Description

    John Quincy Adams Autograph Letter Signed "J.Q. Adams". Four pages, 8" x 10", Quincy, Massachusetts, July 15, 1837. Among the finest known Adams ALsS; it discusses in-depth, the United States Constitution as it related to the finances of the Government and evokes such names as Martin Van Buren, Andrew Jackson and John Marshall. Sixth President John Quincy Adams was the son of John Adams, and Minister to the Netherlands, Prussia, Russia, and Great Britain; he negotiated the Treaty of Ghent that ended the War of 1812. He was a senator from Massachusetts and secretary of state under Monroe. In 1824, he ran against Andrew Jackson and Henry Clay, and though Jackson received more votes, the election was thrown into the House of Representatives. There, House Speaker Clay swayed members to vote for Adams, who then appointed Clay Secretary of State. Following his defeat in 1828, he was elected to the House of Representatives, where he served from 1831 until his death. This is a true museum quality letter, and reads (in full): "Dear Sir, Your letter of the 3rd inst. Has together with the subject to which it relates formed a subject of frequent and anxious meditation to my mind. I feel myself honoured by this individual confidence manifested by the communication to me of your thoughts in the present...of our affairs. I have great respect for your opinions considered merely as authority especially upon all questions of Law, Constitution, Policies, Morals, and useful arts - and your letter presents to me a perspective of extrication from the entanglement of our credit, circulation and currency entirely new and of the correctness of which I entertain no doubt. The radical principle of our complicated National and federative systems of government is that all organized power emanating from the people, and the people of the union consisting of twenty-six communities, each constitution, a separate and independent People, all legislative action, essentially affecting the rights, duties, and interests of the Whole people, has been assigned to the Legislature of the Unions and all Legislation upon the rights, duties, and interests of the People of each separate State, and do not immediately affecting the whole, is delegated by the general State Constitutions to the State Legislature this principle, in the abstract is recognized by the lawyers and Statesman of all parties throughout the Union. But in carrying this intricate and nicely adjusted theory into practical execution, two perplexing difficulties have occurred. The first, that as all organized power emanates from the People, Legislation itself is limited by terms of the grant from the People, and that as human language is an imperfect instrument inadequate to convey the same ideas to all minds in the same words the extent of power granted is uncertain, and unstable, depending upon constrictions, and fruitful of party contests and dissensions. The second that the line between the grants of power to the general and the State governments has not been and perhaps cannot be distinctly drawn - Hence it follows that many subjects of legislation are claimed as within the jurisdiction both of the general and of the State Governments - and both have according by exercised Legislative authority over them - The institutions of incorporated banks has been authorized by both alike, and as exclusive privileges, wearing the features of monopoly are granted to those institutions they have opened to the Country two laurels of deep dissension - first a collision of interests between the great mass of the People and the special privileges of the State Banks and of the Banks chartered by Congress. There is no provision in the Constitution of the United States concerning banks or banking. There is non I believe in the Constitutions of any of the separate states at lease there was none at the time when the Constitution of the United States was formed and adopted - The Congress of the Confederation had assumed the authority to constitute a National Bank, but its stockholders were compelled to resort to the legislature of Pennsylvania for a supplementary charter, to sanction their operations. Under the present Constitution of the United States, Congress have twice incorporated a National bank - each of those banks has lived through its term of twenty-years, and during the continuance of those terms, the currency, the circulation, the exchanges and the credit of the country, have been maintained with little inconveniences and without waste of public funds. The Constitutional right of Congress to enact these laws has been solemnly sanctioned by the highest judicial tribunal of the nation - This benefit to the community of the institutions has been incalculable - And twice they have been recklessly cast away first by the inveterate and narrow-minded anti-federalism of George Clinton; and secondly by the sordid resentments of Andrew Jackson, disappointed in the base attempt to turn back into an electioneering engine - the same motive instigated him, through the impulses of..., to give the use of public monies, without law, and against law, to seventy or eighty paper money mills in every quarter of the Unions managed by Shakers and swindlers who have parceled out these spoils of victory among themselves, and are now fattening like leaches upon the blood of the public treasury and swilling into bloated opulence upon the general ruin. And you tell me that the remedy for this to me proposed by Mr. Van Buren is a sponge in the forms of a bankrupt Law - There are doubtless multitudes of his partisans who in achieving the insolvency of others have not redeemed their own, and even if theyhave, need a process of insolvency to secure them their plunder - This remedy is so congenial to the morals of Mr. Van Buren's politics that the measure comes internal evidence of its probability as an expedient likely way to meet his favour. And I take it for granted that if he does propose it, the democracy of delinquent debtors will sustain him, and the creditors who cannot or will not relieve themselves by bankruptcy is their turn, must pocket their losses in broken bank Bill and begin the world again - You are pleased to suppose that my opinions may possibly have some weight to promote the adoption of a more honest remedy; but I cannot so flatter myself - my opinions are all unpopular and perhaps at this time more so than they have been at any former period of my life - I consider it the absolute and irremissable duty of the Administration of the general Government to provide for the future safe keeping of the public Treasury - This is all that I am disposed to require of them now, and I stand ready to support Mr. Van Buren in any honest measure which he may propose adopted to that end - I do not intend to propose any measure myself, but us as you have been led to expect Mr. Van Buren should recommend a Bankrupt Law I have no doubt of the power of Congress to extend its operation all over the incorporated banks in the Union. I think that a deliberate suspension of special payments by a vote of the President and Directors if any Bank should be declared enact of Bankruptcy. - that it should forfeit all the banking powers of the institution and subject the President and Directors to personal penalties - The fate of the New York safety fund system, and the bankruptcies legalized by the legislatures of that state and of Virginia, do indeed give fearful admonitions of the inefficiency of Legislative guards against the ingenious art of bank-breaking; but there may yetbe hope that in Congress, these examples of bankrupt Legislation would not be limited. If there is any one subject of Legislation which more than all others concerns the whole nation, it is that of baking circulation, credit and exchange. There can be no regulation of commerce with foreign nations between the several States and with the Indian tribes there can be no collection and disbursement of the revenue there can be no management of the War, no fulfillment of national engagements, no consistent action of the government without it - The pretension that all this is to be done by the mutation of metals, is precisely one level with the devices of the alchemists of a former age to do it all by the transmutation of metals - The attempt to do it all by means of State banks is the transcendent glory of the last administration - Mr. Van Buren is pledged to the support of the same system, and his resource it seems for the desolation it has already produced, is a sponge. I have not been so deeply alarmed at the executive usurpations of the last President as many others, because I have seen a disposition in the Senate to usurp power much more formidable than that of a single man, who term of office was soon to expire and who example I believed his success would not dare to follow - The patronage bill, twice proposed by the Senate, would have transferred the appointing power from the President in whom it is vested by the Constitution to a perpetual Oligarchy of biddens for the Presidency - As to the Postmaster General's start to ride rough-shod over the supreme Court itself, as at present organized - What can be expected from a Court with the remover of Public deposits from the bank of the United States to the Bank of Maryland sitting in the seat of John Marshall? Please to consider this letter as confidential, and believe me to be with the highest respect, Dear Sir, your friend and Obd't Serv't J.Q. Adams". In Latin at the bottom: "Ingenuas ingenuas didicisse fideliter artes Emollit mores, nec sinit esse feros" (To have studied carefully the liberal arts refines the manners, and prevents us from being brutish).

    Adams was in the House of Representatives at this time. The financial panic of 1837 was a startling result of the unbounded speculation, and the executive experiments on the finances, of the preceding era. In 1811, the first era of bank-expansion in the United States was due to the dissolution of the charter of the National Bank, and to the business activity that followed the close of the second war with Great Britain. A second National Bank was instituted in 1817. The bank circulation fell from $110,000,000 in 1816 to $65,000,000 in 1819. Financial distress and a general depression of industry succeeded, from which the country did not fully recover for several years. When Jackson became president in 1829 he very quickly manifested a distaste for the National Bank, which he declared to be corrupt, dangerous, and unconstitutional and removed government deposits, which he distributed among the State banks. This measure produced a storm of opposition, greatly disturbed the conditions of business, and caused general distress in the industrial community. But Jackson launched forward with his attack and displayed in a veto of the bill to renew its charter, which would expire on March 3, 1836. The State banks took advantage of this condition of affairs to expand greatly their discounts augmenting from $200,000,000 in 1830 to $525,000,000 eight years afterwards. A series of wild speculations attended this expansion: foreign goods were heavily imported, and enormous operations took place in government lands, in payment for which paper money poured profusely into the treasury. Such was the state of affairs at midsummer of 1836. To check these operations a "specie circular" was issued by the Secretary of the Treasury, which required payment for government lands to be made in gold and silver after August 15, 1836. The effect of this series of executive actions, and of the fever of speculation which existed, was disastrous. The specie that was expected to flow into the treasury in payment for public lands failed to appear. The banks refused discount and called in their loans. Property was sacrificed everywhere, and prices generally declined. Then, came the business crash and panic of 1837, which caused the financial ruin of thousands. By this time, Van Buren was President and during the first three weeks of April, 250 business houses failed in New York. Within two months the failures in that city alone reached nearly one hundred million dollars. Throughout the whole country the mercantile interests went down with a general crash, involving the mechanic, the farmer, and even the humblest laborer, in the ruinous consequences of the disaster. Bankruptcy everywhere prevailed, forced sacrifice for valuable merchandise was the order of the day, no less than eight of the states partially or wholly failed, even the general government could not pay its debts, trade stood still, business confidence vanished, and ruin stalked unchecked over the land. As one of its results the banking system of the country suffered a general collapse. Out of 850 banks, 343 closed, 62 failed partially, and the system of state banks received a shock from which it never fully recovered. Declaring that the panic was due to recklessness in business and overexpansion of credit, Van Buren devoted himself to maintaining the solvency of the national government, He opposed not only the creation of a new Bank of the United States but also the placing of government funds in state banks. He fought for the establishment of an independent treasury system to handle government transactions. As for federal aid to internal improvements, he cut off expenditures so completely that the government even sold the tools it had used on public works. Fine condition; a beautiful letter featuring his immediately recognizable tiny, elegant script.




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