fication of the contracts respecting the debt in the state in which they existed under the Confederation. And, resorting to that standard, there can be no doubt that the rights of assignees and original holders must be considered as equal. In exploding thus fully the principle of discrimination, the Secretary is happy in reflecting, that he is only the advocate of what has been already sanctioned by the formal and express authority of the government of the Union, in these emphatic terms: "The remaining class of creditors," say Congress, in their circular address to the States, of the 26th of April, 1783, "is "composed partly of such of our fellow citizens as originally lent to the "public the use of their funds, or have since manifested most confidence in "their country, by receiving transfers from the lenders; and partly of those "whose property has been either advanced or assumed for the public service. "To discriminate the merits of these several descriptions of creditors would "be a task equally unnecessary and invidious. If the voice of humanity "plead more loudly in favor of some than of others, the voice of policy, no "less than of justice, pleads in favor of all. A wise nation will never per"mit those who relieve the wants of their country, or who rely most on "its faith, its firmness, and its resources, when either of them is distrusted, "to suffer by the event."

The Secretary, concluding that a discrimination between the different classes of creditors of the United States cannot, with propriety, be made, proceeds to examine whether a difference ought to be permitted to remain between them and another description of public creditors-those of the States, individually. The Secretary, after mature reflection on this point, entertains a full conviction, that an assumption of the debts of the particular States by the Union, and a like provision for them as for those of the Union, will be a measure of sound policy and substantial justice.

It would, in the opinion of the Secretary, contribute, in an eminent degree, to an orderly, stable, and satisfactory arrangement of the national finances. Admitting, as ought to be the case, that a provision must be made, in some way or other, for the entire debt, it will follow that no greater revenues will be required, whether that provision be made wholly by the United States, or partly by them, and partly by the States separately.

The principal question, then, must be, whether such a provision cannot be more conveniently and effectually made, by one general plan, issuing from one authority, than by different plans, originating in different authorities? In the first case there can be no competition for resources; in the last, there must be such a competition. The consequences of this, without the greatest caution on both sides, might be interfering regulations, and thence collision and confusion. Particular branches of industry might also be oppressed by it. The most productive objects of revenue are not numerous. Either these must be wholly engrossed by one side, which might lessen the efficacy of the provisions by the other, or both must have recourse to the same objects, in different modes, which might occasion an accumulation upon them beyond what they could properly bear. If this should not happen, the caution requisite to avoiding it would prevent the revenue's deriving the full benefit of each object. The danger of interference and of excess, would be apt to impose restraints very unfriendly to the complete command of those resources which are the most convenient, and to compel the having recourse to others less eligible in themselves, and less agreeable to the community. The difficulty of an effectual command of the public resources, in case of separate provisions for the debt, may be seen in another, and, perhaps, more striking light. It would naturally happen that different States, from local

considerations, would, in some instances, have recourse to different objects, in others to the same objects, in different degrees, for procuring the funds of which they stood in nced. It is easy to conceive how this diversity would affect the aggregate revenue of the country. By the supposition, articles which yielded a full supply in some States, would yield nothing, or an insufficient product, in others. And hence the public revenue would not derive the full benefit of those articles from State regulations: neither could the deficiencies be made good by those of the Union. It is a provision of the national Constitution, that all duties, imposts, and excises, shall be "uniform throughout the United States." And, as the general government would be under a necessity, from motives of policy, of paying regard to the duty which may have been previously imposed upon any article, though but in a single State, it would be constrained either to refrain wholly from any further imposition upon such article, where it had been already rated as high as was proper, or to confine itself to the difference between the existing rate and what the article would reasonably bear. Thus the preoccupancy of an article by a single State, would tend to arrest or abridge the impositions of the Union on that article. And as it is supposable, that a great variety of articles might be placed in this situation, by dissimilar arrangements of the particular States, it is evident that the aggregate revenue of the country would be likely to be very materially contracted by the plan of separate provisions.

If all the public creditors receive their dues from one source, distributed with an equal hand, their interest will be the same. And, having the same interests, they will unite in the support of the fiscal arrangements of the government: as these, too, can be made with more convenience where there is no competition. These circumstances combined, will ensure to the revenue laws a more ready and more satisfactory execution.

If, on the contrary, there are distinct provisions, there will be distinct interests, drawing different ways. That union and concert of views, among the creditors, which in every government is of great importance to their security, and to that of public credit, will not only not exist, but will be likely to give place to mutual jealousy and opposition. And from this cause, the operation of the systems which may be adopted both by the particular States and by the Union, with relation to their respective debts, will be in danger of being counteracted.

There are several reasons, which render it probable that the situation of the State creditors would be worse than that of the creditors of the Union, if there be not a national assumption of the State debts. Of these it will be sufficient to mention two: one, that a principal branch of revenue is exclusively vested in the Union; the other, that a State must always be checked in the imposition of taxes on articles of consumption, from the want of power to extend the same regulation to the other States, and from the tendency of partial duties to injure its industry and commerce. Should the State creditors stand upon a less eligible footing than the others, it is unnatural to expect they would see with pleasure a provision for them. The influence which their dissatisfaction might have, could not but operate injuriously, both for the creditors and the credit of the United States. Hence it is even the interest of the creditors of the Union, that those of the individual States should be comprehended in a general provision. Any attempt to secure to the former either exclusive or peculiar advantages, would materially hazard their interests. Neither would it be just, that one class of the public creditors should be more favored than the other. The objects for which both descrip

tions of the debt were contracted, are in the main the same. Indeed a great part of the particular debts of the States has arisen from assumptions by them on account of the Union. And it is most equitable, that there should be the same measure of retribution for all. There is an objection, however, to an assumption of the State debts, which deserves particular notice. It may be supposed, that it would increase the difficulty of an equitable settlement between them and the United States.

The principles of that settlement, whenever they shall be discussed, will require all the moderation and wisdom of the government. In the opinion of the Secretary, that discussion, till further lights are obtained, would be premature. All, therefore, which he would now think adviseable on the point in question, would be, that the amount of the debts assumed and provided for, should be charged to the respective States, to abide an eventual arrangement. This, the United States, as assignees to the creditors, would have an indisputable right to do. But as it might be a satisfaction to the House to have before them some plan for the liquidation of accounts between the Union and its members, which, including the assumption of the State debts, would consist with equity, the Secretary will submit, in this place, such thoughts on the subject as have occurred to his own mind, or been suggested to him, most compatible, in his judgment, with the end proposed.

Let each State be charged with all the money advanced to it out of the treasury of the United States, liquidated according to the specie value at the time of each advance, with interest at six per cent.

Let it also be charged with the amount, in specie value, of all its securities which shall be assumed, with the interest upon them, to the time when interest shall become payable by the United States.

Let it be credited for all moneys paid, and articles furnished to the United States, and for all other expenditures during the war, either towards general or particular defence, whether authorized or unauthorized by the United States; the whole liquidated to specie value, and bearing an interest of six per cent., from the several times at which the several payments, advances, and expenditures accrued.

And let all sums of continental money now in the treasuries of the respective States, which shall be paid into the treasury of the United States, be credited at specie value.

Upon a statement of the accounts according to these principles, there can be little doubt that balances would appear in favor of all the States against the United States.

To equalize the contributions of the States, let each be then charged with its proportion of the aggregate of those balances, according to some equitable ratio, to be devised for that purpose.

If the contributions should be found disproportionate, the result of this adjustment would be, that some States would be creditors, some debtors, to the Union. Should this be the case-as it will be attended with less inconvenience to the United States to have to pay balances to, than to receive them from, the particular States-it may, perhaps, be practicable to effect the former by a second process, in the nature of a transfer of the amount of the debts of debtor States, to the credit of creditor States; observing the ratio by which the first apportionment shall have been made. This, whilst it would destroy the balances due from the former, would increase those due to the latter. These to be provided for by the United States, at a reasonable interest, but not to be transferable. The expediency of this second process must depend on a knowledge of the result of the first. If the inequalities

should be too great, the arrangement may be impracticable, without unduly increasing the debt of the United States. But it is not likely that this would be the case. It is also to be remarked, that though this second process might not, upon the principle of apportionment, bring the thing to the point aimed at, yet it may approach so nearly to it, as to avoid essentially the embarrassment of having considerable balances to collect from any of the States.

The whole of this arrangement to be under the superintendence of commissioners, vested with equitable discretion and final authority. The operation of the plan is exemplified in schedule A.

The general principle of it seems to be equitable, for it appears difficult. to conceive a good reason why the expenses for the particular defence of a part, in a common war, should not be a common charge, as well as those incurred professedly for the general defence. The defence of each part is that of the whole; and unless all the expenditures are brought into a common mass, the tendency must be to add to the calamities suffered, by being the most exposed to the ravages of war, an increase of burthens. This plan seems to be susceptible of no objection which does not belong to every other, that proceeds on the idea of a final adjustment of accounts. The difficulty of settling a ratio is common to all. This must, probably, either be sought for in the proportions of the requisitions during the war, or in the decision of commissioners, appointed with plenary power. The rule prescribed in the Constitution with regard to representation and direct taxes, would evidently not be applicable to the situation of parties, during the period in question. The existing debt of the United States is excluded from the computation, as it ought to be, because it will be provided for out of a general fund. The only discussion of a preliminary kind which remains, relates to the distinctions of the debt into principal and interest. It is well known that the arrears of the latter bear a large proportion to the amount of the former. The immediate payment of these arrears is evidently impracticable; and a question arises-what ought to be done with them?

There is good reason to conclude, that the impressions of many are more favorable to the claim of the principal, than to that of the interest; at least so far as to produce an opinion, that an inferior provision might suffice for the latter.

But, to the Secretary, this opinion does not appear to be well founded. His investigations of the subject have led him to a conclusion, that the arrea of interest have pretensions at least equal to the principal.

The liquidated debt, traced to its origin, falls under two principal diseriminations. One relating to loans, the other to services performed and articles supplied. The part arising from loans was at first made payable at fixed periods, which have long since elapsed, with an early option to lenders, either to receive back their money at the expiration of those periods, or to continue it at interest, till the whole amount of continental bills circulating should not exceed the sum in circulation at the time of each loan. This contingency, in the sense of the contract, never happened; and the presumption is, that the creditors preferred continuing their money indefinitely at interest, to receiving it in a depreciated and depreciating state.

The other parts of it were chiefly for objects which ought to have been paid for at the time, that is, when the services were performed, or the supplies furnished; and were not accompanied with any contract for interest.

But by different acts of government and administration, concurred in by the creditors, these parts of the debt have been converted into a capital, bearing an interest of six per cent. per annum, but without any definite

period of redemption. A portion of the Loan Office debt, has been exchanged for new securities of that import; and the whole of it seems to have acquired that character after the expiration of the periods prefixed for re-payment. If this view of the subject be a just one, the capital of the debt of the United States may be considered in the light of an annuity at the rate of six per cent. per annum, redeemable at the pleasure of the government, by payment of the principal. For it seems to be a clear position, that when a government contracts a debt payable with interest, without any precise time being stipulated or understood for payment of the capital, that time is a matter of pure discretion with the government, which is at liberty to consult its own convenience respecting it, taking care to pay the interest with punctuality.

Wherefore, as long as the United States should pay the interest of their debt, as it accrued, their creditors would have no right to demand the principal. But with regard to the arrears of interest, the case is different. These are now due, and those to whom they are due, have a right to claim immediate payment. To say that it would be impracticable to comply, would not vary the nature of the right. Nor can this idea of impracticability be honorably carried further than to justify the proposition of a new contract, upon the basis of a commutation of that right for an equivalent. This equivalent too ought to be a real and fair one. And what other fair equivalent can be imagined for the detention of money, but a reasonable interest? Or what can be the standard of that interest, but the market rate, or the rate which the government pays in ordinary cases?

From this view of the matter, which appears to be the accurate and true one, it will follow, that the arrears of interest are entitled to an equal provision with the principal of the debt.

The result of the foregoing discussions is this. That there ought to be no discrimination between the original holders of the debt, and present possessors by purchase. That it is expedient there should be an assumption of the State debts by the Union, and that the arrears of interest should be provided for on an equal footing with the principal.

The next inquiry, in order, towards determining the nature of a proper provision, respects the quantum of the debt, and the present rates of interest. The debt of the Union is distinguishable into foreign and domestic. The Foreign Debt, as stated in schedule B, amounts to

$10,070,307 00

principal Bearing an interest of four, and partly an interest of five per cent.

Arrears of interest to the last of December, 1789

Making together

The Domestic Debt may be subdivided into liquidated
and unliquidated; principal and interest.
The principal of the liquidated part, as stated in the
schedule C, amounts to

Bearing an interest of six per cent.
The arrears of interest, as stated in the schedule D, to
the end of 1790, amount to

Making together

[ocr errors]

1,640,071 62

$11,710,378 62

$27,383,917 74

13,030,168 20

$40,414,085 94

« ForrigeFortsett »