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"The Debtor Class"
by [?]

A Washington correspondent, describing, the other day, the motives which animated the majority in Congress in its performances on the currency question, said, and we believe truly, that most of the inflationists in that body knew very well what the evils of paper-money were, so that argument on that point was wasted on them. But they knew also that large issues of irredeemable paper would make it easier for debtors to pay off their creditors, and came to the conclusion that as the number of debtors in the country was greater than the number of creditors, it was wise policy for a politician to curry favor with the former by helping them to cheat the persons who had lent them money or sold them goods. This explanation of the conduct of the majority may be a startling and sad one, but that it is highly probable nobody can deny. All the debates help to confirm it. In every speech, made either in opposition to resumption or in favor of inflation, a portion of the community known as “the debtor class” has appeared as the object of the orator’s tenderest solicitude. The great reason for not returning to specie payments hitherto has been the fear that contraction would press hard on “the debtor class;” it is for “the debtor class” we need more paper ” per capita ;” and indeed, no matter what proposal we make in the direction of financial reform, we are met by pictures of the frightful effects which will be produced by it on the “debtor class.” Moreover, in listening to its champions, a foreigner might conclude that in America debtors either all live together in a particular part of the country, or worse, a particular costume, like mediaeval Jews, and are divided from the rest of the community by tastes and habits, so that it would be proper for an American to put “debtor” or “creditor” on his card as a description of his social status. He might, too, not unnaturally begin to mourn over the negligence of the framers of the Constitution in not recognizing this marked distribution of American society. Truly, he would say, the debtors ought to have representatives in the Senate and House to look after their special interests; these unfortunate and helpless men ought not to be left to the charitable care of volunteers like Messrs. Morton, and Logan, and Kelly. The great sham and pretence with which America has so long tried to impose on Europe, that there were no classes in the United States, ought at last to be formally swept away, and proper legal provision made for the protection of a body of men which has been in all ages the object of atrocious oppression, and seems in America, strange to say, to constitute the larger portion of the community. In travelling through the country, too, he would be constantly on the lookout for the debtors. He would ask in the cities for the “debtors’ quarter,” and when introduced to a gentleman in the cars or in the hotels, would inquire privately whether he was a debtor or a creditor, so as to avoid hurting his feelings by indiscreet allusion to specie or contraction. His amazement would be very great on learning that there was no way of telling whether an American citizen was either debtor or creditor; that the “debtor class” was not to be found, as such, in any part of the country, or, indeed, anywhere but in the brains of the Logans and Mortons, and was introduced into the debates simply as a John Doe or Richard Roe, to give a little vividness to the speaker’s railings against property.

Now, as in every civilized society, the vast majority of the population of this country are in debt, to some slight degree. It is only paupers, criminals, and lunatics who owe absolutely nothing. The day-laborer is pretty sure to have a small bill at the grocer’s, and all his neighbors, in the ascending grades of commercial respectability, no matter how prompt and accurate they may be in the discharge of their obligations, are sure to owe the butcher and baker and milkman a greater or less amount. In fact the conduct of life on a cash basis would be impossible or intolerable. Of course, too, there are scattered all over the country men who owe a great deal of money and to whom little is due, and whose interest it would be to have the coinage adulterated. But then the number of these persons is very small, and they are mostly great speculators, who pass for rich men, and whose interests Congress is in reality not in the least desirous of protecting. Poor men, as a rule, are hardly ever greatly in debt, because nobody will trust them. We suspect that the number of those in this city who could borrow fifty dollars without security would not be found to be over one-twentieth of the population. The persons to whom loans are made by banks, insurance companies, and other institutions are almost all men of wealth or men who have the conduct of great enterprises, and do not need legislation to help them to take care of themselves. They are great merchants, or manufacturers, or brokers, or contractors, or railroad-builders. In fact, in so far as the debtors can be called a class, they form a very small class, and a class of remarkable shrewdness and of enormous power, over whom it is ludicrous for the Government to exercise a fatherly care.