Deposits. --System of Credit --Mercantile Failures. --Principle of Federal Bank. --Paper Money. --Safety Fund of New York. --Fallacies about Bankers. --Whigs and Tories --Mr. Van Buren; rejected by the Senate. --Reasons. --Senate not aristocratical. --Party Feeling. --Post Office. --Purity of Bag secured. --Franking. --Assaults upon Members: --Duelling. --President Jackson a Soul-driver. --Abolition of Slave-trade. --Principles of Federal Union illusory.
THE government deposits were removed from the custody of the Bank of the United States about the beginning of October 1833. From that time to April 1st, 1834, the Bank reduced its loans to the amount of rather more than five millions and a half of dollars; while it underwent, during the same period, a reduction of the public moneys of 7,778,403 dollars.
According to Mr. Hardin, (representative from Kentucky,) the whole amount of deposits removed or withheld from the bank was 11,485,525 dollars. The "pet" banks (as those were called to which they were transferred) had but 3,386,309 dollars in specie in their vaults, while the notes they had issued amounted to more than ten millions. It was objected to the Bank of the United States, that there were ten millions of dollars lying in its vaults, at the time when the removal of the public revenues took place. It seemed as if the executive indignation increased with the security of the treasure he wished to protect, and could only be appeased by its destruction. The Manhattan Bank, at New York, which is under the influence of a foreigner, (Lord Carmarthen,) got the largest share of the government favors, though its specie was but 208,545 dollars, while its notes were 468,422 --a sorry equivalent for 2,149,011 dollars, which were entrusted to its custody by the guardian of the national purse.
The president, in his veto message, after declaring that the Bank of the United States makes by its monopoly, greater profits than any other corporate establishment; and that more than one-fourth of the stock-holders are foreigners; infers, from the competition which had recently led almost to riots, in order to obtain shares in the local banks, that there is abundance of capital in the country, sufficient to obtain subscriptions for two hundred millions of dollars to a national bank on constitutional principles. If this be the case, how comes it that American capitalists are contented with smaller profits to be had from other investments? And why should it be said, that "it would seem expedient to prohibit the sale of United States' bank stock to aliens under penalty of absolute forfeiture?" That capital should be abundant in a new country, possessed of boundless tracts of fertile land still unoccupied --where profits are high, population is increasing with a rapidity hitherto unknown, and every brick and every clod are mortgaged, to bring its physical powers into immediate exercise, involves a contradiction that implies either sinister design or extraordinary confusion of ideas. The appeal to vulgar prejudices that would reject capital because it is supplied by foreigners, is unworthy of a statesman, who ought to know, that to deprive the lender of the benefit he expects is to punish the borrower, who gains, in the difference between the interest he pays, and the profit he makes, what the merchant finds in the increased value of the goods he imports beyond what he has given in exchange. In the one case the foreign capital is in the money; in the other in the merchandize. In both it is accumulated labor from without, setting dormant labor to work within, --the products being shared between the respective proprietors. It is singular, that to lend capital to foreigners, is thought by many as inconsistent with true patriotism, as to borrow it of them appears to be to the President; as if it were not both natural and just, that those who suffer by having too much of a good thing, should send it to those who suffer by having too little; thus establishing a commerce of reciprocal accommodation and relief.
The "kitchen cabinet" and the colonization society emulate each other in absurdity. The latter would send away nearly three millions of its best hands, while the country is looking to Europe for fresh importations of labor; and the former would refuse capital from abroad, though every one is crying out that the suffering is intolerable for want of it at home.
The business of England may be said to be carried on by stored labor, and that of the United States by contingent labor; the one being as much characterised by an excess of capital, as the other by the want of it. The results in each correspond with these peculiarities; and the competition to escape from low profits, is as great as that to make high profits. The system of trading upon credit has, in the latter country, been carried to a ruinous extent. The facility with which bills are endorsed, and mutual accommodation procured, has exposed commerce to reverses and expedients unknown in the old world; and the tendency to erect mercantile enterprise on the basis of borrowing, is such as to present the spectacle of a nation, composed, in a great degree, of individuals who have mortgaged their bones and muscles to the exigencies and speculations of the moment.
It will be apparent to every one, that the slightest shock given to any part of such a system, would be communicated with electric rapidity throughout the whole. What, then, must have been the confusion and consternation, when the great sensorium, by which the action of every bank, and the movement of every member of the commercial body, corporate or individual, are regulated, was suddenly and violently attacked? No sooner was it known that the government had withdrawn its cash and its confidence from the federal bank, than a curtailment of discounts, an inability to meet existing engagements and an unwillingness to afford the usual accommodations, produced an universal demand for money, and a necessary enhancement of its price. Every day announced the fall of some establishment or some house, that in other times might easily have extricated itself from its difficulties. The frequency of failures was such as to become the first subject of inquiry and the chief topic of conversation. The resentment of the president increased with the indignation his conduct excited every where, and the unflinching firmness exhibited by the enemy. The bank would not submit to be his tool; and the merchants would not sacrifice themselves to his anger and his ambition. The capitalists and shopkeepers could not see the advantages of his great "experiment" --they did not believe that banks grow wealthy at the expense of the community --that the rich oppress the poor, and that a metallic currency is alone suited to a young and commercial country.
As each State has its own banking system, the inconvenience arising from the diversity of value that difference of situation, of industry, or of prudence, stamps upon their respective currencies, is such as to require some common standard, the fluctuations of which may vary with the general condition only of the country, and not be subject, like local notes, to a discount in one place, while it is at par, or at a premium, in another.
There is some sort of analogy between the Bank of the United States and the supreme court; the former performing similar functions towards the local establishments, that the latter does towards the States themselves. The paper of the one, and the decisions of the other, are current throughout the Union; because the one is received in payment of taxes, and the other admit of no appeal; while the banks and courts peculiar to each member of the confederation, put forth nothing binding, beyond their respective limits, upon the citizens of their common country. A superintending power is required, as much to balance fluctuating values, as to regulate conflicting claims; and a standard, by which the rights of all, whether political or pecuniary, may be definitely adjusted and assimilated, is equally indispensable. Before the present Bank of the United States was organized, the exchanges in Philadelphia were, with Boston seventeen per-cent., with New York nine and a half per cent., with Baltimore four and a half, with Washington seven, and with Charleston six and a half per cent. They have since been either at par, or below one per-cent. Such was the Report of the Board of Directors in 1831. An instrument better fitted to consolidate and harmonize the jarring elements of the commercial world could hardly have been invented; --and the constitution will be no longer worth preserving, when it falls by a weapon of its own creation.
Though President Jackson and his organs of the press, both high and low, are declared enemies of paper money, yet his chief supporters not only maintain the system he attacks, but derive the principal means of the strength they exert in his favor, from a most cunningly devised scheme for the perpetuation of what he professes to detest. I allude to the safety fund of New York; a sort of political lever, by which the Albany regency can move the whole State at its pleasure. This was adopted in 1819. All banking corporations, subsequently created or rechartered, are obliged to contribute to it. The amount of their aggregate capital is 22,730,264 dollars. Sixty-nine banks are subject to it, and ten not so. Nearly twenty-eight millions of capital belong to the State banks. Since these calculations, however, were made, new establishments have been formed, and the number of applications to the legislature for a charter seems to be increasing. Each of the tributary banks pays one-half per cent. on its capital, till the whole contribution amounts to three per-cent.; and, in case of failure, it has a claim on the fund for all its debts beyond its assets. The interest of this fund belongs to the contributors, in proportion to what they have advanced; and all deficiencies in the capital, arising from the discharge of its obligations towards insolvents, are made up by further levies, according to the former ratio. The whole fund is about 300,000 dollars.
Of course there is much diversity of opinion with respect to the expediency and justice of this system; and party feeling is imputed alike to its advocates and its opponents; the latter viewing it as a dangerous instrument in the hands of the Albany regency, and the former representing it as a weapon of defence against the "Mammoth" Bank of the United States. It would require a more intimate knowledge of the position and politics of the country, than a stranger may be supposed to possess, to strike the balance exactly between these conflicting accusations, and decide whether Nicholas Biddle is more likely to upset the constitution, by awing the State banks, and corrupting the Congress, than Martin Van Buren by giving charters to the one, and sending members to the other, as may best serve the objects of his ambition. It seems, however, to be a fair objection to the system, that the benefits of this "mutual insurance" are all on one side; --that the rich are made to pay for the poor; and the weakest establishments are supported at the expense of the strongest. The paternal interposition of government has thus the usual effect of producing the very evil it was intended to prevent or remedy; by making the protection it offers an inducement to the speculation it professes to limit, and checking the natural check to over issues, which would have been found in the fear of loss it has removed, and the jealousy of rivals it has disarmed.
A statement made, about the time of these discussions upon the bank questions, in the legislature of Massachusetts, by one of the members, (Mr. Cushing,) affords a sufficient answer to the assertion, so confidently made by the Jackson party, that banking establishments are made to enrich the wealthy by the plunder of the poor. Out of 10,000 shares in a bank, the books of which he had himself inspected, Mr. Cushing found that 2834 belonged to women, trustees and guardians; --2247 to public institutions; --1551 to capitalists; --and the remaining 3360 to persons in the industrious classes of society.
The two great parties, by which the country is rather distracted than divided, are known by the appellation of Whigs and Tories; --to designate the opponents and the friends of the existing administration. They are animated with as much rancor towards each other as their prototypes; --but not with equal benefit to the community, who have no privileges to gain as the price of siding with either.
The hostility that exists between them is embittered by considerations of a personal nature; more particularly those connected with the change of ministers that followed their declining to visit the wife of one of them, (Mr. Eaton,) and the refusal of the senate to confirm Mr. Van Buren's, appointment as minister to England. The influence of the latter "at court" appears to have been strengthened in both cases; though he was but a mediator in the one, while he was the principal actor in the other. The president, no doubt, found an additional reason for his favor and support in the injustice which his party loudly proclaimed had been done to his secretary on this occasion. Yet the objections, upon which the senate's refusal was grounded, were of such a nature as to place them beyond the limits of mere party feeling. It was alleged against Mr. Van Buren, that he had compromised the dignity of the republic, by exposing the dissensions which existed in it, and by claiming a sort of merit with a foreign power for the adoption of a more conciliatory tone on the part of the government, for which he was acting, than had been shewn by its predecessor.
In allusion to the protracted difficulties to which the trade between the United States and our West Indian possessions had given rise, the secretary of state (Mr. Van Buren) had instructed Mr. M'Lane, the American minister at the Court of St. James's, to comply with the conditions proposed. The following language was employed by him, while speaking of the course pursued by the former administration on the subject of the colonial trade: --"Their views upon that point have been submitted to the people of the United States; and the counsels by which your conduct is now directed, are the result of the judgment expressed by the only earthly tribunal to which the late administration is amenable for its acts. It should be sufficient that the claims, set up by them, and which caused the interruption of the trade in question, have been explicitly abandoned by those who first asserted them, and are not revived by their successors. If Great Britain deems it adverse to her interests to allow us to participate in the trade with her colonies, and finds nothing, in the extension of it to others, to induce her to apply the same rule to us, she will, we hope, be sensible of the propriety of placing her refusal on those grounds. To set up the acts of the late administration as the cause of the forfeiture of privileges which would, otherwise be extended to the people of the United States, would, under existing circumstances, be unjust in itself, and could not fail to excite their deepest sensibility. The tone of feeling, which a course so unwise and untenable is calculated to produce, would doubtless be greatly aggravated by the consciousness that Great Britain has, by order in council, opened her colonial ports to Russia and France, notwithstanding a similar omission on their part, to accept the terms offered by the act of July, 1825.
"You cannot press this view of the subject too earnestly upon the consideration of the British ministry. It has bearings and relations that reach beyond the immediate question under discussion."
In another passage the secretary says: --"I will add nothing as to the impropriety of suffering any feelings that find their origin in the past pretensions of this government, to have an adverse influence upon the present conduct of Great Britain."
Mr. Van Buren now presides over the deliberations of that very body which declared him unworthy of representing the nation at a foreign court, and acts as the head of an assembly, which his party have denounced as aristocratical and arbitrary: not that there is any ground for the imputation, but because it stands in the way of their designs. The senate represents the States as the other house represents individuals; and the federal equality could no more exist without it, than the constitution could be impartially and equitably administered without a judiciary of ultimate appeal in the supreme court of the federal union.
Among the resolutions which were passed by the seventh ward of the city of New York, preparatory to the charter elections, was the following: --"That in Martin Van Buren, Vice-President of the United Rtes, elected by the people in REBUKE to preside ever the aristocratic branch of our government, not elected by the people, we place entire confidence, and we have no fears but that the vessel of the state," &c.
There is no analogy whatever between the Senate of the United States and the British House of Peers; nor can there be a grosser imposition upon the publie mind, than that which is involved in the attempt made by the Van Burenites to convict it, whether in its structure or its functions, of aristocratic tendencies. It is essential to the stability of an union between independent republics; as, by equality of State representation, it confers on the citizens, taken collectively, the same equality which they have individually through the other legislative body. With aspect to rights, the States are thus placed in the the relation to each other, as their constituent parts stand in among themselves: and the whole body is balanced by the same principle that regulates and controls its members. The mode of their election cannot confer a new nature upon the members of the senate, or convert the representatives of democratic legislatures into aristocratic functionaries.
Party feeling is the bane of the country; and its tools are purchased at the expense of the community. Its lamentable effects may be seen in the embarrassed state of the post office; the appointments to which are too often decided by political preferences. "Every deputy postmaster is directed" --such was the assertion publicly made by Mr. Burges, at a dinner given to him at New York, in 1831, --"to insert in his return the title of every newspaper received at his office for distribution." When Mr. M'Lean, in 1829, left the department, in which he was not thought sufficiently pliable, and was promoted to the bench of the supreme court, the duties of postmaster-general, during the vacancy, which continued a month, were performed by Mr. Bradley, who had been the senior assistant for thirty years. Mr. Bradley was displaced from his office, without any cause being assigned, and after the nomination of Mr. Barry to the head of the department. In a letter to the president, after his dismissal, among other charges of prodigality which he alleged against Mr. Barry, the late assistant postmaster accused him of having made an extra allowance to a mail-contractor without warrant of law. The charge was retorted on the accuser; and upon inquiry, it came out, before a sub-committee of the Senate, that no less than thirty-six cases of the same kind, involving an amount of nearly 40,000 dollars, existed. In all of these, erasures had been made in the book, of "Abstracts of Allowance"; and the name of Bradley substituted for those of M'Lean and Barry, by whom the allowance had, in fact, been made, and who had been, long before this, presented to the president for extravagance on this very account. The Senate, finding that the postmaster-general had, in answer to their call, sent them mutilated and false documents, refused to print the report of the committee on the post-office department, as it contained unfounded aspersions on the character of a public servant --Mr. M'Lean having declared that he had never made an allowance while he was in the office of postmaster-general. Mr. Clayton, a member of the post-office committee, observed in the Senate, last session, that the abuses in that department were too numerous to be ever ascertained. The fire at the Treasury office was found very convenient as an excuse for the nonproduction of papers and documents; though the president had stated, in his message to congress, that none were lost which would materially affect the public interest.
More public functionaries are said to have been displaced by the present administration than by all the preceding presidents collectively.
The rapidity with which the post-office has extended its fibres over the body politic of the Union, and the increase of returns, which has marked its circulation, are truly astonishing. At the commencement, of the century, there were but 903 offices attached to this department. In 1833, there were 10,127. At the former period, the distance travelled over by the mails was 20,817 miles; and the amount of postage, 280,804 dollars, leaving a net revenue of 66,810 dollars. At the latter period, the number of miles had increased to 119,916; and the receipts to 2,616,538 dollars; --leaving, thanks to the liberal management of Mr. Barry, a balance against the Treasury of 192,135 dollars. On the 1st of July, 1833, the whole ground annually passed over by the mail had nearly doubled itself in four years, being 26,854,485 miles. The amount of the receipts for the year ending with March, 1833, was, according to a report laid before Congress by the postmaster-general, 1,701,332 dollars. Of this sum the city of New York alone paid more than one tenth; and the State nearly one fourth. The number of post-offices was 9550.
Congress is as suspicious and distrustful of the colored people as Canterbury. The following is a copy of a letter from the postmaster-general, in 1828, to one of his subordinates in Connecticut:
"Sir, --The mail must not, in any case whatever, be in the custody of a colored person. If a colored person is employed to lift the mail from the stage into the postoffice, it does not pass into his custody; but the labor is performed in the presence and under the immediate direction of the white person who has it in custody: but if a colored person takes it from a tavern, and carries it himself to the post-office, it comes into his custody during the time of carrying it, --which is contrary to law. I am, &c. John M'Lean."
Who would believe that there existed a civilized nation, where it is illegal for any but a "white person" to carry a heavy bag, locked, chained, and studded with nails! --Nimium ne crede colori! While the black man is prohibited from carrying the mail, the white man plunders its contents. Instances were frequently mentioned in the newspapers, of postmasters who had been detected in embezzling money from letters entrusted to their care. No less than twelve cases, it was stated, occurred within six months to the east of Portland, in the State of Maine.
There was a deficit in the department of nearly 40,000 dollars in 1823. The postmaster attributed it to the delinquencies committed by the lower functionaries. "It is expected," he said, in his circular to the contractors for the mail, "that those postmasters who have appropriated the public money to their own use, and have for years exhibited but little disposition to refund it, will pay their respective balances without delay." This is almost as bad as if the unhallowed hand of an "African" had laid hold of the bag!
The postmaster-general has the appointment of all the subordinate postmasters throughout the Union. This patronage gives him immense power and influence; and, as he is removable by the Executive, the latter has in his hands an instrument, which a man, who is disposed to put his own arbitrary spirit into the letter of his prerogative, will not scruple to use, to strengthen his party. These "dovecotes" have been terribly "fluttered" under the present administration: --a summary mode of persuasion to "all in authority under them." A man must have a pure skin to carry the bag; but will a pure conscience keep him in the place where it is deposited? Members of both houses of Congress have, during the session, and for both the periods of six weeks that precede and follow it, the unlimited privilege of franking letters; and are, many of them, as little scrupulous in converting what was granted for public purposes, to objects of private benefit, as their brother legislators in England. Mr. Barry, soon after his appointment to the office he now holds, stated in his circular to those under him, that it was a subject of no little regret, to observe, on entering upon his ofcial duties, that much loss had been sustained by the abuse of the franking privilege.
Among those who fell victims to the cholera last year at Huron, in the State of Ohio, was a lawyer of the name of Robinson, from Vermont. Among his papers were found forty sheets of blank letter-paper, bearing the frank of the Honorable Mr. Plummer, Member of Congress from Mississippi. In his trunk there were political letters, addressed to him by various correspondents, all franked by the same honorable member. "It was ascertained" (says the Albany Evening Post, Aug. 1834) "that Mr. Robinson had put in, and taken out of, the post-office several letters, all bearing the same frank."
Liberty of speech can hardly be said to exist in a legislative body, which cannot, or will not, protect its members from insult and outrage, whether within or without its walls. In the summer of 1832, the Globe, a government paper, publicly accused Mr. Poindexter, and others of the "Calhoun side of the coalition," of having, during the winter preceding, sent challenges to their fellow members while sitting in their places in the house. A short time before,William Stanberry, a member of the house of representatives, was, to use his own words in his letter to the Speaker, "waylaid in the street, near his boarding-house, about eight o'clock, and attacked, knocked down by a bludgeon, and severely bruised and wounded by Samuel Houston, for words spoken in his place in the house of representatives; by reason of which beating he was confined to his bed, and unable to discharge his duties in the house, and attend to the interests of his constituents." On investigation, it appeared that two or three persons were present when the assault was made; and though the beating was continued, with the consequent struggle, for some time, no one interposed to separate the parties engaged; of whom the one attacked drew forth a pistol, with which he was provided in anticipation of the outrage, and snapped it, without effect, at his aggressor. The matter was laid before the house, and, several long and adjourned discussions ensued, during which the accused (who had been formerly a member of the house) was permitted to cross-examine the witnesses upon points, bearing not only upon the assault, but upon matters which might be presumed to have led to it; and the other party endeavored to remove, by testimony, any impression that circumstances "calculated to throw disgrace and ridicule" upon him, as they were said to have occurred during the rencontre, might have left. The whole resulted in a reprimand from the Speaker, and a discharge from the custody of the sergeant-at-arms, to which the assailant had been committed. During the examination, the prisoner was allowed to put the following question from the bar of the house to one of the witnesses, an intimate friend of Mr. Stanberry, whose feelings must have been much hurt by the answer given: --"Did or did not Colonel Buckner remark to you that Mr. Stanberry behaved very cowardly, and begged very much; and that he deserved a good whipping for not making a better fight, --or words to that effect? --and did you not express to Colonel Buckner your regret at the conduct of said Stanberry, as related by Buckner in that affair?"
The following protest, from Mr. Houston, was entered
on the journal of the house; Mr. Archer having assured the members, before
it was read, that it contained nothing disrespectful: --
"To the Honorable the House, &c.
"The accused, now at the bar of the House, asks leave respectfully to state: --
"That he understands he is now brought before the House to receive a reprimand from the Speaker, in execution of the sentence pronounced upon him. Was he to submit in silence to such a sentence, it might imply that he recognized the authority of the ,house to impose it. He cannot consent that it shall be thus implied. He considers it a mode of punishment unknown to our laws; and if not forbidden by the prohibition of the constitution against 'unusual punishments', yet inconsistent with the spirit of our institutions, and unfit to be inflicted upon a free citizen.
"He thinks proper to add, in making this declaration, that he has been unwilling to trouble the House. That, though he believes the whole proceeding against him, as well as the sentence he now, objects to, unwarranted by the constitution of his country; yet circumstances may exist to justify or excuse a citizen in determining (as he has done on this occasion) to suffer in silent patience whatever the House may think proper to enforce. Samuel Houston."
After this business had been disposed of, Mr. Cooke, of Ohio, produced the following letter, which was read to the House at the clerk's table.
"HON. E. COOKE.
On the 15th of May, Mr. Arnold was assaulted by a man of the name of Heard, who had, a few days previously, accosted him and threatened to "whip" him, for having abused his friend Mr. Houston so severely. On his way home, according to the United States' Telegraph, "he was assaulted by Morgan A. Heard, who aimed a blow at his head with a large stick. Mr. Arnold dodged the blow, and immediately struck the stick from his adversary's hands; whereupon Heard drew a large duelling pistol, cut down to about eight inches in the barrel, carrying an ounce ball; and, after taking deliberate aim, fired; the ball passing through the sleeve of the right arm, just above the elbow, ranging up to the shoulder, and carrying away part of the coat and shirt; and lacerating the arm. Mr. Arnold, finding Heard armed with a pistol, followed up his blows with a light sword-cane, until the scabbard flew off; and, having several times knocked him down, was in the attitude of piercing him with the sword, when his arm was arrested by General Duncan, of Illinois."
Bills of indictment were found by the grand jury for the county of Washington, against Houston and Heard for assault with intent to kill; but what was the result I know not.
Severe laws have been passed in the different States against duelling; but they are constantly broken or evaded. Difficulty of procuring evidence, or change of territory, shelters the offenders. And it will always be so while public opinion, however wrong, has more terrors than remorse for acknowledged guilt. Besides, the punishment that the law inflicts falls on the wrong object. It is not he who fights, but he who would condemn him for not fighting, that ought to be its victim. Though very common in the South, duelling is scarcely ever practised in the North, where no laurels are to be gained, and no danger to be arrested, by an exhibition of physical courage. The melancholy sacrifice of one of the best public men, by the hand of one of the worst, has not tended to lessen the disinclination of settling disputes by single combat. Hamilton left on record the disapprobation he had always felt against a practice which Burr turned into a weapon of destruction against him. Who is to blame, if a degraded statesman seeks to wash his character in the blood of an opponent, and picks out the most estimable citizen as the object of his vengeance? The world will give him credit for personal bravery, when he has lost his character for political principle or consistency. The distinction between public and private virtue is fatal to both, by covering the loss of either with the semblance of the other. Hence it is that convicted swindlers become patriots, and a corruptionist blusters about his honor, or cants about his religion.
When Mr. Clay had fought with John Randolph, he said publicly, "I owe it to the community to say, that, whatever heretofore I may have done, or by inevitable circumstances may be forced to do, no man in it holds in deeper abhorrence than I do, the pernicious practice of duelling. Condemned, as it must be, by the judgment and philosophy, to say nothing of the religion, of every thinking man, --it is an affair of feeling, about which we cannot, although we should, reason. The true corrective will be found when all shall unite, as all ought to unite, in its unqualified proscription." In other words, no one will practise it when no one will practise it. Public opinion will triumph then, as it does now, and for the same reason, because those who are falsely supposed to direct it will not dare to oppose it. To defer the exercise of moral courage till it is not wanted, is to encourage the weakness, against which it should be directed: --a weakness that will never cease while men condemn it and yield to it at the same time, without fear of being laughed at.
Hamilton, before he went out with Burr, who shot him, declared that his religious and moral principles were strongly opposed to duelling. After he had received the fatal wound, he said, "I view the late transaction with sorrow and contrition." This cowardly fear of being thought cowardly, is like our vulgar fear of being thought vulgar.
The accusation of encouraging assaults upon his political opponents, is not the only, or perhaps the most unfavorable, imputation upon the character of the president; though an expression he once used, in speaking of these or similar quarrels, that they ought to be settled in "red ink," implies an atrocity of disposition that may set at defiance any act of his life. I allude to a letter which appeared in May 1828, in the National Journal of Tennessee. The following is a copy:--
"I have been charged with dealing in slaves, by the partizans of General Jackson. They know not on what slippery ground they tread. To them this should have been a tender point. They did not surely know that their own idol was himself once engaged to a considerable extent in this traffic of human flesh, --in the buying and selling of slaves for profit. And I can say with tenfold emphasis, in their own language, 'this charge is not lightly made.' Deny it if he dare.
In another journal, the Political Examiner, appeared a communication from Major M'Ilhenny. "In the year 1811," says the Major, "I was stationed with the troops at Washington cantonment, Mississippi territory. General Jackson spent three or four days in our cantonment in quarters with Colonel Purdy, who commanded a battalion of the 7th regiment of infantry from Tennessee. The General was then a militia officer; and, during his stay, was exceedingly attentive to our drills. Some time after the visit of General Jackson to our cantonment, being in the village of Washington, (Mississippi territory,) where the legislature had convened, and in company with C. Meade, Speaker of the house of delegates; Silas Dinsmore, Choctaw agent; and several of my brother officers, --the good effects resulting from an arrangement to carry passports, when passing through the Indian nation, was spoken of. A number of deserters from the army, runaway negroes, kidnappers, horse-thieves, and many others, fugitives from justice, had been arrested at the agency, or in the nation; and it was stated by some gentlemen present, that the members from the upper part of the territory, who had taken their seats in the legislature, had carried their passports with them, in conformity with this happy arrangement. Mr. Dinsmore then related the following anecdote of General Jackson; who, he said, in passing down with a drove of negroes, halted at the agency to refresh. Being about to proceed, Mr. Dinsmore observed that it was necessary for persons passing through the nation to shew their passports. General Jackson replied, that "General Jackson required no passport to travel through the Indian nation." Mr. Dinsmore said that he did not know General Jackson from any other man; and that demanding his passport was in conformity with instructions from the war department. By this time the General, having sent forth his negroes, had mounted his horse; and, laying his hand upon his pistols, significantly replied, "these are General Jackson's passports."
Most of the presidents have been slave-owners: the present is the first slave-driver.
These facts, while brought forward to serve an electioneering purpose, shew both the character of the chief magistrate, and the low estimation in which his former employment is held by the public.
The slave-trade was abolished by Congress in 1808: --on the first day of which year, the act for its suppression came into operation. It was not, however, till 1819, that the power previously given to the States, into which slaves should be illegally introduced, to dispose of them according to their good will and pleasure, was withdrawn; and the president authorized and required to restore them to their country*.
As the Americans claim credit for putting a stop to the traffic, it may not be amiss to ask, what they did for the protection of its victims? When we find that they were placed at the mercy of the very persons who were most interested in abusing the trust, we are compelled to doubt either their good sense or their sincerity. The act of Congress, which prohibited the introduction of slaves from abroad into the United States, declared that, in case of infraction, all title in the importer should be null and void; and every person thus imported, should "remain subject to any regulation, not contravening the provisions of this act, that the legislature of the several States or territories (into which they shall be introduced) at any time hereafter may make for disposing of such negro, mulatto, or person of color." The effect of this clause was such as ought to have been foreseen. One case will be sufficient to place its tendency in its true light. In 1817, a slave-ship that had been sent to Africa by a Spaniard at the Havana, of the name of Madrazo, was returning to Cuba with her cargo, when she was captured by an American vessel, which had been fitted out at Baltimore, and the negroes on board were sold by Commodore Aury to a man of the name of Bowen. By the latter they were taken to Georgia, and delivered over, by the custom-house officer who had seized them, to the State government. And here we shall see how these miserable beings, who had thus escaped from the Charybdis of the middle passage, fell into the clutches of this merciless, murderous Scylla. The legislature immediately placed them at the disposal of the Governor, authorizing him to sell them for the benefit of the State, or transfer them on certain conditions to the Colonization Society. Part of them were sold; and the State had the benefit of 38,000 dollars by the sale. The rest, about twenty in number, were claimed by the Colonization Society. Thus stood the affair, when, at three different periods in 1820, and the following year, three applications were made to the district court of the State; by the Governor, Madrazo, and Bowen; the former requesting authority to make over the slaves that remained to the Society, --and the two latter claiming, under suitable pretences and allegations, their right to the "property" thus seized and disposed of. The district court having directed that the Governor's former acts should be confirmed, and his application granted, dismissed the claims of the others. An appeal was then made by the latter to the Circuit Court, which affirmed the decree affecting Bowen's case, but reversed that bearing upon Madrazo's, declaring him to be entitled to the whole, --both the slaves that remained, and an equivalent for those that had been sold. The matter was ultimately brought, by appeal, before the Supreme Court of the United States; where, after a discussion about jurisdiction, the judgment was against both Madrazo and Bowen, and the "thirty pieces of silver" remained in the treasury of the commonwealth of Georgia. The decision was in 1828.
* Up to the year 1830, 252 Africans had, in pursuance of the act suppressing the slave-trade, been sent to Liberia, at an expense of 264,710 dollars. Though the authority given to the president was limited to the support of the captured slaves till their return to Africa, yet it had been the practice to furnish them with provisions, &c., during a period varying from six to twelve months. The navy department, however, resolved, as the secretary stated in his report for that year, that the law would, in future, be executed according to its restricted acceptation; and that every effort would be made to confine the application of the funds destined for this purpose within the pale of its provisions.
When, in 1824, a convention was agreed on between Great Britain and the United States, for the suppression of the slave-trade, by granting a reciprocal right of search between the vessels of the two nations, the good faith of the latter, in their efforts to put a stop to this piratical traffic, was fairly put to the test. The second article of the convention purported that "the commanders and commissioned officers of each of the two high contracting parties, duly authorised, &c., to cruize on the coast of Africa, of America, and of the West Indies, for the suppression of the slave-trade, shall be empowered, &c., to detain, examine, capture, and deliver over for trial and adjudication, by some competent tribunal, of whichever of the two countries it shall be found, on examination, to belong to, any ship or vessel concerned in the illicit traffic of slaves, and carrying the flag of the other, or owned by any subjects or citizens of either of the two contracting parties; except when in the presence of a ship of war of its own nation," &c. The words "of America" were struck out in the Senate by a majority of 23 to 20; while a motion that was made to strike out the words "and of the West Indies", was negatived by 29 to 14. With two or three other "amendments", the ratification of the convention was agreed to. After this alteration, however, our Government declined acceding to the treaty. It is a memorable fact, that the first person convicted of having been engaged in the slave-trade, which an act of Congress had declared to be piracy, was pardoned by the president.
If the Southerners are not much belied, this execrable traffic is still carried on by them. It can hardly be otherwise, considering the high price of slaves, and the facilities afforded to smuggling by the vicinity of Cuba. During the discussions which the Missouri questions gave rise to, it was openly stated in Congress, that 12,000 slaves had been brought illicitly into the southern States during the course of one year. "We have," said Mr. Justice Story, in his charge to the grand jury, at Boston, in 1819, "but too many melancholy proofs, from unquestionable sources, that it (the slave-trade) is still carried on with all the implacable ferocity and insatiable rapacity, of former times. Avarice has grown more subtle in its evasions, and watches and seizes its prey with an appetite quickened rather than suppressed by its guilty vigils. American citizens are steeped to their very mouths (I scarcely use too bold a figure) in this stream of iniquity. They throng to the coast of Africa, under the stained flags of Spain and Portugal; --sometimes selling abroad 'their cargoes of despair,' and sometimes bringing them into some of our southern ports; and there, under the forms of the law, defeating the purposes of the law itself, and legalising their inhuman, but profitable, adventures."
The way in which this traffic is carried on, is as follows: --An agent is despatched to Cuba or to Africa, for the purpose of purchasing slaves for the United States. As soon as the vessel arrives with its cargo off the Balize, the agent proceeds to New Orleans, and gives notice to the authorities of her arrival with an illegal freight. Proceedings are instituted against her, and, on her condemnation, the slaves are sold by public auction at a price considerably below their real value. The purchaser is, by previous agreement, the importer; and half the proceeds are pocketed by the informer; the other belonging to the general government. Not less than 10,000 were thus introduced in one year (1818). The statement was contradicted by a writer in the Federal Republican, though his admission that one sale had taken place in pursuance of the law on the subject, at prices amounting to 1000 dollars a-head*,
fully justifies any suspicion with regard to the fraud and collusion practised. In June 1821, no less than 109 negroes, that had been captured from a slaveship in 1818, were held as slaves in Alabama, subject to the decision of the Supreme Court, which had taken recognizances from their owners to produce them when demanded. In 1818, the collector of the customs at Darien delivered over to the Governor of Georgia 91 captured slaves; the Secretary of the Treasury (Mr. Crawford) not having favored him with any reply to a letter he wrote to him on the subject.
* These prices were most likely nominal only.
Since the law has undergone an alteration, evasion must find some other way to defeat its intentions.
That the destruction of human life in the South, whether from insufficient food, a pestilential climate, or severe labor, is so great as to keep up a constant demand from without, may be inferred from a statement in the New Orleans Argus of September, 1830. In order to shew that the cost of raising sugar is greater in Louisiana than in Cuba, the writer says, that a slave in the latter requires little or no clothing, and is fed for a trifle; whereas his food and clothing in the former cost fifty dollars per annum. He then adds: "the loss by death in bringing slaves from a northern climate, which our planters are under the necessity of doing, is not less than twenty-five per cent." If this estimate be correct, how can it be with truth asserted, that the slaves are happy, and well-treated? If it is not correct, what credit is to be given to any evidence from the same quarter? Why should the planter spare his "cattle", when the difference between the cost of rearing and of importing will more than cover the loss from "wear and tear"? Humanity has no place on the creditor side of his ledger. He will find it some day on the other.
While Louisiana turns smuggler, Virginia is seeking new markets. "Perhaps", says a citizen of the latter State, in a note to the American Quarterly Review (Sept. 1832), "one of the greatest blessings (if it could be reconciled to our consciences) which could be conferred on the southern parts of the Union, would arise, from the total abolition of the African slave-trade, and the opening of the West Indian and South American markets to our slaves. We do not believe that the deportation to any other quarter, or in any other way, can ever effect the slightest diminution." What a horrible suggestion! As for the scheme lessening the numbers, he who recommends it must well know, it would have a contrary effect. They would be exported, on one side, because the trade was profitable; and the profit would be a bonus upon production. They would be imported, on the other, because the price of the foreign article would be less than that of the homegrown; and the difference would be a bonus upon over-working. Hence destruction of life in the latter cast would be at once the effect and the cause of its increase in the former. What a detestable circle of crime and cruelty! Is it possible that a system, thus opposed to the best feelings of our nature, and destructive of those principles on which the wealth and welfare of nations depend, can much longer continue?
Nothing can be imagined more perfect
than the political mechanism of this republican confederation; whether
you look at the complexity of its structure or the simplicity of its action.
Each body moves in its own orbit, with periodical changes adapted
to its magnitude and condition; and all revolve together
round their common centre, without confusion or collision. The
federal form seems to secure the best check to the personal and social
infirmities of man. In his individual capacity, he is amenable to the State;
in his collective, to the general government. An analogous development
is given to his good qualities; and the same virtues which, when separately
exercised, might have created discord and bloodshed, produce, in
conjunction, peace and harmony. Such is the aspect presented by a distant
and general view. Upon a closer inspection, however, you discover a principle
that menaces the system with destruction or dissolution: you see the unequal
division of light and liberty between the North and the South; and approaching
separation casts her gloomy shadow before your eyes. You turn from the
prospect with the bitterest feelings of regret and disappointment.