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“BLEST PAPER CREDIT” - 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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“BLEST PAPER CREDIT”
June 10, 1837.
The history of paper money is a history of revulsions; of alternate prosperity beyond the natural bounds of health, and adversity as far beyond the ordinary limits of commercial distress. The scenes we are passing through now are but the repetition of scenes that have often been enacted before; and if the ruin occasioned by the present disruption of the paper system is more sweeping and intense than the ruin produced by the same causes on previous occasions, it is only because the business of the country is now conducted on a more extended scale. In 1816 we had but two hundred banks, whereas now we have seven hundred and upwards.
The causes of the terrible revulsion from the effects of which the country is now suffering are the same that produced a similar result in 1816. They may be accurately explained by quoting the very language made use of on that occasion by those who traced the mischief to its proper source. “The evil of the times,” said Mr. Randolph,1 in a memorable speech in Congress, when the proposition for establishing a national bank as a remedy for the financial distress then experienced was before that body, “The evil of the times was a spirit engendered in this republick, fatal to republican principles, fatal to republican virtue; a spirit to live by any means but those of honest industry; a spirit of profusion; in other words, the spirit of Cataline himself, alieni avidus, sui profusus;2 a spirit of expediency, not only in publick, but in private life; the system of Diddler in the farce3 —living any way and well, wearing an expensive coat, and drinking the finest wines, at any body’s expense.”
Who can deny that it is to this same immoral thirst of sudden affluence, and prodigality of ostentatious luxury, to this alieni avidus, sui profusus, to this insane desire of acquisition and display, the present distress is to be ascribed? And who can deny that the bad desire has been provoked now, as it was then, by the effusion of a too copious flood of paper credit, which has borne men far away from a safe footing, and left them at the sport of the most treacherous sea that ever mocked the struggles of drowning wretches in their death-agony?
Our only remedy for the present evils, and our only true means of avoiding a recurrence of them, is to give freedom to trade—to do away with banking as a matter of legislative control, to take from paper the currency which it has received by being recognized as money by the Government, and leave it to find its own level as the mere evidence of private debt. The exclusively privileged paper money system of this country is the greatest curse which we endure. It is a curse in all its relations and influences, political, financial, and moral. It endangers liberty; it destroys the equilibrium of trade; it induces a gambling spirit, in the place of the better spirit of honest industry, and unsettles all the established ethicks of property.
Mr. Randolph, in the same speech from which we have already quoted, well termed the banking system of this country a monstrous alliance between bank and state. “We are tied hand and foot,” said he, “and bound to conciliate this great mammoth, which is set up to worship in this christian land. Whilst our Government denounces a hierarchy; whilst it will permit no privileged order for conducting the service of the only true God; whilst it denounces a nobility, it has a privileged order of new men, the pressure of whose feet is upon our necks.”
Now is the most favourable opportunity we can ever hope to have for crushing this terrible evil. There is no intermediate ground of safety. We must either crush it, or it will crush us. We must either abolish exclusive privileges, or exclusive privileges will abolish freedom. Let us not be misunderstood, nor misrepresented, as we often are. We neither express nor entertain any desire to abolish banking. We desire merely to separate it from legislation, and to abolish the restraints which shut it up from the salutary influence of enterprise and competition. We desire to take from it every thing of a political character, and restore it to its proper field as a branch of private traffick. When this is done, when banking is left to the laws of trade, and the Government ceases to know anything as money but the money of the Constitution, we shall be a happy and a prosperous people, and not till then.
[1 ]John Randolph of Roanoke, Representative of Virginia, 1800–1824.—Ed.
[2 ]“Greedy toward others, extravagant toward himself.”—Ed.
[3 ]The character Jeremy Diddler, in James Kenney’s farce Raising the Wind (1803), continually contrives to borrow money.—Ed.