The Committee on Finance, to which was referred that part of the Governor’s Inaugural address which relates to currency, have had so much thereof as relates to the establishment of an Independent Treasury and to a National Bank under consideration; and a majority of said committee have directed me to make the following report:
In reviewing the history of the United States, we find that the employment of banks, as fiscal agents, in keeping and disbursing the public moneys, is a practice almost coeval with the very organization of our Government. It was commenced during the administration of Washington, the first President of the Union, and was continued without intermission, through all the changes of administration, until the retirement of President Jackson from office.
For the greater part of this time, the first Bank of the United States, chartered by Congress, in 1791, and approved by President Washington, and the second United States Bank, chartered in 1816, and approved by President Madison, were the agents for the discharge of these duties: but during two periods, the banks chartered by the several States were substituted for a National Bank, viz: from the expiration of the charter of the first United States Bank in 1811, until the creation of the second in 1816; and from the removal of the deposites from the latter bank in 1833, until the end of President Jackson’s term of office.
The practice, however, of employing some banks, either State or National, as fiscal agents for the General Government, was uniformly and constantly followed by all the Presidents, until the accession of Mr. Van Buren in 1837.
During this period of nearly half a century, our prosperity was unexampled. The increase of our wealth and population, the development of our resources, and our improvement in all the useful pursuits of civilized life, were extensive and rapid, beyond all parallel in the previous annals of the world. Vast tracts of country were reclaimed from the wilderness—forests were levelled—prairies converted into fertile fields—roads opened—rivers explored and the obstructions removed which impeded their navigation. The increase of agricultural products promoted the expansion of other branches of industry. Manufactures of various sorts sprang up and flourished; our commerce was pushed to every quarter of the globe; our sails whitened every sea; and the American flag floated in every breeze, from the Arctic ocean to the southernmost shores of the Pacific. The Old World saw with surprise and admiration our infant colonies, but recently formed into a union of States, advancing with giant strides to the rank of a mighty nation.
Thus it will be seen, from this brief history of the union which, until recently, existed between the General Government and banks, either State or National—and of the extraordinary and unprecedented degree of prosperity which accompanied us in our onward march during the period of this union—that a system, under which we have increased from a mere handful of people to a most powerful confederacy, and under which we have attained a condition so flourishing, cannot in itself be
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radically and fundamentally defective.” It is, therefore, a matter of no surprise, that a proposition to sever a union so useful and so beneficial should receive, at its very outset, a most decided and signal rebuke.
The first proposition for such a severance was submitted by Mr. Gamble, of Georgia, during the session of Congress held in the winter of 1834 and 1835. This was as follows:
Resolved, That the Secretary of the Treasury be directed to communicate to this House, whether, in his opinion, it is practicable or convenient for that Department to collect, safely keep, and disburse the public moneys of the United States, without the agency of a bank or banks; and, if so, to report to this House the best mode, in his opinion, by which that object can be accomplished.”2
On motion of Mr. M’Kim, a member of the administration party, the resolution was laid upon the table.3
Mr. Gamble, afterwards, on the 6th day of January, 1835, introduced the following resolution:
Resolved, That the Secretary of the Treasury be directed to digest, and prepare, and communicate to this House, a detailed plan by which the public revenue of the United States may be collected, safely kept, and disbursed, without the agency of a bank or banks, either State or National.”4
On the 11th day of February, at the same session, the bill regulating the deposite of the money of the United States in certain local banks, being under consideration, a motion was made by Mr. Robertson, “that the said bill be recommitted to the Committee of Ways and Means, with instructions so to amend the same as to dispense with the agency or instrumentality of banks in the fiscal operations of the Government.”5
Mr. Gordon moved to amend the said bill, and strike out all thereof after the enacting words, and insert—6
Sec. 1. That from and after theday of in the year, the collectors of the public revenue, at places where the sums collected shall not exceed the sum ofdollars per annum, shall be the agents of the Treasurer, to keep and disburse the same, and be subject to such rules and regulations, and give such bond and security, as he shall prescribe for the faithful execution of their office; and shall receive, in addition to the compensation now allowed by law,per centum on the sums disbursed, so that it does not exceed the sum ofdollars per annum.”
Sec. 2. And be it further enacted, That at all places, where the amount of public revenue collected shall exceed the sum ofdollars per annum, there shall be appointed by the President, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, receivers of the public revenue, to be agents of the Treasurer, who shall give such bond and security, to keep and disburse the revenue, and be subject to such rules and regulations, as the Treasurer shall prescribe; and shall receive for their servicesper centum per annum on the sums disbursed: Provided, it does not exceed the sum ofdollars per annum.”
Sec. 3. And be it further enacted, That from and after theday of, the whole revenue of the United States derived from customs, lands, or other sources, shall be paid in the current coin of the United States.”7

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The yeas and nays were taken upon these several propositions, and, by overwhelming majorities, they were all rejected.8 Among those who were opposed to their adoption, we find the names of C. C. Cambreleng, Zadok Casey, Richard M. Johnson, Wm. L. May, Henry A. Muhlenberg, James K. Polk, John Reynolds, and (with but very few exceptions) all the members friendly to the administration of President Jackson. Every attempt to effect a separation between bank and State was steadily resisted by the friends of the party in power. The scheme was disapproved by President Jackson himself, and the official paper at Washington denounced it, as subversive of the settled practice of the Government, as tending to increase, to an alarming extent, the power of the Executive, and exposing the public treasure to be plundered by a hundred hands, where one could not before reach it.
From that time until the special session of Congress, in September, 1837, 9 after the accession of Mr. Van Buren, the project was laid asleep; and the State banks continued to be employed as the fiscal agents of the Government.
At the special session just referred to, the system now familiarly known as the Independent Treasury, or Sub-treasury system, was first brought forward as an administrative measure. The party which, under President Jackson’s administration, had voted against the proposition of Messrs. Gamble, Gordon, and Robertson, were now divided. A majority of the party, coinciding with President Van Buren, supported the measure, while a considerable minority adhered to their original view of the subject.
The bill was defeated at the special session. It was again brought up at the last regular session, and again lost the Conservative party, as they have been called, remaining firm in their opposition to it.
Your committee do not wish to be understood as resisting, without inquiry or examination, all changes in the fiscal affairs of the Government. They are not hostile to such changes as may be shown to be necessary and proper: but, in view of the high degree of prosperity which the American nation has enjoyed under the system pursued since the foundation of the Government to the present day—when it is proposed to forsake that system and embrace a new and untried plan—they ask, what are the grounds, what are the reasons and considerations which render this change necessary and proper?—and this inquiry is deemed the more important, because of the signal condemnation passed upon this scheme during the session of Congress in 1834-35, above referred to, with the concurrence of some of those who are now advocating its adoption.
If the example of European nations be quoted, in which plans have been adopted similar to that under consideration—we ask if there be any thing in the character of their governments, or the condition of their subjects, which should excite the envy or challenge the imitation of the American people?
It may be said that it is improper to deposite with the Banks the public money, lest it be used as a fund for banking purposes. In the opinion of your committee a sufficient answer to this objection is to be found in a recent vote of this House, declaring it inexpedient to make the collectors of our State revenues the custodiers and disbursers
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of the same. That vote exhibits, on the part of this House, a preference for banks, over collecting officers, as fiscal agents for the safe keeping and disbursing of moneys, so far as our State revenues are concerned: and your committee are unable to perceive any difference of principle, whether the policy under consideration relates to the revenues of this State or to those of the United States.
A favorite argument in behalf of this scheme is, that it is a divorce of Bank and State, and the creation of an Independent Treasury.
To this your committee answer that it will divorce bank and State only to cement a union still more dangerous—the union of political influence with the influence of money—the Executive patronage wit the control of the public purse. It will create a treasury, independent (it is true) of the people, and of their representatives, but dependent upon the President, the Secretary of the Treasury, and thousands of subordinate officers, who hold their appointments at the discretion of the President; among whom are to be included numerous secret agents who, under color of examining into the accounts of the collecting and disbursing officers, may be sent into every part of the Union to operate upon elections.
Another fruitful topic of declamation with the advocates of the Sub-treasury system is, the supposed insecurity of the public money in the deposite banks; and this is especially alluded to in that part of Governor Carlin’s message which has been referred to this committee. In refutation of this idea, your committee deem it only necessary to quote from a report made by Mr. Woodbury, then and now Secretary of the Treasury, during the session of Congress of 1834 and 1835. He says—
“It is a singular fact, in praise of this description of public debtors—the selected banks—that there is not now due on deposite, in the whole of them, which have ever stopped payment, from the establishment of the constitution to the present moment, a sum much beyond what is now due to the United States from one mercantile firm that stopped payment in 1825 or 1826, and of whom ample security was required, and supposed to be taken, under the responsibility of an oath.10
“If we include the whole present dues to the Government from discredited banks, at all times, and of all kinds, whether as depositories or not, and embrace even counterfeit bills, and every other species of unavailable funds in the Treasury, they will not exceed what is due from two such firms. Of almost one hundred banks, not depositories, which, during all our wars and commercial embarrasments, have heretofore failed in any part of the Union, in debt to the Government, on their bills or otherwise, it will be seen by the above table that the whole of them, except seventeen, have adjusted every thing which they owed, and that the balance due from those, without interest, is less than thirty-two thousand dollars.
“Justice to the State banking institutions as a body, whose conduct, in particular cases, has certainly been objectionable, but whose injuries to the Government have been almost incredibly exaggerated, and whose great benefits to it, both during the existence of our two National Banks, and while neither of them existed, have been almost entirely overlooked, has led me to make this scrutiny, and submit its results, under a hope that it will, in some degree, not only vindicate them from much unmerited censure, but justify this department for the
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confidence it formerly, and in the great improvement of their condition and of the financial affairs of the Government, has recently reposed in them. Under these circumstances, so very favorable, with the new security and examinations provided for, your former small losses by them, in keeping and paying over the public revenue, under circumstances so very adverse, are compared with our large losses, either in collecting or disbursing that revenue, their present safety seems to be as great as is consistent with the usual operations of the paper system, or with the credit which must always be entrusted by Government, in some way or other, to agents of some kind, in keeping the public money. In considering their safety, it should be constantly recollected that the owners and managers of banks, when properly regulated by legislative provisions in their charters, like other individuals, interested to transact business securely, are desirous of making and not losing money, and that these circumstances, with the preference, in case of failure, belonging to the depositors and holders of their bills over the stockholders, united with the security, if not priority, given to the Government, render them, in point of safety, generally, much superior to individual agents of the United States.”
The report from which the foregoing quotations are made, was the basis of the late arrangement between the Government and the deposite banks.
What amount of loss has been sustained by the Government since the suspension of specie payments by those institutions, your committee has no exact means of ascertaining; but from the best sources of information within their reach, they are satisfied that the sum is very considerable.
And they deem it not amiss to insert here a passage relating to these banks, from the message of President Van Buren to the present session of Congress, on the 3d December, 1838. He says: “It is no more than just to the banks to say that, in the late emergency, most of them firmly resisted the strong temptations to extend their paper issues, when apparently sustained in a suspension of specie payments by public opinion, even though in some cases invited by legislative enactments. To this honorable course, aided by the resistance of the General Government, acting in obedience to the constitution and laws of the United States, to the introduction of an irredeemable paper medium, may be attributed, in a great degree, the speedy restoration of our currency to a sound state, and the business of the country to its wonted prosperity.”
Your committee are of opinion that this testimony of the President to the honorable and patriotic conduct of the banks, during “the late emergency,” furnishes a strong argument in their behalf, in addition to the considerations urged by Mr. Woodbury in the report already quoted; while the force and truth of some of these considerations have been abundantly demonstrated by the frequent and extensive defalcations of “individual agents of the United States.”
The report of the Secretary of the Treasury to Congress, at its last session, presented a surprising list of defaulters among the collectors and receivers of the public moneys; and, very recently, the enormous defalcation of the collector at New York, amounting (as reported) to one million two hundred thousand dollars, has been thought worthy of “particular reference” to Congress by Mr. Van Buren.11
1On December 7, newly elected Governor Thomas Carlin delivered his inaugural message to the General Assembly. On December 11, the House of Representatives referred the portions that related to currency to the Committee on Finance, of which Abraham Lincoln was a member. On December 18, Archibald Williams introduced to the House the report of the majority of the committee. The report concluded in a set of resolutions. The minority of the committee introduced a dissenting report on the same day. The House tabled both reports and the resolution and ordered the printing of 500 copies.
Illinois House Journal. 1838. 11th G.A., 1st sess., 26-30, 56, 98-103, 109.
2U.S. House Journal. 1835. 23rd Cong., 2nd sess., 159.
3U.S. House Journal. 1835. 23rd Cong., 2nd sess., 160.
4U.S. House Journal. 1835. 23rd Cong., 2nd sess., 171.
5U.S. House Journal. 1835. 23rd Cong., 2nd sess., 357.
6U.S. House Journal. 1835. 23rd Cong., 2nd sess., 357.
7H.R. 563. 1834. 23rd Cong., 2nd sess.
8U.S. House Journal. 1835. 23rd Cong., 2nd sess., 656.
9The special session of the 25th Congress was from March 4-10, 1837.
U.S. Senate Journal. 1837. 25th Cong., special sess., 355, 368.
10“Report from the Secretary of the Treasury,” 15 December 1834, 23rd Cong., 2nd sess.
11The split in the Finance Committee over this issue was mostly along party lines. Of the Finance Committee members who submitted this majority report, four were Whigs and one was a “conservative,” while three of the four who submitted the minority report were Democrats.
Theodore Calvin Pease, ed., Illinois Election Returns (Springfield: Illinois State Historical Library, 1923), 490, 494, 534, 561, 574, 584, 586, 590.

Printed Transcription, 5 page(s), Journal of the House of Representatives of the Eleventh General Assembly of the State of Illinois at their First Session (Vandalia, IL: William Walters, 1838), 98-102