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ral states bankrupt laws were afterwards passed, the general provisions of which were, that
upon a process instituted by the debtor, on his delivering up his property to assignees for the benefit of his creditors, and obtaining the assent of a portion of them to his discharge, he should be exempted from his debts, as well those where his creditors had assented, as where they had not. This process, being at the instance of the debtors, was never resorted to, until his property was exhausted, and scarcely in any instance availed any thing to the creditor. In other states insolvent laws were adopted, similar in their provisions to state bankrupt laws, except that they operated to discharge only the body of the debtor from imprisonment; leaving his future acquisitions liable for his debts. In several cases determined before the supreme court, state bankrupt laws were adjudged to be repugnant to that clause in the constitution which provided, that no state should pass any law, which impaired the obligation of contracts. State insolvent laws, which exonerated the body only, were deemed to be valid.
The committee on the judiciary in the house of representatives, early in the session, reported a bankrupt bill, embracing most of the principles of the English system, and the act of 1800. The bill extended to merchants only, and provided that, upon the bankrupt's having done certain acts indicating a state of insolvency, his creditors, to a certain amount, might institute process, by means of which all his property, with the exception of a small allowance, was to be vested in assignees for the benefit of his creditors, and after paying the expenses, and certain privileged debts in full, be distributed to them in proportion to their demands as allowed by commissioners. All proceedings of the bankrupt, transferring his property after the act of bankruptcy com. mitted on which the petition was founded, were declared void. On a fair and honorable disclosure, the bankrupt, with the consent of a certain portion of his creditors, was to be discharged from all debts owing at the time of the act of bankruptcy committed.
Arguments in favor of it. The chairman of the judiciary committee, in an able and lucid argument in support of the bill, evinced from historical facts, that the most commercial nations of Europe had fo a long time found that a system of bankrupt laws were a necessary part of the commercial code. At an early period England adopted it; and France, Spain, and Holland, at different times followed the example...
In the various revolutions which these governments had undergone, the bankrupt laws had been preserved entire. Hence he inferred their necessity among a commercial peo. ple. The experience of other nations on subjects of this nature was the surest guide.
From the facility with which a fictitious capital might be obtained, from a spirit of adventurous overtrading, from the excessive importations, and the changes in the commercial system consequent on the peacc, and a variety of other causes, the chairman stated, that there were now more insolvent merchants in the United States than at any former period. The course usually adopted by the trader, when finding himself insolvent, he considered as dishonest, injurious to the creditor, and of no avail to the bankrupt. This was to pay in full certain creditors who stood in the light of endorsers and loaners of money, together with some parti. cular friends and connections, and leave the others without satisfaction, and without remedy, the bankrupt remaining subject to all his unpaid debts. The principle of preferring endorsers and money-lenders who furnished the adven. turer with a fictitious capital, he considered unjust in itself, impolitic, and injurious to the interests of commerce. It enabled a person without property to obtain a false credit, and engage in hazardous speculations, to the ultimate injury of himself and the community:
The practice of holding an honest insolvent always subject to a load of debts, which it was utterly out of his power to discharge, he considered as of no benefit to the creditor, as operating to render the bankrupt and his family a burden on their friends or the public; when if relieved a judicious bankrupt law, he might resume business on a more prudent scale, and become a useful member of society. These, and a variety of other considerations in support of the bill, were enforced with great ability. The argument was rather weakened than otherwise by an eloquent appeal to the feelings of humanity in favor of the unfortunate bankrupt and his family, and a rhapsody on the blessings of the American government, applicable to any other subject rather than a bankrupt bill. For this, however, the eloquent speaker found an apology in the frequent practice of making harangues for the galleries and newspapers, rather than the grave legislatures to whom they are addressed.
Against it. The opponents of the bill contended that its principle feature, that which went to discharge the bankrupt
from his debts, without the consent of every creditor, was unconstitutional. That it impaired the obligation of contracts, in as much as it operated to discharge them without a performance. That congress possessed no powers but what were delegated to them by the constitution. That the power in question was not necessarily embraced in the power to make bankrupt laws; and not being expressly given, no restrictive terms were necessary to show that they did not possess it. On the other hand, the state legislatures, possessing all power not delegated to the general government, a restrictive clause was necessary to prevent them from passing laws impairing the obligation of contracts.
Commercial intercourse, they sa'd, was based upon the principle of exchanging a commodity which the possessor does not need, for one which he deems of more use to him. The equivalent either passes at the same time, or an assurance given that it shall be delivered at a future day. The latter is much the most frequent; it is the foundation of all credit, and the principle upon which the great mass of com, mercial business is transacted. It is infinitely diversified, adapting itself to the situation of each community. It is the great business of municipal legislation, to enforce these assurances or contracts. In a country so extensive as the United States, with a population so varied in their customs, occupations, and pursuits, it was impossible, they said, to frame a bankrupt system, going to discharge a person from his contract without a performance, which should have an equal operation on all the parts of this great and diversified community. It was a subject more properly left to state legislatures, better acquainted with the circumstances and wants of their constituents.
But the opposers of the bill relied principally on the inconveniences, and expenses which were found to attend the bankrupt law of 1800; and the great difficulties which the experience of other countries had found to be attached to the system. They stated that in 1818, a committee of the house of commons, of Great Britain, were appointed to take into censideration their bankrupt laws, and their operation upon the community. That from the testimony taken before this committee, much of which was quoted by the speakers, it was the opinion of many eminent jurists and merchants, that the abuses which attended the execution of these laws were such, that they had better be repealed. The opinion of Lord Chancellor Eldon, whose official station gave him more opportunities to know their operation than: any other man, was quoted, where he says, “the abuse of the bankrupt laws is a disgrace to the country, and it would be better at once to repeal all the statutes, than to suffer them to be applied to such purposes. As they are frequently conducted in this country, they are little more than stock in trade for the commissio iers, assignees, and solicitors."
The powers given by the bill to commissioners, to send their officers into all parts of the union to seize, and bring before them the person of the bankrupt, and to break open his houses, stores, desks, and trunks, they considered, as liable to great abuse, and of a most dangerous character. The law would induce adventurers to contract debts, without regard to the means of payment, to the great injury of the regular commerce of the country ; would
increase litigation by the number of courts and commissioners to which it would give rise, and the conflicting decisions which were to be expected. It would encourage the bringing forward of fictitious claims, supported by fraud and perjury, and while these were contesting in their various stages, the assignees would have opportunities to speculate upon, and waste the property committed to their care. This bill afforded a copious subject of discussion, and display of legal talent, from the middle of January, to the 12th of March, when it was negatived, ayes seventy-two, noes ninety-nine.
Apportionment of representatives. The fourth census being completed, and returned to congress, it appeared that the whole number of inhabitants in the United States, on the 1st Monday in August, 1820, was, 9,625,734, of whom 1,531,436, were slaves ; 223,398, free people of color, and 7,856,269, white citizens.
The apportionment of representatives, according to this census, became a subject of much interest. Two principal objects were to be regarded; one that the representatives should be sufficiently numerous to bring into congress the feelings and interests of every portion of the union; the other, that it should not be so large and unwieldy as to impede the judicious and correct.discharge of the duties of legislation. A third object of minor consequence, was to adopt such a ratio as would leave the least fractional parts in the several states, which of course could not be included in the apportionment. A fourth consideration was, the economy of time and money, which would be the result of a small representation. Uniform experience on the subject of legislation has evinced, that after a given number, and that not a very large one, such as would be sufficient to en
sure a due degree of information and talent in the representation; the correctness, intelligence, and dispatch, with which business is done, is in an inverse proportion to the number of representatives. This is peculiarly the case in the American congress. On that great national theatre, members who possess, or imagine themselves to possess the powers of eloquence, have a laudable ambition to display their talents, and bring them to the best market. All of that class must be heard on every important topic. Hence frequent and long speeches after the subject is exhausted, and the opinion of every member fixed. The more numerous ! he body, the more liable to be influenced by popular leaders, the less individual responsibility, and the less careful and critical examination of the subjects on which they legislate, is to be expected. At the same time a vast extent of territory, and a rapidly increasing population, require a numerous representation to bring into congress the neces. sary intelligence in relation to all parts of the union. Dif. ferent numbers were proposed, varying from thirty-five to seventy thousand, as the ratio for one representative. The number ultimately agreed on was forty thousand, without regarding the fractional numbers in each state, giving to the house of representatives two hundred and thirteen members, after the 3d of March, 1823.
British colonial trade. Repeated attempts had been made without success to regulate by treaty the intercourse between the United States and the British possessions in America. The trade between the two countries, as it related to the British, European, and East India dominions, was regulated by convention on liberal and reciprocal terms, to their mutual advantage. As it respected her American possessions, Great Britain strictly adhered to her colonial system, admitting no intercourse with them in American vessels, and allowing no articles to be furnished by foreigners, which she could furnish herself. This produced correspondent restrictions on the part of the United States, by which their intercourse in British bottoms was prohibited. These embarrassments caused an indirect trade, by which American preduce was shipped to the Swedish and Danish islands, in American bottoms, where they found the produce of the British islands brought there for the United States markets. The double freight and insurance, and incrcased expenses of this circuitous trade enhanced the price of the articles, and ultimately fell on the consumer.
Petitions from the chamber of commerce in Baltimore, and a respectable number of citizens of South Carolina, praying for a re