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EACH TO INTERPRET THE LAW FOR HIMSELF.
his own obligation? Those who are to execute the laws have no more a license to construe them for themselves, than those whose only duty is to obey them. Public officers are bound to support the Constitution; private citizens are bound to obey it; and there is no more indulgence granted to the public officer to support the Constitution only as he understands it, than to a private citizen to obey it only as he understands it; and what is true of the Constitution, in this respect, is equally true of any law. Laws are to be executed, and to be obeyed, not as individuals may interpret them, but according to public, authoritative interpretation and adjudication. The sentiment of the message would abrogate the obligation of the whole criminal code. If every man is to judge of the Constitution and the laws for himself, if he is to obey and support them only as he may say he understands them, a revolution, I think, would take place in the administration of justice; and discussions about the law of treason, murder, and arson should be addressed, not to the judicial bench, but to those who might stand charged with such offences. The object of discussion should be, if we run out this notion to its natural extent, to convince the culprit himself how he ought to understand the law.
How is it possible that a sentiment so wild and so dangerous, so encouraging to all who feel a desire to oppose the laws, and to impair the Constitution, should have been uttered by the President of the United States at this eventful and critical mo. ment? Are we not threatened with dissolution of the Union ? Are we not told that the laws of the government shall be openly and directly resisted? Is not the whole country looking, with the utmost anxiety, to what may be the result of these threatened courses ? And at this very moment, so full of peril to the State, the chief magistrate puts forth opinions and sentiments as truly subversive of all government, as absolutely in conflict with the authority of the Constitution, as the wildest theories of nullification. I have very little regard for the law or the logic of nullification. But there is not an individual in its ranks, capable of putting two ideas together, who, if you will grant him the principles of the veto message, cannot defend all that nullification has ever threatened.8-Speech at Worcester, Oct., 1832.
8 This brief but most wise passage moves me to comment a little on what I have often heard maintained as a settled axiom in morals, namely, that “every man is the ultimate judge of his own duty.” As all moralists agree that rights and duties go together, it follows, of course, that every man is the ultimate judge of his own rights; that is, the supreme judge in his own case. Now, to prevent men from being judges in their own case, is, I take it, the main purpose and business of all civil government; and this because men are notoriously very bad judges in their own case, so much so, that human society cannot snb sist on that basis. In other words, this axiom means nothing less than that every man is to be a sovereign law unto himself, and is to do just as he lias a mind to; or, which comes to the same thing, that every man is to clothe his own judgment with Divine authority. What is this but resolving all obligation, duty, law, into individual will? To be sure, conscience is individual, and we all admit the supremacy of conscience in its proper sphere. But conscience grows and lives only in the recognition and the strength of an external law: cut off that recognition, and conscience must soon die out. And that external law is a matter of social prescription, not of individual judgment or will. Or, again, conscience infers the distinction of right and wrong; but it does not tell us what things are right and what are wrong: it supposes the existence of the moral law, but does not teach us what that law is. To authenticate and define that law, is the office partly of Revelation, partly of the collective reasou and experience of mankind. And it is in vain that you undertake to carry the authority of Revelation above or beyond the authority of that collective reason and experience. In other words, God speaks to its as authentically and as imperatively through social and civil institutions, through parents, teachers, and rulers, as in Scripture. And conscience binds us as strongly to obey the rulings of the former as of the latter; nor, if it be set free from those, can it possibly be held to these. Let the axiom in question be thoroughly reduced to practice, and liumanity will inevitably be carried on to suicide : any people working the principle fairly through from speculation into life will needs die of sheer law. lessness; for it is nothing less than acting “as it a man were anthor of himself, and knew no other kin.” If, as I am told, this doctrine is generally held and taught by the clergy of New England, then I can only say, God help New England! for, unless He specially interpose, babies will keep growing scarcer, and livorccs more frequent, till the race shall have run itself utterly into the ground. Most assuredly, as regards the social and relative rights and duties, society is the ultimate judge; and for the individual conscience to declare itself above or independent of social and civil prescription, is literally inhuman. See, on the subject, a passage from Burke, pages 228-231.
I AM well aware that bank credit may be abused. I know that bank paper may become excessive; that depreciation will then follow; and that the evils, the losses, and the frauds consequent on a disordered currency fall on the rich and the poor together, but with especial weight of ruin on the poor. I know that the system of bank credit must always rest on a specie basis, and that it constantly needs to be strictly guarded and properly restrained; and it may be so guarded and restrained. We need not give up the good which belongs to it, through fear of the evils which may follow from its abuse. We have the power to take security against these evils. It is our business, as statesmen, to adopt that security; it is our business, not to prostrate or attempt to prostrate the system, but to use those means of precaution, restraint, and correction, which experience has sanctioned, and which are ready at our hands.
It would be to our everlasting reproach, it would be placing us below the general level of the intelligence of civilized States, to admit that we cannot contrive means to enjoy the benefits of bank eirculation, and of avoiding, at the same time, its dangers. Indeed, Sir, no contrivance is necessary. It is contrivance, and the love of contrivance, that spoil all. We are destroying ourselves by a remedy which no evil called for. We are ruining perfect health by nostrums and quackery. We have lived, hitherto, under a well-constructed, practical, and beneficial system; a system not surpassed by any in the world; and it seems to me to be presuming largely, largely indeed, on the credulity and self-denial of the people, to rush with such sudden and impetuous haste into new schemes and new theories, to overturn and annihilate all that we have so long found useful.
Our system has hitherto been one in which paper has been circulating on the strength of a specie basis; that is to say, when every bank note was convertible into specie at the will of the holder. This has been our guard against excess. While banks are bound to redeem their bills by paying gold and silver on demand, and are at all times able to do this, the currency is safe and convenient. Such a currency is not paper money, in the odious sense. It is not like the continental paper of Revosutionary times; it is not like the worthless bills of banks which have suspended specie payments. On the contrary, it is the representative of gold and silver, and convertible into gold and silver on demand, and therefore answers the purposes of gold and silver ; and, so long as its credit is in this way sustained, it is the cheapest, the best, and the most convenient circulating medium. I have already endeavoured to warn the country against irredeemable paper; against bank paper, when banks do not pay specie for their own notes; against that miserable, abominable, and fraudulent policy which attempts to give value to any paper, of any bank, one single moment longer than such paper is redeemable on demand in gold and silver. And I wish most solemnly and earnestly to repeat that warning. I see danger of that state of things ahead. I see imminent danger that more or fewer of the State banks will stop specie payments. The late measure of the Secretary, and the infatuation with which it seems to be supported, tend directly and strongly to that result. Under pretence, then, of a design to return to a currency which shall be all specie, we are likely to have a currency in which there shall be no specie at all. We are in danger of being overwhelmed with irredeemable paper,-mere
9 This was the removal of the deposits by Mr. Taney, then Secretary of the Treasury.- See Sketch of Webster's Life, page 331.
paper, representing not gold nor silver; no, Sir, representing nothing but broken promises, bad faith, bankrupt corporations, cheated creditors, and a ruined people. This, I fear, may be the consequence, already alarmingly near, of this attemptunwise, if it be real, and grossly fraudulent, if it be only pretended - of establishing an exclusive hard-money currency!. Speech on the Removal of the Deposits, Feb., 1834.
THE currency of the country is at all times a most important political object. A sound currency is an essential and indispensable security for the fruits of industry and honest enterprise. Every man of property or industry, every man who desires to preserve what he honestly possesses, or to obtain what he can honestly earn, has a direct interest in maintaining a safe circu. lating medium; such a medium as shall be a real and substantial representative of property, not liable to vibrate with opinions, not subject to be blown up or blown down by the breath of speculation, but made stable and secure by its immediate relation to that which the whole world regards as of a permanent value. A disordered currency is one of the greatest of political evils. It undermines the virtues necessary for the support of the social system, and encourages propensities destructive of its happiness. It wars against industry, frugality, and economy; and it fosters the evil spirits of extravagance and speculation. Of all the contrivances for ch ating the labouring classes of mankind, none has been more effectual than that which deludes them with paper money. This is the most effectual of inventions to fertilize the rich man's field by the sweat of the poor man's brow. Ordinary tyranny, oppression, excessive taxation, these bear lightly on the happiness of the mass of the community, compared with fraudulent currencies, and the robberies committed by depreciated paper. Our own history has recorded for our instruction enough, and more than enough, of the demoralizing tendency, the injustice, and the intolerable oppression, on the virtuous and well disposed, of a degraded paper currency, authorized by law, or in any way countenanced by government,
BENEFITS OF THE CREDIT SYSTEM.
Six months ago a state of things existed highly prosperous and advantageous to the country, but liable to be injuriously affected by precisely such a cause as has now been put into operation upon it. Business was active and carried to a great extent. Commercial credit was expanded, and the circulation of money was large. This circulation, being of paper, of course rested on credit; and this credit was founded on banking capital and bank deposits. The public revenues, from the time of their collection to the time of their disbursement, were in the bank and its branches, and, like other deposits, contributed to the means of discount. Between the Bank of the United States and the State banks there was a degree of watchfulness, perhaps of rivalry ; but there was no enmity, no hostility. All moved in their own proper spheres, harmoniously and in order.
The Secretary disturbed this state of peace. He broke up all the harmony of the system. By suddenly withdrawing all the public moneys from the Bank of the United States, he forced that bank to an immediate correspondent curtailment of its loans and discounts. It was obliged to strengthen itself; and the State banks, taking the alarm, were obliged to strengthen themselves also by similar measures; so that the amount of credit actually existing, and on which men were doing business, was all at once greatly diminished. Bank accommodations were withdrawn; men could no longer fulfil their engagements by the customary means; property fell in value; thousands failed ; many thousands more maintained their individual credit by enormous sacrifices; and all, being alarmed for the future, as well as distressed for the present, forbore from new transactions and new engagements. Finding enough to do to stand still, they do not attempt to go forward. This deprives the in. dustrious and labouring classes of their occupations, and brings want and misery to their doors. This, Sir, is a short recital of cause and effect. This is the history of the first six months of the "experiment.” 1
Mr. President, the recent measures of the Secretary, and the opinions which are said to be avowed by those who approve and support them, threaten a wild and ruthless attack on the commercial credit of the country, that most delicate and at the same time most important agent in producing general prosper
1 The experiment which President Jacksou undertook to carry through, upon the currency and the financial system of the country. The President was wont to speak of it rather exultingly as “my experiment." See Sketch of Webster's Life, page 331.