Saturday, January 31, 2009

Thomas Morris: The Conspiracy of the Bank Power with the Slave Power

Thomas Morris’s speech of February 9, 1839 displays tremendous power and moral passion. But it is also remarkable for the insight it gives into the connection between hard-money, anti-monopoly Democracy and Free Soil.

The Democracy tended to identify evil concentrations of power that, it contended, were bent on destroying liberty, and then sought to destroy them. Andrew Jackson’s campaign against the “Monster Bank” is, of course, the paradigm.

Thomas Morris thought in precisely those terms, and identified such a monster: “the slave power.” Henry Clay, in his speech of February 7, 1839, had estimated that the value of slave property in the nation was $12 Billion. Here, Morris contended, was a monstrous concentration of power whose tentacles stretched across the country and into the Senate, resulting, for example, in the grotesque Gag Rule:
[L]et the Senator from Kentucky reflect that the petition which he offered against our right was . . . received and ordered to be printed without a single dissenting voice; and I call on the Senate and the country to remember that the resolutions which I have offered on the same subject have not only been refused the printing, but have been laid upon the table without being debated or referred.

Posterity, which shall read the proceedings of this time, may well wonder what power could induce the Senate of the United States to proceed in such a strange and contradictory manner. Permit me to tell the country now what this power behind the throne, greater than the throne itself, is. It is the power of SLAVERY. It is a power, according to the calculations of the Senator from Kentucky, which owns $1,200,000,000 in human beings as property; and if money is power, this power is not to be conceived or calculated; a power which claims human property more than double the amount which the whole money of the world could purchase.

Morris drew precise parallels between the Bank Power and the Slave Power, and the remedy was the same: expose it and destroy it:
What can stand before this power? Truth, everlasting truth, will yet overthrow it. This power is aiming to govern the country, its constitution nad laws; but it is not certain of success, tremendous as it is . . .. Let it be borne in mind that the bank power some years since . . . had influence sufficient in this body, and upon this floor, to prevent the reception of petitions against the action of the Senate on their resolutions of censure against the President. The country took instant alarm, and the political complexion of this body was changed as soon as possible.

The same power, though double in means and in strength, is now doing the same thing. This is the array of power that even now is attempting such an unwarrantable course in this country; and the people are also now moving against the slave, as they formerly did against the bank power. It, too, begins to tremble for its safety.

Indeed, Morris warned, the two powers were even now conspiring to unite to destroy liberty:
But all will not do; these two powers must now be united; an amalgamation of the black power of the South with the white power of the North must take place, as either, separately, cannot succeed in the destruction of the liberty of speech and the press and the right of petition. Let me tell gentlemen that both united will never succeed. As I said on a former day, God forbid that they should ever rule this country. I have seen this billing and cooing between these different interests for some time past; I informed my private friends . . . that these powers were forming a union to overthrow the present [Van Buren] Administration . . ..

* * *

[T]he assertion has gone forth that we have twelve hundred millions of slave property at the South; and can any man so close his understanding here as not plainly to perceive tht the power of this vast amount of property at the South is now uniting itself to the banking power of the North, in order to govern the destinies of this country? Six hundred millions of banking capital is to be brought into this coalition, and the slave power and the bank power are thus to unite in order to break down the present Administration. There can be no mistake, as I believe, in this matter. The aristocracy of the North, who, by the power of a corrupt banking system, and the aristocracy of the South, by the power of the slave system, both fattening upon the labor of others, are now about to unite in order to make the reign of each perpetual. Is there an independent American to be found who will become the recreant slave to such an unholy combination? Is this another compromise to barter the liberties of the country for personal aggrandizement? “Resistance to tyrants is obedience to God.”

About the illustration:
A rare pro-Jackson satire on the President's campaign to destroy the political power and influence of the Bank of the United States. It was probably issued late in the presidential campaign of 1832, after Jackson's July veto of the bill to re-charter the Bank. (Weitenkampf tentatively dated the print 1833, but the Library's impression was deposited for copyright on September 12, 1832.) Jackson is portrayed as a cat (with a tail marked "Veto") defending the corn cribs in "Uncle Sam's Barn" from rats "which had burrow'd through the floor, to get at his capital Corn Crib: While Uncle Sam, and his active laborers, stand at the door, enjoying the sport." The cat has one rat in his mouth, possibly Henry Clay, who says, "My case is desperate." Under his paws is another (possibly the Bank's president Nicholas Biddle) who says, "Them d'd Clay-Bank Rats brought me to this." In the lower left a rat with a cape and his paw on a Bible says, "My Cloak does not cover me, as well as I could wish, but this Book with it, will be a good passport to the Corn Crib." Other rats creeping from holes in the floor say, "I'l keep in my hole while he's in sight" and "No chance for me whie he's in the Barn." At the upper right two rats (possibly influential pro-Bank newspaper editors James Watson Webb and Charles King) nibble corn, remarking, "The U.S. Bank Rats are very liberal to us Editor Rats, we must stick to them at all risks." From an open doorway three men, "Uncle Sam and his active laborers," survey the scene. First man: "Bravo my Boys! keep him in the Barn; and no doubt, but he will keep the Rats away." Second: "What a tail he carries! I guess he is of the Kilkenny breed." Third: "How he nicks them." The use of rats to symbolize corruption was commonplace in cartoons of the 1830s, particularly with respect to the Bank of the United States. See ""This is the house that Jack built"" (no. 1833-6). For their use in another context see ".00001. The value of a unit..." and "The Rats Leaving a Falling House" (nos. 1831-1 and 1831-2).

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