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the other; and it is therefore in conflict not only with the Constitution of the United States, but with the fundamental law of Louisiana, which prohibits the legislature from enacting any law impairing the obligation of a contract. There are other grave objections to this law, which our limits do not permit us to state.
In regard to the States of Indiana and Illinois, we have very little to say. Indiana has a debt of more than $ 13,000,000, with a population of about 700,000 souls. The amount of taxable property in the State was returned in 1840 as about $ 92,000,000. Illinois has a debt of
upwards of $ 13,000,000. The population of the State was less than 500,000 in 1840. To both these States, the remark of Governor Carlin, of Illinois, in one of his messages, is applicable : “Unfortunately, at an unguarded moment, the State was allured from the path of wisdom and economy by the seductive spirit of speculation, and the wild fury of popular delusion, which spread over every part of the Union, and induced to embark in an expensive system of internal improvements, at a period when the country was literally deluged with an inflated circulating medium, which gave the semblance of success to the most visionary and chimerical enterprises.” But both these States have immense natural resources, and a rapidly increasing population fully capable of developing them ; and they must become wealthy. At present, we believe, it is not in their power to comply with their engagements.
We have thus taken a rapid view of the condition of the public debt of those States which have not complied with their obligations. We find three distinct cases : States which are so deeply involved in debt, that it is out of their power at present to perform their engagements ; States whose resources and means of payment are ample, and who have never questioned the binding force of their contracts ; and States, able to pay, but refusing, upon the ground that they are not bound to pay. Each has its duties and its dangers. The duty of those first named is clear. Their excuse for not paying is their inability. This excuse, of course, relieves them from nothing which they can do.* It may be
* The rule and its limits are equally clear: “ If the obstacle be real, time must be given, for no one is bound to an impossibility.” Vattel, 1.4, § 51. “ Non ultra obligari quam in quantum facere potest; et, an possit, permittendum alterius principis, qua boni viri, arbitrio.” Bynk. Q. I. P., 1.2, c. 10.
a sufficient reason for not at once paying in full ; it is no reason why they should not pay something ; and that something should be enough to include all they can possibly effect. To do less than this is to avail themselves, for their own benefit, of the misfortunes which have fallen alike upon themselves and their creditors ; it is, in fact, to commit a fraud. How much they can do, and in what ways it can best be done, the people of those States are themselves the most competent to decide. It is to be earnestly hoped, that, in making the decision, they will not forget that their own honor and the honor of the country is deeply involved in it. Their danger is, that they may postpone their measures too long. The great accumulation of interest is adding much every year to their burden. Every year they are becoming more and more accustomed to look upon the load as too heavy to be carried, and, therefore, to believe that no attempt ought to be made to lift any part of it. Such a feeling should be thrown off at once, and a manly vigor, such as the Western people are known to possess, should now be exerted.
The duty of those States which have the ability to pay, and have never questioned the obligation of their promises, is also clear. Unforeseen difficulties and disasters have prevented them from keeping the promises on which so many have relied. They have now had time to survey their difficulties ; to recover from the amazement which their great disasters caused; to examine their resources, and select the proper means to draw from them the needed supplies. The state of the country has become greatly improved. During the last four years, the people, made wiser by adversity, have been industrious and economical. They have consumed little, and produced a great deal. They have been blessed with fruitful seasons. The bankrupt law has relieved those who were insolvent, and set them at work. Caution and honesty pervade the trade of the country. The general aspect of affairs is becoming prosperous, with a promise of security and permanency.
This is the time to act on this great and urgent subject. Delay is not only dishonorable, but unwise. Every private man knows, that a state of insolvency is the most expensive of all conditions ; and this is quite as true of a commonwealth as of an individual. Its best arrangements, when in such a condition, can be only a succession of shifts to get round difficulties,
which it would be much wiser, and on the whole easier, to clear away
at once. But without regard to the expediency of this course, it ought to be, and it will be, enough for the people of Pennsylvania and Maryland, that justice requires them to pursue it. They have not fallen into repudiation. They know the difference between honor and dishonor ; and they know, also, that the honor of their government is their own. They will not fail to ask themselves the question, what difference there is between denying the obligation of a contract, and admitting its obligation, but neglecting to keep it ; between an open repudiation of a debt, and fraudulently withholding the money. They will answer this question, as all rightminded men must answer it, by admitting, that, in both cases, the same injustice is done to the creditor; that, in both cases, the injustice is wilfully done by the debtor ; and that it is of very little consequence by what name it is called, or under the shadow of what pretence refuge is taken.
There remains only one other case of which to speak, and no true-hearted American can speak of it without pain. We refer, of course, to those States whose legislatures have by public acts repudiated portions of their debts. Before noticing these acts at all in detail, we wish to say, what is not always remembered, either here or in foreign countries, that no legislature has repudiated a contract, without, at the same time, declaring it to have been made under such circumstances as not to be a valid obligation either in point of law or natural equity. It has been seen, how far we are from admitting that this plea amounts to a full defence. But we think it is of some importance to show, what is undoubtedly true, that no public body in this country has denied the obligation of the State to pay an admitted debt. Reasons affecting the equity of the claims, and grounds which would be tenable if they existed, have always been relied on as the cause of repudiation. We
e are not aware, that it has been maintained anywhere, that the people of a State can cancel an obligation by their mere will. How is it possible, that the American people should ever listen to a doctrine so absurd ? How can they forget, that the binding force of a contract depends upon a law which neither kings nor people enacted or can repeal ? It comes from the awful Being who created and fashioned us, who sustains our life and judges
our actions. It was enacted by His will ; it is enforced by His power ; and the united will of the whole human race cannot influence it. - That which is unjust will remain so, though all mankind should call it just, and try to believe it.
He who enacted this law will surely enforce it. He doth govern the nations upon earth ; and they who disregard their solemn obligations, and break their plighted faith, and repay confidence with deceit, and a trusting dependence on their honor with open injustice, must come to know and feel bitterly, that the high qualities they have set at naught are essential to their own prosperity ; that without them nothing is secure; that embarrassment and loss, undeveloped resources which produce only discontent, and energies unexercised which create nothing but restlessness, are the inevitable destiny of a people guilty of bad faith. We believe the American people know this ; and because they know it, they who would lead them to do wrong have sought for fair pretences to make it seem right. The great mass of the people of the United States never have listened to these pretences, and, we firmly believe, never will listen to them." It is not strange, however, that some should have hearkened to them, and been led astray. But the time is fast approaching, and is now close at hand, when every State which has the ability to pay its debts, or any part of them, must begin to pay, or begin to be openly and knowingly fraudulent. Two ways are before them, the one leading to justice and honor, the other to repudiation and disgrace ; one or the other must be deliberately chosen, and
It may assist us to discern the character of one of these paths, if we will attend for a moment to the true meaning of the word repudiation. In substance, it means confiscation. There is no just distinction between an act of the legislature requiring me to surrender a part of my property to the public use without compensation, and an act declaring that the State shall not, and will not, pay an equal amount which is due to me.
No doubt, the former would alarm a greater number of persons than the latter ; but this only renders it less dangerous, if such things admit of degrees of danger. Analyze the laws, and see if there be any difference between them, and where the difference lies. By the act first supposed, the State puts in motion its agents, and its civil
or military force, and transfers to itself the possession and use of that which is mine. But in so doing, it does no wrong
This is an act of eminent domain, such as every government performs occasionally ; and it would cease to be strong enough for any useful purpose, if it did not possess
, this power. But as soon as my property has been thus taken, the State owes me compensation for what I have surrendered. If it makes this compensation, all is right ; and my property has been lawfully appropriated to the use of the State. If it refuses to make it, then my property has been confiscated, and the State has been guilty of a gross act of arbitrary power.
Such are the principles involved in the law first supposed ; and if we consider the other, we shall find the same principles applicable there. The State borrows my money,
, promising to pay it to me, or to any one to whom I shalí assign the obligation. It now owes to me a recompense for what it has received. This duty grows out of the receipt of my money by the State, as, in the other case, it grew out of the receipt of my property. In the one case, the obligation to make compensation arises out of the mere justice of the claim, or, to use legal language, it is implied from the circumstances of the parties ; in the other case, the obligation arises from the express promise of the State. In both there is a perfect obligation, and the wrong done is the same ; namely, the violation of a perfect obligation to make compensation for money or property used by the State. It may be added, that the wilful refusal to repay a loan to the State, made on the faith of a positive promise, contains an element of wrong which does not ordinarily belong to mere seizures and confiscations ; for it is treacherous, as well as unjust.
There is another respect, in which the two cases approach still nearer to each other. The written obligation of the State, by which it has promised to pay to me, or to any one to whom I shall assign such obligation, a sum of money, is, both in form and in substance, property. It is so known to the law, and it is so in fact. It may be the subject of a larceny or a trespass, of a sale or a bequest; it is a thing of value, of which I have the rightful possession. And it is wholly immaterial to me, and to the question of right, whether the State takes it out of my possession by force, or renders