« AnteriorContinuar »
niences and hardships. Even if he escapes a shipwreck in a swamp, he is often allotted a lodging place at night in the loft of a log house ; food is frequently placed before him which he would scarcely deign to touch at the east, and he is not seldom thrown into companionship with men who are careless in observing the conventional forms of an older society, and from their customary habits of deprivation and hardship, are not too dainty in their taste. If he is disposed to look upon the bright side of the picture, he is willing to behold a domain, broad in undeveloped wealth, landscapes of the lake, the forest, and the stream, where the lover of nature may find ample room for recreation, and the patriot may refresh his hopes in the brightest visions of national grandeur. He sees a population without the means of luxury, but at the same time without prejudice, who have come to a land where the fertility of the soil invites husbandry, and where the intelligent ploughman, as he follows his harrow through the mellow land, feels that he is a freeman !
The people of the west are generous, though crude, unmindful from habit of the luxuries of life, endowed with great boldness and originality of mind, from the circumstances under which they are placed. They are, from the various elements of which they are composed, in a state of amalgamation, and from this amalgamation a new and valuable form of American character will spring up. If they do not, in all cases, appreciate the refinements of polished life, this is in favor of their contentment, for the new condition of the country does not at present warrant them. Luxury and taste are, in general, the offspring of refinement and of ripened age; and he who should look back a few years in our oldest states, would find a marked advance in these qualities, even here, within that time. The great body of the people of the west are employed, not in trailing vines, but in acquiring their support. A wheat field is more pleasing to their taste than a flower garden. A well-ploughed lot is more satisfactory to their eye than the most exquisite painting of a Raphael or a Claude. They would prefer seeing a gristmill working on their own stream, to the sight of the sculptured marble of the Venus or the Apollo! A widely-diffused, deeplystamped spirit of equality and republicanism extends throughout the whole social frame of the northwest; and over all is thrown an openness and candor, as well as a benevolence, which arises from their common interests as emigrants, co-workers engaged in the common cause of carrying forward the enterprises of a new country, without sympathy from any source but the mutual sympathy which exists between themselves.
We well know that a feeling of distrust has been thrown around the western character, from the spirit of speculation which, in 1835 and '36, seemed to absorb all other enterprise, and which may be considered, not its silver or golden, but its paper age! But that spirit was kept up and acted on, as much by eastern as by western men. The whole territory was regarded as a sort of lottery-office, to which individuals from all quar. ters might resort for the accumulation of wealth, and invoke the favors of the capricious and blind goddess. Agriculture, and all those substantial enterprises which contribute to the solid glory of a people, were neglected. The land swarmed with greedy speculators, who cut up the woods into paper villages, and constructed in imagination a chain of compact cities, from the head of the St. Clair to the rapids of the Maumee. This was the period when there was the most immigration to the territory, and the greatest influx of temporary travellers. Thousands were defrauded.
houses swarmed with buyers and sellers, when there was scarcely food enough in the country to maintain the vast accession to its population; and many erroneous impressions were disseminated of the general condition of the country, from the circumstances of that extraordinary period. It is a matter of the highest congratulation, that the lax spirit which at that time pervaded the portion of the west upon the borders of the lakes, has become discountenanced, and that the energies of the people have quietly sunk down into the accustomed channels of substantial industry.
In making these remarks respecting the progress and condition of the ' northwest, we have endeavored to distort no part of the scene. We see in
its vast territory resources of unmeasured wealth. We perceive in the grana projects of its moral and intellectual improvement; in its gigantic systems of public instruction; in its projected lines of canals and railroads, designed to connect its remotest parts; in the sixty-one* steamships which navigate the lakes, and the commerce which ploughs the waters of the Ohio; in the thriving villages that dot its surface; in the amount of agricultural and mechanical growth already attained ; in the opulence of its “queen city" and state; and in the character of its sturdy and energetic population, working out with unexampled enterprise the first stern law of our human condition in earning their bread by the sweat of their brow—the framework of a mighty power. We know that the people are intelligent, that there are scattered through that section men who would be bright ornaments to any nation, and who have contributed in no small degree to the advance. ment of the country. The northwest must necessarily, from its local circumstances, become in future time the great granary of the republic, because it possesses the largest amount of arable soil, capable of producing the most bountiful returns with the least labor; and these products may, under its projected means of inter-communication, be brought rapidly into a ready market. As “sculpture is to the block of marble, is education to the human soul ;" and this remark will apply as well to states as to indi. viduals. Under the guidance of moral and intellectual education, the territory will soon grow to ripeness. The only present drawback upon its prosperity are the crude and elemental character of its population, the hardships necessary to be encountered in the forest, and the unhealthy na. ture of its climate. When these obstacles are surmounted, and the means of general comfort are pressed into its service, we doubt not that it will become one of the most eligible places of settlement, and a most opulent portion of the republic, wielding, as it soon must, the balance of power in the country
ART. III.-USURY LAWS.
Even in this age of free discussion, there seem to be some subjects of general interest to the mass of community, respecting which many persons entertain different, but honest opinions ; but which, by many, are regarded
* See Merchants' Magazine, No. XII. Article-Lake Navigation.
as not debatable. Among others are certain laws aftecting the rights, and to a greater or less extent, interfering with the interests of society, especially the trading classes, to which the foregoing remark will particularly apply, laws which interfere with the natural right, possessed by all, of acquiring property, and of making that property, when acquired, as valuable to them as they may by any proper and honest means ; laws which fix the value of money, or rather of the use of money, irrespective of all those elements in the calculation of values, demand, supply, risk, and such other contingen. cies as may apply to particular operations. These laws have come down to us from past ages, and have existed, in different forms, from the time of Moses to the present day. It is the more a matter of surprise, that so many are now found, who look with exceeding distrust upon any proposal for their abolition or modification, who are hardly willing to discuss the subject, when it is considered how many of the principles, laws, and customs of past ages, have been more or less modified to suit the condition of society in later times.
Let us go back a few centuries, and see what changes have been wrought. The great mass of mankind have been gradually rising from a state of vas. salage. Their privileges have been from time to time increased ; and as they have become increased, it has been found necessary to throw off restrictions of various kinds, with which they have been harassed and cramped; for which there might have been once a satisfactory reason, but which reason, after the change society had undergone, had ceased to exist. As men acquired new privileges, as they came more into the possession of natural rights, they began more and more to consider the great business of life to be, the doing of what was to be done in the best way, and to bring customs and laws which affected them to the test of immediate practical expediency. The inquiry arose, what is the object of these things ? what end is to be attained by them ? and as a very able writer has recently remarked, “ it is no wonder that when these questions were once raised, they should be re-echoed from a thousand different pcints, and the roused spirit of inquiry engendered a rapid spirit of destruction” Utility became the governing principle in public and private matters. Many institutions and laws were examined and found to be useless : the vitality of them was gone; the forms remained, like masses of rubbish, which were a mere encumbrance to the ground ; nothing was to be done but to clear them away. Those nations which made these changes most readily, adapting their institutions and laws to their genius and habits, soon became distinguished above those which adhered to the antiquated notions of the past, and continued bound by complicated, minute, and vexatious fetters.
Let us consider for a moment the change that has taken place in the manner of conducting the business and trade of the world. It is not long, comparatively speaking, since the policy of Europe restricted commerce within close monopolies; but the spirit of inquiry that was aroused, soon discovered that monopolizing companies were productive of very little good, and of incalculable evil. The mechanic arts in cities and towns were under the control of " regulated companies,” who enriched themselves at the ex. pense of the mass of society by means of their monopolies. The mischiefs of this system were brought to light by the same spirit of inquiry, and re. form was loudly demanded. The doctrines of free trade were, however, vio. lently opposed. There were many who saw nothing but ruin in prospect, if customs were changed which “ the experience of all nations and ages had VOL. III. -N0. I.
i cspite, however, all the forebodings of the timid, and the interested arguments of the monopolists, the advocates of free trade finally succeeded. Many of the reasonings they employed have now become axioms of political science, upon which the commercial legislation of the greater part of the civilized world is based. No man can now be found to stand up in defence of the ancient system of monopolies, so beneficial has free trade been found to the welfare of mankind.
But while freedom of trade exists in respect to almost every thing else, while individuals are now left to manage their affairs in relation to all other matters under the dictates of their own interest, and guidance of their own judgment, they are still hampered by antiquated restrictions in respect to the procuring and disposing of money. Provisions and wages, houses and lands, produce and manufactures, wares and merchandise, are left to the management of individuals, to be bought and sold, at a price higher or lower, according to the dictates of their own interest, under the guidance of their own prudence, subject to be affected by a short demand, by an over supply, by the greater or less risk of payment, and according as the place and time of receiving payment is more or less convenient. But the trade in money is restricted. Supposing the laws to be obeyed, and no man, whatever may be its value to him, may give over a certain rate ; no man may lend at an interest beyond that rate, however short may be the supply, or however ur. gent the demand. He may exchange the money for some other commodity, and sell that other commodity for any advance upon its cost which he can obtain—it may be fifty or one hundred per cent. ; but he may not lend his money to another, to make the same operation, unless he is contented with six or seven dollars on the hundred per annum; although the borrower might well afford to pay much more, and the lender ought to receive much more upon every principle of right and equity. It is not necessary to go on with the catalogue of absurdities which a slight examination of this sub. ject will develop to us.
There have not been wanting those persons who have contended, with zeal and ability, that the trade in money should be as free and unrestricted as the trade in any thing else—and have supported their positions by sound and solid reasoning. Many persons have come to the conclusion that the trade in money should be unrestricted; the number of these persons is in. creasing ; repeated efforts have been made to accomplish the object, but owing to the doubts of some, the timidity' of others, and the still more un reasonable refusal of others to discuss the subject at all, these efforts have not been successful.
Some persons are always unwilling to change that which is clothed with the sanction of the generations that are past. Doubtless, we should only change laws or customs that have long been approved of, after the most full and mature deliberation ; and while slow to change laws that have long ex. isted, yet, when they are found unsuited to the state of society, with nothing to recommend them but their antiquity, they should be unhesitatingly cast aside, to make room for others, more adapted to the wants of the commu. nity which they affect. What is wanted in such a case, is full, fair, and candid discussion. Liberal minded men will not hesitate to grant it; but,
* This is some of the reasonings in a minority report to the Massachusetts House of Representatives, February 19, 1810, which recommends the taking of interest exceeding six per cent. should be punished by fine and imprisonment!
strange as it may seem, there are men who are not willing even to reason upon this subject. An instance occurred quite recently, in one of our state legislatures, where a proposition was brought forward for a slight modifica. tion of the usury laws. Before any discussion was had, a member rose, and saying it was quite useless to waste time in discussing a question that had been repeatedly settled, moved to postpone it indefinitely!
These persons do not indeed stand up in defence of the ancient theory of restrictions and monopolies : that would never do. They claim that money stands on a different footing from every thing else ; and must therefore be excepted from the operation of the general rules which govern trade in cvery thing else. Those who reason upon the subject at all, employ them. selves in discovering specious arguments why it should be so. If, then, it can be made to appear that money is like every thing else, a commodity subject to be influenced by abundance or scarcity, or by any of the influ. ences to which other things are subject, the argument would seem to bel gained : let this be made to appear, and the principle laid down by Bentham could not be questioned—“that no man of ripe years and sound mind, acting freely with his eyes open, ought to be hindered with a view to his own advantage, from making such bargains, in the way of obtaining money, as he sees fit; nor should any person be hindered from supplying him on any terms he thinks proper to accede to." This may doubtless be made clear to the candid examiner of this subject, and many reasons may be given why, even if it were not altogether so, nevertheless, money should not be subject to any restrictions upon its free employment to the best advantage of its possessor:
The ground taken by the opponents of usury laws, is principally, as be. fore stated, that money is a commodity, and, like every other commodity, should be left to find its own level in relative value, as compared with other things. This question, then, of the character of money, is first to be set. tled and decided. It almost seems to be begging the question to prove that money is a commodity, like wheat, iron, cotton, and other articles; for as money is but a material among many others, which aid to make
the business of the nation, there would seem to be prima facie evidence of its being what all its co-elements in trade confessedly are. It would seem to be incumbent on those who take a different view of its character, to prove that it formed an exception to the general rule ; this would be the rule in the discussion of almost all disputed questions of like character. The reason it is not so in this case can only be, that it is a fragment of ancient policy, reasonable it may have been at some time, but now out of date, useless, and oppressive, which has become incorporated into our mental system, and is not yet cleared away by the spirit of reform. So interwoven has the idea been into our education, that money is some mysterious, in. comprehensible thing, to be tinkered and regulated, that we must reason ourselves out of an opinion which could hardly have been imbibed by the calm exercise of our reasoning faculties.
But we need not stand for forms; we wish to consider this question; we wish to give reasons in support of our opinions; we wish to answer objections; we wish to elicit truth; we wish to excite a rational spirit of inquiry: we trust we may be successful.
Money is a creation of civilized society : it is not found among nations that are barbarous and uncivilized. The savage, who is in a state of nature, exists almost like the animals of the forest-each individual indepen