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The Secretary recommends, therefore, no mere paper money scheme, but, on the contrary, a series of measures looking to a safe and gradual return to gold and silver as the only permanent basis, standard, and measure of values recognized by the Constitution-between which and an irredeemable paper currency, as he believes, the choice is now to be made.
No country possesses the true elements of a higher credit-no country, in ordinary times, can maintain a higher standard of currency and payment than the United States.
The government is less costly than that of most other great powers. The expenditures of the current fiscal year, excluding those of the War and Navy Departments, can hardly equal those of the last year, which amounted to $24,511,476 66. Estimating those of these departments at double the expenditures of the last year before the rebellion, they would for the current year, had the war ended before last midsummer as was anticipated at the date of the last report, amount to the sum of $55,845,834 48. The interest on the public debt is for the current year estimated at $25,041,532 07, and will not probably go over that sum. The whole expenditures of the government for the current year, on the supposition of peace, would, therefore, not exceed $105,371,843 21. This aggregate must be increased hereafter by the addition of interest on the loans of the current and future years and by pensions, the precise amount of which cannot be foreseen. Estimate the former at fifty, and the latter at ten millions a year, and the total annual expenditures in peace will reach, omitting fractions, to $165,000,000. The expenditures of Great Britain during the year ending March 31, 1862, were $364,436,682; those of France for 1862, according to French official estimates, will reach $421,823,900, and the annual expenses of Russia, according to the best accessible information, do not fall short of $230,000,000.
To meet our annual expenditures, and to assure beyond contingency the punctual discharge of the interest of the public debt, and the creation of a sinking fund for its reduction, Congress has provided a revenue from customs even now reaching nearly seventy millions a year, and a revenue from internal duties which will not probably fall short of one hundred and fifty millions a year.
Without reckoning any other resources than those already provided, the revenue, therefore, will annually exceed the expenditures by fifty-five millions, which sum may be used for the reduction of the public debt. If, then, the war shall be continued, contrary to hope and expectation, to midsummer of 1864, and the public debt shall reach the utmost limit now anticipated of seventeen hundred and fifty millions of dollars, the excess of revenue will reduce that debt during the first year of peace, more than three per cent.
But the American republic possesses immense resources which have not yet been called into contribution. The gold-bearing region of the United States stretches through near eighteen degrees of latitude, from British Columbia on the north to Mexico on the south, and through more than twenty degrees of longitude, from the eastern declivities of the Rocky mountains to the Pacific ocean. It includes two States, California and Oregon; four entire Territories, Utah, Nevada, New Mexico, and Washington; and parts of three other Territories, Colorado, Nebraska, and Dakota. It forms an area of more
than a million of square miles, the whole of which, with comparatively insignificant exceptions, is the property of the nation. It is rich not only in gold, but in silver, copper, iron, lead, and many other valuable minerals. Its product of gold and silver during the current year will not probably fall very much, if at all, short of $100,000,000; and it must long continue gradually, yet rapidly, to increase. If this product be subjected to a reasonable seignorage, as suggested by some, or if, as suggested by others, the mineral lands be subdivided and sold in convenient parcels, with proper reservations in favor of the miners now in occupation of particular localities, a very considerable revenue may, doubtless, be obtained from this region without hardship to the actual settlers and occupiers.
And there are other mines than those of gold or silver, or copper or iron, in the wide territory which includes the public lands of the United States. Every acre of the fertile soil is a mine which only waits for the contact of labor to yield its treasures; and every acre is opened to that fruitful contact by the Homestead Act. When the opportunities thus offered to industry shall be understood by the working millions of Europe, it cannot be doubted that great numbers will seek American homes, in order to avail themselves of the great advantages tendered to their acceptance by American law. Every working man who comes betters the condition of the nation as well as his own. He adds in many ways, seen and unseen, to its wealth, its intelligence, and its power. It is difficult to estimate the contribution which immigration, properly encouraged by legislation and administration, will make to revenue; but, directly and indirectly, it cannot be reckoned as less than that which may be expected from the metallic products of the gold bearing region.
With such resources at the disposal of the republic, no one need be alarmed lest the United States may become unable to pay the interest on its debt, or to reduce the principal to whatever point the public interest may indicate. The republic is passing through the pangs of a new birth to a nobler and higher life. Twice already she has paid off a national debt contracted for the defence of her rights; the obligations of that which she now incurs for the preservation of her existence will be not less sacredly fulfilled.
But while resources are thus ample, it is not the less the dictate of prudence and of good faith to a generous people that the greatest pains should be taken to reduce the public burdens to the lowest point compatible with justice to honest public creditors. Prodigality may exhaust the amplest resources and impair the firmest credit. To retrench superfluity; to economize expenditures; to adjust accurately measures to objects; to infuse resolute vigor and a just sense of responsibility into every department of public activity are not less important to credit and revenue than to general success in administration.
It has been already stated that the amount to be provided, beyond resources available under existing laws, is, for the current year, $276,912,517 66, and for the ensuing year, $627,388,183 56.
To provide these amounts loans in some form must be negotiated. The Secretary has already expressed the opinion, with great deference to the superior wisdom of Congress, that it will be unwise, unless conditions greatly change, to authorize the increase of United States notes beyond the limit now fixed by law. Should any vacuum be created by the withdrawal of bank note circulation, that vacuum should, doubtless, be filled by United States notes. Should Congress adopt the measures proposed by the Secretary, it is not improbable that an additional issue of fifty millions may be required for that purpose within the year, and an equal additional issue during the following year. And it may well be hoped that military successes, reestablishing the authority of the United States in large districts of the insurgent region, will call for further issues to supply the place of the worthless currency which the rebellion has forced upon the people. Should it be deemed expedient to invest the Secretary with any discretionary power, in view of these contingencies, it should be so limited as to allow no increase of aggregate circulation beyond the clear demands of real business.
A considerable additional sum may probably be obtained by removing the limit on temporary deposits. The amount of these deposits has steadily increased, notwithstanding large repayments to depositors. The treasury of the government has been made the savings bank of the people. Should the restriction be removed, there is reason to believe that twenty-five millions may be received beyond the maximum now fixed, during the year.
But the chief reliance, and the safest, must be upon loans. Without any issues of United States notes beyond the amount now authorized, it seems certain that loans for the whole amount required for the current year can be readily obtained at fair rates; and it may be confidently hoped that before its close the resources of the country will be so well understood, and the restoration of its territorial integrity so well assured, that capitalists will not hesitate to supply whatever may be needed for the subsequent year.
But in order to the advantageous negotiation of loans the action of Congress is necessary.
As an important element of facility in negotiation, the plan for banking associations has been already considered. Little direct aid is, however, to be expected from this plan during the present, nor very much, perhaps, during the next year. The operation of associations organized under it must, at first, be restricted mainly to investing United States notes in bonds; issuing a circulation based on these bonds; and transacting ordinary business. As the notes received for the bonds cannot be reissued without injurious inflation of the circulation, they must necessarily be withdrawn and cancelled. The aggregate circulation of government United States notes withdrawn will be replaced by the amount of national circulation furnished to the associations. The immediate advantage to the government will
be found in the market created for bonds, and the support thereby given to the national credit. The more general advantages which have been described must attend the gradual organization of banking associations, and will only be fully apparent when the national circulation furnished to them shall become the established and sole note circulation of the country.
Other legislation is therefore needed.
The act of last session authorized the Secretary to issue bonds of the United States, already often mentioned as five-twenties, to the amount of five hundred millions of dollars, and to dispose of them for coin or United States notes at the market value thereof. In the same act authority was given to issue $150,000,000 in United States notes, which authority was afterwards enlarged to $250,000,000; and it was provided that any holder of such notes to the amount of fifty dollars, or any multiple of fifty, might exchange them for five-twenty bonds, at par.
The effect of these provisions was to make negotiations of considerable amounts impossible; for considerable amounts are seldom taken, except with a view to resales at a profit, and resales at any profit are impossible under the law. Negotiations below market value are not allowed, and if not allowed the taker of the bonds can expect no advance, unless a market value considerably below par shall become established. The act makes advance above par impossible, by authorizing conversion of United States notes into bonds at that rate. The Secretary respectfully recommends the repeal of both these provisions. The first imposes, it is believed, a restriction which Congress did not intend; and the second has been followed by the inconveniences which were feared, rather than by the benefits which were expected. Convertibility by exchange at will is of little or no advantage to the holder of the notes; for the clauses which secure their receivability for all loans make them practically convertible. Whenever the volume of notes reaches a point at which loans can be effected at rates fair to the country and desirable to takers, loans will, of course, be made, and ample opportunities for conversion offered.
Should Congress, however, be of opinion that these clauses should be retained, it will be necessary to provide for other loans, at rates more favorable to the takers than convertibility into five-twenties. This can be done either by authorizing bonds at longer time, or by increasing the rates of interest offered.
The Secretary cannot recommend either cource except as an alternative to no provision at all.
As such an alternative he would prefer the issue of 7.30 three years bonds, convertible into five-twenty sixes at or before maturity, and of smaller notes bearing an interest of 3.65 per cent., as proposed in his first report.
A discretionary power may, perhaps, be advantageously conferred on the Secretary, to be exercised as exigencies may require or allow.
He does not covet the responsibilities belonging to such a power, but would not shrink from such exercise of it as, in his best judgment, the public good would require. He believes it, however, to be unnecessary. He believes that the time and rate of the five-twenty loan authorized were judiciously determined, and he believes that if the suggested changes are made in the law, the needed supplies can be obtained through these loans. No prudent legislator, at a time when the gold in the world is increasing by a hundred millions a year, and interest must necessarily and soon decline, will consent to impose on the labor and business of the people a fixed interest of six per cent on a great debt, for twenty years, unless the necessity is far more urgent than is now believed to exist. The country has already witnessed the results of such measures in the payment, in 1856, of more than four and a half millions of dollars for the privilege of paying a debt of less than fortyone millions, some twelve years, averaged time, before it became due. The general views of the Secretary may therefore be thus briefly summed:
He recommends that whatever amounts may be needed beyond the sums supplied by revenue and through other indicated modes be obtained by loans, without increasing the issue of United States notes beyond the amount fixed by law, unless a clear public exigency shall demand it. He recommends, also, the organization of banking associations for the improvement of the public credit and for the supply to the people of a safe and uniform currency. And he recommends no change in the law providing for the negotiation of bonds except the necessary increase of amount and the repeal of the absolute restriction to market value and of the clauses authorizing convertibility at will.
If Congress shall concur in these views, the Secretary, though conscious of the great difficulties which vast, sudden, and protracted expenditures impose on him, ventures to hope that he may still be able to maintain the public credit and provide for the public wants.
Special Message—Abraham Lincoln, on Financing the War Thirty-Seventh Congress, 3d Session
JANUARY 17, 1863.
[Source: Senate Journal, 37th Cong., 3d Sess., pp. 121-122.]
To the Senate and House of Representatives:
I have signed the joint resolution to provide for the immediate payment of the army and navy of the United States, passed by the House of Representatives on the 14th, and by the Senate on the 15th instant.
The joint resolution is a simple authority, amounting, however, under existing circumstances, to a direction to the Secretary of the Treasury to make an additional issue of one hundred millions of dol