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of the high enjoyment of paying their debts?—The chance is not worth computing. Every profession or occupation has prizes, but they are few in proportion to the blanks. In the occupation of a merchant, one would almost be led to doubt—such is the scene of individual ruin our commercial history presents—whether there are any prizes at all. We may
be sure the high ones are very, very few indeed : And if he has no other objection to the bill than this, he ought at once to yield it as resting upon no real foundation. It is not worthy of being received into a rational calculation.
But it is supposed that under the act of 1800, there were very few dividends. Indeed from what has been said, we should conclude there were none. Few or many, are always comparative terms, and are absolutely unmeaning words unless we have something in our minds with which the comparison is to be made. Would there have been as many or more without the bankrupt law? Has the whole estate in every case been fairly divided ? These are the true enquiries to be made, as to the point now in question, and they are answered by the lists more satisfactorily than I believe any one anticipated. It will be born in mind, that the early operation of the law would be principally in cases of previously existing and stale insolvency, where the estate had been already consumed for want of adequate inducement to surrender, or disposed of by assignments under insolvent laws or otherwise. The law was repealed too soon to give it a chance to exhibit its real usefulness. It must also be recollected, that before any dividend could be made among creditors in general, the United States were to be paid in full; and as those who are liable to commissions of bankruptcy, are of the class of persons who are generally debtors for duties, this right of preference would exist in many of the cases. Creditors having specific securities must also be paid; and neither of these would appear in the dividends. Now let us see what this calum
niated law effected. The Pennsylvania list, though it gives us two hundred cases of bankruptcy, (the whole that occurred) furnishes the history of but thirty-seven cases. The rest have not been returned to the clerk's office, we have no account of them, and it does not appear how many or what dividends were declared—of the thirty-seven cases there were ten in which there were dividends—the lowest was six per cent, they varied from that to fifty, and in one case the creditors were paid in full with interest In New York, where there were in all one hundred and sixty-six commissions, we have an account of only seventyone, that is, of the cases which occurred from the first of July, 1802, to the repeal of the law in December, 1803. Of the cases before the first of July, 1802, we are not in. formed. Of the seventy-one cases, there were twenty-two in which there were dividends, varying from three or four per cent to seventy per cent, and in one case the creditors were paid in full with interest! From the other districts, there is no information.
This is much better, I repeat, than any of us supposed, and better—far better, it may be safely asserted, than can be predicated of any insolvent law, or of any equal number of voluntary assignments. And when you consider the two circumstances before adverted to, which would have a necessary effect upon the dividends, in the early cases, the law of 1800 is placed in a very fair and respectable light as it regards the interests of the creditor by this single glance at its operation. That the operation was beneficial, I have no doubt that it would have been more so, if it had been suffered to continue, is matter of very strong probability. Such is the opinion of nearly all the commercial men in the union, as you see from their memorials; and they have the best means of forming a correct judgment.
But that law was certainly unpopular, say gentlementhe sense of the country was against it; and that is urged as an argument of great force. Why was that law odious,
and why was it so hastily. repealed by such an immense majority ? it may be that it was misunderstood, as it is even
It may be that its mischievous tendencies were greatly exaggerated, as they have been in this debate. It may be, that the fancied right of the creditor, to pursue the future effects of an insolvent debtor, worthless as it is in any practical estimate, was swelled into the same theoretical magnitude, as it has been in this House; and that some were persuaded to believe that to interfere with this right, to take this shadow from the creditor, even upon the most urgent motives, transcended the just power of legislation. It may be that it was unpopular then, as it is perhaps now, because it concerns chiefly but a small portion of our fellow citizens. A thousand circumstances, having no 'connexion with its real merits, may have influenced its fate, and it was not suffered to continue long enough in existence to establish its real character in the public estimation.
To establish that a measure is unpopular, without proving that it deserves to be so, is altogether inconclusive. To establish even that it deserved to be unpopular twenty years ago, would by no means prove that it ought to be unpopular now. It might have been unfit then, and be very fit and proper at the present time. The change in human affairs which is continually going on, is precisely what gives occasion for continual legislation, and we are all of us obliged repeatedly to admit that we have been in error. Time conquers even the pride of opinion. Look at the history of your navy. Many a gallent battle was fought for it in this house by the venerable gentleman who sits before me, (Mr. Bassett) many a prejudice had he and others to contend against, for its support, before it had fought its own way to renown and favour. Now it is the favorite of the nation, universally popular, and it deserves to be so—every man is its friend and forward to be its champion. But for the opportunity offered by the war with the Barbary powers, but for its heroic achievements
in the war with England, the same cloud might still have rested upon the navy; it might still have been unpopular, and we should have been without the great inheritance of fame secured by our naval heroes, which those wars have left us.
The unpopularity of the bankrupt law, was owing chiefly if not wholly, to the circumstances in which it came into being. I never said, it was a party measure. I do not know whether it was or not, for I have not examined the journal, and if I had, I should not be able to decide. I know it ought not to be, and cannot now be justly so considered. But it came into being in violent party times, was characterized as a measure of the party who then wielded the power of the government, and from whom the power soon after departed; and it has been, and even at this moment, continues to be (as we are obliged to know and feel) associated in the feelings and opinions of many with the character of the stormy day when it first appeared. There were other circumstances attending the passage of the law in the house, calculated to make it odious, and the spirit of warm party contest which then prevailed, suffered nothing of this sort to fail of due effect, for want of being sufficiently pressed upon the public attentionHence its unpopularity.
But now let us see what it is that a bankrupt law promises to effect. Exaggeration would be as dangerous on one side as on the other—it would be as foolish to overstate itsadvantages, as it is to overstate its defects. A bankrupt law does not promise to cure all the evils of society ; nor to relieve all the distress in the world ; nor to correct all the vices and follies of men. Nay, sir, its friends cannot soberly undertake that it will be altogether free from some peculiar evils of its own—for that is the case with every human institution. Let us not deceive ourselves. Good and evil are found mixed in some proportion in whatever comes from the hand of man, as virtues and vices, wisdom and
folly, strength and weakness are found mixed in his character. The true question is this—is it better or is it worse than the present state of things? Is it our duty under the constitution ? Let us take a fair and liberal and rational view. It is very possible, and even very easy, by presenting only the objectionable parts of any human establishment, to give it a bad appearance. Perhaps to hasty and superficial observers, the evil is more apparent than the good. The law's delay, the expense of judicial establishments, occasional hardship and inconvenience from the rigorous demands of justice—these are often insisted upon. If we forget that judicial tribunals, are the great conservators of private rights and public tranquillity—that their mere existence is a perpetual safeguard, of which we feel the benefit when they are at rest, as when they are in exercise—that the number of cases they may have to decide, is of little importance compared with the knowledge that they are always open to give redress, and thus are exercising a constant preventive and conservative influence—if we forget that the authority of the judge is the authority of the law, that the independence of the judge is indispensable to enable him to perform his stern duty, and that the unvarying rigour of judgment, is the dispensation of justice according to law-I say, forgetting all these things, we may prove that courts of justice are almost
The good which is done, is silent, unostentatious, gently but efficaciously pervading the community, and scarcely attracting observation, while each instance of what any man or set of men choose to think a grievance, is instantly the topic of complaint, and often of loud and importunate complaint.
The same thing has happened to us, I mean, to congress.
We have been freely censured, and we have censured ourselves; perhaps the censure may in part be just; but those who see in this body, nothing but a collec