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some length ; not because it may interest curiosity, but because it will render more sensible the defects of the system, which has obtained an unaccountable ascendancy.
The Romans, being confined within a very limited territory in the early stages of the republic, derived great part of their subsistence from plundering the harvest of their neighbours. The uncertainty and inequality of the booty rendered extremely precarious the revenue of a great number of citizens, who could not escape from misery and despair but by borrowing the surplus of their fellow-citizens. The conditions of the loan were rarely generous, and yet the laws enforced its restitution with the utmost severity. These laws were even more than severe, they were atrocious; emanated from a ferocious, covetous, and indigent people, as a necessary consequence of their economical situation, they perhaps favoured their political designs, and promoted the general interest which their character and their manners taught them to forward at any price.
As debtors had no means of paying their créditors but their share in the booty taken from the enemy, the more the penalties against inexact or insolvent debtors were severe and terrible, the greater must have been their exertions in battle to insure the victory to their country and to avoid the punishment which awaited them if their countrymen should be vanquished. Thus, in civil transactions apparently little connected with political views, we recognize that national spirit of the Romans, which from victory to victory led them on to the conquest of the
world, and which has been considered hy all ages as the result of the conceptions and combinations of genius, while in its principle it was but the result of dire necessity, which sometimes proves as beneficial to nations as to individuals,
It must however be acknowledged, that the severity of the laws against debtors frequently occasioned disasters. It fomented numerous seditions, caused strong commotions in the state, and shook it in its very foundations. In those critical moments, the Romans were forced to sacrifice the rights of the creditors to public peace and to the safety of the state. But it is singular that those laws were neither abrogated, nor modified, and underwent no alteration whatever as long as the Romans needed to conquer in order to exist.
When Rome, become mistress of the world, passed under the yoke of the emperors, her law's respecting private credit experienced the changes which her new situation required. The emperors, whose interest was different from that of the republic, neglected no means to lower the power of the patricians, whom they distrusted, and to conciliate the affection of the common people, and interest them as it were in their dominion. Their views were perfectly seconded by the abrogation of the old laws respecting private credit; it deprived the patricians of means which had not a little contributed to their wealth, their power and their influence over the multitude, and it restored to the common people the independence which they had been robbed of by those laws. It was then that a maxim, apparently dictated by humanity, but really
partial, that the cause of the debtor is the most favourable, took its rise ; and it may easily be supposed that from that instant private credit vanished or manifested itself only with precautions and simulations calculated to balance the favour shewn to the debtor. Every page of the Roman code of laws exhibits a struygle between the law and the creditor, and the efforts of the legislator to protect the debtor against the arts and devices of his creditor.
When the nations of modern Europe became acquainted with and adopted the Roman law, or introduced its spirit into their customs, they were exactly in the same situation as the Romans under the emperors. The fendal barons oppressed the people and balanced the authority of the monarch. Kings were therefore as interested in lowering the feudal barons, as the emperors in weakening the patricians; and the same interest induced the kings, as it had done the emperors, to cultivate the affection of the people. The maxim, that the cause of the debtor is the most favourable, necessarily crept into the code of modern nations, from the same motive which had introduced it into the Roman law. Hence it is found in almost all codes of laws, even in those which do most honour to human reason, and which by the purity of their motives are best calculated to forward the happiness of man and the improvement of the human race.
But a maxiin excellent for times of oppression and robbery, in oligarchical governments and under the sway of a small number of wealthy individuals, is no longer suitable to a social order built upon the equality
of civil and political rights, which recognizes labour as the source of comforts, the circulation of its produce as the promoter of public prosperity, and general wealth as the basis of strength and power. In this system every one labours, economizes, and lends his savings merely for equivalents that please and suit bim, and only as far as he is sure to be put in possession of those equivalents at the time when the commodity which he has lent is to be restored to him. The limitation of the equivalent and the difficulty of having the loan returned are as many obstacles to private credit, to individual savings, to the undertakings which these savings promote or favour, to the increase of population and produce, and to the progress oi national wealth.
Let governments remove obstacles so unworthy of the present state of knowledge, so injurious to their glory, so averse to their power. Let them allow the lender and borrower to stipulate what conditions they think fit; let them watch over the performance of their stipulations; and, above all, let the execution of the law be stripped of the delays and costs with which it is obstructed, and which often render its execution impossible ; and private credit will take a rapid flight and be the parent of incalculable benefits.
Public credit in many respects resembles private credit, and might truly be pronounced a mere branch of it. Both circulate private savings, and neither can obtain these savings but by offering an equivalent agreeable or suitable to the lender, and insuring him the restitution of his property: but they differ in so
far as the savings put in circulation by private credit contribute almost all to increase the mass of productive labour ; while those circulated by public credi contribute almust all to a mere additional expence, and of course serve only to increase consumption. A difference which has already been noticed and appre. ciated.
However, it must be confessed, that whenever the necessity of additional expence is obvious, public credit affords the least burthensome resou ce of all those that could be devised to pay for that
for that expence. After having attentively followed credit from its source, in its various branches, and up to its most minute ramifications; after having seen it, like a bountiful river, carrying every-where activity, fertility, and abundance, freeing circulation from the costly use of coin, and reserving it for the undertakings of industry; after having witnessed the extensive means of power and grandeur, not over-burthensome to the people, and perhaps connected with their prosperity, which credit affords to government; we ask, with a sort of inquietude, why so many advantages have been so ill appreciated by recommendable writers; how enlightened governments could ever endanger them by frequent and multiplied failures ; why some able men persist in seeing nothing in those failures but private interests injured and private fortunes deranged, and think such misfortunes unconnected with public interest ? Am I deviating from truth, when I suppose this fatal error to proceed from the hatred which was always manifested in France towards capitalists and those who were called monied men ?