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

By George Rogers Taylor | Go to book overview
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Ralph C. H. Catterall:


THE CHARGES AGAINST THE BANK

THE subject in connection with the bank which always arouses most interest is its alleged corrupt connection with politics. It may be said at once that there never has been any evidence produced to show that the bank as a national bank ever spent a dollar corruptly. Yet the accusation was repeated so often that historians have been inclined to accept as proved what was only vehemently asserted, and it begot an incurable suspicion which has endured to this day.

It is self-evident that the bank would be affected by political considerations, since from the beginning to the end of its existence it was to a large extent subject to the will and whim of politicians, and it was frequently attacked by them. Had the board of directors been composed exclusively of canonized saints, still the conciliation of politicians and political forces would have been necessary. The only question worthy of discussion is that of the bank's honesty or corruption in this situation.

Biddle in 1829 rejected as totally inadmissible any attempt to create boards on which the political parties were fairly balanced, and declared that political affiliations should not be considered in such selections. He was right in this; but it must not be supposed that the proposition of a political balance was novel, or that Jackson Democrats first suggested it, or that there was any moral obliquity in such an arrangement. When the first government directors were named, President Madison frankly selected them all from his own political party, and the private stockholders, quite certain that the bank must either be a political machine or possess a balance of parties, elected ten Republicans and ten Federalists as their members of the board. Madison and his capable and honest secretary, A. J. Dallas, then struggled successfully to secure the presidency of the bank for a Republican partisan of no particular ability or experience as a banker, and thus the disasters consequent upon the presidency of William Jones are primarily chargeable to James Madison and Alexander James Dallas.

The policy of political balance then inaugurated was religiously pursued all through the administration of William Jones, and certainly through part of that of Langdon Cheves. Writing to Biddle in 1820, John McKim urges him to assist in the election of a Republican director at Baltimore, "as you know that the Republicans are one short of their number, and the necessity of giving us our share of the Directors, as we do hold more than the half of the stock, and it having been Policy to divide the two Partys in

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From The Second Bank of the United States by Ralph C. H. Catterall, copyright 1902 by the University of Chicago Press. Reprinted by permission of the publisher. This extract comprises pp. 243-284, 476 f.

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