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With this twofold evidence before us, it might be expected that there would be a perfect union of opinions in their favor. Yet doubts have been entertained; jealousies and prejudices have circulated; and, though the experiment is every day dissipating them, within the spheres in which effects are best known, yet there are still persons by whom they have not been entirely renounced. To give a full and accurate view of the subject, would be to make a treatise of a report; but there are certain aspects in which it may be cursorily exhibited, which may perhaps conduce to a just impression of its merits. These will involve a comparison of the advantages, with the disadvantages, real or supposed, of such institutions.
The following are among the principal advantages of a Bank:
First. The augmentation of the active or productive capital of a country. Gold and silver, when they are employed merely as the instruments of exchange and alienation, have been not improperly denominated dead stock; but when deposited in banks, to become the basis of a paper circulation, which takes their character and place, as the signs of representatives of value, they then acquire life, or in other words, an active and productive quality. This idea, which appears rather subtile and abstract, in a general form, may be made obvious and palpable, by entering into a few particulars. It is evident, for instance, that the money which a merchant keeps in his chest, waiting for a favorable opportunity to employ it, produces nothing till that opportunity arrives. But if, instead of locking it up in this manner, he either deposits it in a bank or invests it in the stock of a bank, it yields a profit during the interval, in which he partakes, or not, according to the choice he may have made of being a depositor or a proprietor; and when any advantageous speculation offers, in order to be able to embrace it, he has only to withdraw his money, if a depositor, or, if a proprietor, to obtain a loan from the bank, or to dispose of his stock—an alternative seldom or never attended with difficulty, when the affairs of the institution are in a prosperous train. His money, thus deposited or invested, is a fund upon which himself and others can borrow to a much larger amount. It is a well established fact, that banks in good credit, can circulate a far greater sum than the actual quantum of their capital in gold and sil
The extent of the possible excess seems indeterminate; though it has been conjecturally stated at the proportions of two and three to one. This faculty is produced in various ways. 18t. A great proportion of the notes which are issued, and pass current as cash, are indefinitely suspended in circulation, from the confidence which each holder has, that he can, at any moment, turn them into gold and silver. 2dly. Every loan which a bank makes, is, in its first shape, a credit given to the borrower on its books, the amount of which it stands ready to pay, either in its own notes, or in gold or silver, at his option. But, in a great number of cases, no actual payment is made in either. The borrower, frequently, by a check or order, transfers his credit to some other person, to whom he has a payment to make; who, in his turn, is as often content with a similar credit, because he is satisfied that he can, whenever he pleases, either convert it into cash, or pass it to some other hand, as an equivalent for it. And in this manner the credit keeps circulating, performing in every stage the office of money, till it is extinguished by a discount with some person who has a payment to make to the bank, to an equal or greater amount. Thus large sums are lent and paid, frequently through a variety of hands, without the intervention of a single piece of coin. 3dly. There is always a large quantity of gold and silver in the repositories of the bank, besides its own stock, which is placed there, with a view partly to its safe keeping, and partly to the accommodation of an institution, which is itself a source of general accommodation. These deposites are of immense consequence in the operations of a bank. Though liable to be redrawn at any moment, experience proves, that the money so much oftener changes proprietors than place, and that what is drawn out is generally so speedily replaced, as to authorize the counting upon the sums deposited, as an effective fund, which, concurring with the stock of the bank, enables it to extend its loans, and to answer all the demands for coin, whether in consequence of those loans, or arising from the occasional return of its notes.
These different circumstances explain the manner in which the ability of a bank to circulate a greater sum than its actual capital in coin is acquired. This, however, must be gradual, and must be preceded by a firm establishment of confidence-a confidence which may be bestowed on the most rational grounds, since the excess in question will always be bottomed on good security of one kind or another. This, every well conducted bank carefully requires, before it will consent to advance either its money or its credit, and where there is an auxiliary capital, (as will be the case in the plan hereafter submitted) which, together with the capital in coin, define the boundary that shall not be exceeded by the engagements of the bank, the security may, consistently with all the maxims of a reasonable circumspection, be regarded as complete.
The same circumstances illustrate the truth of the position, that it is one of the properties of banks to increase the active capital of a country. This, in other words, is the sum of them: the money of one individual, while he is waiting for an opportunity to employ it, by being either deposited in the bank for safe keeping, or invested in its stock, is in a condition to administer to the wants of others, without being put out of his own reach when occasion presents. This yields an extra profit, arising from what is paid for the use of his money by others, when he could not himself make use of it, and keeps the money itself in a state of incessant activity. In the almost infinite vicissitudes and competitions of mercantile enterprise, there never can be danger of an intermission of demand, or that the money will remain for a moment idle in the vaults of the bank. This additional employment given to money, and the faculty of a bank to lend and circulate a greater sum than the amount of its stock in coin, are, to all the purposes of trade and industry, an absolute increase of capital. Purchases and undertakings, in general, can be carried on by any given sum of bank paper or credit, as effectually as by an equal sum of gold and silver. And thus, by contributing to enlarge the mass of industrious and commercial enterprise, banks become nurseries of national wealth-a consequence as satisfactorily verified by experience, as it is clearly deducible in theory.
Secondly. Greater facility to the Government, in obtaining pecuniary aids, especially in sudden emergencies. This is another, and an undisputed advantage of public banks—one which, as already remarked, has been realized in signal instances among ourselves. The reason is obvious; the capitals of a great number of individuals are, by this operation, collected to a point, and placed under one direction. The mass formed by this union, is, in a certain sense, magnified by the credit attached to it; and while this mass is always ready, and can at once be put in motion, in aid of the Government, the interest of the bank to afford that aid, independent of regard to the public safety and welfare, is a sure pledge for its disposition to go as far in its compliances as can in prudence be desired. There is, in the nature of things, as will be more particularly noticed in another place, an intimate connexion of interest between the Government and the bank of a nation.
Thirdly. The facilitating of the payment of taxes. This advantage is produced in two ways. Those who are in a situation to have access to the bank, can have the assistance of loans, to answer, with punctuality, the public calls upon them. This accommodation has been sensibly felt in the payment of the duties heretofore laid by those who reside where establishments of this nature exist. This, however, though an extensive, is not an universal benefit. The other way in which the effect here contemplated is produced, and in which the benefit is general, is the increasing of the quantity of circulating medium, and the quickening of circulation. The manner in which the first happens, has already been traced. The last may require some illustration. When payments are to be made between different places, having an intercourse of business with each other, if there happen to be no private bills at market, and there are no bank notes which have a currency in both, the consequence is, that coin must be remitted. This is attended with trouble, delay, expense, and risk. If, on the contrary, there are bank notes current in both places, the transmission of these by the post, or any other speedy or convenient conveyance, answers the purpose; and these again, in the alternations of demand, are frequently returned, very soon after, to the place from whence they were first sent: whence the transportation and re-transportation of the metals are obviated, and a more convenient and more expeditious medium of payment is substituted. Nor is this all; the metals, instead of being suspended from their usual functions during this process of vibration from place to place, continue in activity, and administer still to the ordinary circulation, which, of course, is prevented from suffering either diminution or stagnation. These circumstances are additional causes of what, in a practical sense, or to the purposes of business, may be called greater plenty of money. And it is evident, that whatever enhances the quantity of circulating money, adds to the ease with which every industrious member of the community may acquire that portion of it of which he stands in need, and enables him the better to pay his taxes, as well as to supply his other wants. Even where the circulation of the bank paper is not general, it must still have the same effect, though in a less degree. For, whatever furnishes additional supplies to the channels of circulation, in one quarter, naturally contributes to keep the streams fuller elsewhere. This last view of the subject serves both to illustrate the position that banks tend to facilitate the payment of taxes, and to exemplify their utility to business of every kind in which money is an agent.
It would be to intrude too much on the patience of the House, to prolong the details of the advantages of banks; especially, as all those which might still be particularized, are readily to be inferred as consequences from those which have been enumerated. Their disadvantages, real or supposed, are now to be reviewed. The most serious of the charges which have been brought against them, are,
That they serve to increase usury;
That they afford aid to ignorant adventurers, who disturb the natural and beneficial course of trade;
That they give to bankrupt and fraudulent traders, a fictitious credit, which enables them to maintain false appearances, and to extend their impositions; and, lastly,
That they have a tendency to banish gold and silver from the country.
There is great reason to believe, that, on a close and candid survey, it will be discovered that these charges are either destitute of foundation, or that, as far as the evils they suggest have been found to exist, they have proceeded from other, or partial, or temporary causes, are not inherent in the nature and permanent tendency of such institutions, or are more than counterbalanced by opposite advantages. This survey shall be had, in the order in which the charges have been stated. The first of them, is
That banks serve to increase usury.
It is a truth, which ought not to be denied, that the method of conducting business, which is essential to bank operations, has, among us, in particular instances, given occasion to usurious transactions. The punctuality in payments, which they necessarily exact, has sometimes obliged those who have adventured beyond both their capital and their credit, to procure money at any price, and, consequently, to resort to userers for aid.
But experience and practice gradually bring a cure to this evil. A general habit of punctuality among traders, is the natural consequence of the necessity of observing it with the bank-a circumstance which, itself, more than compensates for any occasional ill which may have sprung from that necessity, in the particular under consideration. As far, therefore, as traders depend on each ner for pecuniary supplies, they can calculate their expectations with greater certainty; and are in proportionably less danger of disappointments, which might compel them to have recourse to so pernicious an expedient as that of borrowing at usury; the mischiefs of which, after a few examples, naturally inspire great care, in all but men of desperate circumstances, to avoid the possibility of being subjected to them. One, and not the least of these evils, incident to the use of that expedient, if the fact be known, or even strongly suspected, is loss of credit with the bank itself.
The directors of a bank, too, though, in order to extend its business and its popularity, in the infancy of an institution, they may be tempted to go further in accommodation than the strict rules of
prudence will warrant, grow more circumspect, of course, as its affairs become better established, and as evils of too great facility are experi
mentally demonstrated. They become more attentive to the situation and conduct of those with whom they deal; they observe more narrowly their operations and pursuits; they economise the credit they give to those of suspicious solidity; they refuse it to those whose career is more manifestly hazardous. In a word, in the course of practice, from the very nature of things, the interest will make it the policy of a bank to succor the wary and industrious; to discredit the rash and unthrifty; to discountenance both usurious lenders and usurious borrowers.
There is a leading view, in which the tendency of banks will be seen to be to abridge, rather than to promote usury. This relates to their property of increasing the quantity and quickening the circulation of money. If it be evident, that usury will prevail or diminish, according to the proportion which the demand for borrowing bears to the quantity of money at market to be lent; whatever has the property just mentioned, whether it be in the shape of paper or coin, by contributing to render the supply more equal to the demand, must tend to counteract the progress of usury.
But bank lending, it is pretended, is an impediment to other kinds of lending; which, by confining the resource of borrowing to a particular class, leaves the rest of the community more destitute, and, therefore, more exposed to the extortions of usurers. As the profits of bank stock exceed the legal rate of interest, the possessors of money, it is urged, prefer investing it in that article, to lending it at this rate; to which, there are the additional motives of a more prompt command of the capital, and of more frequent and exact returns, without trouble or perplexity in the collection. This constitutes the second charge which has been enumerated.
The fact on which this charge rests, is not to be admitted without several qualifications; particularly in reference to the state of things in this country.
First. The great bulk of the stock of a bank will consist of the funds of men in trade, among ourselves, and moneyed foreigners; the former of whom could not spare their capitals out of their reach, to be invested in loans for long periods, on mortgages or personal security; and the latter of whom would not be willing to be subjected to the casualties, delays, and embarrassments, of such a disposition of their money in a distant country.
Secondly. There will always be a considerable proportion of those who are properly the money lenders of a country, who, from that spirit of caution which usually characterises this description of men, will incline rather to vest their funds in mortgages on real estate, than in the stock of a bank, which they are apt to consider as a more precarious security.
These considerations serve, in a material degree, to narrow the foundation of the objection, as to the point of fact. But there is a more satisfactory answer to it. The effect supposed, as far as it has existence, is temporary. The reverse of it takes place in the general and permanent operation of the thing.
The capital of every public bank, will, of course, be restricted within a certain defined limit. It is the province of legislative prudence so to adjust this limit, that, while it will not be too contracted for the demand which the course of business may create, and for the security