With money we will get men, said Caesar, and with men we will get money. Nor should our assembly [the Virginia Legislature] be deluded by the integrity of their own purposes, and conclude that these unlimited powers will never be abused, because themselves are not disposed to abuse them. They should look forward to a time, and that not a distant one, when a corruption in this, as in the country from which we derive our origin [Great Britain], will have seized the heads of government, and be spread by them through the body of the people; when they will purchase the voices of the people, and make them pay the price. Human nature is the same on every side of the Atlantic, and will be alike influenced by the same causes. The time to guard against corruption and tyranny, is before they shall have gotten hold on us. It is better to keep the wolf out of the fold, than to trust to drawing his teeth and talons after he shall have entered.
The history of government management of money has, except for a few short happy periods, been one of incessant fraud and deception.
You cannot bring about prosperity by discouraging thrift. You cannot help small men by tearing down big men. You cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong. You cannot lift the wage-earner by pulling down the wage-payer. You cannot help the poor man by destroying the rich. You cannot keep out of trouble by spending more than your income. You cannot further the brotherhood of man by inciting class hatred. You cannot establish security on borrowed money. You cannot build character and courage by taking away men’s initiative and independence. You cannot help men permanently by doing for them what they could and should do for themselves.
Certainly, the specter of corporate money buying candidates and influencing our political system is an unwholesome one. But the solution is not limiting campaign donations. It is limiting the power of government, so that there is nothing on which to spend money, and the money that is spent in the system has less impact on our lives, returning power to ‘the little guy’ to whom politicians love to pay lip service.
When you see that trading is done, not by consent, but by compulsion — when you see that in order to produce, you need to obtain permission from men who produce nothing — when you see money flowing to those who deal, not in goods, but in favors — when you see that men get richer by graft and pull than by work, and your laws don’t protect you against them, but protect them against you — when you see corruption being rewarded and honesty becoming a self-sacrifice — you may know that your society is doomed.
The surest way to destroy a nation is to debauch its currency.
I remember a German farmer expressing as much in a few words as the whole subject requires; ‘money is money, and paper is paper.’
All the invention of man cannot make them otherwise. The alchemist may cease his labors, and the hunter after the philosopher’s stone go to rest, if paper can be metamorphosed into gold and silver, or made to answer the same purpose in all cases.
But when an assembly undertakes to issue paper as money, the whole system of safety and certainty is overturned, and property set afloat. Paper notes given and taken between individuals as a promise of payment is one thing, but paper issued by an assembly as money is another thing. It is like putting an apparition in the place of a man; it vanishes with looking at it, and nothing remains but the air.
All the perplexities, confusion, and distress in America arise not from defects in their Constitution or Confederation, nor from want of honor or virtue, so much as downright ignorance of the nature of coin, credit, and circulation.
The fate of a country is inseparable from the fate of its currency.
There’s no more important government function than getting its hands on someone else’s money.