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three years, until it was repealed. With these exceptions, we have been content to allow each State to enact its own laws on this subject. Nor have any neglected to do so ; but it is notorious that many of their laws are of a character to retard or prevent, rather than facilitate, the collection of debts; and, as long as this is the case, we must expect periodical revulsions, whose extent and frequency will be proportioned to the increase of dishonest debtors. Before the war had commenced at all, the country had not yet recovered from the crisis of 1857. This is illustrated but too painfully by the following statistics of failures in the United States, from one of the circulars of McKillop's Commercial Agency:
1860. Failures... 4,937 4,225 3,913
3,676 Amount... $291,750,000 $95,750,000 $64,294,000 $79,807,000
It has been estimated that, of all who have failed in this way, at least one-fourth come under the category of swindlers. And would not this fact by itself be sufficient to account for the failure of one-fourth more of the honest remainder, without including the reckless speculators who are little, if any thing, better than swindlers ?
It appears from the statistics of bankruptcy, as collected under the uniform bankrupt law of 1841, that the amount of debts claimed was $440,934,615. Now, what proportion of this will the uninitiated suppose was paid? Was there 25, 15, 10, or even 5 per cent. on an average ? Not at all. It seems that the southern district of New York paid the largest average dividend paid in any State in the Unionthat is 133 cents on the dollar. This will not seem a high rate to the casual observer, but let us compare it with the rates paid by other States. In Mississippi the average rate was
.6 cents to $1,000 In Maine ..
100 In Michigan and Iowa
100 In Massachusetts
100 In New Jersey.
100 In Tennessee
100 In Maryland
.1 dollar to 100 In Kentucky
..0 In view of facts like these, it is not strange that, from reliable records kept for a period of forty years, it appears that
persons who commence business in New York, scarcely two ultimately acquire wealth; and that, of the same number in Boston, ninety-five at least die poor ; while in Philadelphia the proportion of those who succeed is smaller still. Notwithstanding the facts thus established by the ruin of thousands, there are many with whom it is a favorite theory that, when citizens of any particular country are indebted only to each other, the general result is rather favorable than otherwise ; the truth is, however, that this is no real alleviation, since it merely serves to cover up the fatal wound. Montesquieu puts this in a clear light : “Quelques gens," he says, “ ont cru qu'il étoit bon qu'un état dût à lui-même: ils ont pensé que cela multiplioit les richesses en augmentant la circulation. Je crois qu'on a confondu un papier circulant qui represente la monnoie, ou un papier circulant qui est le signe des profits qu'une compagnie a faits ou fera sur le commerce, avec un papier qui représente une dette."*
That neither of the general bankrupt laws, of 1800 and 1841, was suitable for this country, would be sufficiently evident, from the promptness with which both were repealed, altogether independently of the statistics just given. Each was too much in favor of the debtor, encouraging him to run more and more in debt, rather than pay what he owed, and confine himself to his legitimate business. The creditor had little to gain, but generally much to lose, by bringing the debtor into court. But the case is still worse now-worse than the English bankrupt law was from the time that imprisonment for debt was abolished until the Act, 9 and 10 Vict., entitled, “ An Act for the more easy recovery of Small Debts and Demands,” &c., was passed as a remedial measure; so that the following graphic picture, drawn by an eminent English jurist, applies with tenfold force to the present state of the law.of debtor and creditor in this country; and the same sketch may serve as a warning against making the new law too partial to the debtor, encouraging him to engage in speculations, and indulge in palpable fraud :
“An ordinary wholesale dealer sells a parcel of goods on credit to the retail dealer, and takes a bill of exchange, payable on a day certain. On the due payment of this bill he relies to enable him to pay the manufacturer who supplied him. The bill of exchange is not paid. He makes
• Esprit des Lois, Tome II., p. 344.
inquiries, and finds that his debtor is selling his goods over the counter, to ordinary customers, under prime cost, is sending away large parcels by carrier in a manner quite inconsistent with the business of a retail trader, and he learns other facts which convince hiin, as a man of business, that his debtor is about to cheat his creditors. He goes to his solicitor, and this conversation passes :
" Client. What can I do?'
Solicitor. "Nothing! At least, nothing effectual !' “ Client. “Cannot I arrest my debtor ?
" Solicitor. No! The cry for many years before 1838 was, that arrest was unjnst and cruel; and in 1838 the legislature abolished it, unless there was evidence that the debtor was about to abscond; and debtors don't abscond now; they don't run away now, because there is nothing for them to run away from; they used to run away from arrest, but now there is no arrest for them to run away from; so that they stay where they are!'
"Client. 'Had I not better, then, bring an action against him?'
“ Solicitor. 'I don't think it would do you much good. As soon as you bring your action, your debtor will get some friend to sue him; he will defend your action; he will make no defence to his friend's action. His friend will get judgment and execution first; and, when the sheriff goes in under your execution, he will find an officer in possession under another execution, and will be obliged to retire, and you will only be so much the more out of pocket. By bringing an action, you will only be throwing good money after bad.'
“Client. 'Can I not, then, make him a bankrupt? he is a trader.'
“Solicitor. “No, you cannot; for you cannot make a man bankrupt without proving an act of bankruptcy; and, since the abolition of arrest, you cannot force a man to commit an act of bankruptcy. Whilst the law of arrest continued, you could ; because then you could obtain the writ capius, and the debtor ran away to avoid being arrested, or would not coine out of his house at all for fear he should be arrested ; and either running away, or shutting. himself up in his house, was an act of bankruptcy; you issued your fiat, and got a fair inquiry and a fair distribution of your debtor's property. But that cannot be done now, since arrest has been abolished.'
“ Client. “But I thought that a new act of bankruptcy was introduced, to replace those which had been abolished by the abolition of arrest.'
“ Solicitor. 'It is true that a new one was introduced by a law of 1842, but it is quite useless against a knave, for all that a knave has to do, to defeat the process, is to swear that he believes he has a good defence to part of your demand, and the whole process falls to the ground, and you pay the costs.'
"Client. “Am I, then, wholly remediless ?'
“Solicitor. 'I fear you are; and as long as the law remains as it is, my advice to you must be, if your debtor offers you five shillings in the ponnd, take it; if he offers you one shilling or one penny, take it; and if nothing, leave him alone, and rejoice that his next victim
will be some one else.'
The laws in operation in this country are not uniform, and the merchants of our large cities know too well how
unfavorably they operate towards creditors. We want a general law which will work equitably; one which will give creditors a power over dishonest debtors, and protect honest debtors against oppression by heartless creditors. Such a law, in order to be valuable, ought to be so well considered and equitable in all its parts that it may become permanent, and that all may remember they do business under it. The commercial embarrassments now existing-partly the result of the panic of 1857, and partly of the war-are so great and wide-spread, that the voice of the community is fixed for a stringent bankrupt law. Those best capable of judging have come to the conclusion that we must have such a law passed at the next session of Congress. Our merchants, therefore, should be on the alert in time, and spare no effort to secure the enactment of a proper law.
The question, What is a proper law? is very important, but by no means easily answered. But one thing is certain ; it should be based on the truths that misfortune in business is not a crime, and ought not to be treated as such ; but that fraudulently contracting a debt, or fraudulently evading payment, is a crime, and ought to be treated
There is no better school-master, to teach people honesty and fair dealing, than a good law faithfully administered. The philosopher, the moralist, and the preacher, may declaim as they will against false promises, extravagance, idleness, and luxury; but in nine cases out of ten they will do so in vain, as long as there is no immediate danger to be apprehended from not heeding them. But let the greatest spendthrift be taught that, if he does not moderate his desires, he will have to undergo a certain amount of punishment, though not quite as much as that inflicted by the Romans or Japanese, and the result will undoubtedly be salutary. The most eminent writers on law and the most humane men are of opinion, that the person who borrows money without intending to return it, or who buys merchandise without intending to pay for it, is as guilty, morally, as the person who steals the same amount. The former does an equal amount of injury with the latter, and adds the guilt of making false promises, the thief making no promise. The man who forges, or coins, is very properly taken into custody; but he who possesses himself of an equal amount of money, by means of false representations, has nothing to fear
but a law-suit, which may prove much more injurious to the plaintiff than to the defendant. Surely the debtor should expect no more immunity than the naval officer, who, if he loses his ship, is put under arrest, brought before a court martial and tried : if it is found that he showed proper courage and that the vessel was lost through no neglect or ignorance on his part, he leaves the court with honor; but if the contrary appears, he is ignominiously cashiered, and he is never trusted with similar responsibility again. this we can only add the hope that Congress will finish at its next session the General Bankrupt Law it so well and so properly commenced at its extra session in July last.
ART. VI.-1. The Progress and the Present Position of Russia in
the East; an Historical Summary. London : 1854. 2. Det Brittiska Riket i Ostindien (The British Dominions in Hin
doostan). By Count M. BJORNSTJERNA. Stockholm : 1849. 3. The Russians on the Amoor ; History of Discovery, Conquest,
and Colonization, up to the Treaty of Peking in 1860 ; with a detailed Description of the Country, its Inhabitants, Productions, and Commercial Copabilities, together with Personal Accounts of Russian Travellers. By E. G. RAVENSTEIN, F. G. S.,
Corresponding F.G.S., Frankfurt. London : 1861. 4. La Russia et Les Russes, par N. FOURGUENEFF. Bruxelles :
1847. 5. Japan, the Amoor River, and the Pacific, with Notices of other
Places ; comprised in a Voyage of Circumnavigation in the
ARTHUR TILLEY. London : 1861. 6. Revelations of Russia ; or, the Emperor Nicholas and his Empire, 1844.
By One who has Seen and Describes. 2 vols. 8vo. London : 1844. 7. Les Nouvelles Acquisitions des Russes dans l'Asie Orientale. Le
Fleuve Amoûr. Par V. A. MALTE BRUN. Paris : 1860. 8. Eastern Europe and the Emperor Nicholas. By the Author of
“ Revelations of Russia." London : 1846.
Most persons are aware that the Russian empire is of vast extent, but there are very few who have any adequate idea