1816: The Year of Assertion
"I am glad to hear of the safe arrival and health of our worthy President," an ambitious bank clerk wrote Secretary of the Navy Benjamin W. Crowninshield in early 1816. "Please make my respects to him and inform him that we are all well at home."1 Title and tone suggested James Madison as the object of the remarks. In point of fact, the clerk's message concerned Joseph Story, recently arrived in Washington for the new term of the Supreme Court. Mr. Justice Story as we know, was also president of the Merchants' Bank of Salem, and it was under the latter title that the clerk of the bank, out of mixed servility and presumption, chose to refer to him.
No one seemed particularly concerned that Story held both judicial and corporate office. On the contrary, the Blackstonian division of corporations into "civil and eleemosynary,"2 that is, into organs of government and instruments of philanthropy, made it quite proper that a man prominent in the world of affairs should undertake supplementary public service as a bank president. Certainly this was the case at Merchants' Bank, where____________________