Front Page Titles (by Subject) STOCK GAMBLING - Democratick Editorials: Essays in Jacksonian Political Economy
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
STOCK GAMBLING - 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.
March 25, 1835.
Title added by Sedgwick.
In the bill now before the legislature of this state to regulate the sales of stocks and exchange, we behold another beautiful illustration of the benefits which the community derive from our wretched system of special and partial legislation. The professed object of this bill is to prevent stock-gambling; and stock-gambling, according to our humble opinion, is a species of speculation which our law-givers, by the whole course of their legislation for years past, have done all in their power to foster and promote. If they desire now, really and sincerely, to do away with the evils of this desperate and immoral kind of enterprise, which daily displays itself to a frightful extent in Wall-street, let them adopt a more effectual method than that proposed by the bill under their consideration. Let them address their efforts to correct the cause of the evil, and the effect will be sure to be removed. Let them apply the axe to the root of the tree, and the branches will needs wither, when the source from which they derive their nourishment is destroyed.
The whole course of our legislation, in regard to financial matters, has had a direct tendency to excite a feverish and baneful thirst of gain—gain not by the regular and legitimate operations of trade, but by sudden and hazardous means. Every body has been converted into a stock speculator by our laws. Every body is seeking to obtain a charter of incorporation for some purpose or other, in order that he may take his place among the bulls and bears of the stock-market, and play his hand in the desperate game of Wall-street brag. What is the true nature of the spectacle which is presented to the contemplation of sober-minded men, every time any new company of scrip gamblers is created? Do we not see persons not worth a hundred dollars in the world, running with all speed to put in their claims for a division of the stock—persons who are not able to raise even the instalment on the amount of stock which they ask, and who, in point of fact, are the mere agents of brokers and other speculators, selling the use of their names for a certain rate of premium per share on the division of stock which may be awarded to them?
A gaming spirit has infected the whole community. This spirit is the offspring—the deformed and bloated offspring—of our wretched undemocratic system of exclusive and partial legislation. To destroy the effect, and leave the cause untouched, would be as easy a task for our legislature, as to restrain an impetuous torrent while you yet leave wide the flood-gates which presented the only barrier to its course. The legislature might pass a law commanding the stream to keep within certain limits; but we doubt if its waves would recede, notwithstanding the terrors of the law—
“They rolled not back when Canute gave command.”
It is time the legislature made the discovery that there are some things which cannot be done by law. They cannot prevent the thunder from following the lightning’s flash, however carefully they may word their statute, or whatever penalty they may affix to its violation. They cannot change the whole nature of man by any enactment. We doubt very much whether even the famous Blue Laws wholly deterred men from kissing their wives on occasions, particularly in the first part of their matrimonial connexion; nor do we believe they prevented beer from working on Sundays during the season of fermentation. As easy would it be, however, to effect such objects by law, as to repress the yearnings of cupidity and avarice, or stay the adventurous spirit of wild speculation which has been excited, by the penalties of a bill to regulate the sales of stock and exchange. The whole scope and tendency of all the rest of our legislation is to inflame the feverish thirst of gain, which afflicts the community; and how vain, how worse than vain, while our law-makers hold up the lure in every possible form of attraction before the public, to bid them, shut their eyes, and not attempt to grasp it!
As to the particular project before the legislature, if we understand its provisions, it is not only inadequate to the end proposed, but unjust in its bearing, and impolitic on various grounds. It proposes to destroy the use of credit in the transactions of the stock-exchange, which is much such a cure for the evil it aims to abolish as amputation of the leg would be for a gouty toe. The gout might attack the other foot, or the stomach, notwithstanding; nor would its victim be more able to resist its influences with a frame weakened by the barbarous and uncalled for mutilation he had suffered. There is no earthly reason why credit should not be used in the purchase and sale of stocks, as well as in any other species of traffic. There is no kind of business intercourse which may not be made the means of gambling, and were it even within the competency of the legislature to check the public propensity to traffic on speculative contingencies, so far as one particular species of business is concerned, the ever active disposition would immediately indulge itself in some other form of hazardous and unreal enterprise. For the real bona fide transactions in stock and exchange, the employment of credit is as intrinsically proper, as the employment of credit in foreign commerce, in the purchase of real estate, or in any of the various modes and objects of human dealing. The legislature might as well pass a law forbidding the citizen to deal or credit with his tailor, hatter, or shoemaker, to run up a score with his milkmen or baker, or postpone the payment for his newspaper, as to forbid a man to employ his legitimate credit in the purchase and sale of stocks.
The mere business of dealing in stocks is as respectable and useful as most others: the crime of gambling in stocks is the inevitable result of the wild and speculative spirit which springs from unsalutary legislation. When we look into the statute books, and see that more than two-thirds of all the laws passed in our state are for the creation of specially incorporated joint-stock companies; when we learn that two-thirds of these joint-stock companies were created originally, not with strict reference to their professed ultimate object, but for purposes of intermediary speculation: we must perceive that the evil to be remedied is in the legislature, not in the community; that the fountain is turbid at its head, and that it will be vain and foolish to attempt to purify it by straining the waters of a distant branch through a clumsy, filtering contrivance of the laws.
There is another view of this subject which it is important to take. By abolishing the use of credit in stock operations, you would not abolish stock-gambling, but only confine it to the more wealthy operators, and put additional facilities of fortune into the hands already favoured overmuch. You make a concession to the spirit of aristocracy. You lay another tribute at the feet of riches. You join your voice in its exaltation. You exclude from the magic circle the poor man whose capital consisted in his skill, industry, and character for sagacity and integrity, and you give it to the millionary to lord it there alone, as if his gold were better than the poor man’s blood.
That we are opposed to stock-gambling and gambling, in all its forms, we need not say. But we are equally opposed to those false notions of Government which so extensively prevail in this country, and which seem to consider that every thing is to be done by law, and nothing by common sense and the inevitable operation of the laws of trade. For gambling, public opinion is the great and only salutary corrective. If it cannot be suppressed by the force of the moral sense of the community, it cannot be suppressed by statutes and edicts, no matter how comprehensive their terms, or how heavy their penalties. We have our laws against gambling now, yet establishments fitly denominated hells are notoriously conducted in different parts of the city, and there are various neighbourhoods where the dice-box and the roulette wheel rattle and clatter all night long. We have our laws against lotteries, too, yet what do they avail? The history of a recent instance of a man convicted of trafficking in the forbidden pursuit must convince any mind that those laws are a little more than a dead letter. And such would be the law to suppress stock operations on time. It would not do away with either the proper or improper part of the business; but it would diminish the respectability of the honest and prudent dealer, and give a more desperate character to the reckless adventurer.