24 June 2009
HARDING, Warren G. (1865-1923). Autograph speech manuscript, unsigned, n.d. [30 December 1918]. 17 pages, 4to, browned, chipping along edges of final page, catching portion of one letter. In pencil. With a printed transcription.
"BANKERS MAKE AND UNMAKE PUBLIC CONFIDENCE" Harding offers some timely reflections on ethics among bankers and the need for state regulations. "You ought," he tells the Ohio Bankers League, "with popular aid, sustain banking ethics with banking laws and abiding honesty, so that no financial storm can shake a single stick of timber in the temple of finance.... The first obligation of the banker is to the depositor... This increase of confidence must be inspired by banks which will not fail. Such a thing as a bank failure which involves a loss to depositors ought never to occur in this day and age.... The guaranty of safety must lie in directors who direct."
There is danger, Harding warns, in trusting to the ethical soundness of individuals, no matter how seemingly solid their reputation. His words have the stylistic flavor of the early 20th century, but his message reverberates in the 21st: "One man may be dishonest, but it is difficult to maintain collective dishonesty. One man may be admirably honest and yet be deceived, but it is difficult to buncoe a board of men committed to responsibility. One man may be talented and of good intent, but he gets the virus of speculation in his veins. With unfettered authority he takes a great risk, is crowned a Napoleon if he wins, but brings misery to hundreds of trusting homes, stigma on his associates and distrust upon the banking business, if he fails.... Autocracy no longer holds sway. We Americans do not believe in and will not have an autocratic government. No good intent of any executive has ever persuaded us to favor the abandonment of congress or the judiciary."
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