Benjamin Franklin Thomas.

Speeches in the second and third sessions of the Thirty-seventh Congress, and in the vacation (Volume 2) online

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future day uncertain. It is a perfect answer of the
creditor to this proposition to say, " That is not my


agreement : a matured debt is not paid by a promise
to pay."

But further : the faith of the contract is broken, be-
cause the creditor is not paid in gold or silver, nor in
that which is equivalent to gold and silver. He neither
gets the coin, nor its value m any form ; the money, nor
the money's worth. T^ke, for example, one of the
treasury notes issued under the act of July 17, payable
in three years, with interest at the rate of seven and
three-tenths per cent semi-annually. When the interest
is due, the Government is asked to pay. It offers its
note convertible into stock worth now eighty-eight cents
on the dollar. The holder of the note reads the ninth
section of the statute of July : —

" And he it further enacted, That the faith of the United States is
hereby solemnly pledged for the payment of the interest, and redemp-
tion of the principal, of the loan authorized by this act."

If the lender had understood that -by payment of
interest was meant the giving another note, payable at
the pleasure of the Government, would the loan have
been effected % When, by compulsion, he takes your
note, and converts it into stock, worth, it may be, eighty-
eight or seventy-five cents on a dollar, will he go away
with the conviction, that the faith of the United States,
so solemnly pledged, has been as solemnly redeemed ?
Will he not feel that faith without works is dead ? No
craft of logic or of rhetoric can disguise the real nature
of that transaction. If we feel stain like a wound, that
wound is immedicable. Take from us, Mr. Chairman,
our property, houses, and lands, — they cannot be de-



voted to a nobler cause : but, in God's name, leave us
the consciousness of integrity ; leave us our self-respect.
Delays may be inevitable ; but we will pay the uttermost

If the provision of the bill be not just, it is, of course,
impolitic. It will wound our credit vitally. It will
defeat the very end it was iiesigned to accomplish.
That credit can only be maintained as individuals or
as a nation by the utmost fidelity to our engagements ;
by keeping our promises as we keep our oaths, — regis-
tered in heaven.

No matter what may be the resources of the country ;
no matter what may be its actual wealth, or its capacity
to acquire it : your creditor has no lien upon your pro-
perty. He can make no levy upon your lands or goods.
If you refuse or fail to pay, he is without remedy.
After all, his sole reliance must be upon your good
faith. In the keeping of that is his security and your
credit. And you cannot afford the experiment of giving
him paper when you promised him money. It will cost
you, in the long-run, even more than it will cost him.

This provision of the bill, in the nature of a forced
loan, is itself a confession of weakness. It seeks to
compel credit for the reason that it does not come spon-
taneously. It assumes that force is necessary to uphold
that which must stand on its own legs, or cannot stand
at all. Credit is faith, is trust, is confidence. If you
faithfully keep your promises ; if by taxation you avail
yourselves of all the resources of the country for the
salvation of the country ; if you keep always in view
the end for which this conflict is waged ; if, in seek-


ing to enforce the Constitution and the laws, you
show a readiness yourselves to obey the Constitution
and the laws, you will win credit : you cannot com-
mand or enforce it. It will follow in the footsteps
of rectitude : you cannot drive it before you. You
may by this bill say that paper is money; give the
same name to things vitally different. The essential
difference will be none the less clearly perceived and
strongly felt. It is no want of respect 'to say to you,
You cannot change the nature of things.

The friends of this feature of the bill, Mr. Chair-
man, admit the reluctance with which they assent to it.
The only ground of defence is its necessity ; that no
alternative is left to us. I respect their motives : I can-
not see the necessity.

We have spent a great deal of money in this war,
and have wasted a great deal. But we are not impov-
erished. What we have spent is trivial in comparison
to what is left. The amount up to this time will not
exceed two years of surplus profits. It is not more than
one thirty-second part of our whole property. Not a
dollar of tax has been raised; and yet we are talking of
national bankruptcy, and launching upon a paper cur-
rency. I may be very dull ; but I cannot see the neces-
sity or the wisdom of such a course.

Gentlemen who appreciate the perils of this step
would relieve themselves and us by the assurance, that
the amount of paper to be issued is restricted within
safe bounds. These barriers are easily surmounted. It
is the first step which costs. The descent has always
been easy. The difficulty is return. The experience


of mankind shows the danger in entering upon this
path ; that boundaries are fixed only to be overrun,
promises made only to be broken. Human nature re-
mains essentially the same. We are neither wiser nor
better than our fathers. The theatre changes, but not
the actors or the drama. In speaking of emissions of
paper-money, Hamilton, the greatest of our statesmen,
and the most sagacious of our financiers, says, —

" The Avisdom of the Government will be shown in never trusting
itself with the use of so seducing and dangerous an expedient. In
times of tranquillity, it might have no ill consequence ; it might even
perhaps be managed in a way to be productive of good : but, in
great and trying emergencies, there is almost a moral certainty of its
becoming mischievous. The stamping of paper is an operation so
much easier than the laying of taxes, that a government in the practice
of paper emissions would rarely fail, in any such emergency, to
indulge itself too far in the employment of that resource, to avoid,
as much as possible, one less auspicious to present popularity." —
Hamilton's Worhs^ vol. iii. p. 124.

The ordinary check, the only effectual check, in the
issue of paper for currency, the security of the public
against excess in its issue, is that the excess will be
returned upon the banks for gold and silver. A certain
amount is needed for the purposes of the currency.
When that point is reached, the paper begins to decline,
the gold and silver are demanded, and the issues of
paper are contracted. If there be an excess of gold
and silver, it will right itself by exportation, or find its
way into the arts. To the issue of this paper there is
no natural check or restraint. When it begins to depre-
ciate, the necessity is at once created for increasing the
issues ; public distrust is increased ; and this again leads


to still further depreciation and to still larger issues.
The process of decline is easy, natural, inevitable.

The results are the familiar things of history : prices
expand ; " new ways to pay old debts " are opened ;
the hearts of men glow as with new wine. But all is
unreal : not a. farthing is added to the substantial
wealth of the country. The seeming prosperity, " hav-
ing no root in itself, abides but for a time." The con-
traction and depression are as rapid and as great as
were the rise and exaltation ; and men come down from
the cloud-land to mourn over blighted hopes and broken
promises and wasted fortunes, and to feel soberly that
the laws of nature and of Providence are stronger than
the laws or the hopes of men.

One thing to be noted is, that the heaviest share of
the burden always falls npon labor. Never were wiser
words than those of Mr. Webster : " Of all contri-
vances for cheating the laboring classes of mankind,
none has been more effectual than that which deluded
them with paper-money. Ordinary tyranny, oppression,
excessive taxation, — these bear lightly on the mass of
the community, compared with fraudulent currencies and
the robberies committed by depreciated paper."

A word, Mr. Chairman, and I will relieve the patience
of the Committee. It has been said that coming gene-
rations ought to bear a large part of the expenses of
this war, and that we may therefore justly create a large
public debt. A debt will doubtless be created ; but the
burdens of the 'war ought, as far as possible, to fall
upon the men of this generation. We are but keep-
ing in repair the structure of our fathers, not building


a new one. This expense should be borne mainly by
the tenants for life, and not by the heirs. For the
discharge of this duty, we need four things: unity of
purpose, energy of action, the largest possible taxation,
and the severest possible retrenchment.




Mr. Speaker, — After the excellent speech of my
friend and colleague who introduced this bill [Mr.
Gooch], any thing like elaborate argument is unneces-
sary ; but I desire to state very briefly the reasons which
will induce me to vote for it, and especially for that
portion of it which recognizes the independence and
establishes diplomatic relations with the Republic of
Liberia. My interest in this State of Liberia was an
early and strong one. Whether we look at its past his-
tory or at its probable future destiny, it is among the
most interesting of modern States. The Government
and people of this country sustain to it a near and inti-
mate relation. It was planted by our care. It is the
fruit of the labors, the sacrifices, and the prayers of wise
and good men among us. Its existence is a slight
atonement for the cruelty, the perfidy, the injustice,
which by us, as by other Christian States, have been
lavished on the continent of Africa, the land of God's
sunshine and of man's hate. It is the outpost of her
civilization ; the opened gateway through which the arts
of peace, social order and Christianity, may enter, and
gain a permanent foothold.


That Liberia is of sufficient commercial importance
to justify the institution of diplomatic relations with
her, has been clearly shown. Every year will develop,
quicken, and enlarge this commerce, if we choose to
watch over and protect it. Our interests lie in the path
of our duty.

I am not prepared, Mr. Speaker, to say that the
recognition of an independent State, although it may
have sufficient power to maintain both commercial and
political relations with us, is a matter of absolute duty
under the law of nations. It is, perhaps, what moral
writers would call a duty of imperfect obligation. But
in respect to this colony, and to the men who have
gone out from this country to plant and train it up, there
has been from the beginning an assurance of the assist-
ance, the counsel, and the protection of this Govern-
ment ; and the recognition on our part is required by
good faith as well as sound policy. Other nations have
preceded us in the recognition. It was our duty and
privilege to have been first.

If there were no elements entering into the discussion
of this question but the relations which the Republic of
Liberia holds to-day to the rest of the civilized world,
the importance of its commerce, of its capacity to main-
tain, as it has for years maintained, an independent
Government, with the fact that two of the most power-
ful nations of the earth have already recognized its
independence, there would have been no discussion of
this bill. The only ground of objection is, that that
State has been planted and built up by an inferior race
of men.


I have no desire to enter into the question of the
relative capacity of races ; but, if the inferiority of the
African race were established, the inference as to our
duty would be very plain. If this colony has been built
up by an inferior race of men, it has a yet stronger
claim on our countenance, recognition, and, if need be,
protection. The instincts of the human mind and heart
concur with the policy of men and governments to help
and protect the weak. To a child or to a woman I am
to show a degree of forbearance, kindness, gentleness
even, which I am not necessarily to extend to my equal.

But, sir, this colony is founded by black men, and not
by white. If my friend from Ohio [Mr. Cox] had intro-
duced a resolution that all commerce should be inter-
dicted with the " Black Sea," I should not have been
more surprised. I am not aware that the law of nations
or the comity of nations recognizes the distinction be-
tween black and white men ; and it is rather late to
attempt to ingraft it upon the code.

Upon the question of admission to the society of
nations, the law looks to the capacity of the State to
maintain self-government, its capacity for political and
commercial relations, and its general conformity to the
usages and manners of civilized States.

Mr. Cox. I ask my friend from Massachusetts,
whether the law of nations does not apply now, Avithout
this recognition of Liberia and Hayti ; and whether we
can make the law of nations apply by passing this act
of Congress.

Mr. Thomas. I will answer the question with plea-
sure. If, within the rules of the law of nations, the


States of Liberia and Hayti are now independent
powers, then it is plain, that, by this resolution, we re-
cognize only an existing status- or fact. I do understand,
Mr. Speaker, that the Kepublics of Liberia and Hayti
to-day belong to the society of States: but what we
have to pass upon now is, whether this nation will affirm
their admission, and hold with them commercial and
diplomatic relations ; and, if so, to what extent? If the
position of my friend from Ohio be right, as I dare say
it is, that they are already independent States, then we
are doing no harm, surely, in recognizing and confirm-
ing what other nations have done.

But the precise question is, whether we can fairly
regard the fact of the color of the race by which the
State has been built up and maintained in deciding this
matter. My position is, that by no just application of
the principles of international law can that. distinction
be made. Nor is the question before us a question of
taste, much less of narrow prejudice. The question,
whether a minister from a foreign State is to be received,
is to be determined on higher grounds. Personal objec-
tions are sometimes interposed. Nations decline to
receive as ministers persons whose residence would, by
the laws or usages of the country, be inadmissible ; but
I am not aware of rejection from the hue of the skin.

President Roberts, of the Republic of Liberia, was
here some years ago. Many gentlemen will recollect
him. No man who had seen him and conversed with
him, or who knew any thing of his character, would for
a moment object to his appearing here as a minister of
that republic to this Government. Such a man would


not infect even the ^mre air of the capital, nor would he
be much cowed by the presence of a suijerior race !

But, as I have before said, Mr. Speaker, this is not a
question of taste. It is a question of the fair applica-
tion of the principles of international comity ; it is a
question, whether this people have so built up a State
as to have a fair claim to the recognition of this Gov-

It is said, Mr. Speaker, that if we are to make this
recognition, and to establish these relations, this is not
the proper time to do so. Why not the proper time ?
This State has been in a condition to maintain these
relations with us for a number of years. But a portion
of the representation of this country is absent! Not
by our fault, Mr. Speaker. Congress is not to cease to
exercise the functions of legislation because men or
States are not here to attend to the public interests.
If they choose to forego their privileges^ we must, never-
theless, discharge our duties. If a few of our friends
here should absent themselves from our discussions, we
should not consider ourselves under any obligation what-
ever, on that account, to give up the ordinary work of
legislation. I cannot be influenced by the consideration,
that States have neglected the duty imposed upon them
by the Constitution. We are to determine this question
upon the same considerations and from the same
motives as if this Rebellion had not occurred.

Mr. Speaker, so far from being deterred from this
recognition by this question of race, I would make this
recognition the sooner because it was some measure of
atonement to a grossly wronged and injured race. While


I am ready on every occasion, in this House and else-
where, to recognize and affirm the rightful power of the
States over their domestic institutions, I am not to con-
ceal from myself the fact, that, from the beginning of
the history of the country to this hour, our course as a
people towards that race has been one of cruelty and

There are two things in this country which are often
confounded, but which are not very nearly akin, —
hatred of the slaveholder, and love of the slave ; ab-
stract love of the race, and practical love of the men
who compose it. I frankly confess, Mr. Speaker, that
I have never been more grieved on this floor, than
when I saw gentlemen, who during the whole winter
have been ventilating their rhetoric on the wrongs of
slavery and of the race subject to its iron rule, deliber-
ately record their votes against extending to a man of
color, whatever his capacity or ability or fidelity, the
power or right to serve the Government, even in
the humble capacity of carrying the mail on his shoul-
ders, or on horseback, if he could make a horse contract.
Rhetoric is beautiful ; but it is not meat or bread or
raiment, or the right to work for meat or bread or rai-

This by the way. It cannot escape observation, Mr.
Speaker, that our relations with the States of Liberia
and Hayti may soon assume new importance. As the
result of the legislation of the last session, and as
the natural, inevitable result of this war, the number of
free persons of color in this country will be greatly in-
creased. The Free States are barring their doors against


them. Abstract love is simpler and easier than practi-
cal. They may feel the necessity of going out from the
house of political and social bondage. The doors of
Liberia and Hayti are open to receive them. Our sym-
pathy, our aid, our protection, ought to go with them ;
and intimate political and commercial relations will be
essential for those ends.

A gentle hint, and I will trespass no longer on the
time and courtesy of my colleague, who is to close
the debate. Much has been said, justly said, on this
floor, of men of one idea. One idea does not make a
statesman, more than one swallow makes a summer.
We do not admire the spring that can fill but one
bucket, the mill that will grind but one grist, the quiver
with one arrow, the hen with one chicken. Again : one
idea or feeling may be so strong as to give color to all
the rest. That idea or feeling may be ardent aversion
to the negro race, as well as ardent love for it. In shun-
ning Scylla, we may touch Charybdis.




My colleagues, Mr. Speaker, have assigned to me the
duty of announcing to the House the death of one of our
number — Hon. Goldsmith F. Bailey, at his home in
Fitchburg, Mass. — on the 8th instant.

The story of his life is a brief and manly one. He
was born on the 17th of July, 1823, in Westmoreland,
N.H. ; a State that has given to her sisters so many
of her jewels, and yet always kept her casket full and
sparkling. An orphan at the age of two, he was thrown
wholly upon his own resources at the age of twelve.
What we ordinarily call education (schooling) was
finished substantially at the age of sixteen. But he
early discovered that the only true culture is self-culture ;
the only true development, self-development ; that in the
sweat of a man's own face he must eat the bread of
knowledge ; and that in the school of narrow fortune
and of early struggle are often to be found the most
invigorating disciplines and the wisest teachers.

At the age of sixteen, he began to learn the art of
printing. We need but glance at our history, or look
around us at either end of the Capitol, to learn, that as


printing is the most encyclopedic of arts, so the printing-
office is among the best places of instruction. In diffus-
ing knowledge, the pupil acquires it ; and, in preparing
the instruments for educating others, educates himself.
I have revered the art from my forefathers, as Paul
would have said ; and mine, therefore, may be a partial
judgment: but some of the best educated men it has
been my pleasure to know received their degrees at the
printer's college.

Mr. Bailey, having learned his art, was for some time
the associate printer, publisher, and editor of a country
newspaper ; a business, I suspect, not very lucrative or
attractive. It did not fill the measure of his hopes ;
and, in 1845, he left the printing-office for the study of
the law. He pursued his studies in the office of Messrs.
Torrey and Wood of Fitchburg, sound lawyers and most
estimable men. Their appreciation of their student was
such, that upon his admission to the bar in December,
1848, he was received into the fii*m as a partner.

Mr. Bailey had been in the practice of his profession
some thirteen years before his election to this House.
A leading position at the bar in New England is seldom
attained in thirteen years, and especially at a bar, which,
even from days before the Ee volution, has been so emi-
nent as that of the county of Worcester. But Mr.
Bailey had acquired high rank among his brethren, and
by courteous manners, careful learning, sound judgment,
"and sterling integrity, had secured the respect of the
people and of courts and juries.

His public life was very brief. In 1856, he was
elected a representative in the Legislature of Massa-


chusetts ; and, in 1858 and 1860, was a member of the
State Senate. In this new field of labor he was emi-
nently successful ; and, in his second year in the Senate,
it may be fairly said, there was no man in the body in
whom his colleagues or the public reposed more con-

The ability and fidelity with which he discharged
these high duties attracted the attention and won the
regard of the people of his district ; and in November,
1860, in a canvass warmly contested by an able and
popular man, he was elected to this House.

He took his seat at the extra session in July. But
over his new and expanded horizon the night was
already shutting down. The hand of death was laid
visibly upon him. You could hear the very rustling of
his wings.

He came back in December apparently a little better.
It was but the glow of sunset, — the flickering of the
flame before it goes out. He lost strength from day to
day, and at last went home to die, — to realize the
Spanish benediction, "May you die among your kin-
dred ! " and, what is of infinitely greater moment, the
divine benediction, " Blessed are the dead who die in
the Lord."

To our narrow vision, Mr. Speaker, such a life
seems imperfect, such a death premature, — to wrestle
with adverse fortune, as Jacob with the angel, until
you wrest from it its blessing; to struggle througli
youth and early manhood ; to reach the threshold of
mature life, of usefulness, and of honor, and to sink
weary and exhausted before the open door.


It is a narrow view, Mr. Speaker, which a serene
trust in God and in his infinite wisdom and infinite good-
ness at once dispels. We wipe the mist from our eyes,
and see that all is well. In the presence and with the
consciousness of an immortal life, what matters it
whether much or little be spent this side the veil,
provided, as with our departed brother, it is well
spent 1

Mr. Speaker, death is busy everywhere around us.
The accomplished jurist, the pure patriot, the states-
man wise and good, passes away in the sabbath stillness.*
Amid the thunders of artillery rocking like a cradle

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Online LibraryBenjamin Franklin ThomasSpeeches in the second and third sessions of the Thirty-seventh Congress, and in the vacation (Volume 2) → online text (page 6 of 15)