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establishment of the national banking system. vision for such reserve power may doubtless be made in a number of different ways. This investigation will have served its purpose if in showing the causes and consequences of its absence in the past it brings home to the reader the need not only of this reserve power, but also of the readiness to use it in future emergencies.
EXTRACTS FROM THE ANNUAL REPORT OF THE SECRETARY OF THE TREASURY (WILLIAM A. RICHARDSON) RELATING TO THE CRISIS OF 1873.o
The prevailing practice, not only of national banks but of state banks and private bankers, of paying interest on deposits attracts currency from all parts of the country to the large cities, and especially to New York, the great financial center. At seasons of the year when there is comparatively little use for currency elsewhere, immense balances accumulate in New York where, not being required by the demands of legitimate and ordinary business, they are loaned on call at a higher rate of interest than that paid to depositors, and are used in speculation.
Every year, at the season when the demand sets in from the West and South for currency to be used in payment for and transportation of their agricultural products, there occurs a stringency in the money market arising from the calling in of such loans to meet this demand.
Until this year, though annually creating some embarrassment, this demand has been met without serious difficulty.
During the past summer, anticipating the usual autumn stringency, the Treasury Department sold gold while the market price was high, currency abundant, and bonds for sale in the market were scarce, and while there was a surplus of gold in the Treasury; and thereby accumulated about $14,000,000 of currency with the view of using the same, or such part thereof as might be necessary,
a Finance Report, 1873, pp. xi-xviii.
in the purchase of bonds for the sinking fund at times during the autumn and winter when they could be bought at a price not above par in gold, or in meeting demands upon the Treasury, as circumstances should require.
This year there was a great demand for currency to pay for the heavy crops of a bountiful harvest, for which the European countries offered a ready market. The suspension of certain large banking houses, the first of which occurred on the 18th day of September, alarmed the people as to the safety of banks and banking institutions in general. Suddenly there began a rapid calling in of demand loans and a very general run on the banks for the withdrawal of deposits. Entire confidence was manifested in United States notes and even in national-bank notes, and they were drawn wherever they could be obtained, and were largely hoarded with as much avidity as coin was ever hoarded in times of financial distress when that was the circulating medium of the country. The banks found themselves unable to meet the demands upon them, currency in circulation became exceedingly scarce, and the business of the country became greatly embarrassed.
In this condition of things great pressure was brought to bear upon the Treasury Department to afford relief by the issue of United States notes. The first application came from a number of gentlemen in New York, suggesting that no measure of relief would be adequate that did not place at the service of the banks of that city $20,000,000 in United States notes, and asking that the assistant treasurer at New York should be authorized to issue to those banks that amount of notes as a loan upon
a pledge of clearing-house certificates secured by ample collaterals, and for which certificates all the banks were to be jointly and severally responsible. This proposition was declined, it being clearly not within the duty or the authority of the Treasury Department, under any provisions of law, thus to employ the public money.
Exchange on Europe having fallen to unusually low rates, and indeed having become almost unsalable in the market, to the embarrassment of our foreign and domestic trade, applications were made to the Secretary of the Treasury to use the money in the Treasury in the purchase of exchange. The Treasury Department having no occasion to do this for its own use and no necessity for transferring funds to Europe, was compelled to decline this proposition, which if accepted would have put the department in the position of becoming a dealer in exchange, a position clearly inconsistent with its duties.
Subsequently the New York Produce Exchange made a proposition to accomplish the same result in a different form, and also requested, as others had before, that the Secretary should pay at once the twenty-million loan of 1858, to which the following reply was made:
TREASURY Department, Washington, September 30, 1873.
SIR: Your letter of the 29th instant, covering two resolutions of the New York Produce Exchange, has been received and the subject-matter fully considered.
The resolutions are as follows:
"Whereas the critical condition of the commercial interests of the country requires immediate relief by the removal of the block in negotiating foreign exchange; therefore be it
"Resolved, That we respectfully suggest to the Secretary of the Treasury the following plans for relief in this extraordinary emergency:
"First. That currency be immediately issued to banks and bankers, upon satisfactory evidence that gold has been placed upon special deposit
in the Bank of England, by their correspondents in London, to the credit of the United States, to be used solely in purchasing commercial bills of exchange.
"Second. That the President of the United States and the Secretary of the Treasury are respectfully requested to order the immediate prepayment of the outstanding loan of the United States due January 1, 1874."
While the Government is desirous of doing all in its power to relieve the present unsettled condition in business affairs-as has already been announced by the President-it is constrained, in all its acts, to keep within the letter and spirit of the laws, which the officers of the Government are sworn to support, and they can not go beyond the authority which Congress has conferred upon them. Your first resolution presents difficulties which can not be overcome. It is not supposed that you desire to exchange coin in England for United States notes in New York at par. If your proposition is for the Government to purchase gold in England, to be paid for in United States notes at the current market rate in New York, it would involve the Government in the business of importing and speculating in gold, since the Treasury has no use for coin beyond its ordinary receipts, and would be obliged to sell the coin so purchased at a price greater or less than was paid for it. If your object is to induce the Treasury Department to loan United States notes to banks in New York upon the pledge and deposit in London of gold, it is asking the Secretary of the Treasury to loan the money of the United States upon collateral security for which there is no authority in law. If the Secretary of the Treasury can loan notes upon a pledge of coin he can loan them upon a pledge of other property in his discretion, as he has recently been requested to do, which would be an extraordinary power as well as a most dangerous business to engage in, and which my judgment would deter me from undertaking, as the Secretary of the Treasury, even if by any stretch of construction I might not find it absolutely prohibited by law. The objections already mentioned to your first resolution are so insuperable and conclusive that it is unnecessary for me to refer to the many practical difficulties which would arise if an attempt should be made to comply with your request. Your second resolution calls for the payment at once of the loan of 1858, or the bonds com monly called "fives of 1874." Upon a thorough investigation I am of opinion that Congress has not conferred upon the Secretary of the Treasury power to comply with your request in that particular, and in this opinion the law officers of the Government concur. Under these circumstances you will perceive that, while I have great respect for the gentlemen comprising the New York Produce Exchange, I am compelled, by my views of the law and of my duty, to respectfully decline to adopt the measure which your resolutions propose.
I have the honor to be, very respectfully,
WM. A. RICHARDSON,
Secretary of the Treasury.