Page images

usefulness to which uninterrupted Here it is proper to remark, that acts of duty would lead, he is re- the guilt of an act is enhanced by sponsible from day to day for the the apprehension of the agent that right use of all his powers. He is bad results may follow, although his bound, to the full extent of his ca. suspicion may be wholly groundless. pacity, to do good, and in all his acts Every circumstance which presents to obey God. At the last tribunal, to his mind a reason why the act he will be called to render an ac- ought not to be done, augments the count for the use of his powers at guilt of performing it. Hence the each successive period of his life, misdeeds of to-day may be loaded not for the use of powers which he with greater criminality than would might have attained, but for those be incurred by the agent if he could which he actually had. He will be foresee all the results. It is plain, held guilty for all the misconduct, if a person is subject to fits of insanas idleness, waste of time, intempe- ity, from the use of wine, that he rance, prodigality, impiety, which would contract far less guilt by dwarfed his powers, or prevented drinking to intoxication, if he could their full development; yet his guilt be positively assured he should do in these acts will be estimated, not no harm to others, than he actually by the actual results, but by the vi- incurs when he knows the result to olence with which, at the time of do- be uncertain. ing them, he resisted his obligations.


In 1838, when the capital of the of Pennsylvania. The credit of this then existing banking institutions in last institution was then unshaken, Mississippi amounted to forty five and these bonds were thrown immillions of dollars, the legislature mediately into the European mar. of that state incorporated the Mis- ket, and were there speedily dississippi Union Bank, with an addi- posed of to a large amount to purtional capital of fifteen and a half chasers; a small amount being at million dollars. The funds of this the same time sold in the United latter institution were not to be fur- States. The bonds were executed nished by stockholders, but were to in the proper form, pledging the be supplied by the state. For this faith of the state on their face, and purpose bonds to the amount of five there was nothing on their face millions of dollars, executed, as we

which could induce the purchaser suppose, in the usual form, and to inquire whether any conditions bearing date, June, 1838, were de- which had been originally prescrilivered under the law incorporating bed by the constitution or laws of the this institution, by the governor of state, as precedent to the validity of the state to the managers of the their sale and transfer, had been in bank. The managers sold these fact complied with. The great body bonds in August, to Mr. Biddle, the of these purchasers became so unpresident of the United States Bank doubtedly bona fide, buying the

bonds at the fair market price, and * The signification given to this word they were thus as they supposed, throughout the following article, has be- both equitably and legally, the credi. come so popular and almost technical, that no apology is supposed to be neces

tors of the state. When the interest sary for having adopted it here,

which was semi-annually payable

upon these bonds became due, the “ doubting whereunto this might pecuniary resources of the state had grow.” The first and, as was to become deeply embarrassed, and it be expected, the loudest of the comwas already apparent that her con- plainants were the purchasers of the nection with the Mississippi Union bonds. These, as has been already Bank was to be disastrous rather said, resided principally in different than beneficial. Certain of her countries in Europe, and they were leading politicians, among whom as composed of persons of every conit would seem the then governor, dition in life. Among them were McNutt, was foremost, soon began literary men, officers on half pay, to broach and then openly to de- and other persons whose resources fend the notion, that this interest were limited, most of whom had ought not to be paid, and that the bought these securities with as full entire sale of these bonds should confidence in the safety of the in. be considered fraudulent and void. vestment as if they had been deThis was unhappily soon made a positors in a savings bank. They party question, and a decided ma- had bought as in all other cases, jority of the people of the state relying on the good faith of the were speedily persuaded to sanc. state ; they had made a fair market tion this notion. The legislature purchase, and as confidently exwhich was afterwards elected, re- pected the interest to be paid as fused to make any provision for the do the creditors of the national debt payment of the interest upon these of England. And when their debtor, bonds ; and the governor subse. the state of Mississippi, in the exquently declared in a correspond. ercise of her sovereign pleasure, ence with Hope & Co., of Amster. had thus pronounced her own pubdam, that the state would never pay lic acts to be void, and had proeither the principal or the interest. claimed her own bonds to be noth. To this declaration, the state has ing better than brown paper, it was thus far literally adhered.

not strange that they should de. Events such as these could not oc. nounce these proceedings as a sys. cur, without producing a deep sen. tem of fraud. What participation, sation both in our own country and they exclaimed, could be charged in foreign lands. For a state to upon them in any unfaithfulness or violate its plighted faith was an al. bad management of the agents who most absolutely unknown event, the had originally disposed of the stock; Yazoo purchase, in which the legis- and what was this pretense of the lature of Georgia were the actors, state, but a mere cover for its own being the only other instance. And dishonesty ? as nearly half a century had elapsed Nor was the feeling of our own since this first precedent was set, citizens any less equivocal, so far and none of the sister republics had as it found expression. One mode ventured to follow the example, it of utterance has been that of the was universally deemed, as the law. press, and its voice has been that yers say, an anomalous case-to be of almost uniform condemnation. neither defended, nor cited. When Party spirit seems happily to have then the legislation of Georgia was slumbered upon this question, men thus revived in that of Mississippi, have tried the issue by the simple and this latter state thus openly pro standard of right and not by that claimed that the contracts which of momentary expediency, and they had been made by one legislature have come accordingly to the same might be nullified by a subsequent conclusion. Several of the legis. legislature, the least reflecting look. latures of other states have also ed on in surprise and perplexity, adopted solemn resolutions, virtually condemning the legislature of Mis- with as much respect by our money. sissippi, and have thus repudiated ed citizens, as the bonds of this in. Repudiation. And no formal, dis. dependent state. interested attempt has been made, Still more decided has been the so far as we are aware, to defend condemnatory voice from abroad. their conduct. If there have been The great bankers and other large apologies, they have been offered dealers in public stocks in Europe by the parties directly concerned disposed of the Mississippi bonds, in these proceedings ; or if others with the same confidence in the have stepped forward, the very de- good faith of the state which they fense has shown that the champion had so often previously given to was ashamed of his cause. So far that of the United States, or of the as the national feeling can be in- crowned heads of Europe, when ferred from such indications, the concerned in similar transactions. American pulse has generally beat The Barings of London, the Hotfull and true, the people of Mis- tinguers, and the Hope & Co.'s sissippi have been “left alone"

“left alone" of the continent, doubtless as little with their "glory.” Even in the anticipated that the bonds which halls of Congress, not a voice has they transferred to purchasers would been raised in her behalf, except be ever declared void by the state by her own representatives. We of Mississippi, as they anticipated

' can scarcely hesitate to assert, that their own personal repudiation of not a native citizen east of the Al. debts which themselves had conleghany Mountains, who values his tracted. When then her legislature own personal character and the refused to pay the interest upon honor of his country, has as yet this debt, what other epithets could undertaken the perilous effort of de. these “ merchant princes” who give fending these proceedings. Every the law to commercial credit and man, except the mere demagogue, character throughout Europe, athas mourned over the reproach tach to the state and her agents, which he was conscious would be but dishonest and fraudulent ? And thus cast upon the country, and has the different nations of Europe, so sought to free himself personally far as they have become acquainted from the stigma, by condemning with these transactions, have but them. While thus affirming, we echoed and sanctioned this decision. are also aware that sinister omens Whether the English, or the French, of a similar nature have been sub- or the Dutch, have spoken, it has sequently visible in other quarters been the same. And were this reof our political hemisphere, but the proach confined to the people of voice of the country has undoubt- Mississippi alone, who could have edly spoken in decisive tones here. felt surprise or regret? But instead So strong has been this feeling, so of state dishonor, it has become unenviable the notoriety which the national dishonor. Most of the instate of Mississippi has thus acquir. habitants of the different countries ed, that her estimable citizens must in Europe, even those of England, have often blúshed to be recognized are too little acquainted with the as such in other portions of the peculiar structure of our national country. And the public credit of and state governments, to be comthe state is destroyed. Let her now petent to distinguish between them; attempt to obtain a loan on any

an Austrian and a Parisian, nay, security, any pledges whatever that many a London merchant and knight she can offer, and she could not of the shire, are as unable to sepprocure a dollar. A town pauper's arate the two as to define the jurispromissory note would be regarded diction of the different popular tribunals of ancient Athens. And the not to be thus forfeited. And he enemies of free institutions, even may be civilly heard, and the de. where well informed upon this sub- voted friends of free governments ject, have been ready to blend the may accept his explanation, but state and the nation together. Here with most of his auditors this plea was one of the united republics of will not avail. It is easier for them North America publicly falsifying at three thousand miles distance to its own acts, violating its own en- confound than to discriminate, and gagements, and this was warrant they have chosen to pronounce it sufficient for an outcry against the all a national act, by which every whole. Here was one instance of American has been dishonored. And the manner in which American faith the wound thus given to our honor was maintained, and this was suffi- has equally reached our credit. As cient occasion for the friends of des. the state of Mississippi has disabled potism to exclaim-Punica fides ! herself from obtaining the smallest Perhaps no single transaction has loan here at home, so neither other ever equally soiled the brightness states whose credit is here unsha. of our national escutcheon, as seen ken, nor the United States, can now by men on the eastern side of the procure a loan abroad. Successive Atlantic. Defects, or incongruities, attempts of this nature have been in our system of government would already made, and they have proved by many be overlooked; the repub- ineffectual. Foreign capitalists will lican directness, if not bluntness, not undertake to dispose of stock, of our manners would be pronoun. for which foreign purchasers can ced characteristic; even the dark not be found. blot of Southern slavery might be We view personally these pro. partially veiled; but a direct refu. ceedings of the state of Mississippi sal by one of our states to pay the as unjust, as a direct breach of her debt which her own legislature had plighted faith, and as therefore only contracted, admitted of no apology, dishonorable to her character. We no explanation. This is not the lan- deem every defense of this doctrine guage of exaggeration. The Eng- of repudiation, if we may term it a lish presses during the last two years doctrine, as nothing more nor less have been speaking more indig. than a justification of public fraud. nantly and bitterly than this. And Every legislature, state and nationour own countrymen, whether re. al, is thus invited to break its solemn siding or traveling abroad, hear contracts, whenever it may be in. similar remonstrances and reproach. convenient to fulfill them. Let such es. Till within a few years, an transactions be only regarded with inAmerican traveler needed not but to difference; let any language respectproclaim his country, to secure con- ing them except that of condemna. sideration wherever he went, even tion become popular, and we shall though personal good will might be soon behold their frequent repetition withheld. But the story of Mis through the Union. True it is, as sissippi repudiation now precedes has been already remarked, that the or follows him, and he is often con- legislature of Mississippi have as yet strained to blush when he avows found but few responsible apologists; his native land. He may tell the but true it also is, that in other states true history, and then insist, that as which are burdened with debt, rea citizen of Massachusetts, or Con- pudiation has been broached as necticut, or Ohio, he is not respon- the only available policy. Indiana sible for the misdeeds of a state at and Michigan have already entered the opposite extremity of our vast on the same road ; in Maryland the country--that national character is measure has been so warmly recom. Vol. I.


mended as to excite disquietude, and of restraint. The danger ever is, the course of Pennsylvania also has that the standard recommended will been sufficiently equivocal. While be that of expediency, and not that professedly denouncing repudiation, of justice. And when men, whether her legislature have made no provis- they are legislators or private citiion for the payment of the interest zens, are perpetually told that the due upon her public debt for the last state of which they are members is year. Fearful of the effect upon sovereign, that it is independent, not their own popularity, were a system only of foreign governments, but of direct taxation to be adopted, or also of the United States, except otherwise criminally insensible to within the granted powers of the the duty of preserving inviolable the constitution, it requires no great in. faith of the commonwealth, they crease of self-complacency to behave adjourned, and left their most lieve, that the state and those who momentous trust unperformed. Are represent its sovereignty are virtu. not these occasions for alarm to ev. ally independent of the moral law. ery thoughtful mind that loves its What other explanation than this country? Are not such clouds om- needs be given of the unquestioned inous of a tempest that may hereaf- fact, as melancholy as it is notorious, ter sweep away the very foundations that the annual sessions of Congress, of our national polity? And if but and of many of our state legisla. a tithe of such apprehensions is war. tures, are notorious for their corrupt. ranted, a somewhat free examination ing influence upon the communities of the subject may be seasonable in in which they are held ? Men who, the pages of the New Englander. as private citizens, show some re. We shall accordingly consider the gard to personal character and to most plausible defenses that may be public opinion, often become regardoffered for these proceedings of the less of both when sent to Washing. state of Mississippi, and after having ton, or to the capital of their own exposed their evident unsoundness, state, to aid in making the laws. shall allude to several minor topics The law has exempted them from which are intimately connected with all responsibility to man, for aught the general subject.

which, as legislators, they may say One defense which, we fear, is se- or do, and this they construe as a cretly deemed by many as valid, al release from all accountability to though few are as yet hardy enough God. Is not much of the legislation to avow it, is this : that a state, a le of Congress during the last twenty gislature, is not subject to the moral years explicable on this principle ? laws which bind individuals. This Have not many acts of obvious in. would be termed, substantially, a plea justice or impolicy been passed, and to the jurisdiction in foro conscientia; many a demand of equity refused 'it denies that a political body is mo- or neglected, under its sway? The rally amenable. There are few in- practical conviction of the legislator deed, even among the veriest dema- has been, that his personal respongogues and their partisans, who ven. sibility was at an end, -as a public ture openly to assert this principle; functionary his private character was but is not the number of those who for the time lost, or himself, as a have privately espoused it rapidly unit, was merged in the multitude increasing? The tendency of our by whom he was surrounded. This free institutions, under the working is an opinion which has been every of that depravity which is natural to where rapidly gaining ground, and, man, is, as every attentive observer as the consequence, whatever may has noticed, towards the side of li- be the proceedings of a legislature, centiousness, and never towards that there are many who are more or less

« PreviousContinue »