View PDF

The full text on this page is automatically extracted from the file linked above and may contain errors and inconsistencies.

WOODROW WILSON

FOUNDER
OF THE FEDERAL RESERVE SYSTEM

A CHRISTMAS PRESENT
FOR THE PRESIDENT




F e d e r a l R e s e r v e Ba n k

of

S t. L o u is

P. O. BOX 4 4 2

S t. L o u i s , Mi s s o u r i 6 3 1 6 6
h a rry a

.s h u fo rd

D e ce m b e r 18, 1964

This bank opened fo r b u sin ess on N ovem ber 16,
1914. The F e d e r a l R e s e r v e A ct had b een sig n ed by P re sid e n t
W ood row W ilson a lm o st a y e a r e a r lie r . F iv e y e a rs o f exhaustive
study and e ffo rt, fir s t by the National M on eta ry C o m m is sio n o f
1908 w hich C on g re ss appointed follow in g a s e v e r e m oney c r is is in
1907, and la ter by the students and p o litic a l fig u re s who guided the
form a tion o f the F e d e ra l R e s e r v e S ystem through the C o n g re ss,
re su lte d in the le g is la tio n p la ce d on P r e sid e n t W ilso n 's desk on
D e ce m b e r 23, 1913.
O ther p u blication s te ll o f the S y s te m 's r e c o r d and
a b ility to p e r fo r m its fu n ction s. It is fitting that G era ld Dunne's
a r t ic le , "A C h ristm a s P re s e n t fo r the P re s id e n t” be published in
o b s e rv a n ce o f the F iftieth A n n iv e rsa ry o f the F e d e ra l R e s e rv e
Bank o f St. L o u is .




Reprinted from Business Horizons, Vol. 6, No. 4
(Winter 1963), pp. 43-60, by the courtesy of the publisher,
the Graduate School of Business, Indiana University.

The Cover. A plaque in the lobby of the Board of Governors building
in Washington, D. C.




A

CHRISTMAS PRESENT
FOR THE P R E S I D E N T

GERALD T. DUNNE

F




ederal

R

eser ve

B

ank

of

St. Loins

A Christmas Present
ior the PRESIDENT
G ekald

T.

D

unne*

1. CHRISTMAS, 1912

A

Christmas Eve snow began falling in New York at one in
the morning and kept up until four in the afternoon. Eleven
inches in Manhattan and over fifteen in northern New Jersey
gave the area the whitest of Christmases, but it delayed Christ­
mas deliveries, made the ocean liners stand off New York
harbor, and generally blocked streets, highways, and railroads.
It also raised some question as to whether Congressman Carter
Glass of the Sixth (Lynchburg) District of Virginia and Parker
Willis of the New York Journal of Commerce would be able to
see Woodrow Wilson in Princeton, N. J. on Dec. 26. Presum­
ably, it was an important meeting. At least it was the only
conference that the President-elect did not strike from his
calendar when a heavy cold ruined his Christmas and kept
him from enjoying the 42-pound turkey the Democrats of
Kentucky had sent for his dinner. Thanks to horse-drawn
snowplows, the railroad tracks to Princeton were cleared, and
the two callers kept their appointment. “ Dr. Willis,” reported
the New York Times, “ came with a bundle of documents.”
The documents concerned plans for monetary reform, the
great American game in which the sky was the limit and any
number could play. For almost fifty years, discussions and
proposals on the subject had come and gone ad infinitum and
almost ad nauseam. There had been the Jones Commission of
1876, the Indianapolis Currency Convention of 1897, the National
Monetary Commission of 1908, the Columbia University Con­
ference of 1910, and the Pujo Committee of 1912. There had
been the Miihleman plan, the Baltimore plan, the Morawetz
plan, the Warburg plan, the Walker bill, several Fowler bills,
the Williams bill, the Aldrich bill, the Yreeland bill, and the
Aldrich-Vreeland bill. Glass called his committee the graveyard
for bills, but still they came from a host of interested individ­
uals and organizations. The American Bankers Association
had its Currency Commission and the New York Merchants
Association its Special Currency Committee. There was the
—

1—

*Mr. Dunne is General Counsel for the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.




National Citizens League for a Sound Banking System. Even
the West Side YMCA had its Finance Forum.
The plan brought by Wilson’s visitors had been worked out
earlier that winter in a congressional subcommittee of which
Glass was chairman and Willis technical adviser. It had not
yet been reduced to a legislative draft, but the core idea had
been fairly well developed. This envisaged a series of incor­
porated clearinghouse cooperatives (any ten national banks
might apply to form one) that would hold part of the cash
reserves of their member institutions and issue a special bank
note currency against gold and prime bank paper. The co­
operatives would be chartered and supervised by the Comp­
troller of the Currency, who already performed these functions
for national banks.
The three components of the plan — cooperatives, currency,
and reserves — epitomized the deficiencies of the American
monetary system. The cooperatives were proposed because the
government lacked a central bank, either in form or function, to
manage its monetary apparatus. Such had not always been
the case. Indeed, the first and, particularly, the second Bank
of the United States had been pioneers in central banking
techniques. All this, however, ended when Andrew Jackson, on
July 10, 1832, issued his thunderbolt veto against the second
bank — “ unauthorized by the Constitution, subversive of the
rights of the states, and dangerous to the liberties of the
people” — and so shaped national attitudes as to guarantee
that a central bank in European form would never again take
root in American soil.
The currency situation was, in turn, the direct consequence,
for the paper money of the United States in December of 1912
was, to use the language of the day, “ inelastic.” Part of it
consisted of bank notes that national banks issued against the
security of government bonds and that were limited in amount
to the value of such security. Likewise fixed in quantity was
the other component of the currency, the legal tender Treasury
notes still known by their Civil War name of greenbacks.
The cost of this structural rigidity was demonstrated time
and again in the failure of the reserve system — the require­
ment of both prudence and law that a bank keep a special fund
either on hand or on deposit as protection against unusual
withdrawals. Perversely, the very fractional character of the
reserve and the inherently scarce nature of currency guaran­




— 2—

teed that only a small proportion of demands could be paid in
cash if a bank really came under stress, and the fear of an
unavailability of money accordingly guaranteed stress. The
result — runs of individuals on banks, runs of banks on banks,
forced sale of securities, and the calling of loans — were a
guarantee of loss, liquidation, and catastrophe. “ A panic,”
stated Walter Bagehot, editor of the London Economist and
British constitutional essayist, “ . . . is a species of neuralgia,
and . . . you must not starve it. The holders of the cash
reserve must . . . advance it most freely. . . . In wild periods
of alarm, one failure makes many, and the best way to prevent
the derivative failures is to arrest the primary. . . . ,n
Solutions for the inadequacies of the monetary apparatus
could be collected in two procrustean beds. One contemplated
building on the existing banking structure by, first, creating
some repository holding collective reserves and serving as
lender of last resort to banks under pressure, and, second,
letting banks monetize their best assets by issuing bank notes
against them. Not that this would turn the forces of monetary
control completely over to private hands or leave it to the
impersonal forces of laissez faire, for some degree of govern­
mental involvement was proposed in all plans embodying these
concepts. As Bagehot had said, money would not manage itself.
Nevertheless, all such “ banking” plans also contemplated that
the major part of the apparatus would be under the control of
private enterprise, and thus ran irreconcilably counter to the
second school of reform, which looked to the Bureau of Printing
and Engraving for its solution and summarized its case in the
1876 Greenbacker blessing of legal tender Treasury notes as
“ the best circulating medium ever devised.”
This attitude was strongest in the rural West and South,
doubly beset by high interest rates on mortgage and crop
money, and low prices for the crops themselves. The under­
lying cause — overexpansion of farmland — had not been pro­
duced by monetary or banking factors nor could it be cured by
them, at least within conventional and traditional short-term,
unsecured, self-liquidating bank loans. Indeed, Bagehot had
said a man became a banker when he was able to tell a note
from a mortgage.
Nonetheless, and for a variety of reasons, the agrarian
rebels saw cheap and plentiful money not only as a cure for
i Walter Bagehot, Lombard Street (14th ed.; London: J. Murray, 1915), pp. 51-52.




—

3

—

panics but as their salvation generally. Their conviction that
a banking system in private hands kept it scarce and dear
made for a succession of basically similar proposals — first of
the Greenbackers, then of the Populists, and, finally, in 1896,
of the Democrats with William Jennings Bryan. “ Congress
alone,” stated the platform of that year, “ has the power to
coin and issue money, and President Jackson declared this
power could not be delegated to corporations or individuals.”
However, capture of the party in 1896 by the forces of revolt
drove any number of Democrats out of it, including Dr. Wood­
row Wilson, professor of jurisprudence and political economy
at Princeton University. With historical insights based on his
professional knowledge of the American past, including the
inflationary episodes of the Revolution and Civil War, Wilson
denounced Bryan with great force, assailed his theories as
foolish and immoral, and even refused to sit on the same plat­
form with him. To be sure, Wilson’s vehemence could go
untempered by prudence, for his ambitions were academic, not
political, and they seemed to have been achieved in 1902. ‘ ‘ Isn’t
it fine,” wrote one observer, “ that Woodrow Wilson is to be
President of Princeton? He is, of course, pretty conservative,
but nevertheless the various social sciences ought to stand a
pretty good show under his administration.” 2
Yet shortly after he attained the university presidency, the
idea must have occurred to Wilson that the other office was
within his reach. Slowly, almost imperceptibly, he began a
rapprochement with those forces in the Democratic party that
he had previously alienated, and Bryan, retreating from the
extreme position of 1896, commenced a counterpart action.
The reconcilation, a long time in coming, was dramatically
manifested at the Democratic convention of 1912 when Bryan,
after forty-five deadlocked ballots, threw his support and the
nomination to Wilson, now the one-term governor of New
Jersey.
The convention struggle was particularly hard fought be­
cause the Roosevelt-Taft split had made nomination the virtual
equivalent of election. For this reason the Democratic party,
which was as badly divided on the currency issue as it ever
was on slavery, nonetheless managed to close ranks around an
ambiguous plank asserting that banking should be the servant,
2 Letter from Edward A. Ross to Richard T. Ely in Joseph Dorfman, The Economic
Mind in American Civilization, III (New York: The Viking Press, 1959), p. 337.




—

4—

not the master, of commerce, and denouncing “ the Aldrich
Plan or the establishment of a central bank.”
Announced in January of 1912 after four years of formula­
tion, the Aldrich plan was the end product of a monetary in­
quiry to end all monetary inquiries. It was designed by the
National Monetary Commission, a bipartisan official body set
up in 1908 as a consequence of the financial panic of the pre­
ceding year, and named after the chairman, Senator Nelson
Aldrich of Rhode Island. The commission employed a large
staff of economists who produced an extensive number of re­
ports. The plan proposed to resolve the American monetary
problem through the foundation of a $100 million multibranched
corporation called the National Reserve Association. All na­
tional banks and qualifying state banks might become members
by subscribing a percentage of their capital and thereafter be
associated in a network of subassociations. The banks would
choose, directly or otherwise, forty-two of the association’s
forty-six directors with the remaining four being appointed by
the government. The association would issue bank notes against
its member banks’ prime borrowers’ paper, thereby permitting
the economy to generate money on schedules and in amounts
proportioned to its needs. Banks might or might not carry their
reserves with the association.
Characteristic of the latent fission in the Democratic party
were the varied responses to the proposal. A group of con­
servative Democrats in New York, headed by Henry Morgenthau, Sr., thought the Aldrich plan meritorious and construc­
tive. Predictably, the Bryanite wing of the party recoiled in
horror; Senator Robert Owen pronounced it “ a Central, AllControlling Bank in Private Hands.” The party’s center,
exemplified by Glass, was similarly hostile to “ that imperialis­
tic scheme to seize the banking business of the United States. ’ ’
Holding control of the House of Representatives by virtue
of the previous election and with an eye cocked on the forth­
coming presidential contest, the Democrats chose to take the
plan on the flank rather than by frontal attack. Complaints
were raised as to its cost ($102,357.37) and suggestions per­
sistently made that the array of reports merely duplicated
material already in the Library of Congress. The House Bank­
ing Committee gave the Aldrich proposal virtually no considera­
tion at all. Rather, it divided itself into two subcommittees.
One launched still another investigation into monetary and




— 5—

banking conditions, this time focusing on concentration of
financial power (“ the money trust” ) and coming up with sen­
sational fact and still more sensational inference. The second
group, headed by Glass and with Willis as its technical expert,
undertook to consider actual legislation.
It was this chairmanship that prompted Glass to seek an
interview with the President-elect. He was not the only one
who was curious about the latter’s views, for Wilson had won
the presidency by proving his own statement that the “ shoals
of candidacy can be passed only by a light boat which carries
little freight.” Typical of this wary noncommitment was the
enigmatic response on the Aldrich plan (“ . . . probably about
60 or 70 per cent correct . . . . ” ) to a group of New York con­
servatives seeking his support for it.
It was obvious that Wilson must have views on the matter;
he had taught economics for ten years. A fellow graduate
student at Johns Hopkins testified to his having read “ almost
everything that had been written on the monetary and banking
history of the United States.” Indeed, the one man Wilson
called his “ master” was Bagehot, whose writings included the
all-time monetary classic, Lombard Street. Yet it was also true
that Wilson, fascinated by both philosophy and power, was
bored by manipulative skills, monetary and otherwise. “ Neither
in that first meeting at Princeton or at any other,” said Glass,
“ did Mr. Wilson exhibit familiarity with banking technique.”
Doubtless this attitude accounted for the lackluster perform­
ance in his brief practice of law, but it also saved him from the
hazards of any doctrinaire utterance in the monetary contro­
versy where dialogue had been reduced to a sterile reiteration
of irreconcilable points of view. It also permitted him to review
the Glass proposal for the decentralized cooperatives not as
an economic formula but as a basis of political accommodation
He manifestly liked what he saw in both the man and the
measure. He badly needed a legislative leader in the House,
for he had defeated both the speaker and the Democratic floor
leadei for the party’s nomination. Glass seemed almost heaven
sent for the part, and so did the proposal, whose fresh and
novel approach suggested a possibility of flanking the hardened
lines of confrontation. He accordingly endorsed the regional
orientation of the Glass plan but suggested that the district
cooperatives be given more of a public character through pro­
vision for some nonbanker directors. Another of his sugges­




— 6—

tions was for replacing the Comptroller of the Currency with
a board — a “ capstone, ’ ’ Wilson called it.
After two hours of discussion from his sickbed, he sent his
visitors away with the commendation that they were “ far on
the right track.” Indeed, they were farther along than they
knew. Wilson had not been elected on a platform of monetary
reform and, in fact, had avoided explicit statements through­
out his campaign. It might well be said that an implied promise
of his candidacy, doubly relevant by virtue of his status as a
minority president, was a commitment to not rock the boat.
Yet well before his nomination to the presidency, Wilson had
both spoken his mind and suggested his ambition: “ . . . waiting
to be solved, lying as yet in the hinterland of party policy,
lurks the great question of banking reform. . . . This is the
greatest question of all. . . . ” 3

2. SPRING
Frustration on monetary reform, as far as a Democratic
administration was concerned, could be summed up in three
words: William Jennings Bryan. His power was sufficient to
block any measure. Yet no monetary measure that had his
approval could be passed, or so it seemed. For the aggrieved,
agrarian Bryan was the anointed leader. The days of William
Jennings Bryan, asserted a venerable congressman (Buckler)
in 1935, “ were fighting days; if you said anything against
Bryan, you got knocked over, that is all.” To others he was
either knave or fool, but in either capacity the most dangerous
man in the country.
To this was added a constitutional difficulty — the old pro­
vision that required the lame-duck Congress to meet immedi­
ately after the November elections and deferred the convening
of the newly elected Congress until considerably thereafter.
As a consequence, members of the House of Representatives
found themselves in the summer primaries almost as soon as the
new Congress had gotten down to business. And this meant the
Congressmen were back home, subject to local pressures, and
under compulsion to avoid antagonizing anyone in the contro­
versy that was more a search for allies than a quest for truth.
The constitutional difficulty could be overcome with the
presidential power to convene extraordinary sessions of Con­
gress, and this Wilson did almost as soon as he had taken the
3 Ray Stannard Baker, Woodrow Wilson, Life cmd Letters, IV (Garden City, N. Y .:
Doubleday, Page & Co., 1933), p. 136.




—

7—

inaugural oath. His specific objective for the special session
was tariff revision, a subject on which his party was tolerably
well united. Nevertheless, his message carried a broad hint
that other matters were afoot: “ At a later time I may take the
liberty of calling your attention to . . . reform of our banking
and currency laws.”
Actually, the currency bill had been the subject of extended
action well before Wilson’s inaugural. At the President-elect’s
suggestion to stay at work, to give all points of view a chance
to be heard but to avoid any indication of any particular plan,
the Glass subcommittee had droned through hearings in Janu­
ary, 1913, and a draft bill, embodying the material covered in
the Princeton meeting, had been reviewed in Wilson’s Trenton
offices on Jan. 30. The work of securing the indispensable
approval of Bryan had begun a month earlier, actually five
days before Glass and Willis went to Princeton.
Apparently nothing came from the three-hour conference
on Dec. 21, 1913, when Bryan visited the Wilson home and
emerged with a wilted collar instead of the anticipated Cabinet
appointment. Wilson apparently wanted to subject Bryan to
a sense of apprehension and insecurity, for he delayed until
almost the last minute in appointing him Secretary of State.
Happily, the condition of the world was such that, aside from
some rumbles in Mexico, the job was the easiest in the Cabinet.
Indeed, filling it was quite compatible with continuing on the
chautauqua lecture circuit, an item Bryan made a condition
of appointment.
Bryan had mellowed considerably from the firebrand of
1896, and his association with the radical elements of the Demo­
cratic party that bore his name was more vestigial sentimental­
ity than position of command. Nonetheless, characteristic of
his still provocative qualities was the attitude of the Times:
“ There are many good reasons, sound public reasons, why
Mr. BRYAN ought not to be appointed to cabinet office.”
Out in Chicago, Finley Peter Dunne’s Mr. Dooley looked at
Bryan’s talents and advanced a countervailing reason why the
man would be less dangerous within the Administration than
outside it: “ With a brick in his hand he’s as deadly as a
rifleman. An’ I ’d rather have him close to me bosom than on
me back.” 4
* John Dos Passos, Mr. Wilson’s War (Garden City, N. Y .: Doubleday & Company,
Inc., 1962), p. 74.




Thus, with one brilliant stroke and in a policy of calculated
estrangement, Bryan was checkmated during initial deploy­
ment. Neutralizing the orator of twenty years before would
have been a difficult if not impossible task. The fire, however,
was burning low, and at the initial Cabinet meetings the sole
echo of the old philippics was Bryan’s weekly inquiry on a
pending agrarian bill: “ Why shouldn’t Congress lend the
farmers money at 4% ?” (Secretary of Agriculture Houston
would explain why not, and, duly satisfied, Bryan would indi­
cate agreement until he repeated the question the following
week.) This containment of Bryan was, however, only one
part of the strategy of preventing, at all costs, a defensive
coalition between the radicals and the conservatives. Avoiding
any premature move was another item, and, to this end, formal
organization of the House Banking and Currency Committee
was deferred when the new Congress convened on April 8,
1913, pursuant to the President’s call.
Yet even this shrewd move had its price and its dangers.
Glass, who by seniority would be the committee’s chairman, was
placed in the distasteful position of dependence on the Admin­
istration, for it was uncertain whether the selection would be
made in the traditional manner. Bryan, with an obvious eye to
putting an agrarian radical in the chair, had been suggesting
that the customary method of selection be scrapped, and, curi­
ously, the conservative financial interests were manifesting a
like point of view but from a diametrically opposite motive.
“ You know, Willis,” a powerful banker told the committee’s
adviser, “ there is such a thing as getting a Committee chair­
man who will accept our [Aldrich] plan.”
The presumption in the remark was not without foundation;
ever since the turn of the year and, in fact, even before,
Wilson’s closest adviser had been in New York carrying on
conversations with the prominent representatives of the world
of finance. The adviser was “ Colonel” House, wealthy son of
an English immigrant, who previously had managed the cam­
paigns of several Texas governors. As this background sug­
gested, the colonel’s taste ran to behind-the-scenes negotiation,
and the New York assignment was one he relished particularly:
“ December 19, 1912, I talked to Paul Warburg over the tele­
phone regarding currency reform . . . . ”
“ February 26, 1913, . . . I first talked with Mr. Frick and
afterward with Otto Kahn . . . . ”




— 9—

“ March 27, 1913, Mr. J. P. Morgan, Jr., . . . came promptly
at five. ’ ’5

In addition to his glamourous reputation, the colonel carried
impressive credentials in the form of a copy of the Glass pro­
posal. It was characteristic of both his standing and his
methods that, when his request for a copy had been refused
by Glass, he successfully renewed his bid through the President.
Secrecy would have been difficult enough even with only the
colonel’s operations involved. But there were others; Glass
himself had undertaken to review the measure with the Cur­
rency Commission of the American Bankers Association. Hence,
in the Washington atmosphere of surveillance, tale bearing,
and espionage, it was impossible to keep rumors of develop­
ments out of the press (“ CURRENCY BILL BEING
DRAWN,” announced the Times), much less away from the
Secretary of State.
Bryan may have been mellowing, but he was still a man
whose entire public career and philosophy had been built on
the proposition that currency issuance was a governmental
function that had been usurped by the banks. He was exceed­
ingly disturbed at those provisions of the Glass bill contem­
plating currency in the form of bank notes rather than green­
backs. He confronted first the presidential secretary (“ Who
from Wall Street has been discussing this bill with the Presi­
dent?” ), then his fellow members in the Cabinet (“ I broke with
Cleveland on the money question. . . . ” ) and, finally, Wilson
himself. The President evaded a showdown and responded to
the secretary via statements to third parties alternating rebuff
(“ It begins to look as if W. J. B. and I have come to the part­
ing of the ways. . . . ” ) and conciliation (“ There is much in
what Mr. Bryan says” 6). For his own part, Bryan was also
capable of psychological warfare, and offered not only to resign
but even to leave the country so as to avoid embarrassing the
Administration on a currency measure he could not support.
Wilson wanted no part of such heroic immolation and turned
Bryan over to the Secretary of the Treasury. McAdoo, one­
time attorney, securities salesman, and promoter, never worked
harder than he did at that University Club spring luncheon in
5 Charles Seymour, ed., The Intimate Papers of Colonel House, I (Boston: Houghton
Mifflin Company, 1923), p. 161.
6 The quotations in this paragraph are from Joseph P. Tumulty, Woodrow Wilson as
I Know Him (Garden City, N. Y .: Doubleday, Page & Co., 1921), p. 179, and
Josephus Daniels, The Wilson Era (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina
Press, 1944), p. 65.




— 10 —

attempting to bring Bryan behind the Federal Reserve pro­
posal by making the Reserve Bank notes government obliga­
tions. It is one of history’s minor mysteries that, notwith­
standing the flood of books on the origins of the Federal Reserve
Act, no one seems to know who thought up the compromise,
although the concept bears McAdoo’s promoter’s touch. Irre­
spective of authorship, however, and almost unbelievably, the
idea of crossing the greenback and the bank note, making the
Federal'Reserve notes obligations of the issuing banks and of
the government, served its purpose; it resolved at one swoop
the controversy of fifty years. Bryan acceded: “ If the provi­
sions . . . are inserted, the bill would satisfy me and I could
give it my hearty support.”
Indeed, before the spring had ended, the problem for Wilson
became not that of capturing Bryan, but of holding Glass on
the party reservation. The peppery Virginian, whose pride
was that his bill provided a currency based on commercial
assets rather than the government’s printing press, was furious
over the McAdoo currency compromise, and it took a major
effort by Wilson to soothe him.
Glass did, however, best McAdoo in another confrontation.
This occurred in late spring when the Secretary of the Treas­
ury, skeptical of the capacity of the Glass bill to steer clear of
the twin hazards of reaction and radicalism, turned his brilliant
and energetic talents to devising a rival plan of currency re­
form. Doubtless undertaken in collaboration with Colonel
House, the McAdoo plan envisaged a Treasury bank, a massive
issue of Treasury notes, and a sequestration of gold. McAdoo
claimed for it widespread support of both conservative bankers
and radical reformers. Glass was dumbfounded when McAdoo
disclosed the details. (“ Are you serious . . .
“ Hell, yes,”
was the reply.) Glass quickly obtained telegraphic condemna­
tion from the supposedly sponsoring bankers and torpedoed
the idea so completely that years later McAdoo lamely ex­
plained the whole thing as a ruse de guerre thought up to push
banks behind the Glass proposal.
Glass lost the third skirmish. This time his antagonist was
his opposite number, Owen, chairman of the Senate Banking
Committee. Strong-minded, even opinionated, Owen had been
for many years a student of banking affairs. He was the
founder and long-time president of the First National Bank
of Muscogee (then Indian Territory). He had seen financial




— 11 —

panic at firsthand and had studied European systems in trips
abroad. He was drawing up his own bill based on this experi­
ence, and it was to be expected that the pride of authorship and
sense of expertise would make him doubly critical of the Glass
measure.
Owen’s specific reservations were not the ones that might
be expected from a seasoned banker; they were based on appre­
hension over the degree and character of control over the
Federal Reserve System that was to be given to the member
banks. Actually, Wilson shared this feeling somewhat, and it
was at his suggestion that, in the early stages of drafting, the
corporate structure of the issuing reserve banks had been
progressively amended to emphasize their public character.
The number of directors had been reduced from fifteen to nine,
and only three of these might be bankers. The remaining six
were divided equally between directors appointed by the gov­
ernment and directors elected by the banks but representative
of borrowing businesses. A mixture of public and private inter­
ests also characterized the superintending board. Originally
contemplated and variously structured in the early drafts of
the Glass bill was a bicameral structure of a large Federal
Reserve Commission (drawn principally from the banks but
with a few government representatives) and a small Federal
Reserve Board drawn from the same sources but in reverse
proportion.
Banker representation was particularly repellent to Owen,
and he forcefully argued the point at the White House. “ After
a discussion of two hours . . ., ” Owen later recalled, “ the
President coincided with my contention that . . . no individual,
however respectable, should be on this Board representing
private interests.” Notwithstanding the vigorous and repeated
objections of Glass, Wilson ordered the central board to be a
wholly governmental body of nine men. His fragile coalition
formed by bargain and counterbargain, Wilson prepared to
send the bill to Capitol Hill and overrode an adviser’s sugges­
tion that submission was untimely. (“ We shall never find the
time . . . because whenever action is contemplated the same
obstructions will arise.” ) Still very much the schoolmaster, he
rallied his forces for the hard fight ahead with a reminiscence
of his academic days: “ . . . when the boys at Princeton came
to me and told me they were going to lose a football game, they




— 12 —

always lost. We must not lose this game; too much is in­
volved.” 7

3. SUMMER
McAdoo reminisced years later: “ As I look back on that
ardent summer of 1913, I wonder how the Federal Reserve
Act ever struggled into existence.” 8 The intensity of the heat
of the early summer was a matter of universal concern, and
even Wilson remarked on it in the special message on banking
reform he read to a joint session of Congress (“ the heated
season of the year is upon us” ). In the large cities, crowds
gathered to watch record highs recorded on electric signs, while
in the country much of the corn crop shriveled under the
blazing sun.
Washington exceeded its usual torrid self, and Wilson sent
his wife and daughters off to the coolness of New Hampshire.
Members of Congress, feeling the heat of both weather and
politics, suggested that the monetary proposals be shelved
temporarily so that they might follow the example of the first
family. Adjournment, however, was absolutely out of the ques­
tion for, in all probability, a return home and exposure to local
pressures meant stalemate and frustration. Drawing the ut­
most advantage from his frigid face and impeccable Palm
Beach suit, Wilson sent an imperious refusal back to Congress:
“ Please say to those gentlemen on the Hill who urge a post­
ponement of the matter that the Washington weather . . . fully
agrees with me and that unless final action is taken on this
measure at this session, I will immediately call Congress
back. . . . ”
In addition to the tactic of keeping the presidential pres­
sures to a maximum and the local ones reduced, Congress had
to be kept in session to exploit once more the maneuver that
had been so successfully used in Wilson’s opening gambit on
the tariff. The first move in the sequence was to skip public
hearings on the ground that these had already been held at
nauseating length. (Here, the Glass hearings of January sud­
denly took on new relevance.) Then, in rapid succession, the
subsequent steps unfolded: alignment of the Democrats on the
key committee, endorsement of the bill by the Democratic
7 Woodrow Wilson as I Know Him, p. 174.
8 McAdoo’s reminiscences are from William Gibbs McAdoo, Crowded Years (Boston:
Houghton Mifflin Company, 1931), p. 224.




— 13 —

caucus, and finally, with the party formed into a phalanx, sub­
mission of the measure to general debate. Speaking for the
Republican minority, Senator Nelson bitterly charged the
Democrats with creating a “ new parliamentary rule. . . . When
your president or you see fit to label a measure a party measure
. . . [you] hold a party caucus on it . . . and ignore us.” The
Democrats replied that they were merely following the prece­
dent established by “ Czar” Reed during the Republican ascend­
ancy. They might have also cited Wilson, the graduate student,
who called the caucus “ the drilling ground of the party,” and
who noted that: “ . . . unfortunate as the necessity is for the
caucus’ existence . . . that necessity exists and cannot be
neglected.”
T

hunder

on

the

R ig h t

Exemplifying the divergent extremes threatening the bill
and justifying the Wilsonian legislative tactics was the oppo­
sition manifested by both the Bryanite radicals in the House
Banking Committee and by the Currency Committee of the
American Bankers Association. Some members of the latter
group had been extremely critical when Glass reviewed the bill
with them the preceding spring.
The American financial community saw the banking net­
work, notwithstanding its faults, as a delicate, sensitive, and
complex instrument whereby funds were collected and allocated
throughout the country through the medium of reserve balances
kept with large banks in the financial centers. Generally, the
disposition was to keep what was known and to improve on it
by drawing on European experience with a single central bank.
Glass, on the other hand, viewed the deposits kept by country
banks in the financial centers as local money hidden away from
worthy local uses to finance gambling in the commodity and
securities markets. Moreover, his Virginian distaste for being
ruled from afar found a central bank in Wall Street or a Treas­
ury bureau in Washington equally repellent. For him, the
transfer of reserve balances from the money markets to the
regional reserve banks were a sine qua non of reform. For
most bankers, such a transfer was an act of doctrinaire folly
capable of starting the “ damnedest panic this country has
ever seen.”
More outrageous to bankers at the moment, however, was
the elimination of their representation from the proposed




— 14 —

Federal Reserve Board, charged with superintending what they
were supposed to found and finance. In this sense of injustice
they had the full support of Glass. In fact, Glass secured a
White House appointment for June 30 in order that the bankers
might make a collective statement of grievances. From the
banker’s point of view, they had unwittingly secured a bad
place on the presidential calendar. Wilson had just accepted
an unwanted invitation to make an Independence Day speech
at Gettysburg. While unwanted, the commitment reinforced a
sense of office which needed little strengthening. “ Nothing
must be suffered to subtract by an iota from the force I need
to do the work assigned to me,” Wilson wrote his wife the
night before the meeting.
Apparently, the visitors did not sense his mood, for they
hammered their case home with such forcefulness that Glass
began to regret subjecting the President to the ordeal. He
need not have been so apprehensive. Wilson had remained icy
and self-possessed through the initial confrontation. His re­
sponse to the round of protests was a mock-simple inquiry as
to whether any civilized country put representatives of private
interests on governmental commissions. “ There was,” recalled
Glass, “ painful silence for. the longest single moment I ever
spent; and before it was broken, Mr. Wilson further inquired:
‘ Which of you gentlemen thinks the railroads should elect the
members of the Interstate Commerce Commission?’ ’ ’<
J
The bankers’ failure to speak was not due to an inability
to respond with facts, for they could have cited cognitive Euro­
pean precedent. Rather, the silence was the reaction of men
of affairs who knew they just lost a critical test of strength.
Moreover, it could well have manifested apprehension of a
presidential riposte marking them out as the sacrificial victims
chosen to advance the administration’s monetary program.
Certainly, the current battle over the tariff offered an ominous
precedent, for there Wilson’s reaction to opposition was a
slashing and personalized counterattack (“ WILSON DE­
NOUNCES TARIFF LOBBYISTS,” cried the Times).
C ounterattack

in

the

Center

The bankers retired in disorder. Some elected to support
the Glass bill on the basis of the conciliatory counteroffers that
the Administration had tendered — an extension on the transfer
9 Carter Glass, An Adventure in Constructive Finance (Garden City, N. Y .: Doubleday, Page & Co., 1927), p. 116.




— 15 —

of reserves from the money markets to the Reserve Banks and
the creation of a Federal Advisory Council as a supplementary
apparatus to the all-government Federal Reserve Board. Most
other bankers were uncompromisingly and publicly hostile —
so much so, in fact, that when a sudden economic faltering
occurred in early summer, McAdoo promptly accused the big
banks of dumping their government bonds in an effort to sabo­
tage the monetary reform via market turbulence.
He did not seem particularly discomfited when publication
of portfolio figures indicated banks had been net buyers of
government bonds during the period in question. Rather, as
the evidence came in, it became abundantly clear that the
ubiquity of the malaise could not possibly be the work of a
few banks. Stock and bond prices slithered, the call-money rate
jumped, and crop loan demand stiffened. All were the historic
symptoms of an approaching money panic. As quick to act as
he was to accuse, McAdoo responded with a countrywide offer
of government deposits to be collaterized by bonds, the tradi­
tional security, and by note portfolios, which was unprece­
dented. The bold maneuver told. At one stroke, McAdoo eased
credit, firmed the securities markets, financed the harvest, and
nipped a disturbance, if not a panic, in the bud.
McAdoo obviously had another objective in mind — to split
the banking community along a big-small line. Indeed, a sign
of this tactic had clearly emerged in June when Senator Owen
went back to his native state, addressed the Virginia Bankers
Association (“ The time has come for the big banks in this
country to get out of the governing business” ), and came
back with its endorsement of the Administration program.
Yet the Virginia action was a false dawn; as summer
progressed, it seemed apparent that the banks, large and small,
were coalescing on the side of the opposition.
Extended reflection was producing a growing opposition on
the part of bankers toward the transfer of reserve balances to
the proposed and unprecedented regional banks. “ A banker,”
wrote Bagehot, “ dealing with the money of others, and money
payable on demand, must be always, as it were, looking behind
him and seeing that he has reserve enough. . . . Adventure is
the life of commerce, but caution . . . is the life of banking.” 1
0
Hence it came as no surprise that when the Currency Commis­
sion regrouped in Chicago, it pronounced the Glass bill danger10 Lombard Street, pp. 220-21.




— 16 —

ous folly, and proposed that, in lieu of legislative action at
the current session of Congress, still another commission be
formed to study and report.
T

hunder

on

the

L eft

The agrarian Democrats on the House Banking Committee
seemed to be as hostile to the Glass bill as the bankers were.
Indeed, news of the dissension on the majority side of the com­
mittee worried Mrs. Wilson almost as much as her husband’s
bachelor regimen. On the latter count, Wilson responded that
while he was eating well and taking exercise, “ the real source
of youth and renewal for me is my love for you, the sweetheart
I picked out the moment I laid eyes on her and who has been
my fountain of joy and comfort ever since.” His comment on
the Federal Reserve bill was less lyric: “ It happens, by very
bad luck, that practically all the men likely to . . . give trouble,
whether in the House or in the Senate, are on the Committees
now handling the matter. When once it is out of their hands,
I believe we will have comparative plain sailing.” 1 The com­
1
mentary was ironic, for the Democrats on the House Banking
Committee had been practically handpicked for amenability
to the Administration program. Yet, the Bryanite Democrats
were too numerous to be completely excluded, and there was a
vigorous trio on the banking group. They had their own bill,
which proposed to mend the currency problem by a gigantic
issue of greenbacks that would in turn be tied to price supports
for farm products, funds for public works, and loans to commerical enterprise. (It was this proposal that prompted Bryan’s
weekly question at the Cabinet meeting.) Masterminded by
Congressman Henry, chairman of the powerful Rules Com­
mittee, they fought Glass step by step. At one point they almost
goaded the Virginian into throwing in his hand, and it took an
unprecedented flash of profanity from the President to send
Glass back to the fight: “ Damn it, don’t resign, old fellow;
outvote them.”
Thanks to the repeated intervention of the President, Speak­
er Champ Clark, and Majority Leader Oscar Underwood, the
bill finally cleared the majority side of the Banking Commit­
tee on Aug. 6 by an 11 to 3 vote for presentation to the party
caucus. Yet the divided vote gave cause for some uneasiness,
II Eleanor Wilson McAdoo, ed., The Priceless Gift: The Love Letters of Woodrow
Wilson and Ellen Axson Wilson (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Co., Inc., 1962),
p. 284.




— 17 —

and the apprehension was reinforced when Henry took the floor
of the House and floridly commemorated Congressman Bryan’s
break with President Cleveland over the money question.
At the caucus, Henry was far more direct and forceful, and,
speaking in the best cross-of-gold tradition, invoked the shade
of Andrew Jackson against the Glass bill. Glass spoke in
rebuttal for the Administration and brought an irresistible
weapon into play — a letter from Bryan calling on his fol­
lowers “ to stand by the President and assist him in securing
the passage of this bill at the earliest possible moment.” Bed­
lam followed as cheer after cheer went up in the caucus room.
(“ BRYAN LETTER ROUTS RADICALS,” umpired the
Times.) Almost unnoticed were the little band of irreconcilables, now doubly furious that their idol had shown feet of
clay. The vote, taken after order was restored, formalized the
rout — 168 for and 9 against. On Sept. 2, the bill was first
submitted to the full Banking Committee with the Republicans
being presented a fait accompli for comment and suggestion.
Consideration was a formality as was the week of House debate.
Indeed, the favorable vote of 287 to 85 on Sept. 18 proved the
thesis of Wilson, the graduate student, that “ the House sits . . .
but to ratify the decisions of its major committees.”
4. AUTUMN
S talem ate

Everyone concerned with the matter knew the critical test
of strength would come in the Senate, and, before summer was
far along, it was also obvious that the test would be extremely
difficult. The Democrats held the Senate by a wafer-thin
margin, and, moreover, the upper house could not be maneu­
vered like the lower one. Even worse was the Administration’s
lack of a field captain comparable to Glass.
On the contrary, there seemed some question as to which
side Owen, chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, was on.
Owen had surrendered his own bill, becoming the nominal co­
sponsor of the Glass measure, and he demonstrated just how
nominal this was by choosing the time of the House caucus to
assail the regional basis of the Glass bill and its provision for
compulsory membership for national banks. Mrs. Wilson was
“ dazed and heartsick” with the news: “ Now tonight a fresh
shock. The World reports that Owen has ‘ killed the currency




— 18 —

bill!’ Killed the bill that was named for him or has he gone
mad?” 1
2
Called to the White House, Owen duly recanted (“ OWEN
STILL LOYAL,” announced the Times), but his erratic be­
havior was symptomatic of troubles ahead. The tariff bill had
just been whipped through the Senate by the virtually unprec­
edented use of a party caucus (called a “ conference” in
deference to senatorial sensibilities), but the price had come
high in terms of resentment and irritation. The Banking Com­
mittee mirrored the mood of the parent body, and its temper
showed how illusory the Democratic majority was.
Of the seven Democrats, one was the restive Owen. Another
was New York’s James Aloysius O’Gorman, already hostile
over a patronage controversy. A third was the brilliant, witty,
and opinionated Gilbert M. Hitchcock of Nebraska who disliked
both Bryan and Wilson. A fourth was Missouri’s James Eeed,
irascible and pugnacious. The Administration had only four
dependable votes on the twelve-man committee. “ We maneu­
vered on the slimmest of margins,” recalled McAdoo. Wilson
nonetheless reassured his wife:
“ No, there is no new trouble over the currency bill. I had seen
all along that it is going to be a hard matter to get it through
the Senate Committee . . . without radical changes because of
Senator 0 ’Gorman and Senator Hitchcock who happen to be
members of the Committee and almost the only serious critics
of the bill on our side of . . . the Senate. ’ ’1S

The assurances had a hollow ring in the context of the
Administration’s first serious setback, which came on the issue
of Senate hearings. The Administration had taken the tariff
bill through both Senate and House without hearings on the
plea that longstanding review and discussion had deprived such
a procedure of any useful purpose. The same plea had been
used on the Glass bill, successfully so in the House. The pitcher,
however, went to the well once too often; the Senate overrode
Administration wishes and voted to hold full-scale hearings.
Accordingly, its Banking Committee became a forum for oppos­
ing views that nonetheless united in opposing the Glass bill.
An eminent banker, Festus J. Wade, summed up his view of
what the measure seemed to be telling him: “ You must sub­
scribe to this doctrine, give up 10 per cent of your capital and
50 per cent of your reserve money or you must go out of busi12 The Priceless Gift, p. 299.
13 The Priceless Gift, pp. 300-01.




— 19 —

ness or out of the national banking System.” Contrariwise,
Samuel Untermeyer, a prominent liberal lawyer, assailed it:
“ It seems to me this bill is overgenerous to banks, both in
freeing them from competition and other objects; more gener­
ous than any known system of any civilized countries.”
The hearings dragged on and on. The weather continued
hot. The stalemate deepened and showed itself in the sharp
t9ne of the President’s letter to his wife: “ I am perfectly well.
To say that I have my back against the wall is ridiculous. The
Senate is tired, some members of its Committee are irritable.
. . . Please pay no attention to what the papers say. . . . ” 1
4
Wilson apparently expected the committee to report out a
bill in fairly short order, and he promised to come up to New
Hampshire as soon as such action was effected. Yet, September
turned into October, and the seemingly interminable hearing
continued to drone along, although some Democratic dissidents
showed signs of wavering in their obduracy: “ Are Hitchcock
and O’Gorman listening to reason? No. Hitchcock never will.
O’Gorman is showing signs of yielding but not to reason —
[but] to the force of opinion. . . . A little more patience and
a little more impatience will work things out.” 1
5
C r is is

Pressure mounted as October wore on. McAdoo’s massive
deposit operation of midsummer failed to split the banking
community. On the contrary, the October convention of the
American Bankers Association showed a unanimity of banking
sentiment opposing the Glass bill. The Commercial and Finan­
cial Chronicle reported that feeling against the bill ran so
strong “ that difficulty was experienced in keeping the resolu­
tions in opposition within moderate bounds, so as not to give
offense to the President, whose good intentions are admitted
but whose endeavors are viewed with alarm.”
Duplicating his tour de force on the tariff, when he actually
turned the power of the opposition against itself, Wilson actu­
ally made an asset of the banker position. He brilliantly ex­
ploited the suggestion of yet another commission, and refused
to so much as give a hearing to the proponents of the plan:
“ . . . I have seen these men. . . . The essence of their case
was that nothing should be done. . . . I will not see them again.
You can tell them why.” Even so, it almost seemed that the
14 The Priceless Gift, pp. 302-03.
15 The Priceless Gift, pp. 302-03.




— 20 —

President was deliberately adding to his enemies. The press
(save for “ a few hide-bound Democratic papers” ), the publi­
cists, and the men of affairs were all coming out against the
Glass bill. A prominent Chicago banker charged that the bill
would deflate the money supply by $1.8 billion, an argument
somewhat diminished when Senator Elihu Root would choose
exactly the same figure as an inflation potential. A Yale pro­
fessor said the measure would “ involve the country in grave
financial danger.” Railroad king James J. Hill pronounced it
“ socialistic” and ex-Senator Nelson Aldrich “ revolutionary,
socialistic, and unconstitutional.” Nonetheless, the President
who had been in office scarcely six months was using its power
and prestige as to the manner born, and was more than holding
his own.
He moved out cautiously against his senatorial opposition.
First came a vague hint that the bill would become a party
measure subject to caucus action. “ That was necessary,” Mrs.
Wilson loyally but mistakenly wrote, “ because the Republicans
would fight it to the last ditch. It sounds like the sort of thing
politicians would do.” Correct or otherwise, the consolation
was needed by Wilson. With the blistering heat continuing into
early fall, the tension was telling on him even more than the
Senate, and he began to complain of an inability to manage
both the government and his stomach. (“ I have been under
the weather myself . . . for perhaps a week . . . a terrible strain
if the truth be told. . . . We shall get the currency bill through
in due time.” ) Not that he told his wife. Rather, 1m letters
north had a light note, but even their levity suggested how
necessary her devotion was to him:
“ Do you realize that I have been alone in this old mansion for
about half the time I have been President. . . . No doubt it was
best. It does not do to indulge Presidents for twelve months
together. . . . Their households are too apt to deem them great
men and persuade them . . . to entertain the same notion.” 16

Wilson waited until the last week of October to force the
issue in a series of meetings with the dissident Democrats of
the Senate Banking Committee. The first crack in the icejam
came on Oct. 20 when Senator 0 ’Gorman issued a statement
to the New York World and crossed over to the Administra­
tion camp. Close on his heels followed Missouri’s irascible
Reed who, characteristically, extorted a presidential testimonial
16 Woodrow Wilson, Life and Letters, IV, pp. 312-13.




— 21 —

to his “ sincere honesty and independence of judgment” as the
price of surrender.
Immovable, however, was Nebraska’s Hitchcock, whose
obduracy received last-minute fortification from a proposal
submitted by a prominent New York banker. Hitchcock had
almost carried the committee with his ideas of reducing the
number of reserve banks to four, of having a majority of gov­
ernment directors thereon, and providing for popular rather
than commercial bank purchase of Reserve Bank stock. “ At this
juncture,” reports the Congressional Record, “ outside influ­
ences began to be felt upon the committee. . . . We were told
that the President could not accept the decision reached by
the majority.” However, these centralizing concerts received
a powerful assist from Frank Yanderlip, president of the Na­
tional City Bank of New York, who revived the McAdoo idea
of a single government bank staffed from top to bottom with
government personnel. He presented it with the approval of
a large group of influential financiers who reluctantly conceded
that, if forced to choose between reserve depositaries, they
preferred a centralized governmental system to a decentralized
semiprivate one.
Glass, however, regarded the Vanderlip proposal as a lastminute device to derail his own bill without enacting anything
else. Wilson agreed and, repeating his tactic of ostracism, re­
fused Yanderlip an interview: “ . . . it would be quite useless
for me to discuss it with you.” Any serious danger in the
Vanderlip plan or elsewhere seemed scotched when the results
of the special elections came in. “ Revolt against the President
Ends in Fiasco,” reported the Times. “ Attempt at Insurgency
Headed by Senators O ’Gorman, Reed, and Hitchcock Went to
Smash When Elections of November 4 Resulted in President’s
Favour.”
Yet Hitchcock, despite the Times’ report, was far from
undone. He withstood Wilson’s threats and blandishments
alike, and on Nov. 10 he rose in the Senate to report the Bank­
ing Committee in hopeless deadlock. Six Democrats were now
supporting the Glass bill, while five Republicans plus himself
supported the Hitchcock bill embodying the ideas on which he
had almost sold a majority of the committee. But the purpose
of Hitchcock’s speech was primarily a declaration of independ­
ence, for he also disclosed that preparations for a party caucus




— 22 —

were under way and that he did not intend to be bound by its
decision.
Not only was a caucus in process of preparation, but Admin­
istration senators were circulating a petition to discharge the
Banking Committee. The latter proceedings were temporarily
deferred to spare the sensibilities of Owen, and he reciprocated
by finally bringing the Glass bill to the floor on Nov. 22. The
committee deadlock forced him to bring it in without recom­
mendation, and the Hitchcock bill was also reported. On Nov.
27 the Senate’s Democratic “ conference” voted to make the
bill a party measure. Given the Senate’s tradition of independ­
ence and Hitchcock’s advanced defiance, the declaration was
almost meaningless.

5. CHRISTMAS, 1913
Of extreme significance, however, was the caucus decision
that the Senate would take no Christmas adjournment until the
currency measure was disposed of. Doubtless even more deci­
sive was the suggestion probably presented at this point “ that
the Federal Reserve Bill . . . be placed on the President’s
Christmas table as a gift from his devoted friends in the
Democratic party.” 1
7
The heart, it is said, has reasons of which the head knows
nothing, and the slogan that the bill be made a Christmas pres­
ent for the President apparently prevailed where the prompt­
ings of logic, the demonstrations of economics, and even the
inclinations of irascibility all failed. Like the initial Federal
Reserve note compromise, the authorship of the plea is un­
known, but, like the initial compromise, it bears McAdoo’s
promoter’s touch. Whoever wrote it, it was a flourish uniting
holiday cheer with party solidarity. It strengthened the
waverer, converted the marginal, and, above all, exercised the
possibility of a filibuster, which had always loomed in the
background.
The dissolution of the filibuster threat, however, was also
due in large measure to Owen, who had gone against Admin­
istration policy in permitting all sides to more than have their
say in the seemingly endless committee hearings, and whose
bumbling ways in this respect carried a greater wisdom than
Wilson’s imperious intelligence. Appropriately, it fell to Owen
17 Paul Moritz Warburg, The Federal Reserve System, I (New York: The Macmillan
Company, 1930), p. 126.




— 23 —

to make the introductory speech on the Federal Reserve bill
and thereby open one of the great Senate debates. The first
highwater mark came when Senator Elihu Root, fresh from
receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, unlimbered a powerful intellec­
tual attack on the bill and bent, but failed to break, the Demo­
cratic ranks.
“ ROOT SEES PERIL IN MONEY BILL, PICTURES
VAST INFLATION,” reported the Times. In a sense, Root
was merely echoing the jape of the Gridiron Dinner, which
made the head of Coxey’s Army Wilson’s first appointment to
the Federal Reserve Board (notwithstanding the fact that
“ General” Coxey had testified against the bill). Happily for
his sake, a cold kept Wilson from the Gridiron Dinner. Even
in the best of health and spirits, his one-way sense of humor
would not have been touched by the suggestion, and at this
point both he and Mrs. Wilson badly need the Gulf Coast vaca­
tion they had planned for the Christmas holidays.
Indeed, his bags had been packed by mid-December in anti­
cipation of final action on the Glass bill by that time. The
temptation to leave on vacation irrespective of legislative prog­
ress must have been immensely tempting. Nonetheless, Wilson
repeated his intransigence of early summer and announced that
he would deny a holiday to himself and Congress alike until
the Federal Reserve bill was out of the way. The target date
now became Christmas, but it was tentative. “ It is not be­
lieved here that this can be accomplished,” pessimistically
noted the Times, and some observers began to doubt whether
the bill could be passed by the following summer.
Yet the unremitting presidential pressure was slowly telling.
On Dec. 17 the Senate unanimously consented to making the
nineteenth the last day of debate, although not without reproach
as to “ a certain dictatorial mind. ’ ’ On the nineteenth, the really
decisive vote was had, not on the Glass bill but on the Hitch­
cock substitute. It was rejected by the razor-thin margin of
43-41 with Reed and 0 ’Gorman casting critically important
votes in support of the Administration. The issue, of course,
went far deeper than the trivial differences between the two
bills, both of which contemplated regional banks, a government
board, and the “ government bank note” currency. Rather the
vote was the last critical and disputed barricade. Hence, ap­
proval of the Glass bill came as an anticlimax with even the
unpredictable Hitchcock’s support: “ I shall vote for it. I have




— 24 —

never for a moment had any other purpose.” The tally was
54-34, and it was finished at 7 :42 p.m.
Present in the gallery were Secretary McAdoo, Mrs. Wilson,
and Miss Margaret Wilson with a party of friends. It was a
doubly appropriate gathering; McAdoo, already the closest
member of the President’s official family, was about to join the
personal one. A middle-aged widower, he had gotten into the
habit of taking the President’s daughter Eleanor on evening
walks from the White House to Washington Monument. Some­
times he talked of his problems, which Miss Wilson, though
anxious to appear intelligent and sympathetic, found incom­
prehensible : “ One night he began to talk about the currency bill
and I was in a panic. ’ ,1 Perhaps he should have wondered why
8
she preferred monologues about the Federal Reserve to dancing
the turkey trot with the young army and navy officers, but it
took her pending departure for the Gulf to make him realize the
true character of his own feelings. He was apprehensive over
the possible rebuff in revealing them and had correctly ap­
praised what public reaction would attend any May-September
engagement. Nevertheless, he was no man to hang back, spoke
his mind accordingly, and later recorded his successful proposal
in a brief and moving sentence: ‘ ‘ There, seated on a park bench
in the evening twilight, I made my confession.”
A more complex item of rapport involved agreement be­
tween the House and Senate. Although the upper chamber had
passed the Glass bill in substance, the text had. been amended
both on the floor and in committee in a hundred particulars.
With the possible exception of deposit insurance as added by
the Senate, and later excised, the differences fade into trivial
insignificance from the perspective of fifty years. At the time,
however, they seemed most substantial, and prompted the
Democrats to follow party-line discipline to the end. To be sure
there were other reasons — the Senate-House conference on
the tariff had sputtered for weeks before producing a recipro­
cally agreeable bill.
On Saturday, Dec. 20, both the Senate and House appointed
conferees, and the Democrats selected promptly went into a
partisan rump session that lasted on and off until 4 a.m. on
Monday, Dec. 22. The draft of the final compromise, substan­
tially the text and tenor of the Glass bill, was back from the
18 Eleanor Wilson McAdoo, The Woodrow Wilsons
Company, 1937), p. 258.




— 25 —

(New York:

The Macmillan

printer at 7, delivered to the Republicans at 1 p.m., and the
pro forma conference meeting scheduled for 4 p.m. The Repub­
licans were furious and refused to sign the conference report.
“ We were called up,” protested Republican Senator Nelson,
“ just as a criminal is called up, after a sentence of conviction
against him, and asked what we had to say why sentence of
the Democrats should not be passed upon us.” If at some time
such a summary exercise of power might have been fatal, that
time was gone, lost in momentum of victory and the press to
adjourn for Christmas.
Indeed, the approaching holidays lent a genially expansive
air to the final proceedings. Much of the oratory carried a
good-humored note of buncombe: “ . . . the Democratic party
is in control, God reigns, and all is well with the Republic,”
orated Congressman Heflin to the stormy applause of the Demo­
cratic side. A few dissenters like maverick Republican Charles
A. Lindbergh, Sr. threw the Democrats’ motto back in their
teeth with a denunciation of the “ Christmas present to the
money trust,” but their resistance was as chaff before the wind.
The House adopted the conference report by a lopsided 298 to
60, late on the night of Dec. 22, and did so, appropriately, at
about the same time Wilson was singing “ Old Nassau” and
receiving the student cheers at the Triangle Club’s Washington
performance.
Greater difficulty had been anticipated in the Senate, for
Glass had dominated the conference and had imposed upon it
virtually all of the House version. Yet even here the approach­
ing holiday had drawn the teeth of opposition. A group of
Southern senators wanted to catch a 3 p.m. train home for
Christmas; as a consequence the final vote was set for 2:30
on the afternoon of the twenty-third. Numerous senators ac­
celerated their departure even more, and the manifold pairs of
nonvoters reduced the final Senate tally to 43 for, 25 against.
Indeed, only four senators were left on the floor when formal­
ities were completed.
The engrossed bill was rushed to the White House, from
which calls went out for an impromptu reception to follow the
signing at six that evening.. Despite short notice, there was a
full response. “ It was a happy group,” reported the Times,
“ but happiness was most apparent on the face of the Presi­
dent’s wife.” At two minutes after the hour, Wilson, wearing
a gray suit and using four gold pens, signed the bill into law.



— 26 —

He first ventured a schoolmasterish quip about drawing on the
gold reserve and then, on a serious note, called the bill a con­
stitution of peace, generously gave credit to all who had worked
for it, and expressed his gratification over the number of Re­
publican votes cast on final passage. He closed with a Christmas
hope for prosperity and peace. He did not, although he might
well have, repeated a passage from his first inaugural:
“ This is the high adventure of the new day. . . . W e shall
create and not destroy. We shall deal with our economic sys­
tem as it is and may be modified, not as it might be if we had
a clean sheet to write upon; and step by step we shall make it
what it should be in the spirit of those who doubt their own
wisdom and seek counsel and knowledge, not shallow selfsatisfaction or excitement of excursions whither they cannot
tell.” 18

19 Ray Stannard Baker and William E. Dodd, eds., The Public Papers of Woodrow
Wilson, III (New York: Harper & Bros., 1926), p. 244. Other books used in prep­
aration of this article include Harold Kirk Porter and Donald Breese Johnson,
'National Party Platforms, 1840-1956 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1961) ;
Henry Parker Willis, The Federal Reserve System (New York: The Ronald Press
Company, 1923) ; David F. Houston, Eight Years With Wilson’s Cabinet, I (Gar­
den City, N. Y.: Doubleday, Page & Co., 1926) ; Rixey Smith and Norman Beasley,
Carter Glass: A Biography (New York: Longmans, Green & Co., 1939); and
Ellen Maury Slayden, Washington Wife (New York: Harper & Row, Publishers,
1963).




— 27 —





Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, One Federal Reserve Bank Plaza, St. Louis, MO 63102