Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Panic of 1837 (6)

Volume: III Pages: 333-334 (extract)
The use by the banks, for their own benefit, of the money deposited with them has received the sanction of the Government from the commencement of this connection. The money received from the people, instead of being kept till it is needed for their use, is, in consequence of this authority, a fund on which discounts are made for the profit of those who happen to be owners of stock in the banks selected as depositories. The supposed and often exaggerated advantages of such a boon will always cause it to be sought for with avidity. I will not stop to consider on whom the patronage incident to it is to be conferred. Whether the selection and control be trusted to Congress or to the Executive, either will be subjected to appeals made in every form which the sagacity of interest can suggest. The banks under such a system are stimulated to make the most of their fortunate acquisition; the deposits are treated as an increase of capital; loans and circulation are rashly augmented, and when the public exigencies require a return it is attended with embarrassments not provided for nor foreseen. Thus banks that thought themselves most fortunate when the public funds were received find themselves most embarrassed when the season of payment suddenly arrives.

Unfortunately, too, the evils of the system are not limited to the banks. It stimulates a general rashness of enterprise and aggravates the fluctuations of commerce and the currency. This result was strikingly exhibited during the operations of the late deposit system, and especially in the purchases of public lands. The order which ultimately directed the payment of gold and silver in such purchases greatly checked, but could not altogether prevent, the evil. Specie was indeed more difficult to be procured than the notes which the banks could themselves create at pleasure; but still, being obtained from them as a loan and returned as a deposit, which they were again at liberty to use, it only passed round the circle with diminished speed. This operation could not have been performed had the funds of the Government gone into the Treasury to be regularly disbursed, and not into banks, to be loaned out for their own profit while they were permitted to substitute for it a credit in account.

In expressing these sentiments I desire not to undervalue the benefits of a salutary credit to any branch of enterprise. The credit bestowed on probity and industry is the just reward of merit and an honorable incentive to further acquisition. None oppose it who love their country and understand its welfare. But when it is unduly encouraged: when it is made to inflame the public mind with the temptations of sudden and unsubstantial wealth; when it turns industry into paths that lead sooner or later to disappointment and distress, it becomes liable to censure and needs correction. Far from helping probity and industry, the ruin to which it leads falls most severely on the great laboring classes, who are thrown suddenly out of employment, and by the failure of magnificent schemes never intended to enrich them are deprived in a moment of their only resource. Abuses of credit and excesses in speculation will happen in despite of the most salutary laws; no government, perhaps, can altogether prevent them, but surely every government can refrain from contributing the stimulus that calls them into life.

To be continued: The Panic of 1837 (7)


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