Front Page Titles (by Subject) THE CRISIS - Democratick Editorials: Essays in Jacksonian Political Economy
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
THE CRISIS - 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).
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The copyright to this edition, in both print and electronic forms, is held by Liberty Fund, Inc.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
“Laissez nous faire.”
May 13, 1837.
The community is now experiencing a beautiful illustration of the excellence of the monopoly system. All the banks in this city suspended payment on Wednesday last, and it is to be presumed the example will be followed far and wide. Here, then, is an end of the safety fund bubble, the best system of banks and currency ever devised by human ingenuity, if we may believe the Albany Argus, and its followers of the monopoly school, and one of the worst that ever fraud imposed upon credulity, if we will but examine it by the lights of wisdom and experience.
We say here is an end of the safety fund bubble; but this position is conditional on the people’s asserting their equal rights, and demanding the absolute divorcement of legislation from the business of banking, and from all supervisory connection with trade and credit, further than the mere enforcement of the obligations of contracts, and the punishment of frauds. If the present condition of things does not impel them to do this, they are sunk in a depth of fatuity beyond all hope of redemption. It is as palpable to the mind, as the universal light of day to the senses, that the present anarchical and chaotic condition of financial affairs is the result, the direct and inevitable result, of the unholy alliance between politics and banking. The union of bank and state in this country is crushing the people under the weight of a despotism as grievous as was ever imposed upon mankind by the union of church and state. Better, far better, to be under the dominion of a hierarchy, than under the galling and ignoble rule of legislation money-changers.
What a world of wisdom there is in the brief phrase we have placed as a motto to this article! Society, recovering from the delirium excited by the stimulus of special legislation, begins to see that true wisdom consists, not in regulating trade by a system of artificial checks and balances, perpetually liable to be thrown into disorder, which the very complication of the contrivance then renders almost irremediable, but simply in letting trade alone. There are abundant indications around us that we shall not long stand unaided in the views we have frequently expressed of the utter folly and inevitable evil of all legislative intermeddling with the natural laws of trade. Banking is a good thing enough in its intrinsic nature; but government should have no connection with it, and should recognize nothing as money but silver and gold.
We are not an enemy to a paper representative of money, any more than we are to confidence between man and man in any other shape it may naturally assume, for mutual convenience, in the transaction of necessary dealings. We are not an enemy to banking, any more than we are to any other branch of traffic instrumental in carrying on the great commercial intercourse of society. We are an enemy only to a mixture of politics with banking; to the vain attempts to regulate the channels in which trade shall run; to that legislative intermeddling which withdraws credit from the harmonious operation of its own laws, disturbs its equal flow, and leaves the community to be at one time deluged with a cataclysm of paper money, and at another exposed to all the horrors of financial drought.
It would be a happy thing for this country, if the doubtful power under which banks are created had been positively withheld. It would be a happy thing if all right of interference with trade, either by immunities or prohibitions, by restraining laws or special charters, had been solemnly interdicted. More misery, more immorality, more degradation of the many for the undue elevation of the few, than can even be conjectured, have resulted from the vain attempts to regulate the currency. Let commerce, and let the currency, which is but an appendage and accident of commerce, regulate themselves; and let the government confine its attention strictly to the purposes which constitute the sole legitimate ends of political organization, the mere protection of person and property. We should then soon present to the world the spectacle of a people more free, more equally prosperous, and more happy, than has ever yet furnished a subject to the historian. The history of the past is but a Newgate Calender1 on an extensive scale; the history of the future would be a work of a sublimer-character.
In the midst of the financial desolation which has been brought upon us by the inevitable operation of monopoly legislation—by the wretched charlatanry which seeks to prop up an artificial system of credit with special statutes, and hedge it round with penalties and prohibitions—the community has an ample opportunity to contemplate the consequences of that folly which would substitute the laws of man for those of nature, and wholly change the irreversible order of causes and effects. Can any man who has eyes to see, or ears to hear, or understanding to conceive, survey the deplorable wrecks of commerce and credit strewn on every side, the broken columns and arches of the great fabric of trade, or listen to the groans of an agonized community lying prostrate beneath the ruins, without the conviction rushing into his mind, that the melancholy result must be ascribed to those, who, clothed in brief legislative authority, interpose their fantastic expedients in place of that natural system which constitutes the eternal fitness of things. Each fragment of our shattered commerce bears, stamped in characters which he who runs may read, the forceful inscription—“This is the fruit of monopoly legislation.”
We were forewarned, timely forewarned, and by one whose counsel we had reason to respect, of the embarrassments in which special legislation would involve us. The messages of Andrew Jackson are replete with lessons of admonitory wisdom. But the passion of avarice had seized upon our hearts, and the desire of sudden riches outweighed the suggestions of reason. We behold now the consequences of our infatuation. We are now admonished by that sternest of teachers, experience. But the lesson, though rude, will lead only to good, if we have the sense to pause, and read it aright.
The banks are broken, and, without legislative intervention, will soon forfeit their charters. We have been sorrowfully taught the miserable impotence of legislation; it is the fountain from which the waters of bitterness have flowed; let us not then again unseal it, that it may effuse another desolating flood. What can legislation do? Insult the community, by confirming the special privileges of money changers, after their own acts have declared their utter worthlessness? Enable a band of paper-money depredators to prey more voraciously than before on the vitals of the people? Authorize them to pour out a fresh torrent of their promises, now really of no more value than the paper on which they are writ? Will the community tolerate such an enormous fraud?
Let the Banks perish! Let the monopolists be swept from the board! Let the whole brood of privileged money-changers give place to the hardy offsprings of commercial freedom, who ask for no protection but equal laws, and no exemption from the shocks of boundless competition. We commisserate the innocent who suffer by the downfall of the banks; but we cannot consent that a mitigation of their troubles shall be purchased by the perpetuation of a system fraught with so much evil to the entire community. Now is the time for the complete emancipation of trade from legislative thraldom. If this propitious moment is suffered to pass by unimproved, the fetter, now riven almost asunder, will be rivetted anew, and hold us in slavery forever. The choice is presented to us of freedom or perpetual bondage. Let us demand, then, as with one voice, the reintegration of our natural rights; let us protest against the renovation of that cumbrous fabric of legislative fraud and folly, which has fallen of its own weight, and, if raised again, will again topple before the first commercial revulsion, to bury other myriads in its ruins.
If we knew any form of speech which would arrest the attention of our reader, or any mode of argument which would satisfy his reason, that we have not again and again used, we would employ it now, with all the earnestness of a sincere conviction of the importance of the subject, to persuade him that the only true ground of hope for the enduring prosperity of our commerce, in all its vast and complicated relations, consists in giving freedom to trade. Free banking is the system pursued in Scotland, and that country escapes revulsions, while England and America are exposed to continual paroxysms and collapsions, to expansions that unsettle all the foundations of property, and contractions that reduce whole communities to wretchedness and want. England, with all the monarchical and aristocratic potentiality of its government, has never yet been able to regulate the currency, with its stupendous machinery of finance. But Scotland, without any separate government, and without any legislative machinery of finance, has enjoyed a sta[b]le and uniform currency, because it has wisely been left to the natural laws of trade.
If the wants of the community require a great banking institution, capable of regulating the currency and exchanges, set trade free, and it will supply such an institution of its own accord. We need not go as humble petitioners either to our state or federal government, and beseech it to bestow special privileges on a few, that they may regulate the affairs of the many: we have only to adopt the franker and manlier course of demanding back those natural rights, of which we have been defrauded by dishonest and ignorant legislators. We need seek no immunity, but only claim our own. We need ask for the imposition of no new statute on the overburthened people, but only for the abrogation of laws which now weigh them to the earth. We desire nothing but the common privilege of pursuing our own business, in our own way, without a legislative taskmaster to say how much we shall do, what equivalent we shall have for our toil.
The same enterprise which freights the ocean with our products, which breaks our rivers into a thousand eddies with the revolving wheels of steamboats, which permeates the land with canals, and binds state to state in the iron embrace of railroads, would be abundantly able to perform the humble functions of banker, without the aid of legislative favour, or protection. Enterprise would build up, and competition would regulate, a better system of banks than legislation ever can devise. We have tried, to our cost, the competency of the latter, and we are now tasting the bitter consequences of our credulity.
Let us now test the experiment of freedom. It cannot place us in a worse condition than that to which we have been hurled by the terrible avulsion of the monopoly system.
[1 ]A four-volume biographical record of the more notorious criminals confined at London’s Newgate Prison, published 1824–28.—Ed.