Hugh Lawson White.

Letter of the Hon. Hugh L. White, to the legislature of Tennessee, on declining to obey certain of their resoultions of instruction, and resigning the office of senator of the United States (Volume 1) online

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Online LibraryHugh Lawson WhiteLetter of the Hon. Hugh L. White, to the legislature of Tennessee, on declining to obey certain of their resoultions of instruction, and resigning the office of senator of the United States (Volume 1) → online text (page 1 of 2)
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Washington, January 13, 1840.


We have been deputed by a large number of your fellow citizens of both Houses of Con-
gress who had the happiness to hear in the Senate ol the United States, to-day, your reply to
sundry resolutions lately adopted by the Legislature of Tennessee relative to your course as
one of her Senators in Congress, to request that you will be pleased to furnish them with a
copy of that reply for publication.

Those in behalf of whom we now address you have been prompted to make this request
as well by the high admiration so lucid an exposition of your principles could not but excite,
as from the conviction, that going with the sanction of your deservedly exalted reputation
before the American people, it must be productive of the most salutary effects upon the public

mind. , .

Persuading ourselves to believe that you will not refuse to gratify this desire, in which
we feel assured of the almost unanimous concurrence of your fellow citizens generally, we
beg leave to subscribe ourselves,

With the most perfect respect,

Your obedient servants,

WM. D. MERRICK, of Maryland.
Hon. Hugh L. White, of Tennessee.

Washington, Januanj 14, 1840.

Gentlemen :

I have read with great sensibility your kind note of yesterday, asking a copy of my
answer to the General Assembly of Tennessee, which I read in the Senate of the United

States. . "

I cannot do otherwise than comply with such a request, from such a quarter, and clothed

io terms so highly flattering.

I have so little confidence in my own ability to say any thing worthy of preservation, that
I very much fear when yon peruse my answer you will find it was the novelty of the scene,
rather than the matter contained in the document, which excited any interest in favor of us


Accept for yourselves and those whom you represent, my most grateful acknowledgments

or the good opinion so kindly expressed, and believe that
I am, with the highest respect,

Your most obedient servant,


The Hon. William D. Merrick, of Maryland, and
The Hon. Christopher Morgan, of New York.



January 13//*, 1840.
Mr. WHITE rose and addressed the Senate to the following effect:

Mr. President :— I have a duty to perform this morning, before we proceed to anv regular
order of the day. Presuming that the business of presenting petitions is now over, I proceed
to discharge it with as little delay as possible. .

When I reached this place on the twenty-ninth of November last, I was furnished by one

to attend to the business of the Senate, in the manner 1 had been accustomed to no, uniu some
of the subjects specifically mentioned in the resolutions should be placed before the body for
discussion. On this day" oi the last week, the Hon. Chairman of the Committee of Finance-
reported a bill, commonly called the Sub-treasury Bill, and gave notice that on this day he
Vould ask ior its consideration. This being one of the subjects mentioned in the resolu-
tions the time has arrived when, in my opinion, it it respectful to the Legislature oi my
State that I should present them to this body, to the end that the members of it, as welt as
the community at large, may be made acquained with what the General Assembly has chosen
to express as public opinion in Tennessee. I move that the preamble and resolutions, which
I now send to the Secretary, may be read, printed, and laid on the table.

After the resolutions had been read, Mr. White proceeded and said,

Mr President— As I am now a member of this body, and my instructions have been read
and ordered to be printed, I consider it proper that I should follow the example set by others,
and make equally public the conclusions to which I have come in relation to them. _

The subjects of which they treat, are of vital interest to the country, and I am anxious that
the opinions I entertain and express upon them should neither be misunderstood nor misre-
presented; I will, therefore, take the liberty of deviating from my usual course of delivering
my sentiments, (which has been not even to use notes,) and will now read Ihe answer which 1
have prepared, and intend, without delay, to forward to the same body which adopted the

Mr. White then read his answer in the following words :

To the Honorable the General Assembly

of the Slate of Tennessee.

Gentlemen— On the 29lh of November last, in the city of Washington, I re-
ceived a copy of sundry preambles and six resolutions, which appear to have been
adopted by you on the 14th of that month, instructing your Senators, and request-
in"- the representatives in the Congress of the United States how to act on a variety
of subjects.

An answer to the resolutions would have been immediately given had 1 not
believed it my duty to remain at the post assigned me by your predecessors, until
some of the mattersspecified in them should be presented to the Senate for its
action. Although I might entertain an opinion different from that employed by
your honorable body, and might be unwilling to surrender that opinion ; yet if no
case should be presented for the action of the Senate, in relation to which such
difference of opinion existed, I could perceive no good reason why I should state
what course I would pursue, upon a subject, which might never be presented ior
consideration. Now, however, bills are presented to the Senate upon some ot
the subjects embraced in your resolutions, and I deem it my duty, without farther
delay, to inform you, that I cannot obey the instructions contained in some ol
those resolutions, and respectfully to assign some of the reasons which influence
my conduct. ,

That I may be the better understood, I will notice each of the resolutions in the
order in which they were adopted.

First. As one of your Senators, I am instructed " to vote against the char
tcring by Cong-ess of a National Bank."

This instruction corresponds with the opinion I have repeatedly expressed
and acted on, and I could now feel no difficulty in conforming my vote to your
wishes on this subject.

Secondly. 1 am instrucfed " to vote for, and use all fair and proper exertions
to procure the passage of the measure brought forward in the Congress of the
United States, commonly called the Sub-Treasury Bill, or Independent Treasury
Bill," &c. &c.

The following, with many other, reasons induced me to believe I ought not to
comply with the instructions contained in this resolution.

It has often happened, and will generally be the case, that a considerable time
must elapse between the receipt of public money from the debtor to the United
States, and its disbursement to their creditors ; during this interval the money
will be much more safe in the custody of well selected Banks than it can be in the
hands of individuals supposing them to be faithful.

Suppose any one of your honorable body had one hundred thousand dollars of:
his own money, which he did not intend to use for six or nine months, and lived:
in the vicinity of a Bank of respectable standing, would he keep the money in his
own house, under his own care, or would he deposit it in Bank for safe-keeping:
until he wished fo use it ? If he was a prudent man, regarding his own interest,:
he certainly would deposit it.

Are we then justified in taking less care of (he people's money than a prudent'
man would take of his own? With great deference to your better judgment, I
think not.

It often happens that the receiving officers have on hand much larger sums
than that named in the supposed case, and as the sum is increased and the time
it is to be kept between its receipt and disbursement enlarged, the danger of
loss, when in the hands of an individual, is increased likewise.

Again. Al! experience teaches us that large sums of public money left in the
hands of individuals will be misused and squandered. It will either be used by
the individual himself for his own purposes, or loaned to importunate friends
whom he may wish to accommodate, and who are sure not to be able to return
it when called for.

It is said Banks are irresponsible, therefore not to be trusted. In my opinion,
generally, they are more responsible than individuals. — They have more means
with which to pay, and if they fail to make payments when required, they are
as much amenable to the process of a court of justice as individuals are ; and in
addition, they are to be found with much more certainty, as a corporation aggre-
gate can very seldom abscond, or leave the country, which an individual easily
can, and often does do when he misuses the public money.

We need all the checks which can reasonably bo imposed on our collecting and
disbursing officers. Banks have been found to furnish one highly beneficial
upon both of these classes. By a regulation between the Treasury Department
and each deposit Bank, the latter has been required at short periods to furnish
its account current with the Treasurer, and on the face of it to show all sums de-
posited to his credit, when such deposits were made, and by whom. By com-
paring this account with the accounts furnished by the respective officers them-
selves, it can readily be discovered whether they are misusing the public money or
not. By the proposed change, and allowing the collector or receiver to be him-
self the keeper, until the money is wanted for in<e, you have no check whatever,
and the whole money received by an officer may be squandered before it is want-
ed for disbursement, without any means of detection.

I, therefore, conclude the Sub-Treasury Bill ought not to be passed, if there were
no other objections to it save that of the public money being less secure. But there
are other weighty objections.

The only plausible reason which can be assigned why we should discard Banks
entirely and appoint Sub-Treasurers keepers of the public funds, must be, that
the Banks are unworthy of confidence.

If that be so, does it necessarily follow that you ought either not to receive any
Bank notes in discharge of its due to the government, or if received, that you should
order the officer with whom they are deposited for safe-keeping, immediate y to
call upon the Banks for specie to their amount. It is absurd to say we will not
deposit with the Bank, because we have no confidence in it, and at the same time
to allow our officers to receive Bank notes and retain them in the hands of our offi-
cer up to the time we wish to pay the money away.— There is less probability
that the Banks would redeem their notes in specie when called on, than that they
would denv the payment of specie for money received on deposit.

The practice then of receiving nothing but specie from debtors, or of imme-
diately converting the notes received into specie, and locking that up until the
time of disbursement arrives must be resorted to, in order to carry out your wishes.

This I apprehend would be ruinous to society. A large portion of the spe-
cie that might otherwise circulate would be withdrawn from the use of every
person a considerable portion of each year. This would effect the prices of pro-
perty, of labor, and of every thing else, and would render it next to impossible
for evera a prudent man, who happened to be in debt, ever to extricate himself.

Beside this, the heavy draws for specie upon banks would compel them,
in a short time, either to wind up or to do a very precarious business. When-
ever a suspension of specie payments would take place, we would have a depre-
ciated paper currency, on which to do the business of the country, and specie
would become an article of merchandise.— The man in office, or who had a job
or contract with the government would receive his salary or his pay in specie,
which he would immediately sell for bank paper, receiving a premium of some
ten or fifteen per centum, and with that paper pay his debts or purchase such
property as he might wish. This practice is at this momeut in operation. For
every hundred dollars paid me as' a member of Congress. I can receive one
hundred and eight or nine dollars in bank notes, and with them pay the landlord
who feeds or the tailor who clothes me.

It has appeared to me, if we commence this entire operation which your Beso-
lution contemplates, and go into this thorough hard money system, we shall
presently, in Tennessee, especially, be in a deplorable condition. Look at its
effects : ail debts and taxes are to be paid to the federal government in hard
money, or in bank notes, for which the specie will be immediately received, and
tl*.e specie thus received is to be locked up securely, until it is paid out in dis-
charge of some debt due by the government. Suppose our first years taxes
paid, in all the States amounting to some twenty-five or thirty millions of dollars.
That is only to be returned into circulation when the federal government pays
the debts which it owes. What chance will Tennessee have to receive, by fede-
ral disbursement, any portion of what she may have paid 1 We have no forts, no
foundries, no arsenals, no fortifications, no army, no navy, navy yards or dry
docks. In short, we have next to no objects upon which the federal govern-
ment expends moraev, therefore none of it would be returned to us. We must
pay up our full proportion of all indirect taxes in hard money, with a certainty that
little or none of it would be returned to us by federal expenditures, and in the
course of a very few years we must be drained of every hard dollar we now have.

There is another class of objections against this measure entitled, and I thmk, to
still more grave considerations.

The addition it will make to the powers of the federal executive. Every offi-
cer with which the money is to be deposited, or left for safe-keeping, will be ap-
pointed by the President and removable at his pleasure. We might as well give
at to the President himself as entrust it. to those whom he can and will control.

This plan will multiply officers and increase considerably our expenses at its

commencement, and in the end no man can foresee the swarmsof dependents it may
generate, and the additions it may occasion to our expenditures of the public money.

By the use of the patronage already belonging to that officer, we all know and
feel that a large portion of the power vested in the legislative department exists
only in name ; it is in substance \ested in, and expressed by, the President as he
wills ; shall we, then, give him a controlling power over all the pecuniary resources
of the federal government? For one I cannot consent to it.

Lastly, this Sub-treasury is nothing but a stepping stone to a bank created by
the federal government, bottomed on its own funds, attached to the Treasury De-
partment, and all placed at the control of the President, or of those who will
never have any will which does not correspond with his.

It appears to me, no reasonable man can think if we commence this system
we are to stop short of such a bank.

Let one year only pass with all your revenue in specie, and that locked up,
your State Banks and paper currency deranged, and what then? Those who
may wish to carry out this system will then recur to the sound doctrine advanced
bv the late President Jackson, "that the money of the country ought not to be
kept locked up by the government, any more than the arms belonging to the
citizens — both will be sure to be misused." And it will be urged that society
is suffering for a sound circulating medium: we must pass a law authorizing
this money to be loaned, the interest will ease us of the' payment of much taxes,
and by circulating Treasury noles or drafts drawn by one of these Treasurers
upon another, we will have a sound paper currency, good every where and
bottomed on a metallic basis. This doctrine will become the democratic doc-
trine, and every man who opposes it, will be denounced as a bank-bought fede-
ralist, the law will pass and in due form we shall have the Treasury Bunk ; and
what then?

The purse and the sword tcill be wilted, and a power to increase the purse, as
need may require, not by adding eagles and hard dollars to our funds, but by
issue:? of paper, i.i such sums as may be deemed necessary and proper. This
bank with its pecuniary means, and the credit and resources it will possess, can
either destroy or render subservient to the views of the Executive any State Banks
which may be in existence. The whole moneyed power not only of the federal
government, but of all State Banks being thus placed in the hands of the President,
he will be able to control the destinies of the country.

His will becomes the law of the land. He will never again have to appeal to
" the sober second thoughts of the people" to cany any favorite measure. His first
recommendation will always secure its speedy enactment into a law.

In the views which I take of this subject, I may be in error ; but they are sin-
cerely entertained. In the first instance, I placed my vote against it, under the
belief that such were the sentiments of the people I represented. Afterwards,
I was instructed by the Legislature to continue my opposition. I did so, from a
conviction that I was right; and nothing would give me more pleasure than to
conform my vote to your wishes, if the measure were an ordinary one, or if I be-
lieved the error of sanctioning it could be corrected ; but, believing, as I do,
that the power once granted to the Executive can never be recalled, and that
its exercise will take from the people that freedom of thought and of action which
alone entitles our government to be considered Free, I most respectfully, but
decidedly, state that 1 cannot and will not obey the instruction contained in v;>ur se-
cond resolution.

Your third resolution unqualifiedly condemns the provisions of a bill of the last
session, entitled, a bill to prevent the interference of certain federal officers in elec-
tions, declares the same to be a violation of the Constitution of the United States,
unqualifiedly condemns the vote given in favor of said bill by my colleague and
myself, and instructs your Senators to vote against, and to use all fair and proper
exertions to prevent, the passage of the same, or any similar bill.

When my colleague and myself gave our votes in favor of that bill, we acted
under the same solemn sanction of an oath to support the Constitution of the
United States that the members of your honorable body did when they voted in
favor of this condemnatory resolution. We had the benefit of very able ar ail-
ments both for and against the bill. We examined it with all the care we could,
and came lo the conclusion that it was not unconstitutional, and believing that the
prevailing practice of the President interfering in elections, both State and Fede-
ral, through the instrumentality of officers, who hold their places during his pleasure
called loudly for a remedy, we voted in favor of its passage.

If your decision was final, I would not be so childish as to ask of you to re-
consider the constitutional question.

To men of ordinary capacity, or equivocal moral character, 1 might make such
a request, from a belief that the decision was a hasty one, produced bv some ex-
traneous influence, and that a more deliberate investigation of the subject might
lead to a different conclusion ; but, when I reflect that the leading members of
that majority which passed the resolution are men as much distinguished by their
moral character as by their intellectual attainments and deep research on objects
connected with constitutional law, and see that my vote is not only " condemned;'
but » unqualifiedly condemned," I cannot hope that one of my humble preten-
sions could urge any thing which would occasion even a doubt in your minds
of the correctness of your decision.

But there is a higher earthly tribunal than your honorable body, that will jud«re
both your vote and mine, and pass sentence dispassionately, without any predis-
position to unqualifiedly condemn either of us, but in chanty hoping that each be-
lieved, when giving his vote, he was acting correctly. To that tribunal, then, our
cvmnwn constituents, through you, their immediate representatives, I be* leave
respectfully and briefly to assign some of the reasons which influenced the vote
complained of.

Every officer named in that bill holds his office at the will of the President,
and is liable to be dismissed whenever it is the pleasure of the President, to dis-
miss him. Each and every one of the offices is created by act of Congress —
I he qualification for the office, the tenure of it, and the duties to be performed bv
the officers are, and were, matters of legislative enactment.

The President has no power to dismiss or control one of these officers, merely
because he is President, but because Congress, by law, gave him that power. The
bill itself expressly provided that all these officers should be secure in the right
to vote on all elections, according to their own judgment, and only forbid their In-
terference to control and influence the votes of others.

I affirm that Congress had the power to create these offices, or not, at its
pleasure. That, when they were created, Congress could prescribe the duties of
the officers. That, if it had been deemed necessary, Congress could have enacted
that the officers should hold the office during good behavior ; but that, if any one
of the officers interfered to influence the votes of others, in any election either
State or Federal, it should be a misdemeanor in office, for winch he should be

When the bill complained of was under consideration, Congress had exactly the
same power over the subject that it had when the offices we're first creatine —
1 hey might have repealed the law entirely, and thus have turned out every one of
these officers.

Suppose, instead of the bill complained of, a bill had been introduced and pass-
ed, stating that, whereas these officers were in the habit of interfering to influence
the votes of the citizens in elections, therefore, Be it enacted, that the law creat-
ing their offices should be repealed, &c, would your honorable body venture the
opinion that such law would have been unconstitutional, and that these officers
would still have remained in office ? I think not.


On the question of constitutional power, there can be no distinction between
the caie stwosed and the bill compiled of. If the one would have been con-

stitutional, so is the other. ..',,,. n- i ■ ~ 1 „ .,.„ p nnffr pc<i

Prior to the year 1 820, these officers held their office durtng ^n.C«ff»
then believed many of them h: d misdemeaned themselves, ™**ff™^ c l
and, with a view to provide a remedy, on the 15th of May, m hat >car, an act
was passed changing their tenure, and limiting each of .hem to the M of four
vears and made them removable at pleasure within these four > ears. Has it ever
bTnSthat ac, was unconstitutional ? Not at all. Yet such an objection

* ha T b6e " ■ l tt2d iTytr^

I he oiiiv reason assKOietl in your reouiuuuu " »v _ .

is th at "took i Yon these officers the liberty of speech and the Cons,, ution
pr'ondes that "congress shall pass no law abridging the freedo.n of speech and

° f ThVPsion in the Constitution was intended for the safety and protection
of the common citizen who holds no office. It was foresee n ***■«£ t s
right «&«« their trust, and to protect ^^ W9 ^^^^JS
laws restraining the citizens from censuring them, eithe rm speech *>"™wg

the press Now, in your resolution, you exactly reverse the matter, and suppose
was intended to protect the instruments of the President who hold office at
l,s nU n 1 r mleavorsto influence and mislead the people in elections.-
D rm al nistration of the elder Mr. Adams, many complaints were made

a^d "lia es u"ed, both in speeches and through the press, by the citizens, against
him XV*. X him. With a view to silence *|>«~^
maintain and shield those in office, the sedition law was passed. The Repub hen*


Online LibraryHugh Lawson WhiteLetter of the Hon. Hugh L. White, to the legislature of Tennessee, on declining to obey certain of their resoultions of instruction, and resigning the office of senator of the United States (Volume 1) → online text (page 1 of 2)