The Act of May 30, 1908, known as the "Emergency Currency Act," provided for a National Monetary Commission, to be composed of nine members of the Senate, to be appointed by the presiding officer of the Senate, and nine members of the House of Representatives, to be appointed by the Speaker of the House.
This Commission was authorized to inquire into and report to Congress what changes were necessary or desirable in the monetary system of the United States, or in the laws relating to banking and currency.
During the interim between Mr. Murray's qualification as Comptroller and the date he assumed charge of the Currency Bureau, the National Monetary Commission requested the Secretary of the Treasury to have prepared for consideration of the Commission such recommendations for amendments to the national banking laws as experience in the administration of the laws had shown to be necessary. In the absence of Mr. Murray, the Deputy Comptroller of the Currency, who was Acting Comptroller, was requested by the Secretary to prepare these recommendations. They were prepared and delivered to the Secretary early in August, 1908, but were not formally submitted to the Commission until December 2, 1908, at its first meeting in Washington.
About a week before the meeting, Mr. Murray received notice from the Secretary of the Treasury that the Commission desired him to appear in person before it and explain these recommendations, but as they had been prepared before he assumed active charge of the Bureau, he requested the Deputy Comptroller to present and explain them.
Such of these recommendations as contemplated imposing greater restrictions on the banks in some respects, and increasing the supervisory powers of the Comptroller along certain lines, it was assumed would not meet with the approval of all of the members of the Commission, particularly those who were connected with national banks, or the bankers who were present by invitation at the hearing. Notwithstanding this fact, however, the request of the Commission was for the submission of such recommendations for amendments to the banking laws as experience in their administration had shown to be necessary, and not for such recommendations as would be acceptable to the Commission or the bankers. The more important of those that were submitted were prepared, therefore, wholly from the point of view of the better security of the creditors of the banks and not from the viewpoint of extending to the banks greater privileges.
While, as stated, it was expected that some of the suggested amendments to the law would not be received with favor by some of the members of the Commission, opposition on the part of the Comptroller was not anticipated. But Mr. Murray, who was present at the hearing, interposed many objections to the proposed amendments. As he had expressed no dissent to any of the recommendations previous to his appearance before the Commission on the occasion stated, his attitude on that occasion was a surprise to everyone present, and very embarrassing to the Deputy Comptroller, who was placed in the position of appearing before the distinguished body of men composing the National Monetary Commission and the representative bankers present, and presenting recommendations for amendments to the banking laws which did not meet with the approval of his official superior.
If there were any differences of opinion between the Comptroller and his official subordinates in regard to the amendments to the banking laws that were deemed necessary, the place to have adjusted such differences was in the Treasury Department and not before the National Monetary Commission. Mr. Murray had ample time and opportunity to have done this. For some time before the meeting of the Commission, he had in his possession a copy of the proposed amendments and if they did not meet with his approval it was his privilege to have discarded them in whole or in part and to have prepared others embodying his own views. But he neither prepared recommendations of his own nor conferred with his official subordinates in regard to those that had been prepared, and the first and only expression of opinion heard from him on the subject was when he interposed his numerous objections before the Commission. But the recommendations that he dissented to on that occasion he subsequently gave the stamp of his official approval by endeavoring to put them in force by administrative regulation, without authority of law, and publicly claimed credit therefor as part of his administrative reforms.
Notwithstanding the objections raised either by Mr. Murray or members of the Commission to the amendments to the banking laws suggested at that time, the more important of such amendments as have not since been adopted are still considered proper and necessary, and their enactment into law would enable the Comptroller in a lawful manner to correct or regulate some of the dangerous conditions which are found in banks, and otherwise greatly improve the effectiveness of administrative supervision.
It is unnecessary to reproduce in this volume or to review in detail the amendments to the banking laws that were recommended to the National Monetary Commission at that time, as these will be found in full by anyone who desires to read them in Senate Document No. 404, Sixty-first Congress, Second Session, issued by the Commission. But reference will be made to the most important of the proposed amendments and such as were the subject of discussion and opposition.
The first recommendation submitted for consideration was for a change in the method of compensating national bank examiners from a fee basis to an annual salary and expenses, but while the inadequacy of the fee system of compensation was generally admitted, the proposed change did not meet with the approval of the bankers present at the hearing, principally, if not wholly, because of the fear of an increased cost to the banks. This change in the law was made by the Federal Reserve Act of December 23, 1913.
When Mr. Murray assumed charge of the Currency Bureau, he was imbued with the idea that the national bank examiners as a body were a bad lot and that their work was faulty in the extreme, due, as he thought and publicly expressed, on the one hand to incompetency and on the other to a proneness to acquire fees at the expense of thoroughness in their work rather than to remain in banks long enough to learn to a reasonable certainty their true condition.