Against corporations of every kind, the objection may be brought, that whatever power is given to them, is so much taken from either the Government or the people. As the object of charters is to give to members of companies powers which they would not possess in their individual capacity, the very existence of monied corporations is incompatible with equality of rights.
Corporations are unfavorable to the progress of national wealth. As the Argus eyes of private interest do not watch over their concerns, their affairs are much more carelessly and much more expensively conducted than those of individuals. What would be the condition of the merchant who should trust everything to his clerks, or of the farmer who should trust everything to his laborer’s Corporations are obliged to trust everything to stipendiaries, who are oftentimes less trustworthy than the clerks of the merchant or the laborers of the farmer. Such is the inherent defects of corporations, that they never can succeed, except when the laws or circumstances give them a monopoly, or advantages partaking of the nature of a monopoly.
Sometimes they are protected by direct inhibitions to individuals to engage in the same business. Sometimes they are protected by an exemption from liabilities to which individuals are subjected. Sometimes the extent of their capital or of their credit gives them control of the market. They cannot, even then, work as cheap as the individual trader, but they can afford to throw away enough money in the contest, to ruin the individual trader, and then they have the market to themselves. If a poor man suffers aggression from a rich man, the disproportion of power is such, that it may be difficult for him to obtain redress; but if a man is aggrieved by a corporation, he may have all its stockholders, all its clerks, and all its proteges for parties against him.
Corporations are so powerful, as frequently t.o bid defiance to Government. If a man is unjust, or an extortioner, society is, sooner or later, relieved from the burden, by his death. But corporations never die. What is worst of all, (if worse than what has already been stated be possible,) is that want of moral feeling and responsibility which characterizes corporations. A celebrated English writer expressed the truth, with some roughness, but with great force, when he declared that “corporations have neither bullies to be kicked nor souls to be damned.”
All these objections apply to our American Banks. They are protected, in most of the States, by direct inhibitions on individuals engaging in the same business. They are exempted from liabilities to which individuals are subjected. If a poor man cannot pay his debts, his bed is, in some of the States, taken from under him. If that wIll not satisfy his creditors, his body is imprisoned. The shareholders in a Bank are entitled to all the gain they can make by Banking operations; but if the undertaking chances to be unsuccessful, the ]oss falls on those who have trusted them.
They are responsible only for the amount of stock they may have subscribed to. For the old standard of value, they substitute the new standard of Bank credit. Would Government be willing to trust corporations the fixing of our standards and measures of length, weight, and capacity? Or are our standards and measures of the value of less importance than our standards and measures of other things
They coin money out of paper. What has always been considered one of the most important prerogatives of Government, has been surrendered to the Banks. In addition to their own funds, they have the whole of the spare cash of the community to work upon. The credit of every businessman depends on their nod. They have it in their power to ruin any merchant to whom they may become inimical. We have laws against usury: but if the Legislature intended to encourage usurious dealings, what more efficient means could be devised than that of establishing incorporated paper money Banks? The government extends the credit of these institutions, by receiving their paper as an equivalent for specie, and exerts its whole power to protect and cherish them.
WhOe ever infringes any of the chartered privileges of the Banks, is visited with the severest penalties. Supposing Banking to be a thing good in itself, why should Bankers be exempted from liabilities to which farmers, manufacturers, and merchants are subjected? It will not surely be contended that Banking is more conducive than agriculture, manufactures, and commerce, to the progress of national wealth. Supposing the subscribers to Banks to be substantial capitalists, why should artificial power be conferred on them by granting them a charter? Does not wealth of itself confer sufficient advantages on the rich man?
Why should the competition among capitalists be diminished, by forming them into companies, and uniting their wealth in one mass? Supposing the subscribers to Banks to be speculators without capital-what is there so praiseworthy in their design of growing rich without labor, that Government should exert all its powers to favor the undertaking? Why should corporations have greater privileges than simple co-partnerships? On what principle is it, that, in a professedly republican Government, immunities are referred to individuals in a collective capacity, that are refused to individuals in their separate capacity? To test this question fairly, let us suppose that a proposition was made to confer on fourteen individuals in Philadelphia, and three or four hundred individuals in other parts of the country, the exclusive privileges which three or four hundred incorporated Banks now possess. How many citizens would be found who would not regard such a proposition with horror? Yet privileges conferred on corporations are more pernicious because there is less moral feeling in the management of their concerns.
As directors of a company men will sanction actions of which they would scorn to he guilty in their private capacity. A crime that would press heavily on the conscience of one man, becomes quite endurable when divided among many. We take much pride to ourselves for having abolished entails, and justly, in so far as the principle is concerned but it seems to be lost sight of by many that entails can prove effective only when the land is of limited extent, as in Great Britain; or where the mass of the population are serfs, as in Russia. In those districts of our country where negro slavery prevails, entails, aided by laws of primogeniture, would have kept estates in a few hands but in the Middle and Northern States, a hundred ways would have been contrived for breaking the succession.
If direct attempts had proved unsuccessful, the land would have been let on leases of 99 or 999 years, which would have been nearly the same in effect as disposing of them in fee simple. The abundance of land prevents it’s being monopolized. Supposing the whole extent of country, from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and north of the 39th degree of latitude, parcelled out among a few great Feudatories; those Feudatories, to derive a revenue from their domains, would be forced to lease them in a manner which would give the tenants the whole usufruct of the terrene; for, the quit rent would be only an annual payment, instead of a payment of the whole in advance.
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