that he should be accompanied by a medical attendant, the President directs that the Surgeon-General of the Army accompany the ex-President to Wheeling, in the State of Virginia, there to be relieved, in case the ex-President's health shall be such as to allow it, by some officer of the Medical Department, who will attend the ex-President from that place to his residence.
In giving this order the President feels assured that this mark of attention to the venerable soldier, patriot, and statesman now retiring in infirm health from the cares of office to the repose of private life will be as grateful to the feelings of the American people as it appears to the President to be suitable in itself.
M. VAN BUREN.
The Major-General Commanding in Chief will carry into effect the foregoing directions of the President of the United States.
Secretary of War ad interim.
II. Pursuant to the above order, Surgeon-General Lawson will immediately join the ex-President, and will accompany him as his medical attendant to Wheeling, in the State of Virginia, and, at his discretion, to the residence of the ex-President, at the Hermitage, near Nashville, in the State of Tennessee.
III. Assistant Surgeon Reynolds will join the ex-President at Wheeling, Va., and from that place, either alone or in conjunction with the Surgeon-General, as the latter may direct, will proceed with the ex-President to his residence in Tennessee.
IV. The officers above named, on the conclusion of the duties above assigned to them, will repair to their respective stations.
By order of Alexander Macomb, Major-General Commanding in Chief:
SPECIAL SESSION MESSAGE.
WASHINGTON, September 4, 1837.
Fellow-Citizens of the Senate and House of Representatives:
The act of the 23d of June, 1836, regulating the deposits of the public money and directing the employment of State, District, and Territorial banks for that purpose, made it the duty of the Secretary of the Treasury to discontinue the use of such of them as should at any time refuse to redeem their notes in specie, and to substitute other banks, provided a sufficient number could be obtained to receive the public deposits upon the terms and conditions therein prescribed. The general and almost simultaneous suspension of specie payments by the banks in May last rendered the performance of this duty imperative in respect to those which had been selected under the act, and made it at the same time impracticable to employ the requisite number of others upon the prescribed conditions. The specific regulations established by Congress for the deposit and safe-keeping of the public moneys having thus unexpectedly become inoperative, I felt it to be my duty to afford you an early opportunity for the exercise of your supervisory powers over the subject.
I was also led to apprehend that the suspension of specie payments, increasing the embarrassments before existing in the pecuniary affairs of the country, would so far diminish the public revenue that the accruing receipts into the Treasury would not, with the reserved five millions, be sufficient to defray the unavoidable expenses of the Government until the usual period for the meeting of Congress, whilst the authority to call upon the States for a portion of the sums deposited with them was too restricted to enable the Department to realize a sufficient amount from that source. These apprehensions have been justified by subsequent results, which render it certain that this deficiency will occur if additional means be not provided by Congress.
The difficulties experienced by the mercantile interest in meeting their engagements induced them to apply to me previously to the actual suspension of specie payments for indulgence upon their bonds for duties, and all the relief authorized by law was promptly and cheerfully granted. The dependence of the Treasury upon the avails of these bonds to enable it to make the deposits with the States required by law led me in the outset to limit this indulgence to the 1st of September, but it has since been extended to the 1st of October, that the matter might be submitted to your further direction.
Questions were also expected to arise in the recess in respect to the October installment of those deposits requiring the interposition of Congress.
A provision of another act, passed about the same time, and intended to secure a faithful compliance with the obligation of the United States to satisfy all demands upon them in specie or its equivalent, prohibited the offer of any bank note not convertible on the spot into gold or silver at the will of the holder; and the ability of the Government, with millions on deposit, to meet its engagements in the manner thus required by law was rendered very doubtful by the event to which I have referred.
Sensible that adequate provisions for these unexpected exigencies could only be made by Congress; convinced that some of them would be indispensably necessary to the public service before the regular period of your meeting, and desirous also to enable you to exercise at the earliest moment your full constitutional powers for the relief of the country, I could not with propriety avoid subjecting you to the inconvenience of assembling at as early a day as the state of the popular representation would permit. I am sure that I have done but justice to your feelings in believing that this inconvenience will be cheerfully encountered in the hope of rendering your meeting conducive to the good of the country.
During the earlier stages of the revulsion through which we have just passed much acrimonious discussion arose and great diversity of opinion existed as to its real causes. This was not surprising. The operations of credit are so diversified and the influences which affect them so numerous, and often so subtle, that even impartial and well-informed persons are seldom found to agree in respect to them. To inherent difficulties were also added other tendencies which were by no means favorable to the discovery of truth. It was hardly to be expected that those who disapproved the policy of the Government in relation to the currency would, in the excited state of public feeling produced by the occasion, fail to attribute to that policy any extensive embarrassment in the monetary affairs of the country. The matter thus became connected with the passions and conflicts of party; opinions were more or less affected by political considerations, and differences were prolonged which might otherwise have been determined by an appeal to facts, by the exercise of reason, or by mutual concession. It is, however, a cheering reflection that circumstances of this nature can not prevent a community so intelligent as ours from ultimately arriving at correct conclusions. Encouraged by the firm belief of this truth, I proceed to state my views, so far as may be necessary to a clear understanding of the remedies I feel it my duty to propose and of the reasons by which I have been led to recommend them.
The history of trade in the United States for the last three or four years affords the most convincing evidence that our present condition is chiefly to be attributed to overaction in all the departments of business—an over-action deriving, perhaps, its first impulses from antecedent causes, but stimulated to its destructive consequences by excessive issues of bank paper and by other facilities for the acquisition and enlargement of credit. At the commencement of the year 1834 the banking capital of the United States, including that of the national bank, then existing, amounted to about $200,000,000, the bank notes then in circulation to about ninety-five millions, and the loans and discounts of the banks to three hundred and twenty-four millions. Between that time and the 1st of January, 1836, being the latest period to which accurate accounts have been received, our banking capital was increased to more than two hundred and fifty-one millions, our paper circulation to more than one hundred and forty millions, and the loans and discounts to more than four hundred and fifty-seven millions. To this vast increase are to be added the many millions of credit acquired by means of foreign loans, contracted by the States and State institutions, and, above all, by the lavish accommodations extended by foreign dealers to our merchants.
The consequences of this redundancy of credit and of the spirit of reckless speculation engendered by it were a foreign debt contracted by our citizens estimated in March last at more than $30,000,000; the extension to traders in the interior of our country of credits for supplies greatly beyond the wants of the people; the investment of $39,500,000 in unproductive public lands in the years 1835 and 1836, whilst in the preceding year the sales amounted to only four and a half millions; the creation of debts, to an almost countless amount, for real estate in existing or anticipated cities and villages, equally unproductive, and at prices now seen to have been greatly disproportionate to their real value; the expenditure of immense sums in improvements which in many cases have been found to be ruinously improvident; the diversion to other pursuits of much of the labor that should have been applied to agriculture, thereby contributing to the expenditure of large sums in the importation of grain from Europe—an expenditure which, amounting in 1834 to about $250,000, was in the first two quarters of the present year increased to more than $2,000,000; and finally, without enumerating other injurious results, the rapid growth among all classes, and especially in our great commercial towns, of luxurious habits founded too often on merely fancied wealth, and detrimental alike to the industry, the resources, and the morals of our people.
It was so impossible that such a state of things could long continue that the prospect of revulsion was present to the minds of considerate men before it actually came. None, however, had correctly anticipated its severity. A concurrence of circumstances inadequate of themselves to produce such widespread and calamitous embarrassments tended so greatly to aggravate them that they can not be overlooked in considering their history. Among these may be mentioned, as most prominent, the great loss of capital sustained by our commercial emporium in the fire of December, 1835—a loss the effects of which were underrated at the time because postponed for a season by the great facilities of credit then existing; the disturbing effects in our commercial cities of the transfers of the public moneys required by the deposit law of June, 1836, and the measures adopted by the foreign creditors of our merchants to reduce their debts and to withdraw from the United States a large portion of our specie.
However unwilling any of our citizens may heretofore have been to assign to these causes the chief instrumentality in producing the present state of things, the developments subsequently made and the actual condition of other commercial countries must, as it seems to me, dispel all remaining doubts upon the subject. It has since appeared that evils similar to those suffered by ourselves have been experienced in Great Britain, on the Continent, and, indeed, throughout the commercial world, and that in other countries as well as in our own they have been uniformly preceded by an undue enlargement of the boundaries of trade, prompted, as with us, by unprecedented expansions of the systems of credit. A reference to the amount of banking capital and the issues of paper credits put in circulation in Great Britain, by banks and in other ways, during the years 1834, 1835, and 1836 will show an augmentation of the paper currency there as much disproportioned to the real wants of trade as in the United States. With this redundancy of the paper currency there arose in that country also a spirit of adventurous speculation embracing the whole range of human enterprise. Aid was profusely given to projected improvements; large investments were made in foreign stocks and loans; credits for goods were granted with unbounded liberality to merchants in foreign countries, and all the means of acquiring and employing credit were put in active operation and extended in their effects to every department of business and to every quarter of the globe. The reaction was proportioned in its violence to the extraordinary character of the events which preceded it. The commercial community of Great Britain were subjected to the greatest difficulties, and their debtors in this country were not only suddenly deprived of accustomed and expected credits, but called upon for payments which in the actual posture of things here could only be made through a general pressure and at the most ruinous sacrifices.
In view of these facts it would seem impossible for sincere inquirers after truth to resist the conviction that the causes of the revulsion in both countries have been substantially the same. Two nations, the most commercial in the world, enjoying but recently the highest degree of apparent prosperity and maintaining with each other the closest relations, are suddenly, in a time of profound peace and without any great national disaster, arrested in their career and plunged into a state of embarrassment and distress. In both countries we have witnessed the same redundancy of paper money and other facilities of credit; the same spirit of speculation; the same partial successes; the same difficulties and reverses, and at length nearly the same overwhelming catastrophe. The most material difference between the results in the two countries has only been that with us there has also occurred an extensive derangement in the fiscal affairs of the Federal and State Governments, occasioned by the suspension of specie payments by the banks.
The history of these causes and effects in Great Britain and the United States is substantially the history of the revulsion in all other commercial countries.
The present and visible effects of these circumstances on the operations of the Government and on the industry of the people point out the objects which call for your immediate attention.
They are, 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 revenue 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.
For the deposit, transfer, and disbursement of the revenue national and State banks have always, with temporary and limited exceptions, been heretofore employed; but although advocates of each system are still to be found, it is apparent that the events of the last few months have greatly augmented the desire, long existing among the people of the United States, to separate the fiscal operations of the Government from those of individuals or corporations.
Again to create a national bank as a fiscal agent would be to disregard the popular will, twice solemnly and unequivocally expressed. On no question of domestic policy is there stronger evidence that the sentiments of a large majority are deliberately fixed, and I can not concur with those who think they see in recent events a proof that these sentiments are, or a reason that they should be, changed.
Events similar in their origin and character have heretofore frequently occurred without producing any such change, and the lessons of experience must be forgotten if we suppose that the present overthrow of credit would have been prevented by the existence of a national bank. Proneness to excessive issues has ever been the vice of the banking system—a vice as prominent in national as in State institutions. This propensity is as subservient to the advancement of private interests in the one as in the other, and those who direct them both, being principally guided by the same views and influenced by the same motives, will be equally ready to stimulate extravagance of enterprise by improvidence of credit. How strikingly is this conclusion sustained by experience! The Bank of the United States, with the vast powers conferred on it by Congress, did not or could not prevent former and similar embarrassments, nor has the still greater strength it has been said to possess under its present charter enabled it in the existing emergency to check other institutions or even to save itself. In Great Britain, where it has been seen the same causes have been attended with the same effects, a national bank possessing powers far greater than are asked for by the warmest advocates of such an institution here has also proved unable to prevent an undue expansion of credit and the evils that flow from it. Nor can I find any tenable ground for the reestablishment of a national bank in the derangement alleged at present to exist in the domestic exchanges of the country or in the facilities it may be capable of affording them. Although advantages of this sort were anticipated when the first Bank of the United States was created, they were regarded as an incidental accommodation, not one which the Federal Government was bound or could be called upon to furnish. This accommodation is now, indeed, after the lapse of not many years, demanded from it as among its first duties, and an omission to aid and regulate commercial exchange is treated as a ground of loud and serious complaint. Such results only serve to exemplify the constant desire among some of our citizens to enlarge the powers of the Government and extend its control to subjects with which it should not interfere. They can never justify the creation of an institution to promote such objects. On the contrary, they justly excite among the community a more diligent inquiry into the character of those operations of trade toward which it is desired to extend such peculiar favors.
The various transactions which bear the name of domestic exchanges differ essentially in their nature, operation, and utility. One class of them consists of bills of exchange drawn for the purpose of transferring actual capital from one part of the country to another, or to anticipate the proceeds of property actually transmitted. Bills of this description are highly useful in the movements of trade and well deserve all the encouragement which can rightfully be given to them. Another class is made up of bills of exchange not drawn to transfer actual capital nor on the credit of property transmitted, but to create fictitious capital, partaking at once of the character of notes discounted in bank and of bank notes in circulation, and swelling the mass of paper credits to a vast extent in the most objectionable manner. These bills have formed for the last few years a large proportion of what are termed the domestic exchanges of the country, serving as the means of usurious profit and constituting the most unsafe and precarious paper in circulation. This species of traffic, instead of being upheld, ought to be discountenanced by the Government and the people.
In transferring its funds from place to place the Government is on the same footing with the private citizen and may resort to the same legal means. It may do so through the medium of bills drawn by itself or purchased from others; and in these operations it may, in a manner undoubtedly constitutional and legitimate, facilitate and assist exchanges of individuals founded on real transactions of trade. The extent to which this may be done and the best means of effecting it are entitled to the fullest consideration. This has been bestowed by the Secretary of the Treasury, and his views will be submitted to you in his report.
But it was not designed by the Constitution that the Government should assume the management of domestic or foreign exchange. It is indeed authorized to regulate by law the commerce between the States and to provide a general standard of value or medium of exchange in gold and silver, but it is not its province to aid individuals in the transfer of their funds otherwise than through the facilities afforded by the Post-Office Department. As justly might it be called on to provide for the transportation of their merchandise. These are operations of trade. They ought to be conducted by those who are interested in them in the same manner that the incidental difficulties of other pursuits are encountered by other classes of citizens. Such aid has not been deemed necessary in other countries. Throughout Europe the domestic as well as the foreign exchanges are carried on by private houses, often, if not generally, without the assistance of banks; yet they extend throughout distinct sovereignties, and far exceed in amount the real exchanges of the United States. There is no reason why our own may not be conducted in the same manner with equal cheapness and safety. Certainly this might be accomplished if it were favored by those most deeply interested; and few can doubt that their own interest, as well as the general welfare of the country, would be promoted by leaving such a subject in the hands of those to whom it properly belongs. A system founded on private interest, enterprise, and competition, without the aid of legislative grants or regulations by law, would rapidly prosper; it would be free from the influence of political agitation and extend the same exemption to trade itself, and it would put an end to those complaints of neglect, partiality, injustice, and oppression which are the unavoidable results of interference by the Government in the proper concerns of individuals. All former attempts on the part of the Government to carry its legislation in this respect further than was designed by the Constitution have in the end proved injurious, and have served only to convince the great body of the people more and more of the certain dangers of blending private interests with the operations of public business; and there is no reason to suppose that a repetition of them now would be more successful.
It can not be concealed that there exists in our community opinions and feelings on this subject in direct opposition to each other. A large portion of them, combining great intelligence, activity, and influence, are no doubt sincere in their belief that the operations of trade ought to be assisted by such a connection; they regard a national bank as necessary for this purpose, and they are disinclined to every measure that does not tend sooner or later to the establishment of such an institution. On the other hand, a majority of the people are believed to be irreconcilably opposed to that measure; they consider such a concentration of power dangerous to their liberties, and many of them regard it as a violation of the Constitution. This collision of opinion has doubtless caused much of the embarrassment to which the commercial transactions of the country have lately been exposed. Banking has become a political topic of the highest interest, and trade has suffered in the conflict of parties. A speedy termination of this state of things, however desirable, is scarcely to be expected. We have seen for nearly half a century that those who advocate a national bank, by whatever motive they may be influenced, constitute a portion of our community too numerous to allow us to hope for an early abandonment of their favorite plan. On the other hand, they must indeed form an erroneous estimate of the intelligence and temper of the American people who suppose that they have continued on slight or insufficient grounds their persevering opposition to such an institution, or that they can be induced by pecuniary pressure or by any other combination of circumstances to surrender principles they have so long and so inflexibly maintained.
My own views of the subject are unchanged. They have been repeatedly and unreservedly announced to my fellow-citizens, who with full knowledge of them conferred upon me the two highest offices of the Government. On the last of these occasions I felt it due to the people to apprise them distinctly that in the event of my election I would not be able to cooperate in the reestablishment of a national bank. To these sentiments I have now only to add the expression of an increased conviction that the reestablishment of such a bank in any form, whilst it would not accomplish the beneficial purpose promised by its advocates, would impair the rightful supremacy of the popular will, injure the character and diminish the influence of our political system, and bring once more into existence a concentrated moneyed power, hostile to the spirit and threatening the permanency of our republican institutions.
Local banks have been employed for the deposit and distribution of the revenue at all times partially and on three different occasions exclusively: First, anterior to the establishment of the first Bank of the United States; secondly, in the interval between the termination of that institution and the charter of its successor; and thirdly, during the limited period which has now so abruptly closed. The connection thus repeatedly attempted proved unsatisfactory on each successive occasion, notwithstanding the various measures which were adopted to facilitate or insure its success. On the last occasion, in the year 1833, the employment of the State banks was guarded especially, in every way which experience and caution could suggest. Personal security was required for the safe-keeping and prompt payment of the moneys to be received, and full returns of their condition were from time to time to be made by the depositories. In the first stages the measure was eminently successful, notwithstanding the violent opposition of the Bank of the United States and the unceasing efforts made to overthrow it. The selected banks performed with fidelity and without any embarrassment to themselves or to the community their engagements to the Government, and the system promised to be permanently useful; but when it became necessary, under the act of June, 1836, to withdraw from them the public money for the purpose of placing it in additional institutions or of transferring it to the States, they found it in many cases inconvenient to comply with the demands of the Treasury, and numerous and pressing applications were made for indulgence or relief. As the installments under the deposit law became payable their own embarrassments and the necessity under which they lay of curtailing their discounts and calling in their debts increased the general distress and contributed, with other causes, to hasten the revulsion in which at length they, in common with the other banks, were fatally involved.
Under these circumstances it becomes our solemn duty to inquire whether there are not in any connection between the Government and banks of issue evils of great magnitude, inherent in its very nature and against which no precautions can effectually guard.
Unforeseen in the organization of the Government and forced on the Treasury by early necessities, the practice of employing banks was in truth from the beginning more a measure of emergency than of sound policy. When we started into existence as a nation, in addition to the burdens of the new Government we assumed all the large but honorable load of debt which was the price of our liberty; but we hesitated to weigh down the infant industry of the country by resorting to adequate taxation for the necessary revenue. The facilities of banks, in return for the privileges they acquired, were promptly offered, and perhaps too readily received by an embarrassed Treasury. During the long continuance of a national debt and the intervening difficulties of a foreign war the connection was continued from motives of convenience; but these causes have long since passed away. We have no emergencies that make banks necessary to aid the wants of the Treasury; we have no load of national debt to provide for, and we have on actual deposit a large surplus. No public interest, therefore, now requires the renewal of a connection that circumstances have dissolved. The complete organization of our Government, the abundance of our resources, the general harmony which prevails between the different States and with foreign powers, all enable us now to select the system most consistent with the Constitution and most conducive to the public welfare. Should we, then, connect the Treasury for a fourth time with the local banks, it can only be under a conviction that past failures have arisen from accidental, not inherent, defects.
A danger difficult, if not impossible, to be avoided in such an arrangement is made strikingly evident in the very event by which it has now been defeated. A sudden act of the banks intrusted with the funds of the people deprives the Treasury, without fault or agency of the Government, of the ability to pay its creditors in the currency they have by law a right to demand. This circumstance no fluctuation of commerce could have produced if the public revenue had been collected in the legal currency and kept in that form by the officers of the Treasury. The citizen whose money was in bank receives it back since the suspension at a sacrifice in its amount, whilst he who kept it in the legal currency of the country and in his own possession pursues without loss the current of his business. The Government, placed in the situation of the former, is involved in embarrassments it could not have suffered had it pursued the course of the latter. These embarrassments are, moreover, augmented by those salutary and just laws which forbid it to use a depreciated currency, and by so doing take from the Government the ability which individuals have of accommodating their transactions to such a catastrophe.
A system which can in a time of profound peace, when there is a large revenue laid by, thus suddenly prevent the application and the use of the money of the people in the manner and for the objects they have directed can not be wise; but who can think without painful reflection that under it the same unforeseen events might have befallen us in the midst of a war and taken from us at the moment when most wanted the use of those very means which were treasured up to promote the national welfare and guard our national rights? To such embarrassments and to such dangers will this Government be always exposed whilst it takes the moneys raised for and necessary to the public service out of the hands of its own officers and converts them into a mere right of action against corporations intrusted with the possession of them. Nor can such results be effectually guarded against in such a system without investing the Executive with a control over the banks themselves, whether State or national, that might with reason be objected to. Ours is probably the only Government in the world that is liable in the management of its fiscal concerns to occurrences like these.
But this imminent risk is not the only danger attendant on the surrender of the public money to the custody and control of local corporations. Though the object is aid to the Treasury, its effect may be to introduce into the operations of the Government influences the most subtle, founded on interests the most selfish.
The use by the banks, for their own benefit, of the money deposited with them has received the sanction of the Government from the commencement of this connection. The money received from the people, instead of being kept till it is needed for their use, is, in consequence of this authority, a fund on which discounts are made for the profit of those who happen to be owners of stock in the banks selected as depositories. The supposed and often exaggerated advantages of such a boon will always cause it to be sought for with avidity. I will not stop to consider on whom the patronage incident to it is to be conferred. Whether the selection and control be trusted to Congress or to the Executive, either will be subjected to appeals made in every form which the sagacity of interest can suggest. The banks under such a system are stimulated to make the most of their fortunate acquisition; the deposits are treated as an increase of capital; loans and circulation are rashly augmented, and when the public exigencies require a return it is attended with embarrassments not provided for nor foreseen. Thus banks that thought themselves most fortunate when the public funds were received find themselves most embarrassed when the season of payment suddenly arrives.
Unfortunately, too, the evils of the system are not limited to the banks. It stimulates a general rashness of enterprise and aggravates the fluctuations of commerce and the currency. This result was strikingly exhibited during the operations of the late deposit system, and especially in the purchases of public lands. The order which ultimately directed the payment of gold and silver in such purchases greatly checked, but could not altogether prevent, the evil. Specie was indeed more difficult to be procured than the notes which the banks could themselves create at pleasure; but still, being obtained from them as a loan and returned as a deposit, which they were again at liberty to use, it only passed round the circle with diminished speed. This operation could not have been performed had the funds of the Government gone into the Treasury to be regularly disbursed, and not into banks to be loaned out for their own profit while they were permitted to substitute for it a credit in account.
In expressing these sentiments I desire not to undervalue the benefits of a salutary credit to any branch of enterprise. The credit bestowed on probity and industry is the just reward of merit and an honorable incentive to further acquisition. None oppose it who love their country and understand its welfare. But when it is unduly encouraged; when it is made to inflame the public mind with the temptations of sudden and unsubstantial wealth; when it turns industry into paths that lead sooner or later to disappointment and distress, it becomes liable to censure and needs correction. Far from helping probity and industry, the ruin to which it leads falls most severely on the great laboring classes, who are thrown suddenly out of employment, and by the failure of magnificent schemes never intended to enrich them are deprived in a moment of their only resource. Abuses of credit and excesses in speculation will happen in despite of the most salutary laws; no government, perhaps, can altogether prevent them, but surely every government can refrain from contributing the stimulus that calls them into life.
Since, therefore, experience has shown that to lend the public money to the local banks is hazardous to the operations of the Government, at least of doubtful benefit to the institutions themselves, and productive of disastrous derangement in the business and currency of the country, is it the part of wisdom again to renew the connection?
It is true that such an agency is in many respects convenient to the Treasury, but it is not indispensable. A limitation of the expenses of the Government to its actual wants, and of the revenue to those expenses, with convenient means for its prompt application to the purposes for which it was raised, are the objects which we should seek to accomplish. The collection, safe-keeping, transfer, and disbursement of the public money can, it is believed, be well managed by officers of the Government. Its collection, and to a great extent its disbursement also, have indeed been hitherto conducted solely by them, neither national nor State banks, when employed, being required to do more than keep it safely while in their custody, and transfer and pay it in such portions and at such times as the Treasury shall direct.
Surely banks are not more able than the Government to secure the money in their possession against accident, violence, or fraud. The assertion that they are so must assume that a vault in a bank is stronger than a vault in the Treasury, and that directors, cashiers, and clerks not selected by the Government nor under its control are more worthy of confidence than officers selected from the people and responsible to the Government—officers bound by official oaths and bonds for a faithful performance of their duties, and constantly subject to the supervision of Congress.
The difficulties of transfer and the aid heretofore rendered by banks have been less than is usually supposed. The actual accounts show that by far the larger portion of payments is made within short or convenient distances from the places of collection; and the whole number of warrants issued at the Treasury in the year 1834—a year the result of which will, it is believed, afford a safe test for the future—fell short of 5,000, or an average of less than 1 daily for each State; in the city of New York they did not average more than 2 a day, and at the city of Washington only 4.
The difficulties heretofore existing are, moreover, daily lessened by an increase in the cheapness and facility of communication, and it may be asserted with confidence that the necessary transfers, as well as the safe-keeping and disbursements of the public moneys, can be with safety and convenience accomplished through the agencies of Treasury officers. This opinion has been in some degree confirmed by actual experience since the discontinuance of the banks as fiscal agents in May last—a period which from the embarrassments in commercial intercourse presented obstacles as great as any that may be hereafter apprehended.
The manner of keeping the public money since that period is fully stated in the report of the Secretary of the Treasury. That officer also suggests the propriety of assigning by law certain additional duties to existing establishments and officers, which, with the modifications and safeguards referred to by him, will, he thinks, enable the Department to continue to perform this branch of the public service without any material addition either to their number or to the present expense. The extent of the business to be transacted has already been stated; and in respect to the amount of money with which the officers employed would be intrusted at any one time, it appears that, assuming a balance of five millions to be at all times kept in the Treasury, and the whole of it left in the hands of the collectors and receivers, the proportion of each would not exceed an average of $30,000; but that, deducting one million for the use of the Mint and assuming the remaining four millions to be in the hands of one-half of the present number of officers—a supposition deemed more likely to correspond with the fact—the sum in the hands of each would still be less than the amount of most of the bonds now taken from the receivers of public money. Every apprehension, however, on the subject, either in respect to the safety of the money or the faithful discharge of these fiscal transactions, may, it appears to me, be effectually removed by adding to the present means of the Treasury the establishment by law at a few important points of offices for the deposit and disbursement of such portions of the public revenue as can not with obvious safety and convenience be left in the possession of the collecting officers until paid over by them to the public creditors. Neither the amounts retained in their hands nor those deposited in the offices would in an ordinary condition of the revenue be larger in most cases than those often under the control of disbursing officers of the Army and Navy, and might be made entirely safe by requiring such securities and exercising such controlling supervision as Congress may by law prescribe. The principal officers whose appointments would become necessary under this plan, taking the largest number suggested by the Secretary of the Treasury, would not exceed ten, nor the additional expenses, at the same estimate, $60,000 a year.
There can be no doubt of the obligation of those who are intrusted with the affairs of Government to conduct them with as little cost to the nation as is consistent with the public interest; and it is for Congress, and ultimately for the people, to decide whether the benefits to be derived from keeping our fiscal concerns apart and severing the connection which has hitherto existed between the Government and banks offer sufficient advantages to justify the necessary expenses. If the object to be accomplished is deemed important to the future welfare of the country, I can not allow myself to believe that the addition to the public expenditure of comparatively so small an amount as will be necessary to effect it will be objected to by the people.
It will be seen by the report of the Postmaster-General herewith communicated that the fiscal affairs of that Department have been successfully conducted since May last upon the principle of dealing only in the legal currency of the United States, and that it needs no legislation to maintain its credit and facilitate the management of its concerns, the existing laws being, in the opinion of that officer, ample for those objects.
Difficulties will doubtless be encountered for a season and increased services required from the public functionaries; such are usually incident to the commencement of every system, but they will be greatly lessened in the progress of its operations.
The power and influence supposed to be connected with the custody and disbursement of the public money are topics on which the public mind is naturally, and with great propriety, peculiarly sensitive. Much has been said on them in reference to the proposed separation of the Government from the banking institutions; and surely no one can object to any appeals or animadversions on the subject which are consistent with facts and evince a proper respect for the intelligence of the people. If a Chief Magistrate may be allowed to speak for himself on such a point, I can truly say that to me nothing would be more acceptable than the withdrawal from the Executive, to the greatest practicable extent, of all concern in the custody and disbursement of the public revenue; not that I would shrink from any responsibility cast upon me by the duties of my office, but because it is my firm belief that its capacity for usefulness is in no degree promoted by the possession of any patronage not actually necessary to the performance of those duties. But under our present form of government the intervention of the executive officers in the custody and disbursement of the public money seems to be unavoidable; and before it can be admitted that the influence and power of the Executive would be increased by dispensing with the agency of banks the nature of that intervention in such an agency must be carefully regarded, and a comparison must be instituted between its extent in the two cases.
The revenue can only be collected by officers appointed by the President with the advice and consent of the Senate. The public moneys in the first instance must therefore in all cases pass through hands selected by the Executive. Other officers appointed in the same way, or, as in some cases, by the President alone, must also be intrusted with them when drawn for the purpose of disbursement. It is thus seen that even when banks are employed the public funds must twice pass through the hands of executive officers. Besides this, the head of the Treasury Department, who also holds office at the pleasure of the President, and some other officers of the same Department, must necessarily be invested with more or less power in the selection, continuance, and supervision of the banks that may be employed. The question is then narrowed to the single point whether in the intermediate stage between the collection and disbursement of the public money the agency of banks is necessary to avoid a dangerous extension of the patronage and influence of the Executive. But is it clear that the connection of the Executive with powerful moneyed institutions, capable of ministering to the interests of men in points where they are most accessible to corruption, is less liable to abuse than his constitutional agency in the appointment and control of the few public officers required by the proposed plan? Will the public money when in their hands be necessarily exposed to any improper interference on the part of the Executive? May it not be hoped that a prudent fear of public jealousy and disapprobation in a matter so peculiarly exposed to them will deter him from any such interference, even if higher motives be found inoperative? May not Congress so regulate by law the duty of those officers and subject it to such supervision and publicity as to prevent the possibility of any serious abuse on the part of the Executive? And is there equal room for such supervision and publicity in a connection with banks, acting under the shield of corporate immunities and conducted by persons irresponsible to the Government and the people? It is believed that a considerate and candid investigation of these questions will result in the conviction that the proposed plan is far less liable to objection on the score of Executive patronage and control than any bank agency that has been or can be devised.
With these views I leave to Congress the measures necessary to regulate in the present emergency the safe-keeping and transfer of the public moneys. In the performance of constitutional duty I have stated to them without reserve the result of my own reflections. The subject is of great importance, and one on which we can scarcely expect to be as united in sentiment as we are in interest. It deserves a full and free discussion, and can not fail to be benefited by a dispassionate comparison of opinions. Well aware myself of the duty of reciprocal concession among the coordinate branches of the Government, I can promise a reasonable spirit of cooperation, so far as it can be indulged in without the surrender of constitutional objections which I believe to be well founded. Any system that may be adopted should be subjected to the fullest legal provision, so as to leave nothing to the Executive but what is necessary to the discharge of the duties imposed on him; and whatever plan may be ultimately established, my own part shall be so discharged as to give to it a fair trial and the best prospect of success.
The character of the funds to be received and disbursed in the transactions of the Government likewise demands your most careful consideration.
There can be no doubt that those who framed and adopted the Constitution, having in immediate view the depreciated paper of the Confederacy—of which $500 in paper were at times only equal to $1 in coin—intended to prevent the recurrence of similar evils, so far at least as related to the transactions of the new Government. They gave to Congress express powers to coin money and to regulate the value thereof and of foreign coin; they refused to give it power to establish corporations—the agents then as now chiefly employed to create a paper currency; they prohibited the States from making anything but gold and silver a legal tender in payment of debts; and the First Congress directed by positive law that the revenue should be received in nothing but gold and silver.
Public exigency at the outset of the Government, without direct legislative authority, led to the use of banks as fiscal aids to the Treasury. In admitted deviation from the law, at the same period and under the same exigency, the Secretary of the Treasury received their notes in payment of duties. The sole ground on which the practice thus commenced was then or has since been justified is the certain, immediate, and convenient exchange of such notes for specie. The Government did, indeed, receive the inconvertible notes of State banks during the difficulties of war, and the community submitted without a murmur to the unequal taxation and multiplied evils of which such a course was productive. With the war this indulgence ceased, and the banks were obliged again to redeem their notes in gold and silver. The Treasury, in accordance with previous practice, continued to dispense with the currency required by the act of 1789, and took the notes of banks in full confidence of their being paid in specie on demand; and Congress, to guard against the slightest violation of this principle, have declared by law that if notes are paid in the transactions of the Government it must be under such circumstances as to enable the holder to convert them into specie without depreciation or delay.
Of my own duties under the existing laws, when the banks suspended specie payments, I could not doubt. Directions were immediately given to prevent the reception into the Treasury of anything but gold and silver, or its equivalent, and every practicable arrangement was made to preserve the public faith by similar or equivalent payments to the public creditors. The revenue from lands had been for some time substantially so collected under the order issued by directions of my predecessor. The effects of that order had been so salutary and its forecast in regard to the increasing insecurity of bank paper had become so apparent that even before the catastrophe I had resolved not to interfere with its operation. Congress is now to decide whether the revenue shall continue to be so collected or not.
The receipt into the Treasury of bank notes not redeemed in specie on demand will not, I presume, be sanctioned. It would destroy without the excuse of war or public distress that equality of imposts and identity of commercial regulation which lie at the foundation of our Confederacy, and would offer to each State a direct temptation to increase its foreign trade by depreciating the currency received for duties in its ports. Such a proceeding would also in a great degree frustrate the policy so highly cherished of infusing into our circulation a larger proportion of the precious metals—a policy the wisdom of which none can doubt, though there may be different opinions as to the extent to which it should be carried. Its results have been already too auspicious and its success is too closely interwoven with the future prosperity of the country to permit us for a moment to contemplate its abandonment. We have seen under its influence our specie augmented beyond eighty millions, our coinage increased so as to make that of gold amount, between August, 1834, and December, 1836, to $10,000,000, exceeding the whole coinage at the Mint during the thirty-one previous years.
The prospect of further improvement continued without abatement until the moment of the suspension of specie payments. This policy has now, indeed, been suddenly checked, but is still far from being overthrown. Amidst all conflicting theories, one position is undeniable—the precious metals will invariably disappear when there ceases to be a necessity for their use as a circulating medium. It was in strict accordance with this truth that whilst in the month of May last they were everywhere seen and were current for all ordinary purposes they disappeared from circulation the moment the payment of specie was refused by the banks and the community tacitly agreed to dispense with its employment. Their place was supplied by a currency exclusively of paper, and in many cases of the worst description. Already are the bank notes now in circulation greatly depreciated, and they fluctuate in value between one place and another, thus diminishing and making uncertain the worth of property and the price of labor, and failing to subserve, except at a heavy loss, the purposes of business. With each succeeding day the metallic currency decreases; by some it is hoarded in the natural fear that once parted with it can not be replaced, while by others it is diverted from its more legitimate uses for the sake of gain. Should Congress sanction this condition of things by making irredeemable paper money receivable in payment of public dues, a temporary check to a wise and salutary policy will in all probability be converted into its absolute destruction.
It is true that bank notes actually convertible into specie may be received in payment of the revenue without being liable to all these objections, and that such a course may to some extent promote individual convenience—an object always to be considered where it does not conflict with the principles of our Government or the general welfare of the country. If such notes only were received, and always under circumstances allowing their early presentation for payment, and if at short and fixed periods they were converted into specie to be kept by the officers of the Treasury, some of the most serious obstacles to their reception would perhaps be removed. To retain the notes in the Treasury would be to renew under another form the loans of public money to the banks, and the evils consequent thereon.
It is, however, a mistaken impression that any large amount of specie is required for public payments. Of the seventy or eighty millions now estimated to be in the country, ten millions would be abundantly sufficient for that purpose provided an accumulation of a large amount of revenue beyond the necessary wants of the Government be hereafter prevented. If to these considerations be added the facilities which will arise from enabling the Treasury to satisfy the public creditors by its drafts or notes receivable in payment of the public dues, it may be safely assumed that no motive of convenience to the citizen requires the reception of bank paper.
To say that the refusal of paper money by the Government introduces an unjust discrimination between the currency received by it and that used by individuals in their ordinary affairs is, in my judgment, to view it in a very erroneous light. The Constitution prohibits the States from making anything but gold and silver a tender in the payment of debts, and thus secures to every citizen a right to demand payment in the legal currency. To provide by law that the Government will only receive its dues in gold and silver is not to confer on it any peculiar privilege, but merely to place it on an equality with the citizen by reserving to it a right secured to him by the Constitution. It is doubtless for this reason that the principle has been sanctioned by successive laws from the time of the first Congress under the Constitution down to the last. Such precedents, never objected to and proceeding from such sources, afford a decisive answer to the imputation of inequality or injustice.