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Currency Legislation

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

BY far the most important and most beneficial act of financial legislation since the resumption of specie payment has been accomplished by the recent passage of the so-called New Currency Bill. Its provisions are calculated to prove of great aid in maintaining the even tenor of prosperity, through a stability of the bases of credit, and hence, of necessity, a stability of credit itself. No country, be its resources never so vast, can develop these resources even through domestic commerce, without the underlying guaranty of a perfectly sound financial system upon which credit may be established, and without which latter trade languishes. Credit is the life of the individual, of commerce, and of the country. Therefore, I say that in placing the national financial system upon an absolute gold basis, the Fifty-sixth Congress has placed to its own credit, and that of the entire administration, a very great sum of national prosperity, to be enjoyed by them and by the country at large for many years to come. The first and immediate result has been seen in our ability to refund a considerable portion of the national debt at a two per cent. interest-bearing note, thereby effecting a saving of many millions a year in interest. Moreover, these two per cent. bonds command a premium in the markets of the world, placing the credit of the government of the United States in the first rank. Our unequivocal standard of value is now that of all the great civilized nations. To be sure, so far as the actuality went, our wise Secretaries of the Treasury have always practically maintained our finances upon a gold basis; but heretofore there have always been the elements of uncertainty and apprehension, the possibility of different and erroneous interpretations of the duties of the Secretary of Treasury. Now, our declaration of faith, as put on the statute books in the year of grace 900o, leaves no longer any ground for distrust. It will be well remembered how, in times past, upon the least indication of financial agitation, gold has been withdrawn from this country in enormous quantities. In another chapter I have already referred to the disastrous effects which were brought about in very large measure by the depletion of the Treasury's stock of gold, this tremendous drain being the direct result of the fear that, through the pernicious effects of the nonsensical and unsound 16 to 1 silver agitation, we were drifting more or less rapidly, but none the less surely, to a silver basis. The reason for such great apprehension of danger is not far to seek. Our securities had been held in enormous volume by Europe, which had paid us for them in gold, investing its money in good faith as to its security. The inevitable result of a threat, however remote, that when it came to taking back these securities by either purchase or redemption, we would pay for them in depreciated silver, was an outpouring upon us in vast quantities of the stocks and bonds. The accompanying panic and its direful train of disasters before temporary legislative relief came, are matters which have been fully treated elsewhere in these pages. But we may cheerfully turn away from such contemplation, in the assurance of being safeguarded from any further danger from that source. American securities may now be held in foreign countries, without any misgivings as to their repayment in the best money of the world. And herein lies a great promoting factor in stability. The movements of gold will be left free to the natural influence of supply and demand. The current will simply flow where money may be most needed at the time, or where it may command the best interest rate. Consequently, hoarding of the yellow metal is a thing of the past. Gold is the most timid commodity in the world, but now, when it seems reasonably sure it will not be driven out of the country by an overwhelming deluge of degraded money, it will not hide away in strong boxes and vaults, but will come forward to give its invaluable assistance in the regulation and adjustment of the exchanges inseparable from business. The extension of the limit of bank circulation to the par value of government bonds held in Washington as security, is a wise provision of the bill under discussion. While emphasizing the excellent credit we enjoy as a nation, it permits a considerable increase in the volume of money in circulation, really necessary, and at the same time perfectly safe in its nature, being a natural and gradual expansion and not an inflation of the currency. I look favorably as well upon the provision for the founding of national banks upon smaller capitalization than hitherto required. I think that one result of this will be the establishment of a large number of these institutions in a profitable field of action, namely, at smaller points throughout the great cotton and grain-growing districts. The relief that this would afford the large money centers of the country is needed. The periods of crop movement are invariably periods of disturbance and stringency in the money markets. If banking facilities are brought nearer to these vast agricultural sections, and more widely distributed through them, a very great measure of the burden of crop movements will be lifted from the banking institutions of the East. Here again we observe another element tending toward the stability of trade. Our legislators have wisely refrained from interference with the greenback legal tenders, which are a necessity from the best economic point of view. Taking the Currency Bill all in all, therefore, we, as a nation, have good cause for self-congratulation. Our credit, based upon a sure foundation, is the best in the world. Confidence is an established institution in this country, and whoever may assail it should receive short shrift from every thinking man, be he capitalist or day laborer. There has been a very considerable discussion of this currency question within the past few years, but more especially during the last presidential campaign. The people have become educated to a marked degree in the rudimentary principles of a sound monetary system, and it hardly seems likely at this juncture that this knowledge will permit any other course on their part than a continuance in power of the great political party through whose instrumentality so much of substantial benefit to the country has been achieved. The effect of the placing of this country on a permanent gold basis by national enactment, has not yet been fully appreciated in Wall Street, as it has been amongst the great financiers and capitalists of London. American securities have a backing now for intrinsic worth such as they have never had before, through the status which the adoption of the gold standard has given them, of which there can be no revocation. The attention of the world will be called to American securities more forcibly than ever before, from this time forth, making them more sought after for permanent holding. Now that the misgivings as to the future of our money have been settled, the important factor of a large commercial balance in our favor will prevent the return of such misgivings. Our present large railroad earnings will inevitably encourage the making of future investments on a large scale in this country, at the termination of the South African war. The present wonderful showing made by American railway and industrial corporations is only a foreshadowing of the immense activity to come. The entire world is entering upon an era of commercial progression and prosperity that will far surpass all existing records. National conquests will in time be made by the weapons of commerce rather than by those of war. The great increase in the gold product of the world is the moving power, and the faster the precious metal is brought up from the bowels of the earth, the greater will be the impetus of business ventures and developments. The future will be brilliant in inventions and discoveries, and in the advancement of gigantic business enterprises, without limit as to sphere. We are to witness a race of mankind for supremacy in the world's markets. The " open door " will be the policy of all the great powers. The completion of the trans-Siberian railway points to the development of the heretofore almost unknown resources of Russia. Upon the ending of the Transvaal War we shall see a tremendous sweep of civilization into Africa, which means the opening up of its well-nigh fabulous resources. Who can gainsay that the results will be marvelous? There is not a corner of the globe where they will not be felt. These are the prevailing conditions in this closing year of a wonderful century. The prospect for the century to come is indeed a dazzling one.

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