Economic History of the United States

By Chester W. Wright | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XXIV
FINANCIAL INSTITUTIONS--MONEY AND BANKING

Introduction. Obviously the economic progress of the country during the period that we have been describing must have necessitated a marked development of our financial institutions. As capital funds accumulated and as business enterprises became larger in size and trade grew in importance, an expansion and improvement of the conditions and institutions for promoting savings, for aiding those needing capital and credit, and for providing the facilities required in the financial transactions involved were absolutely essential if economic progress was not to be seriously handicapped. The efforts made after the establishment of the new government in 1789 to overcome some of the defects and supply some of the deficiencies which had characterized the financial institutions of colonial times have already been described in the account of the period from 1789 to 1815.

The changes during the following period down to 1860 were in the main along lines already laid down in the preceding period. In part these changes were due to efforts to eliminate abuses and defects that experience showed were necessary; in part they were designed to meet new needs arising out of the country's rapid economic growth. Both remedial measures and innovations reflect ideals which throughout the country's history have exerted no small measure of influence upon our financial legislation--the strong dislike for anything that appeared likely to develop into monopolistic "money power" and the even stronger desire for cheap money and credit.

The Coinage and Circulating Medium. We have seen that during the preceding period the establishment of the mint and the commence- ment of coinage had begun to provide the country with coins of domestic origin, though their amount was small and insufficient for general use. This scarcity of domestic coin, combined with long established habits, led to a fairly widespread use of the English pounds, shillings, and pence as the money of account in trade. In spite of the resulting inconvenience, this practice was continued in some sections well into the nineteenth century. The deficiency was made up in part by foreign coins but chiefly by paper bank notes. The history of the coinage during the period under review can best be understood by dividing it into three parts: (1) extending to the Coinage Act of 1834, (2) continuing to the opening up of the

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