Front Page Titles (by Subject) OMNIPOTENCE OF THE LEGISLATURE - Democratick Editorials: Essays in Jacksonian Political Economy
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OMNIPOTENCE OF THE LEGISLATURE - 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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OMNIPOTENCE OF THE LEGISLATURE
April 1, 1837.
In one of George Colman’s metrical oddities,1 that writer advances the bold opinion that,
This seems, however, to be a great mistake. The wisdom of modern legislation is continually performing impossibilities. The laws of physics and metaphysics, of mind and matter, are every day abrogated by the laws of man, and the march of improvement is so rapid, that it would scarcely be surprising if the whole system of things should shortly be taken wholly under the control of our lawgivers.
Judge Soule, of our state legislature, has lately made a great step towards that consummation. He has introduced a bill to fix the value of money, under every variety of financial circumstances, at precisely seven per cent. a year, and he has framed its provisions with such profound sagacity, that money lenders and money borrowers will never attempt to evade them. This will be glad news to those who are at present paying three per cent. a month.
The notable project of Judge Soule provides that bonds, bills, notes, assurances, all other contracts or securities whatsoever, and all deposites of goods or other things whatsoever, whereupon or whereby there shall be received or taken, or secured or agreed to be reserved or taken, any greater sum, or greater value, for the loan or forbearance of any money, goods or other things in action, than the legal rate of seven per cent. per annum, shall be void; and any bond, bill, note, assurance, pledge, conveyance, contract, and all evidences of debt whatsoever, which may have been sold, transferred, assigned or indorsed upon, for or upon which any greater interest, discount or consideration may have been reserved, obtained or taken than is provided in the first section of the said title shall be absolutely null and void; and no part of any such contract, security or evidence of debt, shall be collectable in any court of law or equity. It also declares every violation of the provisions of the act to be a misdemeanor, subjecting the person offending to fine or imprisonment, or both.
There was a certain philosopher who spent his life in bottling moonbeams. Judge Soule seems to belong to the same school.
The Astronomer in Rasselas,2 by a long and attentive study of the heavenly bodies, at length discovered the secret of their governments, and qualified himself to direct their courses, and regulate the seasons. “I have possessed for five years,” said he to Imlac, “the regulation of the weather and the distribution of the seasons: the sun has listened to my dictates, and passed from tropic to tropic by my direction; the clouds, at my call, have poured their waters, and the Nile has overflowed at my command; I have restrained the rage of the dog-star and mitigated the fervours of the crab. I have administered this great office with exact justice, and made the different nations of the earth an impartial dividend of rain and sunshine. What must have been the misery of half the globe, if I had limited the clouds to particular regions, or confined the sun to either side of the equator!”
Judge Soule has now taken upon himself an office not less important in the financial system, than that of the learned astronomer in the planetary. He is for dividing the rain and sunshine of the money-market with an impartial hand, and giving equal portions to borrower and lender. In doing this he perhaps may be thought to carry the principle of equality to an undue extent, since it places all borrowers on a level, whatever the difference in the nature of the security they offer, or in the precariousness of the objects to which the loan is to be applied. But Judge Soule is too much of a philosopher to regard such slight circumstances of difference. He looks down on the money-market from such a height as reduces both bulls and bears to uniformity of stature.
The Astronomer, in Rasselas, confessed that there was one thing, in the system of nature, over which he had not been able to obtain complete control. “The winds alone,” said he, “of all the elemental powers, have hitherto refused my authority, and multitudes have perished by equinoctial tempests, which I found myself unable to prohibit or restrain.” We are afraid that the astronomer’s worthy prototype in our legislature will also find there is likewise one thing which is beyond his authority. Judge Soule will yet discover, we imagine, that the interest on money is as variable as the winds, and that as the latter sometimes whisper in zephyrs and sometimes rave in tempests, so the former, in spite of all his efforts will sink down and almost die away, and at others swell and rage to the tune of three per cent. a month.
It is a matter of astonishment to us that any man, having sense enough to recommend him to his constituents for a seat in the legislature, can be so blind as not to see that usury laws are essentially and necessarily unjust and arbitrary. The value of money depends on a thousand very varying contingencies, as much so as the value of any other commodity. A failure of our chief articles of export, either as to quantity or price, immediately increases the demand for money, and at the same time decreases the security of the borrower. An abundant crop and large prices have, as certainly, the opposite result. This is a difference which affects whole communities. The differences which distinguish individual borrowers are not less obvious. One has ample security to offer; another has none. One needs money to aid him in a pursuit which promises certain profit; another needs it to prosecute an enterprise of exceeding hazard, which, if successful, promises a large return, but if unsuccessful, leaves no hope of re-payment. One borrower, has health, activity and prudence; another is infirm, indolent and rash. Judge Soule is for making up a Procrustean bed for all alike, without reference to the variety of form and stature. We recommend him to the muse of Croaker, as a fit subject for poetic honours, and in the meanwhile apply to him a stanza addressed by that writer to a great leveller in another line:3
[1 ]George Colman (the younger) was an English playwright and author of comic verse whose Poetical Works were published in their first American edition in 1834.—Ed.
[2 ]Rasselas (1759) is a tale by the English critic and essayist Samuel Johnson.—Ed.
[3 ]“Croaker” was a pseudonym used by Joseph Rodman Drake and Fitz-Greene Halleck for a series of satirical poems which appeared in the Evening Post in 1819. The stanza quoted is from “The National Paintings: Col. Trumbull’s ‘The Declaration of Independence’” by Drake.—Ed.