On one occasion when Mr. Murray was Comptroller he called the Deputy to task for refusing, during his absence, to follow his ruling in regard to the interpretation of certain provisions of the banking laws which the Deputy did not believe to be right, and, being unwilling to accept responsibility therefor, he explained to him his position with respect to the rule of conduct which governed him in all such matters, not only under his administration but also under those of his predecessors. He informed Mr. Murray that he had not at any time taken, and would not take, either when the Comptroller was present or during his absence, any position on any subject in conflict with what he knew or understood to be the Comptroller's policy or position on the same subject. But at the same time he declared that he had not and would not place his signature to any letter or paper containing views which he did not approve. He informed Mr. Murray that it had been and would continue to be his practice to hold all such matters for the Comptroller's action upon his return, or, if immediate action were necessary, to qualify his position by stating that "The Comptroller had ruled," or "The Comptroller holds," or some such qualifying phrase, and thus place responsibility for the policy or ruling upon the Comptroller.
The decision of a Deputy or Acting Comptroller was seldom accepted as final on any question. Consequently, appeals were continually being made to the Comptroller, or to the Secretary of the Treasury if the office were vacant, for a reversal of the Deputy's ruling or action in some instances where he had simply followed the Comptroller's position. Such appeals made it necessary for the Deputy or Acting Comptroller to be constantly on the defensive, which entailed a great deal of extra work and considerable annoyance, especially if the appellant was a person of some political influence or standing. Appeals, however, generally resulted in the Deputy or Acting Comptroller being sustained by his official superior, as his action was invariably based upon law, precedent or approved practice, and the same action, if taken by the Comptroller, would have been accepted without question.
Assistant Secretary Williams, by direction of the Secretary of the Treasury, was authorized to keep in close touch with the affairs of the Comptroller's office during the vacancy in that office following the expiration of Mr. Murray's term, and the change which had taken place in the political complexion of the Government. In accordance with this understanding and at Mr. Williams' request the Acting Comptroller advised him of the serious condition of the First-Second National Bank of Pittsburgh and the desire of the examiners for a conference on the situation.
This conference was held on July 2, 1913, in the office of the Secretary of the Treasury, at which the Secretary, Assistant Secretary, Acting Comptroller and one of the examiners were present, and the affairs of the bank were reviewed in detail. The condition of the bank seemed to be critical and hopeless, and at the suggestion of Assistant Secretary Williams, a Pittsburgh banker, the president of a rival bank, one of the smaller institutions, was requested to come to Washington for consultation. The condition of the bank was made known to him by the Assistant Secretary, who instructed the examiners to go over their report with him in detail, with a view to having his bank come to the relief of the situation.
This suggestion was an impracticable proposition to submit to so small a bank when the amount of the liabilities of the First-Second National Bank was considered, and, of course, nothing came of it. The examiners were then instructed to return to Pittsburgh and confer with a committee of the Clearing House Association in regard to the situation.
On July 4 the examiners telephoned the Acting Comptroller that they had been in consultation with a committee of the Clearing House Association, but without results, and that the committee declined to further consider the matter unless the Acting Comptroller came to Pittsburgh for a conference.
The Acting Comptroller went immediately to Pittsburgh, arriving there early on the morning of July 5. In the meantime, one of the Pittsburgh bankers got into communication with
Assistant Secretary Williams, who was then at Blue Ridge Summit, Pa., and requested him to come to Pittsburgh.
The Acting Comptroller arranged for a conference with the Clearing House Association at ten o'clock on the morning of July 5, and while the conference was in progress Mr. Williams came in. Some of the bankers present were inclined to resent his presence at the conference on the ground that as neither the Secretary of the Treasury nor the Assistant Secretary had any supervision of national banks, that power being conferred by law exclusively upon the Comptroller of the Currency, he had no right to inject himself into the conference. The condition of the bank, however, was thoroughly discussed and various propositions were suggested to the representatives of the Clearing House banks with a view to having them render the directors of the First-Second National Bank the financial assistance necessary to enable them to meet the demands of the depositors and other creditors in the event of a run on the bank, and thus avoid the closing of the institution and the locking up of a large amount of money for an indefinite period.
Secretary Williams assured the bankers that if they needed any funds to enable them to meet the situation the Treasury Department would make a deposit of public moneys in the Pittsburgh banks to the extent of $5,000,000 to be used for that purpose.
This conference consumed nearly an entire day without accomplishing anything.
The Acting Comptroller then arranged with the president of the First-Second National Bank for a meeting of the board of directors of the bank on Sunday morning, July 6, at ten o'clock, and the conference with the Clearing House Association adjourned to await the result of the meeting with the directors of the First-Second National Bank.