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The Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia thanks John Van Horne, former director of the
Library Company of Philadelphia, and Library Company staff members Nicole Joniec and
Sarah Weatherwax for their help in providing several of the images that appear in this
publication. Thanks also to Professor Hugh Rockoff, Rutgers University, for clarification of
some currency terminology.

A Chapter in the History of Central Banking


fter the second Bank

1907, U.S. banks weathered—or not—a storm of runs

of the United States

and panics, and the nation’s economy underwent

closed its doors in 1836,

several periods of recession and depression. (See

the United States went

Panics, Recessions, and Banking Crises, pages 4–5.)

through a period of
approximately 76 years

during which it had no central bank.1 Instead, the U.S.

No central bank. No uniform currency. An
economic depression. How would the country’s
economy continue to function?

banking system during this time is generally divided
into two periods: the state, or free, banking era, which
ran approximately from 1837 to 1863, and the national
banking era, which lasted roughly from 1863 to 1913.
Also, the United States still had no uniform

Second Bank’s Role
Although the Second Bank did not officially

national currency. State-chartered banks issued their

set monetary policy or regulate other banks, its

own banknotes, and some nonfinancial companies

prominence and broad geographic reach through

issued notes that also circulated as currency. For

its many branches allowed it to exert a stabilizing

example, railroads issued notes to fund construction

influence on the economy.3 The bank’s notes, backed

projects, and other companies such as the New Hope

by substantial gold reserves, gave the country a more

Delaware Bridge Company were allowed to issue

stable national currency. In the course of business, the

notes as well. Both the railroad and bridge company

Second Bank would accumulate the notes of the state

notes were used as currency.2

banks and hold them in its vault. When it wanted

Yet another problem facing the United States

to slow the growth of money and credit, it would

was a market crash in 1837 that resulted in a severe

present the notes for collection in gold or silver,

depression. In fact, during the period from 1837 to

thereby reducing state banks’ reserves and putting

The State and National Banking Eras


$1 note from an Illinois
bank exchanged for just
50 cents. The amount of
the discount sometimes
depended on the distance
between the issuing bank
and the paying bank and
sometimes on perceptions
of how sound the issuing
bank was.
In fact, discounts

In addition to state-chartered banks, some companies
issued notes that circulated as currency, such as
this $1 note from the New Hope Delaware Bridge
Company in Lambertville, New Jersey.

were so common that printers started publishing

Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia

merchants, and consumers would know how much

lists, called banknote reporters, so that bankers,

they could expect a particular note to be worth in
the brakes on state banks’ ability to circulate new

a particular location. This situation made it hard

banknotes. To speed up the growth of money and

to judge the relative value of goods and services in

credit, the Second Bank would hold on to the state

terms of state banks’ notes.

banks’ notes, thereby increasing state banks’ reserves
and allowing them to issue more banknotes through
their loan-making process. But with the closing of
the Second Bank, this restraining hand disappeared.

Panic of 1837
Although the U.S. economy was expanding
in the early 1830s, a fall in the price of cotton middecade, demand for payment in specie by foreign

No Uniform Currency
Allowing each state bank to issue its own

banks, and other factors caused financial stress in

banknotes created its own set of problems. For one

the United States.4 As a result, banks had to suspend

thing, such a profusion of currency—with different

redeeming their notes for specie because of a lack

sizes and different designs—could be confusing.

of gold and silver. Consequently, many banks were

For another thing—and perhaps more important—

illiquid, and many failed. This crisis was fueled in

banknotes exchanged at a discount, meaning that

part by a lack of confidence in the nation’s paper

they did not necessarily trade at face value. For

currency. It would take the country six years to

example, in 1842, a $1 note from a Tennessee bank

recover from this economic downturn.

exchanged for 80 cents in Philadelphia; likewise, a


creditors that drained the specie reserves of U.S.

The State and National Banking Eras

many states enacted free banking laws. The term

State, or Free,
Banking Era

generally means that almost anyone could open a
bank provided that person (or group of persons)

In the period between the closing of

met certain criteria, such as complying with

the Second Bank and the start of the Civil War,

minimum capital requirements and depositing

the regulation of banks was in the hands of the

bonds or other types of securities with the state

individual states. Without the Second Bank and

government to back the notes issued by the bank.

its branch system, which, among other things,
helped to finance the country’s western expansion,
states wanted to create more banks in order to help
farmers, settlers on the frontier, and others who
needed credit.5 Therefore, demand for bank charters
increased, as did the number of banks, and state

Michigan passed the first free banking law in 1837,
followed by New York in 1838.7
Some state banks had great success
under free banking laws, and others encountered
problems. For example, although these laws
worked well in New York, Michigan did not fare

banks issued more and more notes.
Generally, commercial banks in the United

so well under them.

States had to obtain
charters from state
governments, usually
through a special
act of the legislature.
However, the increase
in the demand for
banks and, hence, bank
charters led to concerns
about corruption. On
one side of the process, petitioners

This $5 state bank note was issued by the Central Bank of
Pennsylvania in Hollidaysburg.

who wanted to open a bank would

Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia

bribe state legislators in order to get a
charter. On the other side, owners of existing banks
pressured legislators to not issue charters, since the
banks already in operation feared competition from
the new banks.6
To try to lessen the potential for corruption
and to make the process of opening a bank easier,

The New York law centralized the issuance
of notes in Albany. Someone who wanted to start
a bank would deposit bonds with the comptroller
in the state capital.8 Once the comptroller’s office
accepted the bonds, the bank received an equivalent

The State and National Banking Eras


complaint. If the bank still
didn’t redeem the notes,
the comptroller would sell
the bank’s bonds and use
the proceeds to pay off
the note holders.
Meanwhile, in
Michigan, free banking ran
into trouble. Unlike New
This $1 state bank note was issued in 1861 by the
Beverly Bank, in Beverly, New Jersey.
Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia

York, Michigan was a state
that was still developing, its growth facilitated by
the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825. Under free

amount of notes. These notes were redeemable in

banking laws in Michigan, prospective bankers

specie on demand at the issuing bank. If, for some

had to pay 30 percent of banks’ capital into a safety

reason, the bank couldn’t redeem the notes, the bank

fund. But banks were allowed to operate even before

had to pay the note holder interest on the face value

the full 30 percent had been paid and could issue

of the note. Ultimately, the note holder could file a

notes against the full amount of their capital.

Panics, Recessions,

Banking Crises

1837 See text, page 2.

bonds to investors to cover its obligations, the stock

1857 The collapse of the Ohio Life Insurance and

large financial institutions led to their failure. The

Trust Company and a bank panic in the fall of 1857
led to an economic crisis. More than 5,000 businesses
failed during the first year of the panic.

1873 The collapse of Jay Cooke and Co., the
largest bank in the U.S. at that time, in September
1873 triggered a panic on the stock exchange.
Cooke’s bank was the exclusive agent for the sale
of Northern Pacific Railroad bonds. When the
firm could not sell a sufficient number of railroad


The State and National Banking Eras

market reacted negatively, and runs on several other
Coinage Act of 1873 depressed the price of silver,
hurting the interests of U.S. silver mines and further
contributing to the country’s economic problems.
This economic crisis led to a recession that lasted
until 1879.

1882-85 The recession of these years was
mostly due to the end of the railroad construction
boom. The end of the boom affected other industries,
particularly iron and steel.

So the safety fund’s growth couldn’t keep pace

under the free banking laws, only to dupe the

with the number of banknotes issued. Furthermore,

public by issuing notes and then running off with

banknotes were often backed by mortgages, a risky

the gold and silver.

security in a place where land speculation was
rampant and land often greatly overvalued.9

Another explanation stems from the time
when Missouri placed a bounty on the killing of
certain animals, and the going rate for wildcats was

Wildcat Banks
Free banking laws sometimes gave rise
to wildcat banks. Basically, these were banks that
issued more notes than they could reasonably hope
to redeem. Reasons for the name wildcat vary.10 One
explanation is that these banks were set up in very
rural areas—places where only wildcats would
go. These places were so remote that note holders
couldn’t find them in order to redeem their notes.
Hence, many unscrupulous people set up banks

50 cents for each one killed. When a hunter brought
his catch to the county office, the county treasurer
would issue a certificate in the amount of the bounty.
Recipients of these certificates, which came to be
known as “wildcat certificates,” could not trade
them for specie but could use them to pay county
taxes. So the certificates often circulated as currency,
and the term wildcat was soon applied to
other currencies—particularly the paper notes
issued by wildcat banks—that could not be
redeemed for gold or silver.

1884 Coming in the midst of the 1882–85

1907 The failure of the Knickerbocker Trust

recession, this panic occurred when European gold

Company in New York led to runs on other trust

reserves were depleted and banks called in loans.

companies. A general panic ensued. The panic

1893 The Sherman Silver Purchase Act, which was

triggered hundreds of bank failures, a significant
decrease in the money supply, and a deep recession.

passed in 1890, increased the amount of silver the

Financier J.P. Morgan formed a syndicate with his

federal government had to purchase each month. The

fellow bankers, who were able to put sufficient

act was intended to lessen the fears of many farmers

liquidity into the economy to quell the panic. This

who were in debt and couldn’t pay off those debts

panic led to the creation of a federal commission

because of deflation. They wanted the government

to study the economy and ways to quell its many

to, in effect, cause inflation so that they could pay

crises and panics. The findings of this commission

off their debts with cheaper dollars. The act also

eventually led to the creation of the Federal Reserve

responded to mining interests; mining companies had

System in 1913.

extracted a large quantity of silver from mines in the
West. Furthermore, the failure of a major railroad and

Sources: Kindleberger and Aliber; Glasner; Bordo and Haubrich

the withdrawal of European investment led to a stock
market crash, a banking collapse, and a run on the
U.S. gold supply.
The State and National Banking Eras


Several states—even some more established
eastern states—had instances of wildcat banking.
But for the most part, when it came to wildcat
banking, local banks “took advantage of lax state

National Banking Era
Paying for the Civil War
By April 1861, the nation found itself with

laws” and issued an excessive amount of banknotes,

a new set of troubles. Several southern states had

“particularly in the rural Middle West.” Michigan,

seceded from the Union, and, shortly thereafter,

in particular, seemed prone to the formation of

war broke out between the North and the South.

wildcat banks.

As at other times in the nation’s history, the federal


government in Washington had to figure out how

Concerns About Federal
Money in State Banks
In 1833, President Andrew Jackson had
ordered that federal money be pulled from the
second Bank of the United States and deposited
in state banks. Given the general banking conditions
during the free banking era, some lawmakers and
other government officials expressed concern

to pay for a war.
First, Congress passed an act in July 1861
that authorized Secretary of the Treasury Salmon
P. Chase to borrow money on behalf of the federal
government and to issue Treasury notes as collateral
for any such loans. So Chase arranged for an
initial loan of $50,000,000 from several different
banks in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia.12

about the safety of holding government money
in state banks. Congress responded to these
concerns by establishing the Independent Treasury
System (see next page).

By 1860, 18 states had enacted free banking
laws. Note that free banking does not necessarily
imply failure or that all banks created under free
banking laws were wildcat banks. Some state banks
flourished and others foundered under free banking
laws. But by 1860 other problems loomed on the
horizon, and state banks soon had competition from
an entirely new source.

Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase helped
to establish the U.S. national bank system.
The Library Company of Philadelphia


The State and National Banking Eras

That same month, Congress authorized the

to issue another type of paper currency called legal

Treasury to issue non-interest-bearing notes called

tender, or U.S., notes.13 These notes were not backed

demand notes, which could be redeemed in specie

by gold or silver but were acceptable for all debts,

“on demand.” They were also called greenbacks

public and private (although they could not be used

because the reverse side of the notes was printed in

to pay tariffs). They too were called greenbacks.

green ink. The following year, Congress passed the
Legal Tender Act, which authorized the Treasury

In another attempt to raise money for the
war, Chase proposed the creation of a national

The Independent Treasury System
After Andrew Jackson pulled federal
deposits from the second Bank of the United States

banks until 1846, when the Democrats returned to
power and a new ITS was created.

in 1833, he ordered that government money be kept

The sub-Treasury system continued in

in state-chartered banks. However, several of these

existence until the early 20th century. However, with

banks ultimately failed, causing some concern in

the creation of the national banking system in 1863,

Washington about the safety of public money.

the ITS became less important. One reason is that

To offset these concerns, Congress established

the new national banks also became depositories

the Independent Treasury System (ITS) in 1846.

for federal government funds. Although the

These depositories, also called sub-Treasury

decision seems to go against the idea of separating

offices, collected, transferred, and disbursed public

government funds from the banking system, many

revenues. The idea was to protect government

people felt that federally regulated banks were a

money from the risks of the banking system. Offices

safer place for federal funds than state-regulated

were initially set up in Washington, Philadelphia,


New Orleans, New York, Boston, Charleston, and St.

Passage of the Federal Reserve Act in 1913

Louis; eventually, Baltimore, Chicago, Cincinnati,

provided the final blow to the sub-Treasury system.

and San Francisco were added to the list.

The new legislation said that the money held in

This was not the nation’s first attempt

the Treasury accounts should be deposited in the

to make the government’s money more secure.

Reserve Banks and that the Reserve Banks would act

President Martin Van Buren had suggested an ITS

as fiscal agents for the government.

in 1837. He kept his idea before Congress for several

To ensure an orderly transition, the removal

years, and Congress finally passed a bill establishing

of money from the ITS to the Federal Reserve was

an ITS in 1840. However, this first system lasted

carried out gradually. Sub-Treasury offices started

only until 1841 when the Whigs, who had gained

closing in October 1920, and the last office—in

power in Washington, repealed the law. So the

Cincinnati—closed in 1921.

government’s funds remained on deposit in state

The State and National Banking Eras



The second Bank of
the United States
closes its door when
its charter expires.

The Civil
War begins.






The Independent
Treasury System
is established.








Several banks
experience runs, and
a general panic and
severe economic
depression ensue.



Michigan and New
York pass the first
free banking laws.

banking system. After a failed attempt to get a
national banking law passed in 1861, Chase was
more successful in 1863 when Congress passed the
National Bank Act. Under the provisions of this law,
banks could apply for a national charter. Once a
bank was approved, it had to buy interest-bearing

Another financial panic
hits the country.







The Treasury issues
the first national paper
currency since the
Revolutionary War.

Moving Toward a More
Uniform Currency
The law also called for the creation of
national bank notes. These notes bore the name of
the issuing bank and the signatures of the bank’s

U.S. government bonds in the amount of one-third
of its paid-in capital.14 In this way, the Treasury
raised money to help finance the Civil War.
Many banks switched from a
state to a national charter. In fact, soon
after the law was passed, national banks
far outnumbered state banks. By 1865,
there were 349 state and 1,294 national
banks in the United States. Twenty
years later, the numbers were 1,015 state
and 2,689 national banks. By 1892, the


numbers started to even out: 3,733 state

U.S. notes issued by Congress to finance the Civil War were
called greenbacks. Shown is a $5 greenback issued in 1861.

and 3,759 national banks.15

Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia

The State and National Banking Eras


Congress passes the
National Bank Act.

The collapse of a large bank leads to
a recession; the country undergoes
repeated financial crises through the
rest of the century.




Congress sets up the National
Monetary Commission to look into
the country’s financial system.





The Civil War
ends, and the
nation has a dual
banking system.


A run on several New
York City banks and
turmoil on the stock
exchange bring yet
another panic and
financial crisis.

The Federal Reserve Act
establishes a new central
bank for the nation—the
Federal Reserve System.

officers, but they were otherwise identical
in design, size, and color. In addition, the
holder could redeem the notes for silver or
gold at the issuing bank. If the issuing bank
couldn’t redeem the notes, the government
could sell the bank’s bonds and pay off the
note holders. Therefore, national notes were
seen as having very low risk, which led to

national bank notes could be used to pay all

This $50 note was issued by the Metropolitan National Bank of
New York and was backed by U.S. Treasury bonds. The words
National Currency appear at the top. Also, beginning in 1877, all
national banks’ notes were printed by the Treasury’s Bureau of
Engraving and Printing, which still prints our currency today.

federal taxes except customs duties, a fact

Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia

greater public confidence in these notes and
in a national currency system.16 Furthermore,

that also fostered wide acceptance
of these notes.17
However, although the introduction of

notes and certificates were used as currency. And,
of course, at the same time, the Confederate States

national bank notes pushed the U.S. toward a more

of America—the South—was also trying to come up

uniform and stable currency, many other forms of

with ways to pay for the war and was also issuing its

currency still circulated at the time of the Civil War.

own currency. (See A Brief History of the Confederate

For example, gold certificates and company-issued

Financial System, pages 10–11.)

The State and National Banking Eras


A Brief History of the

Christopher Memminger was the first
Confederate Secretary of the Treasury. Memminger
was a lawyer from Charleston who had no solid
understanding of economic theory or financial
practice. His lack of ability is evident in the number
of desperate steps that he took. In his defense, it can
be said that, given the nature of the Confederacy,
he was presented with a truly hopeless task.a He
resigned in 1864 and was replaced by George
Trenholm, who was replaced toward the end of the
war by John Reagan.

Two Classic Causes of Inflation
in the Confederacy

Prices soared in the Confederacy because of
(1) an oversupply of various forms of money and (2)
a scarcity of goods.

Oversupply and Lack of
Uniformity in Money
At the beginning of the war, Virginia was
issuing its own currency, as were other southern
states. To deal with this, the Confederate Congress
issued bonds at 8 percent, hoping that these bonds
would soak up the excess currency.b
The Confederate Congress also authorized
huge amounts of unsecured bills (Confederate
money). To protect against counterfeiting, Congress
ruled that each bill must be signed and numbered by
a Treasury clerk, thus keeping battalions of women
Treasury employees busy.c

Donald, Baker, Holt, p. 255; also Reinfeld
Furgurson, p. 190
Furgurson, p. 190


Although the Confederacy took possession
of the U.S. mints at New Orleans, Charlotte, and
Dahlonega, Georgia, these mints had only small
stockpiles of bullion that were soon exhausted.
Thus, the Confederacy was unable to mint coins,
so making change was difficult.d Although the
Confederate post office took to selling stamps as
currency, it couldn’t keep up with the demand.
Therefore, states, cities, railroads, merchants,
taverns, and even some individuals began issuing
their own paper bills in small denominations
of from 2 to 50 cents. (These bills were called
shinplasters.e ) As a result, more “money” flooded
into the Confederate economy. Memminger made
no attempts to outlaw these shinplasters, and so
the Confederacy was initially plagued by a lack of
uniform currency.f

Scarcity of Goods

The other cause of inflation, scarcity of
goods, was exacerbated by the Union blockade of
Confederate ports, which also prevented the South
from shipping its chief export, cotton, to overseas
markets. So the inflation caused by too much money
(and too many forms of money) was worsened by
that money chasing too few goods. The Confederacy
responded by simply printing more currency.
However, the more paper money the Confederacy
printed, the more prices rose. And the more prices
rose, the more paper money the Confederacy
printed. By the end of the Civil War, the
Confederacy experienced an inflation rate of about
9,000 percent! g Even obtaining the paper needed to
print paper money was a challenge. A large amount
of paper had to be shipped from England.h
Furgurson, p. 190
Donald, Baker, Holt, p. 259
Markham, p. 238





The State and National Banking Eras

Financing the War
The Confederacy attempted to finance a
costly war without much gold and silver, without
a strong financial plan, without a popular commitment to taxation, and with a Treasury Secretary
who did not understand economic theory or
financial practice.i
The long southern opposition to taxes,
combined with the U.S. naval blockade that limited southern imports and exports, resulted in the
Confederacy raising only $17,500,000 in 1861–62, at a
time when its annual budget was over $160 million. j
In fact, the Confederacy raised only about 1 percent
of its revenue in taxes.k Memminger also attempted
to finance the war through loans. Although the
Confederacy did raise some revenue this way, there
was not enough gold or silver in the South to serve
as collateral.
With little success in
raising revenue through taxes
or loans, the Confederate
treasury turned to the printing press and printed nearly
$1.5 billion in paper money
backed only by the promise
of postwar redemption in
gold and silver. The Confederacy became a money
factory that fueled a rate of
inflation that undermined
its economy and demoralized its citizens.
As inflation rose and Confederate money
continued to lose value, the government in Richmond promised to pay a specified amount to the
bearer two years after a peace treaty was signed.
Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy, and
Memminger resisted the arguments of several
Confederate congressmen to make Confederate
currency legal tender.l
Markham, p. 226
Donald, Baker, Holt, p. 255
Donald, Baker, Holt, p. 256
This figure of 1 percent is from Donald, Baker, Holt, p. 257,
citing E. Merton Coulter, The Confederate States of America, 1861–
1865. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1950, p. 182;
however, Markham, p. 226, puts this figure at 5 percent, still a
small amount.

By the war’s end, the Confederacy had issued $1.554 billion in paper money.m By early 1865,
Confederate currency was worth only 1.7 cents
on the dollar. By the end of the war, flour sold for
$1,000 a barrel in Richmond.n The Confederacy
had only $85,000 in gold, $36,000 in silver coin, and
$700,000 in Confederate paper money, which people
often used as fuel.o Writing in 1875 and recalling the
privations of December 1864 in Richmond, Cornelia
Peake McDonald recorded: “I generally went all day
with a cup of coffee and a roll.” She records
spending $100 in Confederate money for “a pound
of fat bacon, three candles…and a pound of bad
butter.” p In Richmond, Davis recommended that
people consider eating rats.q

Like its counterpart in Washington, D.C., the Confederate
government in Richmond was issuing currency, such as
this $100 note from 1864, to help pay for war materials
for the South.
Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia

Donald, Baker, Holt, pp. 258–59
Donald, Baker, Holt, p. 259
Donald, Baker, Holt, p. 260
McDonald, p. 222
Furgurson, p. 260





The State and National Banking Eras


Ultimately, the establishment of a national
bank system, and the revenue it produced,
helped pay for the Civil War in the short term.
However, the government hoped that, in the long
run, national banks would eliminate state and
private banks. In an effort to accomplish this goal,
in 1865, the government imposed a 10 percent tax
on the issuance of all state bank notes. Having to
pay this tax made it unprofitable for state-chartered
Fractional currency notes such as these were used
to make change during the Civil War. These notes
were necessary because coins were being hoarded.
Sometimes even postage stamps were used to make
change (lower right).
Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia

banks to issue notes. Although this tax did not drive
state banks out of business, it did put a halt to their
issuance of banknotes. Thus, national bank notes
gained ground as the nation’s primary currency.
In light of the heavy tax imposed on the issuance
of banknotes, state banks turned to other types of

Hoarding, Shortages, and
Fractional Currency
Wars also make people more fearful, and
the Civil War was no exception. Fears of what types
of economic woes (and other problems) the war
might bring led people to hoard gold and silver
coins because of their value. Furthermore, gold and
silver were in short supply because of the war. This
combination of hoarding and a general shortage


banking business — accepting deposits and making
loans. (Initially, national banks were prohibited
from making loans.) This dual banking system of
both state-chartered and nationally chartered banks
continues today.

Moving Toward a New
Central Bank
By the end of the Civil War in spring 1865,

of metal for minting coins made it harder to make

both state and national banks existed side-by-side.

change for financial transactions. To deal with

After the war, the nation’s economy and its dual

this problem, the government issued “fractional

banking system lurched along, experiencing a series

currency,” that is, paper currency whose face value

of bank panics and runs and several recessions and

was denominated in cents. For example, the U.S.

depressions. Finally, in 1907, turmoil in the stock

Treasury issued paper notes worth 3, 5, 10, 15, 25,

market and runs on several New York City banks led

and 50 cents. Even postage stamps were pressed into

to an episode in October and November known as

service for making change.

the Panic of 1907.

The State and National Banking Eras

Shortly thereafter, in 1908, Congress set
up the National Monetary Commission to look
into ways of stabilizing the monetary system. The
commission’s report noted that U.S. currency was
“inelastic”—the supply of money could not quickly
adjust to changes in the demand for money.
In an attempt to deal with this issue, the
commission came up with a plan for a National
Reserve Association of the United States. Although
this plan was never enacted, the debate it generated
led ultimately to the creation of a bill that proposed
a new decentralized central bank for the United
States—the Federal Reserve System. The Federal
Reserve Act was passed in December 1913. Today, the
Fed remains the central bank of the United States.18

Explanations of terms in bold italics can be found in the Glossary
on page 14. Also, brief biographies of people mentioned in the
text can be found starting on page 15.
See Wright, p. 371.
For more information, see the booklet about the Second Bank
published by the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia. The
Philadelphia Fed has also published a book on the first Bank of
the United States.
See pages 1–10 of Leonard Helderman’s book for more on the
causes of the Panic of 1837.
See the thesis by Patricia McShane, pp. 54–55.
See Hendrickson, pp. 24–25.
Some new states, for example, California, Arkansas, and Texas,
banned banking in their original constitutions. Ultimately, of
course, these states changed their constitutions to allow banking.
The discussion about New York and Michigan in the next two
paragraphs draws heavily on the discussion in Helderman, pp.
See Helderman, pp. 26–27.
See Patricia McShane, pp. 3–4, for a discussion of the origin
of the term wildcat as it relates to banking. Note that wildcat
banking and free banking are not synonymous terms.

Federal Reserve building in Washington, D.C.

See McShane, p. 3.
See the book by Wesley Clair Mitchell.
See the website of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing (BEP)
for more information on the history of currency. In July 1862,
Congress authorized the Treasury Department to engrave and
print notes, which was the origin of the BEP. In 1877, the BEP
became the exclusive producer of all U.S. currency and still prints
our money today.
The National Bank Act also created the Office of the
Comptroller of the Currency (OCC). The OCC was charged with
overseeing nationally chartered banks and establishing a more
uniform currency. The OCC still regulates nationally chartered
banks today.
Numbers are from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation’s
Learning Bank website.
These were eventually replaced by Federal Reserve notes,
which are obligations of the government, not obligations of the
individual banks. Federal Reserve notes are the paper currency
we use today.
See Helderman, p. 143.
The essay by Verle Johnston offers more detail on the National
Monetary Commission and the founding of the Federal Reserve

The State and National Banking Eras


Beckhart, B.H. “Outline of Banking History: From the First Bank of
the United States Through the Panic of 1907,” Annals of the American
Academy of Political and Social Science 99 (January 1922), pp. 1–16.
Bordo, Michael D., and Joseph G. Haubrich. “Credit Crises,
Money, and Contractions: An Historical View,” Journal of Monetary
Economics 57:1 (January 2010), pp. 1–18.
Donald, David Herbert, Jean Harvey Baker, and Michael F. Holt.
The Civil War and Reconstruction. New York: W.W. Norton, 2001.

Johnston, Verle B. “The Aldrich Plan,” Federal Reserve Bank of
San Francisco Weekly Letter (January 6, 1984).
Kindleberger, Charles P., and Robert Aliber. Manias, Panics, and
Crashes: A History of Financial Crises, 5th ed. New York: John Wiley
& Sons, 2005.
Markham, Jerry W. A Financial History of the United States.
Harmony, New York: M.E. Sharpe, 2002, pp. 223 ff.
McDonald, Cornelia Peake. A Woman’s Civil War: A Diary with
Reminiscences of the War from March 1862. New York: Gramercy
Books, 2005.

Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia. The First Bank of the United
States: A Chapter in the History of Central Banking. Federal Reserve
Bank of Philadelphia, June 2009.

McShane, M. Patricia. “Wildcat Banking Practices and the
Development of State Bank Supervision,” master’s thesis, Stonier
Graduate School of Banking, Rutgers University, New Brunswick,
NJ, June 1970.

Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia. The Second Bank of the United
States: A Chapter in the History of Central Banking. Federal Reserve
Bank of Philadelphia, December 2010.

Meacham, Jon. American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House.
New York: Random House, 2008.

Furgurson, Ernest B. Ashes of Glory: Richmond at War. New York:
Knopf, 1996.
Glasner, David, ed. Business Cycles and Depressions: An Encyclopedia.
New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1997.
Hammond, Bray. Banks and Politics in America from the Revolution to
the Civil War. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1957.
Helderman, Leonard C. National and State Banks: A Study of Their
Origins. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1931.

Mitchell, Wesley Clair. A History of the Greenbacks. Chicago:
University of Chicago Press, 1903.
Reinfeld, Fred. The Story of Paper Money. New York: Sterling
Publishing Company, 1957.
Rockoff, Hugh. The Free Banking Era: A Re-Examination. New York:
Arno Press, 1975.
Wright, Chester Whitney. Economic History of the United States.
New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1949.

Hendrickson, Jill M. Regulation and Instability in U.S. Commercial
Banking: A History of Crises. New York: Palgrave/Macmillan, 2011.

A negotiable instrument; a promissory note (promise
to pay) that is used as money.
A governmental institution responsible for issuing
currency and establishing monetary policy, which
involves the overall growth of money and credit and the
level of short-term interest rates. The Federal Reserve is
now the central bank of the United States.
A form of tax levied on goods traded internationally.
Legally valid currency that may be offered in payment
of a debt and that a creditor must accept.
The funds raised by a corporation from issuing stock
in the primary market.


The State and National Banking Eras

A financial instrument, such as a stock or a bond, which,
among other things, can be used as collateral for loans.
In the early banking history of the United States,
securities were often held as collateral against the
issuance of banknotes.
Money in the form of gold or silver. In the colonial period
and in the early years of the United States, specie usually
referred to gold or silver coins.
Similar to customs duties, except tariff more commonly
refers to a tax on goods imported into a nation.
A political party that existed in the United States
roughly from the 1830s to the 1850s. Party members
generally opposed the policies of Andrew Jackson and
the Democratic Party. Unlike Jackson and the Democrats,
Whigs believed that Congress should be a stronger force
in the government than the president.

Salmon P. Chase
Born in New Hampshire, Salmon P.
Chase, after the death of his father,
was sent to live with an uncle in

Andrew Jackson



Biographical Sketches
Andrew Jackson was born in 1767
on the border between North and
South Carolina, the third son of Irish

Ohio. He graduated from Dartmouth

immigrants. Although his family

College in 1826 and studied law in Washington under

was not wealthy, Jackson eventually became a licensed

the guidance of the U.S. attorney general. Chase set

attorney and, at age 21, made his way to the territory

up a law practice in Cincinnati, defending runaway

that would become Tennessee. In 1828, Jackson was

slaves and those who helped them. He served in the

elected to the presidency. Often portrayed as “King

U.S. Senate from 1849 to 1855, was elected governor of

Andrew” in political cartoons of the day, Jackson freely

Ohio in 1855, and then returned to the Senate from his

used his veto power and often would not concede to

adopted home state in 1861. However, his second term

Congress on matters of policy. Re-elected to a second

in the Senate was short; he resigned from his office to

term in 1832, Jackson began a battle to defeat the

accept the post of Secretary of the Treasury in President

second Bank of the United States. Through a series

Abraham Lincoln’s cabinet. Chase resigned from his

of maneuvers designed to destroy the bank, Jackson

Treasury office in 1864 and at the end of that year was

ultimately won the fight. Jackson died at his Tennessee

appointed Chief Justice of the United States. He died in

mansion, the Hermitage, in June 1845.


New York City in 1873.

Jefferson Davis

Cornelia Peake McDonald


The diarist Cornelia Peake McDonald was born in

Jefferson Davis was born in

Alexandria, Virginia, to Dr. Humphrey Peake and his

Kentucky, graduated from West

wife, Annie. The family moved around a lot during

Point in 1828, and eventually moved

McDonald’s childhood, eventually ending up in

to Mississippi. Although he left the

Hannibal, Missouri. There, she met and married

military in 1835, he had a second brief military career

Angus McDonald, and the couple moved back to

when he led a volunteer regiment in the Mexican-

Virginia. After the outbreak of war, her husband

American War. In 1847, the governor of Mississippi

became a colonel in the Confederate army and died

appointed Davis to the U.S. Senate to complete the term

during the war. She recorded her experiences during

of a senator who had died; he was subsequently re-

the war in her diary, which was later published under

elected to a full term. He then served as Secretary of

the title A Diary with Reminiscences of the War and Refugee

War under President Franklin Pierce, leaving that

Life in the Shenandoah Valley, 1860–1865. The diary offers

position in 1857 and returning to the Senate. When

a first-hand look at a Southerner’s daily circumstances

southern states started to secede from the Union, Davis

in the upheaval of the Civil War, especially the scarcity

resigned his Senate seat and returned to Mississippi

of goods and the declining value of Confederate

in January 1861. Just one month later, he was elected

currency. McDonald died in 1909 and is buried in

president of the Confederate States of America. He

Richmond, Virginia.

died in New Orleans in 1889.

The State and National Banking Eras


Christopher Memminger

George Trenholm



Born in Germany, Christopher Memminger was

George Trenholm was born in Charleston, South

brought to Charleston, South Carolina, by his

Carolina. Although he had to leave school when his

widowed mother as a very young child. Shortly after

father died, he eventually became head of a cotton

arriving in the U.S., his mother died of yellow fever

brokerage and by the time of the Civil War was one of

and Memminger was sent to an orphanage. A future

the wealthiest men in the country. His financial interests

governor of South Carolina took an interest in the boy

encompassed hotels, banks, railroads, and steamships,

and sent him to South Carolina College, from which

among others. When war between the North and South

Memminger graduated at age 16. He then studied law

broke out, Trenholm’s cotton company made major

and set up a successful practice in Charleston. After

contributions to the Confederacy’s war effort. In 1864,

southern secession, he helped to draft the constitution

he succeeded Christopher Memminger as Secretary

of the Confederate States of America. He was

of the Treasury for the Confederate states. He served

appointed Secretary of the Confederate Treasury and

in that post until 1865. After the war he returned to

served in that post from 1861 to 1864. After the war, he

Charleston, where he died in 1876. Many people believe

served in the South Carolina state legislature. He died

that Margaret Mitchell used Trenholm as her model for

in Charleston in 1888.

the character of Rhett Butler in Gone with the Wind.

John Reagan
John Reagan was born in Tennessee
but left the state at age 19 to work
as a surveyor and then a farmer in
Texas. Reagan taught himself law,

Martin Van Buren
Born in the village of Kinderhook,
New York, near Albany, Martin
Van Buren became involved in
politics as a young lawyer. He was

obtained a license to practice, and opened an office in

elected to the U.S. Senate in 1821. An organizer of the

the towns of Buffalo and Palestine, Texas. He served in

Democratic Party and a supporter of Andrew Jackson,

the state House of Representatives for two years and

Van Buren was appointed Jackson’s Secretary of State,

was elected to the U.S. House, where he served from

was elected vice president on Jackson’s ticket in 1832,

1857 to 1861. He resigned his Senate seat and returned

and succeeded Jackson in the White House in 1836. He

to Texas as the possibility of war between North

was inaugurated in March 1837, and it was his bad luck

and South became more and more likely. He served

that the Panic of 1837 occurred soon after. As president,

as Postmaster General of the Confederate States of

he managed to get Congress to create an Independent

America from 1861 to 1865. Jefferson Davis

Treasury System (see page 7), but the system lasted

appointed him Secretary of the Treasury, a post in

only a year. A more successful system was established

which he served for two weeks until he and Davis

several years later during the administration of

were captured by Union troops in Georgia. Imprisoned

President James Polk. A one-term president, Van

in Boston for almost six months after the war, Reagan

Buren died in 1862.

returned to Texas and to public life, serving again in
Congress for 12 years. He died at his home in
Palestine, Texas, in 1905.




Biographical Sketches

The State and National Banking Eras

Pictured on the cover is the second U.S. Mint building in Philadelphia. This structure, which
stood on the corner of Chestnut and Juniper streets, was the home of the Mint from 1833 to
1901. (Image from the Library Company of Philadelphia)