12, "Vampires." A condemnation of Confederate war speculators
So outrageous and grasping have speculations recently become in the country among tradesmen and adventurers, that the Executive of our State has been forced to recommend stringent legislation on the subject to the General Assembly, now convened at Nashville. The reasons given for imposing restraint upon the custom by legal enactment, as presented in the message we published on yesterday, are quite plausible, and certainly deserve the most careful consideration at the hands of our public legislators. The laws of trade, depending solely upon supply and demand, are so simple, that in ordinary times tampering with them by legislation would be universally regarded as impolitic, not to say indefensible. But at a crisis like the present, when the very existence of our young republic is at stake, and hungry vampires, unmoved by an instinct of patriotism and bent only on the satisfaction of their own rapacious appetites are sapping the very life-blood of the government by monopolies and extortions, the question assumes an entirely different aspect.
If public opinion cannot put down this infamous system, which has obtained among a large number of unconscientious scoundrels, it is time for the strong arm of Government to be brought to bear upon it. We must acknowledge that the step is exceedingly dangerous at any time, unless regulated by prudence and wisdom of rare character, and in taking it, the Legislature should be careful to keep one distinction constantly in mind. A difference must be made between mercantile transactions where bona fide sales take place at market prices, and cases where professional speculators are holding large stores of goods, merchandise and provision, waiting for an advance in price, and refusing absolutely to make any sales at present whatever.
We constantly hear of these Shylocks every day hiding away under lock and key such necessary articles of food as coffee, pork, salt, etc., used daily by our army, with the expectation of realizing on them ten times their original cost. Men in this city have been at this sordid and miserly work, caring little doubtless who conquers in this war, provided only they can get ten dollars a sack for salt which cost them one, or fifty cents for pork that cost one-sixth of that amount. This class of gentry—we mean the dilatory kind that are holding on with a deadly clutch, waiting like Mr. Macawber for something to "turn up"—should receive the especial attention of the Legislature. They are as insensible to the mortification of popular odium as a rhinoceros hide to a stroke from an ordinary horsewhip, and, of course, cannot be influenced in the slightest degree by a mere exposition of their infamy at the hands of a journalist. Tufts of grass will fail to bring them down from the tree they have climbed. Missiles of a heavier character must be used.
But there is another view of the subject, which will do well to attract the attention of the General Assembly, involving the adoption of an entirely different policy towards these bloated vampires. It is to let them quietly continue to hoard and hold on to their accumulated stores, in the capacity of trustees for the government. When the army shall stand in want of these necessaries, and find it impossible to obtain them elsewhere, government can order them to be seized and appropriated to its own use, paying the owners a reasonable price for the labors of their agency, and a profit that falls considerably short of their own unconscionable calculations. There can be no doubt about the fact that this course, on the part of the government, will be fully justified by public opinion, for if resorted to at all, it will be done with great reluctance. But grasping monopolists, who are dissatisfied with any profit on investments, falling short of five or six hundred per cent., had better take warning in time, and "save their bacon."
The policy of the Confederate authorities thus far, in scrupulously observing every little constitutional technicality however insignificant, shows their laudable spirit of forbearance and conciliation towards conspirators of all kinds, mercantile, financial and political. But if the promptings of patriotism fail, self-interest will induce these parties not to go beyond their tether lines, remembering that there is a limit beyond which this forbearance will cease to be a virtue. The establishment of our national liberty upon a safe and permanent basis is the goal towards which we direct our concentrated energies, and no dishonest schemes of speculators and extortionists can be allowed for one moment to circumvent or frustrate this great and glorious consummation.
Memphis Daily Appeal, October 12, 1861.
James B. Jones, Jr.
Tennessee Historical Commission
2941 Lebanon Road
Nashville, TN 37214