Jackson Versus Biddle: The Struggle over the Second Bank of the United States

By George Rogers Taylor | Go to book overview

George Rogers Taylor:


A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE SECOND BANK OF THE UNITED STATES

EARLY in January, 1817, the second Bank of the United States opened for business in Carpenter's Hall, Philadelphia. In this building the first Bank of the United States had wound up its affairs six years before. It was appropriate that the second Bank should begin at the old stand, for, although considerably larger, it was organized along lines substantially similar to those of its predecessor. And it was an augury of its future financial power that in 1821 it should move from the modest quarters where the old bank had quietly performed its functions to a sumptuous temple built for its occupancy and designed by William Strickland on lines of the Parthenon in Athens.

Why should the same political party and even many of the same persons who had refused to recharter the Bank of the United States in 1811 have voted to establish an even larger institution in 1816? The chief reason was the war, a war which had been fought on the military front with an inefficiency and ineptness rivaled only in the administration of the government's finances. Congress failed to pass adequate tax laws until the war was nearly over, and the administration of the treasury under William Jones and George W. Campbell proved almost incredibly bad. By the beginning of 1815 the credit of the United States had fallen to its lowest ebb since the founding of the federal government. The war department was pressed to find enough money to pay a bill for $30, and the treasury could not secure funds to meet the interest on that part of the public debt held in New England. Banks had multiplied during the war and greatly extended their note issues. By the fall of 1814 most banks outside New England had been forced to suspend specie payments. The currency consisted of a flood of bank notes circulating at varying discounts and increasing quantities of United States Treasury notes also of fluctuating value. Prices had risen to the highest point for the whole nineteenth century.

As one means of bringing some order out of this chaos and assisting the government in financing the war, sentiment grew for the re-establishment of a national bank. Leaders in promoting this movement were John Jacob Astor, David Parish, Stephen Girard, and other wealthy merchants. Their patriotic sentiments were in happy accord with their personal financial interests. They believed the establishment of a national bank would aid the government to finance the war and would also raise the price of government stock in which they

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From the manuscript of Volume 4 of The Economic History of the United States, to be published by Rinehart and Company, Inc.

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