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But another step would follow from all this. As there would be the trouble of constantly weighing this circulating medium, and the danger of mistake and deception, the community would appoint a committee, or depute its government, if it had one, to do this very thing; and the metal would be cast into various quantities, bearing distinct denominations, to answer more fully the purposes of a convenient circulating medium. Here then we have a mint, and here we have money. Nobody will deny that it was a commodity when each man dug it from the earth, and exchanged it at his pleasure. But the action of the government confers no peculiar character on it. The government simply weighs the metal, and affixes, as it were, a label to it; i. e. stamps it as coin, to tell what it is worth. It does not create its value, but simply indicates it.

I am sensible that many questions may still be asked, but I have not space here, if I had ability, to enter into them; and besides, if this is a just theory of the value of the specie currency, it may

itself suggest the necessary answers. But the great practical difficulties arise from the use of a paper currency. If the paper were strictly the representative of gold and silver—if the issue of bank-notes did not exceed the specie actually in vault, and thus were used only for convenience, the same principles would apply as before. All other paper does not represent money, but credit; i. e. it represents the presumed ability of a man to pay what he promises; not his known and ascertained property. And the question is, may credit be bought and sold in the market like any commodity?

Let us again attempt to simplify the question. You want money let us suppose, and you go to a money-lender, and ask for it. He says, “I

have not the money, but I shall have it in a month hence, and I will give my note, payable at that time.” This may answer the purpose with your creditor; and the question now is, what interest shall you pay? Shall credit take its place in the market like money, or like a commodity? Shall we say that the government has no business to interfere in this matter, with its usury laws, obliging a man to sell his paper for seven per cent? Shall we say that all this ought to be left to regulate itself, and that every man shall be left free to act according to his pleasure?

I certainly feel some hesitation, from deference for the opinions of some able men who are more studious in these matters than I am, about answering this question in the affirmative. There are relations and bearings of that immense and complicated subject, the monetary system, which I may not understand; and usury, perhaps, is connected with that system in ways that are beyond my comprehension. But looking at the question now, in the light of simple justice, separating all unlawful combination and conspiracy from the case, and all deception and dishonesty, I cannot see why a man has not a right to sell his credit for what another is willing to give for it. If a lawyer has so elevated himself above his brethren, that his opinion is worth, not twenty but five hundred per cent more than theirs, he takes that advance for his counsel. Why, then, shall not a merchant, who by the same laborious means, has acquired a fortune and a high commercial reputation, be allowed a similar advantage?

We say, why should he not dispose of his credit, or, in other words,

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pledge his property at such prices as it will naturally bear? But the truth is, that he cannot prevent this result, let him do what he will. He may sell his paper at one half per cent a month, but the moment it is out of his hands, it will rise to two or three per cent, if that be its real value. I say nothing now about obedience to the usury laws; I do not touch the point of conscience in that respect: but I believe that the laws themselves are both impolitic and unjust; unjust, because they conflict with the real value of things; and impolitic, because they never were, and never can be executed, and, in fact, because they only increase the rates of interest, by increasing the risk.

But is there, then, no limit, it may be said, to the advantage which one man may take of the necessities of another? To ask this question in regard to the lender of money, is but the same thing as to ask it in regard to the man in every other relationship of life. The duties of humanity, of philanthropy, of natural affection, can never be abrogated by any circumstances; and the only question is, what line of conduct, in the case before us, is conformable to those duties? That question cannot, I think, be brought within the compass of any assignable rules ; and must be left for every man seriously to consider for himself. He is put upon his conscience in this respect, as he is in every other case in life.

III. But the hardest case to determine is that on which the question is raised, about the use of superior information. And perhaps this question cannot be better stated than in the celebrated case put by Cicero.* A corn-merchant of Alexandria, he says, arrived at Rhodes in a time of great scarcity, with a cargo of grain, and with knowledge that a number of other vessels, laden with corn, had already sailed from Alexandria for Rhodes, and which he had passed on the passage was he bound in conscience to inform the buyers of that fact? Cicero decides that he was. Several modern writers on law dissent from his opinion—as Grotius, Puffendorf, and Pothier himself, tbough with very careful qualifications.

It appears to me, that the answer to Cicero's question must depend on the views which are taken of a contract. If a contract is a mere arbitrary convention ; if business is a game, a mere contest of men's wits; if every man has a right to make the best bargain he can; if society really has power to ordain that such shall be the laws of trade, then the decision will be one way. But if a contract implies in its very nature the obligation of fair dealing and truth telling, then the decision will be the other way. The supposition is, that the Alexandrine trader concealed a certain fact, for the sake of asking a price which he knew would not have been given had that fact been public. Now what is implied in asking a price? What does a man say, when he sets a certain price on his merchandise? Does he, or does he not say, that the price he asks is, in his opinion, the fair value of the article? I think he does. If you did not so understand him, you would not trade with him. If you observed a lurking sneer on his lip, such as there must be in his heart, when he knows that he is taking you in, you would have nothing to do with him. The very transaction, called a

De Officiis, Lib. 3, sec. 12–17.
| Traité du Contrat de Vente, Part II. ch. 2, Art. 3.


contract, implies that degree of good faith. If this be true, if it bo universally understood, that he who asks a price professes in that very act to ask a fair and just price, and if, moreover, he has a letter in bis pocket assuring and satisfying him that it is not the just price, then he is guilty of falsehood. If the Alexandrine trader had asked price, graduated exactly by his opinion of the probability that other vessels would soon arrive, and of the amount of the supply they would bring, his conduct would have been fair and honest. But if he had concealed facts within his knowledge, for the sake of asking an enormous price, or any price beyond what he knew to be the fair value, he would be guilty of falsehood and dishonesty. And the reason is, I repeat, that the very basis of a contract is mutual advantage; that its very essence lies in a supposed equivalency; that he who sets a price is understood to say as much as this, “I think the article is worth it." And if


allow man to swerve from this truth and good faith at all

, where will you stop? Suppose that the people of Rhodes had been suffering the horrors of famine, and the Alexandrine merchant had taken advantage of their situation to exact from them all their disposable property as the price of life, and had borne off that mass of treasure, all the while knowing that bountiful supplies were at hand— what should we have said? We should have said that his perfidy was equal to his crueltythat he was both a pirate and a villain. But if a man may be guilty of falsehood in one degree, what principle is to prevent his being guilty of it in another? I know what may be said on the other hand. The master of the Alexandrine ship, it may be said, had outstripped the others by superior sailing; and this superiority in the management of his ship may have been the fruit of a whole life of industry and ingenuity. He had also been on the alert, it may be supposed; had watched the course of the markets while others slept, and had been ready with his supply to meet the exigency which all others, even the Rhodians themselves, had been too dull to foresee. Is he not entitled to some premium for all this? Nay, but for the prospect held out of such a reward, the Rhodians might have starved. “And yet if he gives the information in question, he loses the premium. No, the merchants of Rhodes say,

we will wait till to-morrow.” But again, to-morrow comes, the vessels arrive, the market is glutted, and the Alexandrine trader loses money on his voyage. Will the merchants of Rhodes make it up to him, on account of his generosity in giving them the information ? Not at all. “We buy at the market price,” they say; "we cannot afford any more; if we give more we are losers ;” and thus the Alexandrine, by neglecting his own interests, and taking care of other people, loses not only his voyage, but his whole fortune perhaps, and becomes a bankrupt; and by becoming a bankrupt, he injures those he is most bound to serve—his confiding friends, and beggared family

. All this is a very good reason, to be sure, why the Alexandrine trader should be rewarded for his exertions; but it is not any good reason, for can there ever be any good reason, why a man should tell a falsehood, why he should make a false impression, why he should deceive his neighbour.

Do we then propose to reduce the wise and the ignorant, the sagacious and the stupid, the attentive and the negligent, the active and the indolent, to the same level? Must the intelligent and the enterprising merchant raise up his dull and careless neighbour to his own point of view, before he may deal with him? Certainly not. Let a wide field be opened, only provided that the boundaries be truth and honesty. Let the widest field for activity and freedom of action be spread, which these boundaries can enclose.

Indeed, a man must act in trade upon some opinion ; that opinion must be founded on some knowledge; and that knowledge he may properly seek. Nay, and he may use it to any extent, not implying deception or dishonesty. Nor are the cases frequent in which commercial operations possess any such definite or extraordinary character as admits of deception. It does not often happen that any great advantage is or can be taken of complete and unsuspecting ignorance. Men are wary. They will not make questionable sales, when a packet ship from abroad is in the offing. They are set to guard their own interests, and they do guard them. They must assume some responsibilities in this way; they must take some risks. They are liable to err in opinion, and they must take such chance as human imperfection ordains for them. Business, like every other scene of human life, is a theatre for imperfection, for error, for effort, for opinion, and for their results. I do not see how it can possibly be otherwise, and therefore I consider it as appointed to be so." Undue advantage may be taken of this state of things by the selfish, grasping, and unconscientious; right principles may be wrested to the accomplishment of wrong ends; a system of commercial morality may be good for the community, and yet may be abused by individuals: all this is true; and yet the doctrine which applies everywhere else must apply here, that abuse fairly argues nothing against use.

Let us see how the case would stand if it were otherwise : let us see what the assumption on the part of the trading community, that no man should ever act in any way on superior information, would amount to. “We may sleep,” they would say; "we need not take any pains to inform ourselves of the state of the markets; we need not take a step from our own door. If our neighbour comes to trade with us, he must first inform us of everything affecting the price of our goods. He makes himself very busy; and he shall have his labour for his pains ; for the rule now is, that indolence is to fare as well as activity, and vigilance is to have no advantage over supineness and sloth.” Suppose, then, that the vigilant and active man is up betimes, and goes down upon the wharf, or to the news-room, and becomes apprised of facts that affect the price of his goods, he must not go about selling till he has stepped into the shop of his indolent neighbour, and perhaps of half a dozen such, to inform them of the state of things ; for although he does not directly trade with them, yet, by underselling or selling for more, in consequence of superior information, he injures them just as much as if he did; i. e. he takes profits out of the hands of the slothful, by acting on his superior knowledge. But now enlarge the sphere of the comparison. There is no real difference in the principle between a man's going down to the wharf, and his going to Europe for information. And if

, by superior activity, by building better ships, and better manning them, he is accustomed to get earlier advices of the state of foreign markets, I see not, but as a general principle-a principle advantageous to commerce, and encouraging to human industry and ingenuity,-he must be allowed to avail himself of those advices. The law of general


expediency must be a law for the conscience. It is expedient that there should be commerce or barter; nay, it is inevitable. It is expedient that industry and attention should be rewarded, and that negligence and sloth should suffer loss. It is expedient, therefore, that all that sagacity, power, and information, which are the result of superior talent, energy, and ingenuity, should yield certain advantages to their possessor. These advantages he may push beyond the bounds of reason and justice ; but we must not, on that account, be deterred from maintaining a principle which is right, a principle which is expedient and necessary for the whole community.

And is not the same principle, in fact, adopted in every department of human pursuit ? Two men engage in a certain branch of manufactures. The one, by his attention and ingenuity, makes discoveries in his art, and thus gains advantages over his indolent or dull neighbour. Is he obliged to impart to him his superior information? Two young men in the profession of the law are distinguished, the one for hard study, the other for idleness. They are engaged in the same cause ; and the one perceives that the other is making a false point in the case. Is he obliged to go over to his brother's office, and explain to him his error; or is it not proper, rather, that both himself and his client should suffer for that error, when the cause comes to be argued in open court?

In fine, I hold that a distinction is to be made between general information and definite knowledge. If a man knows that an article is worth more than he buys it for, or less than he sells it for, he does not act with truth and integrity. It is just as if he knew the article were more or less in quantity than he alleges it to be. But if he acts on general information, open alike to all ; if he acts on mere opinion, in which he may be mistaken; if he has no certain knowledge of the merchandise in question, but only a judgment, he is entitled to the full benefit of that judgment; while he is liable, at the same time, to the full injury of it, if it be mistaken.

But in regard to absolute certainty, how, I would ask, are we to distinguish between knowledge in regard to the real value of an article from knowledge in regard to the real quality of an article? If I sell merchandise in which there is some secret defect, and do not expose that defect, I am held to be a dishonest man. But what matters it to my conscience whether the secret defect lies in the article, or in the price? It comes to the same thing with my fellow-dealer. If I were to sell moth-eaten cloths at four dollars per yard more than they wero worth—the defect known to me and not to my neighbour—all the world would pronounce me a knave. But there is another sort of moth, a secret in my own keeping, which may have as effectually eaten out four dollars from every yard of that cloth, as if it had literally cut the thread of the fabric. What difference now can it make to my neighbour, whether advantage is taken of his ignorance in one way or another

, in regard to the quality or the price? The only material point is the value, and that is equally affected in either case. This is the only conclusion to which I find myself able, on much reflection, to arrive. Knowledge of prices is as material to the value of merchandise as knowledge of its qualities. This knowledge, therefore, as it appears to me, should be common to all contracting parties. I cannot think that a trader is to be like a fisher, disguising his hook with bait; or like a sleight-of-hand

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