AN ARGUMENT MADE IN THE CASE OF OGDEN AND SAUNDERS, IN THE SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES, JANUARY TERM, 1827.
[THIS was an action of assumpsit, brought originally in the Circuit Court of Louisiana, by Saunders, a citizen of Kentucky, against Ogden, a citizen of Louisiana. The plaintiff below declared upon certain bills of exchange, drawn on the 30th of September, 1806, by one Jordan, at Lexington, in the State of Kentucky, upon the defendant below, Ogden, in the city of New York, (the defendant then being a citizen and resident of the State of New York), accepted by him at the city of New York, and protested for non-payment.
The defendant below pleaded several pleas, among which was a certificate of discharge under the act of the legislature of the State of New York, of April 3d, 1801, for the relief of insolvent debtors, commonly called the Three-Fourths Act.
The jury found the facts in the form of a special verdict, on which the court rendered a judgment for the plaintiff below, and the cause was brought by writ of error before this court. The question which arose under this plea, as to the validity of the law of New York as being repugnant to the Constitution of the United States, was argued at February term, 1824, by Mr. Clay, Mr. D. B. Ogden, and Mr. Haines, for the plaintiff in error, and by Mr. Webster and Mr. Wheaton, for the defendant in error, and the cause was continued for advisement until the present term, by Mr. Webster and Mr. Wheaton, against the validity, and by the Attorney-General, Mr. E. Living- ston, Mr. D. B. Ogden, Mr. Jones, and Mr. Sampson, for the validity.
Mr. Wheaton opened the argument for the defendant in error; he was followed by the counsel for the plaintiff in error; and Mr. Webster replied as follows.]
THE question arising in this case is not more important, nor so important even, in its bearing on individual cases of private right, as in its character of a public political question. The Constitution was intended to accomplish a great political object. Its design was not so much to prevent injustice or injury in one case, or in successive single cases, as it was to make general salutary provisions, which, in their operation, should give security to all contracts, stability to credit, uniformity among all the States in those things which materially concern the foreign commerce of the country, and their own credit, trade, and intercourse with each other. The real question, is, therefore, a much broader one than has been argued. It is this: Whether the Constitution has not, for general political purposes, ordained that bankrupt laws should be established only by national authority? We contend that such was the intention of the Constitution; an intention, as we think, plainly manifested in several of its provisions.
The act of New York, under which this question arises, provides that a debtor may be discharged from all his debts, upon assigning his property to trustees for the use of his creditors. When applied to the discharge of debts contracted before the date of the law, this court has decided that the act is invalid.1 The act itself makes no distinction between past and future debts, but provides for the discharge of both in the same manner. In the case, then, of a debt already existing, it is admitted____________________