A marked characteristic of Mr. Murray's exploitations of his so-called reformatory measures was the reflections that he invariably cast upon the methods or policies of his predecessors, in making public announcement of his reforms, and the inference that such announcements conveyed that everything that he did was right and everything that they had done was wrong. This applies also to the interpretation of the banking statutes which had been in existence for forty-four years at the time Mr. Murray assumed charge of the Currency bureau, and had been almost uniformly construed by the courts and by such able men as McCulloch and the long line of practical and experienced bankers and financiers who followed him and preceded Mr. Murray, whose decisions had been adopted as the settled interpretation of the law for the guidance of the bureau in its administration. But Mr. Murray changed all this.
The function of instructing the banks, which before the advent of Mr. Murray had been exercised only by the Comptroller, was delegated to the examiners, with the result that instead of having a uniform interpretation of the statutes to all banks alike in the application of the law to their varied transactions, each bank examiner of the constantly changing force of about one hundred interpreted the law to the banks on his list for examination according to his individual ideas. So that ultimately there were almost as many different constructions of one section of the statute as there were examiners in the service. And when the examiners in the various examination districts were alternated the natural consequence of such a policy manifested itself in a conflict of interpretations of the law and of the position of the Comptroller. This led to confusion, especially among the newer banks in the system, as to what the settled policy or practice of the office was or whose advice or direction they should follow. It was not infrequent that the office received requests for advice or instructions, either by mail or in person, from bankers who called attention to the conflicting positions of examiners on the same question.
Mr. Murray's administration was also distinguished from that of any of his predecessors by his spectacular advertising of every change that he made in old methods and every new ruling or regulation that he put in force. And long before the examiners received any official notification of such rulings or regulations, they were advised of the contemplated action through the press of the country, financial journals or monthly circular letters issued by some of the metropolitan banks.
Nor was he at all backward in promulgating as reforms originated by himself administrative practices that had been in force in the bureau long before he became Comptroller and had worked satisfactorily and successfully without any publicity or stage settings.
For instance, one of the first reforms announced by Mr. Murray was his purpose to appoint a few examiners-at-large, whose duty it would be to examine banks that were in a dangerous or unsatisfactory condition and to remain at the bank until all objectionable matters were satisfactorily adjusted.
The publicity given this plan and the names of the examiners so designated advertised the fact that any bank examined by an examiner-at-large was regarded as being in a bad or unsatisfactory condition, and the presence of such an examiner in the bank was, therefore, a notice to the other banks in that community that it was so considered. Banks in the same city, town or vicinity usually know of the presence of an examiner in any one of the neighboring banks and of the frequency of his visits.
A particularly bad feature of this plan that was called to Mr. Murray's attention at the time he adopted it, but without effect, was the fact that the examiners-at-large were so addressed in the official correspondence they received from the office, and so signed themselves in their communications to other banking institutions in verifying the accounts of the bank under examination, thus further advertising the fact that the latter bank was being examined by an examiner-at-large and must, therefore, be in an unsatisfactory condition. Such publicity naturally worked to the injury of the bank.
There was no authority of law for the appointment of an examiner-at-large, nor for the designation of a bank examiner by such a title. There was no such title provided by statute. The title was simply a creation of Mr. Murray's, a high-sounding designation which implied unusual powers which the examiner did not possess over the ordinary examiner. The duties performed by these so-called examiners-at-large did not differ in any respect from the same duties quietly performed under previous Comptrollers by the regular examiners. Under former Comptrollers it had been the practice for years to assign banks that were in such a condition as to require special attention to one of the most efficient men on the force, who had special qualifications for and experience in handling and adjusting difficult situations. These examiners were paid a per diem of twenty-five dollars, which included expenses, from the special examination fund appropriated by Congress for that purpose, while Mr. Murray allowed his examiners-at-large a per diem of from fifteen to twenty-five dollars, and in one case fifty dollars and expenses in addition, and authorized them to present their bills to the banks for payment, without any authority of law for so doing. These bills amounted to, in some cases, from two to four hundred dollars for an examination.
Another reform which was freely advertised as having been originated by Mr. Murray was in securing the co-operation of the State banking authorities with the national bank examiners in making joint or simultaneous examinations of state and national banks occupying the same or communicating quarters, in order to prevent any commingling of the assets of the two institutions, or the use of the assets of one by the other, as was possible when each bank was examined separately on different dates.