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But, said Mr. M., it is not my intention to look to this question in the light of a legal or a technical question, as other gentlemen have done. I should be sorry indeed, that, on a question of so vital importance to the liberties of all-it should be thought necessary that those who speak, should be lawyers alone, who are acquainted with technical cases. I believe there is written upon the heart of every man, that principle which, without reference to courts, will aid in the sustenance of our credit and character--that principle which existed before judicial decisions were made, and where none such have been had, and which, in every free government, has been regarded as a principle most sound and important.
Nor shall I dwell particularly upon the restrictions imposed upon us, in this respect, to the constitution of the United States. I rise principally for the purpose of making some remarks on another part of the argument which has not hitherto been touched. I admit the conclusion of those doctrines which have been stated, that, so long as the constitution of the United States stands with its authority-where ever political parties are drawn—so long as that constitution remains, we are bound by it, and can not go beyond it.
But, sir, I do not wish that the opinion should go abroad, that the commonwealth of Pennsylvania, is restrained from the violation of the faith of contracts only by a positive law. I appeal indignantly to the history of the country, to shew the contrary ; and I do not wish it to be understood that, except for the obligation imposed by the provision in the constitution of the United States, she would sunder the bonds by which she has voluntarily bound herself.
I will shew that the commonwealth of Pennsylvania, in her assembly, which has been charged on one day, with not being fit to be trusted, and which on the next day, it is proposed to set up as a tribunal, to violate the faith of the commonwealth by annulling contracts, has not the power to do so; that' these are judicial questions; that the parliament of Great Britain has refused to exercise that power ; that it has preferred to leave judicial questions to be settled by the judicial tribunals; and that they are there fully sensible of the impropriety of a deliberative body sitting in judgment upon private right.
Much has been said, in the course of this debate, as to whether, accord. ing to the decided cases, a private charter is, or is not contract. These cases have been cited, and I do not propose to touch that question. But I speak to gentlemen of common sense, and I ask whether there is not written in the heart of every man a belief, that when the commonwealth passes a law declaring that if certain individuals, foreign as well as native, will put their capital together for certain purposes, and for a given period of time, the state will guaranty to them certain privileges as a body, that law becomes a contract ?
Mr. M. alluded to the conditions upon which bank charters were granted and founded.
If a contract means that by which one party agrees to do one thingand, in consideration of that, another party agree to do another—if a thing is a contract when certain things have been agreed upon by both parties, and have been exercised by one or tho other-I ask if a bank charter does not beeome a contract !
I say there is fixed in the heart of every man, a belief-however his party spirit may have blinded his intelligence, or warped his judgmentor however he may attempt with his conscience, to wind it up in the difficulties of decided cases—there is written a sacred feeling in the heart of every man, that, after all, this must be something more than a mere law which is subject at every moment to repealing, without a breach of faith. I say the legislature has the power to grant a charter of this kind ; and, if so, what authority have you to take it way?
The amendment now proposed, admits the power of the legislature ;and because they may have acted beyond their authority, it is not necessary for us to give them more power. The reason applies as well to one chárter as to the other—although one institution, being unpopular, is singled out as the object of attack.
If it be true that is the legislature has not the power to grant such a corporatio:1, why give the power to retake it? But where is the doubt that there is the power, and that the legislature of the commonwealth is no where restricted from its exercise by the constitution or the bill of rights?
Where is it said that they should not exercise power in relation to certain particulars ? We differ in this respect from the congress of the United States, where there is a boly elected with limited powers, and where it is declared they should exercise no powers but such as are expressly given, whereas, in our legislature, they exercise all power, from the exercise of which, they are not expressly excluded.
It is true, that in the constitution of 1776, an enumeration of the powers was attempted!, and that the enumeration included a power to grant corporations, to pass bills and laws--and all such powers, it goes on to say, as are necessary for the existence of a free government-thus, in fact, declaring that this power to erect corporations--to do that which was necessary for the people, to authorize the aggregation of capital, is recognized as a power necessary to a free people. And, in the year 1790, instead of enumeration, they give them the whole legislative power, controlled only by the bill of rights, and such other clauses of the constitution as relate to the exercise of it.
I will not stop here to debate this, because it is rather a technical question than otherwise. I do not believe, as I have said, that this is a question for lawyers alone ; it comes home to the mind of every man of common sense; and fatal would it be to the success of our republican institutions, if the settlement of this question depended on lawyers alone.
I do not stop to inquire, Mr. Chairman, whether this is a law or a contract. I believe that it is both; and I call upon gentlemen to shew me, if they can, that a law may not be a law as well as a contract, and yet it seems to be supposed that a public contract, sanctioned by all the aathority of the state, is no law. If it were not a law, it would not be a co:tract. No individual has a right to bind the faith of the commonwealth. In order to do that, there must be a law passed, and there must be a con. tract: and when that law has been so passed, and has been acted upon, it is a contract as well as a law. How, I would ask, are we to appear--I do not mean in the view of the world, but to the citizens of this commodwealth, if we are to proclaim the doctrine that a law is not a contract ?
How are we to appear to the citizens of foreign countries who are authorizing loans, and advancing capital to the amount of twenty-four or twenty five millions of dollars, upon the faith of the commonwealth, if what is now said be true that this is a mere law and not a contract, and that it can be at any moment repealed? A mere law connected with public affaire ! I may be asked, suppose the legislature should give a perpetual charter of this kind-should give up the money interests of the countryshould divest themselves of all power of questions of public importance, what would you do? Does not the argument apply as well to works of public improvement? You must put faith in your legislature, if you mean to do any thing at all.
Mr. M. then adverted to the foreign capital employed in this commonwealth, and to the sources of revenue thereby created.
Te state, said he, is pledged to pay interest to foreigners, and the whole argument goes as much to the demolition of faith upon loans, as upon the grant of a charter. And, if this were so, with what responsi. bility would any man deal? In what situation would any man be,
who would rise and declare that the legislature has no power to make contracto, that they are appointed only for the purpose of passing laws, that these are nothing more then laws, that they partake of nothing in the nature of contracts, and that they may contain repealing clauses, io be enforced at any time. If such were the state of things here, a legislature might make a loan of twenty millions of dollars, might pledge the whole property of the state for the payment of the interest and principal, and might then put the money in their pockets and run away. Ne man would be received with patience, if he were to advance such an argument as this; and yet, this argument is to be applied to one case as well as the other, though it would fall with much more force in the one instance, than in the other. These corporations have a right to lend their own money.
Is that an injury to the commonwealth ? They have a right to issue paper inoney to be taken only by those who choose to trust them. Is this an injury to the commonwealth ? And they have a right to take on deposit the money of those who choose to confide it to their care.
Is this an injury to the cominonwealth ?
It has been said however, and the gentleman from Luzerne, (Mr. Woodward) has laid much stress upon that argument, that, although this charier may be adınitted to be a contract, still that it ca not be a contract, because there is no remely in case of its violation.
Suppose that a man should sell a locomotive engine to the agent of the state. Is he not correct in saying that the faith of the commonwealth is pledged for the payment of the sumn stipulated for the purchase? We are all aware of the fact that a private individual has never a remedy against a sovereign state. We all know that there is no remedy, but that moral obligation which has, up to this period of the world's existence, been found sufficient for the purpose, because upon this, it is known, that the true interests of the government itselfdepend. There can be no remedy here by action against the commonwealth ; nor, in Great Britain, for any act of the parliament, by way of a breach of contract. Yet, in what point of view, has this matter heen considered in England ? I beg gentlemen for a moment, to turn their eye to those governments which have adhered
to their plighted faith, and have recognized the doctrine of the inviolabilty of their own contracts, and who have declared that their faith shonld be maintained at any and every sacrifice. They will find, as the result of their investigations, that such governments have been always the most free, and that they have done the most to promote the interests and the prosperity of their people.
Let them cast their eyes 10 Great Britain ! a country where there is no written constitution-where the parliament is omnipotent, and where the legislative body is in session nearly the whole year round and which, at one sweep, may destroy the liberty and prosperity of any man in the land ! What, let me ask, has been the result there? Where has the gorernment of that, or any other free country, violated its plighted faith? Let them show me an instance if they can. Let them point me to a case where a man who has applied to the British parliament for a contract, has been sneeringly asked, where was his remedy; and has been told that, unless he could bring it into a court of justicc, there is no remedy for the violation of the contract ? On the other hand, let us see with what sacredness they have complied with their contracts, and by means of which they have been enabled to command the wealth of their people to any extent. It was by means of the reliance on that saith which had never been shaken, that England was brought safely through that perilous struggle with Napoleon, who had subjugated almost all the nations of Europe, and whose whole soul was bent upon making England add one more to the number of his conquesis. He was baffled by the nation's faith. At the period when the whole taxation of the country was scarcely sufficient to pay the interest of the national debt, over and above the expenses of the government, there never was a time when the subjects of Great Britain, or foreigners from other parts of Europe, hesitated to put their money into the funds, under a certain condition that contracts would be complied with. These have been the fruits arising from this principle ; and this too, in a country where they held only by the imperfect title of good faith ; where they hold the doctrine that in ordinary contracts a man is not to be held bound beyond the amount in the contract.
And are we, because the constitution of the United States contains a positive provision on the subject—are we, because this great principle is sanctioned by positive law-are we, 1 ask, to forget-the principle itself which lays at the bottom of all law, and to declare that, but for that law, the state of Pennsylvania would be found actiug in violation of the faith of contracts ? Sir, I do not believe it, and when I look back to our history, I find it impossible to believe it. And I assert that whereever this great principle has been violated, it has been followed by ignominy to the nation and, eventually, by destruction to the government itself.
Mr. M. adverted to the position assumed by Mr Woodward, as to the course of the state of Pennsylvania in certain cases of charters repealed; and then proceeded.
Let the genıleipun shew me an instance where a charter has been violated by act of assembly in this state where, within a year or two, there has not been a re-enactment. Allusion has been made to the case of the Bank of North America. It is true that the charter of that bank, under the inflictions of the fierce spirit of party, was repealed; and yet within a year or two, to the great honor of certain parties, that very bank which had been weighed down by its own unpopularity, was re chartered. Do gentleinen want a stronger argumeat than this, to show what has been the spirit of Pennsylvania on the subject of the violation of charters ?
When the doctrine as to the expediency of repealing charters in this commonwealth, came into existence, how was it to be enforced? By setting up a clause to repeal charters or laws ? No-but by inserting in the several acts of incorporation an express clause, that the legislsture should have that power—thus making the power a part of the contract itself. The question itself never was raised in the legislature of this state-I believe down to this very hour, it never has been seriously raised there. I never heard of it being debated, except, probably, at the last session of the legislature. But they shewed their unaniomous sense on the subject even in a stronger manner than by a decision, and, instead of asserting that they had the power already, they made it, on the other hand, an express provision of the contract. The whole of those proceedings, from beginning to end, demonstrate that this idea of the repeal of charters is a new light which has but recently dawned upon the commonwealth; and I hope it will be met by ihe freemen of the commonwealth in such a manner as that this will be the last time we shall hear of it.
But, sir, more than this, I will shew what has been the course pursued in our former history, within the last ten or twelve years, and when they have had the whole authority to repeal charters, if they thought proper to resort to it. A charter was granted to a company in the neighborhood of Harrisburg, giving to the company authority to take water out of the Susquehanna, at a point about six miles above Harrisburg. "The members of the company not having complied with the provisions necessary to obtain the charier, waited till the legislature of Pennsylvania, authorized the construction of a canal across the Susquehanna, over that very interval and at that point where, in consequence of the peculiar nature of the country, it was difficult, though not impossible, to locate more than one canal between the rieer and the hills. At that time, and after the engineers had been sent for, the gentlemen authorized by the charter, professed to have complied with the provisions necessary to obtain the charter, presented themselves and claimed to receive their charter. And they did receive it. They employed their own engineers to go upon that very line, which it was known, would be taken by the state, although nothing had been done upon the line ; and they marked out their own line of canal in defiance of the commonwealth, and claimed, and had the right to claim this land-it belonged to them, and it could not be taken except it was paid for.
Here was a case, which happened in the heat and fury of internal improvement; at a time when, on every question having reference to internal improvement, the difficulty was, not to urge, but to restrain it; and this outrage, as it purported to be, was committed under the very eye of the legislature. That was also a case, in which the legislature reserved the power to repeal the act of incorporation, and stood there with their hands untied, like the parliament of Great Britain, except by their