Extortioners, forestallers, brokers, &c.
--When the French
revolution was at the zenith of its fury; when gold
had sunk into the earth as the disappears at the first frost of October; when the country was deluged with assignats,
worth about half a sons to the livre, (that is, about forty to one.) and commodities had gone up in proportion in the depreciation of the currency, the mob of Paris
attributed it all to the acts of extortioners, forestallers, and brokers.
The last named class were supposed to have all the coin in the country, and to impair the value of the currency by the enormous prices which they charged for it; and, for their especial benefit, a law was passed prescribing the guillotine as the appropriate punishment for any man who should be convicted of having bought a paper franc for less than its nominal value in coin.
But the forestallers and extortioners were the principal objects of revolutionary vengeance.
They, it was, who, according to the popular notion, enhanced the prices of all kinds of necessaries.
Compelled to pay fifteen or twenty francs for the same quantity of bread or butchers' meat which they had been accustomed in days when specie circulated freely, to purchase for one, they never adverted to and perhaps were incapable of understanding the cause of the rise.
They laid upon the baker and butcher — the greatest of all extortioners in their eyes — the whole blame of the depreciated currency.
In this delusion they were openly encouraged by their orators in the Convention
, and on one occasion Marat went so far as to encourage the mob to break into the bakeries and confectioneries, and plunder them of all they contained.
We are thankful that matters have never proceeded to that extremity in these Confederate States
, nor do we believe it possible that they ever should.
But it is apparent that a delusion very similar to that which stimulated the mob of Paris
in those terrible days to so many deeds of horror is widely prevalent.
The soberest, best informed, and most conscientious men among us are constantly in the habit of attributing to brokers, extortioners, and forestallers, a state of things which is the inevitable consequence of a depreciated currency, and instead of directing their indignation against those who have contributed most to the depreciation in question, expend it all upon a class whom it has generated, and who have no more to do with it than the serpent has with that peculiar state of the atmosphere which is sure to draw him from his hole.
In times of profound peace, when all the banks are paying specie, and adverse state of the exchanges, indicating a redundancy of the currency, is sure to produce an efflux of coin, and if wise measures be not at once adopted to restore the equilibrium — if, instead of curtailing their discounts and cutting short their issues, the banks continue to promote the overtrading, always consequent upon such a state of things, by enlarging their issues and multiplying their discounts — a fatal collapse is the inevitable consequence.
The banks suspend, and specie is banished from circulation, or can be purchased only at a heavy premium. --This, we say, is the case very frequently, as we all know to our sorrow, in times of profound peace, and is, indeed, one of the inevitable consequences of a redundant currency.
And yet, in the midst of a tremendous war, when the enemy are pressing us with enormous armies from every point of the compass — when specie payments have been suspended for two years and a half, and coin is so rarely seen that the smallest gold piece is looked upon as a curiosity — when the Secretary of the Treasury
is writing letters of congratulation to a distinguished Senator
upon the encouraging fact that the circulation is only three times as large as the country can bear with convenience — we are told by many persons, who seem religiously to believe it, that the brokers occasioned the high price of gold which lately ruled by certain arts perfectly incomprehensible to us, but no doubt quite intelligible to those who make the accusation.
It is of no consequence in the world that the same officer issues many millions of dollars worth of notes, and then attempts to discredit them, thereby necessarily causing a suspicion of all Treasury issues — this can have no effect whatever in degrading the currency, or, to use the current phrase, in elevating the price of gold; but if a broker, having in his possession gold which is his own undisputed property, and upon which he has the same right to fix a price that any other person has to fix a price upon any commodity which he may possess, then he is inflicting a mortal injury upon the circulation, running up prices, starving the community, betraying the cause of his country, &c., as if his act were not the direct and inevitable consequence of the action of the Treasury.
What is an extortioner?
Is a miller who gives five dollars a bushel for wheat and sells his flour for thirty dollars a barrel — which hardly pays expenses we should think — an extortioner?
Would a flour merchant, who made his living by his trade in flour, and who had a thousand barrels of flour in his store at the commencement of the rise in prices, be esteemed an extortioner because having purchased for five or six dollars a barrel he is unwilling to sell at seven or eight, because he knows that when all is sold he cannot purchase a fresh stock for less than twenty-five or thirty?
We are not defending extortioners.
If any man be convicted of that crime let him be punished to the extent of the law, if there be any law to punish him, and if there be not let one be passed to cover all future cases.
But first let the offence be clearly defined, so that the offender may understand of what he is guilty, and the really innocent be enabled to clear his skirts of the charge.
We think it perfectly evident that every man is the creature of the market in which he trades, and that he can neither oversell it nor undersell it, how much so ever he may desire to do so.
We are not the advocate of any of the classes of presumed offenders enumerated in the foregoing remarks.
But we are the friend of fair play, and we cannot endure to see one man made to bear the burden of another man's sin. The offences of which we have written are all the offspring of the depreciated currency.
Amend that and they will cease.
In the meantime let the depreciation be laid at the right door.
If the excessive issues which have degraded the currency were necessary to prosecute the war, very well.
But do not attribute them to persons who, to say the worst, have only taken advantage of them to make money.
That was to have been expected.
It has always been so, and it always will be so.