« PreviousContinue »
for its dissolution. The governor and this very legislature, scarcely three months ago, approved the removal for that very reason. Sir, how enviable is that abundant measure of glory which covers such inconsistencies as this !
If I have been at all successful, I have shown that all the evils hitherto experienced and yet to be apprehended from the pressure, are the necessary consequences of the removal of the deposits. The governor and committee have revived the question, whether that removal was necessary? Having once discussed that question in this place, I shall be very brief upon it now. But how are circumstances changed since that discussion! Then we were assured there was not, nor could there be, any pressure ; now a pressure exists so alarming that the state is seen borrowing six millions for the relief of its citizens !
The reasons given were vindictive. It was necessary to punish the bank and to diminish its power. To which it ought to be a sufficient answer, 1st. That in inflicting this punishment, the President assumed legislative power, defining the offence and the penalty, judicial power convicting the bank, and executive power, conferred by no law, enforcing the punishment.
But if this be not a sufficient reply to those who think such powers may be safely assumed by the executive, then I would say to them they can now see how blind revenge is ! The penalty has been inflicted, the blow has fallen, the offender is unharmed, is still as strong, as powerful as before. Where, then, has the blow fallen ? Look upon this suffering country, and see in her the victim! But there was the pretext of the public good, the public morals were to be saved by preventing the renewal of the charter of the bank. Sir, in my experience, I have never seen any thing so preposterous as this affected alarm at the power of the bank. Of all the institutions of the country, it is the most powerless, the most defenceless. Popular feeling is most easily directed against it. Honor, firmness, candor, moral courage, are necessary to maintain its cause even against false accusations; but it is the braggart's bravery to crowd into the foremost rank of its assailants. It is supererogatory to add that legislative action is necessary to confer on the executive the power to preserve the public morals.
Sir, if I have established the several preliminary points I have stated, it will follow that the measure to be adopted in order to
afford relief to the community, must be one which will revive confidence, now prostrate, throughout the Union. Although this pressure originated in a temporary deficiency of money for the purposes of business, the evil has become that of the general destruction of mutual confidence between individuals, and, to a great and alarming extent, the destruction of confidence in the currency. The system of commercial business, and the operations of the currency, extend throughout the country. The relief proposed by this bill is merely local—it is temporary and cannot be adequate.
But it is on the ground of the corrupting operation of this measure that I most strenuously protest against it. In addition to a debt of two and a half millions owed to the Treasury by the state banks, you would loan them four millions, you would make it their interest to become subservient and to do the will of those who wield the power of the state--you would thus establish directly and inevitably a great moneyed power to be wielded by the public officers; in other words, by the dominant party through the agency of moneyed corporations operating directly upon the people. The consequence of this will be the corruption of the government, the banks, and the people. Nor is the two million loan in the country less objectionable in this respect. You are in a season of extreme pressure and distress, holding out to the people the enormous sum of two millions. You appeal to the cupidity of some, and operate upon the necessities of others in every county in the state. You would bring all the needy to exercise their influence on the supervisors to draw their portion of the loan. The board of supervisors would yield, the money would be placed in the hands of loan officers. In my place as a Senator, I declare that to be opposed to the administration is a disqualification for the office of loan officers. Those loan officers would distribute the sum which, although inadequate to the general relief, would still be a sufficient bribe to the weak, the unfortunate, the timid and the unprincipled. It is easy to imagine who then would be the recipients of this bounty of the state. And all would know or feel that to participate in it, they must give their political support to those who should dispense it.
Thus, sir, in this free republic, is the money of the people proposed to be employed by the government to corrupt the people themselves. The two millions would become a great corruption fund more dangerous than the gold of Sir Henry Clinton paid to the traitor Arnold, more destructive of the virtue of the people than were the bribes paid by Philip of Macedon to the Athenian orators.
Sir, I blush that it has been reserved for the Legislature of New York to establish such a system as this—although, if it must be adopted, I cannot regret that the honor of its paternity belongs to one whose fame as a Representative of this state in the Senate of the United States, rests upon his declaration of the principle that, in reference to political discussions, “to the victor belongs the spoils of the enemy.”
Mr. President, I have shown that relief ought to be given to the people of this state, under an unnecessary and cruel pressure. I have shown, I am sure I have shown that this bill would not afford that relief, and ought not to pass. What, then, is there no relief? Is there no way to arrest the march of this DISTRUST which is spreading ruin throughout the land ?
Yes, there is a remedy—one in the power of this legislature to grant; one that will be neither contingent, nor remote, nor inadequate, but immediate, certain and effectual; one that will revive languishing commerce, agriculture and manufacturesnay, more -one whose operation will not be limited by the borders of our state: it will recall confidence and prosperity everywhere throughout this land. To give that relief will require no money, no loan, no expense, no risk—it will compromit no principle, it will work no injury, nor be fraught with any danger to the people. One sacrifice it requires, but that is a personal one to be made by the members of the legislature. That sacrifice is difficult, but it can work them no injury. They who make it will be approved and applauded and hailed by the generous people who have confided in and honored us as their deliverers from suffering which they as well as we had not foreseen. That sacrifice, however, is one selcom made. None but great minds can make it. It is therefore more precious in the eyes of good men. To make that sacrifice is the only human virtue which can gain the favor of Him who is altogether pure and altogether just. It is the sacrifice of pride, of opinion—the acknowledgment of error. Let this legislature say to those who will obey their will at Washington, because they depend upon their support—“Restore the public treasures to their lawful depository; cease this unnatural and unnecessary warfare against the interests of the people, and these ruinous experiments.” Say to the executive "Surrender to Congress and the judiciary their constitutional powers, and leave to Congress and to the people the questions of the bank of the United States, a bank, or no bank of the United States.” Sir, this legislature, when it should so speak, would be obeyed. I could almost envy them the errors which have given them so great a power to bless their country. Sir, I would not, for all my country's wealth, (and who does not desire to participate in it ?) for all my country's honors, (and who does not prize the favor of his fellow citizens ?) bear the responsibility assumed by those who have brought this ruin upon the country. More than that man who might obtain all that wealth and all those honors, would I envy those who should make the sacrifice I have demanded.
Sir, if that sacrifice be not made, it is not here that this question will be decided-it must go to the polls, where the votes of those who here make laws, will be of no more weight than those of the poorest sufferers in the land. Those reckon too much on the ignorance of the people, who think they cannot understand the cause of these calamities; those reckon too much on their corruptibility, who think they will not reject with scorn this mockery of relief. But, be it so, if there the issue must go. Heaven will not only have withdrawn its favor from this people, but reversed its principles of justice, if the victory be not to the oppressed.
NOTE.—During the four years that Mr. Seward was a member of the state senate, he delivered speeches against Executive interference with the United States Bank; in favor of abolishing Imprisonment for Debt; against increasing the salaries of the Chancellor and the Judges of the Supreme Court; in favor of a separate Prison for Females; against an increase of Corporations and Monopolies; in favor of preparing and publishing the Colonial History of the State; and on several other topics of public interest. But we have to regret that none but very imperfect reports of most these speeches were made at the time, or have been preserved. From the allusions to them which we find in a file of newspapers of that day, we learn that they were marked with great ability, and that they produced decided effect at the time, and were instrumental in producing that political revolution which soon after brought the party to which Mr. Seward belonged into power, with him at its head.--Ed.