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REPLY TO THE CHARGE OF LUNACY - William Leggett, Democratick Editorials: Essays in Jacksonian Political Economy 
Democratic Editorials: Essays in Jacksonian Political Economy, Foreword by Lawrence H. White (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1984).
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REPLY TO THE CHARGE OF LUNACY
January 30, 1835.
Title added by Sedgwick.
The Bank tory presses originated the imputation of lunacy against the conductors of this journal, and the echoes of the Albany Argus have caught up the cry, and rung the changes upon it, until very possibly many of their readers, who do not read the Evening Post, may suppose it has some foundation in truth. One good-natured editor in Connecticut, we perceive, has taken the matter up quite seriously in our defence, and seeks to prove that we are not crazy in the full sense of the word, but only partially crazy, or suffering under a species of monomania on the subject of monopolies. We are infinitely obliged to our benevolent defender, and in return for his courtesy beg leave to assure him, that if our views on the subject of banks and corporations are evidence of the malady he imputes to us the disease is endemic in this state, and not even Governor Marcy’s proposed magnificent lunatic asylum would be capable of containing one hundredth part of the monomaniacs who now go at large, and are generally supposed to be in the full enjoyment of their senses.
The charge of lunacy against an antagonist whose arguments are not refutable is neither a very new nor very ingenious device. Its novelty is on a par with its candour. It is a short and wholesale method of answering facts and reasonings, of which weak and perverted minds have ever been ready to avail themselves, and it has ever been especially resorted to against such as have had the boldness to stand forward as the asserters of the principles of political and religious liberty. Those who are unable to refute your arguments, can at least sneer at their author; and next to overthrowing an antagonist’s doctrines, it is considered by many a desirable achievement to raise a laugh against himself. To be laughed at by the aristocracy, however, (and there are too many aristocrats who, to answer selfish purposes, rank themselves with the democracy) is the inevitable fate of all who earnestly strive to carry into full practical operation the great principle of equal political, civil, and religious rights. To escape “the fool’s dread laugh,” is therefore not to be desired by those who are ardent and determined in the cause of true democratic principles. Such derision they will consider rather as evidence of the soundness of their views, and will be inclined to say with John Wesley, “God forbid that we should not be the laughing-stock of mankind!”
But we put it to every reader seriously, whether, in all they have seen against the doctrines maintained by this paper on the subject of banks and corporations, they have yet found one single argument addressed to men’s reasons, and tending to show that our views are wrong. They have read, doubtless, a deal of declamation about our ultraism and our Jacobinism; they have seen us called a Utopian, a disciple of Fanny Wright,1 an agrarian, a lunatic, and a dozen other hard names. They have seen it asserted that we are for overthrowing all the cherished institutions of society; for breaking down the foundations of private right, sundering the marriage tie, and establishing “a community of men, women, and property.” But amidst all this declamation—amidst all these groundless and heinous charges, have they yet found one editor who had the candour fairly to state our views, and meet them with calm and temperate argument? If they have found such a one, they have been more fortunate than we.
While the principles which we maintain are subject to such constant and wilful misrepresentations, it may not be without use frequently to repeat, in a brief form, the real objects for which we contend. All our agrarian, utopian and anarchical views, then, are comprehended in the following statement of the ends at which we aim.
First, with regard to corporations generally: we contend that it is the duty of the legislature, in accordance with the principle of equal rights, on which this government is founded, to refrain, in all time to come, from granting any special or exclusive charters of incorporation to any set of men, or for any purpose whatever; but instead, to pass one general law, which will allow any set of men, who choose to associate together for any purpose, (banking alone temporarily excepted,) to form themselves into that convenient kind of partnership known by the name of corporation.
Second, with regard to banking: we contend that suitable steps should be immediately taken by the legislature to place that branch of business on the same broad and equal basis: that to this end, no more banks should be created or renewed; that existing banks should be gradually curtailed of their privilege to issue small notes, until no bank notes of a smaller denomination than twenty dollars should be in circulation; and that then the restraining law should be repealed, and the community left as free to pursue the business of banking, as they now are to pursue any business whatever.
We are not in favour of pulling down, or overthrowing, or harming, in any way, any existing institutions. Let them all live out their charters, if they do nothing in the meanwhile to forfeit them; and as those charters should expire, the very same stockholders might, if they chose, associate themselves together in a voluntary corporation, under the proposed general law, and pursue their business without interruption, and without let or hindrance.
The grand principle which we aim to establish is the principle of equal rights. The only material difference between the present system, and the system we propose, is that instead of exclusive privileges, or particular facilities and immunities, being dealt out to particular sets of individuals by the legislature, all kinds of business would be thrown open to free and full competition, and all classes and conditions of men would have restored to them those equal rights which the system of granting special charters of incorporation has been the means of filching from them.
All our Utopianism, Jacobinism, Agrarianism, Fanny Wrightism, Jack Cade-ism; and a dozen other isms imputed to us, have this extent, no more. It would argue that there was something very rotten in the democracy of the present day, if for entertaining and strenuously asserting such views, the conductors of a public journal, whose business and pride it is to maintain democratic principles, should be generally supposed to labour under mental derangement. If this is lunacy, it is at all events such lunacy as passed for sound and excellent sense in Thomas Jefferson. The sum of a good government, as described by that illustrious champion of democracy, is all we aim at—“a wise and frugal government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another; shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement; and shall not take from the mouth of labour the bread it has earned.”
[1 ]Frances Wright (1795–1852), controversial feminist and communitarian reformer.—Ed.