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32! A General Bankrupt Lato<
and contracts expiring under the statutes of limitation, are not enforced, although the natural and moral obligations of those contracts may be perfect. Society does not, therefore, strictly enforce all the natural rights of individuals. Why not? Because it governs itself by considerations of expediency; because the good of the few must yield to the good of the many;
In its elementary character, what is a bankrupt law? Simply a declaration, by the supreme law-making power of the state, defining the extent to which, and the mode in which, under certain circumstances, it will enforce pecuniary obligations.
Such a law as is now asked for will enforce pecuniary obligations to the extent of the honest debtor's property, and refuse to enforce them beyond that extent. A bankrupt law does not extinguish obligations, but only declares that society will not, under certain circumstances, lend its aid to enforce them. The obligation to pay a debt remains upon the conscience; the record of it is preserved in heaven; but the coercive power of the law is withheld, because its exercise would inflict a wound upon the state.
That the subject is difficult, and that the best law must be imperfect, is no reason why an effort should not be made to meet the exigencies of the times. All judicious legislation is difficult. All human laws are imperfect. If these were sufficient reasons against legislation, the wheels of government would stand still; indeed, government itself would soon come to an end.
All such general objections against a national bankrupt law go with equal force against any bankrupt law. Against all such reasons we appeal to the great teachers, time and experience. No country that has tried bankrupt laws has ever abandoned them. The greatest commercial nation in the world, England, has had a bankrupt system for over three centuries, and still adheres to it.
The position of the general government in this matter, has been that of the dog in the manger. It would not act itself nor allow the states to act.
The states are not responsible for the suffering and crime caused by the inadequacy of our bankrupt laws. Their powers over the subject are limited, and they have performed their duty to the people to the extent of their constitutional ability. Their action has necessarily been independent of each other, and has produced confusion. They have evinced their desire that congress should exercise its functions, by themselves doing all on that subject authorized by the constitution.
The inaction of congress has been the ground of just complaint on the part of the states. "The commissioners appointed to revise the civil code of Pennsylvania, (see note to 2 Kent's Com. p. 396,) in their report, in January, 1835, complain in strong terms of the existing state of things. Congress will not exert their constitutional power, and pass a bankrupt law; and no state can pass a bankrupt or insolvent law, except so far as regards their own citizens; and even then, only in relation to contracts made after the passage of the law. Foreign creditors, and creditors in other states, cannot be barred, while state creditors may be. The former preserve a perpetual lien on after acquired property, except so far as the statutes of limitation interpose. State bankrupt and insolvent laws cannot be cherished under such inequalities."
The objection, that oankrupt laws induce rashness and carelessness, undoubtedly has force, but not so much as some suppose. Few would covet the name of a bankrupt; fewer still the process by which he obtains his discharge. We cannot imagine that a live eel ever considers the process of being skinned a pleasant one; and that by which the bankrupt is denuded is very similar. Even if the objection were more weighty than it really is, it applies to the future rather than the past. It furnishes no reason why those whose misfortunes have made them a burden to them' .selves and to society, should not be restored to hope and usefulness. We respect those who urge this objection in good faith, because it indicates a disposition to look beyond a mere personal interest, and to take a large view of things; but we must still be excused from regarding it as a weighty objection against a general bankrupt law.
The attempt to pass a bankrupt law at the last session of congress, although not successful, was not defeated on its merits. The bill passed the senate, and was lost in the house at the close of the session, probably for want of time to reconcile minor differences as to details. <
Never, since the adoption of the constitution, has the necessity for a general bankrupt law been so urgent as now. The last ten years have witnessed the most extraordinary events. The country, at one time, seemed to be towering in the eagle flight of prosperity, but has since fallen, with broken pinions, to the earth. Thousands have been stricken down by the delusions of speculation and the revulsions of trade. Capital invested in legitimate and illegitimate enterprise has perished in each. The coasts of commercial life are thick strewn with the spars and hulls of many a sad shipwreck. Men of immense wealth have been, by a stroke, reduced from affluence to want. The last rays of the setting sun lingered upon palaces which, at the dawn of the morning, lay in smouldering ruins; and so, and as suddenly, passed from the grasp of the enterprising man of business, the acquisitions of years of toil, leaving him the bitter heritage of poverty. Some have fallen, like Lucifer, "never to rise again." The spring of their activity is broken. Mercantile character, delicate as a woman's chastity, which a breath of dishonor may smirch and sully forever, is irrecoverably lost.
But the brave and the craven have fallen on the same field. While some are lost to honor, many have preserved "the whiteness of their souls." They have not fallen by their own unskilfulness, but have been crushed by the fall of otherst _
To refuse to enact a bankrupt law, is to deprive such men of hope. As to them, you strike the credit system out of existence. The insolvent debtor looks out upon the broad highways of life, upon the land and upon the ocean, thronged with his fellow-men, winning fame and fortune, and enjoying that greatest of human powers, the power of doing good. The multitude press on; occasionally an individual falls, or is struck down, but the mass of human life presses forward in triumph. But the unfortunate debtor looks on without hope. True, his mental and physical powers are unimpaired, but he is excluded from the glorious field of honorable competition. His doom is that of Tantalus—he is tormented with a raging thirst; the cool and limpid waters in which he is immersed, gush and sparkle about him; he cannot drink, but must perish.
Such a man has few objects for which to desire life. Perhaps, possessed of a fine taste, and accustomed to its gratification, he is doomed to bleak walls and a hard crust. Is he well? poverty is his guest. Is he
VOL. iv.—Ho. i. 5
sick? no fee tempts the physician to cross his cheerless door-stone. He recovers, or dies, as fate or Providence decrees. He is tempted to commit suicide, and his only escape (dreadful alternative !) is from suicide into insanity.
For what purpose all this waste of life? What has this man done that he should be so doomed? Nothing. A night of fire in the crowded city, or of tempest on the wide ocean, has annihilated his property, and made him a bankrupt and a beggar. This man's crime was misfortune; his punishment is worse than the deadliest ever inflicted upon the leprosed felon.
Who oppose the passage of a general bankrupt law? Men whose hearts have long since petrified and become stone. Such men opposed the abolishment of that disgrace to a civilized age and a Christian people—imprisonment for debt. Such men think the utter ruin of the bankrupt is "so nominated in the bond," and the dearly-prized "pound of flesh," and the example of the unrelenting Shylock, are longer remembered than the "quality of mercy" with which the stern Jew was entreated. Such men were born an age too late. Time was when the debtor fell under the keen edge of the criminal code. The Roman law gave the body of the living debtor to be hacked to pieces and divided among his creditors. And in more modern times, among a Christian people, the cold walls of a prison, and exposure in the public stocks, with the debtor's cap as a badge of infamy, have been thought appropriate consolations for the unfortunate. Even in our own day, we have seen the corpse of a no less distinguished benefactor than Sheridan, seized in its coffin and graveclothes, for debt, and the cold flesh of the lamented dead redeemed from the iron gripe of the creditor by the contributions of charity.
Who desire the passage of a general bankrupt law? Two hundred thousand bankrupts; their wives, who have shared with them the bitter cup of affliction; their children, who have borne privation without a murmur, but who shrink from an imputed stain upon a father's name. Two millions of direct sufferers lift up imploring hands to congress. And plead they alone? No; we will not insult the American people by believing it. Millions of their thinking and humane fellow-citizens join with the sufferers, and demand that the power which the humanity of our fathers incorporated in the constitution, shall not remain a dead letter.
Shall the unfortunate appeal to congress for succor in vain 1 They are our fellow-citizens. The constitution is their constitution; the powers which it confers upon congress were conferred for their benefit. They ask a parental government to exercise its powers parentally. In the language of scripture, "the blessings of those who were ready to perish" will descend upon those who bring succor to the afflicted in this the hour of their greatest extremity.
Put not a freeman's energies in fetters; do not bury the living. The state needs all her children. There is room and verge enough for all. There are resourcesfordcvelopmenttogive employment to all hands, heads, and hearts. In this boundless and glorious land of ours, let no honest face be bowed with shame or despair. Wherever human energies can be exerted, in the workshop, on the broad prairie, in the dim forest, in cultivated fields, or on the boundless ocean, let the contented, vigorous, and hopeful energies of American industry and enterprise be put forth. Let there be freedom in its best and broadest sense for all. Let the mv fortunate debtor have a Future. Make not his o'erflowing cup of sorrow more bitter; but in a trustful spirit, with a generous faith in our fellow-man, let us put the prize in his view, and bid him forth with hope, to run as the victor runneth his race.
We commend this cause to the real statesmen of the country. We believe that our institutions have produced statesmen of enlarged and generous minds, who entertain just views of greatness, and seek that enduring fame which, in the language of a great magistrate, "is not run after," but which "follows" the honest exertion of eminent abilities in the service of one's country.
To such, we say, the auspicious opportunity to render your country momentous service, and to win for yourselves the veneration of the wise and good, is now before you. Let not the golden opportunity elude your grasp. Leave to meaner capacities, and to vulgar tastes, the gilded trappings of office, and the ephemeral applause, the "mouth honor," of political conventicles. Disdain to be the man of a faction; let your country be your party. Be not with the ignoble class,
"Who narrow their mind,
Rather be ranked with the Romillys and Broughams of the old world, and let a nation's enlightened laws be your history and your monuments.
Art. III.—TURKEY, EGYPT, AND MEHEMET ALL
The warlike elements which have been for some time gathering in the eastern world, at one time menacing the peace of Europe, are at length marshalled in an attitude so imposing and formidable, as to threaten Mohammed Ali, the Napoleon of the east, as he has been called, with the loss of a part, if not the whole, of his extensive dominions. This sovereign of Egypt, and master of Syria, as our readers already know, has spurned the power of the Turkish sultan, thrown off the Ottoman yoke, and assumed absolute unqualified independence.
The tribute claimed at Constantinople has been discontinued, the resources of Egypt no longer taxed to support a foreign tyrant, and the strength of the Porte, weakened by a succession of wars, and by the assaults of European powers, has been impotent to enforce obedience on the part of his rebellious pasha; who, supported by the native strength of Egypt, cast his defiance in the teeth of the sultan, refusing for some time past to acknowledge him, even as a nominal master.
Supreme in the land of the Pharoahs, maintaining his sovereignty too by the will of his subjects, and grasping Syria with a firm steady hand, Mohammed Ali, little apprehensive of rebellion within, and no longer fearing the Ottoman power, has for many years been carrying out his favorite plans of European civilization for the improvement of his country, when England and Russia, Prussia and Austria, linking their mighty arms, send forth their armies and their fleets, threatening to war against him, until Egypt, the cradle of the arts, and the nurse of early science, and Syria, filled with its thrice holy places, clasping in its boundaries the ancient Palestine, shall acknowledge the arbitrary despot of the Turks for their master.
It is at all times a sublime and awful sight to see great nations preparing for warfare; but how infinitely more so is it when four of the most mighty powers on earth arm themselves to avenge the quarrel of another, upon a nation from which they have never received the slightest provocation or injury! How vast is the responsibility they assume, and of what importance is it that the quarrel they undertake should be righteous! An appeal to arms is the most solemn act which men in their political capacity can exercise, and this should only be adopted when all else fails, and then only when the cause is just and holy. And is this crusade against Mohammed Ali just? or is it unjust? Let us proceed to examine, and in this examination will be necessarily embraced an inquiry into the social and political condition of Egypt, as well previous to, as during the time of his administration. For if since his sovereignty commenced, the condition of the people has been ameliorated and improved—if they enjoy milder and better laws, and if the laws are more wisely and justly administered than before, his moral rights to continue in the high station to which his talents, perseverance, and bravery have elevated him, is too firmly settled to be shaken; and to sustain his title, vested in him by the Egyptian nation, the self-evident and undeniable proposition, that the right of revolution, and of choosing its ruler is inherent in every people, need not be stated.
There is no country on earth, whose ancient power and glory, whose former greatness in all that ennobles the human race, entitle it to a higher rank among the nations of the globe than Egypt. In the infancy of Greece, the only nation in Europe that makes any pretensions to antiquity, the land of the Pharoahs was an old country; and in the days of Moses, its people were proverbial for their wisdom and learning, and were particularly reverenced by the Syrian tribes, by whom they were regarded with wonder and admiration. Nations that now are most conspicuous for their knowledge and power, and which, in modern times, have wielded the mightiest influence, had not entered upon the first stage of their incipient career, when the inhabitants of Thebes and Memphis were brilliantly progressing in civilization and the arts, were investigating the laws which control the machinery and motion of the heavenly bodies, and by the aid of a vast research combined with learned ingenuity, were bringing to light and analyzing the most hidden sciences. Far beyond the records of the earliest civil history, the system of Egyptian government was uniform and settled, and its political fabric fixed upon wise and permanent principles. Surrounding nations slumbered in darkness, their people enslaved, their monarchs tyrants; while Egypt, with her enlightened laws, combined with the cultivation of the sciences, shone a blaze of light, her inhabitants in the enjoyment of many political blessings, her kings the patrons of the arts, and the promoters of learning. Years rolled on, and the knowledge amassed along the Nile, was disseminated abroad, and Phenicia, the first to set the example of commercial intercourse to the rude colonies scattered along the northern coast of the Mediterranean Sea, became the medium through which the learning of the Egyptians was communicated to the ancestors of those to whom Greece owes its ancient greatness, and its imperishable fame. Later still, and yet three thousand years ago, Sesostris, king of Egypt, styled in history the conqueror of the