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change, may fall with irresistible weight upon him. Measures of finance, too, a rapid change in the circulation (and no nation, probably, ever experienced so sudden and great a reduction, as we have passed through) by their effect upon prices and upon the value of money, enter with uncontrollable fury, into the affairs of the merchant, disconcerting every thing, overturning all his schemes, and changing the whole face of his concerns. The first shock to his credit is fatal; for it is also true, that this man, who has so much to meet and to endure, rests all his hopes and prospects, upon so delicate a foundation as the daily ability, continually manifested, to comply with his engagements to the letter. Touch that, and he is irretrievably gone. He has nothing with which to begin again, but the uncertain forbearance of his creditors.
Here is a broad ground, laid open to the examination of every one.
Unless our opponents are prepared to say,. that there shall be no such thing as commerce, no merchants, no credit, no system of severe and rigid punctuality, to regulate the movement of the machine of trade, they must admit with the gentleman from South Carolina, (Mr. Lowndes,) that these circumstances afford a motive for peculiar legislation, such as I must again insist, every civilized and commercial nation, has thought fit to adopt. Supposing, then, that notwithstanding the authority of the constitution in favour of such a mcasure, we are still bound, as our opponents have insisted, to maintain and prove its necessity, what more can be required than the general views that have been presented ? To carry them into detail; to insist upon the actual state of things, to describe the evils that continually arise from the want of such provisions, must be wholly unavailing, unless they will give us credit for our facts, and if they do that, enough has already been stated. As long as they adhere to the opinion, that it is all the creation of fancy, any effort to reason from what is stated, must terminate in an useless waste of time.
It is with great reluctance that I shall enter, at this stage of the discussion, into a vindication of the details of the bill. But it seems to be indispensably necessary to relieve them, by a proper explanation, from the charges that have been made. Otherwise, if the bill should fail, it might be supposed to be owing to carelessness, negligence, or ignorance in its construction ; and its friends would have the extreme mortification of losing the great object they have in view, from their own fault. I should be exceedingly distressed, if the failure could be justly attributed to any such cause. I am sure it could not, for I have heard no objections made, by those who are in favour of a bankrupt law in any shape in which it can be framed. Those who offered them, have exercised their ingenuity, not to make it better, but to make it worse; or, which is the same thing, to give it the worst appearance possible, and to bring discredit and odium upon it by every thing that is calculated to appeal to pride, to passion, to interest, and to prejudice.
It is is not necessary again to appcal to the house, whether this is a fair course of proceeding, or ought to receive their countenance. But to test the sincerity of those who have made objections, we invite them to take the bill into their own hands—to bring forward their amendments, to show, candidly and distinctly, in what particulars it may be beneficially altered; give us, if they will, an entirely new system, provided, the two great points of security to the creditor, and relief to the debtor, are preserved. I have no feeling of concern for any thing else, and I think I can answer for all who have supported the bill, that they will be ready to concur in any proper amendment—thať they will unequivocally evince their attachment, whoever may claim the parentage. They will only ask to spare its life-let them know that the object of their solicitude may live, and they will readily yield the contest about its custody. If gentlemen who have made objections will not do
so, we shall be constrained to believe, that it is because they have not the disposition to do justice to the measure, and to our fellow citizens who have asked for it.
At the proper time, I shall myself venture to propose two amendments, and there is one, it is understood, will be proposed, to which I shall certainly not object. I mean to bring forward a provision to enable a man in failing circumstances, to apply for a commission of bankruptcy, retaining, however, the compulsory power, in cases where no such application is made. The design of the provision would be, to enable the debtor to attain by direct and permitted means, what he would otherwise be obliged to accomplish by the irregular machinery of a concerted commission. The end would be the same, but a concerted bankruptcy is liable to the objection, that it is founded on an unlawful fiction. Another provision proposed, will be for the purpose of obtaining authentic evidence of the practical operation of the law, by requiring the commissioners to make frequent returns, at stated times, of the cases which shall occur. The amendment alluded to, as likely to come from another quarter, is to enlarge the description of persons who may be voluntary bankrupts, or, in other words, who may have the benefit of the law. If the gentleman from South Carolina, (Mr. Lowndes,) who has strongly stated and maintained the necessity and policy of a bankrupt law, will concur with the friends of the bill, in the effort to amend it, many, if not most of his objections, may certainly be removed. To wait until we can conciliate the opinion of every member of the house, upon every part of a bill like this—until we shall all agree, not only upon the principle, but upon every subordinate enactment —is to postpone it indefinitely—it is to mock the hopes of those who are anxiously looking for the measure, by keeping it forever before their eyes, but never placing it within their reach. Something must be yielded upon minor points of no great importance.
Let us remember how long such a bill has been before
For nearly ten years, I believe, it has in some way or other, been on our tables. Five years ago, it was discussed in this house. . Last session it passed the senate, and came to us, too late, it was then said, to receive a deliberate examination. Sometimes it is too early ; sometimes too late ; sometimes it is too much discussed, and the house from mere weariness suffer it to drop from their hands by an indirect decision ; then again, there is not time enough for discussion, and it is put by for a future occasion. And at last, when it is seasonably brought forward and we have been weeks engaged upon it, with pressing memorials, urging and beseeching us for the passage of the law, we find out that this is not exactly the law that it ought to be. And what then ? The natural answer would seem to be, to make it what it ought to be, to expunge what is wrong, and endeavour to insert what you think right. Shall we ever be better prepared than we now are ?—But no; we are to wait for some undefined time, until, by some undefinable means, a perfect work shall be presented to our acceptance, so perfect, indeed, as to admit of neither objection nor improvement. I can only say, that if it correspond with this description, it will not come from human hands, and it must not be subjected to human criticism, or it can never be free from a mixture of evil; and if it were, the presumptuous wisdom of man would not suffer it to escape the imputation of defect.
If we are satisfied that the measure is necessary, let us make the best bill we can, and be satisfied with the sincerity and the reality of our exertions. Experience is a great teacher, and will point out to us defects, and their remedies, with far greater certainty than speculative and conjectural reasoning. Let us begin, and afterwards improve, if necessary; but let us begin.
I am obliged, however, to say, that justice has not been done to this bill, and I feel myself bound to endeavour to
vindicate it from the heavy charges that have been brought against it, especially by the gentleman from Virginia, (Mr. A. Smyth.) I am well aware, that the reply to his criticisms, some of them very minute, will be tedious and uninteresting. But the house will bear in mind, that long as the bill has been before them, and long as it has been under discussion, there are probably very few of the members who have examined it throughout, and collated its different provisions. This is one of the most serious difficulties its advocates have to encounter. From its necessary length; from the indifference felt about it by many, and from other causes, it is imposssible to obtain for it a close and careful attention. We are much indebted to any one who will be at the pains taken by the gentleman from North Carolina, (Mr. Sawyer,) to examine and unfold its different parts.
From similar causes, operating even more powerfully, the public is likely to know little of the details, as the remonstrance from New York, which the gentleman from New York, (Mr. Colden,) has shewn to be founded in error and misconception—most fully proves. Under these circumstances, objections, though destitute of real foundation, or exaggerated greatly beyond their natural bearing, are apt to make a strong impression, especially when they come from a gentleman of as much research as the member from Virginia, (Mr. A. Smyth,) who seldom offers himself to the house without due preparation, and delivers his opinions with a deliberate gravity that cannot fail to have effect, when he speaks upon a subject with which his professional pursuits are supposed to have made him acquainted. What then will he
if I venture now to tell him, that there is scarcely one of the specific objections, upon which he has rested his general denunciation of the bill, which is supported in point of fact? The cause of some of his errors is obvious. He has been studying the bankrupt law of Eng. land, instead of the bill upon the table, and has been insist