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92d Congress, First Session


Printed for the use of the Committee on Banking and Currency


For sale by the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office
Washington, D.C. 20402 - Price 75 cents
Stock Number 5270-1304

WRIGHT PATMAN, Texas, Chairman
WILLIAM A. BARRETT, Pennsylvania
ALBERT W. JOHNSON, Pennsylvania
HENRY S. REUSS, Wisconsin
MARGARET M. HECKLER, Massachusetts
RICHARD T. HANNA, California
STEWART B. McKINNEY, Connecticut
TOM S. GETTYS, South Carolina
THOMAS M. REES, California
WILLIAM R. COTTER, Connecticut
PAUL NELSON, Clerk and Staff Director
CURTIS A. PRINS, Chief Investigator

JOSEPH C. LEWIS, Professional Staff Member
ORMAN S. FINK, Minority Staff Member

WRIGHT PATMAN, Texas, Chairman
RICHARD T. HANNA, California
TOM S. GETTYS, South Carolina
THOMAS M. REES, California



To Members of the Domestic Finance Subcommittee:
Transmitted herewith for the consideration of the Subcommittee on
Domestic Finance is a staff study entitled Federal Reserve Structure
and the Development of Monetary Policy: 1915-1935.
This study grew out of an effort to examine the origins of the Federal Open Market Committee. An examination of the materials in
the archives of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System—stenographic records of meetings and conferences—indicated
that the record of the System's decision-making process during the first
two decades of its existence is probably more complete than that of any
other agency of Government. Yet, these records were difficult to obtain and it would appear that heretofore they have not been available
in their entirety for research in the field. The material provides an incredibly rich source of information about the System during this
period—its goals and conflicts, the limitations of its powers and the
means which it found to transcend them. Some of the views put forward in these conferences were perhaps naive and others have ceased
to be relevant. Many, however, are current and relevant to an amazing
degree as are the events which provided the stimulus for actions. Discussions of interest rates, the reserve positions of member banks and
prices as target variables for monetary policy contribute to our understanding of these factors in current policy. One notes with particular
interest similarities between developments in 1920 and in 1970—a decline in production and employment, coupled with rising prices and
high interest rates.
The present study focuses on the structure of the Federal Reserve
System. It makes clear that the System evolved in ways which were
not foreseen in enactment of the original Federal Reserve legislation
and that this evolution was in 1 wo important respects contrary to the
intention of that legislation. Officers who were not provided for by
law—the governors of the Federal Reserve banks—created new and
extra-legal institutions—the Conference of Governors and the several
open market committees—which transformed the Federal Reserve
from the intended regional system into a central bank. The creation
of these institutions also meant that the powers of the System were
shifted from the Federal Reserve Board to groups more closely allied
with private banking interests, and that thus the intended public control of the banking system was lost. The Federal Reserve grew to resemble the Aldrich central bank plan of 1912, which had been firmly
repudiated in a presidential election in which the creation of a reserve
banking system was the most important issue.
The alteration in the Federal Reserve's structure was largely the
work of Governor Benjamin Strong of the Federal Reserve Bank of


New York and Secretary of the Treasury Andrew Mellon. During the
1920's, the System as they had shaped it worked well enough, but in
the 1930's it proved to be disastrous and required extensive legislative
revision. The Banking Act of 1933 attempted to reinstate the regional
structure of the System while permitting the influence of private banking interests on policy to be perpetuated. The 1935 Act, reflecting more
advanced economic theories, sanctioned the centralization of System
operations through the open market authority, but attempted to reinstate the original Federal Reserve structure to insure that all its powers would be controlled by officers directly appointed by the President
and confirmed by the Senate. With respect to this latter intention, the
legislation as enacted was a failure.
Those with the interest and patience to examine a detailed account
of past events may find this study instructive. It is not always easy
to determine the structural strength of the Federal Reserve System
divorced from the men who administer it. The following analysis
makes such an attempt.
The views and conclusions found in this study do not necessarily
express the views of the Committee- or any of its individual members.
This study was prepared by Jane W. D'Arista, Staff Member, House
Committee on Banking and Currency.




Letter of transmittal

Chapter I—The prewar years: 1915-16
1. Organization of the Federal Reserve System and the impetus
toward centralization
2. The development of open market operations
3. The System's impact on the Government bond market
Chapter II—1917-18: The attempt to finance the war through non-bank
Chapter III—Postwar adjustment: 1919-20
1. The 1920 Fed-Treasury "accord"
2. Rate theory and moral suasion
3. Postsciipt: Views on the System's role and function
Chapter IV—The depression of 1920-21
1. "We must have a definite policy"
2. The behavior of interest rates and prices
3. Rate theory and the political repercussions of deflation
4. Reserve ratios, gold and foreign exchange
Chapter V—The evolution of the Open Market Committee
1. Centralization of open market operations in bankers' acceptances:
2. The 1921 open market operations of the New York Bank
3. T h e 1922 operations in Government securities: establishment of
t h e Committee on Centralized Execution of Purchases a n d Sales
of Government Securities
4. Creation of t h e Open M a r k e t I n v e s t m e n t C o m m i t t e e : 1923
5. T h e October 1922 symposium on credit policy


P A R T I I . M O N E T A R Y P O L I C Y : 1923-33

I n t r o d u c t i o n : Concepts of stability, 1923-28
C h a p t e r VI—Conflicting views of m o n e t a r y policy: 1923-24
1. T r i u m p h of t h e Treasury's views—tight money a n d elimination of
open m a r k e t operations as a countercyclical policy t o o l — M a y
2. Impulse for open m a r k e t purchases: T h e need for earning assets,
t h e 1923-24 recession
3. Centralizing
operations versus
C h a p t e r V I I — S t a b i l i t y : 1925-26
1. 1925
2. 1926
Chapter V I I I — T h e recession of October 1926-November 1927
Chapter I X — T h e failure of m o n e t a r y policy: 1928-29
1. Policy after t h e 1926-27 recession
2. Prelude t o depression
3. Money supply: early 1928 t o mid-1929
C h a p t e r X — T h e beginning of t h e depression: 1930-33
1. T r i u m p h of t h e real bills doctrine
2, R e s u m e of policy




Chapter XI—The evolution of Federal Reserve independence
1. The triumph of interest rates as the target variable and the forces
influencing interest rate policy
2. The struggle for control of policy within the System
Chapter XII—The Banking Act of 1935
1. Chairman Eccles' proposals
2. Debate over control of open market operations
3. The adopted version
4. Summary



Appendix A—The 1922 Symposium on Credit Policy
Appendix B—The Tradition of Secrecy in Federal Reserve Deliberations.
Appendix C—Open Market Purchases of the Federal Reserve Banks



This book analyzes Federal Reserve structure, policy, and functioning in the 1915-1935 period. The structural factors, prejudices and
views about monetary processes which combined to shape Federal Reserve actions in the 1915-1935 period are examined thoroughly and incisively. Sight is never lost of the relevance of the factors and ideas
underlying the Fed's actions to the behavior of money supply and interest rates and the aggregates of ultimate concern to all of us: prices,
production and employment. But the emphasis of this book is on the
political, institutional and intellectual forces that shaped the Fed's
actions, not their effects. The history of our economy's reactions to
Federal Reserve actions has been amply documented and analyzed elsewhere. This study focuses on the underlying determinants of these
actions in the 1915-1935 period, and in doing this makes a significant
contribution to knowledge.
Add also that in examining the underlying forces the author has
relied very heavily on primary information—the stenographic records and minutes of conferences and meetings of the ranking officers
of the Federal Reserve, including especially the annual Conferences
of Reserve bank Governors and meetings of the Open Market Policy
Committee. These records and documents had never in their totality
been analyzed by anyone until this inquiry was made. Extensive use
of these sources enriches the study and makes it a valuable reference
for future research.
The crucial struggles and themes which shaped monetary policy
in the 1915-1935 period which this study brings into common view
are—-to summarize—the following. The parent or trunk issue concerns
the proper role of the Federal Reserve—should it be essentially passive or should it actually try to achieve economic goals. From the
standpoint of the System's structure the trunk issue involves the location of decision-making power. From the standpoint of the intellectual
biases and analyses that the officers of the Fed apply to questions of
the moment, the trunk issue involves the validity and usefulness of
the real bills doctrine vis-a-vis countercyclical theories of central banking. In turn, this latter raises the question of the proper indicator
and target of Federal Reserve actions. These questions are elaborated
upon briefly below as illuminated by the study.
1. The struggle for power.—A power struggle began almost immediately after the Reserve banks opened for business in November, 1914
when the Federal Reserve Board pressured the Reserve banks for lower and more uniform discount rates and the Reserve bank Governors


resisted. The Board won this round but lost the struggle. The Reserve banks won the struggle for power by dominating the System's
open market operations.
Open market operations, whereby the central bank buys and sells
Government securities and eligible private debt issues, define the
principal central banking technique for influencing the volumes of
high-powdered money, money supply and the cost and availability
of bank credit. Open market operations were impelled initially by the
Reserve banks wanting to accumulate earning assets. The modus
operandi that was established early in 1915 was for purchases to
be made by the NW York Reserve bank and allocated among all
Reserve banks. Holdings included investments in bankers' acceptances, municipal warrants and Government bonds. The New York
bank was to constrain purchases so as not to bid down interest rates.
The Board endorsed this arrangement, apparently without realizing that in doing so it was giving the Reserve banks, and especially
New York, control over the System's most powerful policy instrument ; open market operations were not then quantitatively important.
In contrast to current holdings of over $65 billion of Government
bonds, the System's portfolio of bonds and acceptances remained
below $500 million prior to the outbreak of World War I and rose
to a high of approximately $900 million in 1919 (see Appendix C).
Both Reserve bank control of open market policy and centralization
of operations in New York were challenged in the 1920's. New York's
attempt to dominate open market policy was resisted by other Reserve
banks. In 1921 they repudiated the allotment proposal and made purchases in their own districts to develop local markets in bankers'
acceptances and other eligible securities. In the first half of 1922
substantial purchases of Government securities were made independently by the various Reserve banks. Interest rates declined. The
economy was just beginning to emerge from the 1920-21 depression.
Nonetheless, Secretary of the Treasury Mellon called the Board's attention to this "easy money" policy and elicited legal opinion that
the Board could restrict Reserve bank open market operations. The
Governors, excepting Strong of the New York bank, defended the
purchases as necessary "for income purposes." Strong argued that
the purchases were necessary so the New York Reserve bank would
have on hand securities to sell to tighten credit without raising the
discount rate if credit conditions should later warrant. (Subsequently
Strong pointed out that the purchases had decreased interest rates and
accelerated the economy's recovery.) Under pressure to establish order
in the money market from Secretary Mellon, and as a result also of
Governor Strong's persuasiveness in arguing the case for joint action
through New York, the Reserve bank Governors established a committee to work out an orderly method for executing individual Reserve bank orders to buy and sell Government securities. This was the
Committee of Governors on Centralized Execution of Purchases and
Sales of Government Securities by Federal Reserve Banks organized
in May, 1922, and consisting of the Governors of the New York,
Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago and Cleveland banks.
In February, 1923 one of the Reserve banks by-passed the Committee and made purchases for its own account. Secretary Mellon reacted

by asking the Board to prescribe regulations prohibiting individual
Reserve banks from making purchases for their own accounts without
express approval of the Board. The Board responded by dissolving
the Committee on Centralized Execution and authorizing formation
of the Open Market Investment Committee. This latter committee
consisted of the same Governors as the predecessor committee. It was
established to handle open market transactions for the entire System.
There remained in question, however, the power of the Board to
limit or otherwise supervise the Committee's actions. The Committee
had met only once when in May, 1923 the Board instructed it to liquidate all Reserve bank holdings of Government securities. The instruction was carried out. Momentarily it appeared that the Board would
set policy and the Committee act as its agent. But the Board's power
over open market policy was soon dissipated. Beginning with the Dallas bank in September, 1923, individual Reserve banks, pressed for income, began to request the Committee's approval to make purchases.
The Committee in turn sought the Board's approval for such purchases. Then, beginning in November, 1923, the Committee voted to
make purchases to obtain earning assets for all Reserve banks by
wTay of forestalling further requests by individual Reserve banks. Thus
the Board began to pass on the Committee's policies rather than to
initiate policy. In October, 1924 the Committee asked for authorization to buy or sell $100 million of securities as conditions warranted
and the Board approved. De facto if not de jure the Committee was
now independent of the Board. The Committee openly asserted its
independence in 1926 when it rejected the Board's request that it meet
in Washington and also meet with the Board. Public control over
monetary policy via formulation by the Presidential ly appointed Federal Reserve Board, including the Secretary of the Treasury as exofficio member, a cornerstone of the original Federal Reserve Act,
was thus rendered meaningless, and remained so until given partial
substance by the 1935 Banking Act.
Meanw'hile the Reserve banks had grown increasingly rebellious
about the Committee's powers. The smaller Reserve banks resented
that they had no say. The larger ones, those on the 7
Committee, resented New York's domination of Committee polic\ . The Boston,
Chicago and Philadelphia banks tried to make purchases on their
own. Governor strong, however, persuaded the Board to hold them in
check. New York's dominance resulted partly because policy was
carried out in New York and partly because of Governor Strong's
immense intellectual and leadership powers.
But after Governor Strong's death in October, 1928 New York was
unable to dominate open market policy. In March, 1930 the Investment Committee was dissolved and the Open Market Policy Committee, comprised of all twelve Reserve bank Governors, was established
to conduct open market operations. This arrangement was sanctioned
by the Banking Act of 1933 which gave legal recognition for the first
time to the existence of an open market committee. But the Open Market Policy Conference failed to coordinate these operations and was
replaced by the present twelve, man Federal Open Market Committee, comprised of the seven Board members and five Reserve bank
presidents, which was established by the 1935 Banking Act.

2. Passivity: The wrong constituency, the wrong people in power.—
The struggle for power so briefly chronicled above had important repercussions on Federal Reserve policy in the years under study. In
the pre-World War I years, the majority of Reserve bank governors,
reflecting traditional banking prejudices and views, saw the Federal
Reserve as a bankers' bank, passively responding to member bank loan
requests at penalty rates. The important exception was Governor
Strong who, like many of the System's politically appointed Board
members, viewed the Federal Reserve as a public agency created by
Congress to achieve economic goals. Strong understood from the beginning that open market operations as well as discount rates could be
used countercyclical^, and he argued that they should be. As early
as 1915 he observed that, ". . . Had the reserve banks been in operation a few years and accumulated a considerable loan and investment
account their policy under present conditions should be to withdraw
funds from the money market for the purpose of correcting undue ease
of money rates, which is only too frequently accompanied by unsound
expansion and speculation." (See Chapter 1, part 2.)
To anticipate briefly the study's penetrating narrative, the governors, with, however, Strong not taking part in the decision, opposed
direct Reserve bank purchases of Treasury certificates in World War I.
As put by Governor Aiken of Boston, they felt that "our resources
should be as free as possible for the commercial needs of the country."
The Board chose to circumvent the Governors' passion for passivity in
this instance rather than confront it directly. Under a plan devised by
Board member Paul Warburg, member banks were able to obtain loan
accommodation from Reserve banks using Treasury securities as collateral at a lower rate than the rate paid on the collateral.
This "preferential rate" assured the Treasury's success in its wartime borrowing efforts. It also assured that member banks would profit
from the war. Regardless of one's view of the morality of this aspect,
the Warburg scheme was completely contrary to the view of the Reserve banks that the Federal Reserve is or should be a passive agency
responding to member bank loan demand at a penalty rate. In the war,
then, the System's public members took charge and used its power consciously if circuitously to achieve public goals. The public was, through
the President who appointed them, their constituency.
In 1919 the Board favored using "moral suasion," or "direct action"
as it was also called, to control credit while the Governors wanted to
reinstate the penalty discount rate. The discount rate was raised to a
penalty rate and the preferential rate eliminated. By June, 1920, the
discount rate on commercial paper in New York had been increased to
7%, up 3 points from the 4% rate in effect the previous fall. There is
no question, of course, that some sort of action was required to restrain
the ongoing inflation that wTas inherited from the wartime preferential
rate finance program still in force. There is also no question but that
moral suasion is not really workable, as many of the Governors saw.
But the more important point which the narrative brings into view is
that it was only through the happy accident of the prevailing (but
ephemeral) consonance of their commitment to the passive penalty
rate doctrine and the then current appropriate countercyclical dis-

count rate policy that the Eeserve bank Governors led the System to
"lean into the winds" in 1919. There is no hard evidence that the Governors had become truly activists.
By May, 1920 the economic winds had shifted. The need for an
active antidepression monetary policy became increasingly urgent as
time passed. But the System proved incapable of dealing promptly
with the 1920-21 depression and deflation. Its response to the economic
slump was predicated on the passive operating rule that the central
bank can lend freely at a penalty rate. It kept discount rates up until
late 1921, though reducing them to 6% in May. As a consequence,
credit was restricted and money supply fell. Eeserve officials argued
that this wasn't their fault because "the volume of credit extended by
the Federal Eeserve System is under the exclusive control of the member banks in the System." (See Chapter IV, Part 3). Their argument
ignores the crucial fact that the Eeserve banks control the quantity of
credit supplied to member banks and hence has zero credibility. The
study makes one final point on this episode: to wit, that the small rate
reductions of May, 1921, and the dramatic decreases in late 1921 were
initiated by the Board; in fact Governor Strong and nine of the other
Eeserve bank Governors opposed the May cuts. Thus the episode shows
the importance of locating the System's decision making powers with
its public members. Though further removed from the electorate than
would appear desirable, the public members proved far more flexible
and responsive than the Eeserve bank Governors in meeting the
1920-21 crisis.
The growth of open market operations after 1921 provided a new
dimension to the meanings of active and passive central bank policies.
In May, 1923, as noted above, the Board instructed the Committee to
liquidate its entire portfolio and the instruction was carried out^
Strong, anxious for the Board's backing in his efforts to centralize
open market operations, argued that although he did not think the
System should act to influence rates, since the fall in rates to Mayy
1922 had been due to System action, there was now justification for
acting to raise rates by liquidating the portfolio. Thus Strong was able
to fit an activist policy into a passive framework. The Governors went
Whether liquidation of the portfolio was largely responsible or not,
a recession began in the spring of 1923 which lasted until the summer
of 1924. In November, Strong argued that the System should be prepared to purchase Government securities to relieve pressure on member banks by enabling them to reduce their debt to the System, i.e., discounts. Their free reserves would rise—though Strong did not refer to
free reserves. The Governors, however, preferred to use interest rates
as their indicator of the need for aggressive antirecession policy. They
argued that since interest rates were stable there was no need for action. In the framework of open market policy, passivity coincides with
stable interest rates.
Nonetheless the System began to purchase securities beginning in
December, 1923. The purchases were made because Eeserve banks
needed earning assets, not for countercyclical reasons. But they appear
to have had a positive countercyclical effect. The recession ended, as
noted, in the summer of 1924.

The Board had now taken a back sea in policy making and the new
passive operating rule of the Governors continued in force for the next
couple of years. From the summer of 1924 until the fall of 1926 interest rate stability was the primary goal of open market operations, and
interest rates moved within a narrow range in this period. This was a
time when underlying forces acted to make interest rate stability consistent with minimal inflation and unemployment. There were changes
in open market policy but they were neither sharp nor enduring during these two years. Moreover, the study brings out the fact that the
policy shifts were motivated for the most part by interest rate developments. Open market sales in the fall-winter, 1924-25 period were intended to firm up rates. Purchases beginning in the spring of 1925 were
prompted in part at least to correct emerging international interest
rate differentials. Last, sales beginning in the fall of 1925 were made
to moderate the rise in stock prices—i.e., the fall in equity rates.
The happy coincidence of interest rate stability and minimal inflation and unemployment endured only to the fall of 1926. At this
time underlying credit market forces acted to reduce interest rates.
Operating under the new passivity doctrine the System engaged in
open market sales to prevent rates from falling. The result was a sharp
business recession lasting from October, 1926 to November, 1927. The
System did not move in a substantial way to correct this downswing
until August, 1927. It was paralyzed by the new doctrine of passivity
expounded by the Governors, ruling out expansionary actions as long
as interest rates are stable or declining as was the case until the summer
of 1927.
Five months after the end of the 1926-27 recession, in April, 1928,
the money stock reached $26.6 billion. As the narrative notes, "It fell
below this level until July, 1929 when it reached $26.7 billion and
then to $26.4 billion. The stage was thus set." (See Chapter IX, part
3). The Reserve bank Governors, perhaps because of the death of
Benjamin Strong in October, 1928, saw no risk of deflation and depression in this development. Rather, open market policy in this period
was dominated by an attempt to curb stock market speculation. This
concern reflects what is perhaps the basic intellectual bias of the banking school of monetary policy; to wit, the real bills doctrine. More on
this doctrine later.
We approached and entered the depression years with the wrong
people dominating monetary policy. Action was needed; aggressive expansionary action. But the Reserve bank Governors who had jurisdiction over open market operations were too deeply committed to
passivity to do what was required. The biases of their commercial
banking background and constituency called for no action with interest rates stable or falling. And the Board had been too long in the
back seat of decision-making to take charge. Thus in September, 1930
the Open Market Policy Committee ignored Adolph Miller's cogent
argument that "in times of depression, particularly, a money rate is
a very imperfect indicator of the true state of credit. Money is sleeping
and it is conceivable that a part of a constructive program is to wake
it up and make it do something and that you may be misled into a
false sense of the soundness of the general money situation because
rates are low." (See Chapter X , part 2). President Hoover was right

when he observed that, as it had evolved since 1915, the Federal Eeserve
proved to be "a weak reed for a nation to lean on in a time of trouble."
(See Chapter XI, part 2). It still is, as discussed next.
3. Real bills then and now.—The present study brings into common
view the fact that underlying the erroneous and injurious policies of
the System in the 1915-1935 period in almost every instance was the
real bills doctrine. This is perhaps the book's most important contribution and it is a very important one.
The real bills doctrine asserts that credit should be supplied to
provide for the real needs of business, not for speculative activity.
Loans that would be repaid out of the future earnings of the assets
being funded are valid and useful. Loans to carry speculative assets
such as common stocks are not. On the surface it has appeal.
But closer analysis reveals that the doctrine is erroneous and produces great harm when used as an operating rule by the central bank.
The doctrinal error is that the real needs of business, funds for working capital, to carry inventories and so forth, are high and rise higher
in booms and low and falling in deflation and depression. Under the
real bills doctrine the central bank therefore acts procyclically—i.e.,
to magnify the cycle by increasing high-powered money in booms and
decreasing it in downswings. Thus the doctrine is counterproductive, a
destabilizing rather than a stabilizing influence.
This study documents the injuries which application of the real bills
doctrine did to the economy in the 1915-1935 period. The book also
shows how pervasive belief in real bills was. Governor Strong was
among its adherents, though his commitment to the doctrine was less
than total. Last, the narrative brings out the intellectual and operational nexus which runs from real bills to (1) the use of interest rates
and free reserves as indicators of the thrust of monetary policy and (2)
misplaced emphasis on the stock market with too little attention to
production and employment.
Belief in real bills is manifested almost immediately after the
Eeserve banks opened for business. In 1915 Governor Strong stated
that, were it not for the fact that they hadn't built up their securities
account, the Reserve banks should be selling "for the purpose of correcting undue ease of money rates, which is only too frequently accompanied by unsound expansion and speculation." (See Chapter I, part
2.) But the doctrine caused no great damage until late 1920. Beginning
then discount rates were kept high despite growing evidence of severe
deflation and depression in order to force member banks to sell Treasury securities purchased during the war, the proceeds to be used to
repay the increasingly costly borrowings via the discount window. The
misguided belief behind the policy was that the soundness of the credit
system required Government debt to be transferred from banks to
"real" inventories—individuals, corporations, etc. Bank credit should
be "entirely" devoted, as Governor Strong put it, to "the purpose of
producing, purchasing, carrying, or marketing goods." (See Chapter
IV, part 2.) The attempt to force member banks to repay their borrowings and sell their Government bonds to the public by way of building
a sound "real" base for the credit system led, of course, both to unnaturally high interest rates (as banks sold their Governments) and
reduced money supply (as borrowed reserves and hence high-powered

money were cut back). High interest rates and reduced money supply
were precisely not what was needed as the 1920-21 slump emerged.
The policy was thus counter-productive to "the purpose of producing,
purchasing, carrying or marketing goods."
The harm done by the real bills doctrine was catastrophic in the
period beginning in the spring of 1928. As I noted above, the attempt
to curb stock market speculation completely checked the growth of
money supply after April, 1928. Thus the fact that speculative loans
have no justification in a real bills regime set the stage for the downswing. The catastrophic errors, errors that assured the decline would
be catastrophic, followed after 1929 because of the dominance of the
real bills doctrine. The present study describe's the process well when it
summarizes: "a majority of Eeserve officials, including now a bemused
Secretary Mellon reverted to the old 'needs of trade' doctrine which
held that policy should be adapted to current cyclical conditions. What
this meant in 1930 was that the System contracted credit as husmess
declined. This set off a further decline in business, followed by a further
contraction of credit and so on. Little or no effort was made to halt the
deflationary spiral—to stimulate an expansion, as Governor Strong
would perhaps have" suggested, by actively buying securities in the
open market." (See Introduction to Part I I ) . And later, the author
observes, "Because the needs of trade were down and declining the
emphasis of monetary policy was on liquidation. . . . to reserve
officials it seemed merely a matter of safety, of protecting the banking
system from making illiquid unsound loans." (See Chapter X, Part 1).
Neither the banking system nor the economy was protected. The real
bills doctrine, by requiring the flow of credit and the volume of money
to adapt to swings in business activity rather than to lean into such
swings, thus worked to magnify the business decline that began in
August, 1929, and to leave the banking system and the economy in
ruins within four years.
Today it is widely believed that the Federal Reserve is no longer
under the influence of the real bills doctrine. But reading this study
gives one pause. There is an unnerving similarity between the operating rule for central banks, which operate under the real bills doctrine
and central banks nsm,<r, as the Fed now does, interest rates and free
reserves as the target or indicator of monetary policy.
In periods of declining economic activity, to make the point, the real
bills doctrine calls for doing nothing. But use of either interest rates
or free reserves as the target or indicator of policy may easily lead to
inaction in recessions, for rates are low and falling (and free reserves
high and rising) in such periods. As Dr. Miller observed in 1930, and
as quoted above, "you may be misled into a false sense of the soundness
of the general money situation because rates are low." All too often in
recent years we have experienced periods when Federal Reserve officials
have been misled into believing they have done whatever they could to
reverse a downswing by low interest rates and high free reserves, and
periods when they have been misled into thinking they have done what
they could to stop ongoing inflation because of prevailing high interest
rates and low free reserves. And believing these things, they have
delayed taking the actions required to achieve minimal inflation and
unemployment. The banker tradition simply does not serve the nation
well in the formation and execution of monetary policy.

In summary, the subject of this study is now history. Nevertheless
the book is timely. For monetary policy continues to play a crucial
role in the performance of our economy and the forces and ideas that
shape monetary policy today are much the same as those that magnified the terrible inflation-deflation cycle of 1917-1921, generated a false
sense of security by happy accident in the middle twenties, and then
set the stage for and greatly aggravated the catastrophic collapse
which began in 1929 and dominated history long after 1935. We have
much to learn from this book.

University of California,
Santa Barbara,
December 1971.
NOTE.—The Honorable Ben B. Blackburn has offered the following
"It is important to remember that the study deals with an historical
period—1915-1935, and this span in our Nation's history provides
no basis for attempting a critical appraisal of how the Federal Reserve runs today. Nevertheless, the introduction by Robert Weintraub
says the Fed today uses interest rates and free reserves as monetary
targets, and is therefore susceptible to the mistake of allowing the
money supply to drop during a recession. The record clearly shows,
to the contrary, that the Fed over the past two years has sought to
gradually increase the money supply.
"There is an assumption in Weintraub's introduction, and again in
the summary (p. 151), that the System is run by bankers selected by
bankers. This is not true. No member of the Board of Governors is
a banker, and only three of the 12 presidents of Reserve Banks are
former bankers. The assertion that key officials are selected by bankers
ignores the fact that all Board members are appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate. It also ignores the role that the
Board plays in the selection of the Bank presidents."

THE PREWAR YEARS I 1 9 1 5 - 1 6

1. Organization of the Federal Reserve System and the impetus toward centralization
The Federal Reserve System consists of three basic elements: the
Board of Governors, 12 district Reserve Banks, and several thousand
member banks. Under the 1913 Act, the Board consisted of five members appointed by the President for 10 years, one term expiring every
two years, and the Secretary of the Treasury and Comptroller of the
Currency as ex officio members. The Board was thus a wholly public
body under the 1913 Act. The Reserve Banks were not. The Act provided that the affairs of each Reserve Bank would be administered by
a nine-man board of directors, six of whom were elected by member
banks. Furthermore, under the 1913 Act, each of the twelve regional
Reserve Banks was given powers as follows:
(1) "To buy and sell . . . bonds and notes of the United
States, and bills, notes, revenue bonds . . . issued . . . by any
State, county ...
(2) "To purchase from member banks and to sell . . . bills
of exchange arising out of commercial transactions . . .
(3) "To establish from time to time, subject to review and
determination of the Federal Reserve Board, rates of discount ..."
During the formative years of the Federal Reserve System, before
the United States entered World War I, the regional Federal Reserve Banks maintained a considerable degree of independence from
the Federal Reserve Board, insisting on the division of powers which
had been provided, but somewhat oblivious to other principles embodied in the act. As the records of the period reveal, an important
administrative entity came into being—the Conference of Governors
of the Federal Reserve banks—which rivaled the Federal Reserve
Board in its power to control the operation of the System. Neither the
Conference of Governors nor the office of Reserve Bank Governor
itself had been prescribed by the Federal Reserve Act, but both quickly assumed an importance which has been significant in defining the
structure and function of the System to the present day.
The governors of the Federal Reserve banks were appointed by
their respective boards of directors to be the chief executive officers
of the banks, answerable to their directors rather than to the Federal
Reserve Board. Commercial bankers by training, the governors reflected the views of the financial community which had favored the
creation of a central bank independent of the Treasury or of government policy. As it had emerged from Congress, the FederalRe(ll)


serve System reflected that plank of the Democratic Platform of 1912
which declared its opposition to such a central bank. It divided
authority and responsibility between the twelve separate regional
banks—a majority of the directors of which, as noted, were elected
by the member banks—and the Federal Reserve Board.
Although the Board was composed of presidential appointees and
administration officials, it was somewhat insulated from direct executive control. Under the enacting legislation, it had been given authority
both to supervise the System and to formulate its policies, the intent
being to insure governmental control of the System while granting
a degree of participation to the banking community. In this respect,
the Federal Reserve Act represented the classical American solution
to such problems, resembling as it did the Federal system and perhaps
subj ect to the same kinds of tensions.
Less than a year after the inauguration of the Federal Reserve System a major conflict had arisen between the Board and the Reserve
bank governors over the question of their respective powers and responsibilities. The conflict was heightened by the problem of defining
the role of the System. The governors tended to view the System as
essentially a cooperative enterprise for the mutual assistance of bankers and to favor a conservative interpretation of sound banking policy
as a guide for their actions. Seldom was public policy in the broader
sense an issue in the Conferences of Governors, and even in the area of
open market operations—the development of which was the most important contribution of the Governors during this period—the overall
emphasis was less on questions of policy than on bureaucratic
The Board, on the other hand, reflected 'the views of the majority
of Congress and of the Wilson administration which had seen the establishment of the System as necessary to insure economic growth.
To accomplish this end, the legislation had been designed to provide
a more elastic currency, to insure governmental control of the banking
system, and to guarantee reasonable rates of interest for the commercial borrower. Although the latter objective frequently has been forgotten, it provided the initial policy goal for the System as the Board
acted to implement the intent of Congress and pressed for lower and
more uniform interest rates.1
The majority report of the Senate Banking and Currency Committee had stated •
"The stabilization of the rate of interest in the United States will be one of the very
important functions of the proposed Federal Reserve System" (S. Rep. No. 133, Part 2,
63rd Congress, 1st Session, submitted by Mr. Owen, November 22, 1913; p. 23). In
addition, numerous references to the expectation* that the System would aid in reducing rates were made during debate on the bill—one of the more characteristic
being the remarks of Oscar Underwood, Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee,
who stated:
"I congratulate the wisdom of this committee in . . . establishing a Government
control of this system that would represent the borrowers of money and enable the
people of America to secure the medium of exchange at reasonable rates of interest
at all times. I think that is probably the greatest reform that has been worked out
in this bill . . . [and] I believe that this board will cnrefully and safely manage this,
not only in the interest of the American people and low interest rates, but also will
have the wisdom to see that the great banking interests of the country are properly
safeguarded and protected" (Congressional Record, 63rd Congress, 2nd Session, Vol. 51
p. 1459).
Subsequently. Secretary William G. McAdoo wrote one of the more succinct presentations of the Federal Reserve Board's position :
"Ample credit resources at reasonable rates are an indispensable factor in the development of a country and in the growth and prosperity of its business and productive enterprises. The primary purpose of the Federal Reserve Act was to so alter and
strengthen our banking system that the enlarged credit resources demanded by the
needs of business and agricultural enterprise will come almost automatically into
existence, and at rates of interest low enough to stimulate, protect, and prosper all
kinds of legitimate business, and to bring about ultimately a greater equality of interest
rates throughout the country" (Annual Report of the Secretary of the Treasury for
1915j p. 12).

The Ueserve banks opened for business in November 1914 and when
their governors met for their second conference in January 1915, they
openly expressed disapproval of the Board's position. Governor
George J. Seay of the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond argued
that in his "judgment as a banker . . . something unsound is being
attempted in the effort to equalize rates where conditions vary." Benjamin Strong, the governor of the Federal Reserve Bank of New
York who rapidly became a dominant power within the System by
virtue both of the size of the New York Bank and of his own personal and intellectual gifts, concurred. His remarks on this occasion
reveal the inherent hostility of the banking community to a "political"
board and define the nature of the conflict which has plagued the
System up to the present day:
. . . I am distinctly under the impression, although I admit that the grounds
for it are very slight, that the apparent effort that is being made by the Federal
Reserve Board to reduce rates is originated by pressure that is brought upon
the Board from outside sources . . .
I admit that that is conjecture; I have no ground for making that statement
other than an instinct, possibly, but it is the one thing that this system must be
guarded against, and I would not be ashamed to read whatever statement is
made to the Federal Reserve Board in regard to the demand that they be absolutely free from any influence whatever in considering the rates; that it should
come from the Governor of the Federal Reserve banks; that their duty is to sit
there as a judicial body to review what we suggest to them. What we have in
fact established at the respective banks is for them to pass upon, and nobody
is entitled to go to that board and 1 tell them what they ought to do in suggesting
rates to the Federal Reserve banks. ' (Emphasis supplied.)

Reserve bank rediscount rates ranged from 6 to §y2 P e r c e n t during
the first few months of operation but dropped to 4 and 4^/2 per cent for
the period February 1915 to August 1916.3 In line with orthodox theories on central banking as received in that period, these rates were
above prevailing market rates, the argument being that member banks
should not be able to profit by rediscounting with the Reserve banks
at rates lower than they had received on loans. The institution of a
penalty rate by a newly established reserve banking system presented
a problem, however. The member banks were slow in seeking accommodation from the Reserve banks and the earning position of the
latter suffered accordingly. As a result, some Reserve officials argued
for lower rediscount rates, but Governor Strong argued that "the
consequences . . . (would) simply be a general reduction of interest
rates, without any business to speak of to.the reserve banks generally."
Pie explained:
. . . Here are seven or eight hundred millions of reserves unused in the hands
of the member banks that are being held awaiting use. The banks are not willing
to put the money out at the rates that they can get; it is unprofitable for them
to do so, and if the federal reserve banks reduce the rates below their present
levels, are they not going to reduce the rates on existing loans and force the
surplus into use in order that the banks may earn their expenses and dividends?

Governor Seay's comment at this point further illustrates the bias
against low interest rates of many Governors during this period:
The evils attendant upon too low a rate are greater than those attendant upon
too high a rate. 4
Stenographic Record, Second Conference of Governors, pp. 457-458. Hereafter, references to this source will be noted as follows : &./£.,<2nd Conf., pp. 457-458.
Banking and Monetary Statistics, Washington, D.C., U.S. Board of Governors of the
Federal Reserve System. 1943. p. 439.
S.R., 4th Conf., pp. 185-187.


In view of the depressed economic conditions in his region, Governor
McCord of the Atlanta Bank disagreed with the majority of his colleagues and consistently pressed for lower discount rates. He found
himself very much on the defensive when, in June 1915, he urged:
"We want to serve the general public." 5 In a somewhat acrimonious
debate with Governor Strong, he was silenced by an argument which
reflected more concern for the needs of the banking system than for
those of the public at large.
Governor Strong's argument for maintaining discount rates at levels
which were substantially above bank rates in some regions 6 involved
the requirement of the Federal Reserve Act that member banks transfer to their district Federal Reserve banks or to their own vaults the
deposit balances which they counted as reserves at their correspondent
banks so that these balances could no longer be used in making loans.
This arrangement for counting deposits at corresponding banks as
reserves had been widely criticized in the period following the panic
of 1907 as a major weakness in the banking system and was considered
a key target for reform. But the requirement of the Federal Reserve
Act that reserves be held in vaults or at Federal Reserve banks and
hence not be employed in loans for profit had not been popular with
the banking comunity. A compromise provision was enacted which
extended from 6 months to & years the time during which the banks
might transfer their reserves to their own vaults or to the Federal
Reserve banks. Governor Strong argued that this arrangement for a
more gradual withdrawal of these balances would be endangered if
the discount rates were lowered. It would become more profitable for
the member banks to borrow from the Reserve banks than from their
corespondents, and the result would be a precipitous withdrawal of the
$300 million of correspondent deposits in the New York banks.7
These, then, were the two major considerations in the governorsrefusal to accept the Federal Reserve Board's policy recommendation
that discount rates be lowered. At their Fifth Conference, in the fall
of 1915, their disapproval of the Board's position was formally recorded in the Summary sent to the Board. Ignoring the Board's
prerogative to interpret the law and the fact that the Conference could
have no powers since its existence had no sanction under law> the
governors nevertheless voted:
. . . That it is the sense of the Conference that the function of initiating discount rates of all sorts should be exercised by the Federal reserve banks without
pressure from the Federal Reserve Board, and that in the opinion of the Conference the various rates heretofore established have been and are at least as low
as is compatible with sound banking principles for the reserve banks, in view of
the unusual domestic and foreign conditions.8

While questions of rate policy and control of the discount rate
created the more significant area of conflict between the Federal Re3

Ibid., pp. 277-27S : 184
The discussion includes the following exchange :
The CHAIRMAN CStrops:) : Governor McCord, you brought up the question of the
rediscount rates. What disposition do you wish to make of it?
Governor MCCORD : I have asked twice to withdraw the proposition. Please understand me. I am not withdrawing it because I am satisfied that you have whipped me
in the argument (laughter). I am sorry I brought this discussion up because there
is other important business to attend to, and I move that we proceed with the program
(Ibid., p. 102).
Although information on interest rates is incomplete for this period, the extent to
which the uniform discount rate ignored variations in bank rates in different regions
can be gauged by the tact that one brokerage linn offered to buy all of the rediscounts
of 7 the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas at 2^4 percent (&.#., 4th Conf., p. 191).
8 8.R., 4th Conf., pp. 194-196.
Summary, 5th Conf., p. 9.

serve Board and the Governor's Conference, there was another area in
which the ubiquitous Governor Strong made an overt effort to usurp
Board powers. During the January 1915 Conference he initiated a discussion of the Board's authority to require one Federal Eeserve bank
to rediscount for another Reserve bank, and remarked that no provision of the Federal Reserve bill had "caused greater concern in New
York than the possible delegation to an independent body of the right
to take some of the assets of the banks of New York and lend them in
some other part of the United States, without the banks of New York
having any right to say whether that loan should be made or not."
Nevertheless, Governor Strong felt that the intent of the law, to provide a facility for assistance to banks in the South and West during
periods of seasonal pressure, could be satisfied if the Reserve bank
requiring rediscounting privileges were to apply directly to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York which would, on its own initiative,
make a fair rate. He evidently thought that, with a few minor adjustments, the Federal Reserve System could be made to conform to the
model suggested in the Aldrich central bank bill which he had helped
to write.
. . . I do not believe we need to read the words and letters of the law to determine what we want to do. It may be that some obstacle to a direct procedure of
that sort will be found, but I doubt it very much. I do not believe it is the intention of the law to require that there should be a board of seven men acting as
a broker between the Federal Reserve banks, and I make the suggestion seriously
to you, because I think that that is the sound basis on which this business ought
to be conducted.9

The Federal Reserve Board had been occupied during this period
in formulating the rules and regulations prescribed by law and solving
its own problems of organization. Nevertheless, the Board responded
to these criticisms and assertions by severely reprimanding the Governors' Conference and curtailing its freedom of action. Appearing before the governors at their January 1916 Conference, the Governor of
the Federal Reserve Board, W. P. G. Harding, read a memorandum
approved by the Board which noted that "the formation by the governors of a permanent organization . . . may be criticized as of doubtful propriety and beyond the scope of the powers of the Federal Reserve Banks as defined in the Federal Reserve Act." Therefore, the
Board had decided that the governors should meet only when called by
the Board, that all conferences be held in Washington and that discussions adhere to an outline of topics approved by the Board.
Referring to the action of the Governors' Conference in formally
criticizing the Board for suggesting that discount rates be lowered,
the Board observed that "the governors of the banks assumed powers
which they do not possess under the law when they undertook collectively to direct or to suggest to the Federal Reserve Board the
manner of its exercise of the powers conferred upon it by the Act in
its dealings with the individual banks." As its memorandum made
clear, the Board wished to deal with the Reserve banks as individual
banks and would resist any attempt by the banks to delegate powers to
a central authority without its approval. Moreover, the Board had no
intention of permitting the governors to assume a role in formulating
policy. It informed them that their role in advising the Board, "in conference or otherwise," should be confined to "technical questions of op9

8.R., 2nd Conf., pp. 459-463.

eration." 10 Nevertheless the Governors, led and persuaded by Governor Strong, were instrumental in transforming the Federal Reserve
from a decentralized system into a central bank, and a central bank in
which they, and especially Governor Strong of the New York Reserve
Bank, played an important policy making role. Open market operations were the vehicle for this transformation.
2. The development of open market operations
The initial impetus for purchases by the Reserve banks in tine open
market was tihe need for earnings. It had been intended that the provisions governing open market operations be used to assist in developing an acceptance market and as a means of enforcing the discount
rate,11 'and while earnings remained a factor in purchases and salesuntil after passage of the 1935 Act, Governor Strong was instrumental
in educating System officials to view open market operations in their
broader context. As early as 1915, he had already suggested a deeper
dimension in a speech quoted by the Wall Street Journal and included
in the Record of the Fourth Conference. Arguing from the deflationary bias which, he urged as appropriate to the period, Strong had
*° 8.R., 6th Conf., pp. 2-4.
The following is a more detailed excerpt from this interesting memorandum:
"First: Meetings during the first year have been frequent. We believe that, during
the current year, there will be little occasion for more thanj three or four meetings.
"Second: There is no objection to the officers of the respective Federal Reserve Banks
meeting informally for conference and discussion of Administrative matters, but the
formation by the governors of a permanent organization, the appointment of an
Executive Committee, and the election of a paid secretary, are matters that may be
criticized as of doubtful propriety and beyond the scope of the powers of the Federal
Reserve Act.
"Third: While the Board sees no reason for not approving the expenses for the
fiscal year ended December 31, 1915, being a total of $12,872.02, it would appear that,
as a regular item in the expense accounts of the banks, so large an amount might be
subject to criticism.
"Fourth: While the Board believes that much good can be accomplished by cooperation in the management of the Federal Reserve Banks . . . and while the
Board feels that the conferences of governors undoubtedly have been useful and will
be useful in the future in developing best thought as to the technical questions of
operations . . . it believes that everything should be avoided that might create the
impression that there existed a definite organization which might be considered as
extralegal by Congress or by the public at large. While there is no objection to having
committees appointed from time to time either by the Federal Reserve Board,, or by
h F d l R
b th
nors for t h e s t d of p a r t i c u l a questio
the Federal Reserve Banks, or by the governors, for the study of particular questions
or for preparing upon certain topics, it does appear inadvisable to the Board that a
standing Executive Committee should be appointed to represent the g
governors. It
C o t e
might create the impression that certain banks or certain boards had delegated certain
powers to a definite committee . . . "
"Sixth: At the last meeting of the Governors of the Federal Reserve Banks a resolution was adopted in which the Federal Reserve Board was criticized for what was
termed 'an exercise of pressure/ and the Governors are reminded that the Board is
ready at all times to receive representations from the directors of any Federal Reserve
Bank, but it considers that the Governors of the banks assumed powers which they do
not possess under the law when they undertook collectively to direct or to suggest to the
Federal Reserve Board the manner of its exercise of the powers conferred upon it by the
Act In its dealings with individual banks. The Board will be glad, from time to time, as in
the past, to discuss with the Governors, in conference or otherwise, technical questions of operation, and to have the benefit of the advice of the Governors in such
matters in which the Board, not being in touch with the daily and practical operations of the banks, may wisely take the benefit of the experience and information of those
in charge of the banks; but the Board must refuse to discuss with the Governors Conference criticisms of its own acts or the manner in which the Board exercises its
lawful powers in dealing with individual banks, and in a friendly spirit wishes to
impress upon the Governors that proper care should be taken in the future to avoid
any topics, the propriety of which on the program of the conference might appear
doubtful and would tend to lessen the benefits expected by all from those conferences,
and rather harm than help the results to be expected by all from these conferences."
In his history of the Federal Reserve Act, Carter Glass writes that H. Parker
Willis, staff adviser to the House Banking and Currency Committee, drafted the open
market provisions for the purpose ". . . of compelling compliance with the reserve
bank discount rate and enabling these banks to utilize idle funds in dull seasons in
order to earn expenses and acquire a surplus" (An Adventure in Constructive Finance;
New York, Doubleday, Page and Co., 1927, p. 90).
Robert L. Owen, who drafted the Senate version of the bill, saw the open market
provisions as facilitating ". . . the establishment of what is called an open market
for bills of exchange and bankers' acceptances such as has long prevailed in Europe,
but which has not existed to any great extent in the United States" (S. Rept. No. 133,
Part 2, 63rd Cong., 1st Sess., p. 26).

. . . Had the reserve banks been in operation a few years, and accumulated
a consideraible loan and investment account their policy under present conditions
should ibe to withdraw funds from the money market for the purpose of correcting undue ease of money rates, which is only too frequently accompanied by unsound expansion and Speculation."

Thus, while this period is generally considered embryonic as far as
the development of open market operations is concerned, their potential impact was clearly understood by at least one official within the
System. Further, Strong was successful in guiding the Governors into
actions which constitute an important precedent for the pattern which
emerged during the following decade and for procedures for the conduct of open market operations under current law.
At the First Conference of Governors, December 11,1914, Governor
Strong raised the question of the buying price on open market transactions. The Federal Reserve Board had suggested that the Federal
Reserve banks establish a rate on a given class of paper, subject to
review and determination by the Board, and thaJt that rate prevail for
a day or two during which time the bank would take practically everything offered within reasonable limits of the established rate.13 While
Governor Strong did not consider this suggestion appropriate, the
reasons for his objections did not become clear until the Third Conference, March 11-13, 1915, when an alternative modus operandi was
already in the process of development.
Following the Second Conference, the New York Bank had volunteered to make investments and buy acceptances in the New York
market for several of the Reserve banks and, briefly, the Boston bank
joined in making such purchases as well. The Governors immediately
saw the advantage of such an arrangement. Unlike the Board's plan
which implied that purchases should be made independently and thus
competitively, this procedure avoided the principal defect of competition which would be to "spoil the rate," as Governor Rhoades of
Philadelphia put it. Responding to Governor Strong's request for a
"uniform and definite policy both as to the methods of handling the
(open market) account and . . . as to rates," Governor Aiken of Boston stated the majority opinion:
. . . So far as we are concerned we would like to go on with the present
arrangement, and there is one aspect of it that you have not brought out. If we
cannot do it, it necessitates our going into the market and buying, ourselves, and
that would reduce the rate, unquestionably.1*

In other words, the Governors felt that sound banking policy dictated
the avoidance of actions which would ease money rates downward.
Under the initial arrangement, then, purchases were made in theNew York market by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York in response to the earning requirements of the other Federal Reserve banksand so as not to allow rates to bid down. Arrangements for the apportionment of investments on the basis of need were effected during the
Fourth Conference, in June 1915, and during the Fifth Conference it
was agreed that the New York Bank should be compensated for its
services by receiving a certain percentage of the interest on a given
class of investment.15 There were, however, several problems involved.
™8.R.t 4th Conf., pp. 181-d82. It should be noted that this is the only reference
throughout the period to the potential impact of sales by the Reserve banks in the
open market.
is 8.R., 1st Conf., p. 3.
i* 8.R., 3rd Conf., pp. 152-154 ; 158 ; 160.
™ Summary, 4th Conf., p. 13. 8.R., 5th Conf., pp. 178-179, 186, 188-189.

The board of directors of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago felt
that, with respect to commercial paper and domestic acceptances, purchases by the Reserve banks in the open market "would be in direct
competition with our member banks," and had agreed that its policy
would be to buy domestic acceptances only from member banks with
their endorsement.16
Meanwhile, the Federal Reserve Board was aware of the problems
of the Reserve banks with respect to earnings and, toward the end of
the first year of the System's operation, suggested assessing the member banks to cover expenses. Governor Strong objected that:
In the first place, there is nothing in the Federal Reserve Act that provides for
an assessment. It probably would require an amendment to the Act, and the debate on that topic in Congress I believe would open the door to disastrous results.

Governor Strong was probably right in assuming that an assessment
would subject the System to considerable criticism. It would not only,
as he implied, meet with opposition from the member banks, but would
discourage State banks from joining the System.17
While this was an effective attack on the Board's position and the
proposed amendment was withdrawn, it did not offer an alternative
solution to the problem of covering the expenses of the Reserve banks.
The Governors were not anxious to raise the issue of open market operations with the Board and while they had agreed among themselves
that investments were the solution to earning expenses, they were anxious to preserve freedom of action in this area. As early as the Second
Conference, in January 1915, Governors Wold of Minneapolis and
Strong had anticipated that the Board would establish an "arbitrary"
regulation requiring the endorsement of acceptances purchased by the
Reserve banks, as advised by the Federal Advisory Council—the body
representative of the member banks—which would limit their discretion.18 In particular, the Reserve banks were anxious to deal in the
acceptances of private bankers and trust companies outside the System, there being a more plentiful supply of this paper than of member
bank acceptances. The problem was to find means of obtaining statements of condition acceptable to the Board without prying too deeply
into their affairs, "For instance," as Governor Strong noted, "the firm
of J. P. Morgan & Company have never 19
made a statement in all their
history, even to the Bank of England." But if Morgan and others
were to be accommodated with verbal statements, it was necessary both
to avoid overt regulation by the Board and to deal with the matter
confidentially since the member banks, subjected to more careful
scrutiny as a condition of membership in the System, would tend to
resent such latitude.
Subsequently the Board did issue regulations requiring a statement
of condition in order to make acceptances of private bankers eligible
for purchase in the open market.20 It employed its regulatory powers
covering open market transactions to the maximum degree, defining
eligibility for member bank acceptances, commercial paper, warrants
and Government bonds. Foreign trade acceptances were not covered
but were understood to be eligible, while domestic acceptances of State
S.R., 4th Conf., pp. 247-249.
17 S.R., 5th Conf., pp. 133-134.

S.R., 2nd Conf., pp. 410-412.
"8.R., 6th Conf., p. 321.
*>IMd., pp. 319-325.

banks which were not members of the System were, in effect, declared
ineligible on the grounds that such transactions would not be fair to
the member banks.21
As for centralization of purchases, the question was raised as to
whether the Board had "in any way sanctioned the operation or
criticized it." Governor Strong replied :
Well, I do not think they have criticized it in the slightest. They have apparently sanctioned it without formally doing so.23

The justification for joint account purchases by the New York Bank
was discussed at length during the June 1915 Conference. Governor
Strong explained that the New York Bank "let some things go by"
in order "not to destroy our market in New York"—not to "mark the
rate down on yourself," which suggests that the Reserve banks were
thinking of higher rates as advantageous in terms of their own earnings. The New York Bank was, as Strong admitted, competing with
the larger New York banks in the market but was careful not to make
"an artificial market with our cheap money." In addition, it had made
an arrangement with the Deputy Comptroller of the City of New
York to buy directly some $12 or $15 million of revenue warrants
rather than bid for them in the market and drive the rate down.23
Thus by curtailing competition among themselves through joint investments by the New York Bank, the Reserve banks were able to
protect rates and to minimize the effects of competition with the member banks.
Nevertheless, during the October 1915 Conference, Governor Kains
of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco expressed reservations
about the arrangement.
I feel personally, that I would like to see you discontinue acting as agent for
the rest of us. . . . I would like to see all of the banks go into the market. I do
not think that the New York bank buys enough . . . and I think you would find
it to your interest to let us go in, and the rest of the buyers and fill up our little
wants and leave the market open to you all . . . it would be fairer for all the
banks to go into the market.24

Meanwhile, Governor Strong had adopted a somewhat diffident
posture. In a discussion of the question of compensating the New York
Bank for its services, he had said:
« 8.R., 5th Conf., pp. 432-433.
8.R., 4th Conf., pp. 268-269.
Ibid., pp. 260-266.
* 8.R., 5th Conf., pp. 192-193.
A subsequent discussion of this period, during the April 1920 Conference, indicates
that Governor Kains was not the only Reserve bank official who had felt some resentment at the way joint purchases were handled:
Governor MORSS (Boston). . . . As I remember that situation, the Federal Reserve
Banks were short on earnings; that is true . . . They were coming into the New York
Market through other brokers and competing on the rate with New York, with the
New York banks for those acceptances. It was as much for the protection of the New
York bank as anything, to protect the rates, and that was a part of that operation.
Mr. KENZEL (New York) : It was a question, then, Governor, of stabilization of rates,
to prevent them getting too low.
Governor MORSS. That was for the benefit of the New York bank as much as for
the benefit of the other banks.
Governor CALKINS. (San Francisco). It was for the benefit of all the banks.
Governor MORSS. Yes, and just as much for New York as for the other banks, to
maintain rates, because at that time rates on money were very easy, things were
selling very cheap, and competition for those bills would have sent them down to I do
not know what price. We bought municipal notes—I was only a director at the bank
then—at about two or something per cent.
Governor CALKINS. I think it was one and three quarters per cent.
Governor MORSS. Well, whatever it was, I do not want to be disagreeable about it, but
I really think that New York makes rather too much of that argument.
Governor CALKINS. What would the situation be if New York did not buy the acceptances that were offered in the market?
The CHAIRMAN (Chicago). There would not be any market. (8.R., April 1920 Conf., pp.

Whatever charge you gentlemen agree is wise will never pay back the New
York bank for the work that we have done upon this question. It is a question
of how much we are willing to contribute to the welfare of the System by
continuing this arrangement. Looking at it from a selfish standpoint, it ought
to be discontinued at once.16

It was nevertheless clear that Governor Strong wished to protect
the arrangement and, given Governor Kains' objections, that more
than a verbal agreement was necessary. Subsequently, during the January 1916 Conference, he succeeded in having a resolution adopted
which directed the Federal Eeserve Bank of New York to prepare
figures indicating what minimum investment the bank should maintain to produce income sufficient to cover its current expenses and that
the division of investments for other participating banks should take
place only after the minimum investment had been made by the New
York Bank in its own behalf. This resolution not only accorded de
facto recognition to the dominant position of the New York Bank,
but indirectly sanctioned its role in controlling the volume of
Another significant aspect of the resolution was its provision for the
appointment of a committee to study the question of apportioning
investments. Aside from this purely technical function, it was noted
that the "object of the committee was to prevent one Federal Eeserve
Bank from entering into another district and buying securities at a
lower rate than was current in that district," and the recommendation
of the committee which followed was that any Reserve bank making
purchases in another district should do so "only at the rate which the
Federal Reserve Bank of that district recommends or would be willing
to pay for the investment." Despite the egalitarian appearance of the
recommendation and the fact that it was issued by a committee composed of the governors of several banks, it in effect gave control of
pricing of System open market transactions to the New York Bank.
The committee report makes the point as follows:
Inasmuch as New York City is the chief market in which siuch investments
have in the past been purchased, and since the majority of such purchases have
been made by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York upon orders from other
Federal Reserve Banks, and inasmuch as New York City is likely to continue the
chief market in which such purchases in the future will be made, the committee
invited into the discussions the officers of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York,
whose interests will be affected in proportion to its very large requirements.26

As this resolution indicates, Governor Strong had arrived at the
goal of centralizing purchases and sales by means of a series of actions
which seemed to have other objectives, a strategy which helped to
camouflage the real significance of the achievement. It is not surprising that he was the only official within the System who recognized the
importance of Eeserve bank transactions in the market since there
was no significant market outside New York. Having controlled these
operations for the System almost from the beginning, he alone of
the governors was in a position to observe their effects on money rates
in New York and thus on the country at large.
3. The System?s impact on the Government bond market
The arrangement for centralized purchases was briefly threatened,
however, by the way in which the Federal Eeserve banks handled purchases of (jovernment bonds. As the following excerpt from the June
8.R., 5th Conf., p. 188.
* 8.R., 7th Conf., pp. 84-85 ; 87 ; 93.

1915 Conference reveals, the governors' concern for earnings led them
to ignore the requirement of the Federal Reserve Act that 2 per cent
bonds bearing the circulation privilege be purchased at par and accrued interest.
Governor AIKEN (Boston) : It seems to me there is only one practical way to
do it and that is to have one bank act as agent for the others in making these
purchases. As you (Strong) have suggested, the price would go to par at once if
we began to buy against one another.
The CHAIRMAN (Strong) : It would be worse than that. The price would go
to par and be par so hard that we would not be able to get the bonds. As long as
they are selling at even a shade under par we always have a market to work on;
but if they get right squarely up to par the banks would likely not sell them.87

As Governor Strong reported back to the October 1915 Conference,
this proved to be an arrangement "which resulted in our being charged
with a conspiracy to depress the price of Government bonds."28 The
New York Bank then abandoned its role as agent for the System in
making these purchases and concentrated on other types of investments
for the joint account. The individual Reserve banks continued to purchase the 2 per cent Government bonds in the open market, however,
as required by the Federal Reserve Act for the purpose of retiring
the national bank notes secured by these bonds.
A little more than a year later, in a letter to the Federal Reserve
Agents dated November 24, 1916, the Federal Reserve Board called
attention to the fact that several Federal Reserve banks had recently
purchased 2 per cent bonds above par and that the price of the bonds
had been driven up by the competitive bidding of the banks. Although
the Reserve banks had acted within their legal rights, their purchases
had, nevertheless, had the unfortunate effect of creating "an artificial
and unnatural market" for these securities which had hindered the
Board's efforts to get the national banks to retire their notes.29 This
episode illustrates the critical importance, from the beginning, of Federal Reserve operations in the money market.
The solution which the Board proposed was the appointment of a
committee to make purchases of 2 per cent bonds for the joint account
of all the Reserve banks to ensure "a more healthy and normal market"
for the bonds.30 The governors were delighted to have their arrangement for joint purchases enlarged and formally approved by the
Board and, at Governor Strong's suggestion, added a provision authorizing the committee of governors to establish buying 31
prices and making these prices binding on all Federal Reserve banks. With the addition of these powers, the governors had succeeded in welding together
the banks into a single unit—an embryonic central bank. Nevertheless, the majority of Reserve bank officials seem not to have grasped
the implications of such a transformation, and continued to view open
market operations as primarily a means of assuring adequate earnings. Vice Governor Treman of the New York Bank expressed the
position taken by the Governors' Conference in the statement: "We
are one unit, and we should help each other to make enough to pay
expenses." 32
8.R., 4 th Conf., pp. 349-350.
» 8.R., 5th Conf., p. 428.
» 8.R., 9th Conf., pp. 57-58.
so TUd., p. 60.
TUd., p. 70.

32 ibid., p. 37.


Although this constituted the majority view of the function of
centralized open market operations, it is clear that Governor Strong
saw earnings as only one aspect of these transactions. Given his awareness of their effect on rate levels and the fact that the New York Bank
largely controlled the mechanism whose creation it had prompted,
it seems reasonable to suggest that the stability of short-term rates in
the New York market during 1915-1916 may have been due to the
active influence of the New York Bank on that market, and that open
market operations may have played an active role in bringing about
the lower and more uniform rate levels which the administration and
the Federal Eeserve Board had announced as the System's objective.33
In any event, the impetus, organization and theory necessary for
transforming the Federal Keserve System into a central bank already
existed at the outbreak of World War I. The role of the System in
financing the War, however, not only solved temporarily the problem
of earning expenses for the Reserve banks, but shifted the focus of the
New York Bank as well.
« Banking and Monetary Statistics, p. 449. See also footnote 1, abore.


When the United States entered the war on April 2, 1917, the Federal Reserve System had already devised a procedure for centralizing
open market operations and controlling the price of Government
securities. The war provided a unique opportunity for the further development of open market operations as the Federal debt expanded
precipitously from about $1 billion in 1917—representing primarily
the 2 percent bonds securing the national bank circulation—to $25
billion in 1919. Nevertheless, while the reserve banks were wholly
committed to support the price of these new issues, the Reserve bank
governors elected to play an indirect role in financing the war, confining their operations to the making of loans to member banks on
Government bond collateral and to the administrative functions required as fiscal agents of the Treasury. So rigid was their commitment
to this role that, since Reserve bank earnings from discounts 1 rose
immediately, operations in the open market virtually ceased.
One factor in the abandonment of open market operations was concern for the possible effects on the System of holding a class of security—the government bond—which could not serve as collateral for
currency. On the other hand, the governors were alarmed by the possible consequences of permitting the rapidly expanding Federal deibt to
carry currency privileges, a legislative proposal considered seriously
by the Board.2 They had, however, favored the amendment enacted
September 7, 1916 which permitted notes of member banks, representing 15-day advances by the Reserve 'banks secured by government
bonds, to be used as collateral for Federal Reserve notes. Thus, in this
indirect way government securities almost single-handedly financed
the immense growth in total Federal reserve credit outstanding—
from $300 million in March, 1917, to $2,498 million at the end of 1918—
while government securities held directly by the Reserve banks during the war never rose above $330 million, an immense reduction in
the percentage of the total Federal debt which they had held at the
beginning of the war.3
At the April, 1917 Conference, the Committee on Disposition of Government Bonds
reported that it had sold $7,500,000 United States thirty-year conversion 3's for the
Reserve banks in January; had ascertained that none of the banks wished the Committee to purchase any United States 2 percent bonds in the open market; and requested further instructions. After some discussion, the Committee was requested to
arrange for further sales of about $2 to $3 million (Stenographic Record, April, 1917
•Conference, pp. 10—23). During a subsequent informal conference with the Board, it was
reported that the New York Bank had sold $55 million of bills of exchange to the other
Reserve banks, each taking $5 million (Minutes, November 8. 1917 Conference, p. 1).
Mennwhile, the Committee on Disposition of Government Bonds had been voted a continuation of powers and functioned during the war as an agent for sales of Government
'bonds, maintaining Reserve bank holdings at approximately $330 million.
Stenographic Record, April 1917 Conference, pp. 6-8: "?57-158.
» Ray B. WesterfiW, Money, Credit and Banking, New York. The Ronald Press Co., 1947,
p. 633. Lester V. Chandler, Benjamin Strong, Central Banker, Washington, D.C., The
Brookings Institution, 1958, p. 116.


The governors had thought that curtailing their direct holdings of
government securities would assure that the Treasury would not absorb a very large part of the credit extended by the Federal Reserve
Banks. Their overall objective was to keep the credit resources of the
banking system as a whole free for commercial needs by emphasizing
private financing of the Government's needs through long-term issues
to non-bank investors. They believed that a substantial portion of the
"ten or fifteen billions of dollars of savings deposits in (the) country"
could be transferred to the Government, affecting the reserves of the
banks "to the least possible extent"; that an adequate portion of expenditures could be met from current taxes; and that the amount
of investments by banks, representing the short-term needs of the
Government, could be kept small.4 But purchases of wartime Treasury
debt issues by commercial banks, though essentially financed by the
wartime expansion of Federal Reserve credit, were considered by the
Governors to be preferable (less inflationary) to direct purchases by
the Federal Reserve banks. Their preferred method of placing wartime Treasury debt issues is not, of course, less inflationary than direct
sales to Reserve banks would be. But it is more profitable to commercial banks.
The program which reflected these views was already in the process
of development before the declaration of war, the governors having
been galvanized into action by a Treasury proposal to sell certificates
directly to the Reserve banks. The Treasury had offered $50 million
2 percent 90-day certificates through the Federal Reserve Board, and
had expressed the opinion that "the certificates would be a desirable
purchase" since the Reserve banks paid no interest on Treasury deposits while the national banks, normally used as depositories, did.5
Governor A. L. Aiken of Boston, acting chairman of the Governors
Conference in the absence of Benjamin Strong, replied to this proposal on March 28, 1917, as follows:
We feel that it is of the utmost importance that at the present time the resources
of the Reserve banks should be available so far as is possible for the benefit of
their member banks; and we should have preferred, had the taking of this issue
been burdensome to them, to have rediscounted for them to meet their requirements, rather than to have taken the issue direct, and our committee are in
hopes that should future financing of this sort become necessary that it will be
dealt with in this way, and the loans placed at a rate that will induce the commercial banks to absorb the issue.8

Although Secretary of the Treasury William G. McAdoo and Federal Reserve Board member Paul Warburg vigorously supported the
Treasury's proposal that its short-term obligations be taken by the
Reserve banks, the governors succeeded in convincing a majority of
the Board to accept Governor Aiken's position. Subsequently, an agreement was negotiated between Secretary McAdoo and Governor Strong
of the New York Bank whereby short advances, not exceeding twenty
days, were made to the Treasury by the New York Bank, with optional
participation by the other Federal Reserve banks.7
Another aspect of the Treasury's proposal which had caused apprehension among the governors was the question of rates on the new

S.R., April, 1917 Conf., pp. 237 : 318-321. Chandler, op. tit., p. 108.
s 8.R., April, 1917 Conf., p. 283. Chandler, op. cit., pp. 114-115.
Chandler, op. cit., pp. 113-114.
8.R., April, 1917 Conf., pp. 310-312. Chandler, op. cit.t p. 115.

issues. They had felt that it was "essential to correct the public mind
. . . as to rates of interest which have heretofore prevailed on Government bonds." They argued that there were "special reasons" why a
2 percent rate had been possible before, but that 3% percent along
with a provision for conversion as rates moved upward, would now
be necessary "to insure placing (the) issue in the shortest possible
time in the hands of the ultimate investor." Governor Aiken warned
that "inability to move those bonds promptly at three percent would
necessitate a pretty long carry on the part of the member banks, and
consequently chronic discounting for a considerable amount at a time
when our resources should be as free as possible for the commercial
needs of the country." 8
These views, representing the position of the Governors Conference,- were submitted to the Federal Reserve Board as a formal program for war financing and, despite the Treasury's objections to some
points, were approved by the Board. One aspect of the program involved a drastic change in the entire fiscal agency apparatus, shifting
these functions from the offices of the Independent Treasury System
to the Reserve banks. Benjamin Strong and other governors of the
larger Reserve banks had long been anxious to have their position as
one of the fiscal agents of the Treasury raised to the primary status
which they thought was the prerogative of a Reserve banking system.
The transfer of these functions to the System did occur during the
war years, although it was primarily the New York Bank which
assumed the role of fiscal agent since, given its relative size and location in the center of foreign exchange as well as the domestic money
market, it was the logical choice as the principal bank of the Government. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York sold and distributed
almost half of all securities offered by the Treasury during the war
and handled its foreign exchange business and its arrangements with
and loans to foreign governments. Its services, and those of the System
as a whole, proved so satisfactory that the Independent Treasury
System was abolished in 1920.9
To resume the main story, a Liberty Loan Committee was organized
in each Federal Reserve district along the lines suggested by Governor
Aiken and with the governors of the Reserve Banks serving as chairmen. It had been agreed that each issue should receive wide-spread
publicity by "first class publicity men," and the first issue, which Governor Aiken suggested should be large in order to capitalize on "the
popular enthusiasm and patriotic impulses with which the country is
stirred," was quickly sold. To promote sales people were urged to borrow to buy bonds. While it was recognized that this would expand the
money supply, the Governors and Board considered this preferable to
direct purchases by banks on the puzzling ground that in this way and
only in this way would the loans be repaid out of future earnings.10
Such a method of selling bonds satisfies the requirements of the Puritan
ethic but reflects some distortion in understanding of the monetary
mechanism. It is certainly no less inflationary than the Treasury's
original proposal. Moreover, the amount of public purchases was not
8.R., April, 1917 Conf., pp. 236-238. Excerpt from the memorandum on Bond Issues;
Ibid. pp. 231, 318.
9 i,
Chandler, op. cit., p^ 104-105.
S.R., April, 1917 Conf., pp. 230, 319.


large enough to absorb the wartime rise of Government debt. Large
parts of the wartime debt issues had to be purchased by commercial
banks and, in fact banks purchased approximately $5 billion or 20
percent of the debt issued to finance the war. They did so essentially
by borrowing from the Treasury and Federal Keserve banks. Indeed
such borrowings also financed commercial bank loans to the nonbank
public buyers of wartime Treasury bond issues.
Taking into account that the initial impact of large bond issues
sold either to commercial banks or to the nonbank public contract
the money supply, the governors' program also provided that subscriptions in amounts over $1,000 be payable in quarterly installments,
and that proceeds be allowed to remain on deposit in the institution
receiving the subscription. In effect this permitted banks to "buy" Government securities without liquidating or using other assets in the full
amount of their subscriptions. In addition, the program contained two
further provisions which have had a profound effect on both the banking system and the Government's debt management policies to the
present day. First, Government deposits in commercial banks were
exempted from reserve requirements and second, the banks were no
longer required to pay interest on Government deposits.11
One of the reasons for the suggestion that interest payments on
Government deposits be removed was that this feature had led the
Treasury to bypass the Reserve banks, which paid no interest, in
making deposits and requesting other services as fiscal agents. The
more significant reason, however, was to avoid placing "on the depositor bank the necessity of loaning this special deposit to reimburse
themselves for interest payments, thereby producing an expansion
which is as much to be avoided as is undue contraction in dealing with
the situation." 12 The fact, is however, that the banks continued to
lend these deposits, now with a substantial increase in income. They
were now able to realize the full amount of interest on loans which
utilized these free deposits, and also at the same time to collect
interest on the Government bonds which they had "bought" in creating the deposits when they subscribed to the Treasury's debt issues.
When called on to repay the Government funds deposited, they had
only to apply to the Federal Reserve bank for a loan, using the Government bonds which had created the deposits as collateral. The Federal Reserve banks, in turm were able to use the notes of the applying
member banks as collateral for Federal Reserve notes to advance to
the bank.
It would be difficult to conceive of a more profitable arrangement for
the banks or one which was more inflationary and, by the fall of 1919,
it was admitted as such by at least one official within the System,
Benjamin Strong.13 Nevertheless, the arrangement was perpetuated
and its use facilitated by the addition in 1932 of a provision permitting
Government bonds to be used as collateral for Federal Reserve notes. It
is not surprising that the other unusually gifted individual whose
career has been associated primarily with the Federal Reserve System,
Marriner S. Eccles, saw the very real disadvantages of this arrange11

Ibid., p. 320.
IUd., p. 321.
S.R., November, 1919 Conf., p. 261.


ment. His proposal that reserve requirements for Government deposits
held by commercial banks be reinstated was enacted in 1935 although
*the no less reasonable proposal to abolish collateral requirements was
rejected. Reserve requirements for deposits created by sales of Treasury securities to banks were once again waived in 1943 for the duration
of hostilities, and such sales to banks was the primary method used to
market these issues during World War II, again proving profitable
to banks as well as inflationary to the economy.14
Meanwhile, another departure from previous procedures which was
~to have far-reaching consequences for the System was the introduction
of a preferential rate on loans to member banks backed by Government
bonds. This provision, devised by Board member Paul Warburg, was
a major factor in assuring the success of the Treasury's efforts to borrow so much so quickly.15 In addition, however, it had the effect of completely undermining the penalty rate theory on which the Federal
Eeserve System had relied in setting its discount rates, and was a further indication of the extent to which the commercial loan theory had
been made obsolete by the amendment which permitted notes on these
loans to be used as collateral for currency. The so-called preferential
rates were lower than the discount rate on commercial paper and
lower than the yield on the Government bond. For the first time,
then, the member banks were able to obtain loan accommodation at
a profit since the rate on the collateral offered was higher than the
rate paid the Reserve bank for the loan. As a result, the preferential
rate became, in effect, the discount rate. Discounts of commercial paper
ceased to be a factor in applications for Reserve bank funds, while
loans by the Reserve banks on Government bonds rose from $20 million
in early 1917 to about $2 billion at the end of the war.16
The result was more of a problem than had been anticipated by the
Governors and the Board. The amount of the federal debt itself was
more, and the amount of taxes collected less than had been estimated.
More of the debt—14 percent of the total—was short-term than had
been hoped, and commercial banks owned directly 20 percent—or approximately $6 billion—of the total. Moreover, the System had made
Ho overt effort to control the growth of total bank credit. Between
June, 1916, and June, 1919, total loans and investments of commercial
banks increased by $11,350,000,000, with holdings of Government
bonds representing only about half that amount.17
As these figures indicate, the System's program for private financing
of the war effort through non-bank investors was far from a full success even on its own standard since $5 billion of the wartime debt issue
had to be purchased by commercial banks. Moreover the program had
not been ible to prevent an inflation of bank credit. The dimensions of
i* Public Law No. 305, 74th Cong., August 23, 1935. Public Law No. 37, 78th Cong.,
April 13, 1943.
For a discussion of the proposed abolition of collateral requirements, see Banking
Act 0/1955,'Hearings before the House Committee on Banking and Currency on H.E. 3357,
7T4th Cong., l*t Sess., Efeb, 1-April 8, 1935, pp. 196, 219-220.
It should also be noted that, after World War II, Eccles proposed that banks be required temporarily to hold a special reserve consisting of Government securities and/or
cash to immobilize new banfc reserves created b y t h e System's purchases in support of
the Government securities market (Marriner S. JEccles, Beckoning Frontiers, New York.
-Alfred A. Knopf, 1951, pp. 426-429, 473-474).
is 8.R., April, 1917 Conf., p. 232.
" Chandler, op. dt., p. 117.
"Ibid., pp. 112, lli.


the problem were relatively slight,as compared with other belligerents,
but then so was our involvement in the war. Although all the major
points of the program had been devised by Eeserve officials—including
the preferential rate which originated with the Board and the rate
on the initial Liberty Loan issue which had been suggested by the
governors ill conSult^ati'qn with bond dealers—the System took no responsibility for eatner the program itself or its outcome.
In part, the System's attitude can be explained by the political controversy which inevitably surrounds th6 Treasury's borrowing programs. As early as the Congressional elections of 1918 the Republican
Party made the Liberty Loan campaign an issue. During the subsequent presidential campaign, it charged the incumbent administration
with financing the war—. . r by a policy of inflation through certificate borrowings from the banks
and bond's issued at artificial rates18sustained by the low discount rates established by the Federal Reserve Board.

The charge misses a main defect of the wartime finance program which
was to permit banks to profit from the program. Inflation is difficult
at best to prevent in wartime—virtually impossible unless taxes are
raised intolerably high. But although monetary inflation may be unavoidable during wartime, there is no need to pay banks to create the
additional money supply as was done in World War I, and again in
World War I I .
The Federal Reserve System was partly exonerated, however. Generalizing on a later period in its relations with the Treasury—during
Secretary Glass^ tenure in 1019-1920—Republican critics saw the System as being an unwilling victim of a dominating Secretary and recommended that it "be free from political influence, which is quite as
important as its independence of domination by financial combinations." 19 The argument is moot, especially in a democracy.
Meanwhile, as the greater problems and greater failures of policy
in the post-war era emerged, it was perhaps inevitable that System
officials would find it convenient to acquiesce to the popular view that
their actions had been dictated by the Treasury from the outbreak of
war. In retrospect, they appeared to feel that the S1/^ to 4% percent
rates on the four Liberty Loan issues had not been high enough, but
overlooked the fact that they had not questioned these rates at the
time the issues were floated. Subsequently, Governor Strong alone
among Beserve officials was willing to defend the war-time rate
policies but, as the following excerpt indicates, he, too, contributed to
the long-standing view that the System had played no role in formulating that policy. Appearing before the Joint Commission on Agricultural Inquiry on August 8, 1921, Strong had argued:
Do you suppose for a mifctite that the United States Government, the Treasury,
would permit a loaja to fail, in the face of the military necessity of getting
the money, because of aft interest Irate? I -believe personally that bad we
endeavored to force econom3^—economy of credit and economy in consumption
of goods-—upon the people tit the United States by discount rates^ we would have
been inviting disaster. There is no limit to the level to which rates would have

National Party Platforms, 181^0-1956, compiled,by Kirk H. Porter and Donald Bruce
Johnson, Urbana, 111., University of Illinois Press, 1956, p. 234.
w Ibid., p. 234.

On the question "as to where the final responsibility did rest,"
Governor Strong added that, under the various Congressional authorizations to borrow money and raise taxes, "responsibility for carrying
out the policies of Congress as to the finances of the war . . . rested
with the Secretary of the Treasury." 20 But whatever the legal definition of ultimate responsibility, the Federal Keserve, not the Treasury,
was the architect of the program of wartime finance in World War I.
Agricultural Inquiry, Hearings before the Joint Commission on Agricultural Inquiry,
67th Congress, 1st Session, Vol. 2, pp. 453-454.
It should be noted that Secretary William G. McAdoo also contributed to this impression in his book Crowded Years (Boston, Houghton Miffiin, 1931), and Elmus R.
Wicker (Federal Reserve Monetary Policy, 1917-1988, New York, Random House, 1966,,
pp. 8ff.) attributes the policy of war finance primarily to McAdoo. On the other hand,
rter V. Chandler (op. cit., pp. 107-111) makes a case for the fact that Benjamin
Strong contributed to devising the program, or at least that some of his ideas on the
subject were similar to those finally adopted. The evidence of the Aiken memorandum
on Bond Issues (SR., April, 1917 Conf., pp. 318-321) indicates, however, that the
program originated with the Reserve bank governors (probably including Strong) and
that the final provisions were worked out in conferences with the governors, the Board
and Treasury officials.




1. The 1920 Fed-Treasury "accord"
In the early months of 1919, the majority of Eeserve officials considered an advance in interest rates both inevitable and desirable. However, war-time controls were still in effect, the peace treaty as yet not
signed, and the Treasury needed to float another large loan. This was a
potent reason for delaying action, as was the position of member
banks, choked with agreements to carry customers on loans on Government bonds until November, 1919. Meanwhile, the action of the British
Government in pulling the j)eg out of the support of foreign exchange
had already resulted in an increase in bank rates in New York, and
Governor Strong of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York was led
"to fear . . . that our liquidation may come a bit too fast for us, and
that we may have to take measures to control it; that our problem is
almost reversed on our hands over night.'7 *
At the March, 1919 Conference of Governors with the Federal Reserve Board, Governor Strong argued that, in theory, an increase in the
discount rate on commercial paper would be sound policy—it would impel sales of goods to pay off loans and thus lower commodity prices—••
but potential losses to member banks on their loans on Government securities made him reluctant to press the point. A majority of the other
Reserve bank governors thought of the problem in terms of the need
for "a greater commercialization of the system," but opposed an increase in the discount rate. They recommended that the borrowing
rate on Government bonds be raised to the level of the commercial rate
and that the Treasury should pay 5 percent on the upcoming Victory
Loan to compensate member banks for the increase. Under Secretary
of the Treasury Leffingwell and several of the Reserve bank governors
from agricultural districts countered with the suggestion that, rather
than raise the so-called preferential rate on bonds, it might be advisable to reverse the differential, lowering the commercial rate for the
time being to encourage bank loans for commercial purposes and stimulate production. None of the arguments were pursued vigorously.
It seemed more reasonable to wait for future developments.2
At the conclusion of the March Conference, it was agreed that the
rate differential should be maintained until after the flotation of the
Treasury's fifth loan, that the preferential rate remain uniform for
all twelve Reserve banks, and that there be no changes in rates on commercial paper for the time being.3 By the end of September, however,
8 Stenographic

Record, March, 1919 Conference, p. 162.
Ibid., pp. 158, 166, 233-235.
*Ibid., pp. 353-354.
As for the suggested 5 percent rate on the Victory Loan, the Treasury declined to accept
the advice offered. The rate on the taxable portion of the loan was 4% percent, and was
3% percent on the tax exempt portion. The governors again recommended a 5 percent rate
in April, 1920, after the discount rate had been increased to 6 percent.



it was apparent that there had been an escalation in the rate of inflation. Thus, as soon as the member banks were clear of their obligations
for the last Liberty Loan issue, the Federal Reserve Board approved
discount rate increases for ten 1 of the Reserve banks. Before the increase, rates had been set at 4, i /^ and 4 ^ percent. By the end of the
year, ten of the banks carried a 4% percent discount rate—New York,
the first to increase its rate, having covered the full amount of the
increase from its previous rate of 4 percent.4 The preferential rate
was also raised. The difference between the yield on the securities and
the rate the member banks paid the Reserve banks to borrow against
them was eliminated so that the member banks could no longer profit
from these loans. The difference between the rate on loans against
Government bond collateral and commercial rates was not eliminated,
however, until the latter part of 1921.
The impact on short-term rates in New York City was immediate
and dramatic. Between November 1 and November 15, 1919, the yield
on 90-day acceptances rose from 4.28 to 4.53 percent, for example.
Rates on stock market loans increased more sharply in response to
the increase in the discount and preferential rates, the rate on new
stock exchange all loans rising from 9.80 to 14.90 percent.5 But the
increases seem hardly to have been noticed within the System. Governor W. P. G. Harding applied pressure for further discount
rate increases during the November, 1919 Conference—"regardless of the Treasury situation and of the attitude of the Treasury officials, and despite the attitude of the Federal Advisory Council"—
but surprisingly, a majority of the Reserve bank governors opposed a
further increase until after the January, 1920 refunding operations.
Under Secretary Leffingwell had assured the governors that, after
January, "the matter of Federal Reserve Bank rates would be indifferent," and they were content to wait rather than take the risk or accept
the responsibility for jeopardizing the Treasury's program.6
There were, however, exceptions. Governor Morss of the Boston
Bank argued that the Treasury's insistence on a continuation of the
preferential rate had endangered the reserve positions of the Federal
Reserve banks, while Governor Strong argued that to sell a bond in
January at 414 percent and then raise rates would make the System
"guilty of a sharp trick." "Either we are emancipated now," he said,
Banking and Monetary Statistics, Washington, D.C., U.S. Board of Governors of the
Federal Reserve System, 1943, p. 439.
See table below :
(Banking and Monetary Statistics, p. 452)

Prevailing rate o n Prime
90 days
Week ending—
Nov. 1
Nov. 15

8.R., November, 1919, Conf., pp. lfc-17, 234.

Average rate on stock
exchange call loans
time loans, 90 days










"or else we are not." Governor Harding agreed, noting that an increase
in the rates would depress the price of bonds as much in March as in
November. "If the Treasury is concerned with the price of Liberty
Bonds," he continued, "it seems to me that is something that is going to
continue to hang over us." 7
^ Unfortunately, following the September, 1919 refunding operations, the controversy over rates had heated up and, as Grovernor
Strong frankly admitted, had "taken the shape of more or less a personal difference of view between Mr. Leffingwell and myself." The
Treasury had reduced its floating indebtedness by $500,000,000 with
the expectation that the funds would be used to pay off loans on Government bonds. The funds released stimulated a further expansion of
bank credit and an increase in stock market speculation. The Treasury
held the Federal Reserve banks responsible for these developments
because they had made no attempt to persuade the member banks to
use these funds to effect a contraction arranged by the Treasury to be
as painless as possible. Instead, Secretary Glass charged, the member
banks had been permitted to expand their loans on stocks.8
Replying to these charges, Governor Strong argued that the inflationary effect and the increase in loans on stock was the result of the
Treasury's aversion to financing at short intervals. The real problem,
he said, was that when the Treasury sold a large volume of securities
to the banks, it created a class of deposits which required no reserve.
Subsequently when the Treasury used the deposits to finance its purchases, the public's deposits, behind which reserves were required, rose,
and when called on to satisfy these requirements, banks applied to the
Federal Reserve Banks for loans at the then prevailing low discount
rates. At this point, Governor Strong said, it was useless to suggest
that a Federal Reserve bank "admonish" its member banks. The loans
applied for were not for the purpose of lending on the stock exchange
but rather :
. . . to make good a reserve which is impaired by the withdrawal of a deposit
which had been created by a loan. The damage is all done [he continued], and
that is exactly what takes place in the certificate of indebtedness transaction.
That is why it is attractive, that is why it is inflationary.9

Governor Strong noted that the Treasury intended to repeat this
type of transaction—refunding $1.5 billion of securities in January,
1920, with a prior issue of $400 million in December—and warned that
it would have a profoundly inflationary impact unless the preferential
and commercial discount rates were raised. As an alternative, he suggested that these rates be raised, that at th£ same time the rate on
Treasurys be increased and also that the Treasury be financed by very
short borrowings:
. . . by taking a profit out of that Government deposit, if you please, and
compensating the banks that take the deposits by a higher rate of interest, borrow very much smaller amounts for short periods, and keep this thing rolling on
little by little until we get over the difficulty; postpone this whole scheme of
refunding and take away the inducement to expansion by the creation of these
Government deposits to the very limit, and compensate the banks by paying a
better rate.10
7 Ibid., pp. 89-90, 234-235.
9 Ibid., pp. 73, 277-278, 285.
x Ibid., p. 261.
« Ibid., pp. 261-262.


While others had argued, despite evidence to the contrary, that a*
higher interest rate was necessary to sell Treasury certificates, Governor Strong recognized that at the current rate the issues would continue to be an attractive investment for the banks. His reason for
suggesting a higher rate on Government issues was, as he said, tocompensate the banks for the curtailment of a profitable arrangement..
He assumed that protecting the profits of member banks was an integral aspect of Federal Reserve policy and argued that unless the
Treasury agreed to pay higher interest on its obligations, the System
would not be able to raise its discount rates "in good faith." Furthermore, he argued that the consequences of waiting to raise discount rates
until after the Treasury operations were out of the way would be the
. . . from every banker in New York . . . that they have been deceived, that
we have made a rate to enable them to buy the certificates and as soon as they
bought them we have raised on the rate, making it 11
unprofitable and disastrous^
to them after the Government deposit is withdrawn.

Governor Strong's recommendation that the Treasury finance its
operations by frequent short-term borrowings was somewhat in conflict with his recommendation for higher interest and discount rates
inasmuch as short term debt serves as a near-money and hence is more
inflationary than long term debt. Thus, resort to short borrowings
would tend to counteract the anti-inflationary effects of higher interest
and discount rates. Strong's reason for recommending this type of
borrowing was to protect banks' profits by preventing large capital
losses from being incurred as a result of future interest rate increases.
Despite the vehemence of Governor Strong's views, he agreed to ga
along with the rest of the System in maintaining the status quo until
after the January refunding operations. Meanwhile, the Treasury's
support operations had successfully stabilized conditions in the bond
market in the aftermath of the November discount rate increases, and
its overall position had improved. In the early part of December,
Under Secretary Leffingwell indicated that the Treasury would no
longer seek to impose its views on the System. On December 30, the
Treasury reluctantly agreed to an increase in the preferential rate to
4% percent at the New York Bank and made no attempt to influence
Board approval of increases in the commercial rate to 5% and 5 percent at the Kansas City and Cleveland Banks on January 3 and January 12, respectively.12
On January 21, 1920, the Board met to consider applications for
rate increases and, in what appeared to be an abrupt about-face to
many, Under Secretary Leffingwell proposed that the rate on commercial paper be raised to 6 percent and the rate on Liberty Bonds
to 5y2 percent. He suggested, however, that the preferential rate on
certificates be left at 4% percent. While Secretary Glass' vote of approval for the increases—which went into effect at all 12 banks between
January 23 and February 2, 1920—was a disappointment to those
who favored discriminatory credit controls (and was a vote he later
regretted), it reflected his and Leffingwell's concern for the decline in
the gold reserve ratio of the Federal Reserve banks.13 Glass' response
n Ibid., pp. 280, 282.
Elmus R. Wicker, Federal Reserve Monetary Policy, 1917-1938, New York, Random
House, 1966, pp. 42-43 ; Banking and Monetary Statistics, p. 439.
" Wicker, op. cit., pp. 43-45.


may also have reflected the psychological effects of the conflict with
Governor Strong. Strong's behavior in this confrontation had had
considerable impact on other Reserve officials as well. He was vehement
and convincing and, in the aftermath of his departure on a leave of
absence, this new development seemed to confirm his prescience. In
any event, the decline in the gold reserves reduced the reservoir of
sympathy for the Treasury and caused Glass and Leffingwell to question their own position. Leffingwell subsequently gave in to the New
York Bank on two other issues as well.
As it had indicated to the Federal Eeserve Board, the Treasury
did not anticipate the need for new financing and by January, 1920,
had succeeded in reducing its gross indebtedness by $1.9 billion. Congressional action on post-war settlements, however, made it necessary
to float a new loan in April. The new program which the Treasury
submitted to the System bore a remarkable resemblance to the plan
Governor Strong had proposed in November except for the fact that
it provided for a continuation of the preferential rate on certificates.
Adopting Strong's rationale, Under Secretary Leffingwell admitted to
the joint conference of governors and Board members that there had
teen "an expansion of bank credit which might partly have been
avoided by the frequent issues," and that, therefore, "the Treasury's
inclination is to revert, for the time being, to the moderate size, semimonthly issue of certificates." The ease with which the Treasury acquiesced on this point is partly due to the fact that Secretary Glass
had moved to the Senate. His successor, 14
David Franklin Houston, did
not oppose financing at short intervals.
The System endorsed the Treasury's program with a recommendation by the governors that it raise the rate to 5 percent—the same
recommendation that had been made a year earlier, in March, 1919. A
majority of Reserve officials were uneasy about the continuation of the
preferential rate but, on the other hand, were reluctant to press for any
further rate increases until the effects of the sharp rise in January
became clear.15 The New York Bank was convinced of the need for
higher rates, however, and, as the wholesale price index continued to
rise into May, together with rising pressure for anti-inflationary action
from Congress and the public at large, the Board and Treasury agreed
to approve New York's application. New York applied for a 7 percent
rate on commercial paper, 6 percent on Victory Loan obligations and
5% percent on Treasury certificates. On June 1,1920, these rate schedules were put into effect at the New York, Chicago and Minneapolis
Federal Eeserve Banks, Boston following on June 4.
2. Rate theory and moral suasion
After the first Federal Reserve discount rate increases were inaugurated early in November, 1919, Secretary of the Treasury Glass who
had voted with the rest of the Board to approve the increases, wrote a
letter to Governor Harding stating his reservations concerning the
action, and expressing the "hope that the Federal Reserve Board will
not allow the Governors of the Federal Reserve Banks to rely wholly
or too heavily . . . upon the increase in rates . . ." Arguing that the
current experience of all European countries and Japan "supports the
i* 8.R., April, 1920 Conf., pp. 3-5, 8-10.
**Ibi&., pp. 11-12.

view that discount rates will not suffice in tlrese extraordinary times,"
Secretary Glass outlined the case for moral suasion, the exercise of "a
firm discrimination in making loans to prevent abuse of the facilities
of the Federal Reserve System in support of . . . reckless speculation." His description of the current speculative mania and the means
by which it was financed is interesting in the light of subsequent
events, but the more significant part of the letter is its assault on what
Secretary Glass called "the copybook texts" concept of the function of
the discount rate.16
With a bow in the direction of the accepted theory, Glass wrote that
discount rates "should, of course, scientifically be above the commercial
rate and not below it." However, he noted that until the "independent
resources" of the banks returned to a level which would be sufficient to
meet the needs of commerce, industry and the Government, without
habitual dependence on the Federal Reserve banks, "the tendency will
be, as Reserve bank rates are increased, for the rates to the Government
and rates to the commercial borrower to be increased in turn." Therefore:
. . . an important further increase in Federal Reserve Bank rates might have
the effect of penalizing and discouraging the borrower for commercial and industrial purposes, thtis curtailing production and distribution and increasing the
shortage of goods, and consequently the price of them, and thus, in turn, stimulating speculation . . . It might have also a very grave effect upon the Government's finances.17

This position is substantially the one which was set forth in the
Board's Annual Report for 1919. In an unusually urgent and eloquent
tone, the Report stated that:
*° 8.R., November, 1919 Conf., pp. 4-12.
On the subject of speculation, Secretary Glass wrote :
"Speculation in stocks on the New York Stock Exchange is no more vicious in its effect
upon the welfare of the people and upon our credit structure than speculation in cotton
or in land or in commodities generally. But the New York Stock Exchange is the greatest
single organized user of credit for speculative purposes. It is the organized instrument of a
countrywide speculation. I believe that the practice of financing speculative transactions in
stocks by loans on call, with daily settlements, is unsound and dangerous to the general
welfare. Call money loaned to carry speculative transactions in stocks is only liquid when
there is no need. The paper is not self-liquidating and, in the case of an emergency, as, for
example, upon the outbreak of the European war, and throughout the period of our participation in the war, such loans are in the mass uncollectible. (The use of Liberty Bonds,
Victory Notes and Treasury Certificates as collateral for borrowing made by member
banks from the Federal Reserve Banks for the purpose of carrying speculative transactions in stocks mafces it the right as well as the duty of the Federal Reserve authorities
to see to it that the methods of financing such transactions are reformed and reformed
"Open and notorious manipulation of stocks has been taking place during the period of,
say, nine months, since the removal of the control of the Sub-committee on Money of the
Liberty Loan Committee. This manipulation, which takes the form of putting up the
price first of one stock and then of another, no matter what may be the conditions for the
purpose of stimulating interest on the part of the uninitiated public, is, I imagine, contrary
to the law of the State of New York and the rules of the New York Stock Exchange. In any
event, it needs only vigorous action to put an end to it. The Federal Reserve Bank of
New York in its relation to the Sub-committee on Money of the Liberty Loan Committee,
which committee was at all times in touch with the officers of the Stock Exchange, naturally sought the views of the Treasury by reason of the fact that its prime duty concerned
the sale of Liberty Bonds. A control now put into effect will be primarily for the conservation of the general credit situation and should therefore be initiated and supervised, not
only by the Treasury, but by the Federal Reserve Board." (Ibid., pp. 10-11).
" 7 & i l , pp. 11-12.
Secretary Glass' comments on the current status of eligibility requirements is also
Interesting. (Given his insights into the significance of the increase in Government obligations for the functioning of a monetary system tied to the commercial loan theory, it is
difficult to understand the rationale for his position in 1935). Toward the end of his
letter of November 5,1919 to Governor Harding, he wrote :
*'In consequence of the war the Government has issued some $25,000,000,000 of interest
bearing securities which are of prime eligibility. Before the war, when the Government's
debt was only $1,000,000 and that all stored away in strong boxes, the possession of eligible
paper was very strong presumptive evidence of the right of a member bank to borrow. Now
and for the life of this great war debt the possession of eligible paper will be no evidence
at all." (IbU., p. 12.)

. . . The ultimate test of the functioning of a credit system must be found in
what it does to promote and increase the production of goods. True in general,
the truth of this observation deserves to be particularly emphasized in the present deranged state of world industry and world trade when production is the
crying need of the hour every where . . .

The normal and traditional method of credit control has been the discount rate;
its efficacy, however, presupposes normal conditions . . . The conditions that
make this traditional control effective do not all exist at the present time . . .
The demand for commodities from domestic as well as foreign sources is so far
in excess of the supply that the increased cost of credit due to an advance in
rates is absorbed in the price, and speculation, anticipating large profits, is not
checked by any reasonable advance in rates of interest . . .

and that:
Deflation . . . merely for the sake of deflation and a speedy return to 'normal'—deflation merely for the sake of restoring security values and commodity
prices to their prewar levels without regard to other consequences, would be
an insensate proceeding in the existing posture of national and world affairs.18

Opposed to traditional credit control, the Board had come out in
favor of rationing credit. But, the Reserve bank governors, who would
be directly responsible for administering such a policy, were divided
on the question of its merits. Governor Biggs of St. Louis argued that
the recent increase in discount rates had been somewhat effective in
promoting liquidation, but agreed with the Board that a further
increase would probably raise bank rates higher, since, "if we raise
them one quarter they go one half." Governor Seay of Richmond
thought that the liquidation which had occurred had not been due to
the rate increase but, at least in his district, to the Reserve Bank's
"admonitory attitude toward the member banks," and Governor Passmore said he thought loans in his district would have increased if the
Philadelphia Bank had not refused to lend to member banks having
money on call in New York.19
Replying to the proponents of moral suasion, Governor Strong
argued that if the better banks heeded the admonitions, the other
banks would profit by it; and that if the other Reserve banks refused
to lend money to banks having money on call in New York, the burden
would tend to fall too heavily on the New York Bank. He criticized
moral suasion as divisive, as a mere palliative which would drive the
"infection" from one place to another and undermine the unity of the
System. Governor Morss of Boston, however, objected to "direct
action" on the grounds that, with the war over, the member banks
were justified in resenting any interference in their decisions as to
"what they do with their money." A spokesman for the conservative
view, he favored reliance on a rate policy guided by reserve ratios.20
Hoping to resolve these differences of opinion, Governor Strong
convened the second session of the November, 1919 Conference as a
symposium on the merits of the two methods of control: moral suasion
versus further discount rate increases as necessary. He asked the governors to consider in turn whether or not "direct action" as it was also
called—persuading the member banks to reduce their borrowings from
the Reserve banks—would have the effect of raising interest rates.
» Bltofh Annual Report of the Federal Reserve Board, 1919, pp. 69-73.
*» 8.H., November, 1919 Conf., pp. 65-68, 71-72.
* > i m , pp. 68-73.

While Governor McDougal of Chicago did not understand the question, most of the governors conceded that this form of credit rationing would, in fact, tend to raise rates. They agreed that Governor
Strong's position was essentially correct: moral suasion would not
lessen demand but, rather, would tend to force banks to bid for funds
i n the open market or contribute further to the tendency of certain
"banks to seek funds from sources over which the Reserve banks had
no control. Governor Seay argued, however, that it could lessen demand and reduce rates if actually made effective—if direct action were
wholeheartedly supported on a system-wide basis. While several governors, including Morss, agreed, the point was made that it was the
effectiveness of the technique on bank credit policies which was questionable. It was difficult to get information on the lending activities of
ihe member banks, difficult to control the use to which Treasury deposits were put, and impossible to control or influence loans made by
non-member banks.21
After much discussion, it became clear that a majority of governors
doubted the wisdom of relying on moral suasion, but that progressive
rates for banks rediscounting in large amounts would be an acceptable
compromise to those governors who opposed further discount rate increases. In February, 1920, after the discount rate had been raised to
6 percent, the Board requested and obtained legislation authorizing
progressive rates. The authorization was used by the Kansas City, Dallas, St. Louis and Atlanta Banks, but, since the base rate had already
been raised, the higher charges to more needy banks were widely criticized and progressive rates were abandoned.22
Meanwhile, these discussions were significant for the light they threw
on the System's attitude toward the penalty rate. Most System officials, including Secretary Glass, agreed that Reserve bank rates should
be above the market, but the Board recognized that the System was
confronted with a situation in which dependence on the Reserve banks
made it inevitable that member bank rates would be raised above the
discount rate. Governor Strong noted, as had Governor Biggs, that
banks were "pegging" their rates in relation to the discount rate, but
he considered this an artificial rather than a natural relationship. In
Hs comments on the fact that bank rates were tending to advance above
and in relation to the discount rate, Governor Strong made what was
for him an astonishing statement in that it appears to reflect "the
copybook texts" rather than his usual pragmatic approach to events.
During the November, 1919 Conference he said:
I think it is a bad rule to have the rates go up automatically . . . because when
you measure the rate of interest allowed on balances in banks by the reserve
bank rate, you not only exert an influence upon interest rates in the community,
but you exert an influence conversely upon the fixing of the rate of the Reserve
Bank, which ought to be free of any such influence.23

Most of the governors agreed with Governor Strong and were concerned about the moral implications of banks profiting by the spread
between the lower discount rate and higher market rates. They felt that
*IMd.}jpp. 77-90.
The System's experience with progressive rates was discussed by Governor W. P. G.
Harding in testimony before the House Banking and Currency Committee, June 1, 1921
(Amendment to Abolish Office of Comptroller of the Currency, Hearings on H.R. 4906, 67th
Cong., 1st Sess., pp. 4-5). See also Sen. Doc. No. 291, 67th Cong., 4th Sess., Jan. 18, 1923
(Letter from the Federal Reserve Board transmitting information on progressive rates in
response to S. Res. 335 of Dec. 6,1922).
*» 8.R., November, 1919 Conf., pp. 99-100.

this inverted differential created "a tendency to use credit for improper
purposes," and induced "too loose a use of credit." They also noted
that it was futile to rely on the discount mechanism for control when
individual banks were not borrowing. Meeting with the Board, they
argued that it was necessary to close the gap between the discount rate
and bank rates and to reinstate the discount rate as a penalty rate—
a rate higher than that charged by the member bank, which would have
the effect of discouraging applications to the Reserve banks for funds
except for emergency or seasonal requirements. The Board was skeptical. Governor Harding asked:
Suppose your discount rate to be advanced to 7 or 8 per cent, would not the
banks pass the extra rate along to their customers. Would not they get to bidding against each other for deposits and raise the rate of interest they would
offer for deposits? *

Going a step further, Adolph Miller dismissed the concept of penalty
rates as irrelevant and antiquated. He argued that both the spread
between the discount rate and bank rates and the decline in reserve
ratios were "of very little consequence," providing that there was a
clear understanding as to "what is your standard of determining what
rates should be," and how much credit should be used. He also implicitly criticized the governors for conducting an academic discussion
of policy without an adequate appraisal of conditions, praising Governor Mdrss for his analysis of conditions in the Boston District and
agreeing with him that the principal problem was an increase in business inventories and in personal consumption. Most of the governors
had analyzed the problem in terms of member banks' holdings of
Government bonds and the behavior of the stock market. Governor
Morss' argument—that a rate increase was necessary to convince business that prices would come down so that they would not continue to
expand currently to avoid higher prices in the future—seemed far more
relevant to Dr. Miller.25
Nevertheless, it was their commitment to the penalty rate doctrine
that led many of the governors to favor or accept the January 1920
rate increase to 6 percent. A return to classical concepts offered a
refuge from doubt and confusion. The choice of such a response necessitated, however, a certain amount of self -deception. The idea was to
move the discount rate to a level above current market rates and permit
an adjustment to occur as a result of natural forces in the market. The
problem was that such a move could not fail to have an economy-wide
impact. Aside from the probability that, as the Board feared, there
would be a further increase in bank rates without a substantial liquidation of loans, the governors feared that it might increase the rate of
bank failures. Both fears were justified. The discount rate did not return to its pre-war position above bank rates until after the full force
of the recession had been felt, in December 1920, and the number of
bank failures had surpassed the amount recorded for any year since
3. Postscript: Views son the System's role and fv/nction
As these discussions indicated, differences of opinion on the function
of the System were implicit in the disagreement on the better method

Ibid., pp. 234-236, 240-243, 248-251.
Ibid., pp. 224-225, 234-237, 248-258, 262-272.
Banking and Monetary Statistics, pp. 283, 439-440, 463.


of credit control. The governors, who came into the System from posi~
tions as private bankers, saw its role as essentially passive and favored
rate policies which would act less to control credit than to stabilize the
market indirectly by providing accommodation at a penalty. The
Board, on the other hand, reflected a political climate which saw the
control of credit as a public trust and, therefore, presumed a more active role for the System. Given the structure of the System, the prevailing attitude toward its function depended upon which of the sev*
eral administrative entities—the Boards the Governors or the Treasury—had the larger voice in System affairs. Before the war, there had
been an effort by the governors to usurp the policy-making powers of
the Board and Secretary Glass saw that, without the existence of a
national crisis to strengthen its hand, the Board might again face such
a situation. In his letter of November 5,1919, he warned:
. . . During the war they have naturally turned for leadership to the Treasury since its operations were the dominating factor in the financial situation.
It would, however, be a great misfortune if, now that the Treasury operations
are on a diminishing scale, the Governors of the Federal Reserve Banks are allowed to feel that the problems of the future were for them to solve each according to his own best judgment. The need of leadership is no less great, the need of
examining the situation from a broad national and international point of view is
no less imperative. I look to see the Federal Reserve Board, not critically nor
aggressively but patiently and persistently provide this leadership.27

This concept of the Board's role, however, was not shared by its
Governor, W« P. G. Harding. By training and outlook, he was more
closely allied to the Reserve bank governors than to Secretary Glass or
his colleagues, Adolph Miller and C. S. Hamlin. His view of the relationship between the various groups within the System was expressed
in the following comments on Secretary Glass' letter:
The Federal Reserve Board, of course, will assume the leadership which the
law devolves upon it, but in doing so it is going to count upon the close cooperation of the Governors of the Federal Reserve Banks. You are the commanding
generals in the financial field and in a sense the Board here is a general staff, and
there must be a thorough understanding and spirit of concord and cooperation
between us . . . We will endeavor to aid you in any of your local problems, and
when it comes to general, national or international questions we expect to ask
your counsel and advice in order that we can get the benefit of your views as to
them and determine more particularly the effect of the policy of the Board upon
conditions in your own district.28

Governor Harding had differed with Secretary Glass over matters
of policy as well. In November, 1919, his resentment over what he later
described as Secretary Glass' "domination" of the Board was voiced
in his pressure for further rate increases Regardless... of the attitude
of the Treasury officials." Harding had opposed the policy of moral
suasion initially but came out openly in favor of the effort, as did
Miller, after Glass left the Treasury in January, 1920. Nevertheless,
his attitude toward the Board's role and the function of the System
as a whole did not change. Addressing the Governors at the April, 1920
Conference, he made a final plea for a continuation of moral suasion
and for the use of progressive rates as a back-up measure. To soften
the activist connotations of such a policy, he compared it to accepted
practices in commercial banking and characterized it as an effort to
return "to a point wh«re the methods that you have been more accus27

8.R., November, 1919 Conf., p. 12.
IUd., pp. 12-18.

tomed to in your old banking relations must be brought into play";
as a means to release the System from the effects of wartime controls
and conditions which were "not commercial banking." Implicit in his
remarks was the view that the System should assume a more passive
function: "exercising a legitimate and proper control over your credit
situation, (and) maintaining your reserves to a point where they
should be maintained." 29
Seizing on the word "control," Dr. Miller offered an alternative
interpretation of both its meaning in that context and of the role of
the Federal Reserve System. He noted that: "Our Reserve Banking
System is the only considerable banking system in the world in which
there is no definitely fixed limit of any kind upon the operations of
the system"; that reserve requirements, the only factor affecting
System operations which is covered by statutory limitation, "can be
suspended by vote of the Federal Reserve Board"; that, "when you
analyze the thing fundamentally, the discretion of the Federal Reserve
Board ultimately is the regulating principle of our Federal Reserve
System"; that "it requires virtually parliamentary sanction in England to do what the Federal Reserve Board was set up to do in this
country"; that "there is no governmental body in the world, certainly
none that concerns itself with banking and finance, that begins to
have anything like the powers that the Federal Reserve Board has
under the Federal Reserve System"; and that, "in brief, ours is a
reserve system by discretion instead of by any fixed principle." Nevertheless, these enormous powers should not be restricted, Dr. Miller
added. On the contrary, "I think the Board should exercise its power
to restrict . . ." 30
This exchange of views represents the second round in a continuing
struggle over the locus of control within the System and the proper
interpretation of its objectives and powers. It is significant because
these positions defined the ideological conflict which shaped the System's actions during both the 1920's and the early 1930's and served as
the context for revisions of the Federal Reserve legislation in 1933
and 1935; and because, fifty years later, the outcome of this struggle
is by no means clear. There are today, as in 1920, those who believe that
the System is a passive force and can only act to accommodate the
public's demands for money and credit; others who believe the System
must be active, lean into the winds, and hence have full discretion, constrained neither by a fixed principle or rule or Presidential guidance;
and there also are many who believe that the monetary authorities must
be guided either by a principle embodied in law or by the President,
who is, after all, responsible for the performance of the economy

S.R., April, 1920 Conf., pp. 512-516.
Ibid., pp. 519, 526-528, 535-537.

THE DEPRESSION OF 19 2 0 - 2 1

1. We must hawe a. definite policy" (Governor Hartfing, January 6, 1920Y
The April, 1920 Conference of Governors of the Federal Reserve
Banks ended on a pessimistic note, Drafting their suxnmary for the
Board, the governors wrote that "the increase of rates, coupled with
the moral suasion generally employed by all reserve banks, had acted
as a restraining influence upon expansion which undoubtedly would
have been greater but for this action"; but they saw, as yet, no conclusive evidence that the 6% discount rate inaugurated in January
would force liquidations and reduce prices. They agreed:
. . . that the discount rate is nevertheless a most effective method of controlling expansion, and it was the general opinion that the increases of rates
already made had not yet had time to become fully effective.2

Even so, most System officials were uneasy about the continued rise
in the wholesale price index, and the New York Bank had already
indicated that it thought a further rate increase would be necessary.
On May 17, the Senate passed a resolution requesting that the Board
prepare a statement on how it proposed to meet the current inflationary trend and mobilize credit to move the 1920 crops. During debate
on the resolution, the Eepublican majority indicated that they favored
a further rate increase. The minority, composed of Democrats and
Progressive Republicans, argued that the rate increases already inaugurated had merely contributed to an increase in prices and were
ruining the farmer. Senator Robert L. Owen, co-author of the Federal Reserve Act* warned that the current deflationary policy "is going
to lead to an industrial depression"; that it could only "bring down
prices by creating a depression instead of bringing aown prices by
creating a new volume of commodities." The chairman of the Senate
Banking and Currency Committee, George P, McLean of Connecticut,
replied that if the objective is to reduce prices, "the normal way is to
raise the discount rate." He ignored the fact that this would adversely
effect production and employment.3
Meanwhile, the Federal Reserve Board had scheduled a conference
on May 18, 1920, with those officials within the System who were also
private bankers—the 12-man Federal Advisory Council and the 3
Class A directors of each of the Reserve Banks. The chairman of the
House Banking and Currency Committee, Edmund Platt of New
York, who was subsequently appointed vice-governor of the Board,
was also present, as was a representative of the American Bankers'
Federal Reserve Bulletin, February, 1920, p. 117.
* Summary, April, 1920 Conf., p. 2.
- p. 2.
s Congressional "
Record, 66th Co
Cong., 2nd Sess., Vol. 59, pp. 7039, 7140-7146. 7202-7203,
7563, 7975-7977.




Association. Governor Harding announced as the rationale for this
unusual conference that it seemed "peculiarly appropriate, at a time
when there is a banking situation to discuss, to have bankers here to
discuss it." A more accurate explanation would have been that the
Board was about to make a declaration of operational bankruptcy and
had decided to pass the burden for credit control to the member banks.
Governor Harding opened the conference with the following statement of economic conditions:
It is this tendency of production to decline, particularly in some essential lines,
which constitutes a very unsatisfactory element in the present outlook. It is
evident that the country cannot continue to advance prices and wages, to curtail
production, to expand credits and to attempt to enrich itself by non-productive
and uneconomic operations without fostering discontent and radicalism, and
that such a course, if persisted in, will eventually bring on a real crisis.*

Much as in 1970-71, growing evidence that production had fallen
off in spite of continuing inflationary pressure was a major source of
concern. Senator Owen had argued that it was due to the increase in
rates in January, and that a rollback in rates was necessary to stimulate production and bring down prices. He suggested a discount rate
of 3 percent coupled with a rigorous policy of moral suasion.5 Those
who favored a continuation of high rates tended to agree with the
Federal Advisory Council that the decline in production was due to
strikes and other problems with transportation and to the "inefficiency
and indifference of labor." Governor Harding added that it was also
due to a "world-wide lack of capital," but, referring to Owen's position, argued that "however desirable on general principles continued
expansion of trade and industry may be, such developments must accommodate themselves to the actual supply of capital and credit available." 8
The Federal Reserve Board had attempted to encompass both views
in formulating its position. As explained by Governor Harding, it
favored a policy which would "restrict credit and expand production,
letting the expansion of production proceed at a greater rate than the
reduction of credit." This could be accomplished by "a sensible and
gradual liquidation"; "any attempt at radical or drastic deflation
merely for the sake of deflation . . . should be avoided." However,
the successful execution of a policy of gradual liquidation could not
be administered by the Board. The allocation of credit should be handled primarily by the member banks themselves. The member bank
must be gently weaned from its dependence on Federal Reserve funds
* Minutes, May 18, 1920 Conf., pp. 2-3.
'These Minutes were subsequently printed by Senators Robert F. Owen and Carter
Glass—as Sen. Doc. No. 310, 67th Cong., 4th Sess., Feb. 24, 1923—as an exhibit in the
context of their criticism of the System's actions during this period. Earlier John Skelton
Williams, Comptroller of the Currency in the Wilson administration who had been present
at the Conference, had told the Joint Commission of Agricultural Inquiry that there had
been a deliberate to bring on a depression.
Cong. Record, 66th Cong., 2nd Sess., Vol. 59. pp, 7039, 7202-7203.
There are interesting similarities between Senator Owen's position and that of the
Council of Economic Advisers during a subsequent period of inflationary pressure. In
November 1950, the Council t®W the Joint Committee ton the Economic Report that "an
important inflationary movement should be met by increasing the facilities and volume of
production. This process requires cheap and ample credit, and until the volume of output
increases, inflationary pressure will increase and must be curbed by other than monetary
measures of the kind which increase the cost of capital" (statement of John J). Clark,
former member of the CEA; United States Monetary Policy, Hearings before the Subcommittee on Economic Stabilization of the Joint Committee on the Economic Report, 83rd
'-C*n&, 2nd Bess., December 1954, p. 48).
• Recommendations of the Federal Advisory Council, May 10, 1920. Summary, April,
1920 Conf., p. 2. Minutes, May 18,1920 Conf,, pp. 3, 5,14.

and the individual banker must learn to "expand his business . . .
more and more out of his own resources", exercising "a wiser discretion in the matter of granting credit." 7
On the question of discrimination in lending there was a division of
opinion within the Board as well as between the Board and the financial community. Many of the Class A directors present at the conference expressed relief that the Board was not proposing "to classify
loans into essentials and nonessentials". That, however, was what
several Board members advocated. Dr. Adolph Miller summed up their
. . . Eventually, it is the user of credit that has got to be brought into a more
or less responsive and acquiescent attitude in this policy of control. There i» no
use attempting to evade the fact that control, if it is anything more than a process
of self-deception, means actual control; that somebody has got to go without
the credit he thinks he is entitled to or the credit he would like to get. But it
would, I think, be a mistake to treat this simply as a quantitative problem instead of, as I think it is primarily, a qualitative one. I would not be at all alarmed
at the growth of credit in this country if we had the assurance that credit was
only going to the users of credit contributing to the production of tihose things
the country badly needs at the present juncture.8

Apart from the directors of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York,
most of the members of the conference were not opposed to the concept
of moral suasion and a few favored progressive rates. I t was thought
that the System's admonitions had been effective in restricting the
amount of bank credit used to finance the stock market despite inherent
difficulties in ascertaining how credit was used. They were unwilling,
however, to endorse a program in which loans to producers and distributors of such luxury items as automobiles would be declared ineligible when the paper itself met all the requirements of eligibility.
Although it was recognized that an emphasis on quantitative control
would penalize smaller producers and farmers, most of the officials
present at the conference favored continuing current policies. The
view of the majority was summed up by E. S. Kennard, a director of
the Boston Bant
I also think that the rates for money should continue on a high level with the
hope of causing liquidation in commodities. Of course, liquidation would result
in low prices and the easiag up of business. I do not think this body should encouragie any drastic measures of readjustment. I think the deflation should be
gradual, and I think we should give more care to the commercial paper that is
rediscounted at the Federal reserve banks.9

The more significant debate centered on the proposal made by the
New York directors to raise the discount rate to 7%. The possibility
that it might have drastic consequences was noted immediately:
Governor HABDING. May I ask if that raise of rate would penalize anybody who
could not liquidate on account of lack of transportation facilities, or would it
encourage the liquidation and distribution of goods?
Mr. ALEXANDER. Well, I am afraid somebody is bound to be penalized in order
to bring about production. A percentage of 1 per cent is not a very heavy penalty
in the way of an interest charge, but it is a very positive announcement that the
credit situation is such that further expansion must be prevented and that curtailment should be had wherever possible.
I do not think we need to consider that question unduly, Governor Harding,
any more than we need to unduly consider the position 10 these people who
bought Government bonds and who have seen them fall to 85.

Minutes, May 18. 1920 Conf., pp. 5-8.
s Ibid., pp. »9, 47-48.
»Ibid., p. 12.
i o / M J p . 14.


Only a few of the officials present at the conference endorsed the proposed increase to 7% and a few were emphatically opposed. The majority indicated a reluctance to take such action, although they did not
say why. No one suggested that an increase would put the discount rate
above the market. Eather, most participants acknowledged that the rate
to the borrower would be increased except in those States that had a
statutory ceiling 11 that there, the pressure on member banks would
be insupportable.
Meanwhile, Governor Harding delegated the task of drafting a reply
to the Senate resolution to a committee composed of the Class A directors of the Boston, New York and Philadelphia Reserve Banks, the
chairman of the board of the San Francisco Bank, and James B. Forgan of Chicago, who was present at the conference in the dual capacity
of president of the Federal Advisory Council and representative of
the American Bankers Association. Governor Harding was asked to
serve as chairman of the committee but replied that he did not want
be a member. A director of the Minneapolis Bank, E. W. Decker, protested that "it is conferring rather broad powers to put into the hands
of the committee a commitment of this whole conference on perhaps the
most important matter of all," and, at his insistence, Governor Harding
agreed to sit with the committee in an ex officio capacity.12
The resolution drafted by the committee and sent to the Senate on
May 25,1920, made the following argument:
The whole country is suffering from inflation of prices with the consequent
inflation of credit. From reports made by the members of this conference, representing every section of the country, it is obvious that great sums are tied up in
products which if marketed would relieve necessity, tend to reduce the price
level, and relieve the strain on our credit system.

Elaborating on this point in the accompanying letter, Governor
Harding noted that the discount rate increases put into effect in January "have not been entirely effective in bringing about the reduction
in loans desired," and that the normal volume of liquidation during
the early months of the year had not occurred because of the tie-up of
transportation. He reiterated, however, that as soon as goods could be
moved and sold, loans would be liquidated. Thus, the "more vital problems relating to the movement of the 1920 crop are physical rather
than financial." Accordingly, the committee resolved to send a delegation to the Interstate Commerce Commission and the United States
Shipping Board to discuss means to provide the transportation facilities necessary to solve the problem.18
Several days later, Governor Harding's reply to a letter from Senator Owen was made public. The Governor suggested that the Senator
was "disposed . . . to igiiore the fundamental law of supply and demand", and that if the System were to establish the stable low rates
proposed by Owen, the result would be a "wild scramble for discount
accommodations," followed by an "enforced denial of all credit" as
the System reached the limit of its available resources. Although
Harding had stated earlier that the rate increases of January had been
somewhat effective in checking expansion, he did not acknowledge that
* Ibid., pp. 18-31, 35-39.
«/6itf., pp. 44-45.

" Federal Reserve Bulletin, June, 1920, pp. 582-584.


they represented an active effort to implement a policy objective—i.e.,
to control the demand for credit. His statement suggested that, on the
contrary, changes in the level of discount rates should not represent an
attempt to influence financial conditions, but, rather, to reflect them:
The Federal Reserve Board does not take the view that discount rates should
be arbitrarily fixed by it; it recognizes the fact that there are certain basic
conditions which affect the demand for and the supply of credit throughout this
country and throughout the world, and that the formal establishment of a rate is
merely an interpretation of these conditions.14

This statement was made on the eve of a rate increase at the New
York and three other Reserve Banks to the historic level of 7%. In
light of the fact that the probable effects of this action had been anticipated, Harding's statement appears as an advance disclaimer of
responsibility for those effects. It announced as the official position of
the Board that the role of the System was an essentially passive one;
that credit policies were, ultimately, the responsibility of the member
banks; and that the function of the Board was to adopt a posture of
prudent response. The argument was familiar but the theoretical
framework had been dismissed as outmoded; only a few months
earlier, in the Board's Annual Report, As Dr. Miller acknowledged
subsequently, the Board took refuge in theory because it had no policy.15
S. The behavior of interest rates and prices
The Federal Reserve Bank of New York had applied for an increase
to 7% on commercial paper, 6% on Victory Loan obligations, and
514% on Treasury certificates. On June 1, 1920, these rates schedules
were put into effect at the New York, Chicago, and Minneapolis Reserve Banks, and at the Boston Bank on June 4. The Atlanta Bank
raised its rate to 7% on November 1,1920, and on February 15,1921,
the Dallas Bank also adopted the higher levels. There were no further
rate changes until April, 1921, the other six Federal Reserve banks
having retained the 6% rate.16 Thus in less than eight months, beginning in November, 1919, the discount rate had been increased from
4 to 7 percent at the New York Bank. Deflation and depression
In its Annual Report, the Federal Reserve Board recorded a drop in
wholesale prices of 20% between May and October, 1920. By the end
of the year, there was a further overall price decline of 10%. The
Annual Report for 1921 noted a further decline of 26% for that year,
or an overall price decline of 56% for the 18-month period. Some
industries were hit harder than others. The price of cotton had
dropped 93%, oil prices were down 50% and the price of cottonseed
oil was down 80%. It was reported that there was "pretty complete
stagnation" in the lumber industry, and that agriculture in general

Gong. Record, ©6th Cong., 2nd Sess., Vol. 59, p. 7563.
Sixth Annual Report of the Federal Reserve Board, 1919, pp. 69-73.
Dr. Miller's comments on this period were made during the May, 1928 hearings on
stabilization. He described "the Federal Reserve mind" as "perplexed," and "in a state of
mental confusion," and added :
•;."... . one of the chief troubles with the Federal reserve system in 1920 was hysteria—
hysteria in part due to the interference of Congress through a Senate resolution, with the
maintenance of a well-balanced frame of mind in the Federal reserve system" (Stabilization, Hearings before the House Committee on Banking and Currency on H.R. 11806, 70th
Cong., 1st Sess., pp. 162-16(3).
Banking and Monetary Statistics, Washington, D.C., U.S. Board of Governors of the
Federal Reserve System, 1943, pp. 439-440.

had suffered a disastrous blow. Business also was hit hard, particularly in New England. The 1921 Report noted a total decline of 31%
in tide volume of business and a total decline of 42% in the volume of
manufacturing.17 Moreover, there was a staggering five-fold increase
in unemployment to 11.9% during the year 1921, or an increase of 4
million in absolute numbers.18
The 1920-21 "slump", as it was called, is notable in economic history
for several reasons—first, for the remarkable rapidity with which
prices fell and for the amount of shrinkage in the price level. Another
unusual aspect of this recession is the fact that interest rates remained
stable despite the vertical fall in prices. The level of short-term open
market rates remained above 7% from May, 1920 to May, 1921, while
the average bank rate on customers' loans was 6% from January, 1920
to January, 1922. The depression was, therefore, unique in that all
prices fell except the price of money.19 The failure of interest rates to
fall as prices fell would appear to reflect in part the fact that expectations in credit markets were still dominated as much by the wartime
inflation (which continued to May, 1920) as by the ongoing deflation—
i.e., that expectations are formed from both current and near-past
experience. But the failure also would appear to reflect in part Federal
Reserve policy.
The System's response to these events was within the framework of
the penalty rate theory. It ignored the price level which reflected current forces, and focused on interest rates which reflected past forces*
Thus, when bank rates in Southern and Western cities rose to
an average of 7.10% for January, 1921, the Federal Reserve Board
approved an increase in the discount rate at the Dallas Bank to 7%.
There had been an overall drop of some 40 to 50% in agricultural commodity prices, and an even sharper decline in the prices of such major
local products as cotton, cottonseed oil and petroleum. Nevertheless,
rates on customers' loans by banks in the South and West remained
above 7% until September, 1921.20
Critics of the System's policies argued that one would ordinarily
expect interest rates to decline in response to such a precipitous break
in prices, and that bank rates would have been lowered had not the
System maintained its discount rates at such high levels. The System
claimed that the maintenance of its discount rate above market rates
was sound central banking policy. However, its action with respect to
the Dallas Bank rate was not rational even in the context of the penalty rate theory. The most orthodox monetary theorist would not have
suggested an increase in rates during such a sharp deflationary spiral.
The error was to be repeated in 1931 with even more disastrous consequences.
In 1931 the Federal Reserve erred by ignoring the internal cash
drain which was reducing member banks' liquidity when it raised the
discount rate to curb the external gold drain. The 1931 rate rise greatly
Seventh Annual Report of the Federal Reserve Board, 1020, pp. 7-9. Eighth Annual
Report of the Federal Reserve Board, 1921, pp. 10-12. B.R., April, 1921 Conf., pp. 53, 65,
Benjamin M. Anderson "The Road to Full Employment"; Financing American Prosperity (Paul T. Homan and Fritz Machlup, eds.), New York, The Twentieth Century
Fund, 1045, p. 25. Historical Statistics, Colonial Times to 1957, House Doc. No. 33, 86th
Cong., 1st Sess., p. 73.
Banking and Monetary Statistics, pp. 450, 463.
* IUd., pp. 440, 463.

magnified banks' liquidity problems. In 1920-21 the error was based
on a misreading of monetary developments. The problem which confronted Reserve officials beginning in the summer of 1920 was that,
despite the break in prices which should have forced liquidations of
bank loans, the indebtedness of the member banks to the Reserve banks
did not decline significantly until the latter part of 1921. During the
latter part of 1920, member bank borrowings were well above $2.5
billion, and had onljr dropped to $2.1 billion by April, 1921. This was
interpreted as an indication of continuing inflationary pressure despite
the snarp price declines noted earlier, and System officials slaw no
means other than maintaining high discount rates to force repayments
of loans to the Reserve banks.21
While the primary focus at this point was on the total volume of
bank credit, Reserve officials still worried about the amount of Government debt carried by the banking system. They continued to press
for policies which would get the debt into the hands of the "ultimate
investor"—that is, transfer the bulk of Government securities held by
the banks to individuals, corporations, etc. I t was thought that
"normal" conditions would return when, as Benjamin Strong described
it, the credit facilities of the System were "entirely" devoted to "the
purpose of producing, purchasing, carrying, or marketing goods..." ^
The experience of 1920-1921 demonstrated, however, that the real
bills doctrine was no more viable than the penalty rate. At no time in
subsequent years has the banking system succeeded in functioning
without the leverage afforded by Government indebtedness as collateral, nor has it attempted to function with discount rates above
the level of market rates as in 1920-1921.
Meanwhile, the System's decision to keep its discount rates up was
buttressed by what Reserve officials thought were other signs of
continuing inflationary pressure—the failure, for instance, of retail
prices to drop as sharply as wholesale prices. Governor Strong and
Dr. Miller thought wage levels were still too high. Ignoring the alarming rate of increase in unemployment, Dr. Miller remarked in April,
1921 that there could not be "a return to the safe and sound condition
of the industries of this country until (there is) what is called liquidation of labor." Admitting that "that phrase (is) a little energetic, or
a little offensive," he argued that it should nevertheless be noted that
labor organizations were preventing "a revision of wages in accordance with the cost of living,'5 and advised "consideration . . . (of
what) we can with propriety do to apply the accelerator to the liquidation in retail markets," as a means of getting at the problem, of getting
"things in this country on an even keel." Governor Strong agreed. He
adamantly opposed tne rate reductions pushed through in April and
May by the new Secretary of the Treasury, Andrew Mellon, warning
that they "violated sound central banking principles." 2$
By fall, however, the perspective had shifted. One of the participants
in the October, 1921 Conference of Federal Reserve Bank Governors—
Eugene Meyer, director of the War Finance Corporation—commented:
Lester V. Chandler. Benjamin Strong. Central Banker. Washington, D.C., The Brooking*
Institution, 1958, p. 169.

22 IMd.y p . 187.

** S.B.J April, 1921 Conf., pp. 674-679. Chandler, op. cit.s p. 174.

. . . there is a good deal of impetus still effective from the contraction psychology of collecting and reducing. When you start a wave of contraction—I do
not mean when you start it, I mean when a wave of contraction starts—it does not
always stop as soon as it might be considered a good thing to have it stop.24

The continuing deflationary spiral took its toll on the banks as well
as on other segments of the economy, and this was a particular source
of embarrassment to the System. The rate of bank failures rose from
62 in 1919 to 167 in 1920 and reached 505 in 1921, a peak which surpassed the previous record of 491 failures in 1893. Nevertheless, many
banks were making substantial profits on high interest rates and that,
too, was a source of embarrassment to the System. The earnings of the
Federal Reserve banks themselves rose to unprecedented levels—a
level in October, 1920? which was not attained again until World War
I I . Thereafter, Reserve bank earnings declined every month during the
year 1921, eventually putting pressure on them (in November) to make
expenses from earnings on open market purchases.25
By the latter part of 1921 the financial situation had improved.
The Federal Reserve Bank of Boston had dropped its rate to
6% on April 15, agreeing with Secretary Mellon and other members
of the Board that the banks should not be pressed further. The other
five banks which had adopted the 7% rate lowered their rates in May-—
New York, Chicago, Minneapolis and Dallas to 6%%, and Atlanta to
6%. Further reductions followed. Sometime during the summer, the
New York Bank had begun buying Treasury certificates in sufficient
amounts to support the price at par, and had also acted as agent in
funneling $300 million of foreign funds into domestic acceptances. I t
had been able to justify a reduction in Its buvihg rate for bills from
5 to 4% on September 23, 1921. The overt indication of a change
in policy came in November, with further reductions in discount rates—to 4i£% at the Boston, New York and Philadelphia
Banks, and to 5 and 5 ^ % at the other Reserve Banks. For the first
time in more than a year, the overall level of discount rates fell below
the average rate charged by banks on customers' loans.26
Lester V. Chandler notes that a large part of the expansion of Federal Reserve credit in 1919 had not been used to increase the volume of
member bank reserves, but had been drained out of the banking system to meet an increase in the demand for circulating currency. This
fact was overlooked by Reserve officials. Fortunately, the drain did not
persist after 1919. If it had, given the System's discount rates, the
banking system could easily have collapsed then as it did a decade later
in the face of a cash drain and ill-conceived discount rate policy. But
the currency drain ended in 1920 and in 1921, as the volume of retail
trade and payrolls was deflated, the cash flowed back into the banks
and, together with gold inflows, enabled the member banks to reduce their indebtedness to the Reserve banks. The monetary gold
stock rose about $710 million during 1921 and the net inflow of currency
into the hanks amounted to $680 million, a total net inflow of $1,390
million. As ia result, the indebtedness of the member banks was reduced
by $1,340 million in 1921.27

S.R., October, 1921 Corif.. pp. 143-144.
Banking and Monetary Statistics, pp. 283, 261, 356.
Ibid., pp. 440, 443, 463.
Chandler, op. cit., pp. 175,186-^187.

In November, 1921, open market operations which were transacted
primarily to increase Reserve bank earnings, again played a part in
easing money rates and further reducing member bank indebtedness.
As earnings on discounts declined, the Reserve banks began making
proportionate investments in Government securities. Between November 1921 and May 1922, the System purchased over $500 million of
Government securities. By June, 1922, market conditions justified a
further reduction in discount rates to 4 and 4%%, and recovery was
well underway.28
3. Bate theory and the political repurcussions of deflation.
The causes and cures for inflation had been a major issue in the
1920 presidential campaigns of both political parties. With the sharp
break in prices in the fill of 1920, the focus shifted but the Federal
Reserve System was again embroiled in controversy over its influence
on the American economy. System officials who were called upon to
explain their rate policies in terms of economic events managed, however, to evade the issue, describing their actions in theoretical terms
and in a purely financial context. On December 7,1920, the governor of
the Board, W. P. G. Harding, addressed a hostile meeting of the
American Farm Bureau Federation at Indianapolis and gave the following explanation of the System's position:
Normally the discount rate of a Federal reserve bank should not control the
rates at which member banks loan money to their customers. In the countries
which have central banks, there is a well-established policy that the central
.bank discount rate should be maintained at a figure slightly in excess of the current market rate. The wisdom of such a policy is apparent for it eliminates all
consideration of profit in rediscount transactions and gives the central bank better
control over its own reserves and causes the banks which deal with the public to
rely to a greater degree upon their own resources in extending accommodations
while still affording an outlet for any undue accumulation of loans. Because of the
exigencies of war financing, it has not been practicable for the Federal reserve
banks up to this time to adopt this policy, and as a rule Federal reserve bank
discount rates are lower than the rates charged by member banks. It is believed
that conditions are gradually adjusting themselves so that Federal reserve bank
rates may be maintained at a level slightly higher than the current rates not
only without any disturbance to commerce and business but to their distinct
benefit. In fact, this adjustment has already begun in some cities where members banks have reduced their rates on commercial paper.29

As this statement indicates, the System ignored charges that its
actions were responsible for the behavior of the economy. The economic and social ramifications of its policies were acknowledged in
private, but records of deliberations and policy actions were not available to the public. Reserve officials chose, therefore, to adopt a theoretical position which implied that the System had no influence on economic events. In addition, they cited the fact that the depression was
world-wide in scope, the result of fundamental political and economic
conditions which the System could not be expected to control. An
angry delegation of the American Farm Bureau Federation appeared
at the April, 1921 Conference of Governors, charging that they had
"never been able to arrive at any person who wishes to shoulder
*s Minutes, July 12, 1922 Meeting of the Committee of Governors on Centralized Execution of Purchases and Sales of Government Securities (Federal Reserve Board, File no.
* Agricultural Inquiry, Hearings before Joint Commission of Agricultural Inquiry, 67tb
Cong., 1st Sfess., Vol. 2, pp. 381-382.

the . ... responsibility for deflation." Governor Strong who, as noted
before, was to endorse Dr. Miller's call for a liquidation of labor later
that day and who adamently opposed the rate reductions pushed
through in April and May by Secretary Mellon, replied:
You inquire as to the man who gave this order for deflation. I know of no
such order being given. It happens that during the year 1920 I was travelling.
I had a year of leave. I reached Japan in the Spring of 1920 and found that this
deflation order had been given there long before it was given here.30

Reserve officials also asserted that the System's influence on financial conditions was more limited in scope than its critics supposed.
Noting that it had been constituted as a regional system for keeping
the reserves of member banks rather than a central bank, they argued
that "the volume of credit extended by the Federal Reserve System
is under the exclusive control of the member banks in the System
• . ,".31 The effect of its rate policies within the context of this
naive and foolhardy, if not self-serving rationale was explained in
a colloquy between Governor Harding and Congressman Ogden L.
Mills of New York:
Rep. OGDEN L. MILLS (N.Y.) : Now, Governor, I would like to ask you a question, and I know it is difficult to give an absolute answer to a general question of this kind; but, in your judgment, would not the drop in prices have
taken place irrespective of the action of the Federal Reserve Board?
Governor HARDING : Unquestionably.
Rep. MILLS : Now, the only possible effect which the action of the Federal
Reserve Board could have had in putting on the brakes was to protect the
banks when the crash came, so that they could not have been caught?
Governor HARDING : That was it.
Rep. MILLS: And to assume that prices would be continued at their high
level simply through the action of the Federal Reserve Board in maintaining
the low discount rate is, from your standpoint, a fundamentally erroneous economic conception?
Governor HABDING : Yes, sir.**

The most elaborate and carefully reasoned exposition of the System's position is contained in Governor Strong's testimony before the
Commission of Agricultural Inquiry in August, 1921. He "argued that
the System had merely acted as fiscal agent for the Treasury during
the War, and that actual responsibility for policy had rested with the
Secretary "under the limitations imposed upon him by the various
acts of Congress authorizing him to borrow money and raise taxes."
After the war, he explained, the System had proposed that rates
be increased but the Treasury objected. The System could not act without Treasury approval because, again, it was "their agent and servant
in these matters." Therefore, the inflationary policies of the postwar eperiod were "matters that should be discussed by our principals."
W n n the System finally did obtain the Treasury's approval to raise
discount rates, it did so because the action was both "necessary and
justified." "Without the adoption of that policy," Strong concluded,
""this expansion which took place would have gone to unparalleled
What happened next, in the first half of 1921, after "the period of
the vertical fall in prices," was this:

8.R., April. 1921 Cont, pp. 469, 492-496.
a IMd.t pp. 8-25.
*» Agricultural Inquiry, Vol. 2f p. 363.

. . . It then became necessary to encourage the banks to extend credit to those
who needed it, in order to meet the difficulties of overburdened inventories, to
which I referred, due to the backing up of goods, and in order to enable them
to fulfull existing obligations and engagements that they had entered into, not
only in connection with the greater volume of business in the expansion period,
but in connection with the greater volume of business at a much higher level
of prices. The strain upon credit then was the most difficult thing we had to
meet, because then the question of goodness of credit for the first time entered
into our problem.38

As this statement implies, the System was taking the position that
there had been no restriction of real bills credit—credit to finance real
or regular business activities—and thus no deflation. Governor Harding was more explicit in conversation with Senator Frank E. Gooding of Idaho during the October, 1921 Conference:
. . . Most of the trouble that occurred in 1919 was because the screws were not
put on in time. A great deal of this inflation and consequent loss could have
been prevented by earlier action. There were certain reasons why earlier action
could not be taken, however. But the main trouble with this country right now
results not from restriction of credit but from the too free granting of credit
for a long time; and I think if you will take the trouble to analyze the situation, you will reach that conclusion. The banks were so loaded down with loans
two or three years ago that they could not extend their regular business.
Senator GOODING : The deflation that has taken place has brought about that
condition very largely...
Governor HARDING : What is that ?
Senator GOODING : Deflation has made it possible.
Governor HARDING : There has been no deflation.8*

The topsy-turvy world described by Reserve officials was based on a
specific set of definitions and theoretical assumptions. As noted earlier,
"credit restraint" and "deflation" meant a reduction in the volume of
member bank borrowing. It was thought that pushing the discount rate
above bank rates and holding it there would accomplish this objective.
Theoretically, this would have the effect of forcing the banks to
liquidate loans before making new loans. While pressing the banks,
however, it was necessary to provide an escape valve. As Governor
Strong had advised, paraphrasing Walter Bagehot's so-called golden
rule of central banking, the System must respond by lending freely
at high rates.35
The System continued to adhere to this formula although it became
increasingly apparent that it would not work. As noted above, member bank indebtedness had only decreased by $400 million—from $2.5
billion to $2.1 billion—as of April 1, 1921. In the face of the lag in
liquidation, Reserve officials thought they had no choice but to maintain discount rates at high levels. They agreed that the process could
be hastened by abandoning Bagehot's classical admonition and curtailing accommodation, but recognized that this would be unacceptable.
To press the banks further at that point would be to risk a money
panic which would have certainly destroyed the System. The fact that
they had failed to reduce the level of member bank indebtedness was
turned to good account, however. Reserve officials cited these figures as
evidence that they had not forced liquidations.36
88 IUd., pp. 453-454. 501-503.
a* 8.R., October, 1921 Conf., p. 398.
**Ibid., p. 623. B.R., April, 1921 Conf., p. 681. Chandler, op. dt., pp. 173-174.
«*£#., April, 1921 Conf., pp. 55,107, 657, 660, 661, 813,1063.

A description of the way in which liquidation had finally come
about was provided by Governor Strong to the Joint Commission of',
Agricultural Inquiry:
. . . in this period, by gradual stages, with inventories being liquidated and
debts being paid, gradually one after another of our member banks have paid:
off all that they owe us. They would in fact, pay off a 7 percent discount at the
reserve bank, and especially those that were borrowing heavily, in preference to
going into the market to make some other investment even at a more attractive
return. This is partly due to the fact that banks do not like to owe large sums
of money, and it is partly due to the fact that they have been educated in New
York to the real purposes of the Federal reserve bank. I think that they understand it pretty well. And when a surplus reserve arises they know that we expect
them to repay us and not employ the money in some attractive loan.
When, therefore, a member bank gets out of debt to the reserve bank and it
has a surplus reserve balance, it has to seek employment for it, so it goes into
the market to lend money, and if a number of them get out of debt at the reserve
bank then we have a competition to lend money. They cannot get a 7 percent
investment any more by paying us off. That is what introduced the new and
cheaper credit into the market that reduced the interest level below the level
of our discount rate.87

Although this analysis purported to explain how the penalty rate
made it unprofitable for member banks to continue to expand their
borrowings from the Federal Keserve System, it implied that actual
reductions in borrowings were due to moral suasion, or, put bluntly,,
to the fact that the Reserve banks viewed discounting as a privilege
not a right. The admission that banks would actually find it more
profitable to use surplus funds in making new loans was fairly damaging to the assumption underlying the penalty rate theory, but went unnoticed. Also unnoticed was the fact that Governor Strong managed
to avoid the principal issue raised by former Comptroller of the Currency John Skelton Williams, Secretary of Agriculture Henry C.
Wallace and others; that the System should have relaxed its restrictive
policy after the deflation began. As Lester V. Chandler comments,
"one now wonders why the commission was so favorably impressed by
Strong's arguments . \ ." 38 The exchange between Governor Harding
and Congressman Mills indicates, however, that many of the members
of the commission thought the recession was an inevitable consequence
of the inflationary policies of the Wilson administration. The argument that the System had succeeded in preventing a run on the banks
during a crisis which it could not have prevented was as much a
statement of the preconceptions of the commission as of the views of
the System itself.
Meanwhile, the arguments of the System's critics were not without
impact. As Secretary Wallace, Governor McKelvie of Nebraska and
others pointed out, the System had ignored the fact that heavy gold
inflows and the excess reserves they created actually justified a reduction in discount rates. Reserve officials continued to avoid any discussion of gold in public, but hastened to devise stratagems for segregating the gold reserve and masking its effect on reserve ratios. By the
fall, however, the critics had a more damaging argument. As Governor
McKelvie pointed out to the Board, loerl bankers ^ad admitted to
a conference of the governors of nine Mid-Western States that they

Agricultural Inquiry, Vol. 2, pp. 506-507., April, 1921 Conf., pp. 5-8. S.R., October, 1921 Conf., pp. 579-581. Chandler,
op. cit., pp. 177, 181.

would have lowered rates much earlier had the discount rate been
Somewhat alarmed, the Board conducted its own poll of member
banks and sent a summary of the replies to the October, 1921 Conference of Reserve bank governors for discussion. It was clear to all
that the argument for maintaining the discount rate as a penalty
rate had been seriously weakened. One of the officers of the Boston
Bank had already noted in April, 1921 that:
While it has generally been thought wise to keep the discount rate above
the commercial rate, the continuation of high discount rates by Reserve banks
after its necessity to control the volume of credit has passed, might logically
be criticized as an endeavor to help the commercial bank in making more

Most of (the bankers polled by the Board—and the Federal Advisory
Council as well—endorsed the classical view of the function of the
discount rate, and urged that the high discount rates be maintained.
Two bankers, identified only as being residents of New York and
Milwaukee, had suggested that the rate be lowered during a period
of recovery. The Milwaukee banker argued that the rate should be
above the market "whenever the demand is excessive and when speculation or expansion is growing rapidly, but that it need not be above
when loans are being paid off and liquidations are in process, as it
is at the present time." This statement was greeted by the governor
of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco with emphatic approval: ". . . that is the soundest (view) of any that has been enunciated." But the governor of the Richmond Bank, reflecting the fears
of the majority, argued that "when you put it lower, you lay the
ground for expansion . . . That is exactly what the Federal Reserve
System did, and it has gotten so far that it found difficulty against
objections to raise its rate." 4 1
The assertion of such a view at that point—in October 1921—'bears
out Chandler's observation that the "dominant guides to policy were
financial rather than economic." He notes that Reserve officials thought
the System's "dominant purpose should be to assure 'sound' financial
conditions, which meant first of all maintaining gold payments and
avoiding financial crises." He concludes:
A central banker accepting this set of priorities naturally feared inflation more
than deflation and insisted that on some occasions deflation was necessary for
the attainment of primary financial objectives.43

Nevertheless, the experience of 1920-21 had made a profound
impression on many Reserve officials. As the discussion of discount
rates continued, Governor Morss of Boston interjected that he understood "that the Board favors the reduction of rates all around at the
present time," and Governor Strong added that he also had "heard
that statement made." The Board's position, then, was clear. Asked
•for his opinion, Governor Strong argued against rate reductions.
He agreed that the System should act to reduce market rates, but

8.R., October, 1921 Conf., pp. 562-570.
8.R., April, 1921 Concf., p. 552.
8.R., October, 1921 Conf., pp. 614-620.
« Chandler, op. cit., p. 183.


thought the market should be influenced downward by open market
operations rather than rate reductions, because "you are not going to
make money cheaper to the original borrower by reducing your discount rate." The governors of the Kansas City and Dallas Banks
heartily agreed. Strong continued :
Whether there are means in Kansas City, for instance, of forcing rate reductions by commercial banks to their customers to such an extent that it will gradually extend over the district and effect a general lowering of interest rates, is
a question I cannot pass upon. I know it is within our power in New York ta
influence lower levels of rates by the market operations of the bank, to some

As Governor Strong was to elaborate later, the discount rate could
then be lowered, appearing to reflect rather than influence market
Whatever limitations Governor Harding had placed on the scope of
Federal Reserve actions, Strong does not hesitate to suggest here that
the System intervene in economic events or to note, in private, the
effect of Federal Reserve policies on financial conditions. He was, however, unwilling to see the System subjected to the kind of pressure
that would follow from an acknowledgement of the extent of its influence. Open market operations provided a means of control which
could44 exercised, as he subsequently put it, "without too great a red
flag." By minimizing the role of open market operations as a policy
tool and perpetuating the idea that Reserve bank investments were
primarily a means of covering expenses, it was possible to continue to
maintain that the System's discount rates had no effect on the market
and were, as Governor Harding had said, "merely an interpretation
of . . . conditions."
The aura of subterfuge which characterizes Federal Reserve policy
positions throughout this period was occasioned by the threat of some
form of legislative action to make the System more responsive to economic conditions. Reacting defensively, the System had tended to
minimize its powers, particularly those of the Board. Reserve officials
were aware that their statements were somewhat lacking in candor.
As Governor Norris of Philadelphia commented in April, 1921:
. . . we have anticipated for some time that the unpleasant consequences of a
period of deflation would probably be blamed on the Federal Reserve System and
particularly on the Federal Reserve Board, and with that thought in mind, we
have perhaps spoken a little slightingly at times of the power of the Board . . *

Nevertheless, this position was adopted by Secretary of the Treasury
Andrew Mellon in his first appearance before a Congressional committee, June 7, 1921, on behalf of the administration's amendment to
the Farm Loan Act. Secretary Mellon's definition of the System's function was as follows:
The Federal Reserve System is merely the general banking organization of
the country to function in industry generally, and the private banks, the private
member banks, are the banks which do the business, which advance the money.
It is not the Government's money; the Government merely has the fiscal organization for the deposit of the reserves of those banks.46
*3 8.R., October, 1921 Conf., pp. 632-637.
** 8.JR., November, 1925 Conf., pp. 208-209.
« 8.R., April, 1921 Conf., p. 30.
Amendment to Farm Loan Act, Hearings before the House Committee on Banking
and Currency on S. 1837, 67th Cong., 1st Sess., June 7, 1921, p. 9.

As this statement implies, there was an attempt to argue that the
Federal Keserve System was not a central bank and that only a central bank could possess the powers ascribed to the System by its critics. It was convenient in evading criticism to suggest the diffusion of
responsibility inherent in a regional system. Ihere is, however, no
indication in the record of deliberations within the System of any
great respect for the principle of regionalism. I n fact, there had been
a consistent effort internally to centralize the System on both an administrative level and through operation of a System-wide open
market account.
A majority of the proposals which resulted in greater centralization of the administration of the Federal Reserve banks through the
Conference of Governors had been initiated by Benjamin Strong.
Strong had solicited support for the Aldrich central bank plan and
had opposed the Federal Eeserve bill on the grounds that control of
the System by political appointees rather than experienced bankers
would be dangerous. Given the current tendency to minimize the
Board's powers for reasons of expediency, Strong took the opportunity to press for an actual curtailment of its powers. During the April,
1921 Conference, he argued that the Eeserve banks should have the
dominant voice in determining policy because, while they "may differ
as to rate policies . . . in the long run (they) are in a better position
to escape the most dangerous kind of pressure, not the pressure of
member banks, but the pressure right up here in the Capitol." He
argued further that:
. . . What this System requires is protection against misled public opinion,
which will be reflected in Congress, in some foolish act by Congress, and I must
say in all frankness that I believe the Federal Reserve Board is very vulnerable,
if it exercises that control; much more so than are these twelve reserve banks
undoubtedly. If the Federal Eeserve Board is in a position to say in response
to these demands. "We do not control these reserves, we have not got the power
to shovel a hundred or two hundred or give hundred millions of gold into the
reserve of the Reserve banks, the question is answered at once, and my experience, through every administration that I have been through, indicates that
there is always going to be pressure applied to the Federal Reserve Board." "

By October, the kind of pressure Strong described had increased
the number of his allies. Even the governors of Reserve banks in Southern districts, who had consistently been more responsive to the needs
of farmers and more tolerant of their efforts to put pressure on the
System, were echoing Strong's position:
Governor WELLBOBN (Atlanta). . . • You do not see a lot of Congressmen
coming . . . here from our district or your district.
Governor SEAT (Richmond). They go to the Board . . .
Governor WELLBOBN. They abuse the Federal Reserve Board, but not the banks.
Governor SEAY. NO, because they cannot make out a case against the bank.*8

The generally negative reaction of System officials to the pressure
for easier credit had the effect of increasing efforts to change the
structure of the System. In March, 1922, hearings were held on a proposed amendment to the (Federal Eeserve Act which, when enacted,
added an eighth member to the Board as a representative of agricultural interests. The Federal Advisory Council had petitioned TPresident Harding to oppose the legislation on the grounds that the com* 8.R., 2nd Conf. (1915), pp. 457-463. 8.R., April, 1921 Conf., pp. 1094-1096, 1101-1103.
« 8.R., October, 1921 Conf., p. 469.

position of the Board should reflect "an entirely judicial point of
view, uninfluenced by the wishes of parties or classes." Governor
Strong had suggested as early as 1915 that the functions of the Board
be limited to those of a "judicial body", but the Board, led by Governor
Harding, had emphatically overruled Strong at that time and had retaliated by curtailing the powers of the Governors Conference. At
this point, however, it was willing to accept this definition of its function. Secretary Mellon appeared as a witness against the amendment
and told the House Banking and Currency Committee that:
The Federal Reserve Board does not pass upon paper from agricultural regions
jand has no latitude as to what may be discounted . . . The board is just a
regulative board, and it is the individual Federal Reserve banks which exercise
discretion as to the extent of accommodation to the member banks.4®

One of the Democratic members of the Committee, Eugene Black of
Texas, questioned this interpretation of the law:
!As I understand it, the Federal reserve banks are under the control of boards
of directors, but the policies of the banks, within the limits of the law, are determined largely by the Federal Reserve Board.

In reply, Secretary Mellon rephrased the law as follows:
The Federal Reserve Board has general supervision of the Federal reserve
banks 50 has authority to correct anything which it believes to be unsound in

This statement is significant in view of Secretary Mellon's efforts
during March and April, 1922 to repress the open market authority of
the Federal Reserve banks. The extent to which the Reserve bank
purchases of Government bonds had influenced rates downward in
this period was not generally known. However, Secretary Mellon's
negation of the Board's powers was challenged by another member
of the administration. Testifying in favor of the amendment, the
Secretary of Agriculture, Henry C. Wallace—father of a subsequent
Secretary of the Department and Vice President—told the Committee:
I have not thought of the Federal Reserve Board as a purely administrative
body, but rather as an institution which determines the general financial and
credit policies of the country, and from that standpoint, I am not able to agree
with the suggestion that a larger membership would be inadvisable. On the
contrary, it seems to me that the membership of a board, which in time, if not
now, will, through the exercise of its administration of the great credit machinery
of the country, have a very direct influence upon prices and upon business in
general should be a cross section of our industrial life, including agriculture—
I am not using the words "industrial life" in a restrictive sense. Such a board
might well represent a cross section of the entire business life of the nation . . .
The board should be made up of men who have a keen understanding and full
appreciation of the effect of every policy of this board on agriculture, industry,
commerce, labor, and other large interests, because the administration of this
-credit machinery can make or break labor as well as agriculture.

Pursuing the implication of the Secretary's statement, Congressman
Brand of Georgia asked:
Do I understand you to say, then, that the Federal Reserve Board can adopt
such policies as would have the effect of increasing or decreasing the price of
agricultural products?
Amendment8 to Federal Reserve Act, Hearings before the House Committee on Banking and Currency on S. 2263, 67th Cong., 2nd Sess., March 16-16, 1922, pp. 6, 17-21.
8.R., 2nd Conf. (1915), p. 458. Summary, 5th Conf. (1915), p. 9. 8.R., January, 1916
Conf., pp. 2-10.
» Amendment to Federal Reserve Act, p. 9.

Secretary Wallace replied :."Wliy, certainly, it can." f
. -.
Following Secretary Wallace and testifying against t^e
ment, Governor Harding restated tfre argument on the limitations of
a regional system which the Board had used in its 1921 Annual Report:
The (Reserve) banks are:localized. Eac!h Federal reserve bank is an independent entity, as you will see if you will read section 4 of the Federal Reserve
Act, which describes the powers of the Federal reserve 'banks. The duties pf the
Federal Reserve Board, as pointed out toy the ^Secretary of the Treasury, are
largely supervisory and, in a general way, administrative. But the powers of
the Federal Reserve Board have been grossly exaggerated. I do not think the
Secretary of Agriculture has a correct conception of the functions of t'he Federal
Reserve Board, with all due respect to him.
The board cannot exercise, under the law, any such influence on prices as he
seems to think it can.52

This statement by Governor Harding was, of course^ consciously deceptive. All rate changes throughout 1921 had been initiated by the
Board—those in May which had been actively opposed by Governor
Strong as well as the more dramatic reductions at the end of the year.53
However, it is one of the ironies of Federal Reserve history that
the System was already moving irrevocably in the direction of centralization through open market operations in Government securities,
and that, because of these operations, the influence of the larger Reserve banks—especially the New York bank—was enhanced while that
of the Board diminished. I t is possible to argue that the ineffectual
posture the Board chose to adopt contributed to the decline in its influence. While the testimony of Governor Harding and Secretary
Mellon is less than a candid appraisal of the current powers and influence of the Board, in retrospect it resembles a classic case of the
self-fulfilling prophesy. By the end of the decade, its function was almost as limited as the System had judged it expedient to proclaim in
the aftermath of the 1920-21 depression.
^. Reserve ratios, gold and foreign exchange
While the majority of Americans coped with the effects of a serious
economic recession during the Spring of 1921, Federal Reserve officials

IUd., pp. 23, 25.
For a discussion among Reserve offiicals of the System's influence on prices, see chapter V. part V. and appendix A.
**IUd., p. 27.
The 1921 Annual Report had stated :
"Attention should be called, first of all, to the fact that the Federal Reserve Act
did not establish a central bank. On the contrary, it adopted the regional principle
and authorized the establishment of not more than 12 banks, to be located in various
sections of the country. Each of these banks is practically independent of the others
in operation as well as in local policies. From a legal standpoint, these banks are
private corporations organized under a special Act of Congress, namely, the Federal
Reserve Act. Their stockholders are their member banks, each of which is required to subscribe to the capital stock of the Federal Reserve Bank an amount equal to 6 percent
of its own capital and surplus, one-half of which amount is required to be paid in"
(Annual Report of the Federal Reserve Board, 1921, pp. 90-91).
It should be noted, that, unlike the Joint Commission of Agricultural Inquiry, the
House Committee was not persuaded by the System's argument amd that the amendment to add a representative of agriculture to the Federal Reserve Board was enacted. The views of the Committee on the powers of the Board were reflected in the
following discussion between Governor Harding and two Republican Members :
Mr. KING (Illinois). I am not saying it is unfair, but I am getting at whether your
rulings really affect the prices of commodities.
Governor HARDING. I do not think they do.
Mr. KING. I have always thought so.
Chairman MCFADDEN (Pennsylvania). Your rulings are always Interpretations of the
Governor HARDING. They are always interpretations of the law, and conservative interpretations rather than the reverse. (Amendment to Federal Reserve Act. p. 32).
53 S.R., April, 1921 Conf., pp. 674-679, 8R., October, 1921 Conf., pp. 632-637. Chandler,
op. cit.} p. 174.


worried about the possibility of a run-away inflation. Gold had flowed
out of the country in 1920 after the suspension of war-time controls
prohibiting its exportation. However, it had suddenly begun to flow
back in unprecedented amounts in response to the decreases in prices
in the United States—especially agricultural prices—and to the fact
that U.S. interest rates had increased sharply after Noveniber, 1920,
and failed to decrease even though prices of goods continued their
sharp downward descent begun in May. Reserve officials ignored the
relationship between these inflows and high interest rate levels, concentrating instead on various methods of hiding the increase in reserves
in order to avoid rate reductions. Dr. Miller stated the problem during
the April 1921 Conference:
. . . if our reserve ratio is not a better indicator of domestic credit conditions than it is at the present time, it is a very faulty indicator . . .
Either the Federal Reserve System has to discard for itself the reserve ratio
as a matter of no particular consequence in determining its discount and credit
policy, or it has got to face the extremely difficult and I think impossible task of
maintaining high rates with a rising reserve ratio.54

As Dr. Miller implied, there was already pressure on the System to
lower rates in view of the rising reserve ratios. Secretary Wallace had
made such a proposal in a recent editorial in The Farmer and similar
suggestions had originated elsewhere. Governor Strong was aware of
the pressure but thought he had a different solution. Commenting on
Dr. Miller's observation, he said:
The pressure in New York comes from the class of people who have practically
no political influence, and we are not afraid of them—the stock exchange fellows.
We have got them tamed. It is these farmers that I am afraid of, and we will
buy paper from the other Reserve Banks just as fast as they get it, to keep our
reserve down. I am not afraid of that.55

But as Dr. Miller noted, this would solve nothing. If New York kept
its reserve down in this way, somebody else's reserve would be up. He
suggested instead a change in bookkeeping arrangements. Rather than
list a combined reserve, the System could segregate reserves, put the
gold into the note reserve and educate the public to look at bank
reserves "as an indicator of the credit situation." The Governor of the
San Francisco Bank objected that it would be almost impossible to get
the public "to look at anything except the high reserves, wherever it
appears." Governor Strong offered still another solution. Put the gold
"in cold storage"—that is, "earmark" it and :
. . . leave the gold abroad where it would not count in our reserve calculations, but where our payment for the gold would actually increase the amount
of our credits, supported by reserves that we do count in our reserve calculation.
The effect of that would be actually to contract our reserves every time we get
an addition to our gold. Of course, the justification for such a policy would be
that it would be contemplated that the gold is later to be returned to Europe,
when exchange conditions make it possible, and the gold will be there handy
for return, and we will save the risk and expense of shipping it twice across
the ocean.68

Strong's suggestion was put into effect temporarily but a third
solution was suggested by the new Treasury officials in October. As
explained to the Conference by Governor Strong, it entailed:

8.R., April, 1921 Conf., pp. 1089-1090.
Ibid., pp. 5-8, 562-581, 1090.
« IUd., pp. 904-905, 1091-1093.

. . » putting gold certificates into circulation for the definite purpose of
reducing the reserve percentages of the Reserve Banks and thereby indirectly
relieving the pressure for lower discount rates, or, if you please, soft money, as
distinguished from a proper discount policy and hard money.

As implied, Strong considered this proposal inherently inflationary
and there is no doubt but that the Treasury program, when put into
effect at the end of 1921, did serve as an inadvertent aid to recovery.
Even so, it was criticized by Governors Calkins and Strong as partaking of "subterfuge" and leaving the System open to hostile criticism.
Under Secretary of the Treasury Gilbert replied that the System was
under attack already and rightly so, because "the Federal Eeserve
Banks have been in the attitude of hoarding the gold, and they still
The hoarding psychology was, however, hard to defeat. During the
Otcober 1921 Conference, when the question of paying out the gold
was brought up, Governor Seay of Kichmond argued that:
. . . the gold is where it ought to be. It took a great deal of trouble to put it
into the Federal Reserve Bank, and if we could get all of the gold in the country
into the Federal Reserve Bank it would be a good thing, I think.

And Governor Miller of Kansas City concurred:
I am opposed to paying out gold. I think we have accumulated it at great
expense and I think it would be a step backward to pay it out now.87

It is perhaps inevitable that any central banking system would be
distracted by the discovery that it is suddenly and for the first time
the repository of a majority of the world's gold supply. Nevertheless,
such a situation is one which required serious consideration and,
between the April and October, 1921 Conferences, Governor Strong
had given it some thought. As his earlier proposal indicates, he was concerned as much with the international implications of the gold inflows
as with domestic considerations. During the October, 1921 Conference,
he proposed an increased volume of open market purchases to bring
rates down rather than a reduction in the discount rate. The argument
for this proposal was as follows:
. . . we cannot afford in this country to impound all the monetary gold
in the world and lock it up and not permit the world to do banking here and
.borrow money here. In other words, we are shutting down on the world's
recovery and closing our markets, if we require gold payments for everything,
and then don't use some of that gold as the basis of some extension of credit,
and we feel in New York that the general recovery of trade around the world
is going to be brought about by our making New York a good market in which the
world can borrow money, and that applies to the whole country, but New York
is where they first come.™

Strong also believed that lowering rates through open market
purchases by the Reserve banks would be the better way to aid
domestic recovery, but showed none of the deep concern for domestic
conditions that he was to manifest following the recession of 1924.
Chandler suggests that Strong simply had not, at this point, outgrown
his pre-war concepts of central banking, and while this is evidently
true, it is also true that he was deeply absorbed in the first of the
international ventures which were to play a significant role in his
subsequent career.89

8.R., October, 1921 Conf., pp. 90-91, 95-96, 99, 374-377.
pp. 635-636.
» IMd., p. 637. Chandler, op. cit., p. 181.



During the October 1921 Conference, Strong asked the governors
to jctin, as a System, in a proposal he'had initiated to stabilize exchange
rates. It would mean, he explained, entering into an agreement with
foreign central banks to set up a pocli to operate an exchange account.
Introducing the proposal, Strong
. . . my belief [is] that whether we want to or not we are going to have to
take some p(art in this situation abroad. We probably Won't do it politically, but
we have got to do it financially and economically.

The governors were wholeheartedly in favor of the concept. In view
of the fate of President Wilson's proposals, it is interesting that this
group should endorse sudh a view as was expressed in the following
statement by Governor Norris of Philadelphia:
I am bound tb isay thia't I think 'the ithree great opportunities that we have had
to accomplish the Stabilisation of foreign exchange were, first, to go into the
League of Nations; second, to m'ake a readjustment of our tariff with a view to
opening our doors to export as far as it could be done with the least disturbance
to our industries father than put up barriers. Neither of (those things has been
done or will be done, and the third was to empower the Secretary of the Treasury
to deal in an intelligent way with the refunding of foreign obligations . . .
f and] the limitations that have been written into the bill will make it impossible
for him to do anything of any real use . . . But because we have lost those three,
it does not follow, of course, that we ought to throw aside and discard all
others . . . [and] it seems to me that the proposition you have suggested is one
#hat undoubtedly has merit and may reasonably be expected to accomplish some

Governor McDougail of Chicago assured Strong that if the plan
"can be worked out on a safe and workable basis, that the entire System will be sympathetic." It was therefore agreed that Governor
Strong should proceed with his negotiations with foreign central
banks. While the foreign centrail banks involved were, as Governor
Strong noted, "themselves controlled by acts of theirtownlegislatures,"
a fact which might impede the arrangements, the certainty of a Congressional veto of Federal Reserve participation could be avoided. He
suggested that the System participate in the pool through the current
account which the law authorized the Federal Reserve banks to maintain at foreign banks appointed as their agents or correspondents,
settling with gold Shipments as necessary.60
This proposal was a significant first step by American authorities in
the direction of full participation in international financial arrangements. It need only be noted here that the modus operandi of this first
operation served as a model for Stromg's subsequent actions. He not
only avoiddd seeking Congressional approval for foreign operations,
but, finding a direct relationship with the Treasury more congenial,
avoided consulting the Federal Reserve Board as well. Given the quasigovernmental status of the New York Reserve Bank and the backing
of sympathetic Treasury officials, Strong was aJble to transform the
Federal Reserve Bank of New York into a central bank dealing with
international finances as effectively as its European counterparts.
«° 8.R., October, 1921 Conf., pp. 721-741.


1. Centralization of open 'market operations in bankers' acceptances :
While the Federal Reserve banks, through the Conference of Governors, had developed a sophisticated mechanism for centralizing open
market operations before the United States entered World War I,
the market itself was largely undeveloped. It consisted of a limited
amount of bankers' acceptances, municipal warrants and the $1 billion of 2 percent bonds securing the national bank circulation. The
Liberty Loan issues created within a two year period a class of securities in the amount of $25 billion which were a ready-made marketable instrument, but the Reserve banks chose to ignore this development and to remain inactive in the market during the war. One reason
for this inactivity was that earnings from discount operations were
more than sufficient to cover expenses. More fundamental however is
that under the prevailing "real bills" conception of economic processes
Reserve bank purchases of Government securities were believed to supply funds for speculation and to fuel inflation, whereas discounting
and purchasing bills of exchange arising out of commercial transactions (bankers' bills or acceptances) were viewed as supplying funds
for productive purposes.
The new open market policy devised during the March 1919 Conference continued to reflect the "real bills" doctrine. For the first
time it was proposed that open market operations be used as a tool of
policy independent of the question of Federal Reserve bank earnings.
This proposal was contained in a set of guidelines offered by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York which recommended that transactions
in bankers' acceptances of all Reserve banks be coordinated as a means
of developing the market for these bills. The focus on bankers' acceptances reflected the requirements of "real bills" that commercial
paper serve as the primary basis for the extension of Federal Reserve
In line with this requirement, it was suggested that the Reserve
banks act primarily as agents for their member banks, encouraging
investments in bankers' acceptances and purchasing, holding and
collecting bills for their accounts. The purchases of the Reserve banks
for their own accounts were to reflect their role in supporting the
market for bankers' bills. It was recommended that they sell bills only
to other Reserve banks. Sales in the open market were, as Mr. Kenzel,
the manager of the New York Bank's open market account, explained:
. . . a function of dealers in discount, and I do not think it is the proper
function of banks to distribute bills. That is a specialized business and belongs
to the dealers in the market and (sic) who should be recognized in it, and the
Federal Reserve Banks should not be competitors of theirs. They may, however,
I think, very properly be buyers in the market for member banks.1
Stenographic Record, March, 1919 Conference, p. 329. The emphasis was on seeing
to it that "those bills stay sold, that they do not come back into the market" (8.R.



Concern for dealers was also reflected in Governor Strong's proposal
for repurchase agreements as a means of insuring them "a sufficient
supply of credit with which to carry (bills), without penalty of a
high rate, until they are able to market them." 2
The last but not least important of the New York Bank's proposals
emphasized the need for consultation among the Reserve banks regarding the volume of transactions and prevailing rates in a given
district when a Reserve bank was buying bankers' bills outside its own
district. The Federal Reserve Board also wished to be consulted. The
extent of its supervisory powers over open market operations was not
clear. However, it had inserted into the guidelines at the conference
a requirement that all sales of bills by one Federal Reserve bank to
another "promptly be reported to the Federal Reserve Board." Arguing by analogy, it noted the similarity between the extra-legal arrangements for allotment of System investments and the legal provisions under which the Board could compel one Reserve bank to rediscount the paper of another. The Board pointed out that these
actions had the same effect on reserve ratios and that, therefore, it had
a vital interest in any arrangement for shifting investments among
the Reserve banks, since such an arrangement could serve as an alternative to rediscounting.3
The Board's position in effect sanctioned New York's proposal that
there be some means of coordinating information on open market
transactions. The method adopted by the conference at the further suggestion of the New York Bank was "that where one Federal Reserve
bank takes its bills in another Federal reserve district, it should be
through the bank of that district." 4 Since New York was the primary
market, the potential effect of this plan was to return to the New York
Bank the position of control over the open market transactions of the
Reserve banks which it had held in the pre-war period. The arrangement was not discussed in this context during the March, 1919 Conference, nor was there any allusion to the pre-war arrangement which
it resembled. However, the officers of the New York Bank raised the
issue of the pre-war system of distributing investments during the
April, 1920 Conference, and made an overt proposal for centralizing
open market transactions through that Bank. Speaking for New York
during Benjamin Strong's absence, Vice-Governor J. H. Case said:
* . . you all know when the Federal Reserve System was established, all of
the banks did participate in our purchases . . . Now, we think that (once
again) those purchases should be for the account of all the Federal Reserve
Banks... 8

Case noted that, while the banks had participated before, thev
"dropped out" in the "stormy weather during the war period," leaving
the New York Bank "holding the bag" with a portfolio of $300,000,000
in bankers' acceptances. Currently only three banks—San Francisco,
Chicago and Cleveland—were participating in the arrangement.
April, 1920 Conf., p. 406). A year later, the New York Bank reported that over a hundred member banks had subscribed to its service "in the matter of purchase of bills
for their account and the holding of them and collection of them for their account"
( IMtf.,p.4O5).
2 tf4O5)
S.R., March, 1919 Conf., pp. 356-357.
*IMd., pp. 329-330,358.
*IMd., p. 359.
8.R., April. 1920 Conf., p. 439.

. . . and we feel that this principle is correct, and I think it is, that we are
the financial center, and these bills flow in there, and at a time when they could
not be absorbed by member banks, and were not absorbed, we stood in the breach
and were a place of last resort.6

Several of the Reserve Bank governors explained that they had
ceased to participate in New York's purchases because their reserves
were low and they would have had to rediscount with another Reserve
bank. It was noted that the New York Bank's reserves had fallen below
the required ratio during the latter part of 1919, precipitating "headlines . . . stating that they were below their legal limit" in "every
financial paper in this country." However, New York used this as an
arguing point in its campaign for distributing investments.7 The argument was made by the governor of the San Francisco Bank, J. U.
. . . the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, being in the financial center in
order to support the situation, may be overloaded, while the rest of us have no
load to carry . . . the (reserve) position of the twelve Federal Reserve Banks
cannot be comparable unless the purchases in the open market are distributed
proportionally among them.

Governor Fancher of the Cleveland Bank also endorsed New York's
. . . Bills go to New York; that is where they all center, that is the market
and I think that there is an obligation upon us that we should carry in our
portfolio an amount of bills equal at least to the amount of bills made in our
. . . simply because one of the banks or two or three of the banks may be
low on their reserves . . . the load should not be dumped upon New York.
They might be low in their reserves at the same time, but they are in a position
where they cannot avoid it. Those bills have got to find a market. 8

But there was a more fundamental reason for the opposition to
control of System open market transactions by the New York Bank.
New York's plan for developing the market for bankers' acceptances
included maintaining relatively low buying rates for bankers' bills.9
After the discount rate increases in November, 1919 the Treasury had
to make substantial purchases to stabilize the Government bond market. Under Secretary of the Treasury Leffingwell complained that, because of Strong's low buying rates, the market for bankers' acceptances had not been affected by the discount rate increases, and told
the Board that:
«Ibid., pp. 439-440.
* IUd., pp. 439-442, 446-447. S.R., November, 1919 Conf., p. 266.
s 8.R., April, 1920 Conf., pp. 440-443.
A subsequent statement by Governor Calkins in support of the New York Bank gives
a more elaborate exegesis of the current rationale for distributing its investments:
". . . As I understand it, the system has set up what is known as a pipe line, and
the purpose of that system of pipe lines is to establish a level in all the twelve Federal Reserve banks, in other words, to operate the banks as one system and the failure on the part of the twelve banks to carry their part, each one, of the bankers'
acceptance load, is going to put the pipe line out of commission so that it will not
operate. . . . Now if it is desirable that the reserve of the Federal Reserve Bank of
New York should sink below that of the Bank of San Francisco, then of course we
should stop participation and the Board would call upon us to rediscount with the
Federal Reserve Bank of New York. We are trying to make the pipe line work, and the
question is whether it is desirable to have a very wide difference in the reserve positions
of the twelve banks or whether it is desirable to have a fairly level position of the twelve
banks. That is the principle involved. If it is desirable to have the level in one district widely different from the levels in all the other eleven districts, why certainly
we could not make any such agreement. I believe the Federal Reserve Board is more or
less committed to the view that it should be kept up. There are difficulties, to be sure,
in the matter of adjusting the basis, because of the fact that in some of the districts
there is something approaching an open market, some of the districts besides New
York, but that is a matter of easy adjustment." (Ibid., pp. 454-455, emphasis supplied).
s S.R., March, 1919 Conf., p. 356.

If Governor Strong would apply to the bill market the same doctrine that he
seeks to impose upon the Treasury, the situation would be well met.10

The low buying rate for bankers' bills was also opposed by Charles
A Morss, governor of the Boston Bank. He objected to New York's
argument that the need for earnings had provided the rationale for
distribution of its purchases in the pre-war period, having thought
then, as currently, that the primary objective was to protect the New
York Bank in terms of rates. Kenzel agreed that, "It was 'a question,
then, Governor, of stabilization of rates, to prevent them getting too
low," and Governor Calkins added that it "was for the benefit of all
the banks." 1X Those who favored an active open market policy spoke
Governor CALKINS. What would the situation be if New York did not buy acceptances that were offered in the market?
The CHAIRMAN (Governor McDougal of Chicago). There would not be any
Mr. KENZEL (New York). I will tell you what I think would happen, and that
is that a great amount of financing which is now being done in the form of acceptances would continue to revert to financing under promissory notes, those
notes would clog up in other districts, and the other districts would be re-discounting promissory notes instead of bankers' bills.
Governor CALKINS. That means, in its last analysis, that the Federal Reserve
Bank of New York, by buying acceptances in New York in the open market, is
carrying a part of the load of each of the other eleven banks?
Mr. KENZEL. That is it precisely.12

But Governor Morss was not convinced. He refused to participate in an arrangement which authorized the New York Bank to
conduct and control open market operations for the System as a whole.
He felt that the Boston Bank had a right to independence of action and
judgment, and that it had a responsibility to its own regional market:
Governor MORSS. . . . I should not think of participating in bills bought by
the New York bank. We have an open market of our own, and we take care of
that market as best we can . . . I cannot see how we could agree to take any
amount or certain proportion of any amount of bills bought by the New York
bank and pretend to take care of our own market at all.
Furthermore, we do not always agree with the rate at which New York buys
the bills. . . . That, of course, is simply a matter of judgment, but I cannot see
any reason why the Boston Federal Reserve Bank should be allotted a proportion of purchases by New York if it does not agree with their judgment.
Mr. KENZEL. It should not.

Governor MORSS. That is what we would do if we should agree to take a certain proportion.
Mr. KENZEL. YOU should not do so. I feel this way, if we take the larger view
of it, of the necessity for stabilizing the open market as an obligation to the
system, a way should be worked out whereby all the Reserve Banks would be
consulted and would formulate policies and so forth. I do not wish to assume the
responsibility, acting for the Reserve Bank of New York, of dictating policies
for the system.

This last statement was subsequently transformed into the following
motion adopted by the Conference, to the effect that :
". . . . it is the sense of this meeting that stabilization of the open bill market
is incumbent upon the system as a whole and that a committee be appointed by
the chairman to develop an equitable basis for making such support effective." u

Board meeting, November 26, 1919 {Board Records, discount rate files, 1919).
^8.R., April, 1920 Conif., pp. 446-447. Governor Morss replied that, while "I do
riot want to be disagreeable about it . . ., I really think New York makes rather too much
of that argument." (Ibid., p. 447).
v*IMd., pp. 447-449.
I8 Ibid., pp. 451-453, 455.


The committee appointed to resolve the problems of open market
policy was composed of Governors Morss and Fancher and Mr. Kenzel, representing the Boston, Cleveland and New York Banks respectively. Like its composition, its recommendations indicated an attempt
to accommodate different points of view. Its first recommendation—
that there be an emphasis on developing local markets in each Federal
Reserve district—was proposed by Governor Morss. New York's emphasis on centralization as a means of developing the market for bankers' bills was reflected in a recommendation that the Reserve banks buy
bills without regard to the amount created in their own districts and
that the Reserve banks stand behind bankers' acceptances "unreservedly." 14
The position of the New York Bank was also apparent in a notation
in the committee report to the October 1920 Conference of a gross
inequity in the distribution of bills, 90 percent of the total being held
by only five Reserve banks. But New York's proposal that a plan be
adopted whereby each Reserve bank would agree to take its portion
of bills bought by other Reserve banks "under any and all circumstances" was vetoed by Governor Morss. He argued that a plan of allotment would necessarily interfere with the development of local
The committee had recommended that it be replaced by a standing
committee empowered to suggest buying rates for open market purchases of bankers' bills. This, it was implied, would curb New York's
control over the pricing of System transactions. Governor Morss had
objected to the fact that the New York Bank habitually offered lower
rates for bills than were offered by the other Reserve banks, and that
this had the eSect of drawing all bills to the New York market and
creating a false rationale for distribution of the Bank's portfolio.
Governor McDougal had complained that the low rates offered by
New York made it practically impossible to move bankers' acceptances on the open market and argued that, if the rate were right, the
System would not need to take up so many bills.15
Meanwhile, another major disagreement had arisen between the
New York and Chicago banks over New York's policy of discouraging the sale of acceptances by the Reserve banks. Shortly before the
October 1920 Conference, the Chicago Bank had wired New York
instructions to sell $25 million of indorsed bills for its account. It did
so on the grounds that it needed the funds to meet the rising demand
for rediscounts from its member banks and that, there being a shortage of prime bills, sales would not disturb the market. The New York
Bank wired back that Chicago was within its rights but that sales of
indorsed bills were contrary to the statement of policy approved
earlier by the Governors Conference to the effect that:
Federal Reserve Banks, like all central banks, being the places of ultimate
rediscount, should not be traders and that paper which has been taken out of
the market by Federal Reserve Banks through purchase should not agrain be
found in the market.

The Chicago Bank had replied that "if we continued to participate
in the purchase of New York bills, it would be with the understanding
8.R., October, 1920 Conf., pp. 31-39.
i*IMd.f pp. 38-39, 54-55.

that there are no restrictions, implied or otherwise, which would deny
us the privilege of freedom of action in connection with the bills purchased." Presenting the case for the Chicago Bank to the October
1920 Conference, Governor McDougal launched a general attack on
the policy of discouraging sales of acceptances. He argued that such a
policy destroyed the value of bills as a "quick asset" and took exception to New York's position that sales of indorsed bills would mean
they would be "hawked around, to the embarrassment, if not the detriment of the indorser," because:
We understand it has been the practice of the Federal Reserve Bank of New
York, when buying bills from dealers, to require them to obtain a bank indorsement, and that the banks are paid a commission by the dealers for their indorsement. This might account for the objections of New York banks to having bills
bearing their indorsement sold in the open market, as they are probably liable
for a large amount of bills which they have never owned, but which have been
indorsed merely as an accommodation to dealers.16

In reply, Governor Case argued that, due to continuing weaknesses
in the market, the procedures adopted at the March 1919 Conference
were still valid. It was necessary to restrict sales of bills by the Reserve banks because:
In a market so delicately adjusted . . . it will readily be seen that the offering of a round block of bills ,by a Federal Reserve Bank would seriously affect
the market rates, based on supply and demand, irrespective of the entire probability that the fact of the offering would be interpreted as a contemplated increase in buying rates by the Federal Reserve Bank offering the paper.

Governor Case concluded that, therefore:
If a central bank becomes a trader in a discount market, the weight of its
operations would tend to make it the market and not the stabilizer and controller
of the market, which would be a misconception of the function of a central bank
as judiged by the historical standards and experience.

But, the New York Bank had already conceded that Chicago had
the right to sell the bills in its possession regardless of the policy
recommendaation. Governor McDougal concluded the discussion with
the comment that "the Chicago Bank does not feel that the recommendation contained in this report of Mr. Kenzel is binding upon the
Chicago Bank, and in view of the fact that the New York Bank has
told us it really is not binding, we are of course satisfied." 17
Again, however, there was an effort to resolve differences. A standing committee was appointed composed of the same three members
who had formed the initial committee. Empowered to suggest rates, it
could, Governor Calkins argued, rectify "the objectionable practices
in New York, if there are any, and if they do that they remove all
arguments that have been made against this pro rata distribution." 18
Nevertheless, as the narrative of these discussions indicates, there was
a natural tendency within a system of 12 Reserve banks to retain the
regionalist cast intended for the System. New York's efforts to dominate the System were melt with hostility and its attempte to centralize
open market operations were consistently thwarted by other Reserve
banks seeking to maintain functional independence.

IUd., pp. 39-46.
I&t'd., pp. 106-111.
IMd., pp. 47, 111-114.

The refusal of the majority of the banks to endorse an allotment)
system during this period undoubtedly curtailed the amount of investments purchased. In retrospect, the reluctance of the governors to
participate in New York's purchases in 1920 in view of itheir low reserves and, more fundamentally, because of their opposition to the low
buying rates set by New York was at feast as reasonable a response to
overall economic conditions as was the policy of the New York Bank.
Given the attempt to contain the expansion of bank credit, by raising
discount rates beginning in November, 1919, New York's open market
policies of low buying rates and prohibition against sales indicates
thait it did not fully understand the effects of these policies on the
money market.
This lack of congruity between the discount rate and open market
policies of the New York Bank indicates that the "real bills" doctrine
continued to be the conceptual framework for policy. An increase in
the quantity of commercial paper was not seen as inflationary because
it was thought to represent the needs of trade. It was anticipated that
such paper would be liquidated automatically when goods were sold
because it expanded and contracted in response to seasonal factors
without creating permanent additions to bank reserves. On the other
hand, an increase in the amount of Government securities held by the
banking system was the guage for inflation. Government securities
were not directly tied to loans for productive purposes and were
viewed as the instrument through which the banks supplied funds
for speculation. Therefore, it was thought that the low buying rates
and enlarged purchases of acceptances would insure a sufficient volume
of credit for productive purposes despite the increases in discount
rates, while the higher rate for loans to member banks against Government securities and restrictions on investments in Government securities by the Reserve banks would tend to discourage the extension of
bank credit for non-productive purposes.
The idea that a given market instrument would reflect a specific
allocation of credit was discarded by Governor Strong after 1921, but
revived by Roy Young as governor of the Federal Reserve Board in
1928. Also revived in that period—by George Harrison, Strong's successor at the New York Bank—was Strong's policy of making substantial purchases of acceptances as a margin of protection against a financial panic when discount rates were raised to levels which would force
2. The 1921 open market operations of the New York hank
After October 1920, the System's interest in open market operations
waned. The report of the standing committee to the April, 1921 Conference was passed over in view of more pressing concerns, but the
committee continued to function. In its report, it defined its function
as follows: to study the market and suggest rates which would conform to market conditions; to develop uniform practices and conditions in the market; and to work toward broadening and developing
the market for bankers' acceptances. It had appointed a secretary at
the New York Bank and arranged to have each Federal Reserve bank
report weekly by telegram on operations and conditions in its district,
and to have a summary of these reports prepared for the benefit of the


committee. The information requested of the Reserve banks included
the amounts of bills purchased and rates at which they were purchased, the amount of bills held under sales contracts and the rates
at which they were held, rates at which bills were offered by dealers,
and comments of dealers and Reserve banks as to the supply of bills
and whether or not they were moving freely at the prices offered.
On the basis of these reports, the committee summarized developments in the market between October, 1920 and April, 1921. With
about $1 billion bankers' acceptances outstanding as of October, 1920,
there had been a substantial decrease in the volume of new bills and
increase in demand. January 1921, was the "high month," with dealers "practically sold put" and "experiencing much difficulty in maintaining their portfolios." The committee also noted "a very marked
development in the breadth of distribution." There had been a substantial increase in the number of firms, corporations and individuals
holding bills, as well as an increase in the number of member banks
holding the acceptances of other banks, and in the number of cities
and States in which dealers reported new customers. Further, there
was an increase in the amount of foreign funds invested in bankers'
acceptances—$44 million had been invested through the New York
Bank alone since September, 1920. These indications that the market
was developing as hoped were reflected, the committee noted, in the
decline in bills held by the New York Bank. New York had held $296
million of acceptances on October 30, 1920; $555 million on January
31,1921; and $122,491,000 as of April 1,1921.
The committee noted that there had been a lack of uniformity in the
rates at which bills were purchased during February, 1921, and recommended that "in the absence of special and extraordinary local conditions, the practice of the various Reserve Banks be uniform in this
regard." In addition, the committee complained that all the Reserve
banks except San Francisco, Minneapolis and New York had a substantial amount of unindorsed bills and that Richmond, Atlanta and
Dallas were purchasing directly from acceptors. The committee disapproved of this practice, which "frustrates the efficiency," and recommended "that steps be taken to encourage the sale of bills in well
established markets (New York), unless and until they can be better
absorbed in the districts where they originate . . . (since) one of the
main virtues of bankers' acceptances (is) their relation to the ebb and
flow of funds and credit." Finally, the committee reiterated the position on repurchase agreements which had been taken by the New York
Bank in March, 1919: in order to develop the market, it was necessary
to continue to assist dealers and to guarantee them "a moderate profit."
The Reserve banks should not view rates as a primary consideration
in arranging repurchase agreements but, rather, should offer dealers
the most favorable rate consistent with the minimum buying rate.19
At the October, 1921 Conference, the committee reported that the
general improvement in credit conditions had been reflected in the
open market. Interest rates, which had remained stable despite the
sharp fall in prices from May, 1920 to May, 1921, fell in the summer
of 1921. The Committee observed that as a result of easing rates, "the
markets have depended less and less upon the Federal Reserve Banks
» S.R., October, 1921 Conf., pp. 62-70.

for support and accommodation." The committee attributed the fall
in rates to the increased amount of foreign funds invested in the New
York discount market—about $300 million—an amount approximately
equal to the decreases in bills bought and held by the System since
the previous year. This development came about "as the logical result
of the position of this country as a creditor nation and a free gold
market . . . and the volume of this money seeking employment in the
discount market," the committee20concluded, "was the first effective
urge to lower rates in the market."
This analysis of the fall in rates beginning in the summer of 1921
appears consistent with Governor Case's statement of open market
policy objectives: that the System should act only to stabilize and
control the market, not dominate it. This position has been restated by
the System on subsequent occasions down to more recent times, and
has inevitably presented problems in assessing the extent of both its
powers and responsibilities in the exercise of control. In this instance,
however, there are indications that the lower market rates were not,
as suggested, exclusively the result of fortuitous external developments. Clearly weakening credit demand in consequence of the depres*
sion was a factor. In addition, substantial purchases of Government
securities by the New York Bank appear also to have played some
part in easing money rates during the summer and fall of 1921.
Until April, 1921, an aggressive open market policy to lower rates
and stimulate economic activity had not been contemplated by Governor Strong. He had advocated rather continuing the pressure for
liquidation in the context of the Bagehot doctrine of lending freely
at high rates. George W. Norris, Governor of the Federal Keserve
Bank of Philadelphia had argued, however, that a reduction in the
discount rate "in one or two of the districts other than New York"
would do no harm, but that:
. . . the best remedy that can be applied here is an enlarged purchase of bills
in the market, so that if the rate on acceptances got down to 5 or 5^4 percent,
the member banks that are now buying these bills I think would naturally go
into either Treasury certificates or the purchase of commercial paper, and in so
far as they went into Treasury certificates it would be helpful to the Treasury
and helpful to the market for Government bonds, and helpful to all of us as taxpayers. In so far as it went into commercial paper, it would help every borrower
of every commercial bond . . .21

By October, Strong had come around to this position publicly, arguing that "you are not going to make money cheaper to the original
borrower by reducing your discount rate." Explaining the position
and indicating the actions already taken by the New York Bank in
implementing it, he said:
. . . I think that it would be of assistance to the business of the country to
hasten that process of rate reduction if it is possible toi do it, and we have
endeavored to do it in New York principally in two ways. One is always to be in
the market to buy bills, not in very great volume, but always have the pressure
there to put out our money. The second, which is the most effective thing we have,
is that the minute the books close on an issue of certificates at the Teasury, we
jump right in and buy every certificate that is offered in the market, and put them
to a premium.
»/MdM pp. 70-75.
«• 8.R., April, 1921 Conf., p. S4.

You know, when a thing sells at a discount nobody wants it. The minute that
it goes to a premium everybody wants it, and there is a little psychological influence made effective by our going into the market the minute the books close on
these certificate issues and buying everything that is offered, and that has had
a very wholesome effect in getting our rates down in New York, I think.22

The fact that the New York Bank undertook to lower rates by means
of purchases in the open market at some point between April and
October 1921, has often been overlooked. One reason for the oversight
is the fact that records of transactions by the Eeserve banks during
this period are incomplete. Another is that statements by Governor
Strong during the summer and fall—other than the statements to the
October Conference quoted here and in the previous chapter—are confusing and even misleading.28
Perhaps the best example of how Strong's statements on the effects
of open market operations on credit markets and interest rates confused the issue is contained in a memorandum dictated by Strong as
the basis of a reply to a wheel manufacturer in Ohio, Mr. Russell, who
had written the New York Bank suggesting that it purchase $100 million in Treasury certificates to reduce member bank indebtedness to
the Reserve banks and ease the money market. Strong said:
He is right in stating that if we went into the market to buy 100 millions of
Treasury certificates or bills or any other sort of investment with conditions as
they are at present, it would not result in an expansion or an inflation of credit
and currency, but would probably result in the immediate repayment of borrowings for a like amount by the member banks, and would simply convert one kind
of Reserve bank investment (loan) into another kind of Reserve Bank investment (certificate of indebtedness or bill). I doubt if it would affect the policy of
any member bank in this district in influencing the amounts which it is willing
to lend to its customers. . . . The purchase of $100 million of Treasury certificates would probably not alter the situation as to market rates for money
more than very temporarily. What will alter the market rate for money is to
have member banks get out of debt with us and begin to compete for loans, because when they owe us money, whenever they have a surplus to loan they are
obliged to apply it to reducing their debt to us. . . .
il agree in general that ultimately in more normal times, or I should say possibly "less hectic times," the operations of the Reserve Banks will be principally
through open market purchases rather than discounting for member banks.**

The argument that rates would only be lowered when member banks
began to compete for loans was a repetition of Strong's testimony before the Joint Commission. This memorandum was, moreover, written
in October. Professor Chandler concludes from it that, because he
failed to note the effect of purchases on member bank indebtedness
"Strong did not then understand the subject" of open market opera** 8.R., October, 1921 Conf., pp. 634-637. The action of the New York Bank had the
effect intended. During the last four months of 1921, investments in Government securities by reporting member banks increased although loans secured by government obligations decreased. The total increase for 1921 in the government security portfolio
for 800 reporting member banks was $200 million (Elmus R. Wicker, Federal Reserve
Monetary Policy, 1917-1988, New York, Random House, 1966, p. 64).
Compare Governor Strong's statements to the Joint Commission of Agricultural
Inquiry in August, 1921 and to the Governors' Conference in October of that year
(Chapter IV, footnotes 37 and 43). It should be added that in his statements before
the Joint Commission he mentioned open market operations only briefly as follows:
"The Federal Reserve banks do not go into the market and do business direct in
lending money, except to the extent that they are permitted to buy bills or acceptances
in the open market, and to the extent that they are permited to deal in all security
issues of the United States Government. Therefore, there is no possibility of competition except in those two very limited (sic) fields between the member banks and the
reserve bank." (Agricultural Inquiry, Hearings, 67th Congress, 1st Sesssion, August 8.
1921 ; Vol. 2, p. 515.
Lester V. Chandler, Benjamin Strong, Central Banker, Washington, D.C., The Brookings Institution, 1958, pp. 207-208.

tions.25 Chandler apparently has overlooked the discussion during the
October, 1921 Conference—roughly contemporaneous with the memorandum. If the Russell memorandum represents a deliberate effort to
mislead on Strong's part, it is not the only instance in his career. He
always believed, as have many of the System's highest ranking officers
down to today, that an understatement of its powers—particularly its
power to create easy money—was necessary for the welfare of the
Governor Strong has provided the clue as to when the New York
Bank's operations in Treasury securities began. In his appearance
before the Joint Agricultural Commission on August 8, 1921, he
outlined the "symptoms of recovery" as "first . . . a tendency toward easier rates for money," and second, "the immediate influence
upon security values." Elaborating on the second point, he said:
•If you will look over the quotations of the bonds of the Government you will
find that they have all recently advanced. If you examine the tables that I will
submit showing the costs now in the market, you will find that every issue that
the United 8
States Government has got outstanding is selling at a premium in
the market.*

While Governor Strong did not acknowledge before the Joint Commission that the New York Bank was buying these issues and putting
them to a premium, this description of the condition of the Government securities market resembles the one given the Governors Conference in October and appears to indicate that these conditions were the
result of the same policy. Add also, the figures on holdings of Government securities by the Reserve banks which, while incomplete, show a
definite increase in 1921 in holdings by the New York Bank.27 In view
of the fact noted earlier that as late as April, 1921 Strong had not yet
contemplated an aggressive open market policy, it would appear that
the bulk of the buying came in the second half of 1921.
As noted above, the open market committee cited the increase in foreign investment in the New York discount market as the decisive factor in lowering rates. The October report of the committee thus implies that the System had come to play a passive role in the open
market. This was the case. The total volume of System investments
declined in 1921 and the pattern of operations appears to conform to
Governor Morss' recommendation that purchases be made primarily
in a Reserve bank's own district to develop the local market.28 New
York's operations in Government securities constituted an aggressive
attempt to lower rates and stimulate economic activity. But because
New York's allotment proposal had been openly repudiated, it no
longer controlled purchases for the System as it had in the pre-war
era, and, as compared with the 1919-1920 period, was used less fre96

Ibid., p . 2 0 7 .
Agricultural Inquiry, Vol. 2, p. 509.
Banking and Monetary Statistics, Washington, D.C., U.S. Board of Governors of the
Federal Reserve System, 1943, pp. 338, 343.
The figures on holdings of Government securities by the Federal Reserve banks
indicate that total holdings dropped in 1921 as compared with the previous year—from
$287,029,000 on December 31, 1920 to $233,528,000 on December 31, 1921. There is no
information given by months before 1932, but the share held by the New York Bank
increased from $61,184,000 on December 31, 1920 to $103,525,000 on December 31, 1921.
Figures for 1920 and 1921 for the other Reserve banks show reductions of about half
or more in their holdings of Government securities except for a slight increase in the
holdings of the Atlanta Bank during 1921. The Chicago Bank's investments in Government securities were substantially larger than those of any of the other eleven banks
during 1921, but it held only one-fourth the amount held by New York, or $26,644,000.
See footnote 27 supra.


quently as an agent in making purchases for the other Reserve banks
in the New York market. The New York Bank was thus unable to
shape System operations into as aggressive an instrument for easing
credit conditions as it might have wished at this time. Moreover, the
standing committee had not been empowered to handle transactions
for the Reserve banks and could only suggest buying rates. The result
was a considerable degree of autonomy for the individual Reserve
bank in the area of open market transactions.
This arrangement appeared to offer no effective means of controlling
the market and had not been intended as such. However, the decentralization of transactions demonstrated the extent to which the New
York Bank's position and resources enabled it to influence the market
without drawing on the resources of the other Reserve banks. With all
the Reserve banks' operating independently, New York had been able
to adopt the more aggressive policy unilaterally. Governor Strong
called attention to the impact of New York's policy at a fortuitous
moment in that, by October, a majority of Reserve officials had come
to favor action to lower rates. Since interest rates had fallen beginning in the summer of 1921, Strong was now able to persuade many
of the Reserve bank governors to adopt a more activist policy.
3. The 1922 operations in Government securities: establishment of the
Committee on Centralized Execution of Purchases and Sales of
Government Securities.
Beginning in January, 1922, the Federal Reserve banks made substantial purchases of Government securities. They acquired approximately $365 million between January and June and on June 14, held
a total of $629,000,000. The effect of these purchases on the market
caused alarm within the financial community. As Governor Strong had
anticipated, any effort by the System to create easy money was bound
£o be unpopular and to lead to charges that the System had exceeded
its authority.29 Most importantly, the Reserve banks' purchases of
Government securities also caused alarm within the Treasury, and it
was primarily as a result of the Treasury's pressure that a committee
to centralize execution of Reserve bank purchases and sales of Government securities was set up. This committee was the predecessor of the
Open Market Investment Committee established in 1923.
Secretary Mellon called the Federal Reserve Board's attention to
the volume of Reserve bank purchases and elicited an opinion from its
general counsel to the effect that the Board could intervene and impose any restriction it thought necessary. Meanwhile, Secretary Mellon
had also requested an opinion from the Federal Advisory Council.30
Minutes, July 12, 1922 Meeting of the Committee of Governors on Centralized
Control of Purchases and Sales of Government Securities, Federal Reserve Board File
333.a. Wicker, op. cit., p. 67.
Harold L. Reed states that "in 1922, holdings of discounted bills soon came to be
exceeded by holdings of securities, with certain embarrassing results"—i.e., "complaints
that the Reserve banks were becoming too vigorous competitors of member banks and
that the institutions which supply the capital of the Reserve banks were being deprived of earnings because of the depressed money rates which the Reserve Banks had
helped to generate. By resolutions at various bankers' conventions and otherwise the
member banks began to demand that the Reserve Banks operate less extensively on
their own initiative. Later it was insisted in some of these pronouncements that the
Reserve Banks should return to their 'original' functions of rediscount and issue and
that they should operate more as emergency, panic-allaying institutions." (Reed, Federal Reserve Policy, 1921-1930, New York, McGraw-Hill, 1930, p. 28).
Memorandum of April 13, 1922 from Walter S. Logan, General Counsel to the
Federal Reserve Board. Letter of April 14, 1922 from Under Secretary of the Treasury
S. Parker Gilbert to the Board. Letter of April 25, 1922 from Secretary of the Treasury
Mellon to the Federal Advisory Council. FRB File 333.a.

Like the banking community, Mellon favored liquidations and probably anticipated support from the council as the representatives of
the member banks. To a certain extent, the Council did support Secretary Mellon's position. A preface to its recommendations " . . . congratulates the country upon enjoying a financial administration which
takes the enlightened view that the Federal Reserve System should not
be used for the purpose of carrying the Government's obligations . . ."
It agreed with the Treasury that "excessive" investments in Government securities should be avoided, and that, as a general policy, investments in bankers' acceptances were preferable. However, the Council
thought that the high reserve ratios of the Reserve banks justified their
actions to some extent, and argued:
Moreover, if the Federal Reserve Banks should entirely liquidate their holdings of Government obligations, they would thereby lose all power of influence
on the banking situation of the country, in case excessive ease of money should
develop, threatening a new era of inflation. In such times, it is of the utmost
importance that the Federal Reserve System should be able to dispose of its
holdings, thereby throwing the burden on the member banks and thus exercising
a restraining influence.*1

The Council's reply is significant in that it indicates the breadth
of theoretical revision in the System. It is evident that Government
securities now were no longer viewed as an inappropriate investment
for the Eeserve banks or their member banks, and that the experience
of the previous year had demonstrated that the volume of Government
securities held in the banking system was not an automatic guage of
credit inflation. The Council recommended that the Reserve banks resolve their difficulties with the Treasury by confining their purchases
to short-term Government obligations and by taking care to schedule
purdhases so as not to interfere with Treasury operations. Secretary
Mellon pressed the matter further, requesting a discussion of the topic
and of the Council's recommendations at the May 2 Conference of
Governors. The governors reacted defensively. Except for Governor
Strong, they all reported that they had purchased Government securities "for income purposes," and the Chicago Bank had bought only
from its own member banks or local dealers. As for the choice of
Government securities as investments, Governor Calkins noted that
they haJd been bought "because acceptances are practically unobtainable at the present time." 32
Governor Strong argued, though somewhat obliquely, for Federal
Eeserve transactions in Government securities on economic grounds*
The Secretary's summary reports that he:
. . . called attention to the fact that the Federal Reserve Bank of New
York has made investments of approximately $195,000,000 in Government obligations, and that while one of the purposes was to assist in meeting expenses, nevertheless one of the chief purposes was to have on hand investments which would
enable the bank to exert control on the money market if w should become necesit
sary to do that without an increase in the discount rate.. .

In a subsequent statement, Governor Strong stated the case more
positively when he observed that the relationship between these purchases and the declining interest rates was not accidental and that
had the Reserve banks not increased their investments, "recovery of
business would have been somewhat slower":
82 April 28. 1922
83 8.R., May, 1922

Recommendations of the Federal Advisory Council, FRB File 333.a.
Conf., pp. 7-10.
Summary, May, 1922 Conf., p. 10.

My belief is that the policy of the system in reducing rates and in keeping this
amount of funds available to the country—this is only an opinion—has been one
of the influences that has hastened and facilitated the recovery of business that
has taken place.84

The possibility that other Reserve bank governors had undertaken
purchases of Government securities to influence rates downward is
implied in Governor Strong's statement. As noted earlier in tjhe chapter, he had already made such a suggestion in October, 1921 and the
response of the governors of the Kansas City and Dallas Banks at that
time indicates that they and the other governors were at least aware of
what effect any future investments might have. The lack of coordination among the Reserve banks in buying these securities made it appear that they had no basis in policy. However, as Governor Morss
observed, a mor$ accurate description would be the absence of "any
acknowledged policy."35
Meanwhile, the fact that Secretary Mellon should be the one to
press charges in this matter came as a surprise to most of the governors.
As Governor Seay noted, the situation had been "an advantage and
blessing to the Treasury," which was indebted to the Reserve banks "for
its ability to operate as successfully as it has . . ." The Treasury,
however, thought that it had been harmed rather than helped; that, as
Governor Strong explained, Reserve bank operations had frequently
coincided and interfered with Treasury operations, that they were frequently outbid, and that the Reserve banks had pushed up the price of
Treasury issues and established an interest basis which did not "represent a true market condition." Should the Reserve banks then discontinue buying, and the securities return to "their natural rate," Strong
. . . somebody is going to say what under the Heavens has happened to the
market? The certificate market has gone to smithereens. It is just inviting

As the Federal Advisory Council had noted with approval, Secretary Mellon did not believe it was the function of the System to support the Government bond market. The System had continued to
support the bill market, nonetheless, and the report of the standing
committee to the May, 1922 Conference noted that the Reserve banks
"generally have operated to give effective stability to existing market
rates." The Chicago bank acknowledged that it had applied the same
principles in seeking to develop a similar market for Government
securities in its district, and indicated that it was prepared to continue operations in Government securities on that basis, acting to
stabilize rates.37
The System's efforts to support the bill market had been opposed
by the Treasury in 1919 and 1920, but there had been no attempt to
prevent support buying. Since there was no precedent for this kind
of intervention in Reserve bank operations, Secretary Mellon's right
to request that the Reserve banks restrict their investments in Government securities was questioned. The governors resented the Treasury's
complaint that their purchases had interfered with its operations since
it had never contacted the Reserve banks to let them know when it was
a* S.R., May, 1922 Conf., pp. 133-134.
»Ilid.t p. 528.
* 7 Itid., pp. 109, 128, 521.
* IMd., pp. 511-512, 543.


in the market for securities. A discussion of their rights in making
open market purchases was interrupted by Governor Strong, who
advised that:
. . . the wisest thing is to find the solution and not to fall back right away
upon the question of what your rights are. If we adopt that policy, our relations with the Treasury are certainly going to be of a very unsatisfactory

Moreover, Governor Strong argued, the law required the Federal
Reserve banks to serve the Treasury in fiscal matters. Should they
refuse to accommodate the Secretary, he could appeal to the President
or to the Congress, and the matter might go to the extreme of "removing some people from office." Strong's sensitivity to the System's function as fiscal agent is reflected in the volume of transactions which the
New York Bank handled for the Treasury. Governor Morss had also
concluded that "we had no rights . . . that everything was subservient to that part of the law which says that the Secretary may require
the Federal Reserve banks to act as fiscal agents." The discussion
ended with the fol] owing exchange:
The CHAIRMAN (Strong). . . . What I want to bring strongly to the attention of this Conference is this: that the Secretary of the Treasury feels that he
is entitled to not only certain services, but to certain general cooperation in
policy, and as long as Secretary Mellon feels that he may not be getting that, it
would be exceedingly difficult for us to adjust our relations with the Treasury.
Governor MILLER. He should tell us his policy so that we would know how to
adjust our transactions.88

The policy which the Treasury favored was as follows: investments
in Government obligations were to be limited to the amount needed
to provide sufficient earnings to meet expenses; current "excessive"
investments were to be permitted to mature without replacement.39
The problem of the large gold reserve and the fact that it offered a
justification for Reserve bank investments had been anticipated by
the Treasury. The governors were advised that they would be requested
to make certain disbursements in gold in making payments for the
account of the Treasurer, and that an informal understanding existed
between the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and the Treasury
Department which "obviated any necessity of discussing this matter
formally in conference, or of trying to define the strict legal rights
of the Treasury or the Federal Reserve Banks in reference to payments for the Treasurer's account."40
It is clear that Secretary Mellon and Governor Strong had come to
some understanding on the larger issues as well. Not only had Strong
presented the Treasury's case, he had pressed the governors to accept
it. The recommendations of the Treasury were formally adopted by the
Conference with the reservation that there be no limit on transactions
between the Reserve banks and their member banks. However, the
"hub of the thing," as Strong put it, was:
. . . can reserve banks agree upon some method of placing an executing
order, both buying and selling, that will relieve the market, if you please, of the
appearance of orders occurring at the same time, and in such a way that it will
not create an artificial market and not interfere with the Treasury.
**Ibid., pp. 119-122, 128-129, 513-516, 525.
»Ibid., pp. 15, 535-537.
*° Summary, May, 1922 Conf., pp. 25-26.

After considerable discussion, guided by Strong is one of his better
efforts with the socratic method, the answer was provided by the governor who had required the most prodding, Norris of Philadelphia:
There are only two practical ways to reaching the result. One is by a centralized
joint buying and selling agency, and the other is by a periodical agreement on

At the suggestion of Governor Strong, a motion was offered and
adopted which referred the matter of working out an orderly method
of executing orders to buy and sell Government securities to the governors of the Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Chicago Federal
Reserve Banks. (On the Committee's recommendation, the Governor
of the Cleveland Bank was added during the October, 1922 Conference.) The stated purpose of the committee was to avoid the effects
of competition among the Reserve banks on the market by coordinating purchases. However, Governor Strong added a deeper dimension
with the suggestion that the committee consider "what is a wise investment policy for the Reserve System and to what extent can we afford
to pump credit into the market ? 42
At an earlier point during this same Conference—in May, 1922—
Strong had attempted to lead the governors into a discussion of the
relationship between open market operations and policy objectives
during deliberations on the discount rate. A majority of the governors
opposed rate reductions because they were opposed by the member
banks and because, as Governor Morss noted, "we may have a kind of
boom on our hands in regard to the commodity prices . . . and we
do not want to do anything to encourage it." Governor Strong replied:
Governor Morss, don't you recognize that we have greater power to induce such
a development by our open market operations than we have by a discount rate?

Governor Morss replied:
Well, they are two operations that work together. If you buy in the open market and then reduce your rate, it is simply increasing the momentum of it. On.
the other hand, if you do not reduce your rate it seems to me that tends to offset
what you do in the open market.48

Perhaps because, as Governor Morss' reply indicates, the majority
of Reserve officials did not fully understand the power of open market
operations, they were not wholly committed to it as a policy tool or
altogether committed to an interventionist policy. As the decade advanced, it became increasingly clear that their primary concern was
for the level of interest rates and that frequently they favored discount
rate policies which, as Governor Morss termed it, "offset" the value of
open market operations.
The position of the Governors during the May, 1922 Conference reflected the latter view. They opposed any drastic liquidations of their
investments because they feared the effects on their earning positions.
They were prepared to let their investments run off without replacement to levels which were sufficient to cover expenses, but not to sell
in the market as a means of raising interest rates. The Conference concluded without any definite concensus on policy objectives. To a certain
extent the burden for devising an investment policy was left to the
«• 8.R., May, 1922 Coaf., pp. 537-543.
"IMd., pp. 550-551, 115-116.
i urn., yy. oovj—oox
« Thi.rl. n n 1 RK_1 KRt
Ibid., pp. 155-156

individual Reserve bank with the committee empowered only to advise on policy. However, with the focus on investments for earnings,
the committee's scope was limited.
The new committee—titled the Committee of Governors on Centralized Execution of Purchases and Sales of Government Securities
by Federal Reserve Banks—met for the first time on May 16, 1922.
Although Strong was absent, he was made permanent chairman and a
permanent secretary was appointed to be the active agent in handling
transactions for the committee. The committee agreed that it should
handle all purchases and sales for the Reserve banks and should be
careful not to make its transactions in a single market but, rather, with
a view to developing local markets in each Federal Reserve district. In
addition, it requested a detailed statement on the amount and character of Government securities held by the Reserve banks and estimates of their expenses and earnings. The Minutes reveal a recognition
on the part of the committee that its powers were limited to handling
transactions and making policy recommendations to the Reserve banks.
Actual orders for securities were to originate with the individual Reserve banks.44
Between May 16 and June 30, 1922, the System's holdings of Government securities were reduced by about $55,000,000. At the July 12
meeting of the committee, the Governors agreed to the Treasury's request that the Reserve bank's holdings of certificates maturing August
1 be allowed to run off. As of September 20, holdings were further reduced by about $168,000,000 from the high point of $629,000,000 on
June 14, 1922. Of the $168 million, approximately $130 million of
Treasury certificates and notes actually matured. As the committee's
report to the October 10 Conference of Governors noted, it was "therefore evident that the Federal Reserve Board's suggestion, that all
banks allow their investments to run off without replacement, has been
generally followed."45
There were no meetings of the Committee between July and October,
during which time the market remained easy. The New York and Boston Banks had reduced their discount rates to 4 percent during the
latter part of June, the San Francisco Bank's rate was also lowered to
4 percent on July 8, Dallas' rate dropped from 5 to 4% percent on July
12, and the Minneapolis and Kansas City Banks dropped their rates
to 41/2 percent in mid-August. In September, the Treasury resumed
its pressure for liquidations, addressing its communications to the
Federal Reserve Board. The Board again approached the Federal
Advisory Council, requesting that it consider whether or not there
should be "any change in the policy of the Federal Reserve Banks
carrying considerable investments in United States Government securities." The Council replied that it saw no need to change its earlier recommendation and reiterated that Reserve bank purchases of Government obligations should not be governed by the necessity of covering
expenses, and that "open market operations, particularly in so far as
** Minutes, May 16, 1922 Meeting of the Committee of Governors on Centralized Control of Purchases and Sales of Government Securities by Federal Reserve Banks, FRB
File 333,-a. (Note: the word "control" in the title of the Committee was changed to
"execution" at some point before submission of the Committee report to the October, 1922
Conference of Governors).
"Minutes, July 12, 1922 Meeting of the Committee of Governors on Centralized Control of Purchases and Sales of Government Securities; Report of the Committee of
Governors on Centralized Execution of Purchases and Sales of Government Securities,
October 10,1922 ; FRB File 333.-a.

they touch investment in government securities, should be carried on
under a uniform policy by the System as a whole." In addition, the
Council noted that it had "learned with great satisfaction, of the organization of a committee of Governors having supervision of transactions in government securities by the Federal Reserve Banks." On
the question of further liquidations, the Council equivocated. It recommended that "the policy of the Federal Reserve System as a whole,
should be, at this time, not to increase any further its investments in
Government securities."46
When the Committee met on October 2,1922, its first order of business was consideration of the Council's recommendation. It voted to
concur in the recommendation with the addition of the following views
for submission to the Governor's Conference on Odtober 10:
Upon reviewing the investment operations of the Federal Reserve Banks during
the year 1922 the Committee believes that there will be no dissent to the proposition that in purchasing Government securities too much attention must not be
given to the consideration of earnings and dividends. Due to the fact that liquidation was still in process and that the money market was easy, with low rates,
apparently no particular harm has resulted from these operations during the first
half of the year. During the second half of the year the situation has changed
and with that change there has arisen a need for a different policy, the belief
being that increased attention must be paid by the System to the bearing of the
investment operations of the Federal Reserve Banks upon the money market.

Given the policy recommendation, the Committee then asked the
Conference for increased authority to have its "recommendations . . .
receive serious consideration by the officers or directors of the several
banks," "in every case," and for a free hand in advising and handling
both purchases and sales. When these recommendations were presented
to the Governor's Conference, one of the members of the committee
itself—Governor McDougal of Chicago—voiced disapproval of "any
radical changes," of the sort suggested in the recommendation that the
operations in Government securities be 47
confined "exclusively to the
course of the money market as a factor."
Explaining the Committee's recommendation, with Under Secretary of the Treasury Gilbert present, Governor Strong appeared somewhat defensive. He admitted that it implied that the committee would
be "reaching into the policy of the banks which, heretofore, (it) has
not attempted to do," but argued that it did not mean that the committee would, "interfere in any way with the decision of the directors."
In any event, Governor Strong observed, should the other Reserve
banks decline to accept the recommendations of the committee, "the
five banks that are represented on the committee, would be, in point of
fact, such a large preponderant proportion of the whole system that
it would have considerable influence alone, just those five banks." 48
Under Secretary Gilbert's remarks to the Conference indicated that
the Treasury might well support the Committee's request for an enlargement of authority, but would continue to impose its own interpretation of policy objectives. Mr. Gilbert said:
The Centralizing Committee appointed at the last Conference has been of thegreatest assistance in keeping the situation steady, and has accomplished a con44
September 26, 1922 Recommendations of the Federal Advisory Council, FRB File
*7 Minutes, October 2, 1922 Meeting, and October 10, 1922 Report of the Committee
of Governors on Centralized Execution of Purchases and Sales of Government Securities,
FRB File 333.a. 8.R., October, 1922 Conf., p. 4.
« 8.R., October, 1922, Conf., pp. 433-434.

siderable liquidation. The tightening of money that comes every time there is a
little further liquidation, was particularly in evidence after the September 15th
maturities, and it had a good deal to do with the tightening of money in the latter
half of September, as we see it here in the Treasury. I am hopeful that the success of this long term offer of bonds will help to clear up the short term market
and put it in so much better shape that it will be possible to accomplish gradually further liquidation of Federal Reserve bank investments without disturbing
Treasury operations in the next few months. The next few months, of course,
will involve as heavy operations as we have had since the period following the
Victory Loan, and we are going to look more to the committee than ever to keep
purchases and sales of Federal Reserve banks from giving us a false market either
way, and I have every reason to believe that the Committee will succeed in doing
that, as it has done for the last few months.*9

The point of Under Secretary Gilbert's remarks was the reference
to further liquidations. On October 17, the Treasury advised the
committee that it wished to purchase for redemption the approximately $33,015,000 of December 15 certificates held by the New York
Bank, and on October 24, suggested that the committee recommend
that the other Reserve banks make their holdings of this maturity
available for purchase by the Treasury. As of October 25, the System's holdings had been reduced to about $408,000,000 and by January 31, 1923, had been further reduced to about $353,000,000 of which
$82,000,000 were Treasury certificates maturing March 15 which the
Treasury proposed to take over, and $33,000,000 were held under
repurchase agreements. As these figures indicate, the committee
functioned more or less as a channel between the Treasury and the
holdings of the individual Reserve banks; there were no substantial executions of purchase or sales in the open market. Nevertheless, the
liquidations appear to have made a significant impact on the market.
During the week of October 31,1922, for instance, Liberty bonds sold
off the stock exchange with a net loss of about 32 cents per hundred for
each issue while Treasury certificates and notes were traded in at fractionally lower prices.50 By contrast, the System's continued support had
preserved a remarkable degree of stability in the market for bankers'
acceptances, and an increase in purchases of bills and other securities
of approximately $173 million offset reductions in Government bond
The Standing Committee on Open Bill Market Conditions was
still in existence at this point and had reported to both the May and
October 1922 Conferences. In May their holdings represented about
15 to 20 percent of the total volume of bills outstanding, including
bills held under repurchase agreements, and their confidence in their
ability to control the bill market was such that they had recommended
against permitting rates to ease downward to compete with rates
in the London market, and advised that the current rate of 3%
percent be maintained for the time being. The October Report
also noted that, in response to the higher levels for Treasury
certificates in the latter half of August, it had become necessary to
advance the rate on bankers' acceptances in order to dispose of the
bills. Therefore:
*• IUd., pp. 435-436.
Minutes, October 31, 1922 Meeting, and Report, February 5, 1923 of the Committee of Governors on Centralized Execution of Purchases and Sales of Government:
Securities, FRB File 333.-a.
Wicker, op. cit., p. 71.

. . . Federal Reserve banks, in assisting the market to higher levels, acquired
substantial increases in their bill portfolios but operated in such a way as to
avoid making drastic advances necessary at any one time, permitting the dealers
and discount houses to continue to accommodate the new bills coming to the
market at gradually advancing rates without unwieldy increases in their own

The committee recommended that for the time being the Reserve
banks should not attempt to depress the rates for bills by either increasing their portfolios or supporting an "artificially" low rate, nor
"allow rates to advance disproportionately to rates for commercial
paper and Treasury Certificates," but, rather, should "continue to
assist and support the market to and at . . . reasonable levels of
rates... " 5 2
4- Creation of the Open Market Investment Committee: 1923
At the February 15,1923 meeting of the Committee of Governors on
Centralized Execution of Purchases and Sales, the governors reviewed
the October, 1922 policy directive. It had been agreed that the System
should "furnish credit and currency to member banks for their seasonal and emergency requirements," but that open market operations
should be administered "in such manner as to assist the system in discharging . . . its national responsibility to prevent credit expansion
from developing into credit inflation." The Committee voted to continue the present policy, equalizing current holdings of Government
securities among the Reserve banks "without putting further Federal
Reserve funds into the market through open market operations." 53
The policy of restraint was executed by means of further liquidations
of Government securities from the portfolios of the Reserve Banks.
Between June 14, 1922 and February 1, 1923 the Reserve banks liquidated $276 million Government securities and market rates rose to
about 1 percent above New York's discount rate. Therefore, on February 23, the New York and Boston Banks raised their rates from
4 to 4% percent with San Francisco following on March 6. This action
brought the rate at these three banks in line with the other Reserve
banks and the uniform 4% percent rate prevailed at all 12 banks until
the middle of 1924.54
At this time, however, in February, 1923, Reserve bank demands for
earning assets to meet expenses came into conflict with the policy of
restraint. The Committee attempted to meet Reserve bank needs by
reapportioning investments but found that in order to meet all
demands, it would have to make some purchases in the open market.
Meanwhile, one of the Reserve banks by-passed the Committee and
bought about $2 million of Government certificates. These events
elicited an immediate reaction from Secretary Mellon. On March 10
he wrote the Board:
It is hardly necessary to point out that purchases of Government securities by
the Federal Reserve Banks put Federal Reserve funds into the market, thereby
increasing the supply of available funds, and that it is destructive of anv credit
policy which the Federal Reserve System may be pursuing to permit the Federal
Reserve Banks to expand credit in this way simply for the purpose of increasing
their own earnings and putting themselves in a position to pay expenses and
&*8.R., May. 1922 Conf., pp. 511-512. 8.R., October, 1922 Conf., pp. 322-324.
Minutes, February 5, 1923 Meeting of Committee of Governors on Centralized Execution of Purchases and Sales of Government Securities. FRB File 333.a.
February 5, 1923 Report of Committee of Governors on Centralized Execution of
Purchases and Sales of Government Securities, FRB File 333.a. Wicker, op. cit., p. 72.
Banking and Monetary Statistics, p. 440.

dividends. Such an attitude on the part of the Federal Reserve Banks subordinates the major question of credit policy to a purely incidental question of Federal Reserve Bank housekeeping . . . It seems to me clearly necessary, therefore, that the Federal Reserve Board, acting under its general powers, should
prescribe regulations governing the open market operations of the Federal
Reserve Banks, and require in these regulations that the Federal Reserve Banks
shall not make any further purchases of Government securities, or bills, for the
purpose of increasing their earning assets without first getting the express
approval of the Federal Reserve Board, and that generally speaking the Federal
Reserve Banks shall not in the future make investments simply for the purpose
Of increasing earning assets. It should also be definitely understood that under
any circumstances all purchases and sales of Government securities for account
of the Federal Reserve Banks are to be handled through the Central Committee
of Governors which is now functioning.
As for current policy, Secretary Mellon added that "with rising
interest and discount rates the Federal Eeserve Banks ought to be
endeavoring to liquidate the investments they already have rather
than to accumulate larger holdings." 55
The Vice Governor of the Board, Edmund Platt, responded to MelIon's letter by appointing a committee to prepare regulations governing open market operations. The outcome was a resolution—apparently
drafted by Adolph Miller—which dissolved the Committee of Governors on Centralized Execution of Purchases and Sales and authorized the formation of a new committee, entitled the Open Market
Investment Committee. Since there was to be no change in its composition—the same five Eeserve bank governors being designated as
members—the purpose of the resolution was to provide a new mandate
for the committee and to clarify the Board's authority over these
transactions. Thus, open market operations were to be handled by the
Open Market Investment Committee under the Board's supervision in
accordance with the following principles:
(1) That the time, manner, character and volume of open market investments
purchased by Federal Reserve Banks be governed with primary regard to the
accommodation of commerce and business and to the effect of such purchases or
sales on the general credit situation.
(2) That in making the selection of open market purchases, careful regard be
always given to the bearing of purchases of United States Government securities,
especially the short-dated issues, upon the market for such securities, and that
open market purchases be primarily commercial investments, except that Treasury certificates be dealt in as at present, under so-called * 'repurchase" agreement.56
Letter from Secretary of the Treasury Andrew W. Mellon to the Federal Reserve
Board, March 10, 1923, FRB File 833.b.
In a subsequent letter to Vice Governor Platt, Mellon noted t h a t :
". . . There are, of course, many legitimate transactions In connection with which
the Federal Reserve Banks may buy or sell Government securities, on repurchase agreements or otherwise, and these transactions should not, of course, be hampered by regulations any more than is absolutely necessary." (Letter, March 15, 1923, FRB File 333.b).
Mellon's support on this issue subsequently enabled the Committee to block a motion
offered by Adolf Miller in the early months of 1925, to outlaw repurchase agreements.
(Correspondence between Under Secretary of the Treasury Garrard B. Winston and
President of the Federal Advisory Council Paul M. Warburg, February 12-13, 1925,
Mellon Files, National Archives).
Another issue in which Mellon's support was crucial in enlarging the function of
the Committee is foreshadowed in the March 10 letter. Mellon recommends that the
Reserve banks not be permitted to buy Government securities, or bills, without the "express approval of the Board." Undoubtedly he was aware of the effects of the substantial purchases of acceptances in the latter part of 1922. (See previous section of
text and footnotes 51 and 52.) At the Governors' Conference later in the month, Under
Secretary of the Treasury Gilbert said :
"The Treasury has no immediate concern with the question of acceptances, but from
what we do see of it, it is so clear that they are interrelated with the dealings in
Government securities on the market, that I should say it would be an excellent plan
to have them combine with the committee dealing with open market operations." (8.R.,
March, 1923 Conf., p. 741).
Resolution adopted by the Federal Reserve Board, March 22, 1923 (Board Memorandum
X-3675), FRB File 333.a.£..B., March, 1923 Conf., pp. 16-23.

The resolution was presented to the Governors Conference at the
end of March, 1923 and was immediately challenged by the Governors
of the Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago and San Francisco Banks.
W. P . G. Harding, formerly the Governor of the Federal Eeserve
Board who had succeeded Charles A. Morss as governor of the Boston
Bank, questioned the Board's power in this area; but, as his statement
makes clear, he was as much concerned with the Treasury's right to
I want to stress two points. It is very doubtful, at least in my mind, whether
the Federal Reserve Board has specific power to fix a definite limit as to the
amount of these legitimate open market transactions that a Federal Reserve
bank may engage in. They have the right to regulate it, but nowhere in this
act is the Treasury Department of the United States charged with that responsibility for the credit policy for the Federal Reserve Bank; nowhere in the Act
is the Treasury vested with the power to limit arbitrarily the purchase by
Federal Banks of notes and bonds of the United States, and nowhere is the
Federal Reserve Board given specific power to limit the amount of bonds and
notes of the United States that the board of directors of the Federal Reserve
banks may wish to buy.57

Governor Norris raised another point. If the Board had the authority to limit and otherwise determine the securities purchased by the
Reserve Banks, "then instead of having a regional system of reserve
banks we would have a central bank with the Federal Reserve Board
as that bank." In view of its 1921 disclaimer of any central banking
power—promoted largely by himself and Secretary Mellon—Governor
Harding noted that the Board would have to reverse itself on the subject of its own powers. Governor McDougal warned that the committee itself would constitute a threat to the "independence of action" of
the Reserve banks. He wanted "a committee of an advisory nature, not
one of control" and proposed that its authority to control the volume
of transactions be deleted from the resolution.58
Adolph Miller's reply to these objections was that, "if the Board has
not the clear right, the Board's first duty is to get it." He gave the
following reasons why:
. . . I regret to say there has even been some question in the Board itself
as to whether it had the power. A board that doubts its power doubts its responsibility, and a board that doubts its responsibility is very apt to be charged with
responsibility later on so that it seems to be desirable to know on just what basis
we are standing in this matter. I think we have got the power;; to me it is almost
as clear as though it were there . . . What we have been short on in the Federal
Reserve System and what we are still short on, is some agency for the formulation and development of policy ...
. . . and I become more and more of the opinion that the open market operations of the system are going to be the most important part of the system, largely
because it is through the open market clause of the Act that the reserve banks are
in a position to take the initiative; the bank doesn't have to sit back and wait
until somebody comes to it, but it is in a position to go ahead and absorb funds
for its purposes, when it desires to do so.59

Meanwhile, Under Secretary Gilbert explained the Treasury's
. . . I doubt if there is very much to be gained by a discussion of the question
of power. It seems to be very clear in the express words of the Act that the Board
has power to proscribe ru^es and regulations, and I should think that this expression of policy was a fully authorized expression of policy on the part of the
Board. On the question of policy the Treasury is heartily in favor of the declaraw
8.R., March. 1923 Conf., pp. 679-680.
«Itid., pp. 705, 708, 724-726.
» Ibid., pp. 694, 699-702.

tion embodied in this statement. Furthermore, the Treasury thinks that the
-Central Committee, which has operated now for about a year has had a most
wholesome influence, and that its actions have been most helpful both to the
Treasury and to the general situation. There has been a liquidation of something
over three hundred million dollars in holdings of Government securities, and
regardless of what we may think iabout the original action of the banks in buying this extraordinarily large volume of Government securities without reference to the Board or to the Treasury, I think there is no disagreement that the
subsequent steps which have been taken have been effective 'and helpful all

Mr. Gilbert made no reference to the question of the Treasury's
right to intervene in matters of policy; on the contrary, the assumption of this right was implicit in his remarks on the function of the new
committee and its policy for the immediate future:
The previous committee of Governors having been superseded by this new
Committee on Open Market Operations, the Treasury is hopeful that the Governors, working through that committee, will be able to make further material
progress in liquidation . . . we would be very glad to see a considerably further
liquidation particularly of the holdings of certificates . . . rather than of
notes. I hope you will keep that in mind. Our relations with the previous committee have been most cordial, and we are looking forward to the same cooperation with the present committee.60

It is instructive to note here that the Treasury's position in this
episode stands out in sharp contrast to the role which, today, it is
widely believed the Treasury would play in monetary policy were the
Federal Reserve deprived of its independence and made subordinate
to the Treasury and President. The prevailing belief is that the Treasury (and presumably therefore the President) desires, above all, low
interest rates. Thus inflationary expansion of money and credit would
be certain to follow if monetary policy were formulated by the Treasury or others responsible to the President. The events of 1923, when
the Treasury favored monetary restraint and put pressure on the Federal Reserve to liquidate holdings of Government securities, contradict
this so often asserted scenario.
The Treasury's success in imposing its policy of liquidations on the
System was due as much to the cooperation of the New York Bank as
to that of the Board. Deputy Governor Case explained New York's
. . . So far as I know the present committee . . . has worked very smoothly
and very satisfactorily as far as the Treasury and the Federal Reserve Board and
the banks combined are concerned. I have not heard any criticism of it. On the
other hand, I have heard a number of favorable comments about it.61
«° IMd., pp. 740-742.
« IMd., p. 685.
Deputy Governor Case's description of the Committee's action is also interesting:
". . . It should not be lost sight of that when that committee was appointed it was
desired to bring about a gradual reduction in the holdings, the rather large holdings
of Government securities in Federal Reserve banks. So far as New York is concerned,
it is understood that the Treasury did not look with favor upon the bank holding so
large an amount and we, in common with all the other Federal Reserve banks, have
worked towards a gradual reduction of our holdings, so that today we have disposed
of all of our Government securities with the exception of ten million dollars of Treasury
notes. . . . When the committee was appointed last May there were Government investments in the Federal Reserve banks aggregating roughly five hundred and sixty or
five hundred and seventy million dollars. At the present time, after deducting the
June 15th certificate, which I think has just been taken up, I think the total holdings
are now approximately two hundred and thirty million; so that you see the committee has worked very harmoniously and very smoothly and has been instrumental
in stabilizing conditions, and of recent months any transaction that the Federal Reserve banks have had have not been in the open market, but between the Federal
Reserve banks. New York has been very glad to sell to other Federal Reserve banks
during recent months several millions in short term certificates." (Ibid., p. 686).


As this statement indicates, there was no conflict at this time between the New York Bank #nd the Treasury. While the other governors were as opposed to liquidation as they were to the idea of intervention by the Board and Treasury, New York had been content to
follow a policy of mild restraint and to use sales of investments to
offset gold inflows.62 The Board had cooperated with the Treasury as
well but its spokesman. Dr. Miller, was more concerned with the potential value of open market operations as a tool of policy than with the
current policy objective. Miller's concern with the question of authority
was, however, the crucial issue. The governors had argued that the
Board's attempt to clarify its powers by means of a resolution was a
distortion of its authority 63 supervise; that it constituted an assumpto
tion of legislative powers. Nevertheless, the Board chose not to ask
for clarification of its authority from Congress and, as far as the governors were concerned, its authority to control purchases and sales of
investments for the System remained open to question.
5. The October 1922 symposium on credit policy
The October 10, 1922 Conference was a unique event in economic
history. The Federal Reserve Board had sent a memorandum to the
Reserve bank governors and Federal Reserve agents in September
indicating that it wished to set aside a portion of the conference for a
"comprehensive" discussion of Federal Reserve credit policy. Four
topics were chosen for analysis in both written statements to be prepared and circulated before the Conference, and in discussion. The
topics dealt with the objectives of credit policy, the relative importance
of various factors in determining policy, methods of making credit
and discount policies effective, and methods of formulating and implementing policy.
Some of the material produced for this conference found expression
in the well-known Tenth Annual Report of the Federal Reserve
Board, written during the following year. The Report has been widely
admired for the sophistication of its analysis since J. M. Keynes first
took note of it in 1924.64 The Conference, although it seems to have
been overlooked by most analysts, represents a truer picture of views
across the System and is important in assessing the behavior of the
System during both the 1920's and the early years of the depression.
Given the wide divergence of opinion expressed during the Conference,
it may be argued that the Report is misleading as an indication of the
full spectrum of attitudes in the System and its guides for policy.
It necessarily rejects the views of at least half of its officials on any
given subject. Most analysts assume that the Report was written by
the Board's staff and reflects the views of the Board. The record of
the Conference—presented here in an appendix together with the
relevant section of the Tenth Annual Report—would appear to support this view with the qualification that the Board's position tends
to reflect a selection from the Conference material rather than a unilateral effort by the Board to enunciate an official position for the
The Tenth Annual Report states that experience had indicated that
the System could not exercise its function of "fixing rates with a view
«2 Chandler, op. dt., p. 218. Wicker, op. ett., p. 71.
64 JSLR., March, 1923 Conf., pp. 673-674, 683-684, 702-705, 737-738.
J. M. Keynes, Monetary Reform, New York, Harcourt, Brace and Co., 1924, pp. 214-215.


of accommodating commerce and business by the simple expedient of
any fixed rale or mechanical principle," and that the System must rely
on "judgment" as a guide for credit policy.65 The position is based
directly on Governor George W. Norris' statement that "changes must
always be the expression of a judgment, and no absolute formula can
be devised.5'66 This view was, however, highly controversial and was
attacked by Governor Norris' own board chairman, E. L. Austin, who
argued that it was an obligation of the System to "remove from our
rate making the element of the lack of principle." 67 The debate over
whether to use rules or discretion in formulating monetary policy is
still unsettled. In recent years it has centered on proposals to increase
the money supply 2-4 or 2-6 percent per year. But the advocates of
discretion prevail today as they did in 1923.
The Conference also reveals the reluctance of a majority of Keserve
officials to abandon the framework of the real bills doctrine. On the
other hand there are indications that earlier attitudes had been modilied by the recognition of greater responsibility for economic events.
Governor Norris' statement—that "the prevention of disaster, and 68
succor following disaster, is the goal of a successful credit policy" —
appears to reflect a majority view as well as the view expressed subsequently in the Report. But the concern for economic events was
not put into specific form. Thus with Governor Norris concurring, the
Report explicitly rejects price levels as a guide for policy. Meanwhile,
the statements of both Pierre Jay and Benjamin Strong stress the
significance of the relationship between price levels and credit policy.
In one of the most significant statements on record during the period,
Strong said:
. . . Of the various causes of price changes, none is so potent as changes
in the volume of "money," that is of credit and currency.69

This last statement indicates a level of sophistication beyond that
expressed in the Tenth Annual Report. As Wicker has observed, the
Report is concerned with credit, not money.70 But, again, the significance of the Conference material lies in its presentation of the full
spectrum rather than only the official views of the System, and indicates the extent to which shifts in personnel or influence during the
decade which followed were factors in shaping its response to events.

Tenth Annual Report of the Federal Reserve Board (1933), pp. 8, 32.
See Appendix A, p. 158.
IUd., pp. 163-66.
*s Ibid., p. 158.
«» IUd., pp. 161-62, 167-68.
*° Wicker, op. dt.t p. 75.



The behavior of the stock market during the 1920's has made a lasting impression on our cultural as well as economic history and a more
substantial reminder of the economic events of this period, evidence
of the building boom, is still visible in our cities, suburbs and resorts.
The decade began with the most precipitous recession in American
history—one which an outraged public was unwilling to accept as a
"necessary adjustment" in a boom and bust frame of reference. Two
milder declines followed—in 1923-24 and 1926-27—which raised no
great outcry. The Federal Eeserve System took the position that,
while these were also periods of necessary adjustment, it had the
means to moderate their effects. Its success has traditionally been measured in terms of the behavior of prices during the period from 1923
to 1928, and has led observers to conclude that it was actually a decade
of remarkable stability as well as prosperity.
As announced in the 1920 campaign1, the goal of the Harding administration was to return prices to their pre-war levels and this had
been substantially achieved by the end of 1921. Between January and
July, 1922, the wholesale price index rose 12% but, thereafter, remained highly stable. After 1925, wholesale prices fell with a total
decline of 8% between 1925 and 1929. During the great stock market
boom of 1927-1929, prices emerged slightly lower at the peak 2than
they had been in the period immediately prior to the expansion.
The behavior of prices suggests the Federal Reserve had abandoned
its traditional passive role and adopted a conscious policy to achieve
price level stability by means of open market operations. The behavior
of interest rates, discussed below, is another and corroborating indication. Such stability would not have been likely without active interference by the central bank. This role for the System could not have
been predicted from decisions made in the period between 1920 and
1923. As was discussed, the official view then was that the Federal
Reserve had no control over economic developments or the volume of
credit. Moreover, the majority of System officials had explicitly rejected guiding open market operations by price level developments.
They had argued that the System was essentially a passive institution
whose function was to guard reserves and issue currency in response
to the needs of trade. Further, the political climate would not appear
See Warren Harding's acceptance speech (Proceedings of the 17th Republican National
Convention at Chicago. June 8-12, 1920, p. 262), and the 1920 Republican Platform
(National Party Platforms, 1840-1956, compiled by Kirk H. Porter and Donald Bruce
Johnson, Urbana, University of Illinois Press, 1956, p. 234).
Milton Friedman and Anna Jacobson Schwartz, A Monetary History of the United
States, 1867-1960, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1963, pp. 284. 298. Elmus R.
Wicker, Federal Reserve Monetary Policy/1917—1933, New York, Random House, 1966,
p. 67. Historical Statistics of the United States, Colonial Times to 1957, House Document
No. 33, 86th Cong., 1st Sess., p. 116. '


to have been favorable to the Federal Reserve intervening to affect
economic trends. But, as was also earlier noted, by 1923 many ranking
officials, including especially Governor Strong and Secretary Mellon,
favored using open market operations to influence economic trends,
though they did not all have the same goals in mind. Strong, for example, argued for using open market operations contracyclically
whereas Mellon favored their use to counteract inflation but feared
€asy money policies to counteract depression.
The fact that the Open Market Investment Committee took credit
for "shortening the duration" of the 1923-4924:,recession by "contributing to easier money" produced the reaction one would have anticipated.3
It was the sort of statement which bankers continued to associate
with populist doctrines. Thus, the American Bankers Association issued a statement protesting the easy money policy of 1924, but basically
they trusted the men who were then in control of the System. The
policy had originated with one of their own kind—Benjamin Strong,
the governor of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Also, they
were reassured by the fact that Andrew Mellon—a man for whose
opinion they had the greatest respect—occupied a position of influence
in monetary matters as Secretary of the Treasury and hence as an exofficio member of the Federal Reserve Board, and that Mellon favored
using monetary policy to prevent inflation. Writing at the invitation of the Chamber of Commerce in a 1925 issue of The Nation's Business, Secretary Mellon put the case for using the Federal Reserve to
prevent expansions from developing into inflations as follows:
This ability of the system to exercise a steadying influence on credit conditions is its most valuable function. The more carefully the credit facilities are
handled and the more orderly the development of business expansion, the greater
will be the duration of the periods of prosperity and the less severe will be subsequent reactions.
A thorough knowledge and development of credit control by those who direct
the system and an understanding of the same by the business public should lead
to the maintenance of business on a more even keel in the future than in the
past and is the most important single factor in the future development of the
Federal Reserve System.*

Viewed together with the Open Market Investment Committee's
analysis of the contribution of easy money to recovery from the 19231924 recession, the Secretary's statement is evidence that the System
had made a major conceptual advance and had developed more sophisticated tools to implement its policies. It had enlarged the limited
objective of accommodating business to include responsibility for
modifying the business cycle by making credit more easily available
during a period of recession and less easily available during a boom.
Having discovered, in the years 1922-23, the impact of open market purchases and sales on the level of member bank reserves and
market rates, it could more effectively control the volume of credit
than when, in 1920-21, it had relied heavily on the discount rate.
The knowledge which the System gained from the disaster of 192021 and its aftermath was set forth at length in its Annual Report
Report of the Open Market Investment Committee, November, 1924. Federal Reserve
Board File 333.b.2.
* Andrew W. Mellon, "What Future for the Federal Reserve?", The Nation's Business,
Vol. 13, No. 5, May 1925, pp. 26-27.

for 1923. The report contains a skillful analysis of criteria for policy
but rejects the use of any single criteria—such as reserve ratios, exchange rates or price index numbers—as a guide. It argues that policy
"is and must be a matter of judgment," based on careful examination of
all available evidence of changes in production, trade, employment,
prices and commodity stocks.5
But the 1923 Eeport is somewhat misleading. An analysis of documents of the period which record the decision-making process reveal
that the System did have a single objective criteria: it consistently
used the level of interest rates as a guide for policy. Rate levels had
been a major criteria from the beginning, but reserve ratios were considered more significant until gold inflows made them meaningless as
an indicator of domestic credit conditions. The shift to rate levels was
inevitable as open market operations became more important, because the impact of these operations on market rates was immediate,
and because the maintenance of stable interest rates was acceptable
as a goal to the broadest spectrum of political and economic factions.
Interest rate stability was, moreover, largely achieved between 1922
and 1929. The Federal Reserve may not have produced this stability
but at least System actions did not themselves cause interest rates to
move erratically as has been the case so many times since 1929, including recent years. Except for an 8-month period in 1924-25, the prevailing rate on prime commercial paper, 4 to 6 months, remained between 4.13 and 5.38 percent. From July, 1924 to February, 1925, the
rate fell below 4 percent, to a low of 3.13 percent in September and
October, 1924. Similarly, rates charged on customers' loans by banks
in major cities remained above 5 percent during most of the period,
dropping only slightly in response to the easy-money policies of 1924
and 1927. On the other hand, commercial rates did not rise above
6 percent until May, 1929.6
An article in the July, 1926 Federal Reserve Bulletin discussed the
.'System's ability to produce stable market conditions and compared
average fluctuations in money rates and currency in circulation for
the years 1910-13 and 1922-25. During the earlier period, currency
in circulation had remained relatively constant while interest rates
had fluctuated over a broad range. In the later period, the situation had
been reversed. As the Bidletin commented:
Under present conditions . . . the currency is elastic and froth expands and
contracts in response to seasonal demands while money rates fluctuate over a
much narrower range (emphasis supplied) .7

Since average annual interest rates were relatively high for the
years 1910-13, the contrast offered further proof of the remarkable
advances made possible by the creation of the Federal Reserve System. Rates were not as low as they had been in some other periods,
however—depending on which 3-year period might be selected—nor as
low as they had been between 1915 and the declaration of war in 1917.
The System's goal during its first few years had also been to maintain
stable interest rates, but the emphasis had been on maintaining rela5
Tenth Anmial Report of the Federal Reserve Board (1923), p. 32. See also chapter V,
part 5, and Appendix A.
• Banking and Monetary Statistics, Washington, B.C., U.S. Board of Governors of the
federal Reserve System, 1943, pp. 460, 463.
Federal Reserve Bulletin^ July 1926, p. 471.



tively low levels. The actual range for rates on commercial paper had
been between 3.45 and 4.38 percent.8
As noted above, the behavior of prices between 1923 and 1928 was
similar to that of interest rates, which is not surprising since interest
rates contain an inflationary component and hence are most likely to
be stable when prices are. The System claimed no influence over prices,
however, and there is no indication that any Beserye official, except
Governor Strong of the New York Bank, saw price stability as a
policy objective. Even Governor Strong rejected the use of a specific
level of prices as a target, although such a concept had gained substantial support outside the System and was embodied in the so-called
stabilization bills of the period. Testifying against these measures, he
argued that the System could only gain in effectiveness if it were left
free of legislative entanglements.9
The behavior of interest rates and prices, and the fact that the
System took credit for ending the recessions of 1923-24 and 192627 seem to indicate a commitment to countercyclical policy. Nevertheless, only a minority of Reserve officials favored such objectives and
as events after his death in 1928 indicate, Governor Strong was probably the only official who had both the influence and the knowledge
necessary to conduct countercyclic operations. The extent to which
a countercyclic policy^ had been successful in the years 1923-28 is
thus perhaps more an indication of Strong's economics and dominant
position than it is evidence of an advance in the overall level of understanding within the System, though definitely, as analysis of the
October, 1922 Symposium shows, there was increasing recognition of
Federal Beserve responsibility for economic events, particularly "the
prevention of disaster," as put by Governor Norris.
The key to Strong's success was the fact that the New York Bank
had control over open market operations. Also he virtually represented
the United States in international financial matters and his prestige
abroad tended to enhance his position at home. The implementation of
Governor Strong's policies was, however, frequently impeded by pressures and demands from various factions within the System. Beserve
bank governors complained that the amount of assets purchased by the
System was inadequate in terms of their needs for earnings and
threatened to ignore or dismantle the Open Market Investment Committee. Secretary Mellon was the Committee's protector but viewed
its function with ambivalence. Like many within the System, he valued
the deflationary aspects of open market operations—their usefulness in
raising money rates—but feared the System's power to create more
Secretary Mellon insisted on the Board's prerogatives in determining the maximum limitation of the System portfolio and saw to it that
the amount was kept low. Only in the latter months of the 1924 and
1927 recessions were the System's holdings permitted to rise to $500
million. As a result, the Committee frequently lacked sufficient assets
to pursue a deflationary policy as aggressively as Mellon desired. HOWS' Banking and Monetary Statistics, p. 450.
Lester V. Chandler, Benjamin Strong, Central Banker, Washington, D.C., The Brookings
Institution, 1958, pp. 204, 246.
Bee the letter from under Secretary of the Treasury S. Parker Gilbert, Jr., to Deputy
Governor J. H. Case of the New York Bank, August 3, 1923. FRB File 333.b.l.

ever, his conflicting goals were no more self-defeating than those of
the Reserve bank governors. They frequently argued that conditions
were ripe for an increase in the discount rate while insisting that they
must have more earning assets to meet expenses.
While the Committee advocated easy money as a response to recession, it had as little tolerance for low rates as a normal market condition as any other faction in the System. In both 1924 and 1927, it acted
prematurely to reduce its portfolio in order to "firm up" rates. As a
result, both recoveries were quickly followed by slight slumps. In 1925,
however, the recovery was almost as energetic as it had been in 1923.
Gross national income in constant dollars increased 4% percent in
1925 and 5y2 percent in 1926, viewed on an annual basis.11 The figures
on unemployment are more revealing. As high as 11.9 percent in 1921
and up to 5.5 percent during the 1924 recession, unemployment dropped
to 1.9 percent in 1926, the lowest level for any non-wartime period from
1907 to date.12
The post-recession period in 1928 was different. It has been suggested that the System maintained rates too high to avoid dampening
the overall economy but too low to control the stock market. Actually, they were attempting to do just the reverse—keep rates low enough
to stimulate the economy but high enough to check the rate at which
funds flowed into the market. As a result of this policy the amount of
bank credit supplied, including for speculative purposes, was restricted, thus laying the groundwork for economic weakness. But the
policy did not prevent the 1928-29 stock market boom. For though
bank credit flowing into equities was reduced there was an even heavier
flow of funds into the stock market from non-bank sources. The market boomed even higher, while the economy slowed significantly in
1928, though there was a temporary recovery in 1929.
Numerous theses have been advanced to explain the 1929 Stock
Market Crash but it has proved easier to indict the Federal Reserve
System for its failure to alleviate the Depression than to guess what
policies it might have pursued to prevent the financial debacle that
triggered it. It would appear, however, that the ability of Reserve
officials to control interest rates during the period of prosperity had
given them a false sense of security. After the searching analysis of
1922—prompted, perhaps, by the painful experience which preceded
it—no further effort was made to explore the relationship between
money and credit and economic performance. Worse, the successful
monetary remedies of the 1920's were a failure when projected into
the 1930's. The maintenance of low interest rates alone was not enough
to stimulate the economy in the Depression.
Given the willingness of Federal Reserve officials to intervene and
shape economic events during the decade ending in 1929, their failure
to respond to the disaster which followed requires some explanation.
The dominant position of Governor Strong left a negative legacy for
the System. The resentment of other officials erupted in 1928 in a
proposal to abolish the Open Market Investment Committee and
to return control of open market operations to the Governors' Conference. By 1930, however, when this proposal went into effect, the
Wicker, op. cit., p. 95.
" Historical Statistics of the United States, p. 73.

past proved to be irretrievable. Given the increase in the size of the
Federal debt and the status of Government securities as collateral for
Federal Reserve loans, open market operations now functioned as a
major monetary tool rather than a subsidiary device for earning expenses and developing a market for bankers' acceptances. Its effectiveness was, however, undermined by delayed policy decisions and the
dispersal of responsibility. Further, at this point, & majority of Keserve officials, including a now bemused Secretary Mellon, reverted
to the old "needs of trade" doctrine which held that policy should be
adapted to current cyclical conditions. What this meant %n 1930 teas
that the System contracted credit as business declined. This set off a
further decline in business, followed by a further contraction of credit and so on. Little or no effort was made to halt the deflationary
spiral—to stimulate an expansion, as Governor Strong would perhaps have suggested, by actively buying securities in the open market.
Ironically, what did remain as Governor Strong's legacy, the creation of an independent open market committee within the System,
had eroded the effectiveness of the Federal Reserve Board and erased
the last vestiges of the concept of public control, the dominant principle in framing the original legislation. The notion of the Board
as "a part of the Government itself" 13 had not been lost but the locus
of control had shifted to officials more closely allied with private
interests than with Government. This aspect of the shift had not been
noticed during the 1920's, but with a change in the political climate
in the 1930's, it added a new dimension to existing antagonisms between the Board and other groups within the System. It was not until Marriner S. Eccles was appointed as its governor that the Board
reasserted its right to determine policy on the grounds that public
control of the System was intended. Impelled by events, the Board
proposed a more dynamic conceptual framework for policy and initiated sweeping legislative reforms to clarify its position and insure a
subordinate role for other officials. Only some of these proposals were
The foregoing narrative barely scans the complex events it attempts to describe. It presumes, perhaps, that one can trace conscious
elements in policy-making where responsibility and power are diffuse and theory and practice at odds. Only a closer examination of
events during this period can reveal the extent to which the System
groped for its proper role in forming and interacting with public
"Remarks of Rep. Carter Glass on the Federal Reserve bill, September 10, 1913.
Congressional Record, Vol. 50, p. 4644.


1. Triumph of the Treasury's views—tight money and elimination of
open market operations as a countercyclical policy tool—May
As was earlier discussed, the System had reduced its portfolio of
Government securities beginning in June, 1922. From the high point of
$630 million on June 14 the portfolio fell to $353 million on January
31, 1923. At this time, however, Eeserve bank demands for earning
assets to meet expenses came into conflict with the policy of liquidation and one of the Reserve banks bought $2 million of Government
securities acting on its own for its own account. As a consequence of the
conflict, the Committee of Governors on Centralized Execution of Purchases and Sales of Government Securities was reorganized in April
1923 by the Federal Reserve Board, which asserted its right to pass
on the volume of purchases or sales. The impetus for such a move
ostensibly came from Adolph Miller of the Board but it had Treasury
backing as well. The new committee—named the Open Market Investment Committee and actually composed of the same five governors as
before—had met only once when, on May 31, 1923, the Board sent
an order instructing its Chairman to liquidate the entire portfolio of
Government securities.
The reaction of George W. Nbrris, the Governor of the Philadelphia
Bank and a member of the Committee, expressed the view of a majority of the Reserve bank governors. Governor Norris challenged the
Board's assumption of "power to impose upon the Directors of the
several banks a policy on this subject which is at variance with their
own judgment," on the grounds that "the Federal Reserve System is a
Regional and not a Central banking system." He agreed to sell the
Bank's allotment of securities, but gave notice that the board of directors of the Philadelphia Bank "reserves full liberty and discretion to
dissent xfrom any future recommendation which the Committee may
Governor Norris' assertion of independence for his bank was triggered by his opposition to liquidations. The Reserve banks depended
on the assets held in the System portfolio for supplemental earnings.
The liquidations forced by the Treasury in 1922-23 had meant not only
the loss of these assets but actual losses on the securities themselves.
The securities had been purchased by the Reserve banks individually
between November 1921 and April 1922 and then pooled into a single
account. They had accepted this arrangement—with the understanding
that they would still get the benefit of the earnings on a pro-rata
Letter from Board Governor Daniel H. Crissinger to J. H. Case, Deputy Governor of
the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Acting Chairman of the Open Market Investment Committee, May 31, 1923 ; FRB File 333.D. Letter from George W. Norris to J. H.
Case, June 8,1923 ; FRB File 333.b.


basis—because Governor Strong of the New York Bank had made a
convincing case for the fact that, by making purchases individually,
the Keserve banks were competing with each other and bidding up
prices on securities; that uncoordinated purchases had an impact on
the market which was often at variance with rate policy; and that
coordinated purchases and sales2 could be used to supplement rate
policy and make it more effective. Having voted for the establishment
of the Committee on those grounds, the Governors felt doubly betrayed when practically all their earning assets now were sold off
without any seeming relation to policy objectives.3
Governor Strong, chairman of the Open Market Investment Committee, was apparently no less opposed to Secretary Mellon's insistence
on liquidations but had tried to prevent a direct confrontation with
Treasury officials of the sort which had occurred in 1919 because he
thought the Treasury had the advantage in such a situation. As noted
previously, he advised the governors during the May, 1922 Conference not to insist on their rights and to cooperate with Mellon.4 However, Strong had an overriding interest in centralized open market
operations, demonstrated by the fact that he had been engaged in
constructing and reconstructing mechanisms for controlling these
transactions since 1915. His conciliatory attitude may reflect an awareness of the value of having Treasury support for the fledgling committee at whatever cost to immediate policy objectives.
Meanwhile, the Treasury continued to argue that the Reserve banks
interfered with its operations when they bought Government obligations. Because of their volume, it was said, Reserve bank purchases
drove the price up in an artificial way, and when the Treasury attempted to sell a later issue, it had difficulty guaging what a normal
market price for the issue might be. However, Secretary Mellon's opposition to open market operations was consistent with his view of the
scope of Federal Reserve powers. He did not think the System should
act to influence rates but, since he believed it was responsible for the
drop in rates to May, 1922, he thought it justified in providing the
antidote. A substantial part ($277 million) of the System's portfolio
had been liquidated between June, 1922 and February, 1923. Now,
in May, 1923, Secretary Mellon insisted on complete liquidation, overriding a suggestion from the Committee that sales be limited to $50
million. Despite Governor Norris' protest and an indignant letter 5from
the Committee itself to the Board, sales were made as requested.
* Stenographic Record, May, 1922 Conference of Governors, pp. 540-551.
During the May, 19*24 Conference, Deputy Governor Case observed that it was "the
opinion of practically everyone of the Governors that a mistake was made in practically
forcing the Federal Reserve Banks to divest themselves of this substantial portfolio of
Government securities . . ." (8.R., May, 1924 Conf., p. 22). Again, the views of Governor
Norris are representative of those of a majority of the governors :
"The reduction of our holdings of Government obligations, which began in May of 1922,
was brought about, as we all know, because of the insistent representation of the Treasury
Department. Their objection to it (the increase in System holdings) was not on any broad
general question of credit policy, but on the ground that our purchases produced an abnormal and artificial market for Treasury obligations. Now we are discussing whether or not
it would be advisable for us to resume purchases, and before we reach any decision, before
we even go any further in the discussion, I would like to know whether the attitude of the
Treasury Department has changed, and they are now willing that we should make purchases, or whether, if we did make purchases, they would then renew the attack that they
made on us in May, 1922, and insist upon our selling them at a lower price immediately
after we had bought them at a high price?" (8.R., Nov., 1923 Conf., p. 33.)
* 8.R., May, 1922 Conf., pp. 119-121.
* Ibid., pp. 520-524.
Report of the Open Market Investment Committee, May 23, 1923. Letter from Under
Secretary Gilbert to Governor Crlssinger, May 30, 1923. Letter from Governor Crisslnger
to J. H. Case, May 31, 1923. Letter from J. H. Case to Governor Crissinger, June 11, 1923.
FRB File 333.b.

On August 3, 1923, Under Secretary of the Treasury S. Parker
Gilbert expressed satisfaction in a letter to the Acting Chairman of
the Committee, J. H. Case:
The position has been well liquidated and is now under control. That of itself
will help to make the discount rate more effective when the time comes.

Gilbert then stated the Treasury's attitude toward the Reserve banks:
I hope that it will never again be possible for any Federal Reserve Bank or
Banks to run up a situation like that which developed in the first half of 1922,
and that if anything of the sort ever threatens again the Committee of Governors
and if necessary the Federal Reserve Board, will step in and stop it before it
gets started. I am afraid that if the Federal Reserve Banks were left to themselves many of the Governors would be off again on a frolic of their own whenever
their earning assets began to fall. All of them have gone along well with the Committee, but I suspect that many of them are still quite unredeemed."

2. Impulse for open market purchases: The need for earning assets,
the 1928-21^ recession
When Governor Strong returned in the fall of 1923 and resumed
the chairmanship of the Open Market Investment Committee, its future role in determining policy was not very promising. It appeared
that the Committee was to act as an instrument of the Treasury,
serving as a watchdog over the System's potential for creating easy
money. The Treasury's bias for tight money in this instance is not the
bias which is usually asserted in referring to differences between the
Federal Reserve and that Department, as was earlier discussed, but
the impositions of restraint were no less real than in other periods.7
Without the Treasury's support, however, the Committee would have
been unable to control the Reserve banks, who continued to insist on
their right to purchase securities on their own initiative. On the other
hand, pressure from the Reserve banks to purchase securities in view
of their need for earnings worked to the advantage of the Committee
in its dealings with the Treasury.
In September, 1923, the Dallas Bank requested approval to purchase
$10 million of Government securities, citing its low earning position,
its lack of surplus and the large number of bank failures in the district
which put a strain on its resources. The Open Market Committee agreed
to make an exception in the case of the Dallas Bank, but could not grant
the request without approval from the Federal Reserve Board. The
Board, in turn, voted to approve the request, "subject to a conference
with officials of the Treasury." The Treasury approved, but early in
November when the Boston Bank made a similar request—to purchase
$20 million of Government securities "to build up the earning assets
of the bank"—permission was denied. The Boston Bank made no mention of recessionary trends in its district or the relationship between
a decline in business loans and the need for investments to help cover
expenses, but these developments were brought up at the November,
1923 Conference of Governors. Meanwhile, the Board's position was
that purchases by the Boston Bank would affect the money market
and that it saw "nothing in the conditions of the money market which
T Letter from Under Secretary Gilbert to J. H. Case, August 3, 1923. FRB File 333.b.l.
Further examples of the Treasury's bias for tight money during this period are its
pressure In August, 1923 for an increase in discount rates "in the not distant future"
(8.R., Nov., 1923 Conf., p. 637), and the complaint that the Reserve banks' efforts "to
establish a market for bankers' acceptances" had led them "to undersell the open market"

would warrant the Boston bank or any other Reserve bank purchasing
Treasury securities at this time." 8
The report of the chairman of the Open Market Investment Committee to the November 1923 Conference of Governors is quite different in
Finally, quite another view is presented when we consider just what our policy
should be in case the hesitation and uncertainty which seems to have arisen in
some sections, notably New England, should threaten a real set back to business.
While the country is now on the whole prosperous, labor quite fully employed,
most mills are busy and with a few exceptions no excess stocks of goods on hand—
there are also some indications of a growth of distrust lest business is facing a
slump. Steel orders are lower, production of New England cotton mills has recently been reduced, automobile tire business has slowed down, and we have had a
long and rather sharp liquidation in the stock market resulting in a reduction of
Stock Exchange loans, estimated at $532,000,000.
It is the view of the Committee that the reserve system should not hesitate to
resume open market purchases, thereby again reducing bank borrowings and
easing money rates, rather than permit an unwarranted state of mind alone to
disturb the even course of the country's production and consumption. There need
be little fear of inflation from such a policy if total earning assets are not allowed
to increase; nor are they likely to do so in the absence of speculation, increasing
prices and increasing stocks of goods.9

Governor Strong's comment on the off-the-record discussion which
followed the reading of the report to the Conference indicates the extent of opposition to the proposal:
I am led to believe by the discussion that the feeling may have developed that
this report recommends more definitely than it actually does going into the market
and buying Government short term securities. It doesn't really recommend that.
It suggests that the time may come when that would be a very desirable thing
to do.10

Despite this qualification, it is clear that Governor Strong used the
November, 1923 Conference as a forum for discussion of the nature of
countercyclical open market operations. To set the stage, using National Bureau reference points, a business recession had begun in the
spring of 1923 which was to last until the summer of 1924. Governor
Strong pointed out that the liquidation of $500 million of Reserve bank
assets between May, 1922 and May, 1923 had resulted in an increase in
member bank borrowings of the same amount. He also noted the
concurrent rise in interest rates—bills had risen from 3 to 4% percent
and commercial paper from below 4% to 5 ^ percent. He suggested
that these events were reflected in the current situation and that one
could anticipate pressure on borrowers and pressure for liquidation
as banks moved to reduce their borrowings to the System.
The impact of such pressure on the general business situation was,
Governor Strong said, "one of those intangible things you cannot
measure . . ." He suspected, however, that "it may have a considerable
effect," in that "you cannot squeeze five hundred millions out of the
Stock speculations in New York without developing a feeling of pessimism . . ." Governor Strong did not of course have perfect hindsight. He was not yet prepared to view the situation as sufficiently
Letter from B. A. McKinney, Governor, Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, to Edmund
Platt, Acting Governor of the Federal Reserve Board, September 29, 192*3. Proceedings
of the Board, October 3, 1923. Letter from Platt to McKinney, October 4, 1023. Letter
from W. P. G. Harding, Governor, Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, to Platt, November 2.
Board Communication to W. P. G. Harding, November, 1923. FRB File 333.b.l.
•Report of the Chairman of the Open Market Investment Committee to the November
1923 Conference of Governors. FRB File 333,b.2.
S.R.j November, 1923 Conference, p. 29.

grave to warrant intervention but suggested that if what today is
termed a recession were to develop, the System should be prepared to
increase its purchases mi Government securities and thus reduce pressure by enabling the member banks to get out of debt to the System.11
Governor Harding of the Boston Bank, the former Governor of the
Federal Reserve Board and one of the officials most sensitive to open
market dynamics, suggested that rather than wait, the Committee
might "anticipate a little bit." He suggested that rates might drop in
January or February as a result of the recession, and that to buy
securities at that point would make the market too easy. Strong shared
Hoarding's concern that rates might drop too low and agreed that he
"would anticipate as you indicate, Governor Harding"; since, if purchases were made in November, "we would have opportunity, in case
there was a runaway market, to turn loose Government securities and
take up a little of the surplus cash." However, Governor Strong added
that he did "not think the Federal Reserve Board would consider
that." 12
These remarks give a fair indication of the various policy objectives of the period. Stable interest rates had the highest priority within
the System. For Governor Strong they were a necessary means to the
end of stabilizing production and prices. For most Reserve officials,
however, the maintenance of a given level of interest rates in itself
constituted stability. The following statement by Governor Calkins
illustrates the latter view:
. . . That was argued at the time this policy was discussed before, that the
operations of the Open Market Investment Committee might be so carried on
as to avoid fluctuation in discount rates; in other words when the market was
unduly easy we might take the money out of it, and when it was low we might
put some money into it. As a matter of fact the operation of the committee has
been along exactly opposite lines; it has put money into the market when it
was unduly easy and it will, contrawise, be taking money out of the market when
the market is beginning to tighten. I have always thought it was a mistake for
the Federal Reserve System to dispose of the large investments in Government
securities at the time they were disposed of and if it was a mistake to do that
at that time it was also a mistake to go back into the market and buy 200 million
dollars worth at a time when there was no necessity for it. The fact that it hasn't
any appreciable influence upon rates is indicated by the reduction of the New
York rate to four percent.18

Governor Calkins' last sentence is telling. New York had lowered its
rate in May, 1924 from 4l/| to 4 percent in response to conclusive evidence of a business recession. Nevertheless, most of the governors—
and Governor Calkins was one of the more sophisticated—were not in
the habit of reacting to production indices and unemployment figures.
The market was easy and required firming action in the form of open
market sales. A reduction in the discount rate would appear indefensible in terms of a concept of "countercyclical policy" which focused on
rate stability.
nIbid., pp. 30-32.
In the discussion of the scissors-effect of open market operations, Governor Strong
observed that when purchases were made and banks were found to have a surplus, they
tended to invest it in assets that would turn over quickly ; and that this had the effect "of
reducing the rate on the most fluid things in the money market.'* The response of Governor
Seay of the Richmond Bank is illustrative of the attitude which made many Reserve
officials suspicious of open market operations. He questioned whether or not the System
"should . . . adopt a policy which will probably result in some slight lowering of the
return on these securities" (Ibid., pp. 24-25).
«Ibid., pp. 34-35.
is S.R.t May, 1924 Conf., p. 19.

Governor Strong did not, of course, wholly agree with this position
but conceded that Governor Calkins had a point:
. . . This Committee had wished upon it a job of going out and making investments at a time when the market situation was not favorable. They have done
the best they could. The Committee was very strong in its contention that a
mistake was made in reducing the holdings in Government securities from upwards of 600 millions down to practically nothing, and was also strongly of
the opinion that if we had been permitted to have retained perhaps 300 million
of those at that time, that on March 1st, when the market was shot to pieces and
call money went down to two and a half percent, that this committee would have
been functioning and functioning beautifully along the lines that were intended ... M •

This statement and the discussion with Governor Harding during
the November, 1923 Conference reveal that Strong's concept of countercyclical operations did not exclude all aspects of the more traditional
approach. Although the overall objectives of policy might call for an
enlarged volume of purchases, he would not hesitate to switch to salesto firm-up market conditions, utilizing the Committee in a way similar
to the way in which bankers' pools organized by J. P. Morgan and
others had functioned in an earlier period. However, the Committee
had been unable to correct the disorderly conditions which had developed in the market because it had only $50 million in assets at the time..
It had to build up the portfolio at a time when market rates were
easing—a situation it would have wished to avoid—but which, in principle, had the effect of diminishing the amplitude of the recession which
the National Bureau dates as having begun in May, 1923.
While Reserve officials more or less accepted the Committee's recommendations, few accepted or fully understood the means for obtaining
them. A resume of the Committee's activities at this time illustrates the
extent to which policy was shaped by other factors: the struggle for
control by various groups within the System, the need for earnings
and, again, misconceptions as to the timing of purchases and sales to
achieve the desired objective.
Following the November, 1923 Conference, the Open Market Investment Committee made a tentative recommendation which reflected
Strong's feeling that the Board would not approve a large volume of
purchases. It voted to buy "a suitable volume of Government securities
of short time maturities, provided such purchases can be made without disturbing the conditions of the money market or of the market
for Government securities." On December 3, the Board replied, approving a "limited volume" of purchases, but emphasized its prerogative to control the volume:
. . . it being understood that the Board reserves the right to discontinue purchases and to require the sale of any of the securities purchased in pursuance of
this resolution at any time it may deem expedient.15

At the beginning of January, 1924, the Committee recommended
purchases of $15 million. On January 12, Randolph Burgess, then an
official of the New York Bank, sent a memorandum to Deputy Governor Case warning that if the current policy "toward reduction of
the earning assets of the System" were continued, the earning po™IMd., pp. 20-21.
Federal lteserve Board resolution, December 3,1923, FRB File 333.b.l.

sition of the Reserve banks would become serious unless business
picked up. The Committee prepared a statement indicating that, as
of January 30, the System's earnings were at the lowest point since
November, 1917. Anticipating pressure from the Reserve banks for
individual purchases, the committee revised its allotment plan to make
the need for earnings, rather than the reserve positions of the various
banks, the basis for distributing assets. It urged that individual purchases be curtailed and Governor Strong again appealed to the Federal Reserve Board to support its position. Strong's letter notes that
Dallas had again requested a special order and that he had sent them
$5 million of bankers' acceptances out of the New York Bank's portfolio in an effort to solve the problem without special purchases,
resumption of which, he argued, would be a disaster.16
On February 21, the Board voted to support the Committee's position.17 The effect was to delay the commencement of substantial
purchases by the System for several months. Thus, the "natural"
countercyclical tendencies of the System were thwarted in the process
of centralizing open market operations. If the Reserve banks had not
been prevented from making individual purchases, the System would
have moved to alleviate the recession much earier. Since, at this time,
recessionary tendencies had a direct effect on Reserve bank earnings,
some banks would have made purchases as early as September, others
in November and the remainder by January. As it was, the System
did not make substantial purchases until April, the reason being that
the Committee wished to avoid any further easing of rates in a
market which was already declining.
In January, Burgess had stated the problem for the Committee:
business was "contining to recede in volume rather than increase," but
as indicated by the level of interest rates, "the situation clearly contains a threat of serious inflation." Therefore, he concluded, "the time
has not yet come to sell securities . . . we should, rather continue to
acquire more as far as we can do so without making easier a market
already very easy." The problem of rate levels was noted again in
February in a memorandum drafted for Strong by Case and Burgess.
Assessing the current situation, they wrote: "There does not appear
to have been any marked change in the volume of production or distribution of goods, which are maintained at approximately the same
level as in the late months of 1923 and considerably under the spring
months of that year." Nevertheless, they argued that "the authorized
buying rate should not be lowered at this time." This recommendation
was adopted at the February, 1924 meeting of the Committee, together
with a recommendation for "increased purchases in moderate volume."
Even in April, when it had decided to make a large volume of purchases, the Committee restricted itself to purchases "at current market
prices." It was hoped that this form of support could prevent any sudden drop in market rates since there were many officials within the
System who, like the members of the Federal Advisory Council, agreed
Memorandum from Randolph Burgess to J. H. Case, January 12, 1924, Report of the
Open Market Committee. February 8, 1924. PRB File 333.b.2. Letter from Governor Strong
to 17
Governor Crissinger, February 18,1924. FRB File 333.b.l.
Recommendation of the Committee on Discount and Open Market Policy of the
Federal Reserve Board, February 20, 1924. Letter from Governor Crissinger to Governor
Strong, February 21,1924. FRB File 333.b.l.

to an enlargement of the portfolio of Government securities only "if
this can be done without unduly affecting the market." 18
The April 1924 report of the Committee noted that interest rates
had declined—commercial paper was down from 4=% to 4 ^ percent
and bill rates from 4% to 4 percent—but argued that even easier rates
could be justified in the current situation. The Committee stressed
the fact that "practically all of the available indexes for March
indicated a considerable decrease in the volume of production and
business transactions," and recommended purchases of up to $250
million. The Committee could assume that the governors would be
disposed to favor the amount of purchases suggested, but not necessarily on the grounds that interest rates should be lowered and member bank reserves raised to counter a business recession. It strengthened its argument by noting, at the May, 1924 Conference of Governors, that the System was still short $18 million of earning
assets to coyer estimated expenses for 1924 even after the substantial
purchases in April which had been approved by the Board. The
Conference voted to increase the System account by purchases of an
additional $150 million of Government securities,19and adopted a new
plan of allotment based on earning requirements. With the backing
of the Conference, the Committee obtained prompt approval from
the Board. This did not solve the problem of earnings, however, and
in June both the Chicago and Philadelphia Banks threatened to make
substantial individual purchases to meet expenses.20 Therefore, the
Committee voted on July 1, 1924, to increase System holdings by
another $100 million and to make purchases "in so far as possible . . .
in other districts than New York." In that way it was hoped that the
Committee could absorb what was available in local markets and
make individual purchases more difficult.21
While the Committee had found it necessary to frame its policy
in terms of the needs of the various factions, it had nevertheless been
able to meet its objective of implementing successful countercyclical
operations. Between the end of April and the beginning of September,
1924, the Committee bought $500 million of Government securities,
wiped out member bank indebtedness and the recession now ended. Its
July report had stated that it would favor increasing still further the
$500 million limitation "if conditions remain substantially as they
are now," 22 but this had not proved necessary. The New York Bank
had lowered its discount rate in May from 4% to 4 percent, and
lowered it again in June to %y2 percent and in August to 3 percent,
forcing a reduction in rates at the other Reserve banks as well. In
public pronouncements, the New York Bank stated that its rate had
followed the market down. Within the System, however, it had had
Memorandum from Randolph Burgess to J. H. Case, January, 1924. Memorandum
from Burgess and Case to Governor Strong, February. 1924. Minutes of the Open Market
Investment Committee, February, 1924. Report of the Open Market Investment Committee,
April. 1924. FRB File 333.D.2, May 1924 Recommendations of the Federal Advisory
Council. FRB File 333.b.l.
April 1924 Report of the Open Market Committee on "Credit Conditions and the Open
Market Program." April 22, 1924 Report of the Secretary to the Open Market Investment
Committee. May, 1924 Report of the Open Market Investment Committee. FRB File 333.b.2.
Federal Reserve Board Communication to the Open Market Investment Committee,
June 4, 1924. letter from Governor Strong to Governor Crissinger, June 30, 1924. Letter
from Governor Norris to Governor Crissinger, June 18, 1924. FRB File 333.b.l.
Minutes of the Open Market Investment Committee, July 1, 1924. FRB File 333.b.2.
»Ibid. FRB File 333.b.2.

to defend its reductions and had argued that they were a justifiable
response to the business recession. It was the first time that the System
had deliberately acted to lower interest rates and there were misgivings even among those who had supported such policies, as Governor Calkins' remarks at the May, 1924 Conference suggest. Deputy
Governor Case had defended the New York position by pointing out
that, as Governor Strong had predicted, the $250 million of assets
purchased in late April and earty May had not increased Reserve
bank earnings. Reserve bank earnings had continued to decline because business continued to recede. The Committee's purchases had
been made in terms of its policy objectives, not the need for earnings,
and the reduction in the discount rate was justified in terms of the
same policy objectives.23
In its report to the November 1924 Conference, the Committee took
a less defensive tone:
. . . It is generally agreed by economists that the swings of the business cycle
may be lessened by making credit readily available when business has begun its
downward swing or is in a state of depression and conversely by making credit
less easily available when business is booming and speculation is becoming rife.
The program of the Open Market Committee in contributing toward easier money
during the past nine months is directly in keeping with this economic principle.
We have had in these nine months, and particularly in the summer of 1924, a
considerable business recession. The decline in factory employment for example,
amounted to more than 15%, production in basic industries declined 26% and
our index of the volume of trade 15% from the high points of the spring of 1923.
A genuine recovery appears, however, to have begun and the bottom of the depression appears to have been passed without serious unemployment, business
failures or the like. It is entirely logical to believe that easy money has been
a factor in shortening the duration of depression and loan liquidation and lightening its effects. Further, the easy money has made possible a large amount of
domesticfinancingof which business was much in need.24

3. Centralizing open market operations versus independent transactions
In assessing this report, one must note again that pressure for earning assets had been a great help in overcoming objections to an easymoney policy. The problem of Reserve bank earnings had not been
solved, however, and could not be solved as long as gold inflows continued. It had been the policy of the System since 1921 to sterilize
gold imports by selling securities from the System account in an
amount equal to the gold received. While this enabled the System
to control excess reserves, it had the unfortunate effect of reducing
Reserve bank income. Ordinarily, sales from the account lowered
member bank reserves and precipitated an increase in discounts which
compensated the Reserve banks for the loss of income from assets. Sales
made to balance receipts of gold had no such effect, the point being to
prevent a change in the reserve ratio.
Not all Reserve officials seemed aware of these relationships, but
Governor Calkins had warned in May, 1924, that "so long as the operations of this committee are tied up with the question of earnings by the
banks that the operations of the committee25will be hampered, and, to
a considerable extent, will be ineffective." While this was not true
during the first nine months of 1924—the pressure for earnings pre*

8.R.. May, 1924 Conf., pp. 7-8, 23.
* Report of the Open Market Investment Committee, November, 1924. FRB File 333.b.2.
* 8.R.J May, 1924 Conf., p. 14.

senting problems in terms of procedure rather than policy—-it proved
an accurate appraisal of the difficulties the Committee faced when it
shifted to a more restrictive policy at the end of the year.
Pressure for rate increases came as early as September, 1924, when
the Federal Advisory Council, reflecting the American Bankers Association's opposition to the Committee's easy money policies, advised
the Board that a continuation of ease "might render it extremely
difficult to ward off a period of active inflation." Nevertheless, with
the Presidential election pending in November, the System was not
disposed to make a precipitous change in policy. In October, the Open
Market Committee recommended to the Board that it be authorized to
~buy or sell $100 million of securities as conditions warranted, and
turned down a request from Dallas for a special26
allotment. The Board
approved the recommendations on November 12.
The discretion implied in the authorization indicates that the
Committee's status was considerably more secure. Nevertheless, the
November, 1924 Conference was a difficult one for Governor Strong.
On the one hand, he had to resist pressure for an increase in the discount rate which he felt would be undesirable in terms of both domestic
and international conditions. On the other hand, he had to persuade
the Reserve banks to go along with the Committee's policy of gradually reducing its portfolio even though it would mean a loss of income.
The problem of earnings was again the more significant issue, and once
again the attitude of the Reserve banks toward independent purchases
threatened to undermine the functions of the Committee.
The governors' position on independent purchases versus centralized
operations had been expressed in the Summary of the May, 1924 Conference :
It was tiie concensus of opinion that the open market operations of the System
should be conducted independently of the question of earnings. It was also
felt that while there is no question of the right of the directors of the individual
Federal Reserve Banks to engage in open market operation® if in their judgment that should become necessary, nevertheless the present policy of conducting the System's open market operations through the central committee appointed for that purpose, with the consent of the directors of the several Reserve
hanks, is highly desirable and to be commended.27

The governor's resistance to the Committee is implicit in their reference to their own rights and prerogatives. They not only insisted
that their position be recognized in the policy statement, but had
obtained certain concessions in terms of procedure. A majority of the
governors had favored a proposal which permitted the individual
Reserve banks to decline participation in System transactions. Since
the emphasis was on controlling the volume of investments in terms
of the maximum limitation, the Committee was not adverse to granting
this form of dispensation. In fact, Governor Strong subsequently
drafted a proposal which would prohibit banks capable of earning
expenses from participating in new purchases. This tradition was to
plague supporters of centralized open market operations in the 1930's,
when policies called for massive open market purchases. Meanwhile,
Governor Norris of the Philadelphia Bank obtained a concession hav26
September, 1924 Recommendations of the Federal Advisory Council. Report of the
Open Market Investment Committee, October 24, 1924. Federal Reserve Board Communication to the Open Market Investment Committee, November 12, 1924. F R B File 333.b.2.
Summary, May, 1924 Conf., pp. 1-2.

ing the opposite intent. The Conference agreed that all transactions
should go through the Committee except "odd lot transactions, accommodation to some local person, or transactions with member
banks." 28 This gave the Reserve banks a loophole justifying individual
purchases in small amounts and was to make it increasingly difficult
for the Committee to control the total level of holdings.
Governor McDougal of Chicago had gone on record as openly approving purchases by individual Reserve banks for their own account,
preferably in long-term Government securities "in sufficient amount
to enable the banks to meet expenses." At the November 1924 Conference, he and several other governors had forced a vote on a proposal to permit the Federal Reserve banks to invest in long-term
Government bonds in an amount equal to their capital and surplus.
The motion was defeated, but the vote was 6 to 6—New York, Richmond, Dallas, St. Louis, Cleveland and San Francisco voting against
the proposal.29 The fact that the governors of the Boston, Philadelphia
and Chicago Banks—three of the five members of the Open Market
Investment Committee—voted for the proposal indicate the extent
to which the Committee itself was divided. The fact that its reports
reflect a countercyclical concept of policy means that the New York
Bank, which handled transactions for tihe System account, dominated
the Committee. The evident dissatisfation of a majority of its membership would seem to support such a view.
Despite the fact that at least half of the Reserve banks wanted
to increase the total level of System holdings by a large volume of
individual purchases—a move which would have had the effect of
lowering current market rates—almost all of the governors reported
to the November, 1924 Conference that their boards of directors
thought the time had come to consider rate increases. Governor Strong's
frustration may have been considerable.
While actual discussion of the issue was off the record, Strong's statement of consensus indicates that he had made a forceful argument for
the Committee's function, adding that the Committee was currently revising its buying r a t e for bankers' acceptances upward and that it
had been "consistently understood in recent years (that) operations
of the Open Market Investment Committee in Government securities . . . was preliminary to final consideration of changes in discount rates." It was decided that discount rates need not be increased
at that point but would be increased in the near future as soon as the
increase in buying 30
rates had made conditions right for sales from
the System account. As Strong undoubtedly pointed out to the governors once again, the discount rate would then appear to be following
the market, rather than leading it up.
The Governors' Conference gave the Open Market Investment Committee authority to liquidate at its discretion and by mid-December
System holdings of Government securities had declined to $413 million. Meanwhile, in November, the Reserve banks again began to make
individual purchases. These autonomous holdings had only risen from
** Summary, November, 1923 Conf., p. 3. Memorandum from Governor Strong to the
Federal Reserve Board, June 6, 1924. FRB File 333.D.1. S.R., November, 1923, Conf., p. 28.
3» Minutes of the Open Market Investment Committee, May, 1924. FRB File 333.b.2.
Summary, November, 1924 Conf., p. 13.
«° 8.R., November, 1924 Conf., pp. 466-469.

$73 million to $81 million between January and October while the
System account had risen from $50 million to $500 million. Between
November and December, 1924, however, the holdings of the individual
Reserve banks rose to $140 million.31 These purchases would have been
sufficient to hamper, if not offset, the effects of the Committee's sales
had there not bean an outflow of gold at the same time.32
The gold movements were a concomitant result of an easy-money
policy and may have been anticipated by Governor Strong, but the
Committee was in a position, then, of compensating not only for
economic fluctuations of every sort, but for the vagaries of individual
Eeserve bank policies. It had to create conditions which would justify
an increase in the New York discount rate early in the year—an
increase, from 3 to Sy2 percent, which Governor Strong had in effect
promised the November^ 1924 Conference. This increase brought the
New York rate in line with that of the other Reserve banks and helped
forestall further rate increases.
In its reporte during the year 1925, the Committee began to take
cognizance of individual purchases in determining the overall level
of System holdings. Initially they were called "open purchases." Subsequently, in 1926, they were referred to as "other" holdings and by
1928, when they had grown to be larger than the holdings administered
by the Committee, they were called "outright holdings." They not
only remained a problem for the Committee, but represented the ever
growing dissatisfaction of Reserve bank officials which culminated
in the dissolution of the Committee in 1930 and its reconstitution
with all 12 Reserve bank governors as members.
Report of the Open Market Investment Committee, October, 1924, FRB File 333.b.2.
Report of the Open Market Investment Committee, December, 1024, FRB File 333.b.l.
Winfield W. Riefler, Money Rates and Money Markets in the United States, New York,
Harper and Brothers, 1930, p. 198.



STABILITY : 192 5-2 6

Governor Strong had succeeded in blocking a proposed increase in
Keserve bank discount rates in the winter of 1924 with the promise
that the Open Market Investment Committee would act to firm up
the money market and make conditions ripe for an increase in the New
York Bank's rate which was then out of line with other discount rates.
The advance in the New York discount rate from 3 to 3% percent in
February, 1925, brought it more nearly in line with the other Reserve
banks, four of which had a Sy2 percent rate and the remainder 4 percent. These patterns were maintained until November, 1925 when the
4 banks at 3% raised their rates to 4 percent. The New York rate was
increased to 4 percent in January, 1926. During the year 1926, the discount rate remained at 4 percent at all the Reserve banks except New
York, which lowered its rate to Sy2 percent in April but raised it
back to 4 percent in August.1 Throughout this two year period, open
market operations were used to achieve the objective on which most
of the governors had agreed—"to avoid fluctuation in discount rates." 2
Measured in financial terms, this was a highly stable period with
rates maintained at relatively high levels. The yield on Government
bonds averaged 3.86 percent in 1925 and declined to an average 3.59
in 1926. The yield on triple A corporate bonds averaged 4.87 percent
for 1925 and underwent a similar decline in 1926. Reflecting Federal
Reserve support, open market rates on prime bankers' acceptance in
New York City remained highly stable in terms of weekly averages in
a range between 3 and 3.5 percent until the latter part of 1926. Rates
on prime commercial paper were also stable during the same period,
in a range between 3.50 and 4.38 percent, while the more volatile rates
on new Stock Exchange call loans ranged between 2.83 percent on
January 24,1925 and 6 percent on January 7,1926. The advantages of
stable rates for financial institutions is reflected in the rise in member
bank profits during this period. The ratio of net profits to total capital
accounts averaged 9 percent for both 1925 and 1926.3
The particular emphasis of this period, preventing fluctuations in
the discount rate, while not necessarily compatible with either the needs
of trade doctrine or countercyclical concepts, was nevertheless acceptable to all factions within the System. Moreover, it was seen by the
New York Bank as necessary for the maintenance of international
stability at a critical time. England announced resumption of gold payments on April 28, 1925—the first step toward reinstatement of the
gold standard in Europe—and both Benjamin Strong and Montagu
Banking and Monetary Statistics, Washington D.C., U.S. Board of Governors of the
Federal Reserve System, 1943, p. 440.
* S.R» May, 1924 Conf., p. 19.
a Banking and Monetary Statistics, pp. 264-265, 454-455, 463, 469.



Norman, the Governor of the Bank of England, agreed that it was
necessary to maintain rates in New York below those in London to
protect England's gold reserve. The policy was a great success initially,
and for a few years England, like the United States before, was the
recipient of gold inflows. The policy, however, played havoc with the
Bank of England's domestic credit policies.4
.1. 1925
At the beginning of 1925, prior to the action by the Bank of England,
the Committee sold securities to firm up rates. The System account
dropped from $413 million in December 1924 to below $250 million
by April 1925. During March, the Dallas Bank again requested permission to purchase $10 million of Government securities because it
feared that an increasing number of bank failures in its district might
seriously encroach on its surplus. The Dallas Bank's chronic problem
in meeting expenses reflects the fact that the Committee's sensitivity
to regional economic problems was minimal. The Board ordered
Dallas to stop purchasing securities and while the Bank's Governor
agreed, he protested that other Reserve banks were buying and selling
independently without bothering to inform the Board or the Committee. His point was well taken in that the average holdings of the
Eeserve banks which made purchases for their own accounts totaled
vover $100 million in both 1925 and 1926.5
In April, 1925, the Open Market Investment Committee voted to
enlarge its holdings up to $300 million in "the belief . . . that present
and prospective gold movements make this increase advisable." While
England's return to the gold standard obviously influenced this decision, there may have been other reasons which were at least supportive.
Again several of the Reserve banks were having trouble meeting expenses and the Committee met with resistance when it tried to convince
those banks which were in a more comfortable position to give up some
of their assets. It was easier to distribute new assets to accommodate
^current needs than to shift assets already apportioned to the banks.
Meanwhile, the combination of gold outflows and a reduction in the
System portfolio had had a noticeably tightening effect. The Committee reported in April that "business was experiencing some slight
recess . . ." There appeared to be some slight increase in recessionary
tendencies in June and the Committee recommended "that money
should continue to be available at moderate rates." No further purchases were recommended, however, and the Committee subsequently
noted that the situation had been stabilized.6 Apparently it had; the
National Bureau does not record a recession for 1925. The trough of
the 1923-24 cycle is dated July, 1924 and the next peak is not reached
until September, 1926.
During the fall of 1925, the Committee shifted policy again as the
first surge of the stock market boom became apparent. It reported
to the November 1925 Conference of Governors that there had been
a "gradual reduction in the portfolio . . . in keeping with the policy
of maintaining the effectiveness of the discount rates . . ." There was
* Lester V. Chandler, Benjamin Strong, Central Banker, Washington, D.C., The Brookings
Institution, 1958, pp. 303, 319, 322-324.
Banking and Monetary Statistics, p. 344.
Minutes of the Open Market Investment Committee, April, 1925. FRB File 333.b.2.
Report of the OMIC, November, 1925. FRB File 333.b.l. Report of the OMIC, June, 1925.
^ R B File 333.b.2.

considerable pressure for rate increases—the Boston Bank applied
for an increase from 3 % to 4 percent in October—but action was postponed until November due to disagreements and uncertainties within
the System. In view of the English situation, Governor Strong favored
an increase only as a last resort. He suggested a compromise to the
November Conference whereby rates would be increased gradually
and only as needed.
It was decided to stagger the increases at those banks whose rate
was below 4 percent and to delay an increase in the rate at the New
York Bank until January, 1926. This, it was argued, would have a
cumulative psychological effect which a single, across-the-board increase would not. In conjunction with the New York rate increase in
January, Governor Strong suggested a moderate amount of open market sales on the grounds that "money conditions are easing considerably." In view of the continued exportation of gold, sales of $50 million
were suggested and formally approved by the Board.7
This deflationary action was not without repurcussions for future
open market policy. Although the Boston Bank had led the way in
pressing for a rate increase, it was the first of the Reserve banks to
feel the effects of deflation on earnings and to object to the Committee's action to back up the rate increase with sales. In January, 1926,
Governor Harding wrote the acting chairman of the Committee, J. H.
Case, that Boston needed $75 million in assets to earn expenses and
would not distribute its portfolio around the System until it had purchased enough for its own needs. Boston was within its rights, he
wrote, because all the Reserve banks except New York followed this
2. 1926
Despite individual Reserve Bank purchases, the Committee's sales,
coupled with gold outflows and the rate increase, had exerted "a considerably stabilizing influence on the market," as the Open Market
Committee's March, 1926 Report noted. Nevertheless, the Committee
advised that:
. . . we should prepare ourselves now for the prompt purchase of some further
amount of securities if and when there should be further evidence of a recession
in business activity, especially if there is no further liquidation in the amount
of Federal Reserve credit employed.8

Actually, the Committee had already decided on the policy which
its report merely suggests. As E. A. Goldenweiser reported to Governor Crissinger, the Committee had discussed the slowdown in business activity and had concluded "that it would be desirable to bring
about somewhat greater ease in the money market in order to encourage business."10
The year 1926 proved to be an exceptionally good year in terms of
growth and employment until the fourth quarter. In December 1925
the index of industrial production had fallen 5 percent.11 The tight
Report of the Open Market Investment Committee, November, 1925. FRB Pile 333.b.l.
Letter from Deputy Governor Case to Governor Crissinger, January, 1926. PRB Pile 3'33.b.l.
Letter from Governor W. P. G. Harding to Deputy Governor Case, January 27, 1926.
FRB Pile 333.b.2.
10Report of the Open Market Investment Committee, March, 1926. PRB Pile 3;33.b.2.
Memorandum from E. A. Goldenweiser to Governor Crissinger, March 23, 1926.
PRB Pile 333.b.2.
Blmus R. Wicker, Federal Reserve Monetary Policy, 1917-88, New York, Random
House, 1966, p. 100.

money policies inaugurated in November, 1925 to dampen the stock
market boom had the effect of helping to perpetuate the slump. But,,
with the stock market under control by March, 1926, the Committee
felt free to undertake countercyclical operations which were more anticipatory than its previous efforts. The Committee's success in winning approval for the kind of response which it felt would be appropriate is reflected in the fact that the New York Bank dropped its
discount rate to 3% percent in April and held it there into August.
Business quickly improved, in part at least, it may be reasonably
urged, because of the System's easier policies.
The August repcxrt of the chairman to the Open Market Investment
Committee stated, however, that:
The reporting member banks are extending about one billion dollars more
credit than a year ago, an increase which is not far from the usual increase of
credit from year to year due to the country's growth. The present volume of
business is not requiring any exceptional growth in credit. About half of the
increase since a year ago has been in bank investments and loan® on securities.13

Gross national income in constant dollars increased 4 ^ percent in
1925 (and 5% percent 'in 1926.13 This rate of increase on an annual basis
had apparently stimulated a new awareness of the need for an expansion of credit commensurate with the normal rate of economic growth.
However, this rather sophisticated view originated with the New York
Bank and appears to have made no impact on the rest of the System.
The report indicates, moreover, that like the majority of Reserve officials, the officers of the New York Bank feared that easy money per se
might further stimulate the New York stock market.
The September, 1926 report to the Committee states that it had been
considered expedient to sell securities. The special investment account
was reduced from $270 to $210 million and the report notes that these
sales were associated with "a considerable increase in money rates." 14
A further effect of this tightening action—which included raising the
New York discount rate back to 4 percent—was to precipitate a recession beginning in October. The gross national product was to drop
from $97.7 billion in 1926 to $96.3 billion in 1927. Unemployment,
which had dropped from 5.5 percent in 1924 to 4.0 percent in 1925 and
to a staggeringly low 1.9 percent in 1926, rose again to 4.1 percent in
The countercyclical operations of the Open Market Committee during 1925 and until the fourth quarter of 1926 were successful measured
in terms of economic growth and employment as well as financial
stability. The Committee seemed almost unaware, however, of how
sucoessxul its policies had been. The failure to mention employment
levels, and tihe rather erratic pattern of these levels over the several
years cited, indicates that full employment was not a prime target but
rather < fortuitous by-product of 'policies which had as their primary
goail financial stability rather than economic performance.
A recapitulation of the shifts in policy may be helpful in revealing
the pattern and its implications in terms of objectives. The easy money
policy which had been put into effect in May, 1924 to counter the

Report of the Open Market Investment Committee, August, 1926. FRB File 333.b.2.
Wicker, op. <$t., p. 95.
Report of the Open Market Investment Committee, September, 1926. FRB File 333.b.2.
is Historical Statistics of the United States, Colonial Times to 1957, House Document
No. 33, 86th Cong., 1st Sess., pp. 139, 73.

cyclical downturn of May, 1923-July, 1924 had been followed by a
policy of restraint in tihe fall and winter of 1924-25 to firm up interest
rates and bring New York's discount ra)te in line with other discount
rates. In April, 1925, there was a ^hift to an easy money poliey in
tandem with a slight decline in business, followed by restraint in the
fall and winter of 1925-26. Again, the spring of 1926 found the System easing its policy just 'after an incipient downturn in business, and
again, in September, it opted for restraint. While the shifts to ease
were said to be a response to business conditions, and definitely were
timed in tandem with indipient downturns, the shifts to restraint appear unrelated to business developments. Financial developments,
rather, are the keystone to these Shifts. The shift to restraint in the fall
of 1924 was made to firm up the money market and level discount rates.
In the fall of 1925 the shift to restraint was made to moderate an
incipient stock market boom and in September 1926 the System shifted
to a policy of restraint to keep interest rates stable, i.e., here to prevent
them from falling. Moreover, the shift to ease in April, 1925 was motivated in part by the desire to lower U.S. interest rates to assure a
capital flow from the U.S. to England. The way in which the System
responded to the recession beginning in October, 1926, as discussed
next, tends also to support the hypothesis that financial stability was
the top priority goal of the Federal Reserve in this period.




During the last quarter of 1926, in tandem with open market sales
and "a considerable increase in money rates" as earlier noted, industrial production declined 6 percent and factory employment about 2
percent. The Federal Keserve System made no response to these
events, maintaining the discount rate at 4 percent and confining its
operations in the open market to the replacement of maturing securities. The rate on prime commercial paper rose from 4 percent at the
end of July to 4.63 in September, maintained this level throughout
October, and then dropped to 4.50 for the remainder of the year.1 In
January, there was a net addition to reserves as gold began to flow
into New York in response to the higher rates. The Open Market
Investment Committee, haying adopted a policy of passive ease, made
no effort to offset the gold imported with sales of securities. However,
because of a reduction in member bank indebtedness of $275 million
there was virtually no change in the volume of high-powered money.
Meanwhile, the Federal Eeserve Board's index of industrial production recovered some of the loss sustained in the latter part2 of 1926
and it appeared that business conditions had been stabilized.
Nevertheless, there was a 3 percent dip in wholesale prices between
January and April, 1927, and a further increase in unemployment.
In February, the business directors 3of the New York Bank pressed
for a reduction in the discount rate. By that time the rate on prime
commercial paper had dropped back to 4 percent.1 But the weight of
opinion was on the side of tightening, not easing policy. The views of
the majority were expressed by the Federal Advisory Council, which
did "not believe that there is anything in the present business situation which would warrant any reduction of existing discount rates,
or necessitating any change in present open market policy." The
Council felt, rather, "that should interest rates continue to decline
the Federal Eeserve banks should reduce their holdings of bills bought
in the open market." Deputy Governor Case of the New York Bank
agreed with the recommendation. On March 5, he wrote the acting
governor of the Board, Edmund Platt, that:
This process will, we believe, tend to absorb any substantial amount of money
in the market available under 4 percent and keep our discount rate effective.*

Between March 9 and May 9,1927, the System account was reduced
by approximately $100 million to $136,312,000. At the May 9 meeting
of the Open Market Committee, Governor Strong warned that sales
Banking and Monetary Statistics, Washington, D.C., U.S. Board of Governors of the
Federal Reserve System, 1943, p. 455.
Blmus R. Wicker, Federal Reserve Monetary Policy, 1917-83, New York, Random
House, 1966, p. 107.
Ibid., pp. 107-108.
5 Banking and Monetary Statistics, p. 455.
Recommendations of the Federal Advisory Council, February 18, 1927. Letter from
J. H. Case to Edmund Platt, March 5,1927. FRB File 333.b.l.


would have to be discontinued as present holdings were "too small to
afford security against possible future developments." Purchases in
May and early June brought the portfolio back up to $316,050,000,
but were followed by sales of approximately $60 million later in
June. 6 The prime rate on commercial paper, which had remained at
4.13 from mid-March to June, rose to 4.25 percent. On June 20, 1927,
Governor Strong outlined his views to the Board against a background
of rising rates and some pressure for further tightening. Governor
Strong was against further tightening but not yet for easing policy.
He concluded:
So, summarizing the position as it appears to be today, I should say that we
are quite willing to watch the effect of somewhat higher rates for a short period,
but we believe it would be hazardous at this time to allow a general revision of
the level of interest rates to occur for the reasons—
(1) That it might force an increase in our bill rate and ultimately our
discount rate,
(2) That such an increase would be detrimental to the business of the
(3) That it would have a tendency to depress the value of sterling and
ultimately the continental exchanges, and possibly embarrass us by starting
another gold import movement, and
(4) That with the heavy refunding operations now under way and in
prospect for the Treasury we believe that any general advance in the level
of interest rates, unless necessitated by other impelling reasons, might have
a detrimental effect upon the Treasury's plans which would be quite

The investment account remained inactive from June 22 to July 13
with holdings of $250,498,000. At the July meeting of the Open Market Investment Committee it was noted that i;some slackening in business had apparently caused the continued fall in commodity prices,"
and the Federal Reserve Board accepted the Committee recommendation, authorizing8 purchases "not to exceed an additional $50,000,000
of investments." There appeared to be a change in sentiment. In the
following month, August, eight of the 12 Reserve banks lowered their
discount rates from 4 to Sy2 percent and additional purchases—which
brought the account up to $353,467,000 by August 319—were authorized to make the new discount rates effective. Three other Reserve
banks lowered their rates at the beginning of September but one, the
Chicago Bank, refused to go along. In an unprecedented and highly
controversial action, the Federal Reserve Board voted 4 to 3 to force
the reduction by Chicago on September 6. One of the Board members
who opposed the move, C. S. Hamlin, commented that he "somewhat
doubted its power to put in a uniform rate in order to help New York
help the English situation." 10
As Hamlin's remark indicates, it is difficult to pin-point the motivation for the easy-money policy of the summer of 1927. Two historians
of the period, Lester V. Chandler and Elmus R. Wicker, note that
Governor Strong initiated the policy after a visit from Montagu
Norman, the Governor of the Bank of England, Hjalmar Schacht,
President of the German Reichsbank, and Charles Rist, Deputy Governor of the Bank of France, in early July. They had urged that rates

Wicker, op. cit., p. 108.
Letter from Governor Strong to Governor Crissinger, June 20, 1927. FRB File 333.b 1
Minutes of the Open Market Investment Committee, July 1927. FRB File 333,b 2
Fifteenth Annual Report of the Federal Reserve Board (1928), p 74
Wicker, op. cit., p. 113.

be lowered in New York as a means of stabilizing the European
monetary situation in line with the plan for the resumption of gold
payments. However, while Chandler argues that Strong also had good
reason to favor lower rates in view of the domestic situation/ 1 Wicker
discounts domestic considerations. He argues that the recessionary
tendencies apparent in the summer of 1927 were not sufficiently severe
to warrant the actions taken, noting that production had taken "a
much sharper dip . . . between September and December, 1926," and
that, by July, when easing began, "the wholesale price index was
rising for the first time in almost two years." Wicker suggests that
the easy money policies of 1924 and 1927 were undertaken to establish
the international gold standard and that in both cases the action
merely "coincided with the goal of domestic stability." 12
From a contemporary point of view, the test for monetary policy
is economic performance, domestic and international. The United
States had emerged from the war with its productive capacities stimulated rather than impaired and, thus, in a greatly strengthened position, both economically and financially, vis-a-vis Europe. In the immediate post-war period the economy was, however, crippled by the
disastrous deflationary monetary policy Of 1920 involving both a
greatly decreased money supply and sharply higher interest rates.
Again in 1923 tight money policies were pursued and an economic
downturn resulted, though the policies were not nearly as restrictive
and the resulting downturn nearly as severe as in 1920. After 1923
monetary policy was aimed primarily at achieving interest rate stability and financing real bills as against stock market loans. At times,
however, policy was modified by the demands of Reserve banks for
earning assets and by clear and strong evidence of recession in-process.
But stability was foremost a financial rather than an economic objective in the 1920's, as is indicated by the somewhat deflationary impact
of monetary policy even in the years after 1923.
The decade from 1919 to 1929 was an auspicious one for the banking
system. The ratio of net profits to capital accounts averaged 8.0 percent
for national banks and 8.5 percent for Federal Reserve member banks.
Except for the decade at the turn of the century, this was the most
profitable period for national banks since 1871.13 The System prospered, it may be noted, though prices declined. By 1923, wholesale
prices had recovered only one-sixth of the 45.9 percent drop sustained
in 1920-21. From 1923 to 1929 they fell on the average of one percent per year, with an actual decline of about 8 percent between 1925
and 1929.14
Friedman and Schwartz cite the behavior of prices during this period
as unique, but conclude that: "Apparently the steadiness of the price
Lester V. Chandler, Benjamin Strong, Central Banker, Washington, D.C., The Brookings
Institution, 1958, p. 440.
Wicker, op. cit., pp. 109-110, 114-116.
Friedman and Schwartz take yet another view: "The System frequently cited foreign considerations as a justification for the general credit policies pursued. We are
inclined, however, to agree with Hardy, who concluded that foreign considerations
were seldom important in determining the policies followed but were cited as additional justification for policies adopted primarily on domestic grounds whenever foreign and domestic considerations happened to coincide." (Milton Friedman and Anna
Jacobson Schwartz, A Monetary History of the United States, 1867-1960, Princeton, N.J.,
Princeton University Press, 1963, p. 269).
14 Banking and Monetary Statistics, pp. 260-261.
Friedman and Schwartz, op. cit., pp. 284, 298.

movement is far more important than its direction." 15 The implication
is that the period reflects a higher degree of monetary management and
that this management was beneficial, and Friedman and Schwartz
term the 1921-29 period, "The High-Tide of the Keserve System."16
There appears to be enough evidence to argue, however, that while the
degree of monetary management was indeed greater, it was a question,
rather, of the ability of a vigorous economy to surmount policies which
were primarily financial and which, in another period, might have
proved disastrous.
Ibid., p. 242.
Ibid., Ch. 6.


In the late summer of 1927, a curious lack of congruity among economic indicators clouded monetary policy. Both production and factory employment continued to decline—(the trough of the recession
that began in October, 1926 is November, 1927)—but wholesale prices
and interest rates remained steady. Finally, there was a rise in speculative activity. Total member bank credit expanded $1 billion in the
last four months of 1927. Loans on securities accounted for 70 percent
of the increase in total loans by member banks between September
and December, a notable upsurge in November being reflected in a
rising level of stock prices. A substantial volume of purchases were
made by the Open Market Committee in August, 1927, and member
bank indebtedness remained above $400 million through November.1
But after August there was no response from the System to either the
continued decline in business or the rise in speculative activity. Reserve
officials continued to focus primarily on interest rates which remained
steady. At its November 1927, meeting, the Open Market Committee
. . . that the open market policy of the System until March 1st next, unless
developments not now anticipated require a further review, shall be: to maintain
stable rates for money at about present levels and prevent further imports of

In January, 1928 the Committee—or, more properly, the Federal
Reserve Bank of New York—had second thoughts. It recognized that,
despite stable money raites, economic conditions would lead to uncertainty in determining the future course of monetary policy. A memorandum prepared for the Committee at the New York Bank stated
It is not easy to explain the recent recession in business. There has been no
general overproduction nor credit stringency . . . (In fact) in recent months
the volume of credit has been increasing more rapidly than appears to have
been required for the needs of business . . .

The memo, also noted that, "while the figures show a distinct recession in business" despite the easy-credit policy of 1927, "they do not
show anything approaching a depression"; that "while industrial employment has decreased 5 or 6 percent since a year ago, there are no
indications of serious unemployment"; and finally, that "the present
almost unanimous opinion that business is likely to improve as the year
advances appears to have some justification." The real problem, the
memorandum stated, was the rate of increase in the volume of bank
credit, which "appears to have been much more rapid than was reR. Wicker, Federal Reserve Monetary Policy, 1917-1988, New York, Random
°»UMImites o§Pthe Open Market Investment Committee, November, 1927, FBI File 333.D.2.


quired by the growth of trade this year in view of recessions in many
branches of business." 3
As this statement implies, the real-bills doctrine continued to dominate monetary policy, and moreover, the issue of a qualitative approach to credit control was being revived within the System because
of the rise in the use of securities as loan collateral. Governor Strong
had a distinct aversion to qualitative tests and to the policy of moral
suasion, and had succeeded in demonstrating the virtues of a quantitative approach through open market operations. But, as the
memorandum reveals, officials at the New York Bank realized that
the Federal Keserve would have to find some way of controlling the
rise of bank credit for speculative purposes. The initial response from
Governor Strong indicates that, as in 1920, he probably would have
favored the quantitative approach involving an abrupt increase in
rates to levels high enough to break the market boom, followed by an
easing action of the magnitude undertaken belatedly in 1922. Strong
died in October, 1928, and this maneuver was not actually proposed
by the New York Bank until February, 1929.
1. Policy after the 1926-27 recession
While various proposals were being considered by the Open Market
Investment Committee, other factions within the System had initiated
an abrupt reversal of policy similar to the policies which were followed in the aftermaths of the recessions of 1920-21 and 1923-24. The
Chicago and Richmond Banks raised their rates to 4 percent with
Board approval on January 5 and 27 respectively. The discount rate
went from a uniform 3y2 percent at all 12 Banks at the beginning of
1928 to 5 percent at 8 of the Banks by August. In contrast discount
rates dropped from 6 percent in the summer of 1921 to 4 ^ percent in
the spring of 1922.4
Despite the magnitude of the shift, the Federal Reserve Board had
acquiesced to the various proposed rate increases with reluctance.
Both the Board and the Open Market Committee had agreed, early
in January, on the need to work "towards somewhat firmer money
conditions," but had proposed sales of securities as aai alternative to
rate increases.5 Between January 12 and February 1, 1928, $150 million of assets were sold but, given the action of the Chicago and Richmond Banks, all the remaining banks except Cleveland raised their
discount rates to 4 percent in February. The Board then opposed further sailes. Nevertheless, in April the portfolio was reduced by an
additional $119 million and the action served as a prelude, not an
alternative, to a further rate increase.
On April 18, the Boston Bank's application for an increase to 4i/>
percent was approved. The Bank presented its case in terms of "local
conditions," but in citing member bank indebtedness, it was understood that the Boston directors felt rate increases were in order to curb
stock market speculation.
The Richmond Bank followed with an increase to 4V> percent on
April 4, but had already undertaken other actions which made its
January 12, 1928 Memorandum to the Open Market Investment Committee. FRB File
Banking and Monetary Statistics, Washington, D.C., U.S. Board of Governors of the
Federal Reserve System, 1943. pp. 440-441.
Minutes of the Open Market Investment Committee, January, 1928, FRB File 333.b.2.

position quite clear. On April 12, its board had voted to sell Richmond's participation in the Open Market Investment Account. Citing
"country wide inflation of credit" and its conviction "that the National credit supply should be diminished," the Richmond board had
resolved "to acquit themselves of further responsibility for continued
credit expansion." In its communication to the Federal Reserve Board,
Richmond stated that it had "freely sold" its portion of the System
account "in an orderly manner," and would continue to sell "until the
purpose is achieved, so far as such action can achieve it," 6
At the Governors' Conference on May 1, 1928, Adolph Miller took
the position that open market sales must be discontinued; that it would
be preferable to raise the discount rate again, if necessary.7 Nevertheless, open market sales continued, the Committee recommending that
"it may still be necessary to exert further pressure on the credit situation . . ." By the end of May, the System account had been reduced
to $82 million and was further reduced to $75 million as the Committee continued to sell into mid-July. The Committee's objective was
to enforce the new discount rate by stabilizing rates at the higher
levels. On June 28, J. H. Case, acting chairman of the Committee
during Benjamin Strong's final leave of absence, wrote the new Board
Governor, Roy A. Young, that:
. . . no real need exists for a meeting [of the Open Market Investment Committee] at this time . . . [since] the present scale of interest rates is likely to
hold until the early part of July . . .8

While the Committee had thought its sales might be sufficiently effective to obviate the necessity for a further rate increase, the action
had, as before, made an increase inevitable. On July 11, the Board approved a 5 percenlt rate at the Chicago Bank. Other Reserve banks followed : New York and Richmond on the 13th, Atlanta on the 14th,
Boston and St. Louis on the 19th, and Philadelphia on the 26th.
Cleveland raised its raite on August 1, while the remaining banks—
Minneapolis, Kansas City, Dallas and San Francisco—maintained1 the
4y2 percent rate into the early months of 1929.9
Although interest rates were rising rapidly, there was a substantial
loss of gold during the first half of the year 1928 as European central
banks felt compelled to raise thdir rates even higher. Given the gold
outflow and the volume of sales from tlie System account, member
bank indebtedness increased to over $1 billion—the highest level since
1921. Many Reserve officials felt that pushing member banks indebtedness to this level had been beneficial in that there had been a definite
decline in the rate odf expansion of bank credit extended for brokers'
loans. They had not yet realized that the decline had been more than
offs'eit by a tremendous increase in loan funds supplied by non-bank
lenders—an increase of $750 million in the first six months of 1928.10
Reserve officials did realize, however, tlhat rising interest rates posed
a problem. At the July, 1928 meeting of the Open Market Committee,
the members drafted a statement of concensus which said ithat "present
money rates would not be wholesome if continued over %n extended
period." Governor S^ay of the Richmond Bank disagreed. In a l'eftter

Letter fuom Governor George J. Seay to Governor Young, April, 1928.
Wicker, op, <M.SJJ. 121.
Minutes of the Open Market Investment CommJetee, May, 1928. Letter from J. H. Case
to Governor Roy A. Young, June 28, 1928. FRB File 333.b.2.
» Banking and Monetary Statistics, p. 441.
Wicker, op. clt., p. 121.

to the new acting chairman of the committee, George Harrison, on
August 20, he wrote: "Nobody can conltend that busings in the aggregate has been hurt by current high rates for iruoney because business
has improved." Seay explained that interest rates were rising because
businessman themselves were speculating. Cautious and conservative,
he represented the views of a large faction in the banking community
when he argued that:
. . . the situation should remain such as to compel its release by those who have
absorbed credit for other than business purposes rather than putting more Federal Reserve funds into the market..."

2. Prelude to depression
As Governor Seay noted, business had improved. Despite a 5 percent
however, production still fell below the level of the winter of
1926-27. More significantly, employment fell in June, 1928 to the
lowest level since 1924. Unemployment, which had been 4.1 percent for
1927—tlte year in which the recession occurred—rose to 4.4 for the year
1928.13 Evidence of a continuation of recessionary tendencies troubled
those Reserve officials who anticipated a further reduction in business
inventories as a result of high rates. Edmund Platt, vice-governor of
the Federal Reserve Board, wrote Governor Young in July, 1928:
My own feeling is that no one can tell at this time just what may be indicated as
the right thing to do at that time [the fall]. I feel that we have gone a little further than necessary in selling Government securities.1*

The Board as a whole and the Open Market Investment Committee
agreed that some action should be taken if strain were to develop. But
purchases of Government securities were viewed as a last resort and
limited to $10 million. The Philadelphia Bank protested the inadequacy
of this policy and recommended "that the purchase of bills and Government securities be resorted to without waiting for an emergency."
Its board of directors were of the opinion that "the policy of the System should be directed to the helping of commerce and business." 15
The Board agreed that a little less restraint would be a good thing and
authorized the Reserve banks to purchase acceptances rather freely
and without an increase in the buying rate. The emphasis on purchases
of acceptances rather than Government securities reflects the prevailing real bills notion that the proceeds from such purchases would go
directly to legitimate business rather than the stock market. Regardless, there were no changes in discount rates or in the System portfolio
of Government securities for nearly a year—from August 1928 to July,
1929. Between August and November, 1928, however, the Reserve
banks bought $300 million of acceptances, and bought $171 million
more 16 November—the largest amount in any month since March,
The purchase of acceptances had been Governor Young's idea. He,
too, was under the impression that the money released would go into
Minutes of the Open Market Investment Committee, July, 1928. Letter from Governor
George J. Seay to Deputy Governor George L. Harrison, August 20, 1928. FRB File
13 Wicker, op. cit., p. 123.
Historical Statistics of the United States, Colonial Times to 1957, House Doc. No. 33,
86th Cong., 1st Sess., p. 73.
15 Letter from Edmund Platt to Governor Roy A. Young, July 18, 1928. FRB File 338.D.2.
Letter from Governor Young to Deputy Governor George L. Harrison, August, 1928.
Letter from Governor Nprris to Governor Young, August, 1928. FRB File 333.b.2.
" Wicker, op. cit., p. 125.

commercial loans rather than into the stock market, and failed to
appreciate fully the relationship between the purchase of bills, open
market rates and call money rates. Formerly the governor of the
Minneapolis Bank, his views tended to conform to those of a majority
of Reserve bank governors who felt safer within the confines of more
passive definitions of the System's function. Elevated to the governorship of the Board in 1927, his views are critical in assessing the performance of the System in 1928 and 1929. A significant expression of
those views was recorded by E. A. Goldenweiser in a comment on a
conversation he had with Governor Young on March 6,1929. Goldenweiser wrote:
I think that fundamentally what he has in mind is not that the Federal Reserve
banks can't do it, but that his instinct is that on the whole the Federal Reserve
banks will do best if they adjust themselves to events, rather than trying to shape
them. I have sympathy with that position, but there are times when leadership
is essential.17

Meanwhile, in January, 1929, leadership was assumed by Adolph
Miller who, with the support of Charles H. Hamlin, another Board
member, resinstated the policy of "direct action," or moral suasion,
which they had favored in 1919. The idea was to encourage discounting by member banks for legitimate commerical needs while discouraging borrowing "either for the purpose of making speculative loans
or for the purpose of maintaining speculative loans." 18 Those who
favored "direct action" were concerned about the effect of current high
rates on business but did not feel that the System could relax its tight
money policy until there had been a substantial reduction in the amount
of Federal Reserve credit extended for brokers' loans. Direct action
was seen as an alternative to rate increases.
As in 1919, this policy was opposed by the New York Bank which
held that it was not possible to make clear-cut distinctions as to the
purpose of member bank borrowing from the Reserve banks, that the
only effective test of credit control was in terms of the total amount of
Federal Reserve credit outstanding, and that the way to curb speculation was to raise the discount rate. As an alternative to direct action,
Governor Harrison argued on February 7,1929 for a sharp increase in
the discount rate—followed by a policy of ease—to bring the total volume of credit under control as quickly as possible. Elmus R. Wicker
notes that this policy had also been proposed by Governor Norman of
the Bank of England during his visit to New York and Washington a
week or so before. The Board was unwilling to adopt such a program
because it did not think the market could be broken without bringing
on a business recession.19
During the period in which the policy of direct action was tried—
from about mid-February to mid-May, 1929—loans to brokers declined
by $650 million at reporting member banks, stock prices fluctuated in
a narrow range, and Miller and Hamlin argued that the policy was a
success. While the policy of direct action may have contributed, contrary to its intention, to a rise in rates—the rate on prime commercial paper advanced from 5.38 percent in January to 6 percent in
Conversation between E. A. Goldenweiser and Governor Young, March 6, 1929.
(Qoldenweiser P&pers, Mbrary of Congress, quoted by Wicker, op. cit, p. 131).
uSixteenth Annual Report of the Federal Reserve Board (1929). p. 3.
Milton Friedman and Anna Jacobson Schwartz, A Monetary History of the United
States, 1867-1960, Princeton, N.J., Princeton University Press, 1963, p. 257. Wicker,
op. cit., p. 134.

June—the action of the New York Bank was the primary factor. In
January, New York had raised its buying rate for bills to encourage a
seasonal run-off and the result was a hefty $375 million decline in Federal 20
Eeserve bank purchases of bills over the first six months of the
year. Undoubtedly this sharp drop in purchases of bills contributed
to the decline in bank loans to brokers. Moreover, the action of the
Bank of England in raising its discount rate at the time must have
made a significant contribution toward achieving this objective. However, the question of which policy was, or could have been, more effective is irrelevant in assessing the total volume of credit extended to
the stock market during this period. As had been the case in 1928, the
restrictive action merely accelerated the flow of funds to the market
from non-bank sources.
Relations between the New York Bank and the Board had been
strained since New York raised the buying rate for bills at the beginning of January, 1929, contrary to Governor Young's wishes and
without consulting the Board. On February 14, the New York Bank
voted to recommend an increase in its discount rate to 6 percent, informed the Board by telephone, and demanded an immediate decision.21 The Board rejected the proposal as unnecessary in view of its
policy of moral suasion. The New York Bank submitted its application for a rate increase on ten subsequent occasions between March
and late May. Intermittently, the Boston, Philadelphia and Chicago
Banks also petitioned for rate increases and were turned down.
The Board's refusal to permit an advance in discount rates reflects the fact that even those who had little hope for moral suasion—
notably Governor Young and Vice Governor tlatt—were willing to
give it a chance. By May, these two and Secretary Mellon formed a
minority voting for rate increases. On May 22, officials of the New
York Bank appeared before the Board to argue for its rate increase
proposal. Their main point was that the only effect of direct action
had been to drive the member banks to borrow outside the System- at
higher rates. A more intransigent view was expressed in a memorandum to Governor Young from Gates McGarrah, chairman of the
board of the New York Bank and Federal Reserve agent, on May 31,
1929. McGarrah argued that it was necessary to "correct the widely
understood intimation of the Federal Reserve Board that collateral
loans are not a proper function of legitimate banking." 22
June and July passed without a change in policy. A majority of
the Federal Reserve Board still believed that the" policy of moral
suasion was effective and was in effect. The Reserve bank governors
had voiced opposition to the policy in April and a majority had gone
on record as favoring an advance in discount rates. By June, however, they were tess committed to the idea of a rate increase despite
overwhelming evidence that the speculative fever was unchecked. In
view of coming seasonal pressures as well as popular resentment
against any action that might topple a now spectacular speculative
structure, they no longer felt the system should undertake to raise its
discount rates without simultaneously otherwise providing a greater
* Wicker,more c o m p*t 135, Banking, and Monetary Statistic*, TO. 444* 450.
> r
opt cit., l e
J£2 <&«
P « account of this episode, see Friedman and Scnwartz, op. eit.,
p p . Bwv-I&ofJ. •

^Quoted by Wicker, op. eit., p. *40.

degree of monetary ease. There is, then, some question as to whether
or not the System's effort to curb borrowing for speculative purposes
by refusing accommodation was implemented with any real force during the early summer of 1929.
The policy which Governor Harrison proposed in June and which
was put into effect in August reflected the conceptual framework of
the Reserve bank governors and those on the Board—notably Young,
Platt and Secretary Mellon— who shared their views. They believed
that restrictive action by the System should be conducted with whatever care necessary to avoid a financial crisis, although how the
market could have been broken at this point without an ensuing stock
market crisis is difficult to understand. They were, however, convinced
that it was necessary to dampen speculative pressure. Had there been
legislation permitting the Federal Reserve System to set stock margin
requirements, the problem would have been simpler. Harrison's proposal called for an increase in the discount rate at the New York
Bank, a reduction in the buying rate for bills to encourage an enlarged
volume of purchases by the Reserve banks, and an authorization for
purchases of Government securities if necessary. The Board turned
down the proposal initially but, under pressure at its Joint Conference
with the governors in August, finally approved the request of the
New York Bank for a rate increase.23
The discount rate was raised to 6 percent at the New York Bank
on August 9, 1929, but the 5 percent rate remained in effect at the
other Reserve banks. Simultaneously, New York lowered the minimum
buying rate for bills from 5*4 to 5% percent and between August 7
and October 23, the Reserve banks purchased $300 million of acceptances.24 This period encompasses the peaking of the "bull market" to
the decline which climaxed abruptly on the 24th of October, Black
Thursday. On October 29, it became necessary to take further action
and, without waiting for an authorization, Governor Harrison bought
$132 million of Government securities,
Harrison was prepared to follow up the purchases of October 29
with additional purchases of up to $200 million. The Board, however,
refused to authorize further open market operations at this point,
believing that the System should emphasize a liberal discount policy.
Accordingly, the New York Bank's discount rate, which had been
lowered from 6 to 5 percent on November 1, was lowered again to 41/2
percent on November 15. The Boston and Chicago banks also lowered
their rates to 414 percent on November 21 and 23, and four other
Reserve Banks followed in December. Meanwhile, Harrison used an
earlier authorization to purchase approximately $100 million of Government securities for the System account between October 20 and
November 20, and in December, having gotten a new authorization
from the Board, the Committee bought $155 million more. There were
no further purchases of securities until March, 1930.25
3. Money supply: early 1928 to mid-1929
Monetary policy is often evaluated by changes in the quantity of
money. Actual growth rates in the money stock reflect both economic
Minutes of the Joint Conference of Governors with the Federal Reserve Board,
August 7,1929, pp. Iff. FRB File 333.b.2.
Wicker, op. cvt., p. 142.
Ibid., p. 145. Banking and Monetary Statistics, p. 441.

events (money demand) and policy (money supply). In principle,
however, the Federal Reserve has always had sufficient power to
make the growth rate whatever it wished, if not from week-to-week,
certainly over a year. The Federal Reserve has often failed to use this
power, choosing instead to act upon interest rates and other credit
variables, and thus money supply growth rates often emerged as a
result of the interaction of the Federal Reserve's credit policies and
the economic trends influencing money demand. Nevertheless, the
growth rate of the money stock is an important indicator of monetary
policy, for it can in principle be controlled. A growth rate below 2
percent per year is considered dangerously depressionary if it continues for very long. In the period before the great depression
this was allowed to happen. The money stock reached $26.6 billion in
April, 1928, five months after the 1926-1927 recession. It fell below
this level until July, 1929 when it reached $26.7 billion. In August
and September it fell back first to $26.5 and then to $26.4 billion.
The stage was thus set.




It is doubtful that yet another detailed examination of the actions
of the Federal Reserve System during the early years of the Depression would contribute to the understanding of monetary processes. It
would appear more useful to examine the institutional disarray which
ensued. That this confusion represented a structural weakness in the
System and not merely the "state of the art" is a view expressed a
generation later by Professor Milton Friedman:
So far, I have listed two main technical defects of an independent central bank
from an economic point of view; first, dispersal of responsibility, which promotes shirking in times of uncertainty and difficulty, and second, an extraordinary dependence on personalities, which fosters instability arising from accidental shifts in the particular people and the character of the people who are in
charge of the system.1

1. Triumph of the real Mils doctrine
The conditions which Professor Friedman describes all but assured
that the System would not assume an active role in seeking means to
alleviate the economic disaster which followed the crash. It had assumed a quasi-legislative function in defining its own structure, and
was in the process of reorganizing the open market mechanism during
the early months of 1930. Since the decision to replace the Open
Market Investment Committee with one which would include all 12
Reserve bank governors was made in the latter part of 1928, the timing
appears to have been accidental, but the effects of the change were not.
In 1935, the House Banking and Currency Committee was to describe
the Open Market Policy Conference as a body "authorized to formulate policies but not to put them into effect." The House Committee
noted that approval for a given policy was required of a majority of
the Board and of the 108 directors of the 12 Reserve banks, with any
one or more of the banks having the right to decline to participate in
transactions. It commented that:
It would be difficult to conceive of any arrangement better calculated than this
for diffusing responsibility and creating an elaborate system of obstructions.2

Although Congress had specified its intention that the policy-making body within the System not be dominated by a banking point of
view,3 creation of the Open Market Policy Conference assured that
the opposite would occur. The 12 governors of the Reserve banks now
Milton Friedman, "Should There Be An Independent Monetary Authority?" ; In Search
of A Monetary Constitution, Leland B. Yeager (ed.), 1962. Inserted in The Federal
Reserve System After Fifty Years, hearings before the Subcommittee on Domestic Finance
of 2the House Committee on Banking and Currency, 88th Cong., 2nd Sess., Vol. 2, p. 1172.
3 H. Rept. No. 742 to accompany H.R. 7617, 74th Cong., 1st Sess., April 19, 1935, p. 10.
The specification in the original Federal Reserve Act of 1913 that 2 members of the
Board be "experienced in banking or finance," was a concession to the banking lobby
which had fought to have bankers dominate the System's management. Debate on this
section (section 10) indicated, however, that it was intended that no more than 2 of the 7
members of the Board be bankers. In 1922, an 8th member was added to the Board, to
represent agricultural interests, and in 1935, the requirement that 2 members be
experienced in banking or finance was removed altogether.


had an equal voice with the Federal Reserve Board in making policy
and could control its implementation more effectively than could the
Board. The governors were all drawn from the banking community
and were indirectly selected by the member banks. They were totally
independent of the Board or of any other Government agency. With the
enhancement of their position vis-a-vis the Board, the System tended
to resemble a bankers' cooperative of the sort described in the 1912
Aldrich central bank proposal.
With the ties between the System and the banking community
drawn tighter, the point of view narrowed considerably. The real bills
doctrine which, though discredited by the bitter experience in 19201921, continued to influence policy throughout the 1920s, emerged now
almost unchallenged as the doctrinal basis for decision-making by the
System. The result was catastrophic. Because the needs of trade were
down and declining, the emphasis of monetary policy was on liquidation. While many saw the System's policies as actively favoring the
creditor at the expense of the debtor, to Reserve officials it seemed
merely a matter of safety, of protecting the banking system from
making illiquid unsound loans. Unfortunately for both the economy
and the banking system, the choice of such a framework for policy did
positive harm. Aside from prescribing a passive, non-interventionist
role for the System, it led to contraction rather than expansion of the
money supply. The money stock declined from $26.7 billion in July,
1929 to $19.1 billion in July, 1933.
In retrospect, it is generally conceded that the System could have
made no more drastic error in judgment except to raise the discount
rate. Unfortunately, it did that, too, in the fall of 1931. Most commentators have held that the System's errors were due to ignorance.
Still, as Elmus R. Wicker has noted, there had been almost no change
in the management of the individual Reserve banks,4 and thus both
the successes and the failures of the previous decade should have
served as precedents for action. Moreover, there were many proposals
for countercyclical operations. Their rejection reflects a loss of confidence rather than ignorance. The System no longer acted as an independent agency capable of exerting leadership and formulating
policy. Reacting to failure, it was content merely to assume the intellectual myopia of others. Because of its structure at this point in its
history, it assumed an obligation to represent the member banks and
to reflect the concensus view of the financial community. Thus the
triumph of the real bills doctrine. It could be argued that the choice
of any other special interest group as a constituency would have led to
policies no. less beneficial to the public at large. But the point is that
the myopia of the banking community is the real bills doctrine and that
using it as the basis for determining monetary policy is disastrous,
leading to overexpansion of money and credit in inflation and to catastrophic liquidation when the needs of trade decline as they did after
2. Resume of policy
The fact that the System had rejected a countercyclical policy became apparent in the spring of 1930. Reductions in discount rates had
* Elmus R. Wicker, Federal Reserve Monetary Policy, 1917-1933, New York, Random
House, 1966, p. 195.

resumed in February and by March, the New York Bank had lowered its rate to 3% percent with rates of 4 and 4% percent at the other
Eeserve banks. At the March meeting of the Open Market Policy
Conference, Governor Harrison of the New York Bank made no effort to press for a large volume of purchases of government securities
and a majority of Eeserve officials indicated an unwillingness to purchase even a small amount. As a result, purchases of only $50 million
followed. In June, the Conference again authorized purchases of $50
million. Meanwhile, there were further reductions in discount rates
and by August, ten of the Eeserve banks had 3% percent rates, the
Boston Bank had lowered its rate to 3 percent and New York's rate
was down to 2% percent.5
By September, 1930, it was clear that there would be no substantial
deviations from the old "needs of trade" doctrine. Prior to the September 25,1930 meeting of the Open Market Policy Conference, Governor
Harrison circulated a proposal advocating countercyclical operations,
but not involving "any very large amount" of purchases. In view or
Harrison's belief that "the seriousness of the present depression is so
great," it was a modest proposal.6 Nevertheless, a majority of the
Eeserve bank governors opposed it and it was voted down at the Con5
IMd.y pp. 150, 152, Banking and Monetary Statistics, Washington, D.C., U.S. Board of
Governors of the Federal Reserve System, 1943, p. 441.
Governor Harrison's views at the beginning of the year were expressed in a letter to
Governor Black of the Atlanta Bank on January 10,1930 :
". . . there is no need at this time for any further purchases of Government securities.
On the other hand, there are a number of factors in the situation which make us believe
that there is no need just now for any sales from the System account . . ." (FRB File
Memorandum from Governor George L. Harrison, addressed to all 12 Reserve bank
governors, July 3, 1930. FRB File 333.C.1.
The following are further excerpts from this memorandum :
" . . . I write to you outlining some of the reasons why the Federal Reserve Bank of
New York has for so many months favored having the Federal Reserve System do everything possible and within its power to facilitate a recovery of business."








"They do feel, however, that further purchases of Government securities in circumstances such as the present can do no possible harm and will likely accomplish some good.
"As they view the situation it is about this: The United States and most other countries
of the world are in the midst of a severe business depression. The decline in business
activity has been great as judged by almost every available index. Unemployment is
"While it is no doubt true that this depression is, in part at least, the result of causes
quite unrelated to monetary conditions and clearly outside the control of the Reserve
System, there are nevertheless some aspects of the situation with respect to which the
Reserve System has a direct responsibility . . . it is also true that underconsumption, due
to credit restrictions and high rates during 1928 and 1929, a stoppage of the flow of
capital, and an interruption of economic activity in many sections of the world, has also
been an important factor in the present depression."
"Anything, therefore, that can be done to stimulate economic activity and thus provide
a market for that surplus, however great or however small, will be a steadying influence
and a vital factor in the recovery of prices and business."
"In previous business depressions recovery has never taken place until there has
been a strong bond market through which new enterprise requiring long time capital may
be financed. So while there is no considerable demand from business for short time money
at the present time, and short time money may be said generally to be plentiful and cheap
in many sections of the country and other parts of the world, there is nevertheless a
large demand for long time capital for new undertakings. The bond market has in the
past several months been able to absorb a very considerable volume of these new issues
but it is not yet vigorous nor is it able to supply all of the funds which legitimate business,
both at home and abroad, so much demands."
"This may not involve any very large amount of further purchases, but our directors
feel that additional purchases at the present time are not only desirable but necessary
if the System is to do its utmost for the accommodation of business and trade.
"So while there may be no definite assurance that open market operations in Government securities will of themselves promote any immediate recovery, we cannot foresee
any appreciable harm that can result from such a policy and believe that the seriousness
of the present depression is so great as to justify taking every possible step to facilitate

ference. The view of the majority was reflected in a memorandum
read to the Conference by Governor Norris of the Philadelphia Bank:
We have always believed that the proper function of the System was1 well expressed in the phrase used in the Tenth Annual Report of the Federal Reserve
Board (1923)—"The Federal Reserve supplies the needed additions to credit
in times of business expansion and takes up the slack in times of business recession." We have therefore necessarily found ourselves out of harmony with

the policy recently followed of supplying unneeded additions to credit in a time

of business recession, which is the exact antithesis of the rule above stated.
[Emphasis supplied.]

The genesis of this return to the "real bills" doctrine is nicely expressed in the remorseful homily that followed:
The consequences of such an economic debauch are inevitable. We are now
suffering them. Can they be corrected or removed by cheap money? We do not
believe that they can. We believe that the correction must come about through
reduced production, reduced inventories, the gradual reduction of consumer
credit, the liquidation of security loans, and the accumulation of savings through
the exercise of thrift. These are slow and simple remedies, but just as there is
"no royal road to knowledge," we believe that there is no shortcut or panacea
for the rectification of existing conditions. We do entertain, however, the belief
that the declines of commodity prices and in employment have about run their
course and that the foundations for business revival have already been laid.

The same Governor Norris who first proposed countercyclical operations in 1921, fought the Treasury's policy of sales in 1923 and had
recommended in August, 1928 "that the purchase of bills and Government securities be resorted to without waiting for an emergency,"
This (countercyclical) policy has interfered with the operation of the natural
law of supply and demand in the money market, and has created artificially
low interest rates, and artificially high prices for government securities. It is
open to the same objections which the Treasury urged in 1922 to the purchase
of governments which the Federal Reserve Banks were making at that time.
It is an injustice to our member banks. [Emphasis supplied.] 7

Consistent with the real bills doctrine is the notion that central
banks should use interest rates as the target of monetary policy—the
vehicle for transmitting their actions to the economy. Thus, expansion
of credit and money was justified even in inflation provided rates
were high, and conversely, contraction of credit and money was,
if not justified, at least not to be resisted even in a general economic
downturn if rates were low. Bagehot's so-called golden rule of central
banking would not be violated in either case. The Open Market Policy
Conference of September, 1930 voted to focus on interest rates, without
recognizing or at least noting the fact that it violated counterc}^clical
policy given prevailing trends. The manager of the account was authorized to buy or sell up to $100 million of securities, "to maintain
the present easy money rate position in the principal money centers,"
with the restriction that "further easing" be avoided.
Minutes of the Open Market Policy Conference, September 25, 1930, pp. 1, 2 and 4.
FRB File 333.C.2, See also footnote 15, chapter IX.
In his memoirs, former President Herbert Hoover describes these views as belonging
to a school of thought—the "leave it alone liquidationists"—headed by Secretary of the
Treasury Andrew Mellon:
'*. . . who felt that government must keep its hands off and let the slump liquidate
itself. Mr. Mellon had only one formula: 'Liquidate labor, liquidate stocks, liquidate the
farmers, liquidate real estate.' He insisted that, when the people get an inflation brainstorm, the only way to get it out of their blood is to let it collapse. He held that even
a panic was not altogether a bad thing. He said: 'It will purge the rottenness out of the
system. High costs of living and high living will come down. People will work harder,
live a more moral life. Values will be adjusted, and enterprising people will pick up the
wrecks from less competent people.' " (The Great Depression, 1929—19^1, The Memoirs
of Heroert Hoover, New York, The MacMillan Co., 1952, p. 30).

Adolph Miller argued against this policy directive on the grounds
that, "in times of depression, particularly, a money rate is a very imperfect indicator of the true state of credit." He told the Conference:
. . . Money is sleeping and it is conceivable that a part of a constructive
program is to wake it up and make it do something and that you may be misled
into a false sense of the soundness of the general money situation because rates
are low.8

Miller's attempts to galvanize the System were met with resistance
in another form as well. Most officials refused to acknowledge the
gravity of the situation and saw an upturn in business "just around
the corner." Miller, however, sensed a pessimism so pervasive as to
preclude a constructive effort. As he told the governors: "You accept
the fact that the present depression at this time has reached a point
beyond the remedial measures of a credit policy alone." 9 The Minutes
of the August 4,1931 meeting of the Conference's executive committee
illustrate the accuracy of the insight:
. . . Governor Harrison summarized the position with regard to purchases of
governments by saying that, admitting the world was in the midst of a social, economic and political crisis, the question was whether there was anything the
Federal Reserve System could do. If by the purchase of Government securities
it could facilitate an increase in world prices, clearly it should be done. It is
doubtful whether a purchase of governments would have such an effect, at
least immediately, but the question is whether in the present crisis, which involves perhaps a struggle between socialism and capitalism, the System can
wisely omit doing anything which might be helpful and which a growing number of responsible people believe would be helpful.10

In view of the attitude of helpless uncertainty which this statement
reveals, it is understandable as a psychological reaction that Eeserve
officials would jump at the opportunity to make an orthodox response.
The decision to raise discount rates in October, 1931—from V/2 P e r "
cent to 31/2 percent at the New York Bank—followed the conventions
of sound central banking practice and proved them to be, as Benjamin
Strong had discovered precisely a decade earlier, inappropriate in the
s Minutes, OMPC, September 25, 1930, pp. 5, 9-14.
Adolph Miller had not favored an aggressive open market policy during: the 1920's but
tended to accept a countercyclical orientation which relied on rate levels. He and
Senator Robert Owen had argued in 1920 that inflation be controlled by increasing production and introduced the policy of "moral suasion" to control lending for speculative
purposes. Such a policy required that rates be stabilized at relatively low levels.
As a member of the original Board appointed by President Wilson in 1913 who served
continuously until the Board's reorganization in 1935, Miller played an important role
in the System's early development. He was overshadowed by Benjamin Strong and the
clash of personalities and struggle for control may well have distorted Miller's development as a monetary theorist. Even so, his analytic approach made a significant contribution to the intellectual history of the System. While not an active innovator, he was as
quick as Strong to sense obsolescence.
During the early years of the depression, Miller was probably the only official within
the System who was qualified to make policy recommendations. In August, 1931, he made
a special plea for "bold, experimental use" of open market operations, "skeptical as he
might be toward Open Market Policy as an instrument of the Federal Reserve System"
(Minutes of the OMPC, August 11, 1931, p. 6. FRB File 33.C.2). He joined Secretary
Mills in pressing again for action at the April 12, 1932 Conference (Minutes, p. 2, FRB
File 333.C.2) ; favored the purchases made in that year, but saw the need for action
on a broader scale—in terms of direct Government assistance to industry rather than
reliance on the credit system alone (Minutes, OMPC, May 17, 1932, p. 5. FRB File 333.C.2).
In March 1933, he urged the Board to support President Hoover's suggestion for issuing
clearing housing certificates—not an original idea, but a means by which the Board
might have acted to head off the crisis. When the Board postponed a decision on the
matter and, in effect, declined to take any action, Miller commented "that this inertia
made him feel that the whole Board should be reorganized." (Wicker, op. dt., p. 191).
Unfortunately for the country, Miller and Hoover had much in common. Both were
thoughtful and intelligent men, capable of constructive suggestion. Their common weakness was a tendency to acquiesce to a role in which they constantly urged that action be
taken by others.
10 Minutes, OMPC, September 25, 1930, p. 11. FRB File 333.C.2.
Minutes of the Executive Committee of the OMPC, August 4, 1931, p. 2. FRB File

context of economic policy. As the Minutes of the January 1932 meeting of the Conference observed, the results were a further decline in
business activity and employment, in commodity prices, in security
prices and in bank credit, with a further increase in bank failures.
Nevertheless, the Executive Committee reported cheerfully that:
The heavy gold outflow of the early autumn has been followed by a renewed
inflow, so that the monetary gold11stock of the United States is only about
$135,000,000 smaller than a year ago.

In January, 1932, the System began gradually to reduce discount
rates but did not permit rates to decline to levels as low as those of
September, 1931—when the rate at the New York Bank was iy2 percent—until February, 1934. Meanwhile, in January, 1932, the Open
Market Policy Conference reopened the question of taking action and,
in view of the continuing decline in business, employment, etc., authorized the Executive Committee to purchase $200 million of securities if necessary. Apparently the conditions which would constitute
a situation of necessity were not made clear or did not occur. No substantial purchases were made and, at the April 12, 1932 Conference,
the administration informed the System that its patience had been
Secretary Mills, who had entered the meeting after it had begun stated that
he believed a great duty now rested on the Federal Reserve System; that Congress and the Administration had done all they could in developing remedial
action, and yet deterioration was taking place steadily. For a great central
banking system to stand by with a 70% gold reserve without taking active steps
in such a situation was almost inconceivable and almost unforgivable. The resources of the System should be put to work on a scale commensurate with the
existing emergency."

In the face of this political pressure, it was agreed that the system
should make purchases of up to $500 million of governments. The
amount suggested was approximately the same amount that had been
purchased by the System during the mild recessions of 1923-24 and
1926-27. In May, however, the Conference voted to authorize purchases
of an additional $500 million and between mid-April and mid-June
1932 approximately $850 million were bought.13 At this point, the System encountered a new problem. Despite the substantial additions to
reserves, member banks were unwilling to either expand their loans
or repay their borrowings to the System. The System's purchases
created excess reserves held as cash balances by a majority of member
banks who chose to protect their liquidity. System officials did not
understand and gave up. This was unfortunate. Banks' demand for
excess reserves clearly had risen but probably had not become indefinitely large. Though we can never know, it seems reasonable to believe that the System could have increased its purchases sufficiently to
satisfy banks' demands for liquidity and more—to stimulate loan expansion and expansion of the money stock and business activity as well.
At the June 16, 1932 meeting of the Conference, it was decided to
make purchases under the unexpired authorization in small amounts—
just enough—
Memorandum from the Executive Committee of the OMPC, January 8, 1932, pp. 1-2.
FRB File 333.C.2.
12 Minutes, OMPC, April 12, 1932, p. 3. FRB File 333.C.2.
Wicker, op. cit., p. 182.

. . . to show an increase from week to week in total holdings of Government
securities in order to avoid the creation of a feeling that the policy of the system
had been changed, but that such increases should be in amounts as small as might
be, to preserve these excess reserves and take care of special conditions arising
from week to week.14

The Conference authorized purchases of an additional $200 million
of governments at the July 14 meeting, but again purchases were to
be made in small amounts over a period of time. By August 10, purchases had ceased. As the Executive Committee's report of November
14,1932 stated:
. . . it was no longer necessary to make further purchases of Government
securities for the System account in execution of the program, adopted at that
time, and purchases under that program totaled only $30,000.15

The minutes of the November 15, 1932 meeting of the Open Market
Policy Conference read as follows:
All of the Members of the Conference were of the opinion that there is no
occasion to buy more securities at the present time. The question for the decision
of the Conference, therefore, was whether the System should now sell some of its
present holdings or leave the account stationary.16

The fact that all the Members of the Conference agreed that no
further purchases were necessary seemed to vindicate those who had
opposed the policy. In such an atmosphere, a proposal for sales was
more than a hypothetical alternative. The real bills framework as a
guide to policy justified sales. Further, a majority of Reserve officials
were unhappy with the level of excess reserves which, they halucinated,
might suddenly become the basis for a runaway inflation. Fortunately,
the administration continued to put pressure on the System to take
constructive action despite its defeat in the November elections, and
was probably responsible for preventing an abrupt reversal of policy.17
As it was—with no decisive action taken—there was further deterioration.18 What was probably the bottom of the depression was reached
in the first quarter of 1933, together with a collapse of the banking
" Minutes, OMPC, June 16, 1932, p. 2. FRB File 333.C.1.
Report of the Executive Committee of the OMPC, November 14, 1932. p. 1. FRB File
Minutes, OMPC, November 15,1932, p. 1. FRB File 333.C.2.
There are numerous accounts of President Hoover's refusal to take responsibility for
declaring a banking holiday without the concurrence of President-elect Roosevelt. It
should be noted, however, that between November and February, Hoover sent a steady
stream of communications to the Federal Reserve Board pressing for action and requesting
advice on various proposals, such as a Federal guarantee for bank deposits. The Board
refused to act or to support any of the various proposals suggested until, in the final
moments of his administration, they suggested to the President that a banking holiday
be declared. Hoover's sense of frustration, as revealed in the letter he wrote Governor
Eugene Meyer on March 3, seems imminently justified. (The letter and an account of
the relations between the President and the Board may be found in Wicker, op. cit.,
pp. 184-195). In his Memoirs he concluded that the Board "was indeed a weak reed for a
nation to lean on in time of trouble." (Hoover, op. cit, p. 212.)
Actually the System did sell some securities to offset the return flow of currency.
The result was a weakened long-term bond market. A target level for excess reserves
was chosen, however, and again the System was careful to maintain the appearance that
no change in policy had occurred. (Wicker, op. cit., p. 185.)




Proponents of independence for the Federal Reserve System have
always argued that the success of monetary policy depends on the
absence of political pressure. Indeed, devices for insulating the System
from political pressure were debated and incorporated into the enacting legislation in 1913. Implied in such an arrangement is the suspicion that a political institution such as the Federal Government has
interests which do not always coincide with the public interest. It has
been argued that monetary policy in 1928—the balancing of an increase
in discount rates against large purchases of acceptances—reflects some
response to the presidential election of that year. But this hypothesis
appears far-fetched. The System's 1928 policy was consistent with and
indeed a natural corollary of the real bills doctrine—the theoretical
base of monetary policy, as was earlier discussed. On the other hand,
the behavior of the System during the early years of the depression
indicated to some that there was no guarantee that the System would
act in the public interest except as the result of political pressure. This
argument appears less remote.
Whether beneficent or not, political or popular pressure would
appear to be inevitable given the impact and significance of the System's actions. Moreover, if or whenever this is not the case, there are
other more parochial forces which shape monetary events. The System
has seldom been able to ignore the vital interests of its member banks,
even when their needs are at odds with the interests of the nation as
a whole. Further, the structure of the System encouraged internal
conflicts (for example, between the Board and Reserve bank governors) which, because of the aversion of Reserve officials to Congressional supervision, were never settled by appeal to a higher authority.
Thus, the problem of determining the responsibility of officials who
were not truly elected or appointed compounded the lack of a clear-cut
mandate for policy objectives. Finally, as economic events in the
United States interacted more obviously with events abroad, international problems exerted an increasing influence on monetary policy.
While it should be noted that here, more than in these other instances,
no real conflict of interest could be involved, intensive but somewhat
secretive consultations between System officials and foreign central
bankers in the late 1920's fed the suspicions of a growing number of
people who thought American prosperity and stability were sacrificed to overseas interests and "international capitalism."
1. The triumph of interest rates as the target variable and the forces
influencing interest rate policy
A recapitulation of some events of the 1920?s in the context of the
political environment which shaped them may be useful in tracing the
development of Federal Reserve independence and indicating some


of its drawbacks. The argument for an independent System was made
by Governor W. P. G. Harding of the Board, Secretary of the Treasury
Andrew Mellon, and Governor Benjamin Strong of the New York
Bank in various appearances before Congressional Committees during
the 1920's. The appeal was for freedom from Congressional as well
as administrative intervention with Secretary Mellon's testimony,
paradoxically in view of his own efforts to influence System policy,
offering assurances of the administration's disinterest. It helped to
defeat the so-called stabilization bills of the period which would have
constrained the System with a Congressional directive making price
stability the target for System policy. The result of this defeat for
Congressional oversight was not only that the System was free to
choose its own guides for policy, but that it was able to make political
responses of its own choosing.
The target variable which the System consistently used as a guide
for policy throughout the 1920's was the level of interest rates. The
overall objective of System policy was to maintain sound financial
conditions. To most Eeserve officials, stable rates were both an indicator
and a guarantee of sound conditions. Within this context, the condition of member banks was another indicator and, despite an abnormally high percentage of failures among small banks in agricultural
regions, member bank ratios of net profits to capital accounts were
maintained at relatively high levels throughout the decade. The effect
of this policy, with a policy target so closely related to bank earnings,
was to tie the System more closely to the banking community. In this
sense, the System may be said to have chosen its own constituency,
although provision for the election of a majority of the directors of
the Eeserve banks by the member banks may have made the choice
inevitable. Commenting on this relationship, Professor Milton Friedman has said:
I think it has been an unfortunate thing that we have had a Reserve bank
which has been as closely linked to the banking community and to the lending
and investment process as it has, not at all because the individuals are trying
to feather their own nests, not for that reason, but because they naturally
interpreted the instrument they were dealing with in terms of the environment
they knew best and were most familiar with.1

A second consideration which influenced the determination of rate
levels was the System's commitment to reinstating an international
monetary standard. In his analysis of Governor Strong's involvement
witli foreign central banks, Lester V. Chandler has ably refuted the
charge that Strong acted without the knowledge or approval of the
Federal Reserve Board and the administration. The international stabilization policies devised by Strong and Governor Montagu Norman
of the Bank of England called for agreements between central banks
as opposed to Governments because, as they saw it, the first step toward
stabilizing European currencies was to rid central banks of the burden
of underwriting Government debt. This did not mean, however, that
these programs were undertaken outside a governmental context. The
"altruistic" nature of the policy is reflected in Governor Norman's
efforts to allay any suspicion of promoting English financial interests
The Federal Reserve System After Fifty Years, Hearings before the Subcommittee on
Domestic Finance of the House Committee on Banking and Currency. 88th Cong.. 2nd
Sess., February-March, 1964, Vol. 2, p. 1165.

by using a committee of the League 2of Nations to implement his stabilization plans for several countries.
A majority of Reserve officials actively favored some program for
international monetary stabilization and it was noted within the System that these objectives could best have been accomplished through
United States participation in the League. When in 1921 Governor
Strong first proposed that the System participate with other central
banks in an exchange stabilization fund, the Eeserve bank governors
gave him a vote of confidence which was not subsequently rescinded.
The Board in effect sanctioned the efforts of the New York Bank in
1923, reprimanding the Boston Bank for refusing to participate in
accounts for foreign central banks held on a System-wide basis and
expressing the view that "the policy of establishing relations with foreign central banks . . . (is) desirable and in the public interest." 3
Meanwhile, the Government's position on the problem of war debts
indicates a similar concern for international financial cooperation.
Whether or not the commitment to an altruistic international program
was sufficiently strong to have motivated the easy money policies of
1924 and 1927 as Wicker contends, or were merely an additional argument for policies conceived in terms of domestic needs as Friedman
and Schwartz have argued, it could not have been implemented in an
atmosphere devoid of political responsibility.
On the domestic front, the administration maintained the appearance of benevolent disinterest in the direction of monetary policy.
Secretary of the Treasury Mellon was, however, no less responsive to
the needs of the financial community than any other Federal Keserve
official, and may have been more so. At the beginning of his tenure as
Secretary, he used the office to rectify what he felt to be an unwarranted intrusion by the System into the affairs of the private banks.
He took the position—as did most bankers—that open market operations by the Reserve banks constituted a form of competition with their
member banks because of the effect on rate levels. Therefore, as was
earlier discussed, he had insisted on the formation of a central committee to handle these transactions for the Reserve banks and, between
May, 1922, and May, 1923, had forced the Committee to divest itself of
over $500 million of Government securities. Rates had risen substantially as a result of this action and the Secretary's policy during the
remainder of 1923 was directed toward maintaining the higher levels
and preventing any further purchases of securities by the individual
Reserve banks.
Lester V. Chandler, Benjamin Strong, Central Banker, Washington, D.C., The Brookings
Institution, 1958, pp. 379-380, 389.
Stenographic Record, October, 1921 Conference, pp. 721-741. Letter from W. P. G.
Harding, governor of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, to J. H. Case, Deputy Governor
of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, June 14, 1923. Letter from Case to Harding,
June 15, 1923. Letter from D. R. Crissinger, governor of the Federal Reserve Board, to
Case, June 16,1923 (FRB File 333.D.).
As the following excerpt indicates, the views of all interested parties were solicited in
formulating an official position on the subject of relations with foreign central banks:
"In response to a request for an expression of the views of the Board as to the
desirability of continuing the policy of establishing relations with foreign central banks,
Governor Crissinger stated that it was the view of the Board that these relations were
desirable and in the public interest. Ten of the Federal Reserve banks having expressed
the view that these arrangements were desirable, the Chairman was requested to have
the Federal Reserve Bank of New York send each month to all participating banks a
complete schedule of investments held for the account of foreign correspondents."
{Summary, Meeting of the Open Market Investment Committee, June 26, 1923, FRB

The Reserve bank governors had opposed the enforced sale of securities but were unwilling to engage in a confrontation with Secretary Mellon and the Board. With some bitterness, they absorbed their
losses on sales—as did the public at large—as the price of Governments
dropped, and watched their earnings dwindle from the loss of assets.
Some saw the recession which began in the fall of 1923 as a direct
result of this policy. With their backing, Governor Strong was able
to moderate Mellon's position and respond to the recession in the
summer of 1924. By the fall of that year it was agreed that open
market operations should be used to keep financial conditions on an
"even keel" and to stabilize rate levels.
For a few years, the choice of rate levels as a target variable solved
the problem of housing two opposing monetary theories within one
System. Those who favored a real bills approach—the large majority—sacrificed some purity of means for the sake of a congenial end
result. Meanwhile, tne small group of countercyclical enthusiasts accepted a financial framework for policy because for a while they
were able to maintain a given level of prices by controlling the level
of interest rates. There was, however, considerable disunity within
the System in the wake of a shift in the locus of control. Before the
formation of the first formal open market committee—an informal
committee of governors having been in existence since 1915—there
had been more or less a balance of power between the Governors' Conference and the Federal Reserve Board.
The formation of the Open Market Investment Committee in 1923
created problems for both groups. While it was nominally subordinate
to the Board, the Committee rapidly assumed the prerogative of
formulating policy as well as implementing it, leaving the Board
with a somewhat limited power of approval. Meanwhile the New York
Bank dominated the Committee to such an extent that the other
Reserve banks felt their needs and wishes were ignored. In November, 1924, three of the five members of the Committee—the governors
of the Boston, Philadelphia and Chicago Banks—voted for a proposal
which would have undermined the Committee's authority by permitting the individual Reserve banks to make autonomous purchases.
Although the proposal was lost on a 6 to 6 vote at the Governors'
Conference, the Boston Bank subsequently defied the Committee by
buying securities for earnings.
.2. The struggle for control of policy within the System
Secretary Mellon played a significant role in this three-way struggle
for power between the Board, the Governors' Conference and the Open
Market Investment Committee. (There was also, as has been noted, a
struggle for power within the Committee between the New York
Bank and the other Reserve banks.) Although he was an ex officio
member of the Federal Reserve Board, Secretary Mellon appears to
have found the attitudes and views of the Federal Advisory Council
more congenial and used the Council to dominate the Board. The
function of the Council was, and is, purely advisory. It represents the
member banks in making policy recommendations to the Board but
has no vote in System affairs. It was originally devised as a compromise
arrangement to appease those who had felt that there should be representatives of the member banks on the Board itself. Since many

Reserve officials had been commercial bankers before joining the System, tended to favor some form of representation for the member
banks, and were suspicious of a purely "political" Board, the Council
had a good deal of influence.
Its influence was further enhanced by the eminence of many of its
members. The first president of the Council was James B. Forgan,
president of the First National Bank of Chicago, and a former president of the American Bankers Association. The New York district
was represented during the early years by J. P. Morgan, and subsequently by Paul M. Warburg who served as president of the Council
during the 1920's. Warburg had been vice governor of the Board from
1916 to 1918 but apparently w^as far happier in the dual capacity of
private financier and policy advisor.
Warburg's position was wThat many Reserve officials would have
preferred. He, with Forgan, Morgan, Benjamin Strong and others
had been closely associated with the 1912 Aldrich central bank proposal
and had never wholly relinquished its structure as a model. The ideal
System from their point of view would have been more akin to a private corporation with a board of directors composed of eminent bankers and financiers, like the members of the Council, and a highly
competent manager like Benjamin Strong. During hearings on the
1922 amendment to add a representative of agricultural interests to
the Board—an amendment which the administration opposed—Secretary Mellon indicated that he, too, favored that sort of structure for
the System. He thought that "one man" might be able to4 "administer
all the business of those banks better than any board."
In 1923, Secretary Mellon arranged for a representative of the
Treasury to sit in on meetings of the Federal Advisory Council and
by 1924, Under Secretary Garrard B. Winston was a regular participant in its deliberations. Correspondence between Winston and Warburg reveals that Mellon used the Council as an ally when his views
were opposed by a majority of the Board. This arrangement raised
the status of the Council and tended to give a larger voice in System
affairs to officials more closely allied with private interests. Nevertheless, Secretary Mellon was extraordinarily sensitive to the appearance
of Treasury intervention in Federal Reserve policy. The Minutes of
Governors' Conferences during this period attest to his reluctance to
have his statements and comments on record.5
The major issue over which the appointed members of the Board
fought a losing battle with the Council and the Open Market Committee concerned the legality of repurchase agreements. The New York
Bank began making these agreements in 1919 as part of its efforts to
support a developing market for bankers' acceptances. Little notice
was taken of the practice until open market operations became an
important tool of policy and the Board realized the extent to which
its own prerogatives in formulating policy had been assumed by the
* Amendment to Federal Reserve Act, Hearings before the House Committee on Banking
and Currency, 67th Cong., 2nd Sess., March 15,1922, p. 8.
See Appendix B.
The status of the Federal Advisory Council is reflected in newspaper clippings of the
period preserved in Secretary Mellon's files in the National Archives. Reporting a meeting
of the Council, the May 13, 1924 issue of The New York Journal of Commerce announced:
"Advisory Council to Decide Rate Policy." The February 23, 1927 issue of the same paper
carried an article which reported that some businessmen wondered if the Council were
doing all that it should "in the directing of our banking system."

Committee. In 1925, Adolph Miller—who, in 1923, had successfully
pushed through the regulation requiring Board approval of the volume of purchases and sales by the Committee—took up the matter in
conjunction with his campaign to require Board approval of the minimum buying rate for bills. Secretary Mellon opposed Miller's position, which had the support of Board members Cunningham and
James, and got the Federal Advisory Council to bring pressure on the
Board to drop both issues.6
By 1926, however, a majority of the Board had become concerned
about the "pretty free access ox the dealers into the Federal Reserve
Bank with bills." A report prepared by Mr. Kenzel of the New York
Bank, the manager of the open market account, stated that a large
percentage of the total volume of purchases were bought directly from
dealers or under repurchase agreements. Reading the report, the governor of the Board, D. R. Crissinger, drafted a memorandum in which
he said that he wanted "the Board to understand the information is
surprising to me because I think Governor Strong stated that they
rarely bought from dealers, but occasionally did." Governor Crissinger
. . . you cannot always depend upon just what is said at an open market conference .7 . . the only reliable information in these Banks must come from the

A majority of the Board agreed with Crissinger and voted to take
a significant step toward bringing open market operations under closer
surveillance. It was agreed that meetings of the Committee should be
held in Washington and that the Committee should be required to
meet with the Board. Governor Crissinger notified Governor Strong
of the Board's action in the following terms:
It seems that the Board is under the impression that important argument
and much information is brought out at these meetings which they are in a sense
Correspondence between Garrard B. Winston and Paul M. Warburg, September 14
and September 15, 1923; February 11, February 12 and February 13. 1924; Mellon
files. National Archives.
This correspondence establishes the fact that there was no precedent for relations
between the Council and the Treasury and that, prior to 1924, no representative of the
Treasury had been present at Council meetings. The degree of interrelationship and the
extent to which it undermined the influence of the Board, is revealed in the February
1924, correspondence. Under Secretary Winston had written that he would be unable
to attend the February 16 meeting of the Council. Warburg replied (February 11) :
"There are a number of very knotty problems on the Council's agenda, which indicate
to me quite clearly that it would be most desirable to have you there, and on some of it
we may greatly desire the Secretary's (Mellon's) aid. It is quite a blow that you won't
be there to counsel with." Winston wrote back, requesting the agenda "so that I could
post the Secretary on it" but advised Warburg in advance of the issue which particularly
concerned the Treasury (February 12) :
"There has been a question raised recently in the Federal Reserve Board which considerably disturbs me. You will recall that something over a year ago, although no formal
request was made, the counsel for the Board gave an opinion that the repurchase agreements used by the Banks were illegal. Cunningham and James (Board Members) have
recently taken the position that these agreements should be stopped. Miller (Adolph Miller,
a Board member) takes the position that there is no justification for a rate for repurchase agreements differing from the discount rate. I think this is a subject which ought
not to come up for discussion nor decision. Repurchase agreements seems to me a quite
desirable means of maintaining a proper bill market in New York and are not prohibited
by the Federal Reserve Act. I have talked this over with the Governor (Crissinger), and, if
possible, the matter will be allowed to remain in status quo."
Warburg agreed (February JJ31) :
"These open market rates must be dealt with with a good deal of discretion and
elasticity," and, commenting on Miller's position—Miller thought changes in minimum
buying rates should be approved by the Board and announced in the same way discount
rate changes were announced—Warburg added that "if in each case the man in charge
would have to go through the red tape of securing the Board's approval to the change
and an official announcement, it would be fatal."
v Memorandum from E. R. Kenzel to the Open Market Investment Committee, "Practice
of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York in the Purchase of Bills in the Open Market,"
January 21, 1926. Memorandum from Governor D. R. Crissinger to Board Secretary Eddy,
January 31,1926. FRB File 333.b.

deprived of even though the action of the Committee is reported to the Board,
as has always been done.8

At its meeting of March 20, 1926, the Open Market Investment
Committee categorically rejected the Board's decision. No longer the
pawn of the Governors' Conference, the Board or the Treasury, it was
nevertheless careful in communicating its decision to emphasize an
awareness of its subordinate position. With the support of the Federal
Advisory Council, it was able to overcome the Board's objections and
prevent what it had termed "'an inadvisable restriction upon the
freedom of the committee." 9 It continued to meet in New York and
retained its independence until the latter part of 1928.
Meanwhile, the individual Keserve banks had also watched the
advancement of the Committee with reservations. While they had
chafed at the Board's power and tended to gravitate toward the views
of the banking community, there was a strong regionalist bias among
their boards and staffs, independent of the issue of public versus
private influence or policy orientation. The smaller Eeserve banks
resented the delegation of powers which affected their own individual
operations to a committee composed of the larger Eeserve banks. On
the other hand, several of the larger Eeserve banks objected to the
fact that Committee policy did not always represent the views of the
majority. The Boston, Philadelphia and Chicago Banks favored
making individual purchases to meet expenses. To overrule the position, the New York Bank had to appeal to the Board for support.
As a result, considerable antagonism had developed between the Eeserve bank governors and the Board which worked to the Committee's
For several years the position of the Eeserve banks and the Board
on open market operations remained irreconcilable. The banks wanted
the freedom to make individual purchases and the Board opposed
individual purchases. By 1928, however, this issue had been resolved
as the earning position of the Eeserve banks improved. The issue then
focused on control of policy. As the Chicago rate controversy of 1927
indicated, certain Board members and Eeserve bank governors had
recognized a community of interest in their relations with the Open
market Investment Committee. Although the Committee used the
Board in that instance to force the Chicago Bank into line, the fact
that Chicago was a member of the Committee clarified the issue for
many and focused the attention of both groups on the fact that the
Committee had served as a vehicle for the New York Bank's efforts
to gain control of the system.
The Eeserve bank governors favored a return to the old cooperative
system in which the Governors' Conference had had a voice in policy
equal to that of the Board. To the Board, too, it seemed that the old
arrangement was more acceptable. In the latter part of 1928 a basis of
agreement was reached between the two factions. The date is significant in that, with Governor Strong's death in October of that year, the
New York Bank was unable to retain control of the Committee. In
March, 1930, the Open Market Investment Committee was dissolved
and replaced by the Open Market Policy Conference. The Conference,
as its name implies, was an extension of the old Governors' Confer8

Letter from Governor Crissinger to Governor Strong, March 30, 1926, FRB File 333.b.
Minutes of the Open Market Investment Committee, March 20, 1926. FRB File 333.b.2.

ence in that all 12 Reserve bank governors were now members. The
Board's former prerogatives were also reinstated. Its governor was
made chairman of the Conference and empowered to call meetings,
and the new regulations specified that the Conference would meet in
Washington with the Board.
The effect of the reorganization of the open market committee was
to decentralize the System and minimize the influence of the New
York Bank. Unfortunately, another effect was to lengthen the odds
against open market operations being used as an instrument of countercyclical policy during the early years of the depression. The only
Reserve officials who favored such a policy were Governor George
Harrison of the New York Bank, Adolph Miller of the Board and—
after his appointment in February, 1932—Secretary of the Treasury
Ogden Mills. While these three often acted as spokesmen for the System, they were unable to exercise leadership. They dominated the
1931 Senate hearings on the Crash, creating the impression that the
System could and would react positively to the crisis. However, the
depression deepened and, as President Hoover concluded, the System
proved to be a "weak reed for a nation to lean on in time of trouble." 10
The former president was more outspoken in his assessment of the
origins of the depression. In his Memoirs, he wrote :
. . . I do not attribute the whole of the stock boom to mismanagement of the
Federal Reserve System. But the policies adopted by that System must assume
the greater responsibility.
The fact that action of such gigantic moment may be set on foot in a democracy, without adequate public consideration or check, emphasizes the dangers
of undue powers in the hands of mere individuals, governmental or private.11

To support his contention, Mr. Hoover quoted from a summary of
the views of Adolph Miller which appeared in the magazine Sphere in
July, 1935:
Mr. Miller, of the Federal Reserve Board, states that the easy credit policy
of 1927, which was father and mother to the subsequent 1929 collapse, was
originated by Governor Strong, of the New York Federal Reserve Bank, and
that it did not represent a policy either developed or imposed by the Board on
the Reserve Banks against their will.
The policy was the result of a visit to this country of the Governors of foreign
central banks who unequivocally stated in New York that unless the United
States did adopt it there would be an economic collapse in Europe. It was
a European policy, adopted by the United States.12

Thus, Mr. Hoover places the blame for soaring stock market prices,
the ensuing crash and the depression firmly at the feet of the Federal
Reserve System. One need not agree with these remarks to give the
position weight in appraising the relationship between the Federal
government and the monetary structure. Few would challenge the
view that an ill-advised monetary policy could precipitate and perpetuate such an economic disaster, even those who question its value
as a remedy for such an event. That Mr. Hoover would accuse Reserve
officials of misconduct of such far-reaching consequence is not without significance. The accusations of Mr. Miller only compound the
problem of determining responsibility. More significant is the fact
that an American president had called into question the scope and
purpose of the monetary instrument itself.
Herbert Hoover, The Great Depression, 1929-1941, The Memoirs of Herbert
New York, The MacMillan Co., 1952, p. 212.
u-Ibid.,v. 13.
Ibid., footnote 8, p. 13.





Between January and March, 1933, the System began to "drift," as
Adolph Miller put it. With conditions worsening, the Board postponed decisions and rejected even the most conservative suggestions,
such as the proposal for issuing clearing house certificates which President Hoover and Miller favored. Miller commented to a colleague,
C. S. Hamlin, that "this inertia made him feel that the whole Board
should be reorganized." 1 Shortly thereafter, a major piece of banking
legislation came before Congress, but the emphasis was on provisions
for deposit insurance. An effort was made to strengthen the Board's
supervisory powers to control the use of Reserve bank credit for speculative purposes and in foreign transactions, but there was no attempt
to reorganize the System. The Banking Act of 1933 merely sanctioned
changes which had already occurred, for the first time giving legal
recognition to the existence of an open market committee.
In March, 1933, the Nation watched with more than usual interest
the change in personnel after 12 years of administration by one party.
There were no changes in the Federal Reserve System because of its
insulation from political influence, and the majority of its personnel
had joined the System in the Wilson and Harding eras. The new political environment may have had some impact on the System, however.
It may have precipitated the resignation of Eugene Meyer, the Governor of the Board who, C. S. Hamlin reports, saw Roosevelt's election
as unlikely "to inspire confidence in the country." 2 Meyer's replacement was the governor of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, Eugene R. Black. Slightly more than a year later Black returned to his
former post and in November, 1934, President Roosevelt appointed
Marriner S. Eccles, a Utah banker serving in the Treasury, to head
the System.
1. Chairman Eccles' proposals.
In Eccles' opinion, the problem with the Federal Reserve System
was that it was largely controlled by private banking interests. He
was convinced that a complete legislative overhaul was necessary to
rid the System of these influences and make it effective. The responsibility for drafting legislation had been delegated, however, to a committee on which the Board was represented by only one member—"all
others," he writes in his autobiography, "represented the privatebanking viewpoint." This was only one area in which the original
powers of the Board had been eroded, but it represents the kind of distortion which occurred in the absence of governmental supervision.
^The Diaries of C. S. Hamlin, quoted by Elmus It. Wicker, Federal Reserve Monetary
Policy, 1917-1983, New York, Random House, 1966, p. 191.
*Ioid.,y. 185.


Eccles brought the matter before the Board and his proposal to abolish
the committee and recapture its powers was sustained.3
The reform measure drafted by Governor Eccles and members of
the Board's staff consisted of three separate titles. Title I modified and
made permanent the provisions for Federal deposit insurance enacted
in 1933; Title I I amended the Federal Eeserve Act; and Title I I I consisted of technical amendments to the National Currency Act, the
Federal Reserve Act, the Banking Act of 1933, and related statutes.
With certain exceptions, the provisions of Title I and Title I I I were
noncontroversial and were favored by the banking community. Opposition to Title I I was anticipated and it was hoped that combining the
three Titles would facilitate passage. ^
The provisions of Title I I are significant in the context of this narrative because they were an attempt to order and make rational the
experience of the two preceding decades. As reported by the House
Committee on Banking and Currency, the bill contained provisions
designed to accomplish the following objectives:
1. To increase the ability of the banking system to promote stability of employment and business, insofar as this is possible within the scope of monetary
action and credit administration.
2. To concentrate the authority and responsibility for the formulation of
national monetary policy in a body representing the general public interest.
3. To modify the structure of the Federal Reserve System to the extent necessary for the accomplishment of these purposes, but without interfering with
regional autonomy in matters of local concern.
4. To relieve the banks of the country of unnecessary and hampering restrictions, and thus enable them to meet the credit needs of their communities 4
adequately and contribute more effectively to the acceleration of recovery.

As the fourth of these excerpts implies, Title I I of the House bill
sought to revise, clarify and coordinate the emergency provisions
which, enacted in 1932 and 1933, relaxed various restrictions in the
Act to make credit more readily available and increase the money supply. The changes proposed in the provisions for discount operations,
member bank borrowing and real estate loans removed various restrictions in existing law and provided that "soundness" of assets be
used as the criteria in extending credit. The latter was intended to
liberalize the ground rules for issuing Federal Eeserve notes and crediting member bank reserve balances. Further, the House bill provided
generally for greater flexibility in administering Federal Reserve
credit facilities, and emphasized the Board's authority and responsibility in supervising the lending activities of the Eeserve banks.
The House amendment to section 16 proposed to remove the restrictions on note issue, again in an effort to simplify and coordinate
various emergency provisions previously enacted. Among these emergency currency measures was the Glass-Steagall Act of 1932 which
permitted Government securities to be pledged as collateral security
for Federal Eeserve notes until March, 1935 with provision for a 2year extension; and the Emergency Banking Act of 1933 which repealed the redemption clause—making Federal Eeserve notes, in effect,
legal tender—and which provided for the issuance of Federal Eeserve
bank notes without gold backing. These measures—or, rather, the

Marriner S. Eccles, Beckoning Frontiers, New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 1951, p. 191.
* House Report No. 742 to accompany H.R. 7617, 74th Cong., 1st Sess., April 19, 1935,
p. 1.

need for them—had demonstrated that collateral requirements were
too restrictive. Therefore, the House amendment repealed collateral
requirements for Federal Eeserve notes and provided that currency
subsequently issued be an obligation of the United States, a first and
paramount lien on the assets of the issuing Federal Reserve bank, be
backed by a 40 percent gold reserve, and be legal tender. The House
amendment further repealed the prohibition against one Federal
Eeserve bank paying out the notes of another.
Testifying on these sections of the bill, Governor Eccles explained:
. . . in an effort and under pressure to get liquidity, they (the banks) froze

themselves so completely that they finally closed the entire banking structure.
So it was found out that, in the final analysis, in a depression, there is no
liquidity, except that liquidity which can be created by the Federal Reserve or
the central bank through its power of issue*







We finally recognized that we did not have to have eligible paper and we did
not have to back our currency with gold or eligible paper or even with Government bonds. We finally recognized that, in order to get the banks open, we could
take any sound asset into the Reserve bank and issue Federal Reserve bank
notes. When that happened nobody wanted their money, the runs stopped, and
liquidation stopped to a very great extent.5

Ignoring the contention of the bill's sponsors that these relaxations
had proved necessary to stimulate recovery in the private sector of the
economy, those who opposed the bill argued that in conjunction with
the authority for direct purchases of Government bonds by the Eeserve
banks, these provisions were extremely inflationary and were designed
to help finance Government spending programs by forcing the System
to "load up" on Governments at the expense of commercial paper.
These sections of the bill were substantially eliminated by Democrats in the Senate on the grounds that the existing emergency measures had met the crisis and could be used further, if necessary, to aid
recovery, while nothing in the current situation appeared to justify
such radical changes in the law. In conference, the Senate amendments
were insisted upon and the final version of the Act perpetuated the
status quo, both retaining existing restrictions in the Act, and reenacting the temporary relaxations of the law.
While debate on the above issues had been extensive, one of the
more controversial provisions of Title I I proposed to combine the
offices of Reserve Bank governor with that of chairman of the board
and Federal Reserve agent. The new officer, entitled governor, would
be selected by the board of directors annually with the approval of the
Federal Reserve Board initially and again after three years. The governor would not, therefore, be directly responsible to the central Board,
as had been the Federal Reserve agent, but, with the provision that
he become a Class C director on election and act as chairman of the
Reserve bank board, his obligation to function as a public official would
be firmly established.
Republican Members of the House Banking and Currency Committee objected:
At the present time the Governor of each Federal Reserve bank, its chief executive officer, is selected annually by the directors of the bank. He is responsible
to his board, and not to the Federal Reserve Board. Under this bill he must be
Statement of Marriner S. Eccles, Governor of the Federal Reserve Board, March 5,
1935; Banking Act of 19S5, Hearings before the House Committee on Banking and
Currency on H.R. 5357, 74th Cong., 1st Sess., p. 194.

subject to the approval of the Federal Reserve Board when first designated as
Governor, and each three years thereafter, if redesignated, he must again be subject to the Board's approval, thus removing to a great extent the independence
which he has enjoyed in the past.6

While the specific duties and functions assigned the chairman of
the board and Federal Reserve agent under the original Act only
implied designation as chief executive officer, the weakness of the
Republican argument was the assumption that an officer could be presumed invested with the "chief executive" function outside the law.
The arguments of both sides were expressed in the following colloquy:
Mr. Patman: Is it not a fact that there never was any legal authority for the
office of governor of a Federal Reserve bank?
Mr. Hollister: "What the gentleman means by that is not that it is an illegal
Mr. Patman: "I am speaking of realities. Is it not a fact that the provision
in the pending bill changing the title of Federal Reserve agent to governor is
abolishing an office that does not legally exist?"
Mr. Hollister: "Absolutely not. The office of governor as it now exists is in
no sense illegal."
Mr. Patman: "Congress cannot abolish something Congress has not created."
Mr. Hollister: "Yes, it can; Congress can abolish things it has not created;
and that is exactly what is done by this provision of the pending bill—it abolishes
the right of the directors of a Federal Reserve bank to appoint their own chief
executive officer."7

The Senate amendment, creating the office of Federal Reserve Bank
President, conformed substantially to the existing arrangement for
selecting bank governors except that provisions were made for approval by the Federal Reserve Board on a 5-year basis. A notable
omission was that provision of the House bill which provided that the
Governor would become a Class C director. The Senate amendment
retained the original provisions relative to the structure of the bank
board of directors and the office of chairman of the board, Federal
Reserve agent, and representative of the Federal Reserve Board, but
in effect placed this officer in a subordinate position. Those changes—
which were adopted by the conferees—implied greater independence
from the Board and ignored the principle, which the House bill sought
to clarify, that the chief executive officer of a Federal Reserve bank
should be a public official functioning in the public interest.
2. Debate over control of open market operations
The most significant changes proposed in the bill which passed the
House in 1935 involved provisions which would have substantially
altered the structure of the System by enlarging the powers of the
Federal Reserve Board. The bill expanded the supervisory and regulatory role of the Federal Reserve Board in the areas of discount oper6
Minority Views of the Committee on Banking and Currency, to accompany H. Rept.
No. 742 on H.R. 7617, 74th Cong., 1st Sess,, April 19,1935, p. 33.
Congressional Record, 74th Cong., 1st Sess., Vol. 79 (1935), p. (5726.
Senator Glass' position in 1932 had been very close to that of proponents of the 1935
House bill. He had argued at that time :
"There is not a word in the law which provides for a 'governor' of a Federal
reserve bank. The statute will be searched in vain for any suggestion of a 'governor'
of a Federal reserve bank.
"While we intended to preclude all idea of central banking, we designed that the
Government, through its agencies, should keep a strict supervisory control of the
system, and we appointed a Government agent, one of three of the Government
directors at the Federal reserve bank, who should be the presiding officer, and whom
we intended to be the head officer of the bank. He has been literally brushed aside.
He is a mere custodian of evidences of credit. They have set up in each of these banks
a government of their own" (Congressional Record. 72d Cong., 1st Sess., Vol. 75
(1932), pp. 9884-9885.

ations, note issue, and real estate loans by member banks; placed specific emphasis on the policy-making function of the Board; empowered
the Board to initiate changes in discount rates; modified the Thomas
amendment of 1933 to permit the Board to decrease or increase reserve
requirements without Presidential approval or the declaration of an
emergency; and transferred authority to conduct open market operations from a committee composed of representatives of the Reserve
banks to the Federal Reserve Board.
"In view of the added powers proposed to be conferred on the Federal Reserve Board," the House report stated:
. . . and to insure that these powers will be exercised in the public interest,
it is desirable for Congress to lay down as definite instructions as are practicable.
The present objective, the accommodation of commerce, industry, and agriculture,
is inadequate as an expression of the will of Congress. It is felt that what the
people really expect of monetary management is that it should be directed toward
promoting business stability.

Accordingly, a new paragraph was added to section 11 of the
Federal Reserve Act, requiring the Board:
. . . to exercise such powers as it possesses in such manner as to promote
conditions conducive to business stability and to mitigate by its influence unstabilizing fluctuations in the general level of production, trade, prices, and employment, so far as may be possible within the scope of monetary action and credit

The addition of this policy directive, the Committee noted:
. . . would furnish a criterion by which the public and its Representatives in
Congress could assess the merits of monetary policy. It would provide an added
assurance that monetary control would be exercised in the interest of the Nation
as a whole.8

The House Committee argued that these objectives would not ht
obtained unless authority to conduct open market operations were
transferred from the Federal Reserve banks to the Federal Reserve
Board. Describing the dravvbacks under current law? the Report stated:
We have, therefore, an arrangement by which there is a policy-making body of
12, which has power to formulate policies, but not to put them into effect. We
have the Federal Reserve Board, consisting of 8 members, who have the authority to approve or disapprove of the recommendations of the committee; and
we have 108 directors of the Reserve banks, who have final determination as to
whether the policy is to be carried out or not. It would be difficult to conceive
of an arrangement better calculated than this for diffusing responsibility and
creating an elaborate system of obstructions.9

The 1935 amendment would "cure this situation," the Committee
. . . by placing responsibility for national monetary and credit policies squarely
upon the Federal Reserve Board. It will eliminate conflicts of jurisdiction and
policy because the final decision as to all matters affecting national policies would
be vested in the Federal Reserve Board . . . a national body, as they properly
should be in the public interest.10

Sponsors of the bill emphasized that the proposed changes in the
open market provisions represented a reassertion of the principle of
public control intended by President Wilson and proponents of the
original legislation. Under the 1913 Act, the Federal Reserve Board

H. Rept. No. 742, to accompany H.R. 7617, 74th Cong., 1st Sess., p. 9.
» ™ & , p . 10.
io Ibid., p. 10.

had been given final authority over changes in discount rates, authority
to compel one Federal Eeserve bank to discount the paper of another,
authority to transfer reserves and to suspend, under certain limitations, reserve requirements for member banks—powers of coordination
to insure that the Federal Eeserve banks would ". . . pursue a banking
policy which shall be uniform and harmonious for the country as a
Quoting the above excerpt from the Report on the 1913 bill, the 1935
House Report noted:
It is for this reason that the original Federal Reserve Act gave the Federal
Reserve Board final authority over discount rates. Since open-market operations
have in more recent years come to he recognized as a much greater factor in
credit policy than discount rates, it is entirely consistent with the philosophy
of the original Federal Reserve Act to vest in the Federal Reserve Board final
authority with respect to the open-market policies of the Federal Reserve

But as this transfer of authority indicates, the 1935 House bill proposed not only to retrieve the position of the Board within the System,
but to retrieve open market operations from the restrictions imposed
by the 1933 Act. The Board's original authority could have been reasserted as well by an out-right prohibition against coordination of
purchases and sales, but this possibility was rejected, and the alternative—centralization—chosen in recognition of the effects of these
transactions. As Governor Eccles explained, "In our present money
System, I know of no other means within the banking system itself
of influencing or effecting control over the supply of money." Therefore, he proposed that open market operations be used:
. . . to combat deflation, which means unemployment, and unemployment
means reduction in national income, in wealth production, and wealth consumption.
That is where the problem must be met, and it must be met, it seems to me, by
society as a whole, through Government.13

Similarly, Congressman Hancock of North Carolina argued that, inasmuch as open market transactions "affect the purchasing power of
the people," it constitutes ". . . the most important function of government and it is the exercise of the sovereign power of a central government." Further—reviving the Constitutional argument on which, in
1913, the Democratic Party had based its insistence that considerable
powers of control be vested in a purely Governmental board—Mr.
Hancock asserted that the proposed transfer and centralization of this
authority, coupled with the Congressional mandate to direct its use,
would effect " . . . a recapture on the part of the Congress of its powers
to coin money and regulate the value thereof." 14
In a Minority Eeport on the bill, Eepublican Members of the House
Committee chose to ignore arguments by Members of their Party in
H . Rept. No. 69, to accompany H.R. 7837, 63rd Cong., 1st Sess., September 9, 1913,
p. 12
H. Rept. No. 742, to accompany H.R. 7617, 74th Cong., 1st Sess., p. 10.
It should be noted that the 1935 debates focused not only on the issue of private
versus public control, but also on that of central versus local control. The two issues were
joined and complicated by the fact that many who argued against centralization would
appear to have been covertly pleading for private, not local, control; while those who were
most vehemently for public control had severe reservations about discarding the regional
cast of the System as proposed in the House bill.
Statement of Governor Marriner S. Eccles, March 19, 1935. Banking Act of 1985,
Hearings before the House Committee on Banking and Currency on H.R. 5357, 74th
Cong.. 1st Sess., p. 402.
Congressional Record, 74th Cong., 1st Sess., Vol. 79 (1935), p. 6733.

1913 to the effect that the powers of the Board were too great. They
described the role of the Board under the original Act as that of "an
independent supervisory body"; asserted that the Federal Eeserve
banks were "private institutions"; and argued that:
This separation of the Reserve banks from governmental control is in accordance with central banking practice in most of the more highly civilized countries
under a democratic form of government. . . . Conversely, countries under close
dictatorship, like Italy and Russia, have central banks entirely under Government domination. One of the first and essential steps in any dictatorship is to
extend power over the credit resources of the country.15

But, while attempting to discredit the notion of public control, Republican Members did not object to centralization as such. Congressman Hollister of Ohio, ranking minority Member of the House Committee on Banking and Currency, stated the position during debate
on the bill:
Mr. McCormack. . . . Does the gentleman believe there should be a more
centralized power someplace? . . .
Mr. Hollister. . . . I think, in certain aspects, there might be a more centralized
control in the event that centralized control could be exercised by a body which
was not in any way tied in with the administrative and executive policies of any
particular administration or under any particular political control.
. . . I feel that with an absolutely independent central board it would be safe
to grant additional powers; that with a board that is subject to outside control,
as the present board is, the powers now given are as much as should be given and
perhaps go a little further than should be granted.
Mr. Martin. It strikes my mind that in the mind of the gentleman and those
who take his view of this legislation, his objection is rather to where the power
is lodged under the bill rather than the increased power extended to the Federal
Reserve System.
Mr. Hollister. That is chiefly it; although, as I said to one of the gentlemen,
that is a question I would not want to settle finally at this time.16

In line with these last remarks, the House Minority Report argued
for reinstatement of the 1933 open market provisions as preferable to
centralization of this authority in the Federal Reserve Board. Nevertheless, as noted, the Minority did favor centralization of open market
operations provided control of these transactions was not in the hands
of the Government. The Senate amendment conformed substantially
to these criteria.
Senator Glass, co-author of the 1913 and 1933 Acts and a formidable
opponent of the 1935 proposal, objected that the House bill:
. . . proposed to make the open-market committee the supreme power in the
determination of the credits of the country. No such thing was intended, and no
such thing should ever be done.17
Minority Views of the Committee on Banking and Currency, to accompany H. Rep.
No. 742 on H.R. 7617, 74th Cong., 1st Sess., p. 32.
YFhe views of the Minority Members of the House Committee on the 1913 bill were as
follows :
"The powers of the Federal Reserve Board are, in our judgment, too great. This
board should be given supervision, but not actual management of the banking business
of the country" (Minority Views of the Committee on Banking and Currency to
accompany H. Rep. No. 69 on H.R. 7837, 63rd Cong., 1st Sess., September 9, 1913,
p. 133).
Congressional Record, 74th Cong., 1st Sess., Vol. 79 (1935), pp. 6731-6732, 6733.
Ibid,, p. 11778.
Senator Glass opposed the 1935 proposal on the grounds t h a t :
"Here is a board originally established and now operating as the central supervising
power. The Government of the United States has never contributed a dollar to on«
of the Reserve banks ; yet it is proposed to have the Federal Reserve Board, having
not a dollar of pecuniary interest in the Reserve funds or the deposits of the Federal
Reserve banks or of the member banks, to constitute the open-market committee and
to make such disposition of the reserve funds of the country, and in large measure
the deposits of the member banks, as they may please, and without one whit of
expert knowledge of the transactions which it was proposed to commit to them."
(Remarks of Senator Glass, July 24, 1935 ; Ibid., p. 11778.)

The position of the Senate Committee was outlined by Senator
Glass in the following remarks on the Conference Report:
Some of us were opposed to any alteration of the existing arrangement. Others
thought that the representatives of the banks, whose money is to be used, whose
credit is to be put in jeopardy, should have control of the committee and should
have the majority representation. But in order to reconcile bitter differences
there was yielding, and we have now proposed an open-market committee composed of all 7 members 18 the Federal Reserve Board and 5 representatives of the
regional reserve banks.
3. The adopted version
The Senate amendments to the open market provisions were adopted
by the conferees with two notable exceptions. In a recapitulation of
the two versions, Congressman Goldsborough of Maryland explained
the changes made at the insistence of the House conferees:
The conception of the Senate was that the operations of the open-market
committee should be controlled by the banks. The theory of the House was that
the operations of the open-market committee, involving as they do the placing of
money in circulation and withdrawing it in order to prevent on the one hand
inflation, and on the other deflation, was a public function and should be
controlled entirely by representatives of the people.
In view of similar arguments by Republicans in the House, a number of Democrats
favored Government ownership of the Federal Reserve banks and an amendment was
offered by Rep. Cross authorizing the Secretary of the 'Treasury to purchase stock in
the Federal Reserve banks from the member banks (Ibid., p. 7251). Those in charge of
the House bill evidently did not anticipate that arguments such as Senator Glass' would
prevail in the Senate, and the pros and cons of Government ownership were debated in the
following terms:
Mr. HANCOCK. "Does not the gentleman think it is much more important that
the Government exercise control over the regional banks than it is that they
shall own the stock in the banks; and does not the gentleman think that the emphasis
should be placed upon the control rather than the ownership, especially where the
ownership does not carry with it control ?"
Mr. PATMAN. "I feel that in this case both ownership and control are necessary.
This is a question of issuing and distributing currency . . . The question is,
are you going to let a corporation that is owned by private corporations continue to
exercise this function, which the Constitution says Congress shall exercise? . . . Do
you want them to continue to enjoy that privilege, or are you willing to take it away
from them and put it back under the supervision and control of Congress, where the
Constitution of the United States says it really belongs?" (Ibid., p. 7254.)
This is unfortunately the only occasion in 1935 on which the principle of public
control was tested in isolation from the bill as a whole and, in view of the objections
of Committee Members, the amendment was defeated. An amendment to the amendment—
offered by Rep. Patman and providing for the reinstatement of the franchise tax—was
agreed to, giving some indication of the strength of the position, but was lost in the
defeat of the Cross amendment. (Ibid., pp. 7253-7255 ; 7260.)
^Congressional Record, 74th Cong., 1st S»ess., Vol. 79 (19S5i), p. 11778.
Actually, as the Senate hearings reveal, this compromise plan was first recommended
by Francis M. Law, president of the First National Bank of Houston, Texas and previous
president of the American Bankers' Association, who appeared on behalf of the ABA's
Banking Studies Committee, and by Winthrop W. Aldrich, Chairman of the Chase National
Bank of the City of New York, a member of the same ABA legislative committee and
chairman of the special committee of the Business Advisory Council for the Department
of Commerce which had been appointed to study and make recommendations on the
proposed measure. Both committees represented by Mr. Aldrich recommended that the
Federal Reserve Board be reduced to 5 members (omitting the Secretary of the Treasury,
the Comptroller of the Currency, and one appointed member) ; and that the Open Market
Committee be reconstituted to consist of all 5 members of the reconstituted Board, plus 4
governors of the Federal Reserve banks :
"* * * whose independence shall have been protected in the manner already
recommended (i.e., that the governor be made subject to Federal Reserve Board
approval only once, and that no reapproval be required), and who shall be freely
elected to the committee by the governors of all Federal Reserve banks." (Banking
Act of 19 85, Hearings before a Subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Banking
and Currency on S. 1715 and H.R. 7617, April 19 to June 3, 1935 ; p. 409. 8ee also
pp. 368-373, 385, 395.)
Mr. Aldrich's arguments for the independence of Reserve bank governors and the
Board were made in conjunction with the charge that the House bill proposed "political"
control of the banking system. Pressed by Senator Couzens to define "political control,"
Mr. Aldrich was one of the few advocates of the position who attempted an explanation:
Mr. Aldrich : "What I intend to mean here is that to place the control of the
currency and the credit of the country in the hands of individuals who are subject
to removal by an administration, is to place the power in an administration to
utilize the system for the purpose of creating a boom at the time when an election
approaches." (Ibid., p. 393.)

With that in view, the members of the Banking and Currency Committee
of the House, and the House itself, adopted a provision that the open-market
policy would be controlled exclusively by the members of the Federal Reserve
Board. The Senate bill provided that the open-market policy should be controlled by the Federal Reserve Board and five representatives of the Federal
Reserve banks.
It also provided that two members of the Federal Reserve Board should be
experienced bankers; so that the Senate bill would have placed on the openmarket committee 7 bankers and 5 non-bankers, which would have given control of the open-market policy to private banking interests.
The Senate bill also provided that of the 5 bankers 1 should have a roving
commission or should be a member at large, the purpose of this being to give
the New York district 2 representatives instead of 1.
The conference report says that the open-market committee shall consist of
7 members of the Federal Reserve Board and 5 members of the Federal Reserve
banks, each one of whom shall represent a different Federal Reserve district
and shall come from a different section of the country; and the conference
report also provides that the two bankers who would be on the Federal Reserve
Board shall not be required by law to be there. So that, as the chairman has
said, while unfortunately the policy of the House has not been carried out
in toto—in other words, the undiluted principle that the public money shall
be used for the purpose of the exchange of goods and commodities is not in the
conference report—the conference report in a practical way protects the public,
because the 7 members of the Federal Reserve Board sit here in Washington
and they are a cohesive body, while the 5 bankers are scattered all over the
United States and do not constitute a majority of the open-market committee.19
As Mr. Goldsborough had noted, the Senate conferees recognized
that the House would prefer to accept the Senate amendment than
to have no bill at all, while as Senator Glass had made clear, a continuation of existing law was not uncongenial to the Senate conferees.20 Therefore, as reported in the following colloquy, the Senate
conferees argued for the principles expressed in the 1933 Act:
Mr. Goldsborough. I will say to the gentleman from Massachusetts (Mr.
Gifford) that the strength and power of the Senate conferees said that the
public has got no right to be represented on the open-market committee at all;
they have no stake in it. The strength of the Senate conferees was that the
control of money belongs to the bankers and not to the people, and that was
stated in that conference a dozen times. We had to sit there and listen to that
statement. The Federal Reserve Board has no stake in this thing. The openmarket committee ought not to have any stake in it. They ought to operate it
in the public interest and in the public interest alone.
Mr. Gifford. Then the gentleman would continue to say that the Senate
preferred the bankers to handle the people's money from a matter of principle,
and not from the present conditions?
Mr. Goldsborough. God only knows why anybody would want to say that the
people's medium of exchange should be controlled by any private interests; but
that is what they said at least a dozen times.
Mr. Ste.agall. Which they were not allowed to write into this bill?
Mr. Goldsborough. They were not allowed, as the chairman says, to write any
such infamous principle into the bill.21
The conference report was adopted by both Houses on voice votes,
but the votes of a majority of House Republicans would appear to
have been assured b}7 the indorsement given the conference report by
Congressman Hollister. Noting that the House and Senate versions
of the bill were "quite different," Mr. Hollister stated:
Notwithstanding my opposition to various parts of the House bill, this bill
now has my unqualified support and I hope it will receive the support of Members
on both sides of the Chamber.22
Congressional Record, 74th Cong., 1st Sess., Vol. 79 (1935), p. 13709.
20 IMtf.,pp. 11824-11825, 13710.
si Ibid., p. 13711.
Ibid., p. 13706.

4. Summary
The Banking Act of 1935 is generally accepted as a milestone in the
evolution of the Federal Reserve System, and often viewed as the
statutory recognition of an inevitable development away from the limited economic concepts embodied in the 1913 Act. As one economic
historian writes, the commercial loan theory of currency, already
eroded by the 1916 and 1932 amendments, was at last "decently interred." 23 However, the 1935 amendments as enacted contain little
hint of such a renunciation or interment. Currently, the American
monetary system is composed of a series of procedures based on
statutes and statutes based on procedures, which reflect no integral
concept of money but, rather, a series of residual concepts. Since
at no point is any concept of money firmly repudiated, the system
may be said to accommodate a process of selection among alternatives.
It preserves the procedural framework of an asset currency system
but in reality is closer to fiat money.
One advantage of fiat money—the non-interest bearing feature—is
conspicuously absent from the current system. Even so, the system
cannot be said to embody any absolute principle as to payment of
interest on the issuance of money in that—to the extent that money
is issued through open market operations by the Reserve banks
and interest paid the Reserve banks on bond holdings is returned to
the Government in however large or small an amount—the procedure
is less than uniform in effect and the principle partially mythological.
Further, the procedure by which one Government obligation secures
another in what seems a parody of asset currency is a curious reductio
ad absurdum which would not appear to satisfy the conditions for
"decent interment." However, the more rational procedures proposed
in the 1935 House bill were termed "fiat money" by the opposition,
and the superfluity of irrelevant procedures retained in current law
may reflect an attempt to mitigate outright acceptance of a system
with pejorative connotations. Thus, the amendments to the House
bill would appear to have confused the issue while acting to rectify
the problem since, however incoherent the procedures, their ultimate
effect was to make for a more cohesive and efficient system of issuing
money and influencing credit.
Most importantly, the 1935 Banking Act fails to provide guidelines on monetary policy. No guidance is given on how to resolve any
emerging conflicts among the goals of full employment, price level
stability and balance of payments equilibrium. Nor is guidance given
on operating strategy. Federal Reserve authorities remain free to try
to achieve their goals of the moment by tactics deducible from the real
bills doctrine or, alternatively, by a quantity theory of money
strategy—that is, by zeroing-in on interest rates and free reserves on
the one hand, or base or high-powered money and money supply on
the other hand. All too frequently the real bills doctrine has dictated
strategy and money supply thereby has been allowed to grow too slowly
(or too rapidly) because the behavior of interest rates and free reserves wrongly indicated that policy was sufficiently easy (or tight).
The result has been that the Federal Reserve continues to contribute
to economic instability.

Harold Barger, The Management of Money, Chicago, Rand McNally, 1964, p. 119.

Meanwhile, as the Federal Reserve System has evolved over the
decades since 1935, conflicting views of its function would seem to
have been perpetuated rather than resolved. To the banking community, the Federal Reserve System represents, alternately, an essentially cooperative enterprise or a Government regulatory agency on
which it demands some representation to assure decisions sympathetic
to its needs. To other observers, it represents an institution through
which the assets, prestige, and sovereignty of the United States Government are placed at the disposal of the banking community for
purposes of private investment.24 Perhaps to individual members of
the banking community, the System appears sufficiently oblivious to
their requirements for growth and profit. To others, the too adequate
representation of banker opinion in Federal Reserve deliberations
guarantees that a most narrow view of public policy will prevail.25
The history of the Federal Reserve System reveals no greater frequency of malfeasance than in other sectors of Government, but does
indicate that administrative response to private rather than public
views is built into the System. For at the level of execution of policy, it
should be noted that despite alterations in the System's structure over
the past 6 decades, bankers still elect two-thirds of the directors of the
Reserve banks who in turn appoint the Reserve bank presidents who
manage these institutions and, more importantly, sit on the Federal
Open Market Committee. Given the fact that a select group of individuals, representing a small portion of the population and perhaps a
single economic point of view, has the prerogative of selecting these
key officials, it would appear inevitable that these officials should represent the interests, or at least reflect the intellectual biases, of those
who select them. If this is an illusory idea, then so, it would seem, is
the concept of representative Government.
With respect to the argument that the Federal Reserve System acts
as a necessary check or balance in a Government which originally
envisioned only three such balancing powers, it should be noted that
within the System itself there is considerable diffusion of authority.
It is difficult to settle responsibility for a given action on any single
individual or group among the various groups to whom the prerogatives of power have been given. Further, the secrecy of deliberations,
long tenure of office and overlapping terms make it impossible to
predict when a given point of view will be initiated or terminated. I t
has been suggested that the Federal Reserve System acts to thwart
the will of representative Government. But, considering the extent of
its influence on events and the cataclysmic nature of the events it survived, the truly astonishing aspect of its history has been its ability
to evade responsibility. In a democratic society, as Professor Paul
Samuelson observed: "A central bank that is not responsible is irresponsible, rather than independent. To be responsible means to be
responsive." 26

The report of the Commission on Money and Credit states :
". . . What was thought of in 1913 as essentially 'a cooperative enterprise among
bankers for the purpose of increasing the security of banks and providing them with
a reservoir of emergency resources' has not ceased to be that. But it has also become
one of the most potent institutions involved in national economic policy" {Money and
Credit: Their Influence on Jobs, Prices and Growth, Report of the Commission on
Money and Credit, Englewood Cliffs, N.J., Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1961, p. 85).
In fairness it should be noted that at the present time, of the six members of the
Board, none were bankers prior to appointment, and of the twelve presidents of the Reserve Banks, only three were bankers.
The Federal Reserve Bystem After Fifty Years, Hearings before the Subcommittee on
Domestic Finance of the House Committee on Banking and Currency, 88th Cong., 2nd
Sess., February-March, 1964, Vol. 2, p. 1105.

T H E 1922



"X-3518—September 9, 1922.
"Subject: Discussion of Federal Reserve Credit Policy at the Joint
Conference of Governors and Chairmen.
"DEAR SIR : It has been suggested to the Federal Keserve Board that
one or more sessions of the forthcoming conference (called for October
10th) of the Governors and Chairmen with the Board should be
devoted to a comprehensive discussion of 'Federal Eeserve Credit
"The Board shares this view, and following is the list of topics which
it has been decided should form the basis of this discussion:
"1. What object should Federal Keserve credit policy seek to accomplish and by what test may we know that it is sound? (Discussion to
be led by Messrs. Norris [Philadelphia] and Wills [Cleveland].)
"2. What relative importance should be given to the following factors in determining such policy ?
(a) Federal Reserve reserves.
(b) Interest rates in the open market.
(€) Interest charged by member banks.
(d) Interest rates paid on time deposits.
(e) Balance of trade and inward or outward movement of gold.
(/) Credit conditions in, and exchanges with, leading foreign
(g) Volume of bank loans and deposits.
(A) Business and industrial activity, present or prospective.
(i) Commodity price levels.
(j) Condition of security markets.
" (Discussion to be led by Messrs. Jay [New York] and Seay [Richmond].)
"3. What light does the experience of the Federal Reserve Banks
throw on the value of different methods of making their credit and
discount policy effective ?
(a) Discount rates.
(b) Open market operations.
(c) Discretion in rediscounting.
(d) Credit examination of member banks.
(e) Credit ratings of commercial borrowers.


"(Discussion to be led by Messrs. Strong [New York] and Perrin
[San Francisco].)
"4. What is the most practicable method of bringing about timely
and competent consideration of matters of credit policy by all of the
Federal Reserve Banks and effective action to obtain the results aimed
at? (Discussion to be led by Messrs. McDougal [Chicago] and Curtiss
"In order that the discussion of the general subject of credit policy
at the forthcoming conference may be thoroughgoing, productive, and
pointed, it is desired by the Board that careful preparation and
study of the topics to be considered be made in advance of the conference, and also that there should be a preliminary exchange of views
in written form. Assignments have therefore been made in connection
with the program to those who are to start the discussion.
"Each Governor and Chairman to whom an assignment has been
made as above, is requested to prepare a written statement on the assigned subject, not to exceed 1200 words in length. Each statement or
paper should bear a title and a brief introductory paragraph setting
forth the proposition or conclusion it is intended to establish. These
papers should be mimeographed and copies should be mailed to all
other members of the conference (Governors and Chairmen of Federal Reserve banks).
"Following the afternoon session devoted to the above program, it is
proposed to devote an evening session to the question—
"What does the present business and credit situation indicate with
reference to the prospective demand for credit and the need or advisability of any action at the present time by Federal Reserve Banks with
respect to matters of credit and discount policy ?
"General discussion.
"Very truly yours,
W. W. HOXTOX, Secretary'."

"Summary of Selected Topics:
"The following summary is a selection and condensation of statements made in the papers and memoranda prepared by Governors and
Chairmen, with special reference to those points on which opinion is
apparently divergent. The topics considered do not follow the order of
the program.
"1. Relation of credit policy to commodity price levels
" 'Federal Reserve credit policy, should be directed to effecting
steadier credit and price conditions'. This object should not be confused with stabilization of prices at present levels. 'No one can now
predict or control the level at which prices will ultimately become
stabilized. We should merely direct our policy (1) so as to prevent
any serious inflation, and (2) in times of deflation and depression,
so as not to impede those who wish to move forward by using more
credit. Credit volume, of course, is not the only factor affecting price
levels, but without more credit prices do not rise very far, and with
less credit prices almost invariably fall.' In agreement with this
position is the statement: 'Regulation of the volume of credit

(which may greatly affect prices) therefore becomes our greatest
"Another paper states that 'very little consideration should be given
to commodity price levels. It is no part of the business of a Reserve
Bank to seek to advance or depress the price of commodities'. Furthermore, 'the influence of changes in Federal Reserve bank rates
has been greatly exaggerated, and their power to affect the price-level
or control the amount of credit is not only very limited, but very slow
in producing effects'. No policy, however, should be adopted that is
likely to accentuate price fluctuations, and one test of the soundness
of policy is whether it 'tends indirectly to stabilize prices by stabilizing credit conditions, and stabilizes credit conditions by checking
inflation and deflation before disaster comes'. Another paper points
to the limited control exercised by Federal Reserve policy over the
movements and volume of credit and urges that 'it is manifestly
impossible in a country so large and so governed as ours to assume
that the Federal Reserve banks initiate or stop credit movements
because of high or low prices, active or inactive business, etc' The
conclusion of another writer is that 'the inflation which started in
1919 and broke in 1920 was not controlled, and in my opinion could
not have been controlled, by any policy which the Federal Reserve
Banks could have adopted'.
"0. Value and meaning of 'discretion m rediscounting' as a method
of making credit policy effective
"Two papers reach similar conclusions on this question. One concludes: 'Based on the experience of this bank, and giving due consideration to conditions prevailing, "discretion" in rediscounting is
more effective in controlling credit situations than changes in discount
rates.' The other says that Federal Reserve Bank 'credit and discount
policy will be made effective through the exercise of discretion in
granting rediscounts, and not through regulation by the discount
rate.' Among the considerations on which discretion in granting or
refusing rediscounts must be based are: (1) occasion for rediscounting, (2) soundness of member bank's condition, (3) integrity and skill
of its management, (4) its seasonal rediscount program, (5) general
business, banking and credit outlook.
"Another paper concludes that 'discretion' in granting discounts
should be used merely to supplement regulation by rate, and then
chiefly in sections where interest rates are high. 'In special cases and
districts personal "discretion" will be inescapable, but its employment
should be resisted and moderately used'. 'Discretion implies knowledge of details of member banks' business. Such discretion extended
to all member banks would necessitate passing upon every loan and
investment of every member, causing annoyance, criticism of the system, and possibly radical legislation. 'Discretion' when required
should be exercised more as to the total borrowings of a member,
rather than as to any specific use of the proceeds. 'Discretionary'
control over borrowings by members, except to a limited extent when
rate control is ineffective, will develop the desire to exercise still
greater power.




3. Effectiveness of rate policy in controlling flow of credit
"(1) "The effective method of regulation demonstrated by long
experience abroad is by the discount rate.'
"(2) 'The discount rate cannot be the major influence making
the credit policy effective.'
"In support of the first statement:
" 'The rates established by the Federal Reserve Banks have been
measurably effective in influencing the loaning policy of member
banks.' And: 'The rate of discount of a reserve bank regulates in
general how much member banks borrow, and consequently influences
increases or decreases in the total volume of credit.'
"In agreement with the second statement: 'The experience of this
bank has demonstrated that while increasing the discount rate may
have an indirect influence in developing an attitude of caution, it will
not be wholly effective in curbing a tendency toward excessive borrowing at Federal Reserve Banks.'
"It is recognized that the control exercised by regulation depends
partly upon the condition of member banks. 'It is only when the
banks generally are compelled to call upon Federal Reserve Banks
that the power of the Federal Reserve Banks to exercise any control
over credit begins, and it is at such times that the rates and the rat©
policy assume greatest importance.' And: 'Particularly is the influence of the discount rate slight during a period of liquidation such
as began in 1920.'
"4. Relation of discount policy to reserve position
"There is a marked diversity of opinion regarding the relative importance of Federal Reserves in determining discount policy. The
extremes are indicated by two statements:
(1) 'Too much emphasis cannot be placed upon the Federal
Reserve reserves in fixing discount rates.'
(2) 'The reserve ratio of a bank or of the system is a very easy
but a bad guide to discount policy.'
"In accord with the first statement, 'The rate to be charged for this
assistance (to member banks and the open market) shall be determined
by the percentage of gold reserve at the Federal Reserve Banks, as well
as its trend.' The paper most insistent upon establishing a close relation between discount policy and reserves suggest a plan bj which a
series of rate advances are definitely related to declines in reserve
ratios. This paper says: 'If, when their reserves were declining, it was
the plain duty of Federal Reserve Banks to protect them by raising
discount rates, which resulted in a curtailment of business, why then,
when reserves have become exceedingly large, is it not likewise their
duty to lower their rates and thus give a stimulus to business?'
"In contrast to this is the statement that 'it seems probable that a
Federal Reserve Bank could render to its member banks substantially
its full rediscount service by establishing a moderate rate of say 5
percent or 6 percent, and maintaining such a rate without change.'
"Another paper states that 'At the present time,, when Federal
Reserve Bank reserves are at a high ratio, and the reserves of member
banks of the country are in excess of commercial demand and seeking
investment in securities, it is obvious that the protection of the Federal
Reserve Bank reserves cannot be the primary reason for fixing rates,

and that other reasons will and must naturally come to the fore.' Yet,
when other factors 'combine to effect a drain upon the reserves, present
or prospective, then the protection of Keserve Bank reserves would
become the primary consideration.'
"5. Relation of discount rates to rates charged by member banks
"Opposing statements:
(1) 'I must express the conviction that no object can be
accomplished, and no policy can be effective, unless the discount
rates of the Reserve Banks are generally maintained at or above
rates charged to the public, particularly during periods of
(2) 'Our experience thus far confirms the contention that
Federal Reserve discount rates will normally not be above and
usually below the lending rates for the paper rediscounted.'
"Another paper supports the first statement: 'Federal Reserve
Bank rates to their members must as a governing principle be based
upon and bear a close relation to the prevailing rates for bank funds
on line of credit paper current in any particular part of the country.'
"In general accord with the second statement: 'Discount rates have
ordinarily a very limited effect upon the rate made by such members
to their customers and were not intended to control the rate to the
consumer, and do not, in fact, exercise such an influence.' Another
writer says: 'I believe member banks should get accommodation for
the necessary requirements of their customers at Reserve Bank rates;
and that the rates they charge customers are of minor importance.'
"6. Timeliness of rate changes, and method of consideration
"The opinion is expressed that 'the real power of the Federal
Reserve Bank would seem to be that which results from the wisdom it
has exercised in taking the leadership of its members.' An object
which credit policy should seek to accomplish is 'to give timely notice
of any distinct change which is anticipated in credit conditions.'
Changes in rates should be of a character which would indicate 'what
way the current was running, how strongly it was running, and whether
there was likely to be a change in its direction.' In agreement with
this, another paper states that "an advance in the discount rate, simply
recording the accomplished fact of increased credit demand, could
serve no important purpose, but an advance made as cautionary warning of an expected trend of increased demand, should serve as a steadying influence to those engaged in industry and commerce. If it be
urged that those guiding a Federal Reserve Bank's policies cannot
infallibly forecast the trend of credit demand, it may be said, in the
first place, that mathematical precision is not necessary, and further,
that the control of the ultimate banking reserves lays upon them the
responsibility to be informed of the real trend of business and industry.
The discount rate would be the natural medium of expressing their
judgment of the credit outlook.'
"Two papers present plans for bringing about timely and competent
consideration of matters of credit policy:
(1) 'Frequent conferences of the Governors and Chairmen of
the Federal Reserve Banks with the Federal Reserve Board, or a
small committee representative of the Board and the Banks, for
the express purpose of considering credit conditions.'

(2) 'Local credit policies should be dictated, except so far as
certain general principles of credit policy are concerned, by the
Board of Directors of each Federal Eeserve Bank. Open market
operations should be handled by one or possibly two commitees of
Governors of certain of the Federal Reserve Banks within convenient reach. The general principles of credit policy in both
cases to be laid down by the Federal Eeserve Board.'"


"I. What Object Should Federal Eeserve Credit Policy Seek To
Accomplish and by What May We Know That It Is Sound?"
George W. Norris, Governor, Federal Eeserve Bank of Philadelphia :
"The Objective of Federal Eeserve Credit Policy—
"The power of rate changes to affect the price level or to control the
amount of credit is limited, and slow in producing effects. Such changes
should be as infrequent as possible, and should seek to anticipate conditions that would necessitate greater changes. Changes must always be
the expression of a judgment, and no absolute formula can be devised.
The general purpose should be—
1. To give assurance to the public that an adequate supply of
banking credit for productive enterprise shall at all times be available, at rates fluctuating as little as possible, and never prohibitive.
2. To indicate to the public the effect business, as it is at the time
being conducted, is having upon the supply of credit, and to give
timely notice of any distinct change which is anticipated in credit
". . . In the first place, that the effect of rate changes upon the earnings of Eeserve Banks must be wholly ignored. In the second place,
very little consideration should be given to commodity price levels."
"Thirdly, while the reserve ratio of a bank or of the System is a very
easy guide to discount policy, it is a very bad guide."
". . . In the next place, it is perhaps well to notice and acknowledge
that fact that the influence of changes in Federal Eeserve Bank rates
has been greatly exaggerated, and that their power to affect the pricelevel or control the amount of credit is not only very limited but very
slow in producing effects.
". . . There have been in these Conferences repeated discussions of
various phases of the discount problem, but this is the first time to
my knowledge, that we have sought to determine the fundamental
question of the object sought to be accomplished. It is obvious that the
prevention of disaster, and not succor following disaster, is the goal
of a successful credit policy."
" . . . Finally, I know of no test by which the soundness or unsoundness of a credit policy may be determined, except—Eesults. If a policy
tends indirectly to stabilize prices by stabilizing credit conditions, and
stabilizes credit conditions by checking inflation and deflation before
disaster comes, it is manifestly sound. If it fails to accomplish those
results it is either unsound in principle or mistakenly applied."

D. C. Wills, Board Chairman, Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland:
"This brief statement on the above subject attempts to declare what
the Federal Reserve Credit policy should be by defining the single
object sought to be accomplished, viz: assisting or supporting member
banks and the oj>en market so as to enable them to handle all proper
transactions arising out of the production, manufacture or distribution of goods. By defining this single object, a clear basis is furnished
for discussion of related, but less fundamental, phases. . . . "
J. IT. Calkins, Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco:
" Conclusions:
"The function of banking is the finance of trade, and as clearly
indicated by provisions of the Federal Reserve Act, the object of Federal Reserve credit policy is to facilitate the finance of trade, trade
being used as a comprehensive term and including all the operations of
production and the consequent commerce of distribution.
"When the inevitable fluctuations in production and distribution
have been met with a minimum of economic or financial dislocation, the
soundness of the credit policy will have been demonstrated.
"This subject covering only two questions does not afford opportunity
for didactic discussion. It does not concern what a Federal Reserve
credit policy should be or how it should be applied; but only what
it should accomplish and how it should be demonstrated to be a
sound policy. The other considerations are included in other subjects
to be covered by discussion of detailed subdivisions, and it is, therefore,
only possible to offer a few observations if trespass on later expositions
is to be avoided.
"It is not difficult to state the object which Federal Reserve credit
policy should seek to accomplish, as it is not difficult to state what
an aeroplane stabilizer should accomplish. Neither is it difficult to
say what demonstration would prove the soundness of a credit policy
or the effectiveness of an aeroplane stabilizer. Anyone can say what an
aeroplane stabilizer is desired for—that is, what it should accomplish—and doubtless eventually someone will devise one that will be
effective. When time has afforded enough experience and some lessons
from experiment, an effective credit policy will doubtless be evolved.
"No satisfactory mechanical substitute for human intelligence has
yet been devised, and no policy which does not contemplate the widest
latitude in application would be sound. A credit policy should be
compounded by application of intelligence to scientific analysis and
past experience. In order to accomplish the test which will demonstrate
its soundness, it is obvious that Federal Reserve credit policy cannot
be rigid; cannot be an academic or dogmatic formula to be applied by
rule of thumb. A sound credit policy might be rendered partly or
wholly ineffective by accident; by war or the consequences of war.
"A credit policy must provide support in case of increased demand
for bank credit whether that increase be gradual and long continued
or abrupt and temporary, and in either case should provide this support promptly and effectively. It should accomplish this in such a
way as to allay apprehension and inspire confidence. Past experience
in the Federal Reserve System indicates that this can be done; in

other words, that the System fends itself to inflation with a considerable
degree of success—a fact that has caused no general complaint.
"A credit policy that would soften the rigors of depression would
also be desirable, but that would mean .painless deflation, and as
deflation is anathema, it appears improbable that any credit policy
will accomplish that result or even tend to popularize deflation.
"A Federal Reserve credit policy should facilitate necessary expansion of bank credit without strain and at the same time check or prevent unnecessary or excessive expansion, thereby decreasing the disastrous consequences of reaction."
Joseph A. McCord, Board Chairman, Federal Reserve Bank of
"The main object to be attained in fixing the credit policy of Federal
Reserve Banks should be to carry out as nearly as possible the title
of the Federal Reserve Act, viz: 'Provide for the establishment of
Federal Reserve Banks to furnish elastic currency, to afford a means
of rediscounting commercial paper, and to establish a more effective
supervision of banking in the United States, and for other purposes.' "
"There can be no fixed rule for the establishment of a credit policy.
Officers of Federal Reserve Banks having charge of discounting,
should study well the conditions of each member bank. They should
also give attention to reserves of member banks, watching carefully
and closely those banks that habitually have deficient reserves; admonition to that class of banks would materially aid in fixing a policy
that would govern in handling the business of that particular locality
in the district in which the Federal Reserve bank is located."
B. A. McKinney, Governor, Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas:
"While the Act does not categorically define 'the' Federal Reserve
credit policy, it does reveal in unmistakable language the intent of
Congress with respect to the field in which the reserve banks were
meant to function. Having constructed reservoirs in the twelve regions
or districts and concentrated the reserve power of each district within
that district, the law further provides in effect that the lending power
of each bank shall be administered in a safe, reasonable and impartial
manner, for the benefit, first, of the agricultural, live stock and commercial interests of the district served and, second, through the processes of inter-district rediscounting and open market transactions, for
the benefit of the entire country.
"A secondary object of Federal Reserve credit policy should be the
protection of sound credit practices on the part of member banks . . ."
C. A. Morss, Governor, Federal Reserve Bank of Boston:
"The object of this memorandum is to express my general agreement
with the opinions expressed by Messrs. Norris and Wills in their
answers to question 1."
"I think I should define the objective of the Federal Reserve credit

1. To establish and maintain a sound and flexible currency.
2. To provide credit for the use of member banks in such
quantity and at such rates as would tend to stabilize the flow of
credit and the rates of interest to the business community.
"I do not understand that this statement of the object shows that I
have any different opinions of what the objective should be than
either Governor Norris or Mr. Wills, simply another way of putting it.
"If these objects can be obtained, we should always have an amount
of currency adequate to the needs of the community which would
never depreciate because it would never be redundant and because
there would be at all times an adequate amount of security and gold
reserve in the banks to protect the notes against any demand that
might be made for their redemption. We should furnish all of the
credit to our member banks which would be necessary to enable them
to finance the movement of whatever volume of goods the needs of
the country might require without any artificial pressure for the increase of credit or the decrease of credit that would affect prices. We
should know that we had accomplished our objects when the business
of the country moved on smoothly and evenly and with only very
moderate indications of inflation or deflation. Since the beginning of
the war in 1914 the business of the country and prices have been
affected by such great forces outside of interest rates that the discount
rates had very inadequate control over the flow of credit and the
inflation which started in 1919 and broke in 1920 was not controlled,
and in my opinion could not have been controlled, by any policy which
the Federal Reserve Banks could have adopted. Even now, conditions
are not stabilized in the sense that they were before the war began,
especially when we consider the situation in Europe. At the present
time, however, business in this country seems to be developing in such
a way that its position may be placed in a well recognized business
cycle. It would appear, therefore, that it is moving along in a fairly
normal way and the policies of the Federal Reserve Banks should be
adjusted to meet these conditions."
"II. What Relative Importance Should Be Given to the Following
Factors in Determining Such Policy ?
A. Federal Reserve Reserves.
B. Interest Rates in the Open Market.
C. Interest Charged by Member Banks.
D. Interest Rates Paid on Time Deposits.
E. Balance of Trade and Inward or Outward Movement of
F. Credit Correlation In, and Exchanges With, Leading
Foreign Countries.
G. Volume of Bank Loans and Deposits.
H. Business and Industrial Activity, Present or Prospective.
I. Commodity Price Levels.
J. Conditions of Security Markets."
Mr. Jay, Board Chairman, Federal Reserve Bank of New York:
"Federal Reserve credit policy, as referred to in Topic 1, is taken
to mean something broader than that Federal Reserve Banks should

always be sound and liquid, able to pay their obligations and lend to
member banks. Federal Reserve credit policy should be directed to
effecting steadier credit and price conditions. The following discussion
indicates the relative importance of these factors in pursuing such
& policy, but changing circumstances may at any time change their
relative importance.
"Discussion (G, H, and I).—Bank credit is merely a means to an
end . . . Therefore, our credit policy should aim to steady the volume
of credit, since commodity prices move in such close correspondence
to credit volume. In carrying out this policy these three factors are of
fundamental importance, but our statistical information regarding
them, especially production and distribution, is inadequate and must
be improved.
"Credit volume, of course, is not the only factor affecting price levels.
Changes in government or private affairs, in methods of production
and distribution, in supply or demand, or in the business state of mind,
may raise or lower commodity prices. But without more credit prices
do not rise very far, and with less credit prices almost invariably fall."
George J. Seay, Governor, Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond:
". . . The distress and losses to which very many people have been
subjected as a result of a number of complex causes arising out of the
war, the greatest emergency ever experienced in the banking business,
have brought into existence many distorted ideas of the purposes for
which the Federal Reserve System was formed, what it is able to
accomplish and may reasonably and safely attempt to accomplish."
"The most dangerous idea, or conception, in connection with the
System that has been put forward is that it controls the bank credit
of the nation; the charge that it has exercised that control tyrannously
grew out of that idea."
"We have had an example of the dangers of extending a volume of
credit out of proportion to the volume of goods and the productive
capacity and consumptive powers of the country which should last
us for many, many^ years. It is undoubtedly true that too great a supply
of credit will inevitably lead to inflation, and is in itself inflation, and
unless new uses for credit arise to absorb the increased supply, harm
and not benefit will result."
"Predicating conclusions upon the foregoing observations, the Discount Policy of Federal Reserve Banks should be considered under two
headings: The Commercial Discount Rate and the Open Market Rate.
"The Commercial Discount Rate should be governed by the factors
submitted for discussion, in the following order of relative importance:
1 (c) Rates charged by banks to their customers.
2 (b) Interest rates in the open market.
3(g) The volume of bank loans and deposits. (Indicative of the reserve position.)

4(h) Business and industrial activity. (Presaging demand for
5(i) Commodity price levels (as affecting the volume of credit required, but not with view of price control).
6(j) Condition of security market (as indicative of supply of investment or floating capital).
7(d) Interest rates on time deposits. (This is merely a symptom of
scarcity of capital.)

l(b) Open market rates (on bankers'acceptances).
2 (e) Balance of trade and inward or outward flow of gold.
3(f) Credit conditions in, and exchange with, leading foreign

"Finally: When the intricate play of these or other factors combine
to effect a drain upon the reserves, present or prospective, then the
protection of Reserve Bank reserves would become the primary consideration."
John H. Rich, Board Chairman, Federal Reserve Bank of
"The Objective of Federal Reserve Credit Policy.
"The main objective of the Federal Reserve Bank is to afford service
to its members. The Act gives it an extremely limited direct authority
and very little mandatory power. It appears to me that the general
purposes should be:
"1. To support and assist the productive enterprise of its district;
to maintain a steady and dependable flow of credit to such well managed members as may need it, and,
"2. To mold its credit policy in such a way that it will serve as an
efficient hand-maiden to changing economic and business conditions
and the fluctuations to which those who are engaged in the production
of goods and in agricultural and livestock production are subject. Its
purpose should be to afford a broad underlying foundation capable
of sustaining and stabilizing the activities of its district."
R. L. Austin, Board Chairman, Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia :
"1. That it is desirable that all Federal Reserve bank discount rates
should be determined by uniform policy.
"2. That the reserve is the principal factor in determining a credit
policy and indicates the ability of the Federal Reserve bank to extend
service; therefore, the discount rate should be a distinct expression of
that ability.
"3. That the Federal Reserve banks were organized to give flexibility to bank reserves and there should be no hesitation in using them
whenever occasion requires.
"After carefully considering the Board's program for the discussion
of the Federal Reserve credit policy, and having read the several
papers that have been prepared by the Chairmen and Governors upon

these subjects, the impression has been obtained that Federal Reserve
reserves are of the greatest importance in determining the credit policy
of Federal Reserve banks. There appears to be, however, diversity of
opinion upon this subject.
"Governor Seay's paper concludes by giving a number of factors
which he considers of greater importance in determining Federal
Reserve bank credit policies than the Federal Reserve banks' reserves,
though in his paper we read, 'At the height of the credit expansion,
when reserves of Federal Reserve banks had seriously declined and
the tendency toward further expansion was unmistakable and dangerous, the dominant purpose of Federal Reserve rates was to protect
reserves,' which was done by raising discount rates. This forced a
contraction in business whereby the demands for credit were lessened
and reserves increased, or, at least, were not depleted further. He continues—'At the present time, when Federal Reserve bank reserves are
at a high ratio and the reserves of member banks of the country are
in excess of commercial demand and seeking investment in securities,
it is obvious that the protection of Federal Reserve bank reserves
cannot be the primary reason for fixing rates, and that other reasons
will and must naturally come to the fore.' Has he not, however,
failed to reach a proper conclusion by neglecting to give sufficient consideration to the accumulation of reserves in fixing discount rates?
If, when their reserves were declining, it was the plain duty of the
Federal Reserve banks to protect them by raising discount rates, which
resulted in a curtailment of business, why then, when reserves have
become exceedingly large, is it not likewise their duty to lower their
rates and thus give a stimulus to business? Can anyone deny that there
is an almost irresistable force, inherent in accumulated reserves, which
must result in lower discount rates unless they are artificially controlled ? Discount rates are an expression of a bank's ability to extend
service in the way of selling credit, and there is no better way of determining that ability than by its reserves. The changing of discount rates
is always notice to the business community that there is an increase
or decrease in the amount of service a bank has to sell, and the business
community never fails to take note of it.
"In his paper, Governor Norris makes the statement that 'the reserve
ratio of the system is a very easy but a bad guide for discount policy.'
'If it were followed,' he says, 'rates would have to be lowest at the
end of a prolonged period of easy money and highest at the time of
crisis.' One is inclined to ask if any other condition is possible, and
if all the history of finance does not confirm it. He believes that low
rates for money never fail to develop speculation and inflation, forgetting that such times have no attraction for the so-called speculator,
and do not develop speculation. The buyers then are those who know
the real value of goods and realize when bargains can be obtained. In
opposition to Mr. Norris' statement, Mr. Perrin says, "In the face of
falling prices and business curtailment, fear is not justified that radical
and rapid reductions in the discount rate will revive speculative enterprise.' Governor Norris further states 'There is reason to hope that
bankers and the business community will gradually become accustomed
to watching the reserve position and discount rates of the reserve banks
and will appreciate what changes in these mean,' evidently placing

real value on the reserves of the Federal Reserve banks as a determinator of policies.
"There can be no doubt that the credit policy of the Federal Reserve
system should be such as to appeal to the public as being sound and
based in all districts upon uniform principles. Hence I believe that too
much emphasis cannnot be placed upon Federal Reserves in fixing
discount rates. The following table sets forth the reserve ratios and
discount rates of the twelve banks as of September 13—
St. Louis..
Kansas City
San Francisco








"It will be noticed that Boston and Philadelphia with practically
the same reserves have dissimilar rates of discount; that San Francisco
with a reserve of 67 percent has the same discount rate, 4 percent, as
New York with a reserve of 83.7 percent, and ^ percent less than
Richmond, Atlanta or Chicago, whose reserves are 79, 82 and 89 percent respectively; and that Chicago with a reserve of 89 percent has
the same rate as Dallas, Kansas City and St. Louis, whose reserves
are 62,65 and 63 percent respectively.
"On numerous occasions the question has been put to us, 'Why is the
discount rate in Philadelphia 4% percent and in Boston only 4 percent
although the reserve positions of the two banks are almost identical?"
Since the banking position of the two institutions is almost exactly the
same, and since the economic and business situation of the two districts are so similar, the answer to the question has not been easy.
The answer, of course, lies in the different attitudes of the directors
of the reserve banks, and the different conclusions reached by them.
The table indicates clearly the lack of any uniformity in determining
discount rates, and it would be well if we could arrive at some uniformity. This does not mean that the rates at all times should be uniform throughout the country, but that the directors of the various
banks should work from a uniform basis and follow the same principles
in fixing the discount rates. Specifically, this suggestion might be
formulated into a plan, having the discount rate depend upon the
reserve ratio in somewhat the following relation—
Reserve ratio (percent)
Discount rate (percent)


"It is hard to see how the public can fail to be impressed with the
apparent weakness in the credit policy of the System when it notes that
there is so little relation between the reserve positions of the various
Federal Reserve banks, and their discount rates. If we could agree on
some plan that would effect uniformity and have the rates correspond
more with the condition of the banks, it would remove from our rate
making the element of the lack of principle that it now seems to
have, confidence would be gained in our policy, and it would be much
less subject to criticism.
"Any rates so determined would hold good for the cities and the
financially stronger sections of the country. To the discretion of the
individual reserve banks would be left the settlement of such local
problems as might be presented by the extremely high rates prevailing
in country districts and by the tendency upon the part of a relatively
small number of banks to make use of the Federal Reserve discount
facilities for profiteering through rate differentials.
"In conclusion, I should like to emphasize again the thought that
there should be no hesitation in lowering discount rates when the
reserve positions of the banks warrant it. If the reserves of the Federal
Reserve banks continue to increase in spite of lowered rates it can be
taken as evidence that business is still restricted, is abnormally low,
and if it can be stimulated by lower rates it is hard to conceive of any
good reason for not administering the stimulant."
William McC. Martin, Sr. Chairman of the Board, Federal Reserve
Bank of St. Louis:
"As the experience of the System has been mainly with war and post
war conditions, any discussion of the relative importance of the abovementioned factors must be chiefly theoretical, as we have had practically no experience under normal conditions.
"It would seem that the relative importance will change not only
with different times but with different conditions within the respective
districts themselves.
"It is of the utmost importance that the chief controlling factors
should be worked out in a language that both the public and the
Federal Reserve banker can understand, so that the establishment of a
credit policy has no mystery and requires no explanation.
"Discussion.—In August 1914, war was declared abroad. Federal
Reserve banks were opened for business on November 16 of that year,
and during the two and a half years succeeding, which were as unaffected by disordered conditions as any the System has ever known
during its existence, member banks though being educated to the uses
of the System did not have a real working knowledge of it. In April,
1917, this country itself went into the war and since then our experience
has been that of a war and post war period. Economics as a science
is only s^stemized knowledge based on experience, and as we have
had practically no experience based on normal conditions, our discussion in the main must be theoretical.
"This topic has been discussed in an admirable and scholarly way
by both Mr. Jay and Mr. Seay. Their discussions are in agreement
on the essentials. There is no question but that the underlying purpose
of a credit policy should be to bring about steadier credit conditions
and thereby stabilizing price conditions. And there is also no ques-

tion but that the member banks should be able to call on reserve banks
for reasonable and legitimate credit for customers, but not for the
primary purpose of relending at a profit. The problem is a difficult
one for all of us, but it seems to me less difficult in a center like New
York than in an agricultural center like Richmond. Therefore, as is
natural, while New York does not omit the necessity of considering
the rate charged by member banks to its customers, Mr. Jay puts chief
emphasis on the consideration to be given the open market rate. On
the other hand, Mr. Seay, representing conditions more clearly
apparent in the majority of the banks in the System, while he gives
due consideration to the open market rate, emphasizes the necessity of
considering as one of the prime factors the rate charged by a member
bank to its customers. It is, of course, not only wrong but highly
dangerous to encourage the idea, unfortunately too common, that the
Federal Reserve Banks control rates charged to customers by member
banks, but the rates of the Federal Reserve Banks should stabilize
rates charged by member banks to customers, and a discussion of them
must be given a large part in considering a credit policy, at least
by a majority of the Federal Reserve banks.
"Such portion of the public as think of these matters undoubtedly
consider the reserve percentage as the chief factor in judging the
credit policy of a Federal Reserve bank. When the raising or the
lowering of the Federal Reserve discount rate is not in approximate
accord with this percentage a change in the rate can be easily misunderstood. If a reserve percentage could be worked out so as to
be approximately indicative of all the factors that go into the
establishment of a credit policy, it would be a long step in the right
"III. What Light Does the Experience of the Federal Reserve Banks
Throw on the Value of Different Methods of Making Their Credit and
Discount Policy Effective ?
A. Discount Rates.
B. Open Market Operations.
C. Discretion in Rediscounting.
D. Credit Examination of Member Banks.
E. Credit Ratings of Commercial Borrowers."
B. Strong, Governor, Federal Reserve Bank of New York (No. 1) :
"The rate of discount of a Reserve bank regulates in general how
much member banks borrow, and consequently influences increases or
decreases in the total volume of bank credit. But in sections where
interest rates are high, discount rates may not always prevent overborrowing by member banks and some personal control cannot be
"Economic well-being depends, among other things, upon an even
flow of production and consumption of goods which, in turn, depends
upon stability of conditions which affect production and consumption.
The most important element requiring stability is the price level.
Sudden and wide variations in prices tend to disturb production and
consumption. Trade becomes risky and speculative.

"Of the various causes of price changes, none are so potent as changes
in the volume of 'money5 that is of credit and currency."
". . . By what methods shall we be guided so as to avoid undesirable inflation and contraction, promote credit and price stability
and so serve the entire business community ?
"Open market investments are not controlled by rates but by 'discretion' alone. They cause credit expansion as fully as do loans, and
should be governed by system credit policy, rather than by the desire
of individual reserve banks to make earnings. Aside therefore from
our investments and gold movements, changes in the total volume
of credit are now brought about almost exclusively by our loans to
member banks. Every increase in our earning assets lays the foundation for a credit pyramid, estimated roughly in the ratio of eleven
to one (see studies of W. M. Persons, Harvard Review of Economic
Statistics, January, 1920) Low discount rates which cause borrowing therefore have a cumulative effect upon credit volume and may in
turn affect prices, even though the ratio of eleven to one may not be
reached. The obverse is equally true. High discount rates which cause
repayments to reserve banks will, in turn, influence liquidation of bank
loans and deposits and retirement of currency by the banking system
as a whole in somewhat the same ratio, and likewise affect prices."
"The tendency to create Government agencies to supervise business is
increasing. These Commissions and Boards exercise a great variety
of statutory powers, often futile. Each is subject to the human weakness that once given power men seek to enlarge their powers. Reserve
banks are no exception.
"The writer believes that 'discretionary' control over borrowings
bv members, except to a limited extent when rate control is ineffective,
will develop the desire to exercise still greater power, and that the
Reserve System, instead of being a democratic smoothly-working cooperative organization, regulating the volume and flow of credit and
currency principally by adjusting its rates as conditions and public
welfare require, might become a financial bureaucracy, vainly attempting to dominate the banking system by methods which are obnoxious
to every instinct of the American people. In special cases and districts
personal 'discretion' will be inescapable, but its employment should
be resisted and moderately used. The effective method of regulation
demonstrated by long experience abroad is by the discount rate. The
rate will be effective with the great mass of banking resources and
only limited and judicious use of 'discretion' will be needed, and then
only in those sections where general interest rates are high."
J. Perrin, Chairman, Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco:
"Discount rates of Federal Reserve banks will normally not be above
the rates borne by paper which they rediscount.
"Their credit and discount policy will be made effective through
the exercise of discretion in granting rediscounts, and not through
regulation by the discount rate."

"Regulation of Rediscounts oy Discretion.—The conclusion is unavoidable that the only practicable method of making its credit policy
effective lies in a Federal Reserve Bank's exercise of discretion in
granting or refusing each particular rediscount. This discretion must
be based upon substantially the same considerations which influence
a commercial bank in granting or refusing loans, barring the value
of deposit balances. In a general way these would include information as to the occasion for rediscounting, the soundness of the member
bank's condition, obtanied through examinations and credit investigations, and integrity and skill of its management, its seasonal rediscount program, the success of the bank in living up to previous
programs, and the general business banking and credit outlook. Paper
offered would be scrutinized to determine its eligibility, probable liquidation at maturity and ultimate collectability regardless of the rediscounting bank's endorsement."
B. Strong, Federal Reserve Bank of New York (Number 2 ) :
"Mr. Perrin's very able memorandum graphically exhibits the difficulties of adopting a rate policy which will be effective in various
sections where prevailing rates of interest are so widely different. In
general I agree with his views as to the difficulties and, with some
exceptions, with his statement that a comparison of the effect of the
discount rate of the Bank of England with the effect of the rates
established by Federal Reserve Banks, is liable to be misleading.
"On the other hand, his argument appears to be addressed to the view
that the obligation of Reserve Banks is confined to extending the
amount of credit which is justly needed to each member bank, but
no more credit than each member bank is entitled to receive. This is
the implication of the section of the statute which he quotes as follows:
" 'The directors . . . shall . . . extend to each member bank
such discounts, advancements and accommodations as may be safely
and reasonably made with due regard for the claims and demands of
other member banks.'
"His conclusion appears to be that the responsibility of the Reserve
Banks is in fact limited to insuring that each member gets all the
credit that it can justly claim and no more than it is entitled to receive.
Upon this theory it would be impossible for the Federal Reserve System to insure that collectively all of the 10,000 members receive all of
the credit to which they are collectively entitled and no more than
the community as a whole needs. Each application would be disposed
of upon the basis of the soundness of each individual member bank in
each of the twelve different Districts, and the integrity of the management and the individual needs of each bank, regardless of the
general credit conditions prevailing in each of the twelve separate
districts as a whole. Credit control in the big sense would be absolutely
lost in a maze of individualities in which the Reserve Bank officers
would be struggling helplessly. Upon that theory, what is the responsibility of the Federal Reserve System to the nation as a whole, as to
inflation? Would it mean that upon providing its claim each member bank would be entitled to receive, upon some pro rata basis, its
proportion of the whole lending power of the System? The surplus
reserves of the Federal Reserve Banks today give them a lending
power capable of bringing about an expansion of many billions of

dollars and causing such an advance in the prices of everything as
would involve an economic readjustment for the whole country of
the first magnitude and result in calamity. Is this grave problem of
expansion to be considered upon the narrow theory presented in Mr.
Perrin's paper ? Can it possibly be claimed that the responsibility of
the Federal Reserve System for credit stability can be predicated
^upon a microscopic scrutiny of all the business conducted by each
member bank so as to determine exactly what proportion of the Reserve System's credit it is entitled to receive ? What standards are to
be adopted in deciding how much each member bank is entitled to
receive ? Who is to exercise the 'discretion' as to what loans by member banks are justified and proper, and what loans should not be made
in case the result of their making should be further borrowing from
the Reserve Bank? In fact, where lies the authority in the Reserve
Act for anyone to make and enforce these important decisions ?
"In ordinary times, with gold moving freely among the nations the
effect of too low a discount rate would be an expansion of bank
credit, advances in prices, heavy imports of goods and exports of
gold, with the unescapable necessity for raising discount rates to protect reserves. No other action could control the gold movement. Can
it be contended that in these extraordinary times the managements
of the twelve Reserve Banks can effectively exercise such 'discretion' as to the need for borrowings by individual member banks so
that complete control of credit expansion by all banks may be exercised when, in fact, no gold exports, which in normal times would
force rate advances, can take place ?
"The twelfth Federal Reserve District, because of its enormous territory and the wide range of interest rates in the different sections
of the district, presents probably the greatest difficulty as to discount
rates of any Federal Reserve District. In contrast, the New York
District is the most compact in proportion to resources and contains,
probably, the smallest variation in interest rates in the different
sections of the district of any Federal Reserve District.
"While, therefore, it is natural that the more extreme views on this
important matters should originate in these two districts, I am
nevertheless, firmly convinced, in fact even confirmed in the view
expressed in my first paper, since reading Mr. Perrin's paper, that
the great mass of borrowing from the Federal Reserve Banks must
be controlled by the rate of discount; that the rate of discount can, in
fact, be made effective as to the great mass of bank credit, and that this
will be paritcularly true in the larger cities of the San Francisco District, and of all other Federal Reserve Districts. Any other policy
than reliance upon rates, with such exceptions as are made necessary
by the conditions discussed both in Mr. Perrin's paper and my own,
would, in my opinion, result in a situation where, instead of effective
control of credit, we would have no country-wide control, but rather
an attempt at control of the affairs of each member bank, which would
be obnoxious and perilous.
"This policy of personal control was attempted in part in the years
1919 and 1920 and signally failed. Its extension throughout the System as a System policy would not only fail as a means of regulating
credit, but would gradually develop in an effort to regulate the affairs
of each member bank by the exercise of personal discretion which

would subject the System to severe complaint by its members; to political attack by Congress; and ultimately, to its downfall."
D. C. Biggs, Governor, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis:
"The credit and discount policy of a Reserve Bank cannot be effectively controlled by its discount rate alone.
"A certain measure of control must be exercised through discretion
in the amount that a member bank is permitted to borrow, but not
through discrimination against individual pieces or classes of eligible
"In theory, at least, the discount rate of a Federal Reserve Bank
should be higher than the market in the financial centers in the several
districts of the country. If this theory could be put into practice, the
rediscount rate would prove effective in carrying out a credit and discount policy, for there would be a penalty instead of a profit in borrowing. The rate of discount established by banks varies according
to the class of paper, the section of the Country, and the established
custom and policies of years. For example: Prime bankers' acceptances, on which the Bank of England primarily bases its discount
rate, is one class; another class is prime commercial paper nationally
known; a third class may be commercial paper sold locally; while a
fourth class would be the ordinary run of loans of a country bank,
with the rate of interest depending upon local conditions and customs.
"While Reserve Banks may exercise some control thru their discount
rate on open market purchases, they are, by law, obliged to discount
all classes of eligible paper offered by member banks in one district at
the same rate. The rate, therefore, for one district cannot control the
credit policy of that district on account of its carrying various classes
of paper.
"Judicious discretion in the total rediscounts of a member bank and
not discrimination against classes of eligible paper should be used at
the beginning of the period of inflation, and not delayed until the
movement has fully developed, and while it is difficult to determine
when such movement begins, certain signs should be evidence to the
Reserve Bank, not only because of its knowledge of general business
and banking conditions, but because of the intimate knowledge it has
of the condition of the member banks from the reports of examination."
E. Fancher, Governor, Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland:
"Based on the experience of this bank, and giving due consideration
to conditions prevailing, discretion in rediscounting is more effective in
controlling the credit situation then changes in discount rates."
C. Hardy, Chairman, Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond:
"Whatever may be the effect of the reserve bank rate on the borrowings of member banks in the large commercial centers and in those
sections in which the lending rates of member banks are sensitive
to the rise and fall of the credit supply; in other sections where the
lending rate is seldom, if ever, lower than the legal rate, the exercise
of discretion in rediscounting is necessary. This is particularly true
in any section in which the legal rate is more than 6 percent, because

such a circumstance is indicative of an inadequate supply of local
banking capital."
W. A. Heath, Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago:
"The rates established by the Federal Reserve Banks have been
immeasurably effective in influencing the loaning policy of member
banks; the open market operations of the Federal Reserve Banks,
while encouraging the legitimate use of the acceptance privilege, have
at times apparently prevented the accomplishment of an equally important object, namely, the wide distribution of the bills themselves."
W. F. Ramsey, Chairman of the Board, Federal Reserve Bank of
"In practice it has been found that the effectiveness of reserve bank's
credit and discount policy does not depend wholly, and under some
circumstances not even chiefly, upon the power to control its discount
rate. Our experience has taught us that such control is based quite
largely upon a carefully studied administrative supervision of the
credit practices as well as credit demands of each borrowing member.
Such control is made both effective and helpful 'by judicious use of all
legitimate sources of publicity in keeping the banks, as well as the
general public, informed as to the proper scope of a reserve bank's
lending power, the general trend of financial and business conditions,
and the necessity of conservatism in the extension of credit."
R. A. Young, Governor, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis:
"1. That too great a use of credit by banks for capital, investment or
speculative purposes rather than the necessary use of credit to aid
in the production, manufacture and distribution of products causes
dangerous inflation.
"2. That these conditions develop before the reserves of the Federal
Reserve System are used by member banks to any great extent.
"3. That a discount rate slightly above, equal to or even slightly
below the prevailing rates on prime commercial paper is sufficient to
prompt banks in the larger centers to discriminate in the use of credit
and stop inflation. Indirectly this action by the banks in the larger
cities affects the banks in the smaller places.
"4. After inflation is checked and deflation starts no harm can come
to the banks and much good to legitimate business in reducing the
rediscount rate in anticipation of a lower commercial rate.
"5. In the future, increasing the rate because of seasonal requirements alone would be wrong but when Federal Reserve Banks learn
that credit is being used for capital, investment or speculative purposes to any unwarranted extent, (even though their reserves have not
been used by member banks to any great extent) the rediscount rate
should be raised sufficiently to aid in avoiding a repetition of the
disastrous results that came to all business in the years 1919 and 1920.
"In June, 1914 the combined deposits of all banks and trust companies in the United States were approximately $20,000,000,000.00
and the loans and discounts approximately $15,000,000,000.00.

"By June, 1917, the deposits amounted to $30,000,000,000.00 and the
loans and discounts amounted to $20,000,000,000.00. In June, 1917 the
total accommodation extended by Federal Reserve Banks only
amounted to approximately $200,000,000.
"In June, 1919 the total deposits of all banks in the United States
amounted to approximately $34,000,000,000.00 while the loans and
discounts amounted to $25,000,000,000.00.
"While it is reasonable to believe that a certain natural increase in
deposits occurred it is no more than fair to assume that a large part of
the increase in deposits of $14,000,000,000.00 from June, 1914 to
June, 1919 was occasioned by the increase in loans of $10,000,000,000.00,
pyramiding contributing in no small way. In June 1919 the Federal
Reserve Banks had extended to member banks a total accommodation of approximately $1,800,000,000.00 of which, however, $1,600,000,000.00 was represented by paper secured by Government obligations. In June 1919 the highest rate of discount charged by any Federal
Reserve Bank on commercial paper was 5%. The highest rate on paper
secured by Victory notes was 4!/2% and notes secured by other Government paper, 41/4%. No one of these rates inflicted a penalty upon
member banks' borrowings. In December, 1919 rates were established which made borrowings by banks on their own Government securities unprofitable and it is interesting to note that from
December, 1919 to November, 1920 the amount of paper held by Federal Reserve Banks secured by Government obligations decreased
from $1,700,000,000.00 to $1,200,000,000.00. It is equally interesting
to note that between June, 1919 and June, 1920, when the rediscount
rate of Federal Reserve Banks was much below the prevailing average
commercial rates, that the total bills discounted for member banks
represented by commercial, agricultural and livestock paper increased
from approximately $200,000,000.00 to $1,100,000,000.00. Seven percent discount rates were established by a number of the Federal Reserve Banks in June, 1920 and while the peak load was reached in
November of that year the 7 percent rate was high enough to bring
the liquidation that came very rapidly after November, 1920.
"After the inflation had been checked and deflation started it is
interesting to note that the total accommodation extended to member
banks after May, 1921 continued to decrease even though the Federal
Reserve Banks reduced their rediscount rate, below the prevailing
average commercial rate."
"IV. What is the Most Practicable Method of Bringing About
Timely and Competent Consideration of Matters of Credit Policy by
All of the Federal Reserve Banks and Effective Action to Obtain the
Results Aimed at?"
J. B. McDougal, Governor, Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago:
"Timely and competent consideration of matters of credit policy by
all of the Federal Reserve Banks and effective action to obtain the
results aimed at can best be secured through frequent conferences of
the Governors and Chairman of the Federal Reserve Banks with the
Federal Reserve Board, or a small committee representative of the

Board and the banks, for the express purpose of considering credit
"Discussion.—The object to be accomplished by Federal Reserve
Credit Policy, the relative importance of the several factors to be
considered in determining such policy, and the value of different
methods of making a credit and discount policy effective are presumed
to have been fully covered under the first three main divisions of the
general subject, Federal Reserve Credit Policy. Under these circumstances, it is assumed that there is left to Mr. Curtiss and myself the
responsibility of recommending the most practicable method of securing timely and competent consideration by all of the Federal Reserve
Banks of all important factors entering into the question of Federal
Reserve Credit Policy; and the further responsibility of recommending a plan of action to obtain the results aimed at.
After carefully considering the subject I have but one firm recommendation to make, that which is expressed briefly in the conclusion.
Realizing the inconvenience and expense involved in bringing together
at more frequent intervals a body of thirty-two men from all parts
of the country for the express purpose of considering credit conditions,
it is suggested that there be appointed a small committee representative of the Board and the banks, drawn from different sections of
the country with a view to fairly reflecting the sentiment of the country as a whole; this committee to receive reports from all the Federal
Reserve Banks and other sources with respect to current conditions
affecting the use of credit, to meet as often as circumstances seem to
justify, and to keep all members of this conference informed.'7
F. H. Curtiss, Chairman, Federal Reserve Bank of Boston:
"Local credit policies should be dictated, except so far as certain
general principles of credit policy are concerned, by the Board of
Directors of each Federal Reserve Bank. Open market operations
should be handled by one or possibly two committees of Governors
of certain of the Federal Reserve Banks within convenient reach. The
general principles of credit policy in both cases to be laid down by
the Federal Reserve Board.
"There would appear to be two distinct classes of credit policy to be
considered in the Federal Reserve System—
1. That dealing with the credits as they pertain to the local or
Federal Reserve District, under Section 13 of the Federal Reserve
Act, and,
2. That dealing with the credits as they pertain to the open
market operations, under Section 14 of the Federal Reserve Act.
"As to the district or local credit policy, that should be left to the
Board of Directors of each Federal Reserve Bank to determine, subject
to supervision by the Federal Reserve Board. The Federal Reserve
Board should agree on certain general principles of credit policy,
which it should see that the officials of the Federal Reserve Banks
understood and were expected to follow. So far as the determination
of discount rates and other matters of credit policy are concerned, the
officers of each Reserve Bank should be in closer touch with the needs of
their district than the Federal Reserve Board could possibly be and,
therefore, if the management of a Federal Reserve Bank is of a proper

character, the question of timely and competent consideration would
be a matter of good judgment only so far as the local credit policy is
"The matter of credit policy, so far as open market operations are
concerned, and other operations that pertain to the national, international and Federal Reserve System policies, I believe should be
handled by a committee, possibly two committees, of the operating
officers of the Reserve Banks—the Governors—one committee to handle
the policies that deal with government obligations, to work in close
touch with the Treasury, and the other to handle open market operations in bankers' acceptances. There should be the closest cooperation
between these two committees. Here again, the Federal Reserve Board
should outline or approve general principles of credit policy for these
committees, in order that open market operations should be uniform
as to each district, and under the supervision of the Federal Reserve
Board, to whom these committees would make periodical reports."
BOARD ( 1 9 2 3 ) , PAGES 2 9 - 3 9

"It is to the reserve ratio that the public in most countries looks to
get an indication of changes in the banking position and in the credit
situation. This habit of looking at the reserve ratio as an indicator is
particularly prevalent in the United States, because the United States
is more than any other the country of legally regulated reserves. However theoretically imperfect any reserve ratio may be as a credit and
banking index even in normal circumstances, and however defective
reserve ratios may have become as a result of the suspension of the
gold standard in many countries, the reserve ratio is nevertheless the
one banking index that has uninterruptedly enjoyed the prestige of
tradition, and there is little or no indication of the displacement of
this tradition in the near future. The reserve ratio must, therefore, be
reckoned with as a fact in banking administration.
"In thus recognizing the importance generally attached by the business public to changes in the reserve ratio as an index of the banking
position, the board is not oblivious of, nor indifferent to, the fact that
central bank practices associated with an effective international gold
standard are now inoperative and that this seriously affects the serviceability of reserve ratios as working guides in credit and currency
"The reserve ratio cannot be expected to regain its former position
of authority until the extraordinary international gold movements
which, in part, have occasioned and in part have resulted from the
breakdown of the gold standard, have ceased and the flow of gold from
country to country is again governed by those forces which in more
normal and stable conditions determine the balance of international
payments. The gold standard as a regulatory influence can not be
effective for one country alone, no matter how impregnable its gold
position. Gold movements in the years before the war were in response
to changes in the trade and financial position of countries operating on
the gold standard, and the changes in the reserve ratios of the central


banks, which reflected these movements, were therefore indicative of
trade movements and current banking and credit developments. A
decline in the reserve ratio reflected either a growth in the liabilities
arising chiefly from domestic business or a loss of reserves owing
to an unfavorable balance of international payments. Under an effective international gold standard the movements of gold among the
money markets of the world exercised a corrective influence on exchange rates, tended to equalize money rates in various countries,
and to keep domestic price levels in line with the world price level.
In these circumstances, changes in the reserve ratios of the various
central banks served as valuable indicators of the changes in the credit
and trade relations of the countries and were consequently important
guides in the shaping of discount policies. Under the present conditions, with gold embargoes in force in most foreign countries and the
United States practically the only free gold market of the world, the
movement of gold to this country does not reflect the relative position
of the money markets nor does the movement give rise to corrective
influences, working through exchanges, money rates, and price levels,
w^hich tend to reverse theflow.The significance which movements in the
reserve ratios formerly possessed rested upon the fact that they were
the visible indicators of the operation of the nicely adjusted mechanism
of international finance. With this mechanism now inoperative, the
ratios have lost much of their value as administrative guides. It has
therefore been necessary for banking administration even in those
countries that have been most successful in maintaining a connection
with the gold standard to develop or devise other working bases. This
has been as true in the United States where the gold standard has
been consistently maintained as in other countries where that standard
is for the time being inoperative.
"The anomalous situation thus confronting central banking administration in all countries has led to much discussion in the United States
and elsewhere as to workable substitutes for reserve ratios as guides
to credit and currency administration. Particular prominence has been
given in discussions of new proposals to the suggestion frequently
made that the credit issuing from the Federal reserve banks should
be regulated with immediate reference to the price level, particularly
in such manner as to avoid fluctuations of general prices. Entirely
apart from the difficult administrative problems that would arise in
connection with the adoption of the price index as a guide and entirely
apart from the serious political difficulties which would attend a system of credit administration based on prices, there is no reason for
believing that the results attained would be as satisfactory as can
be reached by other means economically valid and administratively
practicable. In saying this the board is not unmindful of the abundant
evidence recent years have given of the economic and business disturbances occasioned by violent fluctuations of prices. But it must not be
overlooked that price fluctuations proceed from a great variety of
causes, most of which lie outside the range of influence of the credit
system. No credit system could undertake to perform the function of
regulating credit by reference to prices without failing in the endeavor.
"The price situation and the credit situation are no doubt frequently
involved in one another, but the interrelationship of prices and credit
is too complex to admit of any simple statement, still less of a formula

of invariable application. An oversimplified statement of complex
problems contributes nothing toward the development of an effective
administrative procedure. It is the view of the Federal Reserve Board
that the price situation and the credit situation, while sometimes
closely related, are nevertheless not related to one another as simple
cause and effect; they are rather both to be regarded as the outcome
of common causes that work in the economic and business situation.
"The same conditions which predispose to a rise of prices also predispose to an increased demand for credit. The demand for credit is
conditioned upon the business outlook. Credit is created in increasing
volume only as the community wishes to use more credit—when the
opportunity for the employment of credit appears more profitable.
Sometimes borrowers want to borrow more and sometimes they are
content with less. Sometimes lenders are ready to lend more and at
other times less. Why this should be so depends on all those multifarious conditions and circumstances that affect the temper of the
business community. For the most part these conditions lie beyond
the radius of action of the Federal reserve banks. When the business
outlook is inviting business men are apt to adventure and new business
commitments are made in increasing volume. But only later will these
commitments be reflected in the possible rise of prices and an increase
in the volume of credit provided by the commercial banks of the country. The Federal reserve banks will not to any considerable extent feel
the impact of the increased demand for credit until the whole train
of antecedent circumstances which has occasioned it is well advanced
on its course; that is, until a forward movement of business, no matter
from what impulse it is proceeding, has gained momentum.
"Credit administration must be cognizant of what is under way or
in process in the movement of business before it is registered in the
price index. The price index records an accomplished fact. Good credit
administration in times of active business expansion should not encourage or assist the excessive accumulation of forward commitments in business and banking which only later on will definitely
reflect the rate at which they have been taking place in resulting
changes of credit volume and changes of price levels; and in times of
business reaction should discourage enforced liquidation of past commitments which also will only later on reflect the rate at which it has
been taking place in altered credit volume and price levels. The problem of efficient credit administration is, therefore, largely a question
of timeliness of action.
"No statistical mechanism alone, however carefully contrived, can
furnish an adequate guide to credit administration. Credit is an intensely human institution and as such reflects the moods and impulses
of the community—its hopes, its fears, its expectations. The business
and credit situation at any particular time is weighted and charged
with these invisible factors. They are elusive and cannot be fitted into
any mechanical formula, but the fact that they are refractory to
methods of the statistical laboratory makes them neither nonexistent
nor nonimportant. They are factors which must always patiently and
skillfully be evaluated as best they may and dealt with in any banking
administration that is animated by a desire to secure to the community
the results of an efficient system. In its ultimate analysis credit administration is not a matter of mechanical rules, but is and must be a

matter of judgment—-of judgment concerning each specific credit
situation at the particular moment of time when it has arisen or is
"There are among these factors a sufficient number which are determinable in their character, and also measurable to relieve the problem
of credit administration of much of its indefiniteness, and therefore
give to it a substantial foundation of ascertainable fact. In large part
these factors are recognized in the Federal reserve act. The act, therefore, itself goes far toward indicating standards by which the adequacy
or inadequacy of the amount of credit provided by the Federal reserve
banks may be tested.
"The Federal reserve act has laid down as the broad principle for the
guidance of the Federal reserve banks and of the Federal Reserve
Board in the discharge of their functions with respect to the administration of the credit facilities of the Federal reserve banks the principle
of 'accommodating commerce and business.' (Sec. 14 of the Federal
reserve act, par. (d)) The act goes further. It gives a further indication
of the meaning of the broad principle of accommodating commerce
and business. These further guides are to be found in section 13 of
the Federal reserve act, where the purposes for which Federal reserve
credit may be provided are described as 'agricultural, industrial, or
commercial purposes.' It is clear that the accommodation of commerce
and business contemplated as providing the proper occasion for the
use of the credit facilities of the Federal reserve banks means the
accommodation of agriculture, industry, and trade. The extension of
credit for purposes 'covering merely investments or issued or drawn
for the purpose of carrying or trading in stocks, bonds, or other investment securities, except bonds and notes of the Government of the
United States,' is not permitted by the Federal Reserve act. The Federal reserve system is a system of productive credit. It is not a system
of credit for either investment or speculative purposes. Credit m the
service of agriculture, industry, and trade may be described comprehensively as credit for productive use. The exclusion of the use of
Federal reserve credit for speculative and investment purposes thus
clearly indicates the nature of the tests which are appropriate as
guides in the extension of Federal reserve credit. They clearly describe
the nature or character of the purposes for which such credit and
currency may be extended. The qualitative tests appropriate in Federal
reserve bank credit administration laid down by the act are, therefore,
definite and ample.
"But the problem of credit and currency administration implies the
use not only of qualitative tests but also of quantitative tests. By what
means may it be known whether the volume of credit provided by
the Federal reserve banks is in any given set of circumstances adequate,
excessive, or deficient ? The problem in good administration under the
Federal reserve system is not only that of limiting the field of uses
of Federal reserve credit to productive purposes, but also of limiting
the volume of credit within the field of its appropriate uses to such
amount as may be economically justified—that is, justified by a commensurate increase in the Nation's aggregate productivity. The Board
is fully aware of the fact that the problem of credit extension involves
the question of amount or volume as well as the question of kind or
character; otherwise stated, involves a quantitative as well as a quali-

tative determination. But it is the view of the Board that it is not
necessary to go outside of the Federal reserve act to find suitable
methods of estimating the adjustment of the volume of credit provided
by the Federal reserve banks to the volume of credit needs. The Federal reserve act itself suggests the nature of the tests, guides, or indicators—whatever they may be called—to be used in gauging the need
for and the adequacy of Federal reserve credit. The provisions of the
act already quoted indicate that the needs for credit which are recognized by the act as appropriate are those derived from agriculture,
industry, and trade. It is the belief of the Board that there will be
little danger that the credit created and contributed by the Federal
reserve banks will be in excessive volume if restricted to productive
"A characteristic of the good functioning of the economic system
is to be found in the smooth unobstructed movement of goods from
the producer through the channels of distribution to their several
ultimate uses. The characteristics of the good functioning of the credit
system is to be found in the promptness and in the degree with which
the flow of credit adapts itself to the orderly flow of goods in industry
and trade. So long as this flow is not interrupted by speculative interference there is little likelihood of the abuse of credit supplied by
the Federal reserve banks and consequently little danger of the undue
creation of new credit. The volume of credit will seldom be at variance
with the volume of credit needs as they are reflected in the demands
of productive industry as long as (1) the volume of trade, production, and employment, and (2) the volume of consumption are in
equilibrium. Credit for short-term operations in agriculture, industry,
and trade, when these operations are genuinely productive and nonspeculative in character, that is to say, credit provided for the purpose
of financing the movement of goods through any one of the successive
stages of production and distribution into consumption, is a productive use of credit. But when the effect of the credit used is to impede
or delay the forward movement of goods from producer to consumer, unless such delay is made necessary by some unavoidable
cause, e.g., the interruption of transportation facilities, credit is not
productively used. The withholding of goods from sale when there
is a market or the accumulation of goods for an anticipated rise of
price is not a productive use. It is the nonproductive use of credit that
breeds unwarranted increase in the volume of credit; it also gives
rise to unnecessary maladjustment between the volume of production
and the volume of consumption, and is followed by price and other
economic disturbances. Administratively, therefore, the solution of
the economic problem of keeping the volume of credit issuing from the
Federal reserve banks from becoming either excessive or deficient
is found in maintaining it in due relation to the volume of credit needs
as these needs are derived from the operating requirements of agriculture, industry, and trade, and the prevention of the uses of Federal
reserve credit for purposes not warranted by the terms or spirit of
the Federal reserve act.
"There are no automatic devices or detectors for determining, when
credit is granted by a Federal reserve bank in response to a rediscount
demand, whether the occasion of the rediscount was an extension of
credit by the member bank for nonproductive use. Paper offered by

a member bank when it rediscounts with a federal reserve bank may
disclose the purpose for which the loan evidenced by that paper was
made, but it does not disclose what use is to be made of the proceeds
of the rediscount. A farmer's note may be offered for rediscount by a
member bank when in fact the need for rediseounting has arisen because of extensions of credit by the member bank for speculative use.
Similarly, the note of a member bank collateraled by United States
Government securities may be offered for discount to a Federal reserve
bank when in fact the proceeds are to be used in supporting the extension of credit for 'agricultural, industrial, or commercial purposes.'
Protection of their credit against speculative uses requires that the
Federal reserve banks should be acquainted with the loan policies and
credit extensions of their member banks—such acquaintance as can
be obtained by examination of their member banks or by other forms
of contact with them. In brief, the technical administrative problem
presented to each reserve bank is that of finding the ways and means
best suited to the circumstances in which it operates of informing
itself of when and to what extent the extension of credit for speculative uses is the real occasion of member bank rediscounting.
"The administrative problems presented to the Federal Reserve
Board are of different character and require a different technique.
Unlike the Federal reserve banks, the Federal Reserve Board makes
no loans. It is not an operating body, but a supervising body. As a
supervising body it is not primarily concerned with the detail of the
transactions of the Federal reserve banks. Its concern lies rather with
the total volume and the aggregate effects of the credit transactions
of the Federal reserve banks. In the discharge of the responsibility
placed upon it by the act for the 'review and determination' of the
discount policy and discount rates of the Federal reserve banks 'with
a view of accommodating commerce and business,' the Federal Reserve Board must look for guidance primarily to information concerning the state of industry and trade and the state of credit.
Changes in the volume of bank credit in use are the outcome of
changes in the volume of business. A proper and effective credit
policy, considered in its broader aspects must, therefore, be based on
that wide variety of economic facts which, when brought together
throw light on the changes taking place in the business situation and
their relation to current banking and credit trends.
"While statistical information concerning production and distribution, covering the whole range of business activity from producer to
consumer, is not complete, it is sufficient to indicate currently the rate
at which goods are being produced and marketed. Information of this
character, as a result of the growing recognition of its value and of the
activities in collecting such information both by governmental and
private agencies, is now available more currently and in more lines of
industry and trade than ever before. The changes from month-tomonth recorded in these figures, when brought together and inter-

preted, indicate the nature and rate of readjustments which are constantly taking place in the industrial and business situation. The
activity of business, as measured by these current statistics, is the outcome of the decisions and actions of a large number of individual business men. They are, to be sure, in form and in substance an account of
the immediate past, but they also give indications of the conditions
affecting the course of business in the future. While this information
does not make it possible to measure or estimate in advance the probable aggregate volume of credit needs or to combine into any single
formula the elements of judgment applicable to varying credit situations as they arise, it provides basic data needed in banking administration. No statistical analysis can ever be a substitute for judgment
in matters of credit administration, but such analyses of economic conditions are indispensable as furnishing the factual basis for credit
judgment and for the development of credit policy.
"In view of the importance of this information in the determination
of credit policy the Board and the Federal reserve banks collect
through their statistical organizations, in addition to current reports on
banking and credit conditions, basic economic data bearing on changes
in the volume of production, trade, and employment, and the movement
of prices both in the United States and abroad. The volume of production in physical units indicates the extent of industrial activity and
measures the output of goods which will subsequently come into the
market. Monthly data are available for basic industries, and while
fluctuations in volume of production in these industries are wider than
those in the total for all industries, the data are sufficiently representative to indicate at any given time the direction and trend of industrial
activity. Changes in the volume of employment at industrial establishments, figures for which are available for a larger number of industries, not only reflect the degree of current productive activity and
thus supplement the figures on production, but because of their bearing on the earnings of workers, also indicate changes in the purchasing power of a large body of consumers. It is the buying power of consumers which primarily determines the demand for goods and the
rate at which current production can be maintained. The movement
of goods into the hands of final purchasers is measured by the volume
of retail buying, which for many lines of trade throughout the country is reported monthly. The rate at which goods are moving through
the intermediate channels of distribution is reflected in the volume of
wholesale trade and of the shipment of merchandise. A smooth distribution of goods requires that stocks of raw materials and merchandise
shall be held at different points in the marketing process, and the
extent to which the marketing is orderly—that is, without undue
accumulation or exhaustion of stocks—is shown in the changes in the
volume of stocks held by producers and distributors. While information concerning stocks is not yet as complete or as current as informa-

tion on production and trade, it is now available for many commodities and is steadily becoming more satisfactory.
"Since the purpose of the Board and of the Federal reserve banks in
collecting and compiling this current economic information is to
measure changes in the volume of production and trade in relation to
changes in the volume of credit, the various lines of information are
put into the form of index numbers for purposes of comparison. The
use of index numbers, by placing the wide variety of information on
a common basis, makes possible comparisons of the direction and
rate of change in their basic industrial and commercial activities in
their relation to credit trends.
"In the current surveys of business conditions published by the Board
and the Federal reserve banks, the economic data which they collect are
made available to the business community. These publications and
the activities of other Government and private agencies in the gathering and interpretation of information with reference to current economic conditions are contributing to a better understanding of the
factors at work in the business situation and a better appreciation of
the relation between business movements and the volume of credit.
The business communitv from which the demand for credit arises is
in a position, on the basis of the more adequate information now available, to shape its policies with reference to the use of credit in accordance with fundamental factors and thus to cooperate with banking
authorities in the maintenance of sound credit conditions.
"The circumstances which have unavoidably led central banking
administrations in all countries to exercise a more direct judgment
concerning credit conditions and needs than was necessary in periods
when the gold standard functioned as an effective regulator of international trade and financial movements have been discussed earlier in
this report. Under the conditions that formerly obtained, action of a
central bank was largely determined by forces that were registered
in changes in its reserve position. No test so simple, so definite, so
easily understood, and so practicable has been found, nor is likely
to be found, as the old reserve ratio. The banking and business community in prewar days, looking at the position of the central bank—
that is, the state of its reserve and the position of its reserve ratio—
could see for itself what the state of credit was and what course of
action was indicated. The business community could, therefore, closely
approximate both the kind of action and the time of action to be taken
by central banking authorities. In circumstances which made necessary the protection of their gold reserves, little scope was left for the
exercise of large discretion. Under present conditions, however, and
until the restoration in some form of the international gold standard,
discretion must inevitably play a larger role in central banking adminis tration than in pre-war days when more reliance could be placed on
changes in the reserve ratio. There is much evidence that this altered
situation in which the banking community finds itself is being more

fully understood by the general business and borrowing public, and
that a more intelligent comprehension of present day credit problems
is resulting.
"The more fully the public understands what the function of the
Federal reserve system is and on what grounds and on what indications
its policies and actions are based, the simpler and easier will be the
problems of credit administration in the United States. For this reason
it has been the policy of the board to inform the public, either through
its official monthly publication or by statements to the press, on matters
in which the public has an interest and to which its attention should be
drawn. By this means the Board presents to the public a statement of
the problems confronting the system and of the attitude of the Board
toward current banking and credit developments. The public is a
partner in the Federal reserve system. The cooperation of the public
based upon an understanding of the broad outlines of Federal reserve
credit policy is of the greatest advantage to a good functioning of the
system. The difficulties and disturbances which have confronted business men, both in this country and abroad, during the period of postwar readjustments, have obliged them to take cognizance of the fundamental factors which influence the movement of trade and industry and
of the relation between these factors and the volume of credit. In the
United States more than in any other country business men in recent
years have shown a disposition to use current statistical data measuring
the rate and movement of basic factors in the economic situation and
to adjust the policies of their individual business enterprises to the
underlying economic forces. The Federal reserve system in developing
its policies is also in a position to use as guides these indicators of
changes in the state of industry and trade, and with the increasing
public appreciation of the value and meaning of these guides will to
a larger degree have the cooperation of an informed public opinion in
the carrying out of its policies. It is the belief of the Board that out of
the experience of the United States and other countries that are now
endeavoring to adapt their banking systems to the changing conditions
and needs of industry during this period of unprecedented disturbance,
there may result a larger conception of the function of these banking
systems and the development of a new and more competent basis of
credit administration."

After Secretary Mellon took office in 1921, there was a marked
increase in the frequency of "off the record" discussions, even though
Minutes of proceedings were not accessible to anyone outside the
System. As the following excerpts from Governors' Conferences dur-

ing 1922 and 1923 indicate, open market operations and Treasury
policies were the two areas most frequently treated confidentially:
"There was a long discussion of practices of the several reserve banks
and an expression of views of their obligations asfiscalagents. It was
understood that the conference would, on the next day, consider the
desirability of adopting a policy of buying and selling Government
obligations in an orderly, systematic way, not solely with regard to
earnings, but with regard to the whole credit situation and to the interests of the Treasury. (See paragraphs 2, 16, 59, 64.)
"At this point the conference went into executive session (stenographer absent) and confidential matters were discussed. (Summary,
May, 1922 Conference, p. 10.)"
"In executive session (stenographer absent) the Chairman reported
the substance of his conversation with Secretary Mellon in respect to
matters which the Conference had requested him to discuss with the
Secretary (See paragraph 27). (Summary, May, 1922 Conf., p. 27.)"
"(Executive discussion followed, at the conclusion of which the
Chairman submitted to the meeting the cables recently exchanged between the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and the Bank of England in regard to attendance at conference of representatives of the
European Banks of Issue, the matter being discussed in conference
without any record being kept of it.) (Stenographic Record, May,
1922 Conf., p. 235.)"
"Mr. Gilbert (Treasury Undersecretary). The Treasury looks on
these holdings by the reserve banks necessarily as a whole. It is not a
question of ten million here or fifty million there, but merely a question of having three or four hundred million—at one time over five
hundred million—in substantially one lot on an over-handing market,
or in a position to overhang the market, because the transactions of
both purchases and sales are immediately reflected in the central market in New York. We have always felt that the Federal Reserve banks
were perhaps a little unduly nervous about earnings when they invested, particularly for the reason that in the ordinary course of business there will be a certain amount of actual business, transactions of
purchase and sale, during a temporary period of tightening of money,
or otherwise they will result in a temporary investment which will be
cleaned out automatically.
"(Further informal discussion followed, which the Chair directed
should not be reported, at the conclusion of which, at 5:40 o'clock
p.m., the Conference adjourned until 10 o'clock Thursday, October 12,
1922, at which time they were to go into joint conference with the
Chairmen of the Federal Reserve Banks and the Federal Reserve
Board.) (S.R., October, 1922 Conf., p. 439.)"

"The Chairman submitted for the consideration of the conference a
memorandum prepared by the Federal Reserve Board X-3675—
(printed pages 517-520 stenographic record) concerning open market
operations, which was considered at some length, off the record. The
matter was informally discussed with some of the members of the
Board and also with Mr. Gilbert. No action was taken. {Summary,
March, 1923 Conf., p. 19.)"
"In addition to various matters of general policy (of which it is the
practice to keep no Secretary's minutes) and other topics which were
generally discussed without conclusions being reached, the following
matters which had either been specifically referred to the Governors
by the Board or held over for discussion with the Board were considered. (Summary, March, 1923 Conf., p. 23.)"
"The CHAIRMAN. Gentlemen, Mr. Gilbert suggested that we give
some further consideration to the question of permitting our Government securities to run off, or, I assume, permitting him to retire them
when he is able, at the pleasure of the Treasury. Do you wish to discuss
that now, or do you desire to wait until the matter comes up, as the
Secretary says it will, in our conference with the Board ?
"Governor FANCHER. That will come up in connection with Dr.
Miller's memorandum on the question of the formation of a new
"Governor CALKINS. It might be well for us to discuss it anyhow.
"The CHAIRMAN. The secretary says it will come up in our conference with the Board.
"Governor CALKINS. Notwithstanding the fact that it will come up
there, is it not more or less desirable for us to discuss it before that
time, to see if we can arrive at any conclusion ?
"The CHAIRMAN. It seems to be your opinion that it is desirable, and
consequently we will ask you to express your views, Governor Calldns.
" (Discussion followed which the reporter was directed not to take.)
"The CHAIRMAN. NOW, if there is no further discussion on this, we
will postpone it until such time as the question may come up with the
Board, and we will go on with our program.
"We have finished a discussion of fiscal agency topics . . . (8.R.,
March, 1923 Conf., pp. 285-286.)"
"The CHAIRMAN. Gentlemen, we will proceed to discuss the subject
matter of the Board's communication X-3675 [creating the Open
Market Investment Committee].
"Upon direction of the conference no record was made of the discussion of this matter.
"The CHAIRMAN. We will now discuss the second memorandum from
the Board, X-3676. (S.R., March, 1923 Conf., p. 521.)"

[In millions of dollars]


Gross purchases: t
Accepta nces 1
U.S. Government seeurities2
Municipal warrants^



1, 178



End-of-year holdings: 2
U.S. Government securities..
Other securities
Bills bought



1 84~















3, 587

2, 408

2, 998
2. 259


6 283



Gross purchases:»
U.S. Government securities 2.
Municipal warrants'
End-of-year holdings: 2
U.S. Government securities..
Other securities
Bills bought


















































3, 139



1 610



1 862


















2, 437



2, 430












5 ~

1 ..












8 611













19, 582






19, 582








22, 559


18, 885

























Gross purchases:
Acceptances l
U.S. Government securities 2 .
Municipal warrants 3

. ..

End-of-year holdings: 2
U.S. Government securities
Other securities
Bills bought






























Gross purchases: 1
Acceptances l
U.S. Government securities 2
Municipal warrants a
End-of-year holdings: 2
U S. Government securities
Other securities
Bills bought










18, 590











33, 593

37, 044





















1 Acceptances includes both outright purchases and repurchase agreements. After 1939, acceptances refer only to bankers' acceptances.
2 Gross purchases of U.S. Government securities are as of the last Wednesday of the year for 1928-40.
s Federal Reserve banks did not hold municipal warrants after 1933.

* Less than $500,000.
Source: Annual reports of the Federal Reserve Board, Banking and Monetary Statistics, and the
archives of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.