Nathaniel Hillyer. Egleston.

The North American review (Volume 139) online

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sufficient to carry it forever away, Jupiter and Saturn would not
need anything like the same ejecting power which the sun has
to exert to expel matter forever from within his globe. They
are much weaker than the sun, but for that very reason they
would need to exert much less eruptive force, seeing that it itf
their own attractive power they have to overcome, and that that
is weaker in even a greater degree than probably is their erup
tive power.

Now, there is a family of comets attending in a sense on
Jupiter, and another family attending similarly on Saturn, pre
cisely as we should expect them to do if originally expelled from
the interior of these planets. After such expulsion, though free
to pass away forever from their parent planets, they would not
be free to pass away forever from the solar system. They would
be thenceforth attendant on the sun, but with this peculiarity,
that no matter what perturbations they underwent, their paths
would always pass near to the path of their parent planet.
Even if In some future circuit a comet of this sort came quite



THE ORIGIN OF COMETS. 125

close as it very well might to the planet it originally started
from, it would still, though very much disturbed, follow a path
possessing this characteristic, however different from the path
which it had before traversed. After many millions of years,
indeed, it might happen, perchance, that resistance encountered
in its movement around the sun, however ineffective to affect its
orbit appreciably in a few thousands of years, would reduce the
span of its circuit. But even then it would still be possible
to classify a comet whose orbit had been so changed with the
family of comets to which it had originally belonged.

Now we find that among the periodic comets attending on
the sun nearly all belong to families which have long since been,
relegated to the giant planets. There is a family of comets
every member of which has an orbit passing very near to the
orbit of Jupiter; another family every member of which can
be similarly associated with Saturn; others depending in the
same way on Uranus ; others on Neptune ; and, in fact, so fully
has this sort of relation been recognized that the idea has been
thrown out that a planet traveling outside the orbit of Neptune,
but as yet unknown, might be detected by the movements of a
comet intersecting the great plane of planetary movement far
beyond Neptune's orbit. It may be mentioned, indeed, in pass
ing, that the comet of 1862, which has been associated with the
meteors of August 10 and 11, intersects the plane of planetary
movements at a place about as far beyond the orbit of Neptune
as that orbit is beyond that of Uranus ; and that it has been
held probable that at that distance a giant planet as yet undis
covered may travel.

The existence of the comet-families of the giant planets can
scarcely be explained without assuming that which we have
thus been led on another line to recognize as probable, the
ejection from the giant planets of masses of matter, in erup
tions akin to those taking place in the sun. Whether such
eruptions take place now in the giant planets, or not, would be
difficult to prove ; for although we have evidence of tremendous
disturbances, we have nothing to show conclusively that these
would suffice to eject matter forever from within these planets'
globes; Whether a careful study of the region outside the disks
of Jupiter and Saturn (the planets themselves being hidden by
opaque disks) would decide the point I am not prepared to
say ; but I am certain that the edges of the disks of the giant



126 THE NOETH AMERICAN REVIEW.

planets are worth much more careful study than they have yet
received.

But undoubtedly most of the comets of Jupiter's family
must have been added to the solar cometic system hundreds of
thousands if not millions of years ago. Quite possibly both
Jupiter and Saturn still eject matter from time to time with such
velocities from their interiors that it passes away never to re
turn to them. In this, as in many other features, Jupiter and
Saturn are still somewhat sunlike. But they have passed their
truly sunlike youth. They tell us of what our own earth was
like when she was young. We may trace back her history, how
ever, even to the sunlike state. The same law which we applied
to the giant planets may be applied also to her. Her eruptive
energies must have been very much less active, even in her sun-
like youth, than those of the sun now ; but the force against
which she had to work (her own attractive energy) was much
less potent, too, nay, may probably have been less potent in
even greater degree. Just as the moon in her volcanic youth
upheaved her surface much more than the earth upheaved hers,
because, though the moon was weaker, her subterranean energies
had so much smaller downward tending action of gravity to
contend against, so it may well be that the smaller a planet
when in its sunlike state, the more easily did eruptive forces
eject matter beyond the range of the planet's attractive forces.
In this case every planet at that stage of its career, as well as
every. sun, gave birth to cometic and meteoric systems, each
after its own kind; solar comets being large ones like those
which astronomers have not been able to associate with the
planets' comet-families ; the comets ejected by the giant planets
coming next in order of size ; and the comets ejected by smaller
orbs, like the terrestrial planets, moons, asteroids, and so forth,
being probably too small to be discerned even with telescopic
aid.

RICHARD A. PROCTOR.



ARE WE A NATION OF RASCALS?



NOT so, said Daniel Webster. In a letter addressed to Baring
Brothers of London, in 1839, in answer to an inquiry concerning
the measure of security which the purchasers of bonds issued by
the States of the American Union would have for their invest
ment, he made use of the following language :

" The States cannot rid themselves of their obligations otherwise than by
the honest payment of their debts. . . . They possess all adequate pow
ers of providing for the case by taxes and internal means of revenue. They
cannot get round the duty nor evade its force. Any failure to fulfil its ob
ligations would be an open violation of public faith, to be followed by the
penalty of dishonor and disgrace ; a penalty, it may be presumed, which no
State of the American Union would be likely to incur. ... I hope I may
be justified by existing circumstances in closing this letter with the expres
sion of an opinion of a more general nature. It is that I believe
that the citizens of the United States, like all honest men, regard debts,
whether public or private, and whether existing at home or abroad, to
be of moral as well as of legal obligation. ... If it were possible that
any one of the States should, at any time, so entirely lose its self-respect,
and forget its duty as to violate the faith solemnly pledged for its pecuniary
engagements, I believe there is no country upon earth not even that of the
injured creditor in which such a proceeding would meet with less counte
nance or indulgence than it would receive from the great mass of the Amer
ican people."

Whether the pecuniary liabilities of the States could be en
forced by any processes known to the laws of the land, Webster
was by no means positive 5 but with a na/iveU that, in the light
of subsequent events, seems curious enough, and a degree of sat
isfaction amounting to absolute pride, he insisted that, really, it
was a matter of no consequence. Americans, in his eyes, were
so honest a people, so fixed in the idea that debts, whether pub
lic or private, are of moral as well as of legal obligation, that it
would be impossible for any of the States to repudiate their

127



128 THE NORTH AMERICAN REVIEW.

financial undertakings. The letter of Webster containing the
foregoing eloquent and confident words was published at the
time it was written, both in this country and abroad ; and, hav
ing received the decided approval of the newspapers and other
exponents of American public opinion, by which it was quoted
and commented upon with "swelling pride," led to the purchase,
at good prices, of many of those depreciated obligations of Amer
ican States, which are now held by the citizens of our own and
other lands.

"Well, little more than forty years have passed since the pub
lication of the emphatic and gratifying assurances of the great
American statesman, and what do we find to be the situation ? In
the vaults and safes and other depositories in which valuables are
stored away throughout the investing countries of the globe,
are to be found dishonored undertakings, bearing broad seals
and other authoritative insignia of no less than nine of the
twenty-six States that were in existence when Webster wrote,
and of three more since added to the National Union j and these
certificates of indebtedness with accumulated interest, represent
now nearly three hundred millions of dollars. And instead of
the delinquent communities bowing their dishonored heads in
shame, and standing in an attitude of apology before the civil
ized world, they bear themselves in their peculiar position, if not
with actual gratification, at least with singular effrontery. No
concealment of their purposes is attempted ; but with the black
flag of repudiation openly displayed at the front, their citizens in
organized political parties march to victory ; and when the work
of " killing " the coupons and other debentures of the public debts
has been successfully achieved, the leaders of the movement
plume themselves not a little upon the great good they have ac
complished for their own people at the expense of outside cred
itors. And are such repudiating communities and the leaders of
public sentiment within their borders subjected to that reproach
and scorn which Webster predicted would be so overwhelming 1
An answer is supplied by a scene not long ago witnessed in the
Senate of the United States, when a considerable majority of the
Senators from the non-defaulting States labored long and hard to
place in a responsible public position, with salary from the na
tional treasury, a man whose only claim to distinction or consid
eration of any kind was the fact of his being the reputed author
of the most ingenious measure so far adopted by any of the de-



AME WE A NATION OF RASCALS f 129

faulting commonwealths for making repudiation a success. A
further answer is found in the fact that the President of the
United States, officially representing the people of the whole
country, has notoriously cooperated with the boldest of all the
repudiation chiefs, freely placing at his disposal the patronage
of the General Government in the contest he was waging with
such citizens of the State to which he belonged as adhered to the
old-fashioned doctrine that public debts, like private debts, should
be paid. Nor is the writer aware that the President and Senators
referred to have, in this matter, met with the general condemnation
of their countrymen. He does not at this time recall a single
public gathering, of any nature whatsoever, that has expressed its
disapproval of their actions in the form of a resolution formally
adopted and published to the world. There has been plenty of
criticism, and the policy pursued by our highest officials has been
freely discussed and characterized, according to partisan interest,
as a clever " deal n to catch an element as mercenary and uncer
tain in politics as it has been in finance ; but how many among
us have spoken out sternly and faithfully in condemnation of it
in the far more serious aspect it bears of making the Government
and people of the United States sharers in Virginia's crime and
disgrace f

From the data obtainable from official sources, it is not
easy to determine the exact liability of some of the defaulting
States ; but the following table, showing the amounts of dis
honored paper they have issued, to the principal of which is
added accumulated interest sometimes running at rates as high
as seven and eight per cent. is substantially correct:



Alabama $38,812,000

Arkansas 20,807,000

Florida 5,280,000

Georgia . . ;.-, 13,580,000

Louisiana 32,115,000

Minnesota 5,960,000

Mississippi 22,600,000

North Carolina 48,350,000

South Carolina 19,500,000

Tennessee 29,850,000

Virginia .. .)
West Virginia $

$309,074,000



130 THE NORTH AMERICAN REVIEW.

Portions of the foregoing liabilities have been adjusted
through proceedings which the debtors have called compromises,
and new obligations at reduced figures have been accepted in
the place of the old. Credit should be given for these new issues
as far as they have been confirmed by the payment of interest,
which, unfortunately, has not always been the case. But as the
so-called compromises have, in every instance, been compulsory
and accepted by the creditors as a choice, as they believed, be
tween something and nothing, it is folly to insist, as is done by
the debtor States, that the residue of the debt has been legally
or morally extinguished. Alabama, in this way, has issued
$7,000,000 of bonds ; South Carolina between $4,000,000 and
$5,000,000 ; North Carolina, $3,500,000, and Minnesota, $2,500,000.
Virginia, Tennessee and Louisiana have issued large amounts of
new bonds, through a scaling-down process which they described
as " a funding of the debt," but they have treated the new issues
precisely as they treated the old.

All proper deductions having been made on account of these
new undertakings (and they are offset to a certain extent by
indorsements of some of the States on bonds of bankrupt rail
road companies, not included in the foregoing statement), we
find that the aggregate liability is not materially different from
the figure mentioned, viz. : three hundred million dollars. Some
of the States in the list, however, pay interest on certain obliga
tions that they never have discarded, although rejecting others.
Georgia pays on $10,000,000.

That a realization of the amount of delinquency may be had,
it is only necessary to state that, not only does it exceed by
more than fifty millions of dollars the total cost of the war
of Independence on the American side, but is greater than the
valuation of property, according to the last census, in either
Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Kansas, Min
nesota, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, North
Carolina, South Carolina, Oregon, Vermont, or West Virginia ;
greater than the combined assessments of Colorado, Delaware,
Florida, Nebraska, Nevada and Oregon j and greater than the
estimated possessions of all the Territories with the District of
Columbia, including the nation's capital. But in no respect does
the amount become so unpleasantly conspicuous as when con
trasted with the total of State and Territorial bonded indebted-



ABE WE A NATION OF RASCALS? 131

ness that is honored by payment of interest, being the sum of
$190,849,978.

But formidable as the amount appears and is, it by no means
expresses the sum total of repudiated public indebtedness owing
in this country j nor is the liability limited to the States named
in the foregoing table. Cities, counties, townships, and school
districts, all over the land, have issued their promises to pay,
as is well known, mostly in the form of sealed instruments or
bonds. So many of these local undertakings have been dishon
ored, that the amount of defalcation on this score undoubtedly
exceeds the liability of the delinquent States. To realize how
extensive this phase of repudiation among our people has been,
we have only to look at that portion of the country known as
the Mississippi Valley, and in natural advantages its richest
portion, and note the number of communities that have, at one
time or another, sought to escape the payment of their debts.
We may commence the list of defaulting cities with Duluth, on
the waters of Lake Superior, and on our way down take in Keo-
kuk and McGregor in Iowa ; Quiney and Cairo in Illinois ; St.
Joseph and Cape Girardeau in Missouri ; Leaven worth, Lawrence,
and Topeka in Kansas ; Nebraska City in Nebraska ; Little Rock
and Helena in Arkansas j Memphis in Tennessee ; New Orleans
and Shreveport in Louisiana ; Houston in Texas ; and we stop
only when the waters of the Gulf of Mexico are reached at
Mobile. And then we have told but a small portion of the story.
The list of defaulters among counties and townships, and the
smaller and less prominent cities would swell the aggregate to
startling dimensions. Of over three hundred municipalities in
the rich State of Illinois that issued bonds in aid of railroad
building, more than one-third have refused payment and endeav
ored to avoid it. Of one hundred counties, townships, and cities
issuing bonds in Missouri, nine-tenths have defaulted. The
record in Kansas is somewhat better, but still humiliating;
while the bonded communities of Arkansas have been unani
mous in attempting repudiation. Nor have those four States by
any means furnished all the delinquent municipalities. Such
municipalities can be found almost within sight of the steeples
of New York city.

Being subject to the processes of the courts, delinquent mu
nicipalities have generally sought to escape payment of their



132 THE NORTH AMERICAN REVIEW.

debts on legal grounds, usually of the most technical nature, and
often successfully. The ignorance and carelessness of their own
officials in issuing bonds have been taken advantage of without
the slightest compunction. More frequently a defensive litiga
tion, having no valid foundation whatever, has been protracted
until creditors, worn out and disgusted, have consented to ac
cept in satisfaction a moiety of what justly belonged to them.
In many cases resistance in the courts continues. The losses on
claims against the smaller communities probably exceed largely
the total of dishonored indebtedness of the States. We can thus
form an idea of the amount of money owing by the people of this
country in a public capacity, generally by communities perfectly
solvent, the liability for which is disowned or ignored and left
unsatisfied. With the accumulation of interest and the natural
increase of municipal and State defalcation, unless there should
be a radical change in public policy in relation to this matter,
the end of the next ten years will see that indebtedness swelled
to a thousand millions of dollars. In a few years more, if
nothing out of -the ordinary course occurs, the volume of the
repudiated public debts of the people of the United States will
reach and overpass the national debt, now about $1,500,000,000,
one growing as the other diminishes.

The disposition on the part of wealthy communities to
shirk their pecuniary obligations has had many curious and
striking illustrations. A number of Arkansas counties combined
to resist the collection of bonds amounting to over two millions
of dollars, on the ground that in transcribing the statute under
which the bonds were issued, after its passage by the Legis
lature, the copyist had substituted an immaterial word of three
letters for another immaterial word of two letters. A Missouri
county issued bonds to the extent of its power. The bonds were
indifferently printed, and the purchasers asked to have more pre
sentable instruments substituted for them. The county authori
ties kindly complied with their request, and then set up the defense
that the first bonds had exhausted their authority, and the new
ones were an overissue. A Kansas county, threatened with suit
on bonds, elected officials upon the understanding that they were
to keep inhiding during their term of office. When public business
demanded their presence at the county seat, they entered it after
night had fallen and departed before the morning had dawned.
The managing officials of a Missouri county, similarly situated,



ARE WE A NATION OF PASCALS? 133

were accustomed to meet only when the shire-town was carefully
picketed against the approach of enemies and strangers, and
service at the suit of the holders of its bonds was not obtained
until a bailiff of the court, in the disguise of a drunken tramp,
entered the place unchallenged and staggered into the presence
of those against whom he held a writ. The commissioners of an
Arkansas county used to resign as soon as they had transacted
pressing public business, having an understanding with the
Governor of the State that they were to receive fresh commissions
when new business arose, to be surrendered as soon as it was
transacted.

Everybody has heard of the shift of Memphis, Tennessee,
when it wanted to rid itself of its debts, in committing corpor
ate suicide by having its city charter repealed by the legislature
of the State, and its territory relegated to " a taxing district."
Duluth, the famous " zenith city of the unsalted seas," showed
even greater ingenuity. That ambitious young city had taken
into its corporate limits a liberal area of prairie and forest en
tirely innocent of improvements, and when the burden of its
debts became too heavy to be conveniently borne, it had carved
out of it " the village of Duluth," so shaped as to include all the
settlement, while the city with the city's liabilities, was left like
a veritable scape-goat in the wilderness outside. But a youthful
city in Kansas displayed the keenest tact and enterprise. Hav
ing incurred all the debt it could, it secured a section of the
prairie adjoining its corporate limits, quietly moved its houses
to it, and left the old deserted site to the mercy of its creditors
literally running away from its debts.

But, of course, great States would not condescend to the
shabby tactics and sharp contrivances to overreach creditors
that might, not unreasonably, be expected of a mushroom city
on the margin of Lake Superior or a newly organized and thinly
settled county on the Kansas frontier ; least of all venerable and
blue-blooded commonwealths like Virginia, North Carolina,
Louisiana, etc. Let us see : At the close of the rebellion, Vir
ginia owed, principal and interest, about forty million dollars.
Of the validity of the debt there was no question, but the State
found herself deprived of one-third of her territory and resources
through the action of the General Government in creating the
new State of West Virginia. With the dismemberment the
holders of her bonds had nothing to do ; but because of it, on
VOL. cxxxix. NO. 333. 10



134 THE NORTH AMERICAN REVIEW.

the plea that she had been divested of one-third of her debt-
paying ability, Virginia announced that, so far as she was con
cerned, they should be losers to the extent of one-third of their
claims. She accordingly declared herself ready to take up the
old bonds, and in place of them issue new ones representing two-
thirds of their amount, on which she would pay six per cent,
interest. The interest, however, was not paid, and she then
offered to renew the obligations with a third issue of bonds,
bearing three per cent, interest for a time, then four per cent.,
and then five per cent, j and to insure the payment of the inter
est, the coupons from the bonds were to be receivable for State
taxes. Again, the interest was defaulted on, and then came
what was known as " the Riddleberger bill," proposing a fourth
bonded issue, in the amount of which there was to be a reduc
tion of forty-seven per cent., the interest for the entire life of the
bonds to be three per cent. And then, as Virginia's creditors
had got used to being robbed, and the balance to be allowed
them did not amount to very much anyhow, she concluded,
under the inspiration of her " Re-adjuster " movement, to practi
cally free herself from the residue of the debt she had acknowl
edged. This she accomplished by means of a very ingenious
statute intended to prevent the use of the interest coupons for
tax-paying, and which alone gave them or the bonds any real
value. Upon the pretext that spurious bonds and coupons were
in circulation, which, it seems, had no justification in fact, it was
provided that the tax should first be paid in money, after which
the coupon-holder might sue the State, the case to be tried be
fore a Virginia judge and jury ; and if he succeeded in establish
ing the validity of his demand to their satisfaction, he might
then have a judgment to be paid out of any funds of the State
available for the purpose. But as proof of the genuineness of
one coupon was not to help the others on the same bond, of
which there were sixty-four in all, and consequently sixty-four



Online LibraryNathaniel Hillyer. EglestonThe North American review (Volume 139) → online text (page 13 of 60)