Conspiracy Nation -- Vol. 5 Num. 12

("Quid coniuratio est?")

By Gustavus Myers
(Condensed, from chapter 4)

The few who could center in themselves, by grace of Government, the banking and manipulation of the people's money and the restricting or inflating of money issues, were immediately vested with an extraordinary power. It was a sovereign power at once coercive and proscriptive, and a mighty instrument for transferring the produce of the many to a small and exclusive coterie. The banker became the master of the master. Sparsely organized and wholly unprotected, the worker was in the complete power of the trader, manufacturer and landowner; in turn, such of these divisions of the propertied class as were not themselves sharers in the ownership of banks were at the mercy of the banking institutions.

At any time upon some pretext or other, the banks could arbitrarily refuse the latter class credit or accomodation, or harass its victims in other ways equally as destructive. As business was largely done in expectations of payment, in other words, on credit, as it is now, this was a serious, often a desperate, blow to the lagging or embarrassed brothers in trade. Banks were virtually empowered by law to ruin or enrich any individual or set of individuals. As the banks were then founded and owned by men who were themselves traders or landholders, this power was crushingly used against competitors. Armed with the strong power of law, the banks overawed the mercantile world, thrived on the industry, misfortune or ruin of others, and swayed politics and elections. The bank men loaned money to themselves at an absurdly low rate of interest. But for loans of money to all others they demanded a high rate of interest which, in periods of commercial distress, overwhelmed the borrowers. Nominally banks were restricted to a certain standard rate of interest; but by various subterfuges they easily evaded these provisions and exacted usurious rates.

-+- Banks And Their Power -+-

These, however, were far from being the worst features. The most innocent of their great privileges was that of playing fast and loose with the money confidingly entrusted to their care by a swarm of depositors who either worked for it, or for the matter of that, often stole it; bankers, like pawnbrokers, ask no questions. The most remarkable of their vested powers was that of manufacturing money. The industrial manufacturer could not make goods unless he had the plant, the raw material and the labor. But the banker, somewhat like the faded alchemists, could transmute airy nothing into bank-note money, and then, by law, force its acceptance. The lone trader or landholder unsupported by a partnership with law could not fabricate money. But let trader and landholder band in a company, incorporate, then persuade, wheedle or bribe a certain entity called a legislature to grant them a certain bit of paper styled a charter, and lo! they were instantly transformed into money manufacturers.

-+- A Mandate To Prey -+-

The simple mandate of law was sufficient authorization for them to prey upon the whole world outside of their charmed circle. With this scrap of paper they could go forth on the highways of commerce and over the farms and drag in, by the devious, absorbent processes of the banking system, a great part of the wealth created by the actual producers. As it was with taxation, so was it with the burdens of this system; they fell largely upon the worker, whether in the shop or on the farm. When the business man and the landowner were compelled to pay exorbitant rates of interest they but apparently had to meet the demands. What these classes really did was to throw the whole of these extra impositions upon the working class in the form of increased prices for necessaries and merchandise and in augmented rents.

But how were these State or Government authorizations, called charters, to be obtained? Did not the Federal Constitution prohibit States from giving the right to banks to issue money? Were not private money factories specifically barred by that clause of the Constitution which declared that no State "shall coin money, emit bills of credit, or make anything but gold or silver a tender in payment of debts?"

Here, again, the power of class domination of Government came into compelling effect. The onward sweep of the trading class was not to be balked by such a trifling obstacle as a Constitutional provision. At all times when the Constitution has stood in the way of commercial aims it has been abrogated, not by repeal nor violent overthrow, but by the effective expedient of judicial interpretation. The trading class demanded State created banks with power of issuing money; and, as the courts have invariably in the long run responded to the interests and decrees of the dominant class, a decision was quickly forthcoming in this case to the effect that "bills of credit" were not meant to cover banknotes. This was a new and surprising construction; but judicial decision and precedent made it virtually law, and law a thousandfold more binding than any Constitutional insertion.

-+- Courts And Constitution -+-

The trading class had already learned the importance of the principle that while it was essential to control lawmaking bodies, it was imperative to have as their auxiliary the bodies that interpreted law. To a large extent the United States since then has lived not under legislative-made law, but under a purely separate and extraneous form of law which has superseded the legislature product, namely, court law. Although nowhere in the United States Constitution is there even the suggestion that courts shall make law, yet this past century {1} and more they have been gradually building up a formidable code of interpretations which substantially ranks as the most commanding kind of law. And these interpretations have, on the whole, consistently followed, and kept pace with, the changing interests of the dominant class, whether traders, slaveholders, or the present trusts. {2}.

This decision of the august courts opened the way for the greatest orgy of corruption and the most stupendous frauds. In New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and other States a continuous rush to get bank charters ensued. Most of the legislatures were composed of men who, while perhaps, not innately corrupt, were easily seduced by the corrupt temptations held out by the traders. Among the masses of workers, any attempt to vest the rich with new privileges was received with the bitterest resentment. But the legislatures were approachable; some members who were put there by the rich families needed only the word as to how they should vote, while others, representing both urban and rural communities, were swayed by bribes. By one means or another the traders and landholders forced the various legislatures into doing what was wanted.

Omitting the records of other States, a few salient facts as to what took place in New York State will suffice to give a clear idea of some of the methods of the trading class in pressing forward their conquests, in hurling aside every impediment, whether public opinion or law, and in creating new laws which satisfied their plans. If forethought, an unswerving aim and singleness of execution mean anything, then there was something sternly impressive in the way in which this rising capitalist class went forward to snatch what it sought. There was no hesitation, nor were there any scruples as to niceties of methods; the end in view was all that counted; so long as that was attained, the means used were considered paltry side-issues. And, indeed, here lies the great distinction of action between the world-old propertied classes and the contending proletariat; for whereas the one have always campaigned irrespective of law and particularly by bribery, intimidation, repression and force, the working class has had to confine its movement strictly to the narrow range of laws which were expressly prepared against it and the slightest violation of which has called forth the summary vengeance of a society ruled actually, if not theoretically, by the very propertied classes which set at defiance all law.

[ be continued...]

---------------------------<< Notes >>--------------------------- {1} "...this past century..." Myers is writing circa 1911.

{2} "...the present trusts." i.e., monopolies.

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