Abraham Lincoln.

Abraham Lincoln; complete works, comprising his speeches, letters, state papers, and miscellaneous writings; online

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the system (and which estimate is the lowest made by any one), the
same services are to cost $60,000. Mr. Rives, who, to say the least,
is equally talented and honest, estimates that these services, under
the subtreasury system, cannot cost less than $600,000. For the sake
of liberality, let us suppose that the estimates of the secretary and
Mr. Rives are the two extremes, and that their mean is about the
true estimate, and we shall then find that when to that sum is added
the $75,000 which the bank paid us, the difference between the
two systems, in favor of the bank and against the subtreasury, is
$405,000 a year. This sum, though small when compared to the
many millions annually expended by the General Government, is,
when viewed by itself, very large ; and much too large, when viewed



26 ADDRESSES AND LETTERS OF ABRAHAM LINCOLN

in any light, to be thrown away once a year for nothing. It is suf-
ficient to pay the pensions of more than four thousand Revolution-
ary soldiers, or to purchase a forty-acre tract of goyernment land
for each one of more than eight thousand poor families.

To the argument against the subtreasury, on the score of addi-
tional expense, its friends, so far as I know, attempt no answer.
They choose, so far as I can learn, to treat the throwing away of
$405,000 once a year as a matter entirely too small to merit their
Democratic notice.

I now come to the proposition that it would be less secure than a
national bank as a depository of the public money. The experience
of the past, I think, proves the truth of this. And here, inasmuch
as I rely chiefly upon experience to establish it, let me ask how is it
that we know anything — that any event will occur, that any combi-
nation of circumstances will produce a certain result — except by the
analogies of past experience? What has once happened will invari-
ably happen again when the salme circumstances which combined to
produce it shall again combine in the same way. "We all feel that
we know that a blast of wind would extinguish the flame of -the
candle that stands by me. How do we know it? We have never
seen this flame thus extinguished. We know it because we have
seen through all our lives that a blast of wind extinguishes the
flame of a candle whenever it is thrown fully upon it. Again, we all
feel to know that we have to die. How ? We have never died yet.
We know it because we know, or at least think we know, that of all
the beings, just like ourselves, who have been coming into the world
for six thousand years, not one is now living who was here two hun-
dred years ago. I repeat, then, that we know nothing of what will
happen in future, but by the analogy of experience, and that the fair
analogy of past experience fully proves that the subtreasury would
be a less safe depository of the public money than a national bank.
Examine it. By the subtreasury scheme the public money is to be
kept, between the times of its collection and disbursement, by trea-
surers of the mint, custom-house officers, land ofiflcers, and some new
officers to be appointed in the same way that those first enumerated
are. Has a year passed, since the organization of the government,
that numerous defalcations have not occurred among this class of
officers? Look at Swartwout with his $1,200,000, Price with his
$75,000, Harris with his $109,000, Hawkins with his $100,000, Linn
with his $55,000, together with some twenty-five hundred lesser
lights. Place the public money again in these same hands, and will
it not again go the same way ? Most assuredly it will. But turn to
the history of the national banks in this country, and we shall there
see that those banks performed the fiscal operations of the govern-
ment through a period of forty years, received, safely kept, trans-
ferred, disbursed an aggregate of nearly five hundred millions of
dollars; and that, in all this time, and with all that money, not one
dollar, nor one cent, did the government lose by them. Place the
public money again in a similar depository, and will it not again be
safe. But, conclusive as the experience of fifty years is that indi-
viduals are unsafe depositories of the public money, and of forty



ADDRESSES AND LETTERS OF ABRAHAM LINCOLN 27

years that national banks are safe depositories, we are not left to
rely solely upon that experience for the truth of those propositions.
If experience were silent upon the subject, conclusive reasons could
be shown for the truth of them.

It is often iirged that to say the public money will be more secure
in a national bank than in the hands of individuals, as proposed in
the subtreasury, is to say that bank directors and bank officers are
more honest than sworn officers of the government. Not so. We
insist on no such thing. We say that public officers, selected with
reference to their capacity and honesty (which, by the way, we deny
is the practice in these days), stand an equal chance, precisely, of
being capable and honest with bank officers selected by the same
rule. We further say that with however much care selections may
be made, there will be some unfaithful and dishonest in both classes.
The experience of the whole world, in all bygone times, proves this
true. The Saviour of the world chose twelve disciples, and even one
of that small number, selected by superhuman wisdom, turned out
a traitor and a devil. And it may not be improper here to add that
Judas carried the bag — was the subtreasurer of the Saviour and his
disciples. We, then, do not say — nor need we say to maintain our
proposition — that bank officers are more honest than government
officers selected by the same rule. What we do say is that the inter-
est of the subtreasurer is against his duty, while the interest of the
bank is on the side of its duty. Take instances: A subtreasurer
has in his hands one hundred thousand doUars of public money;
his duty says, " You ought to pay this money over," but his interest
says, " You ought to run away with this sum, and be a nabob the
bsdance of your life." And who that knows anything of human
nature doubts that in many instances interest will prevail over duty,
and that the subtreasurer will prefer opulent knavery in a foreign
land to honest poverty at home? But how different is it with a
bank. Besides the government money deposited with it, it is doing
business upon a large capital of its own. If it proves faithful to the
government, it continues its business ; if unfaithful, it forfeits its
charter, breaks up its business, and thereby loses more than all it
can make by seizing upon the government funds in its possession.
Its interest, therefore, is on the side of its duty — is to be faithful to
the government, and consequently even the dishonest amongst its
managers have no temptation to be faithless to it. Even if robber-
ies happen in the baak, the losses are borne by the bank, and the
government loses nothing. It is for this reason, then, that we say
a bank is the more secure. It is because of that admirable feature
in the bank system which places the interest and the duty of the
depository both on one side ; whereas that feature can never enter
into the subtreasury system. By the latter the interest of the indi-
viduals keeping the public money will wage an eternal war with
their duty, and in very many instances must be victorious. In an-
swer to the argument drawn from the fact that individual depos-
itories of public money have always proved unsafe, it is urged that,
even if we had a national bank, the money has to pass through the
same individual hands that it will under the subtreasury. This is



28 ADDEESSES AND LETTEES OP ABEAHAM LINCOLN

only partially true in fact, and whoUy f aUacious in arguinent. It is
only partiaUy true in fact, because by the subtreasuiy biU tour re-
ceivers-general are to be appointed by the President and benate.
These are new ofiBcers, and consequently it cannot be true that the
money, or any portion of it, has heretofore passed through ft en-
hands. These four new officers are to be located at New York, Bos-
ton, Charleston, and St. Louis, and consequently are to be deposi-
tories of all the money collected at or near those points; so that
more than three fourths of the public money will fall into the keep-
ing of these four new officers, who did not exist as officers under
the national-bank system. It is only partially true, then, that the
money passes through the same hands, under a national bank, as it
would do under the subtreasury. It is true that under either system
individuals must be employed as collectors of the customs, receivers
at the land-offices, etc., but the difference is that under the bank
system the receivers of all sorts receive the jnoney and pay it over
to the bank once a week when the collections are large, and once a
month when they are small; whereas by the subtreasury system in-
dividuals are not only to collect the money, but they are to keep it
also, or pay it over to other individuals equally unsafe as them-
selves, to be by them kept until it is wanted for disbursement. It
is during the time that it is thus lying idle in their hands that op-
portunity is afforded and temptation held out to tbem to embezzle
and escape with it. By the bank system each collector or receiver
is to deposit in bank all the money in his hands at the end of each
month at most, and to send the bank certificates of deposit to the
Secretary of the Treasury. Whenever that certificate of deposit fails
to arrive at the proper time, the secretary knows that the officer thus
failing is acting the knave ; and, if he is himself disposed to do his
duty, he has him immediately removed from office, and thereby cuts
him off from the possibility of embezzling but little more than the
receipts of a single month. But bjr the subtreasury system the
money is to lie month after month in the hands of* individuals ;
larger amounts are to accumulate in the hands of the receivers-gen-
eral and some others, by perhaps ten to one, than ever accumulated
in the hands of individuals before ; yet during all this time, in rela-
tion to this great stake, the Secretary of the Treasury can compara-
tively know nothing. Reports, to be sure, he will have; but reports
are often false, and always false when made by a knave to cloak his
knavery. Long experience has shown that nothing short of an ac-
tual demand of the money will expose an adroit peculator. Ask him
for reports, and he will give them to your heart's content; send
agents to examine and count the monev in his hands, and he will
borrow of a friend, merely to be counted and then returned, a suffi-
cient sum to make the sum square. Try what you will, it will all
fail till you demand the money ; then, and not till then, the truth
will come.

The sum of the whole matter I take to be this : Under the bank
system, while sums of money, by the law, were permitted to lie in
the hands of individuals for very short periods only, many and very
large defalcations occurred by those individuals. Under the sub-



ADDRESSES AND LETTERS OF ABRAHAM LINCOLN 29

treasury system much larger sums are to lie in the hands of indi-
viduals for much longer periods, thereby multiplying temptation in
proportion as the sums ai-e larger, and multiplymg opportunity in
proportion as the periods are longer to and for those individuals to
embezzle and escape with the public treasure ; and therefore, just
in the proportion that the temptation and the opportunity are greater
under the subtreasury than the bank system, will the peculations
and defalcations be greater under the former than they have been
under the latter. The truth of this, independent of actual experi-
ence, is but little less than self-evident. I therefore leave it.

But it is said, and truly too, that there is to be a penitentiary
department to the subtreasury. This, the advocates of the system
wiU have it, will be a " king cure-all." Before I go farther, may I
not ask if the penitentiary department is not itself an admission
that they expect the public money to be stolen? Why build the
cage if they expect to catch no birds? But as to the question how
effectual the penitentiary will be in preventing defalcations. How
effectual have penitentiaries heretofore been in preventing the
crimes they were established to suppress 'l Has not confinement in
them long been the legal penalty of larceny, forgery, robbery, and
many other crimes, in almost all the States ? And yet are not those
crimes committed weekly, daily, — nay, and even hourly, — in every
one of those States? Again, the gallows has long been the penalty
of murder, and yet we scarcely open a newspaper that does not
relate a new case of that crime. If, then, the penitentiary has ever here-
tofore failed to prevent larceny, forgery, and robbery, and the gal-
lows and halter have likewise failed to prevent murder, by what
process of reasoning, I ask, is it that we are to conclude the peni-
tentiary will hereafter prevent the stealing of the public money?
But our opponents seem to think they answer the charge that the
money will be stolen fully if they can show that they will bring
the offenders to punishment. Not so. Will the punishment of the
thief bring back the stolen money ? No more so than the hanging
of a murderer restores his victim to life. What is the object desired ?
Certainly not the greatest number of thieves we can catch, but that
the money may not be stolen. If, then, any plan can be devised for
depositing the public treasure where it wUl never be stolen, never
embezzled, is not that the plan to be adopted? Turn, then, to a
national bank, and you have that plan, fully and completely success-
ful, as tested by the experience of forty years.

I have now done with the three propositions that the subtrea-
sury would injuriously affect the currency, and would be more ex-
pensive and less secure as a depository of the public money than
a national bank. How far I have succeeded in establishing their
truth, is for others to judge. Omitting, for want of time, what I
had intended to say as to the effect of the subtreasury to bring the
public money under the more immediate control of the President
than it has ever heretofore been, I now ask the audience, when Mr.
Calhoun shall answer me, to hold him to the questions. Permit him
not to escape them. Require him either to show that the subtreasury
would not injuriously affect the currency, or that we should in some



30 ADDBESSES AND LETTEBS OF ABBAHAM LINCOLN

way receive an equivalent for that injurious effect. Require him
either to show that the sutatreasury would not be more expensive as
a fiscal agent than a bank, or that we should in some way be com-
pensated for that additional expense. And particularly require him
to show that the public money would be as secure in the subtrea-
sury as in a national bank, or that the additional insecurity would
be overbalanced by some good result of the proposed change.

No one of them, in my humble judgment, will he be able to do;
and I venture the prediction, and ask that it may be especially
noted, that he will not attempt to answer the proposition that the
subtreasury would be more expensive than a national bank as a
fiscal agent of the government.

As a sweeping objection to a national bank, and consequently an
argument in favor of the subtreasury as a substitute for it, it often
has been urged, and doubtless will be again, that such a bank is un-
constitutional. We have often heretofore shown, and therefore
need not in detail do so again, that a majority of the Revolutionary
patiiarchs, who ever acted officially upon the question, commencing
with General "Washington, and embracing General Jackson, the
larger number of the signers of the Declaration, and of the fram-
ers of the Constitution, who were in the Congress of 1791, have
decided upon their oaths that such a bank is constitutional. "We
have also shown that the votes of Congress have more often been in
favor of than against its constitutionality. In addition to all this,
we have shown that the Supreme Court — that tribunal which the
Constitution has itself established to decide constitutional ques-
tions — has solemnly decided that such a bank is constitutional.
Protesting that these authorities ought to settle the question, —
ought to be conclusive, — I will not urge them further now. I now
propose to take a view of the question which I have not known to
be taken by any one before. It is that whatever objection ever has
or ever can be made to the constitutionality of a bank, wiU apply
with equal force, in its whole length, breadth, and proportions, to the
subtreasury. Our opponents say there is no express authority in
the Constitution to establish a bank, and therefore, a bank is uncon-
stitutional; but we with equal truth may say there is no express
authority in the Constitution to establish a subtreasury, and there-
fore a subtreasury is unconstitutional. "Who, then, has the advan-
tage of this " express authority " argument ? Does it not cut equally
both ways '? Does it not wound them as deeply and as deadly as it
does us ? Our position is that both are constitutional. The Consti-
tution enumerates expressly several powers which Congress may
exercise, superadded to which is a general authority " to make aU
laws necessary and proper " for carrying into effect all the powers
vested by the Constitution in the Government of the United States.
One of the express powers given Congress is " ta lay and collect
taxes, duties, imports, and excises; to pay the debts and pro-
vide for the common defense and general welfare of the United
States." Now, Congress is exi)ressly authorized to make all laws
necessarjr and proper for carrying this power into execution. To
carry it into execution, it is indispensably necessary to collect, safely



ADDEESSES AND LETTERS OP ABRAHAM LINCOLN 31

keep, transfer, atid disburse a revenue. To do tliis, a bank is " ne-
cessary and proper." But, say our opponents, to authorize the mak-
ing of a bank, the necessity must be so great that the power just
recited would be nugatory without it; and that that necessity is
expressly negatived by the" fact that they have got along ten whole
years without such a bank. Immediately we turn on them, and say
that that sort of necessity for a subtreasury does not exist, because
we have got along forty whole years without one. And this time,
it may be observed tjiat we are not merely equal with them in the
argument, but we beat tlieni forty to ten, or, which is the same
thing, foui" to one. On examination, it will be found that the ab-
surd rule which prescribes that before we can constitutionally adopt a
national bank as afiscal agent, we must show an indispensable necessity
for it, wiU exclude every sort of fiscal agent that the mind of man can
conceive. A bank is not indispensable, because we can take the sub-
treasury ; the subtreasury is not indispensable, because we can take the
bank. The rule is too absurd to need further comment. Upon the
phrase ''necessary and proper" in the Constitution, it seems to me
more reasonable to say that some fiscal agent is indispensably neces-
sary; but inasmuch as no particular sort of agent is thus indis-
pensable, because some other sort might be adopted, we are left to
choose that sort of agent which may be most " proper " on grounds
of expediency. But it is said the Constitution gives no power to
Congress to pass acts of incorporation. Indeed ! What is the pass-
ing an act of incorporation but the making of a law 1 Is any one
wise enough to tell? The Constitution expressly gives Congress
power " to pass all laws necessary and proper," etc. If, then, the
passing of a bank charter be the " making a law necessary and
proper," is it not clearly within the constitutional power of Congress
to do so 1

I now leave the bank and the subtreasury to try to answer, in a
brief way, some of the arguments which on previous evenings here
have been urged by Messrs. Lamborn and Douglas. Mr. Lamborn
admits that " errors," as he charitably calls them, have occurred
under the present and late administrations ; but he insists that as
great " errors " have occurred under all administrations. This we
respectfully deny. We admit that errors may have occurred under
all administrations ; but we insist that there is no parallel between
them and those of the two last. If they can show that their errors
are no greater in member and magnitude than those of foi-mer times,
we call off the dogs. But they can do no such thing. To be brief,
I wiU now attempt a contrast of the " errors" of the two latter with
those of former administrations, in relation to the public expendi-
tures only. What I am now about to say as to the expenditures will
be, in all cases, exclusive of payments on the national debt. By an
examination of authentic public documents, consisting of the regu-
lar series of annual reports made by all the secretaries of the trea-
sury from the establishment of the government down to the close
of the year 1838, the following contrasts will be presented :

(1) The last ten years under General Jackson and Mr. Van Buren
cost more money than the first twenty-seven did (including the heavy



32 ADDEESSES AND LETTEES OF ABRAHAM LINCOIjN

expenses of the late British war) under "Washington, Adams, Jeffer-
son, and Madison.

(2) The last year of J. Q. Adams's administration cost, in round
numbers, thirteen millions, being about one doUai" to each soul in the
nation ; the last (1838) of Mr. Van Buren's cost forty millions, being
about two dollars and fifty cents to each soul, and being larger than
the expenditure of Mr. Adams in the proportion of five to two.

(3) The highest annual expenditure during the late British war —
being in 1814, and while we had in actual service rising 188,000 militia,
together with the whole regular army, swelling the number to greatly
over 200,000, and they to be clad, fed, and transported from point to
point, with great rapidity and corresponding expense, and to be fur-
nished with arms and ammunition, and they to be transported in
like manner, and at like expense — was no more in round numbers
than thirty millions ; whereas the annual expenditure of 1838, under
Mr. Van Buren, and while we were at peace with every government
in the world, was forty millions ; being over the highest year of the
late and very expensive war in the proportion of four to three.

(4) General Washington administered the government eight years
for sixteen millions ; Mr. Van Buren administered it one year (1838)
for forty millions ; so that Mr. Van Buren expended twice and a half
as much in one year as General Washington did in eight, and being
in the proportion of twenty to one; or in other words, had G«nerd
Washington administered the government twenty years at the same
average expense that he did for eight, he would have carried us
through the whole twenty for no more money than Mr. Van
Buren has expended in getting us through the single one of 1838.
Other facts equally astounding might be presented from the same
authentic document ; but I deem the foregoing abundantly sufficient
to establish the proposition that there is no parallel between the
"errors" of the present and late administrations and those of
former times, and that Mr. Van Buren is wholly out of the line of
aU precedents.

But Mr. Douglas, seeing that the enormous expenditure of 1838
has no parallel in the olden times, comes in with a long list of
excuses for it. This list of excuses I wiU rapidly examine, and show,
as I think, that the few of them which are true prove nothing, and
that the majority of them are wholly untrue in fact. He first says
that the expenditures of that one year were made under the appro-
priations of Congress — one branch of which was a Whig body. It
is true that those expenditures were made under the appropriations
of Congress ; but it is untrue that either branch of Congress was a
Whig body. The Senate had fallen into the hands of the adminis-
tration more than a year before, as proven by the passage of the
Expunging Resolution ; and at the time those appropriations were
made there were too few WTiigs in that body to make a respectable
struggle, in point of numbers, upon any question. This is notorious
to all. The House of Representatives that voted those appropria-
tions was the same that first assembled at the called session of Sep-
tember, 1838. Although it refused to pass the Subtreasury Bill, a
majority of its members were elected as friends of the administra-



ADDRESSES AND LETTERS OF ABRAHAM LINCOLN 33



Online LibraryAbraham LincolnAbraham Lincoln; complete works, comprising his speeches, letters, state papers, and miscellaneous writings; → online text (page 4 of 91)