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Sentenced to two centuries in the stocks

April 5, 2012 - Harry Eagar
Congress has voted for and the president has signed the STOCK Act, which says Congress critters and their varlets cannot use inside legislative information to trade in the stock market. About time.

This has been SOP in Congress even before the Constitution. Here are a couple of grafs from David Lavender's “The Great West,” a history of the opening of the continent following the Revolution. He is writing about the Congress convened under the Articles of Confederation in the 1780s:

“The upshot was the formation soon afterward of the Ohio Company for the purpose of buying up depreciated continental certificates – a form of paper money – and using them to purchase a huge block of land in the Ohio country.

“Negotiations with Congress were entrusted to the Reverend Manasseh Cutler of Ipswich, Massachusetts, a buoyant, full-bodied man with an encyclopedic mind, a bottomless appetite for fine food and wine, and a picayune ministerial salary further shrunken by inflation. 'Purchasing lands in a new country,” he later wrote, 'appeared to be ye only thing I could do to secure a living for myself and family.'

“He appeared before Congress in July 1787. The legislators, engrossed in writing a new constitution for the United States and clinging to the principle of selling the public domain in small pieces, at first paid Cutler little attention. Just as he was ready to give up, he was approached by William Duer, Secretary of the Confederation's Board of Treasury. Duer said several 'principal men' of New York City wished to buy Western lands from the nation but could not because of their positions in government. These anonymous speculators included Duer himself, General Arthur St. Clair, who was the president of Congress, and several other congressmen. This group of influential men planned to incorporate their venture in the Scioto Company.

“Duer's proposal to Cutler was unabashedly blunt. If Cutler and the Ohio Company would front for the Scioto Company in an appeal for five million acres, Duer and his associates would push through Congress legislation enabling the United States to overlook its own requirements about price, public auctions and payments in full at time of sale. Western land sales were not producing the revenue anticipated: units were too large and the Indian menace too severe. Under the circumstances, Duer said, the prospect of selling many millions of acres in huge blocks would be tempting to the Government.

“To whet Cutler's interest still further, Duer said his associates would lend the Ohio Company money enough for a down payment on one and a half million acres for itself. He also promised that Cutler and others in the Ohio Company would receive stock in the Scioto purchases. Cutler immediately accepted the offer.

“The necessary legislation went through Congress with scarcely a ripple. . . .”

And so on.

If selling off the nation's assets to rich criminals does not sound like ancient history, it shouldn't. It has been the guiding policy of the Republican Party since Reagan's administration, and still is.


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