Daniel Webster.

The writings and speeches of Daniel Webster online

. (page 10 of 54)
Online LibraryDaniel WebsterThe writings and speeches of Daniel Webster → online text (page 10 of 54)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

a subject, attempts to rouse one body of men against another,
as the farmer against the merchant. I hope there is no bad
design here, but all in charity I fear there is. Upon the hard
working laborer, indeed, will a depreciation of the currency like
the present press the hardest, when at the close of his daily toil
he receives a ragged paper for one bit, two bits, all payable
somewhere, nobody can say where, and fit for nothing but to
light his candle. And yet, who sees not the utter folly of de-
claring that one currency may be well for the rich man and
another for the poor man ? They might as well tell us that
there *s no difference in the atmosphere we breathe. If health
and happiness are received by the rich man from this bounty
of nature, be sure you, my fellow citizens, will receive the
same ; and if ague and miasma and fever come to you, depend
upon it ague, miasma, and fever will not be escaped by him.
In the present period of distress look for aid to the people —
the great mass of the people. Experience, too, declares,
have a national bank. Our efforts on this subject have been
crushed, but my sentiments now are as they were in '32, and
when I learn better I will acquiesce.

Gentlemen : Again permit me to tender my grateful thanks
for your kindness and hospitality since I have been with you.
Whether I remain in public life or retire from it, you will ever
retain my fervent regards, and never can I forget the cordial-
ity, the generosity, the kindness, I have received at your hands.

Speech at Rochester, N. Y.

July 20, 1837.1

After a brief introductory address by tbe Hon. Timothy Childs,
Mr. Webster spoke as follows :

Fellow-Citizens: If I might entertain the hope of being
heard by this vast assemblage, I would gladly express my
thanks for the respect and kindness which have caused you to
come together upon this occasion, and for the flattering senti-
ments which have been expressed by my friend Mr. Childs in
your behalf.

Gentlemen, I have been taking a long, pleasant, and agree-
able journey through parts of our common country which it
has not been my good fortune heretofore to have visited. I
return full of pleasure and pride for what I have seen in that
portion of our common country which we denominate the ^''far
Westy And although I must hasten home to prepare for my
public duties, which must so soon commence, yet the request
of my friends in Rochester, made so early and so kindly, has
prevailed on me to have the pleasure of passing this day in
your midst, and in this thriving city, which I visited twelve
years ago, and which has since sprung up into such beauty as
to leave no indication by which I might know that this was the
town I then visited. But not to waste words, let me say, in
the language which one plain Republican may employ to an-
other, that for all your kindness and for all the expressions ot
your friendship, I thank you.

The address read to me by my friend Mr. Childs alludes to
the political state of the country at present. This is the all-
absorbing topic wherever I have been. The currency of the
country seems to occupy the minds of all. If upon this topic

1 At a meeting held in the Court House Square, Rochester, N. Y.
Printed from the report in the Boston Daily Advertiser, August 5, 1837.

Speech at Rochester, N. Y. 89

I have any thoughts which are worthy your consideration, they
are at your service. But I have no desire to obtrude my polit-
ical sentiments upon any man or any set of men. One man's
opinions are entitled to as much respect as another's, and all
are accountable for them. God forbid that I should desire to
conceal any opinions or sentiments of mine. There is nothing
in the opinions which I hold that I wish for a moment to keep
back from my fellow citizens. I wish to make no evasions.
There is nothing hid within my bosom which I am not willing
should be laid naked before God and man.

Fellow-citizens, I have endeavored to understand the ques-
tions which are at this moment agitating the country ; and
from the position which I have occupied for so many years,
and the subjects which I have been called upon to discuss, it
would be strange had I no opinions of my own. I have opin-
ions ; but I wish not to dictate their acceptance, but merely to
express them. And express them I will, let the consequences
be what they may.

Then, fellow-citizens, what is the great difficulty at present
existing in the country ? We are not threatened with bad
crops. There are no unemployed manufactories. There is
neither war, nor famine, nor pestilence. What, then, is the
difficulty ? It is what we may call a social evil, resulting from
the exercise of the powers of the social government. What is
that evil ? There may have been some over-trading and over-
producing ; but all such ideas are indefinite. No man can say
what he means by over-trading ; and before there is just ground
for making this charge, he must prove that there has been
more produce in market than could command a price. What
evidence have we that there has been over-producing ? In all
my journey I have heard of no wheat or corn which could not
command a high price. Before the unfortunate suspension of
specie payments, merchandise sold well and stocks sold well.
Over-trading and over-producing may exist ; but to me the
terms are too indefinite for comprehension.

But there is a cause for our present difficulties. What is it ?
In answering this question, I do not wish to, and shall not,
trifle with the subject. I know there are men here who differ
from me in sentiment. I respect their opinions, and will cast

9^ Addresses Hitherto Uncollected

no reproaches or imputations against them. I reproach no
man. I attribute no oblique motives to any man ; but I speak
to you as the arbiters of political sentiments. I say to you
what I would say to generations coming after me ; and I will
express such sentiments as I would wish to, and am willing
should, go down to posterity, if anything of me does go down
to posterity.

Let it not be supposed that I am speaking the sentiments of
a partisan — that I am saying to-day what I shall take back
to-morrow. For if, after my country's good, there is one thing
that I have sought more than another, since the commence-
ment of my public life, it has been a character for consistent
patriotism — for an attachment to the whole country ; and, to
mar the happiness of what little of life remains to me, I will
not sacrifice what of such character I have acquired.

Now, then, fellow-citizens, in the opinion of us all, the
difficulty under which the country is now suffering is the de-
rangement of its currency. We have no legal money. We
are a commercial people, full of enterprise and zeal. But
what will these avail, or how can they be successfully exerted,
without a lawful standard of money ? So completely deranged
is the currency, that no man can now pay a lawful debt law-
fully. Every man knows this, and every man feels it. No
matter how many splendid houses you may own, or how many
working mills or rich fields, — with all these you are poor, so
far as the legal transaction of business is concerned. The
question is, can any of you pay a lawful debt lawfully ? When
that cannot be done, it is in vain to say that a people is pros-
perous, happy, or wealthy, or that it is in the enjoyment of the
rights and blessings which government ought to confer upon
it. It is expected that every government will take care of the
currency, regulate the exchanges, and keep healthy all the
avenues of trade. This is a doctrine which has existed in all
ages. Government has always had the guard and supervision of
the currency. A well-regulated currency never has existed, and
never can, without the exercise of such supervision, and a well-
regulated government cannot exist without such a currency.

We live in a complex state of government. We have a
government which extends over all the States, and we have

Speech at Rochester, N. Y. 91

State governments. Now, with which of them does the power
to regulate the currency reside ? With the General Govern-
ment, or with the twenty-six separate State governments ?
This is the great question now before the people. This is the
great question which the people must decide. Upon it there
are two sets of opinions at present existing in the country.

According to one, the whole subject ought to be left to the
States and to the State banks. That was General Jackson's
opinion. When he negatived the bill for continuing the late
bank, in 1832, he did it upon the ground that he wanted no
such institution, as a fiscal agent, to assist in the operations of
the treasury; and that as to the general currency of the
country, the State banks would certainly furnish us as good a
one as we then had, and probably a better. These sentiments
are still entertained, it is supposed, by the Administration
which has succeeded General Jackson. Upon this ground the
late Administration surrendered all the control which the
General Government had over the currency of the country to
the State banks, in a quitclaim assignment to them and to
their assigns forever, saying that they could furnish as good
a currency as was then enjoyed, and perhaps a better.

But there is another set of opinions upon this subject. There
is a class of political men who hold that the superintendence
of the currency belongs to Congress ; that it is the appropriate
constitutional duty of the General Government to regulate the
currency; that the State government cannot satisfactorily
perform this duty ; that it is an indispensable part of the
commercial regulation of the country, which is an express
power of Congress, charged upon that body by the Constitu-
tion, by precept upon precept, and line upon line ; and that
Congress, by a national bank, or some other means, was bound
to take proper care of the currency, to maintain a sound, uni-
form measure of value and medium of exchange. This was
his (Mr. Webster's) opinion, always entertained, and often
expressed by him. He had urged it with all the power he
could command, upon Congress and upon the country in 1832,
and upon divers subsequent occasions. This opinion certainly
was strengthened and confirmed by recent events. We have
been sadly taught that there must be a general regulator of the

92 Addresses Hitherto Uncollected

currency, which can give a uniform rate of exchange between
Nova Scotia and the extreme South. It is for this purpose,
among others, that»the Constitution has made us one people ;
and whoever undertakes to maintain that we can throw this
power back upon the States, strikes out one great link in our
chain of union. That is my opinion.

We all know, fellow citizens, the motives which induced the
organization of this government. We know that there was
none which operated stronger upon the minds of the statesmen
and patriots of that day than the desire to regulate the com-
merce between the different States. This power they gave to
Congress. It can regulate commerce between the States.
But how can it do this unless it has the power to regulate
the great agent and instrument of commerce — money ?
None say that the different States have power to declare war,
form treaties, or despatch ambassadors. Yet it would be just
as reasonable to say that they have such power, as that they
have either the power or ability to regulate the great instru-
ment of commerce — money. They cannot do it ; there is no
authority to confer such power upon them. That belongs to
the General Government. It is the duty of Congress to make
that which regulates the value of property in New York regulate
its value in Massachusetts or Mississippi. What created such
confusion in the old confederacy ? Was it not the inability of
the Government to regulate the currency ? The currency of
that day was necessarily and unavoidably, totally deranged.
Why, if a man started upon a journey, on a slow horse,
he could n't breakfast and dine on the same money. It was
to get out of this difficulty that the Constitution gave the power
to Congress to regulate commerce between the States. This
was the object of it.

Now this is the question to which we have come at last : Is
the power to regulate the currency with Congress, and shall it
be exercised by Congress ? or is it with the States, and the
fifteen • hundred State banks, and shall it be exercised by
them ? This is the question, and the time has come when
it must be settled one way or the other.

The Administration, in 1832, decided in favor of the latter,
and abandoned the whole subject of the currency to its fate.

Speech at Rochester, N. Y. 93

They openly and avowedly relinquished it to the States and to
the State banks. In pursuing this policy I do not impugn
their motives ; but that they erred is my opinion. I so told
them at the time ; and from that day to this I have been
denounced as a bank agent and an aristocrat, who had no
regard to the interests of the common people. But I should
have been unworthy of the kind regards you have shown me,
fellow citizens, had I not held these denunciations in silent

In the course which I have pursued I have acted in the
light of the Constitution. I never wish to consider myself
wiser than that sacred instrument. I never wish to put the
business and prosperity of the country at hazard, or to jeopard
the daily bread of the poor laborer, by my presumptuous
arrogance in trying experiments.

Men in public life have discussed this question, and made up
their minds. Their opinions are formed. But it is a question
which none but the whole people can decide, and he (Mr.
Webster) desired nothing more than that after a calm exami-
nation, and the benefits of the light of experience, they should
decide it. In favor of the opinion which he entertained, he
had the authority of forty of the forty-eight years which the
government had existed. His opinion was, that Congress had
the power to regulate the currency of the country. This was
the opinion of Washington. In the second and third years of
his administration he and his associates undertook to make the
currency of the country uniform.

To forward this undertaking a United States bank was
discussed, and although there was a coutrariety of opinions,
yet a bank was established in 1791. It had a perfect effect.
The currency was regulated and commerce flourished. This
bank lasted twenty years. During these twenty years State
banks grew up, and there were men then, as now, who main-
tained that State banks were sufficient to regulate the currency
of the country. There were, at the time when the first bank
charter expired, eighty-eight State banks. The arguments of
those in favor of testing the power of State banks prevailed,
and the United States Bank was not rechartered. What was
the result ?

94 Addresses Hitherto Uncollected

In 1814 all the banks in the country suspended specie pay-
ments, except a few in New England, who paid specie for all
the bills they issued, and issued no bills. I took a seat in the
House of Representatives in 1813. The war terminated in
1815. But the banks did not resume specie payments. My
experience has taught me, and so has your experience taught
you, fellow citizens, that banks may be very unanimous in
agreeing to suspend specie payment ; but it is a difficult matter
to say that they always evince the same unanimity about when
they shall resume. In this instance they did not resume in
two years after the close of the war. Nor would they have
resumed then, but for the agency of the General Government.
What did they do ? Why, they chartered the late National
Bank, and adopted other means which it was my good fortune
to introduce. They resumed specie payments in February,

While the bank existed, the State banks continued specie
payments. Seeing the good effect which it had in restoring
and regulating the currency of the country, Congress, in 1832,
when its charter was about to expire, voted that it should be
continued, and passed a bill for that purpose. But General
Jackson vetoed the bill. In doing this he departed directly
from the policy which had prevailed in the government for
forty of the forty-eight years of its existence. The General
himself called it an " experiment " — an experiment to try State
banks ; an experiment to carry on the government in a new
manner, and without the agencies which it had before em-
ployed. I do not censure him for this. He said he could
get along without a national bank. He no doubt thought so.
He was, however, mistaken. He couldn't do it; and that's
the whole of it.

In two years after the expiration of the United States Bank,
we find that the State banks have shut up shop. They tell
their creditors they will pay to-morrow ; pay when they can ;
can't pay at all. Now, is it for us to set up a set of political
metaphysics as our rule of conduct, instead of living up to the
Constitution, and to that line of conduct which, for forty years,
has proved to be profitable to the country ?

Let us now, fellow-citizens, look at the professed objects of

Speech at Rochester, N. Y. 95

this " experiment " — at the reasons which induced a radical de-
partui-e from Washington and his compatriots, and Madison
and his compatriots. Two objects were to be accomplished
by it. It was :

1st. To diminish the circulation of bank paper.

2d. To increase the circulation of specie.

Now, how have these been accomplished ? What has been
the result? I have from 1832 seen the result. Although
not a prophet, I have foretold it. I knew, as well as man
could know what is to take place in the future, that what has
happened would happen. It is notorious that since the mo-
ment when General Jackson first manifested a disposition to
put an end to the Bank of the United States, the banking cap-
ital of the country has increased more than threefold. The
determination to destroy the national institution was the signal
at which thousands of individuals went forward to establish
new banks and to pour new issues of paper into circulation.
They moved, too, with confidence, for they knew very well
that when General Jackson put his foot down against any-
thing, he was in no hurry to take it up again.

The other object was to increase the circulation of specie, to
put more money in our pockets, to enable the gold to peep
through " interstices of our long silken purses," and to " flow
up the Mississippi." But has this object been attained ? Has
not the result of the " experiment " already been, that there is no
specie in the country at all ? Why, when we meet an eagle we
meet him as a stranger, or as a long absent friend, and ask
him how he has been.

Then the result of the " experiment " has been a threefold in-
crease of bank paper, and not a dollar of specie to be had.

For his part Mr. Webster said he regarded this whole ex-
periment as a rash and presumptuous innovation ; as an
instance of self-respect, self-confidence, and self-sufiiciency, as
extraordinary in its original character as it was calamitous in
its results. He did not understand how any public man could
justify himself in carrying on such experiments upon the hap-
piness, the prosperity, the business, and the means of living
of twelve millions of people.

As to the two proposed objects, his own opinion was not that

9^ Addresses Hitherto Uncollected

the State banks are to be crushed, or unnecessarily or injuri-
ously cramped in their operations. Far from it ! But still it
was the duty of Government, by some institution, or some
measures of its own, to endeavor to keep their issues within
reasonable bounds, and to save the country from a flood of ir-
redeemable paper.

As to coming to an exclusive metallic circulation, he had
always regarded it as a chimera, impossible, and perfect folly.
He was astonished that any sensible man should indulge either
the hope or the desire for such a state of things. There is but
80 much specie in the world, and we can only have our propor-
tion of it.

It was boasted that we had eighty millions of specie in the
country. Suppose it were a hundred ; and suppose we could
retain that amount, and use it as a currency. It would be
totally insufficient to carry on the business of the country in-
dependent of the use of any bank paper, without such a reduc-
tion of prices as no society or community would submit to. If
we were to establish an exclusive metallic currency, I doubt
whether the wheat of the county of Monroe would be worth
more than twenty-five or thirty cents a bushel. It is no answer
to this to say that other things would fall in price in the same
ratio. If we were now beginning anew, if we were now just
setting up a community, such an idea would have weight in it.
But we have a community formed, with all the numerous rela-
tions of debtor and creditor. Men have entered into contracts
to pay dollars, not bushels of wheat ; and having made these
contracts when wheat was a dollar a bushel, what right has the
Government, by an experimental alteration of its money sys-
tem, arbitrarily, and without regard to production, to consump-
tion, or to supply, to reduce the price to twenty-five cents ?
According to the average price of produce, the farmer pays his
debt of a dollar with one bushel of wheat. But if this new
system should be established, he would be obliged to give four
bushels of wheat to pay the same amount of debt.

Such a contraction of currency would cause a revolution.
No nation on earth could stand it. Turkey herself would re-
volt. The notion, therefore, of an exclusive metallic currency,
in the present state of things, was ridiculous. It was mere

Speech at Rochester, N. Y. 97

solemn trifling with matters of high public interest. It was
political quackery in one of its worst forms. Its adoption
would ruin commerce and prostrate the manly vigor of the

But suppose an exclusive specie circulation to be practicable,
it would be in every way objectionable. It exists but in the
despotisms of the East. If introduced here, it would throw all
commercial power into the hands of the sleepy aristocrat. It
would cut up by the roots all the hopes of those, in every part
of the country, who, though without capital in money, are yet
young, enterprising, industrious, and stirring to gain respect-
able livelihoods.

We may say as often as we please that " those who trad^
on borrowed capital ought to break ; " but it is an absurd sen-
timent from whosesoever mouth it falls, and it is not at all con-
sistent with our American practice or our American policy.
The United States have acted, and acted most advantageously,
on a system of regulated credit. The Government itself began
on credits. Its first breath — the earliest inflation of its infant
lungs — was credit. By credit it funded the debt of the Revo-
lution, and so provided for its payment. On credit it opened
the custom-house and wooed the spirit of commercial enter-
prise. On credit it made the earliest disposition of its public
lands ; and this credit it has sought to maintain by just laws,
by sound principles, by the inviolability of contract, and by
sustaining a sound, uniform national currency. The discounts
of the banks have enlarged this credit; and, while within
proper bounds, their operation is useful, especially in those
parts of the country which are new and most deficient in ac-
cumulated capital.

Credit, reasonable and just credit, has cleared these for-
ests, opened these roads, constructed this canal, built these
mills, erected these palaces, and given being to this important
city, hardly reduced from the wilderness thirty years ago. He
who decries the use of credit reviles the history of the whole
country. He is a man who says in effect that these great im-
provements ought not to have been undertaken ; and that canals
and railroads, flour mills and cities, are not blessings, but afflic-
tions. Depend upon it, if we were to come to an exclusive

VOL. I. — 7

9^ Addresses Hitherto Uncollected

gold and silver currency, we should throw all these things into
the hands of lazy, aristocratic accumulated capital. Most rich
capitalists are drones. They are not working bees. They live
upon the accumulated honey of the industrious ; but to a ten-
fold greater extent would they do so if the system of credit
was abolished. Enterprise and industry, with no assistance
but honesty, good habits, and a spirit of improvement, would
be crushed by the same blow that would demolish credit. You
all act upon credit. Is it not so ? We can, therefore, never

Online LibraryDaniel WebsterThe writings and speeches of Daniel Webster → online text (page 10 of 54)