There was no authority of law to support such a regulation. Any person had a right to subscribe for stock in a national bank who could pay the price of his subscription, even though he did not have another dollar to his name. The law did not require, nor contemplate, that a subscriber for stock should demonstrate his financial ability to respond to an assessment as a condition precedent to his right to subscribe. The statute provided another means of meeting this contingency. If the capital of a bank became impaired by losses or otherwise, and an assessment was ordered to make good the deficiency, the stock of any shareholder who was unable or refused to pay his pro rata share of the assessment was required to be sold at public auction, after due notice, for not less than the amount of the assessment due thereon.
The foregoing comprises some of the principal measures of reform introduced and enforced by Mr. Murray during his term as Comptroller, by which his administration was distinguished from that of any of his predecessors. Original as they were novel, arbitrary as they were unlawful, resting solely upon the fiat of the Comptroller, these measures were successful in part to the extent only that the existing banks to which they were applied tacitly submitted to his official decree.
The banks that submitted without protest were usually such as feared the effect upon the institution of the exposure that might result from resistance to the Comptroller's requirements, and concluded that discretion was the better part of valor. Those that entered a vigorous protest were invariably excepted from the operation of the unlawful regulation, and those that were in nowise affected were indifferent to the requirements.
Most of the strenuous and experimental measures adopted by Mr. Murray were put in force early in his administration. Many of them after being tried were materially modified or abandoned altogether, either because of their illegality or impracticability of enforcement.
The most satisfactory test of the real merit and success of any administrative reform is the actual results attained from its practical operation, in comparison with the practice or rule of conduct which the reformatory measure displaced. All changes in administrative practices are not necessarily reforms or improvements on old methods. Unfortunately, however, the same degree of activity is never displayed in giving publicity to the actual results of experimental reforms as is used by the reformer in advertising his measures in the first place. So that the public is never in possession of the facts essential to the formation of intelligent and impartial judgments as to the true merits of changes which administrative officials advertise as reforms, whether such changes relate to methods of management or economy in expenditures of public moneys. The credit side of the account is generally freely displayed or advertised, but the debit side is never disclosed, especially if it does not make a favorable showing.
Such was the case with many of Mr. Murray's experiments. His administration of the Currency Bureau was distinguished from that of any of his predecessors from McCullough to Ridgely in one marked respect, and that was his assumption of supervisory powers over the banks not conferred upon the Comptroller by law. Other Comptrollers recognized the inadequacies of the statutes in many respects and suggested to Congress the legislative remedies, without which they did not feel warranted in adopting methods of administration contrary to law. Mr. Murray proceeded without such authority, and by this rule of measurement alone can his administration be justly contrasted or compared with those of his predecessors in the results accomplished.
If it is to be conceded that an administrative official is justified in ignoring the plain provisions of the statutes enacted for his guidance and for the protection of the interests confided to his supervision, in order to successfully carry out his measures of reform or to gratify an ambition to distinguish his administration from those of his predecessors in the results accomplished, then Mr. Murray's administration of the Currency Bureau may be ranked with the most successful in its history. But in comparing it with previous administrations the legality or illegality of the measures and methods employed to secure results must have full consideration.
Human nature does not change much as time rolls on. Men are influenced by the same motives in the present day and generation as they were in ages gone by.
The world is still deceiv'd with ornament. In law, what plea so tainted and corrupt, But, being season'd with a gracious voice, Obscures the show of evil? In religion, What damned error, but some sober brow Will bless it, and approve it with a text? Thus ornament is but the gilded shore To a most dangerous sea.