Here to return to
INSURANCE AND THE LEGISLATURE.
INSURANCE in its legitimate functions is a kind of charitable enterprise, in which the participants give a certain sum toward a general fund for the relief of such subscribers as meet with misfortune. It does not always answer the purposes for which it is intended; but is, as a general rule, an institution worthy of Christianized civilization, and of great advantage to the community. By means of insurance, the losses by the fire were largely distributed, and the consequences of the disaster made much less appalling. The fifty-two million three hundred and fifty-eight thousand and five hundred dollars secured by policies of the insurance-companies was of untold advantage to the business of the city, and was distributed nearly as follows: New-York companies, $7,850,500; Massachusetts companies, $30,710,000; Connecticut companies, $4,000,800; California companies, $75,000; Illinois companies, $30,000; Maine companies, $500,000; Missouri companies, $25,000; Minnesota companies, $50,000; New-Jersey companies, $17,000; Ohio companies, $205,000; Pennsylvania companies, $2,776,500; Rhode-Island companies, $920,000; Wisconsin companies, $50,000; foreign companies, $5,250,000.
Out of the sum set against the Massachusetts companies, there must be taken several million to allow for the deficit where companies could not pay in full. Sad news indeed were the words “cannot pay in full” to those who already had sacrificed so near their all on the shrine of fire; yet many heard it, and wept.
No sooner did it appear certain, that, in many instances, the companies must fail, than the same stockholders, keeping the same names, attempted to organize new companies to carry on the business of the bankrupt one, or rather to get the benefit of the outstanding policies and their renewals. Whether there was too much haste to form new companies, and a neglect of the claims and needs of those who demanded payment for their losses, it is difficult for an historian, with so little time for investigation, to decide. Certain it is that there were dissatisfaction and complaint on the part of the losers, and much solicitude for new charters and new stock on the part of the insurers. But in the legislature of the State lay the power to give them a new lease of life; and to that they appealed.
There were other causes, however, why the legislature was called to meet; although the primary cause was the failure to pay on the part of the companies. There would have been less need of financial assistance or for the credit of the city had not the companies been so sadly crippled by the awful destruction.
At the second meeting of the General Relief Committee, organized as before stated, the following resolution was adopted:
“Resolved, That the mayor be requested, in behalf of the city, to request his Excellency the Governor of the Commonwealth to call an extra session of the General Court for the following purpose; viz.:—
“To pass a law enabling the city of Boston to make and issue, for not exceeding twenty million dollars in amount in the whole, its bonds, payable in not less than ten years, at a rate of interest not exceeding five per cent interest for those payable in gold, and six per cent for those payable in currency; to be called the Summer-street Fire Improvement Bonds; to be placed in the hands of a commission of not more than five persons, to be appointed by the mayor, with the approval of the city council, whose duty it shall be to lend such bonds or their proceeds to such owners of land burnt over by the recent fire who shall make application therefor, and commence rebuilding on the burnt land within one year from the date when the streets shall have been laid out anew and been made ready for rebuilding; and shall secure said loan upon the said land by a mortgage conditional for the use of said loan in rebuilding upon said land so burnt over, and conveying a title satisfactory to the city solicitor; and the proceeds of said loan not to be advanced until the building on said land has made such progress as to insure its completion in the belief of said commission, and such further provisions and conditions to be annexed to said loan by the commissioners as shall in their opinion afford the greater necessity of its use for the purpose of rebuilding on said land and of its being repaid to the city.”
The presentation of this resolution to the governor by the committee appointed for that purpose, and the solicitation of others interested in insurance, resulted in a special meeting of the Executive Council. Gov. Washburn presided: and there were present Lieut.-Gov. Tucker, and Messrs. Reed, Fitch, Stoddard, Macy, Winn, Hildreth, and Chase, of the Executive Council; the committee of the Citizens’ Relief Committee, consisting of Messrs. William Gray, Ex-Gov. Claflin, Judge Abbott, Martin Brimmer, Otis Norcross, Avery Plumer; with Mayor Gaston, President Dickinson of the Common Council, and Alderman Jenks. Besides these there were a committee from the Boston insurance-offices, and the Hon. Samuel Hooper, the Hon. C. L. Woodbury, John B. D. Cogswell, Esq., and a few others.
After the council had been called to order, the Hon. William Gray said that he and his associates on the committee appeared before the council in perfect accord with the city government of Boston, and in complete sympathy with them. The city government had passed an order desiring that a special session of the legislature should be called, to give it power to act on matters, so that no cavil could be raised in relation to their doings, with the intention to put Boston in the position she was on Saturday morning last. It was desirous to have many streets widened, and others straightened; and, for them to do this in a comprehensive manner, legislative action would be necessary. The area of the burnt district was about sixty acres, — equal to the Common and Public Garden combined. It was the general impression that the city government had power to do all this street-widening and laying-out; but it was found not to be so, and thus the aid of the General Court was necessary. The supposition is, that twenty million dollars’ worth of buildings had been destroyed, some of these being very poor; and the estimate for rebuilding was some thirty million dollars, while the loss of personal property was set at from fifty million to eighty million dollars. The committee did not come to ask aid from the Commonwealth or any person, but to ask that the legislature might be convened to allow the city to exercise the power of eminent domain, and to enable the city to borrow money to enable her people to rebuild their stores and to resume business. In asking this, they were willing to have the act put in such form as would make the city perfectly safe in any loans which may be made from the treasury; and by the passage of such an act the outside men who have lost their property will be benefited, as they would then be able to obtain money without going to extortioners. If the legislature passed such an act, he felt assured that within two years the burnt district would be rebuilt, and the whole business of the city be again in a prosperous condition.
Mayor Gaston then addressed the council, and said, that, as far as he knew, it was the unanimous wish of the people that a special session of the legislature should be called. He could see no objection to such a session, except the cost; but, when it was remembered that Boston paid one-third of this cost, — and, when the agencies of men doing business in the city are added, perhaps she paid one-half, — there cold be no valid objection to the request. The session Was asked for to enable the city to make improvements in her streets and the construction of her buildings; to give employment to thousands; and to keep the insurance-business now in the city from going elsewhere, and perhaps outside the State.
Ex-Gov. Claflin was the next speaker; and in a brief address he deprecated delay in the rebuilding of the burnt district on financial grounds, expressing the hope that the legislature would be convened at once. He knew there were men who would bring twenty millions dollars into the city to build to-morrow, were they assured the legislature would be called together; and the question with him was, whether the business of the city should be allowed to go away for want of means, or be kept here by the fostering care of the city government.
Mr. Gray said that the expense of calling the legislature together would be about six thousand three hundred dollars; while the daily expense after the opening would be three thousand nine hundred and ten dollars.
Judge Abbott said he had consulted with very eminent legal men — such as Judge Curtis, Mr. Bartlett, and others — as to the constitutionality of the legislature passing an act to enable the city of Boston to loan money on the plan proposed; and all of them had no possible doubt as to its legality. He was desirous that the trade of the city should be retained; and he and others desired to pledge their property to help others who had lost their property. A panic was threatened; and he thought the only way to stop this was by convening the General Court at once.
Mr. M. F. Dickinson, jun., spoke in behalf of the young, active business-men of the city for a special meeting of the legislature, — men who had lost all their property by the fire, and who would be compelled to go away unless there was some immediate prospect of relief for them.
Mr. Avery Plumer urged the governor and council to take prompt action, so as to enable the National Government to get the whole square of land bounded by Milk, Devonshire, Water, and Congress Streets, for the post-office, while the land was vacant; and he spoke of negotiations with the authorities from Washington for the Old-South-Church property, which had taken place on Monday.
Mr. Albert Bowker spoke for the insurance-companies in the city who have been compelled by their losses to go into liquidation, but in the place of which new companies were waiting to begin with capital all paid up; but, before they could do this, they must have the legislative authority. Mr. A. S. Wheeler spoke in the same strain; when Mr. Gray made a closing address in favor of a special session.
Mr. J. B. D. Cogswell of Yarmouth thought no extraordinary necessity had arisen for calling the legislature together, as such a course would tend to create a panic. If the legislature met, it would probably remain in session a mouth or more; and then the action taken Would be liable to be reversed by the General Court of next year.
Hon. Samuel Hooper said he was not opposed to having a special session of the legislature, except that he feared it might tend to create a panic. The bank presidents had held a meeting with the comptroller of the currency; and they had deemed it inexpedient to have the legislature convened.
Hon. Charles Levi Woodbury in a few words opposed a special session, on the ground that it would tend to cause a financial panic; and the Hon. W. B. Spooner took the opposite ground.
The hearing then closed; and the council went into secret session for some fifteen minutes, when it was voted to advise the governor to call a special session of the legislature, to assemble on Tuesday next, at twelve o’clock noon.
The following day, this proclamation was sent to the members of the legislature: —
COMMONWEALTH OF MASSACHUSETTS.
BY HIS EXCELLENCY WILLIAM B. WASHBURN, GOVERNOR.
Whereas, It is provided by the Constitution of the Commonwealth, that the governor, with advice of council, shall have full power and authority, during the recess of the General Court, to call it together sooner than the time to which it may be adjourned or prorogued, if the welfare of the Commonwealth shall require the same;
And whereas I am officially advised, by the unanimous action of its municipal government and a large committee of its most eminent citizens, that the recent fire in Boston has, in their judgment, rendered certain measures of State legislation imperatively necessary: —
Now, therefore, Believing that the emergency contemplated by the Constitution has occurred, I do issue this my proclamation to the members of the General Court, calling them to assemble at the State Hose in Boston on Tuesday, the nineteenth day of November instant, at twelve o’clock noon, to take such Steps, and act upon such matters, as may be deemed expedient in consequence of the great calamity which has suddenly fallen upon the chief city of our Commonwealth.
Given at the Council Chamber in Boston this twelfth day of November, in the year one thousand eight hundred and seventy-two.
By his Excellency the governor, with advice of council.
WILLIAM B. WASHBURN.
Secretary of the Commonwealth.
The legislature met according to call, and proceded at once to consider, by committee-hearings and otherwise, the desires of the petitioners. What laws were passed for the relief of the city, and what measures defeated, cannot be stated at the time this book is issued.