« السابقةمتابعة »
of the Union, this forced state of things is passing away. The convertibility of bank notes into specie is becoming real wherever it is ostensible. If public opinion does not correct the evil in those states where this convertibility is not even ostensible, it will be the imperious duty of those who are invested with the power of correction to apply the appropriate remedy.
As the currency is, at least in some parts of the Union, depreciated, it must, in those parts, suffer a further reduction before it becomes sound. The nation must continue to suffer until this is effected. After the currency shall be reduced to the amount which, when the present quantity of the precious metals is distributed among the various nations of the world, in proportion to their respective exchangeable values, shall be assigned to the United States; when time shall have regulated the price of labor, and of commodities, according to that amount, and when preexisting engagements shall have been adjusted, the sufferings from a depreciated, decreasing, and deficient currency, will be termi nated. Individual and public prosperity will gradually revive, and the productive energies of the nation resume their accustomed activity. But new changes in the currency, and circumstances adverse to the perpetuity of the general prosperity, may reasonably be expected to occur. So far as these changes depend upon the currency, their recurrence, to an extent sufficient to disturb the prosperity of the nation, would be effectually prevented, if it could be rendered purely metallic. In that event, we should always retain that proportion of the precious metals which our exchangeable commodities bear to those of other nations. The currency would seldom be either redundant or deficient, to an extent that would seriously affect the interests of society. But when the currency is metallic, and paper convertible into specie, changes to such an extent, it is believed, will frequently occur.
The establishment of banks which are restrained from issuing notes of small denominations, furnishes great facilities for the transmission of money, and increases the efficiency of the capital subject to their control, to the extent of the credit employed by them. The degree of facility afforded by them for the transportation or transmission of money, depends upon the extent of country within which their notes circulate, and preserve a value equiva lent to specie. Ordinarily, this extent is determined by the interior trade of the country; they will circulate through the whole extent of country, the produce of which is carried for sale to the place of their establishment. If they are established only in the principal commercial city of the nation, their notes will circulate through the whole extent of its territory, and afford the greatest possible facility for the transmission of money. If they
are established in several of the commercial cities, their circulation will be circumscribed by the sections of country, the inhabitants of which trade to those cities. The facility for transmitting money will be diminished by their establishment. But if banks should be established in all the interior towns, this facility would be impaired to a still greater degree. In that event, their notes would circulate within very narrow limits; but within those limits the notes of the banks in the commercial cities would no longer form part of the circulation. Should they by accident be carried within it, the first individual having remittances to make, and into whose hands they might come, would use them for that purpose.
The degree of credit which a bank can employ, in proportion to its capital, depends upon a variety of circumstances. If the community reposes great confidence in the prudence and integrity of those who direct its concerns; if the capital employed is small in proportion to the demand for the transmission of money; if there is no other bank whose local situation repels its circulation from those sections of country, the produce of which is ultimately carried to the place where it is established, the credit which it will be able to employ will be very great. Where all these facilities are wanting, the extent of the credit which it will employ will be very inconsiderable. The additional efficiency which, in the latter case, will be imparted to capital invested in banks, will, it is believed, not countervail the evils which necessarily result from their establishment.
Among the advantages which have been supposed most strongly to recommend their establishment, especially in a community whose resources are rapidly expanding, their capacity suddenly to increase the currency to the utmost demand for it, has been considered the most important.
In a country where the currency is purely metallic, no considerable addition can be made to it, without giving, at the time of its acquisition, articles in exchange of equal value. No addition can be made to the currency without affecting, to the extent of such addition, the enjoyments of the community. The amount so added will, to the same extent, diminish the quantity of articles which would otherwise be imported into the country for domestic consumption, or for re-exportation.
Ordinarily, the currency of one country will not be exported to another, because its value in every country is nearly the same. It will not, therefore, like other commodities, command a commercial profit upon exportation. It will be taken from one country to another, only when the price of commodities in the former is so high as to produce a loss in the latter equal to the expense of transporting specie. It is this condition, annexed to every acqui
sition to the currency of a state, when it is purely metallic, of diminishing, to the same extent, the enjoyments of the community, which affords the most efficient protection against its becoming redundant. It is equally efficient in guarding against a deficiency, to an extent that can seriously affect the interest of the community. But this condition is not annexed to the increase of the currency, by the issue of bank notes, even when convertible into specie. The notes, by which the currency is suddenly augmented, do not, in any degree, diminish the enjoyments of the community. No equivalent is, by such issue, transferred to another community, as is invariably done when an acquisition is made to a metallic currency. Whenever the currency can be augmented, exempt from such transfer, it must be subject to some degree of fluctuation in quantity. Every addition made to the currency by the issue of bank notes, changes the relation which previously existed between the amount of the currency, and the amount of the commodities which are to be exchanged through its agency. Their issue depends not upon receiving, in exchange, articles of equal value; but, upon the pledge of a credit of one or more individuals, to the amount of such issue. No evil can result to the community from the advance of the capital of a bank in exchange for the credit of individuals. In that case, no addition is made to the amount of the currency previously in circulation. It is perfectly immaterial to society, whether this capital be lent by individuals or by corporations. The relation between the currency and the exchangeable commodities of the state is not disturbed. But, when their credit is greatly extended, the currency is expanded, and that relation is deranged. An expansion of the currency, through the agency of banks, will generally occur only in periods of prosperity. During such periods, enterprise will be fostered, industry stimulated, and the comfort and happiness of the people advanced without the factitious aid of an expansive currency. But there can be no doubt that a sudden increase of the currency during periods of prosperity, through the agency of bank issues, gives additional force and activity to the national enterprise. Such an increase will be followed by a general rise in the value of all articles, especially of those which cannot be exported. The price of lands, houses, and public stock, will be augmented in a greater degree than if no such increase had taken place.
If these prices could be maintained; if they could even be protected against sudden reduction, they would be cause of gratulation rather than of complaint. But the expansion of the currency by the issue of paper, in a period of prosperity, will inevitably be succeeded by its contraction in periods of adversity. The extent to which the currency may be contracted, through the agency
of banks, depends upon the use which they may have made of their credit. The excess of their discounts beyond their capital actually paid, determines the amount of the credit which they have employed: Thus, in 1813, the capital of the banks in the United States has been estimated at 65,000,000 ds., and their discounts at 117,000,000 ds. The extent to which their credit was then employed was 52,000,000 ds. Their circulation, at the same period, has been estimated at 62,000,000 ds. In this estimate no allowance was made for notes stated to be in circulation, but which were probably in the possession of other banks. A reasonable deduction being made on that account, it is probable that the paper circulation did not much exceed 52,000,000 ds. But the liability of the banks for specie was equal to the whole amount of notes represented to be in circulation, besides the individual deposits. To meet an immediate demand, they are estimated to have had 28,000,000 ds. in specie. If the deposits of individuals should be estimated at 18,000,000 ds. their ultimate means of meeting the demand of 62,000,000 ds., without sacrificing their capital, would consist of 10,000,000 ds. in specie, and 52,000,000 ds. secured by the notes of individuals; this sum being the excess of their discounts over their capital. Under ordinary circumstances, the basis upon which the credit of this circulation rested, might be considered sufficient to sustain it. A debt of 117,000,000 ds. could not, under the most adverse circumstances, be considered inadequate to meet one of 52,000,000 ds. But, in the case of currency," the capacity to ultimate redemption is not sufficient. The capacity to redeem it as it is presented is indispensable. Whenever the public confidence, in this capacity, is impaired, an immediate demand for specie will be created; and, if it is not promptly met, depreciation will ensue. But, even in circumstances in some de gree adverse to the operations of banks, if their discounts consisted principally of notes founded upon real transactions, in which the idea of renewal was excluded; and if specie formed a considerable. proportion of the circulation, the capacity of the banks to meet the demands upon them for specie, might have been sufficient to sustain the credit of the currency.
If, on the other hand, the debts due to the banks consisted chiefly of fixed or permanent loans, generally denominated accommodation paper; if specie had been banished from circulation, by' the issue of dollar notes, the suspension of payment by the banks could not fail to be the result of any considerable pressure upon them for specie. In the former case, as their notes should be withdrawn from circulation, they would gradually be reduced to the demand for them for the transmission of money. If the effort to withdraw them should be continued beyond that point," VOL. XVII. NO. XXXIII.
specie would be paid into the banks by their debtors, in preference to bank notes; and the just proportion between the paper circulation and the specie in their vaults, would be promptly restored. In the latter case, as the debts due to the banks would not, according to the understanding of the parties, become due at short intervals, the only mode of meeting the increasing demands upon them for specie would be, to require of the whole mass of debtors, the payment of a fixed proportion of the sums due by them. As the circumstances which would require this measure, on the part of the banks, would generally affect the community in the same degree, the capacity of their debtors to meet this demand would generally be found to be in an inverse ratio to the demand. The demand itself, being inconsistent with the impression under which the debt was contracted, would be resisted in every case where the interest of the debtor would be subserved by delay. As specie formed but an inconsiderable part of the currency, the reduction of the paper circulation would have to be carried to a greater extent than in the former case. A just proportion between the paper circulation and the speeie necessary to support it, could be obtained only by the positive reduction of the former, as it would be impracticable to increase the latter while the demand continued. Under such circumstances the suspension of payment would be the probable result.
Such, in fact, were the circumstances under which the suspension in 1814 occurred.
The injudicious multiplication of banks, where capital in that form, to some extent, might have been useful; the establishment of them where they could only be injurious; the permission to issue dollar notes, by which specie was banished from circulation; and the demand for specie for exportation, which existed during the years 1813 and 1814, imposed upon the banks in the middle, southern, and western states, the necessity of suspending payment. A longer effort to discharge their notes in specie, would not only have been ineffectual, but would certainly have postponed, to a inore remote period, the resumption of specie payments. The evils which have resulted to the community from that suspension have certainly been great; but it may well be doubted, whether others, of equal magnitude, would not have been suffered, if that event had not occurred. The extent to which the currency must have been reduced, in order to have avoided the suspension, could not have failed, at any period, to produce great embarrassment and distress to the community. But in a time of war, when the country was invaded; when the public safety required that the energies of the nation should be fully developed, a sudden and extensive reduction of the currency, by any cause whatever, would