Whenever a national bank has failed, no matter from what cause, the system of official supervision by the Comptroller of the Currency, or of examination by a national bank examiner, has been subject to more or less criticism by the public in general and by the creditors and stockholders of the failed association in particular. The failure of the Fidelity National Bank was no exception to this rule. The national bank examiner was severely criticised for not sooner discovering and reporting the true condition of the bank's affairs, and the Comptroller was censured for not having closed the association before it reached the condition disclosed by the failure. While the facts were, there was neither incompetency nor negligence on the part of the examiner, nor dereliction of duty nor undue leniency on the part of the Comptroller. Each performed his duty to the best of his ability, with such knowledge of the situation as it was possible to obtain, and within the limitations of law. In those days administrative officials were not accustomed to the modern methods of usurping the functions of Congress by arbitrarily exercising powers not conferred upon them by statute. They were content in the discharge of their duty, as they understood it, within the limitations of law and in placing the responsibility for conditions beyond their control where it properly belonged upon incompetent or fraudulent bank management or in defective statutes which provided no adequate means of preventing the unsatisfactory conditions which ultimately led to bank failures. An administrative official is sworn to execute the law as it exists, and if he discharges his duty in this respect he cannot properly be held accountable for inadequacies of the statutes, or be expected to supply their defects by unauthorized administrative regulations.
Intelligent discussion in the public prints of the manner in which administrative officers discharge their duties is generally wholesome and is frequently productive of beneficial results. Erroneous criticism, based as it usually is upon ignorance of both the law and the facts, is not only unjust to the official against whom it is directed, but is misleading and therefore accomplishes no good purpose. And such generally has been the nature of the criticisms in connection with almost every national bank failure.