The Financial Flurry

"The bowels of the banks, with us the great money-lenders, close with the snap and tenacity of steel-traps; and then a general panic, or want of commercial confidence, brings on a paralysis of the domestic exchanges, and wide-spread bankruptcy and ruin. Importations are checked, of course; but they are checked in a sharp, rapid, and violent way, accompanied by the most painful embarrassments and convulsions."

How can this have happened arbitrarily, capriciously, mysteriously, without some gross and positive violation of social law, some wilful and therefore wicked departure from the known principles of science? Every random conjecture as to the causes of the prevailing distress implies an answer to the question, and it need not be repeated. It is more important to inquire what those violations and departures have been, than to reiterate the general principle. What has led to the lamentable results under which we suffer? What has rendered the winds so tempestuous that they must needs blow down our noble ship? What has provoked the ire of those big bully waves so that they advance to demolish us? Ah! hark just here how the Diogenidae tumble and thump their tubs! each one rapping out his own tune; each one screaming to boot, to be heard above the din!

One cries, that we Americans are an unconscionably greedy people, ever hasting to get rich, never satisfied with our gains, and, in the frantic eagerness of accumulation, disregarding alike justice, truth, probity, and moderation. Under this impulse our trade becomes an incessant and hazardous adventure, like the stakes of the gambler upon the turn of the dice, or upon the figures of the sweat-cloth; a feverish impatience for success pushes everything to the verge of ruin, and only after it has toppled over the brink, and we have followed it, does the danger of the game we had been playing become apparent.--A second qualifies this view, and shouts, that our vice is not so much greed, which is the vice of the miser, as extravagance, which is the vice of the spendthrift; and that as soon as we get one dollar, we run in debt for ten. We must have fine houses, fine horses, fine millinery, fine upholstery, troops of servants, and give costly dinners, and attend magnificent balls. Our very shops and counting-houses must resemble the palaces of the Venetian nobility, and our dwellings be more royally arrayed than the dwellings of the mightiest monarchs. When the time comes--as come it will--for paying for all this glorious frippery, we collapse, we wither, we fleet, we sink into the sand.--A third Diogenes, of a more practical turn of mind, vociferates, that the whole thing comes from the want of a high protective tariff. These subtle and malignant foreigners, who are so jealous of our progress, who are ever on the watch to ruin us, who make any quantity of goods at any time, for nothing, and send them here just at the right moment, to swamp us irrecoverably, are the authors of the mischief, and ought to be kept outside of the nation by a triple wall of icebergs drawn around each port. They pour in upon us a flood of commodities, which destroys our manufactures; they carry off all our gold and silver, which eviscerates the banks; the banks squeeze the merchants, to the last drop of blood; and the merchants perish in the process, carrying with them hosts of mechanics, farmers, and professional men.--Not so, bellows a fourth philosopher, perhaps a little more seedy than the rest; it is all the work of "the infernal credit system,"--of the practice of making money out of that which is only a promise to pay money,--out of that which purports to have a real equivalent in some vault, when no such equivalent exists, and is, therefore, a fraud on the face of it,--and which, deluging the community, raises the price of everything, begets speculation, stimulates an excessive and factitious trade, and is then suddenly withdrawn from the system, at the height of its inflation, like wind sucked from a bladder, to leave it a mere flaccid, wrinkled, empty, worthless old film of fat!

Now, for our part, we think all the Diogenidae right, but not precisely in the way in which they state the matter; and we think the seedy Diogenes the rightest of all,--because he has struck nearest to the centre, to the organic fact which controls the other facts,--yet, without sharing his prejudice against credit, one of the blessedest of inventions. As a very long and a very dull treatise, however, would scarcely suffice to explain all the reasons for our thinking so, we must devote the one or two pages that are given us to a few simple, elementary, frontal principles, familiar, no doubt, to every one, and therefore the more important to be recalled, when every one seems to have forgotten them. Nothing is better known than the laws of gravitation; nothing staler in the repetition; but if the folk around us are building their houses so that they all fall down upon our heads, it behooves us to remind them of those laws.

1. Human wisdom has discovered nothing clearer than this,--that in all the operations of trade above a primitive barter, you must have a standard or measure of values; and human ingenuity has never been able to devise any standard more perfect, in essential respects, than the precious metals. It may be doubted, indeed, whether the choice of these metals for currency is a result of human ingenuity. Paley and his school of theologians demonstrate the existence, intelligence, and goodness of God from the evidences of design in creation,--from that nice adaptation of means to ends which shows an infinite knowledge and infinite benevolence at work; but no one of the instances in which they found their argument, from the watch, which affords the primal illustration, to the human body, which furnishes the most complex confirmations, is a more astonishing or exquisite proof of pre-arrangement than is the adaptedness of gold and silver to the purposes of currency. Your standard or measure, for instance, must, in the first place, possess a certain uniformity; if it be a measure of capacity, it must not be of the size of a thimble in the morning, and as big as a haystack at night, like the mystic bottle of the fairy tale; if a measure of length, it must not be made of caoutchouc, as long as your finger to-day, and as long as the Atlantic Cable to-morrow; and so, if a measure of value, it must not equal one thousand at ten o'clock, and equal zero at three. But the precious metals do possess this uniformity; they are not scarce, as diamonds are, so that a pinch of them might measure the value of a city; nor are they as plenty as blackberries, so that a wagon-load could scarcely buy a fat goose for dinner. They cannot be washed away like a piece of soap, nor wear out like a bit of wampum, nor crumble like agate or carnelian in dividing. In short, they combine all the advantages that are needed, with few or none of the disadvantages that would be troublesome, in a substance which is used for money. They possess intrinsic utility, they are equably supplied, they may be easily divided and then fused again, they take a stamp, and they retain the same qualities everywhere and at all times. Accordingly, all the civilized nations, from the time of great-great-great-grandfather Moses down to the time of President Buchanan, have used the precious metals for their standard of values; while your barbarians only, your silly Sandwich-islanders, your stupid troglodytes of interior Africa, your savage red men, have used for that purpose fish-bones, beaver-skins, cowries, strings of beads, or a lump of old rags. Q.E.D., then, on Paley's principles, the precious metals were meant by Divine Providence for use as money, at least more than anything else, because nothing else is so well adapted to the end. Intelligent man everywhere has been glad to recognize the Divine teaching; and the American man--holding himself the most intelligent of all men--has incorporated the lesson in his fundamental law. Nothing can be money for him, constitutionally, but metal which has a genuine ring in it.

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