While it was usual whenever a change occurred in the executive head of the Currency Bureau for bankers who were dissatisfied with the policies of the former Comptroller to appeal to his successor to revoke or modify his rulings or regulations, the number of appeals of this nature made to the successor of Mr. Williams was much more numerous than those made under a change in any previous administration.
But these complaints were not confined strictly to the rulings and regulations made by Mr. Williams in the exercise of the discretionary powers that were vested in the Comptroller by law. Many of them related to provisions of the banking laws enacted long before he came into office, and which he was without authority in the discharge of his official duties to have waived or modified if he had been disposed to have done so.
A good many bankers did not take kindly to restraints of any kind, or to supervisory regulations of their banking business, but wanted a free license to operate their banks without interference from Washington. As a rule, such bankers were not sufficiently familiar with the banking laws to have always been able to distinguish between an office regulation and a provision of law, consequently Comptroller Williams was frequently blamed for making arbitrary rulings or regulations when he had simpty endeavored to enforce an observance of a statutory requirement.
The extreme laxity in this respect, or negligence which distinguished the administration of the Currency Bureau that immediately preceded that of Comptroller Williams, was far more censurable for failing to require the banks to observe the plain provisions of law governing their operations, than any act of Mr. Williams in endeavoring to rigidly enforce the law, and this fact made it more difficult for him to secure compliance with his requirements.
The comparison of Comptroller Williams' administration of the Currency Bureau, with that of his immediate predecessor, would be like comparing two distinctly opposite extremes.
Periodical changes in the executive head of the Currency Bureau seemed also to have been regarded as an opportune time for that atom of humanity, the "anonymous correspondent," to secretly inject his insidious and poisonous fangs into some subordinate officer of the Bureau who had incurred his displeasure in the discharge of his official duties and whose loyalty or reputation he sought to injure or destroy.
These mischief-making varmints were usually to be found shielding themselves behind such signatures as "An Old Line Democrat," if the previous administration had been Republican, or "A Lifelong Republican," if the previous administration had been Democratic.
To one who had been in the service of the Bureau for a long period of years, and had witnessed these periodical occurrences, it was amusing in many instances to note the ingenuity displayed by these pests, in the presentation of their pleas, and the plausibility of the stories they told, in an endeavor to arouse the sympathy of the new administrative officer, or to create in his mind a prejudice against the object of their displeasure. They seemed to think that the only record of the things of which they complained, was in the memory of the new Comptroller's predecessor, and they felt secure in the thought that he had carried that record away with him. They did not seem to realize that in the permanent files and letter books of the Bureau there was a complete record of the matters complained of, and an explanation of the motives actuating the complaint.
While no officer of the Bureau was immune from such malicious attacks, anonymously made or otherwise, the Deputy Comptroller seemed to be the special object of devotion of these malcontents, and the alleged source of all their troubles. Their fire, therefore, was generally concentrated upon him.
But the source of these attacks was not confined altogether to the anonymous correspondent. It embraced bankers whose speculative schemes the Deputy had been largely instrumental in thwarting and exposing; ex-convict bankers who had served terms in the penitentiary and were pardoned by a too lenient President before the completion of their sentences; dismissed bank examiners separated from the service for incompetency and insubordination, and employees of the Currency Bureau, male and female, who had been discharged for cause.
Some members of Congress also were not above giving vent to their petty spites against the Deputy, in an underhanded way, on the floor of the House of Representatives or behind the closed doors of the committee room in retaliation for his having incurred their displeasure by refusing to furnish confidential information for improper use.
A notable instance of this fact may be stated by way of illustration of how very small some of these gentlemen are who make our laws, and this statement can be verified by reference to the Congressional Record covering the date of these occurrences.
A congressman from one of the Southern States called at the office of the Deputy Comptroller one day and requested a list of the national banks that had increased and reduced their circulation during the six months immediately preceding his call and the amount and date of each increase and reduction.
The Deputy informed the congressman that he would give him a statement showing the aggregate amount of the increases and reductions in circulation during the period stated and the number of banks involved, but that it was contrary to the rule of the office to disclose the names of the banks.
The congressman replied that that would not answer his purpose and insisted upon having the names of the banks.
The Deputy courteously informed him that he was sorry, but he could not give him the names of the banks.
He insisted that as a member of Congress he had a right to the information.
The Deputy replied, "I beg your pardon, Mr. Congressman, as an individual member of Congress you have no more right to the information than any other citizen."