AMERICAN " INDEBTEDNESS."
SEVERAL letters have appeared in the daily papers from holders of American Stocks, urging the British Government to lend its aid, at first by remonstrance and then by more " vigorous measures," to- wards the recovery of their claims. That suggestions of this kind should occasionally appear, cannot be a matter of surprise when we consider the extent of the injury sustained ; but it is to be regretted that they should find insertion in our journals without one word of correction, and thus go forth as the expression of public opinion. At the time when these persons parted with their money, they were satisfied with the mere promise to pay of the respective Govern- ments to whom it was lent. They acted upon their own estimate of the value of such promises ; and if that estimate was erroneous, they must abide by the consequent loss, as they would contentedly have taken the profit if it had turned out to be correct. If the British Government is to assume the task of collecting the debts due to its subjects, it will be proper that its opinion should at least be asked before those debts are permitted to be contracted. Had it been consulted as to the propriety of staking the peace of the world upon the good faith of the State of Arkansas or the Territory of Florida, it is probable that some of the present claims would never have existed. Money-lenders would find little difficulty in disposing of their capital, and little need for circumspection, if they could recklessly part with it to foreign states under the assurance that Great Britain will at all times step in to enforce the punctual payment of their dividends.
We believe that the feelings expressed in these letters are shared only by a very small minority of American bondholders ; and it may be well to intimate to the writers, apart from all national considerations, the injurious effects which they must inevitably produce upon their own interests. One moment's reflection will teach them, that it would be better for Great Britain at once to pay their demands from her own treasury, than to rush into a war, which must involve the immediate expenditure of a far greater amount, and eventually, under the most fortunate circum- stances, leave the matter in a somewhat worse condition than that in which it now stands,—namely, with the promise to pay of a na- tion exhausted by war and exasperated by blows, instead of the promise of the same nation in prosperity and friendship. It is evi- dent, therefore, that their appeals can have no effect upon the British Government ; and it only remains to inquire what effect they are likely to produce upon the indebted States of America. In regard to those States there can be but three points of reliance,—first, their intuitive sense of honour ; second, their sense of pride and hope of future credit ; third, their feelings of regret at the misery which must be inflicted by their defalcations, upon those who have shown confidence in their faith and a desire to pro- mote the prosperity of their country. On the first alone, it is evident, no sufficient hope can be grounded. On the second and third the great chances of their creditors rests ; and no more certain mode of destroying those chances could be found than that which has been pursued. By denouncing the American people as incorrigibly dishonest, we lead them to the belief that it is now too late to take any step by which their pride or their credit can be restored, and that matters, therefore, cannot be worse whether they pay or not ; while by our threats of resorting to force, we excite a spirit of dislike that must effectually prevent them from looking with any regret upon our losses. But there is a still more unsatisfactory aspect in which these suggestions may be viewed ; arising from the tendency which they have to destroy any favourable contrast between the moral feeling of the two countries. When they reach the United States, the American may exclaim—" For the sake of a few millions of dol- lars, I was content to sacrifice the credit of my country, and to plunge into misery many who had trusted in its faith. This is bad enough ; but all things are estimated by comparison, and I may still hold up my head. For the sake of those identical dollars—as recklessly lent as they were recklessly borrowed—Englishmen are prepared to adopt a course which, involving the general peace, may carry slaughter and desolation through the world !"