The White House Historical Association / Home
The White House Historical Association / Classroom
graphic detail
graphic detail
PRIMARY DOCUMENTS  |  The Bank War: Jackson Veto and Webster's Reply, 1832
graphic detail
 
Back to Lesson  |  Back to Activities


Document 2: The Reply of Senator Daniel Webster, July 11, 1832

[1] Before proceeding to the constitutional question, there are some other topics, treated in the message, which ought to be noticed. . . . Now, sir, the truth is, that the powers conferred on the bank are such, and no other, as are usually conferred on similar institutions. They constitute no monopoly, although some of them are, of necessity, and with propriety, exclusive privileges. . . .

[2] . . . Congress passed the bill, not as a bounty or a favor to the present stockholders, not to comply with any demand of right on their part, but to promote great public interest, for great public objects. Every bank must have some stockholders, . . . and if the stockholders, whoever they may be, conduct the affairs of the bank prudently, the expectation is always, of course, that they will make it profitable to themselves, as well as useful to the public. If a bank charter is not to be granted because it may be profitable, either in a small or great degree, to the stockholders, no charter can be granted. The objection lies against all banks. . . .

[3] . . . From the commencement of the Government it has been thought desirable to invite, rather than to repel, the introduction of foreign capital. Our stocks have all been open to foreign subscriptions, and the State banks, in like manner, are free to foreign ownership. Whatever State has created a debt, has been willing that foreigners should become purchasers, and desirous of it . . . . It is easy to say that there is danger to liberty, . . .in a bank open to foreign stockholders. . . . But neither reason nor experience proves any such danger. The foreign stockholder cannot be a director. He has no voice even in the choice of directors. His money is placed entirely in the management of the directors appointed by the President and Senate, and by the American stockholders. So far as there is dependence, or influence, either way, it is to the disadvantage of the foreign stockholder.

[4] . . . But if the President thinks lightly of the authority of Congress, in construing the constitution, he thinks still more lightly of the authority of the Supreme Court. He asserts a right of individual judgment on constitutional questions, which is totally inconsistent with any proper administration of the Government, or any regular execution of the laws. Social disorder, entire uncertainty in regard to individual rights and individual duties, the cessation of legal authority, confusion, the dissolution of free Government -all these are the inevitable consequences of the principles adopted by the message, whenever they shall be carried to their full extent.

[5] Hitherto it has been thought that the final decision of constitutional questions belonged to the supreme judicial tribunal. The very nature of free Government, it has been supposed, enjoins this: and our constitution, moreover, has been understood so to provide, clearly and expressly.

[6] . . . [W]hen a law has been passed by Congress, and approved by the President, it is now no longer in the power, either of the same President or his successors, to say whether the law is constitutional or not. He is not at liberty to disregard it; he is not at liberty to feel or to affect "constitutional scruples," and to sit in judgment himself on the validity of a statute of the Government, and to nullify it if he so chooses. After a law has passed through all the requisite forms; after it has received the requisite legislative sanction and the Executive approval, the question of its constitutionality then becomes a judicial question . . . . In the courts, that question may be raised, argued, and adjudged; it can be adjudged nowhere else. . . .

[7] It is to be remembered, sir, that it is the present law, it is the Act of 1816, it is the present charter of the bank, which the President pronounces to be unconstitutional. It is no bank to be created, it is no law proposed to be passed; which he denounces; it is the law now existing, passed by Congress, approved by President Madison, and sanctioned by a solemn judgment of the Supreme Court which he now declares unconstitutional, and which, of course, so far as it may depend on him, cannot be executed.

[8] If these opinions of the President be maintained, there is an end of all law and all judicial authority. Statutes are but recommendations, judgments no more than opinions. Both are equally destitute of binding force. Such a universal power as is now claimed for him, a power of judging over the laws, and over the decisions of the tribunal, is nothing else but pure despotism. If conceded to him, it makes him, at once, what Louis the Fourteenth proclaimed himself to be, when he said, "I am the State."

[9] . . . If that which Congress has enacted be not the law of the land, then the reign of law has ceased, and the reign of individual opinion has already begun . . . .


From: Register of Debates in Congress, 22nd Cong., 1st sess., 1221-1240.





Return to PRIMARY DOCUMENT LESSONS: "The Bank War"

The White House Historical Association | Classroom



graphic detail
White House History / Navigation WHHA / Museum Shop WHHA Home WHHA / White House Christmas Ornament WHHA / White House History WHHA / The Classroom WHHA / Publications WHHA / Press Room WHHA / About Us
graphic detail
 
graphic detail
The White House Historical Association | P.O. Box 27624 | Washington, D.C. 20038-7624 | (202) 737-8292 |
graphic detail
The White House Historical Association / Home