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Speech on the Treasury Note Bill,
Mr. Stevens. Mr. Speaker, I have a very few words to say. I approach the subject with more depression of spirits that I ever before approached any question. No personal motive or feeling influences me. I hope not, at least. I have a melancholy foreboding that we are about to consummate a cunningly devised scheme, which will carry great injury and great loss to all classes of the people throughout this Union, except one. With my colleague, I believe that no act of legislation of this Government was ever hailed with as much delight throughout the whole length and breadth of this Union, by every class of people, without exception, as the bill which we passed and sent to the Senate. Congratulations from all classes – merchants, traders, manufacturers, mechanics, and laborers – poured in upon us from all quarters. The Boards of Trade from Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Cincinnati, Louisville, St. Louis, Chicago, and Milwaukee approved the provisions, and urged its passage as it was.
I have a dispatch from the Chamber of Commerce of Cincinnati, sent to the Secretary of the Treasury, and by him to me, urging a speedy passage of the bill as passed in the House. It is true that there was a doleful sound came up from the caverns of bullion brokers, and from the saloons of the associated banks. Their cashiers and agents were soon on the ground, and persuaded the Senate, with but little deliberation, to mangle and destroy what it had cost the House months to digest, consider and pass. They fell upon the bill in hot haste, and so disfigured and deformed it, that its very father would not know it. (Laughter.) Instead of being a beneficent and invigorating measure, it is now positively mischievous. It has all the bad qualities which its enemies charged on the original bill, and none of its benefits. It now creates money, and by its very terms declares it a depreciated currency. It makes two classes of money – one for the banks and brokers and another for the people. It discriminates between the rights of different classes of creditors, allowing the rich capitalist to demand gold, and compelling the ordinary lender of money on individual security to receive notes which the Government had purposely discredited.
Let us examine the principal amendments separately, and see their effect. The first important one (being the fifth) makes the notes issued under the law of July 17 a legal tender, equally with those authorized by this bill. There can be but little wisdom in putting these two classes on an equality. The notes of July bear seven and three tenths per cent interest, and are payable in three years. This gives them a sufficient advantage over notes bearing no interest and payable virtually in twenty years, with six per cent interest. Why give them this additional advantage? Simply because the $100,000,000 issued are all held by the associated banks, and this is their amended bill. They would displace $100,000,000 of this money in the circulation, and render it impossible to use any considerable amount of these United States notes as a currency. These notes have served their purpose. Why allow them to block up the market against further relief to the Government?
The banks took $50,000,000 of six per cent bonds, and shaved
the Government $5,500,000 on them, and now ask to shave the
Government fifteen or twenty per cent half yearly, to pay
themselves the interest on these very bonds. They paid for
the $50,000,000 in demand notes, not specie, and now demand
the specie for them. Yet gentlemen talk about our making
other loans in these times. They are crazy or sleeping, one
or the other, I do not know which.
The notes, by another amendment, are authorized to be invested in notes or bonds payable in two years, and bearing an interest of seven and three tenths. One of the great objects of the bill was to induce capitalists to invest in six per cent bonds or lose their interest, and thus to furnish a continually recurring currency by the sale of those six per cent bonds. This provision would effectually prevent the funding a dollar in those bonds. They would all go in preference into seven and three tenths bonds, due in two years, when no one believes we can pay them.
But this is not the worst. The tenth amendment provides that
any holder of the United States legal tender notes, if we
have $100 and upwards, shall draw five or six per cent
interest on them until he chooses to use them. The poor who
have less than $100 shall draw no interest. It is plain
that, by these two contrivances, not one dollar of these
United States notes will ever be funded in six per cent
But how is this gold to be raised? The duties and public lands are to be paid for in United States notes, and they or bonds are to be put up at auction to get coin for these very brokers who would furnish the coin to pay themselves, by getting twenty per cent discount on the notes thus bought.
Now, in less than a year, taking the public debt at what my colleague makes it – I make it more -- $1,200, 000,000, what will the interest be upon it at seven and three tenths per cent, for it will all center in that rate of interest? It will be $87,000,000, and one half of that amount, $43,500,000, must be raised every six months for paying of this interest, and it is to be raised in coin, which nobody holds but the large capitalists. Does anybody suppose that they are going to give that coin for such notes as we are now about to issue, at par? They will sell the gold for what their consciences will allow, and they will compel the government to give anything they choose, unless the Government consents to become dishonored. The first purchase of gold by the Government will fix the value of these notes which we issue and declare to be legal tender. That sale will fix their value at ten, fifteen, or twenty per cent discount, and then every poor man, when he buys his beef, his pork, and his supplies, must submit to this fifteen, or twenty five per cent discount, because you have said that that shall be the value of the very notes which you have made a legal tender to him, but not a legal tender to those who fix the value of these very notes. Does anyone believe that anybody but bankers and brokers fixes the depreciation of the currency? So you will thus have fixed the market value of your notes at seventy-five or eighty per cent, and yet they are a legal tender to the poor of the country, while they are no legal tender to those who hold the coin of the country.
By the original bill the Secretary of the Treasury was
allowed to sell these bonds at their value for lawful money
– that is, for these legal tender notes. But now, by the
provisions of this bill, after the market value has been
fixed and they are depreciated, the Secretary of the
Treasury is authorized to go into the market and sell them
for coin, not at par, but at the market value therefor. Was
there ever a more convenient contrivance got up, into which
blind mice run, to catch them? Was ever before such a
machine got up for swindling the Government and making the
fortunes of the gold bullionists in one single year?
I have proposed an amendment to the Senate amendment upon the principle of legitimate parliamentary rules that you may make as palatable as you can an amendment which you do not like before the vote is taken upon it. My amendment is offered for the purpose of curing a little the evils and hardships of the original amendment of the Senate. And though it may be adopted, the whole will be pernicious; and if adopted, I shall vote against the whole as amended. My amendment is to except from the operation of the legal tender clause the officers and soldiers of the Army and Navy, and those who supply them with provisions, and thus put them upon the same footing with the Government creditors who hold their bonds. I hope I will not be thought less meritorious than the money-changers. I trust it will be adopted as an amendment to the Senate amendment, so that if this pernicious system is to be adopted, if the beauty of the original bill is to be entirely impaired, those who are fighting our battles, and the widows and children of those who are lying in their graves in every part of the country, killed in defense of the Government, may be placed upon no worse footing than those who hold the bonds of the Government and the coin of the country.
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