The Credit System vs. Speculation: Nicholas Biddle and the 2nd Bank of the United States
By Michael Kirsch
July 4, 2012
Many in the United States Congress want to know how to reorganize the U.S. economy, but are stuck with two fundamental questions: how to regulate speculation constitutionally, and how to generate wealth and the means of funding a nationwide recovery. There is an alternative to Federal Reserve and Eurozone bailouts and austerity: a re-establishment of a U.S. Credit System, in which the first step is a re-instatement of the Glass-Steagall law, as presented in Rep. Marcy Kaptur's H.R. 1489.
For the purpose of re-implementing a U.S. Credit System in 2012, this article reviews the full history of how the Second Bank of the United States created the greatest period of economic growth in our history up to that time. This research was a follow-up to an investigation of how NAWAPA XXI (the updated North American Water and Power Alliance) would relate to the Hamiltonian system of public credit, the results of which were published in March 2012.
Anton Chaitkin1Anton Chaitkin, “The American Industrial Revolution That Andrew Jackson Sought To Destroy,” EIR, http://larouchepub.com/eiw/public/2012/2012_20-29/2012-25/pdf/06-23_3925.pdf, June 22, 2012. recently told the story of the unification of the nationalist movement which led to, and created, the industrialization of the United States. In the present article, the subject is the workings of the credit system, how it was directed and the conception which made it possible. We present an important piece of the historical development of a functioning Credit System, in its most outstanding form.
Such in-depth historical investigation is necessary knowledge for those determined to fix the current global mess, and to design a plan that can fund a recovery for the U.S. and other nations.
Our story begins near the beginning of the War of 1812, when the first Bank of the United States met its demise.
In 1810-1811, the political parties were split on the issue of re-chartering the Bank of the United States, and the vote to recharter lost by the tie-breaking vote of the President of the Senate, cast against President Madison's wishes, and by a single vote in the House of Representatives.
On January 3rd 1811, on the eve of the decision to dissolve the Bank of the United States, a 24 year old Nicholas Biddle, serving as a state representative at Lancaster, PA, who had been promoting canal building and public education in the state unsuccessfully, rose to challenge a resolution to dissolve the Bank of the United States. Surprising the committee, he spoke instead with hours of prepared study on the subject, reviewing the history of the Bank, and challenging party rhetoric against the bank that it was unconstitutional and served the monied aristocracy. He outlined the system of public credit which it had made possible, and warned of the effects which would ensue, following its demise.
To my mind no principle of national economy is clearer, than that the most natural way of protecting the poorer classes of a society is by a [national] bank: an institution...which enables the farmer to reserve his crops for a better market, instead of sacrificing them for his immediate wants; and by loans, at a moderate rate of interest, relieves every class of society from the pressure of usury. As to a monied aristocracy, is it not obvious that the funds of a bank are of all other kinds of property the least calculated to promote the influence which is feared? An extensive proprietor of land may oppress his tenantry; the holder of mortgages may influence and control a whole neighborhood; but a large stockholder in a bank sees interposed between him and his debtors an association of individuals whose private feelings are merged in the passion of pecuniary gain.
He addressed the fallacious argument of usurpation by foreign monied influence who owned stock in the bank, but were forbidden from partaking in its direction:
[The bank's] shares rise in value till foreigners, desirous of placing their funds beyond the insecurity of Europe, send over their money and purchase its stock. In the first place, our citizens gain the additional price, and this foreign money is lent by the bank to individuals, who, after employing it in the improvement of the soil, the establishment of manufactures, and in the advancement of every branch of the national industry, return it to the bank, who send to foreigners the interest; that is, the surplus which our citizens have earned with it, above their own income from its employment.
Turning to his direct warning, he described the effects of dissolving the bank:
The resources of the union are almost wholly drawn from commerce. As the treasury must be supplied from the collection of duties, it must depend on the ability of the merchant to pay the duties by means of the loans from the bank and in notes of the bank. ... On a sudden you declare that there shall be no longer any loans... you annihilate the credits on which the merchant had relied for the fulfillment of his contracts with government—and the facilities which enabled him to discharge them without specie.
This deficiency of revenue would only be secondary when compared with the overthrow of punctuality and credit, which will break up the foundations of mercantile confidence, and spread a wide and universal calamity throughout the country. ... The demand for specie will place the poorer classes at the mercy of the rich, the great money lenders will issue abroad to prey upon their fellow citizens. Yes, sir, in the sweeping ruin which will overwhelm humble and useful industry in the general submersion of small traders, the only beings who will be seen floating on the wreck are these very “monied aristocrats”, whom the resolutions denounce with such indignation...
We are now preparing our non-intercourse for England which may drive us into a war with that country. With the dreary prospect of such a misfortune...when the government needs all its strength to meet such dangers—is this a time to disorder its finances?
Mathew Carey—one of the closest co-thinkers of Benjamin Franklin in the United States—had likewise attempted to stave off the calamity which was threatened, writing in the newspapers and writing 8 letters in December 1810 to his Representative in Philadelphia, which he circulated the weeks before the final vote on January 24th, 1811 rebutting the charges that had been thrown up against the Bank of United States, reviewing President Jefferson's 1804 extension of the bank's power, and warning of the effects of non-renewing the charter of the bank.
The productions of the earth will look in vain for a profitable market in our seaport towns. They will remain on hands unsold, or, if they be sold, the capitalists will be able at pleasure to regulate the prices—for there will be little or no competition.
Many people believe that the struggle for the destruction of the Bank of the United States, is a war of the middle and poorer classes of society, against the rich; and that if it should be successful, the interests of the former will be promoted at the expense of the latter. Fatal error! Should the enemies of the Bank triumph, the interests of the middle and poorer classes will be laid prostrate for the advantage of the overgrown capitalists, who will be able to possess themselves of the property of the distressed, at thirty or forty per cent below its value. 2Mathew Carey, Letters to Dr. Adam Seybert Dec 5th-17th 1810, Published January 8th, 1811.
This article demonstrates the nature of the U.S. Credit System as developed to its fullest expression by Nicholas Biddle, President John Quincy Adams, and other Americans devoted to a vision of what the future should look like under the full development of the power of the United States of America. In this article spanning a period from 1811-1832, we will look at the failure to re-charter the first Bank of the United States, Nicholas Biddle's intervention to save the second, the re-establishment of Hamilton's intention for the functionality of the Bank as a means of carrying out the powers of Congress, the full development of that credit system in the internal development of the country, and Biddle's ability and action in protecting the growth of the credit system from speculation internally and abroad.
The greatest crime ever committed within the United States was the destruction of the credit system in 1832-1836 by the hand of Andrew Jackson, by which farmers, laborers, manufacturers, and the whole expansion of the economy, were crushed, through the tyrannical usurpation of legislative power. The greatest lie ever told in the United States was that the Bank of the United States under the direction of Nicholas Biddle was destructive to the liberties and safety of the republic.
In 2012, after the world productive economy has likewise been ravaged for many years, those who purport themselves the saviors of the people turn to Jackson and his destruction of the Bank of the United States as their model, blind to the destruction and lies which made up that sorry destruction and intentional shrinkage of the economy, and its continued effects. The deadly error with this situation is not the fact that people have been duped into believing a lie, but that it represents a failure to understand the great credit system of Nicholas Biddle and the Bank of the United States, a failure to understand the powers of Congress which made this system possible, and a failure to realize its re-establishment today, for the sake of a unified national credit structure for sovereign nations.
The great period of bankruptcy during the Revolutionary War, and the depreciated bills of credit of the states and Continental Congress which flooded the country, led Robert Morris, Alexander Hamilton, James Wilson, Gouverneur Morris, and other founders to a shared commitment. For a union of states to withstand the financial warfare of its enemies, and create a national system of paper credit, it was necessary to channel the resources of the nation as a whole behind the currency, using the relevant needed powers vested in Congress with respect to the pecuniary exigencies of the nation, and that those powers could most successfully be executed by means of a Bank of the United States.
By funding the national debt with duties and domestic taxes and by other powers of congress, 3“The payment of debts may well be expensive, but it is infinitely more expensive to withhold the payment. The former is an expense of money, when money may be commanded to defray it; but the latter involves the destruction of that source from whence money can be derived when all other sources fail. That source, abundant, nay, almost inexhaustible, is public credit. The country in which it may with greatest ease be established and preserved is America, and America is the country which stands most in need of it, whether we consider her moral or political situation; and whether we advert to her husbandry, commerce, or manufactures....“A due provision for the public debts would at once convert these debts into a real medium of commerce. The possessors of certificates would then become the possessors of money.”Robert Morris's outgoing message as financier of the Continental Congress, 1783 , Robert Morris: Patriot and Financier, 1903, Oberholtzer, Chapter 5. the debt would become the basis for a currency of bank notes which would circulate upon the credit of those funded debts, making up most of the bank's capital stock. Various debt certificates originally issued during the war were reissued as a representation of the new power of government in action, and those who held new debt certificates received an interest payment in bank notes, increasing the currency, while the branches of the banks accepted the new debt certificates as deposits and would loan and give out bank notes on their credit, as well as loans on the credit of expected manufacturing and industry. The provision for funding the debt of the united states, threw into circulation an immense capital, which gave life and activity to business. 4The establishment of the powers of Congress and first Bank of the United States is developed in detail on pages 57-67 of the NAWAPA XXI LaRouchePAC Special Report, available at www.larouchepac.com/nawapaxxi
“In a sound and settled state of the public funds, a man possessed of a sum in them can embrace any scheme of business, which offers, with as much confidence as if he were possessed of an equal sum in coin.”-- Alexander Hamilton, 1791
Congress made the notes of the bank legal tender and “receivable in all payments to the United States.” The Congress's power “to coin money and regulate the value thereof” was carried out by the bank notes having a value set by the amount of specie in the bank, and they could redeem the note for specie if desired, “payable on demand, in gold and silver coin.” As the system was designed to prevent the necessity for this redemption, a circulating currency was created of the magnitude proportional to the active capital of the country, the manufactures, agriculture, etc., without having to trade in most of that capital for specie, with which to exchange goods. Precious metals were themselves objects of trade and the basis for foreign commerce.
Had all taxes been demanded in gold and silver, it would have been highly oppressive in 1790, not only because there were no mines or mint in the U.S., but because such a law would demand that much of the active capital of the nation, be traded for the coin to make the payment, draining the capability to conduct foreign commerce as well as creating a non-dependable revenue for the government.
Likewise, in the settlements of new land, it required years before the land was developed and a surplus of production would be obtained for the market, and when it was finally generated, it was exchanged with merchants for the continued necessities of development. An even longer time would be necessary for a whole community to part with its resources for the purposes of a circulating medium of coin, and had settlers been forced to buy a metallic currency by selling their surplus, all progress would have ground to a halt.
In general between 1790-1811, the Bank of the United States and state banks would keep one-third of the whole currency in specie in their vaults to meet any settlements required, meaning a saving of two-thirds of the capital required to create a currency. This saving of two-thirds of the capital of the country was absorbed in the purchase of land, new dwellings, and new manufactures. Instead of needing gold for dependable purchases of goods, the nation was able to depend on the government's system of national banking, and available loans from branches of the bank, and trading with bank notes of unified value. The amount of paper exceeded the metallic capital of the country, but no where near the commercial and manufacturing capital of the nation. With the growth of confidence of the government, men who possessed capital wanted to invest it in action and for use, reducing the tendency for it to accumulate sitting idle in the form of gold and silver. The substitution of bank notes for metal increasingly decreased the capital required to be used as a currency.
As long as the paper possess the confidence of the people and as long as the even balance of trade supplies us with enough of the precious metals for ordinary demands, every object of interior commerce is perfectly accomplished. But the delicate structure of credit must be gently touched. If you require that the gold and silver, whose place the paper occupies, should suddenly be produced, when they have been sent abroad for foreign trade; if at the same time you force from circulation the specie which had hitherto been ready to obey and support the notes, you derange the whole system. The metals cannot be brought forward, the paper becomes suspected, and the holders of it clamorously demand payment from the banks: they cannot pay, because not suspecting so sudden a demand, they had placed their funds in a less convertible shape, and reserved only what was required by the accustomed course of trade. Even if they can pay, they can issue no more notes; they can no longer lend; and thus the whole trading community is distressed: not because they are without substantial wealth, but because it cannot cannot be turned into money, the standard of wealth: not because they are unable to pay ultimately, but because the loss of their accustomed credits forces them to pay suddenly. [emphasis added]5Nicholas Biddle, Speech on the Recharter, 1811, Lancaster PA.
In addition to the large capital stock, other deposits were added from those who had idle capital which could now yield them a corresponding interest, as it was loaned out to a wide array of industrious classes. Also, instead of sitting idle in the treasury awaiting expenditure, the collected taxes were paid into the regional branches of the bank, and could be utilized at all times in the growth of the economy until time of appropriation.
Public Credit... is among the principal engines of useful enterprise and internal improvement. As a substitute for capital, it is little less useful than gold or silver, in agriculture, in commerce, in the manufacturing and mechanic arts… It is a matter of daily experience in the most familiar pursuits. One man wishes to take up and cultivate a piece of land; he purchases upon credit, and, in time, pays the purchase money out of the produce of the soil improved by his labor. Another sets up in trade; in the credit founded upon a fair character, he seeks, and often finds, the means of becoming, at length, a wealthy merchant. A third commences business as manufacturer or mechanic, with skill, but without money. It is by credit that he is enabled to procure the tools, the materials, and even the subsistence of which he stands in need, until his industry has supplied him with capital; and, even then, he derives, from an established and increased credit, the means of extending his undertakings.6Alexander Hamilton, Treasury Report on Public Credit, 1795.
The uniform currency of bank notes was to be accepted for all taxes, domestic and foreign, and created a dependable payment since the bank could make loans to assist individuals and companies in their payment. It especially related to the power of laying and collecting taxes, facilitating the payment of duties to the government on behalf of the customs house before the merchant was able to pay the full amount, relieving the government from the risk and responsibility of collection, and the merchant from the ruinous expedient of forced sales.
The further development of this system of public credit will be described in the third section of this paper.
1. Speculators Take Over
Unfortunately, the vast majority of Congressmen who were ignorant of the relation of the Bank to their districts were, as Mathew Carey put it,“liable to be bewildered and led astray—to be instrumental in dashing the bark of public credit upon rocks and quicksands—and producing an awful scene of destruction.”, they rushed headlong into the trap set for them, and the effects of which Biddle, Carey, and others had warned, of letting the Bank expire, were as bad as predicted.
The removal of a massive amount of credit was replaced with numerous other state banks lending more than prudence allowed, and, aided by outright speculation, a situation ripened where a nation abounding in patriotism during the war, and full of resources, had a government that was bankrupt, for the want of an institution that would facilitate government loans and other Treasury operations.
By attempting to supply the enormous vacuum created by the lack of the Bank and simply profiting from lack of regulation, the state banks augmented the total circulation of paper by over one half during and after the war with Great Britain, which diminished the value of the circulation by more than one third. While many banks attempted to curtail loans to prevent the inability to provide specie for those seeking to redeem their notes, in the summer of 1814, all the banks south and west of New England finally suspended the payment of specie as the only mode of keeping their circulation at an amount at all proportional to the demands of their customers.
The failure of numerous banks which had been puffed into a factitious credit without any substantial basis to redeem their bills, was later commented on by a merchant in Charleston: “If we look back to what took place... we shall see the grossest impositions committed by banks, commencing with a few thousand dollars in specie... and after getting their bills into circulation, blowing up, and leaving the unsuspecting planter and farmer victims of a fraud, by which they were deprived of the hard earnings of years of honest industry.”
In addition to the general depreciation of the currency due to an over issuance of state bank paper, without a unified national currency of Bank of United States notes, there was also a relative depreciation of different currencies of the states ranging from 5-25%.
A merchant doing business between states were compelled to resort to a money broker to exchange his depreciated currency for available funds in another currency, and since state bank notes were held in less confidence outside of each state or region, the holder of western and southern notes was compelled to allow a discount7Receiving less credit than the full value for a note, or receiving less in advance for the value of a bill of exchange. Discounting by banks is similar to a loan, except instead of the bank giving the full amount asked for and charging interest, the bank will give a lesser amount, and expect the full amount back. Simply said, getting a 20 percent discount from the bank is borrowing 80, and paying back 100. when he purchased in eastern markets. The broker took into consideration the solvency of the bank, the distance, and the time which would elapse before he could turn this depreciated paper into available funds, a discount augmented when the capital was small, making it less worthwhile to transmit for redemption, making it even more of a tax on those just beginning their ventures. By 1816, the depreciated currency led merchants to pay a 15% increase for a bill of exchange8A bill of exchange can involve an innumerable number of parties, but usually three or four. Another example: Merchant A has a debt from Merchant C, but wants to buy goods from Merchant B, but presently does not have the funds on hand. Merchant A therefore purchases them on the credit of Merchant C who owes him an amount necessary to cover the purchase, by means of a bill “drawn on Merchant C”--i.e. to be eventually paid by Merchant C. Merchant B can now either use this bill of exchange as payment to another trader, who can then have it discounted by a bank or broker, receiving cash to pay a farmer or manufacturer for goods he wishes to buy. drawn on a debtor in New York, due to the risk of loss on western money. The merchants engaging in a bill of exchange with the broker would then pass on this expense to the farmers. In other words, the various brokers taking advantage of the situation were taxing all trade for a cost 10-20% higher than it had been through the Bank of the United States.
The state currencies imposed extravagant premiums upon the Treasury for the mere act of transferring government revenue collected at one point to another, and reduced government revenues overall. In the fall of 1814 the notes of the Baltimore banks were, for the greater part of the time, depreciated by 20%, those of New York by 10% , while those of Boston at par. Since state bank notes were received by the revenue officers at those places in payment of duties, the importer at Baltimore paid one-fifth, and at New York one-tenth less than the importer at Boston. These varying depreciations at the points of importation drew imports to the cities where the depreciation was the greatest and diverted them from elsewhere, and the importers paying duties were then encouraged to bring their goods to those ports where currency was most depreciated, encouraging each state to degrade its own currency to attract foreign commerce. While the government was receiving consequently less than it should for duties, it was also apparent to all that this situation made it impossible to discharge the power of Congress which states that all taxes collected “shall be uniform throughout the United States,” and that “No preference shall be given by any regulation of commerce, or revenue, to the ports of one state over those of another,” as this would be a discrimination in favor of the lower value, proportioned to the depreciation of the local currency which is 20 percent below value of another. Notwithstanding this clear practical violation of the Constitution, this inequality continued for two years.
Some banks reaped the reward of loaning under the general depreciation of the currency, taking nearly twice the amount of property from the people for the debts which had been originally contracted, when the depreciated currency was contracted by suspending their loans and taken out of circulation later on.
Also, intentional, abrupt curtailments of loans would reduce prices, obliging the debtors of the banks to sacrifice their wealth at low prices to the speculators, retaining the property of the poor classes, till the prices rise. Reviewing this period later on, Congressman McDuffie wrote in 1830:
When banks have the power of suspending specie payments, and of arbitrarily contracting and expanding their issues, without any general control... In such a state of things, every man in the community holds his property at the mercy of money-making corporations which have a decided interest to abuse their power... By a course of liberal discounts and excessive issues for a few years, followed by a sudden calling in of their debts, and contraction of their issues, they would have the power of transferring the property of their debtors to themselves, almost without limit.9House of Representatives, Committee of Ways and Means, George McDuffie April 13th, 1830.
Some of them had allowed their money capital earlier as stock of the national bank to be lent productively, but now speculated upon the distresses of the community, having nothing better to do with their large surpluses of money.
Without the agency of a bank established by federal government authority, the Congress had no control whatsoever over that which fills up the channels of pecuniary circulation. In the absence of a bank, the state banks become effectually the regulators of the public currency, without regulation. In such a condition, it was vain for Congress to regulate value of coin, when the circulating paper currency of local banks had no relation to this value. In essence, the individual state banking corporations had taken this power from Congress, with the strongest motives for abusing it for profits.
The state legislatures were never designed to be the exclusive suppliers of the national currency; long before any state had a bank, there was a national bank, whose operation and purpose was intimately tied to the creation of the Constitution.10See NAWAPA XXI Special Report, Section III. How NAWAPA XXI Will Restore the System of Public Credit, www.larouchepac.com/nawapaxxi It was the intention to vest in the Federal Government the exclusive control over the currency by prohibitions of states in coining money and emitting bills of credit. The constitutional power vested in Congress over the legal currency was one of its very highest powers, and its exercise of this power was one of the strongest bonds of the union of the States. This power must be exercised by Congress; or one of its powers affecting all the daily operations of society would remain dormant.
A Charter Doesn't Make the Bank
Consequent to this experience, President James Madison, who had himself been in favor of recharter in 1811, after reviewing various proposals for a new bank, accepted a design for a charter almost identical to Hamilton's original and signed it into law in 1816, with overwhelming support from all sides. 11 The reader is encouraged to find online and read the charter for the second Bank of the United States, delivered to President Madison by Secretary of Treasury James Dallas in 1816. It is almost identical to Hamilton's charter of the first Bank which is reviewed in detail in the reference cited in footnote ten, except the capital stock of the bank available for subscription by citizens in the U.S. and abroad was 35 million rather than 10 million. Shares were subscribed for three-fourths public debt and one-fourth part specie. While initially the subscribers were largely wealthy individuals, once the stock price equalized, the range of stock holders became more and more representative of the general population, as in addition to depositing, purchasing shares of the Bank became the most secure and efficient place to invest savings. In 1830, the main list of stock holders was the following: foreigners owned 7 million; the U.S. government owned 7 million; middle class owned 7 million; super wealthy owned 3 million; widows and orphan charities owned 8 million. The dividends from the Bank stock was the sole income for many widows and the needy in general, and the key source for many in the middle class. Investing in the Bank of the United States stock was very much like the way investment in the social security fund of ones earnings yields interest, and provides for society a secure source of income in later years.
Madison delivered the following message on December 16th, 1816: “For the interests of the community at large, as well as for the purposes of the Treasury, it is essential that the nation should possess a currency of equal value, credit, and use wherever it may circulate. The Constitution has entrusted Congress exclusively with the power of creating and regulating a currency of that description, and the measures which were taken during the last session in execution of the power give every promise of success. The Bank of the United States has been organized under auspices the most favorable, and can not fail to be an important auxiliary to those measures.”
The unified patriotism in the wake of the War of 1812 led to great recognition for the need of internal improvements and domestic manufactures, led by West Point's army engineers. The Erie Canal was begun that year, and designs and plans for canals in Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, were being put forward by the government, while industries of all kinds started up.12Chaitkin, Anton, “The American Industrial Revolution That Andrew Jackson Sought to Destroy,” EIR, vol. 39, no. 25, June 22, 2012. However, the resumption of a national currency and credit system able to facilitate this plan was not guaranteed with the mere existence of a Bank of the United States. The Bank faced an unprecedented army of unregulated state banks, and the government had taken out a loan for the war at 20% interest which it was to pay back in a currency of twice the value, a situation requiring a director with the full national interest in mind and with the resolution of an Alexander Hamilton to handle the fragile situation. Instead of such a president, there now occurred two administrations of the Bank that did not fulfill its function.13 It is crucial to look closely at this period of bad management, because it was later used fraudulently by the Jackson gang to attack the Bank long after Biddle had reversed and entirely corrected these errors. See also, Report of Mr. Adams, May 14th 1832, Committee Investigation of the Bank of the United States, 22nd Congress, 1st session.
William Jones, the first president, was unqualified for the post and elected for political reasons. After many years of freedom of lending without regard to their specie, the enforced policy of resuming specie payments brought pressure on their borrowers, causing great protest in the interior of the country. Also, speculators were not absent in their opposition to the bank. Jones succumbed, and to silence the protest in the interior, he supplanted the state bank bubble with loans from the regional branches, without limit or relation to the capital stock of the Bank. The notes issued from the western branches were accepted in the east, and therefore capital and resources of the Bank were being transferred from the east where valid debts were being paid, to the interior, where speculators in land and stocks were taking advantage of loose credit. Meanwhile, Jones was involved in fraudulent banking practices in the East.
When other directors of the bank finally began to exert its influence in July 1818, its forced curtailment of loans put pressure on merchants and speculators and state banks, and led to mass bankruptcy. The Bank was overextended, and drained of much of its specie. Jones was thrown out for mismanagement and fraud, and in January 1819, Monroe appointed Langdon Cheves as the new President of the Bank, and Nicholas Biddle as one of the government directors. Biddle had refused to serve as a director under Jones' administration.
Cheves ordered the interior branches to cease issuing notes, and to forward a large amount of their specie and two-thirds of their government deposits back east, while demanding complete settlement with state banks. As stated, a chief cause of the over extension was issuance of currency in the interior states and the eventual demand for specie redemption of the notes at branches in the east for duty payments. He therefore suspended the part of the bank charter which said that all the notes given out by the Bank and its branches would be receivable at any branch, i.e. a national currency. John Quincy Adams, as Secretary of State, describes the state of affairs in his memoirs in 1819-1820 from his discussions with Treasury Secretary Crawford and President Monroe. On April 5th, 1819, he wrote, “The bank is so drained of its specie that it is hardly conceivable that they can go to the month of June without stopping payment. The measure which Cheves now represents as indispensable is the refusal to receive in payments for public account the bills of the several branches of the bank at any other branch than that from which they issued.”
Cheves' action burst all of the speculative lending in the country which Jones had allowed. Beginning in the summer of 1818 and continuing through 1819 all real estate and products of labor collapsed in value. Multitudes of farmers and manufacturers who had established themselves from the credit supplied by the first Bank, and had invested their money in the state banks which had taken its place, now were left penniless, when these banks were finally made to adhere to the proper regulation. John Quincy Adams continued to discuss the situation with his fellow Cabinet members, in May 1819.
I had also some conversation with [Treasury Secretary] Crawford on the present situation and prospects of the country, which are alarming. The banking bubbles are breaking. The staple productions of the soil, constituting our principal articles of export, are falling to half and less than half the prices which they have lately borne, the merchants are crumbling to ruin, the manufactures perishing, agriculture stagnating, and distress universal in every part of the country...
The house of Smith and Buchanan, which has been these thirty years one of the greatest commercial establishments in the United States, broke last week with a crash which staggered the whole city of Baltimore and will extend no one knows how far.
The banks are breaking all over the country; some in a sneaking and some in an impudent manner; some with sophisticating evasions and others with the front of highwaymen. Our greatest real evil is the question between debtor and creditor, into which the banks have plunged us deeper than would have been possible without them.
Unfortunately, while Cheves restored the soundness of the bank, he greatly over-corrected, and numerous debtors who were legitimate businessman and purchasers of land were stuck with the same fate as the speculators. Shoring up the eastern banks with funds from the interior, and canceling loans and purchases of bills of exchange led to a reduction of business activity and forced the state banks, which were already being pressed for payment, to do the same.
Consequently, all bank notes were kept in their vaults, and bills of exchange were almost unsalable. Trade and commerce were almost wholly suspended, confidence between man and man was greatly impaired, the interest of money privately borrowed was extravagantly high, few men bought but what they could immediately sell, no dependence was placed on the collection of debts, and manufacturers were daily discharging their workmen, unable to raise money for their wages.
Mathew Carey wrote directly to the directors of the Bank on June 28th, 1819, calling on them to reverse the policy of austerity, outlining this state of affairs and its consequences. He concluded the letter by stating, “The system pursued by your immediate predecessors, invited applications for discounts, in consequence of which immense sums were borrowed, which were invested in trade, commerce, houses, and lands. Yours is the antipodes of theirs. But surely, in order to cure a plethora, arising from repletion, it cannot be necessary to starve the community to death,” signing his letter “A Friend To Public Credit.”
Despite this and similar encouragement from Biddle, Cheves firmly believed the only way to be able to resume issuance of notes at all branches was to hold more specie than notes issued, abandoning the idea of supplying a national currency; he even pushed for congressional alteration of its charter from this Hamiltonian design. Instead of its own notes, it reissued state bank notes as loans and discounts, especially in the interior regions; it was unwilling to issue its own because it might be compelled to pay at one of many places remote from the point of issuing them, when they showed up at a different branch.
The continuance of this situation would have defeated the object of establishing the bank, since by declining the issue of its notes, it could not furnish the circulating medium expected of it, and by re-issuing the notes of the state banks, it surrendered its most efficient means of control over the currency, which was to keep exchange rates to a minimum by regulating the state bank currencies, and providing a national currency. It couldn't press the state banks for payment of specie for its notes, when it wasn't even issuing its own notes and was sitting on a capital far beyond its currency issued. The state of affairs was fatal to its usefulness.
2. Nicholas Biddle Restores Hamilton's System
Having served as a Bank director since the time Cheves became President, Biddle was voted in as President of the Bank in January 1823, with a different intention and background than the last two directors. He knew the prolongation of depressed business conditions after 1820 had resulted from the needless continuation of restrictive policies of the national bank. With a legacy of pushing for internal improvements as a State Senator, promoting technological agriculture, and having fully internalized Hamilton's conception14 For the development of Hamilton's concept of the Bank of the United States, see the NAWAPA XXI Special Report, p.57-67, http://larouchepac.com/files/20120403-nawapaxxi-forweb_0.pdf, he came in ready to enact the changes necessary to create a national currency. He had written to Secretary of War John Calhoun the month before, in December1822:
This unfortunate institution has from its birth been condemned to struggle with the most perplexing difficulties, yet even with all its embarrassments it has sustained the national currency and rescued the country from the domination of irresponsible banks, and their depreciated circulation. The time has perhaps arrived when it may combine its own and the country's security with a more enlarged development of its resources and a wider extension of its sphere of usefulness. To this object...my own exertions shall be anxiously directed.
Now as president, Biddle could introduce the system for which he'd been pushing, as a first step in remedying the situation. Biddle saw two interconnected actions as necessary to take place, both of which he began implementing in February. One was to make the local state bank currencies equivalent to specie at the places issued, which would make them competent for local purposes, require less currency, and reduce cost of commerce to the proper value. The other was to make the Bank itself the channel of the commerce.
He permitted the interior branches to issue notes as they had before 1819, rather than conduct banking second hand with state bank notes. But instead of loaning money, he required the branches to issue them almost entirely for purchase of bills of exchange. Biddle recognized that merchants follow predictable pathways of trade, and by unifying the various business centers of the Bank branches, he could solve multiple problems at once.
The Bank's currency was issued for bills of exchange “drawn on” eastern cities—i.e. issued for claims of debts owed to Merchants in the eastern cities—and would be sent to the eastern branches of bank, where this bill of exchange was to mature and eventually be payed by the debtor, in coin. The notes originally issued by the western branch to purchase a merchant’s bill of exchange would find eventually find their way to the east coast, due to the high demand for funds in the payment of duties. This way, when a merchant would cash in a western bank note to pay duties to the government, the eastern branch would now be supplied with ample coin to redeem the note from the funds built up from the collection and sale of the bills of exchange at the east coast branches, even though the note was originally issued 1000 miles away by the interior branches.15To restate the complicated process for clarity, for example, the New Orleans branch would accept a bill drawn on Pennsylvania, meaning Pennsylvania would pay the debt for the transaction of the merchant. The New Orleans branch would pay for the bill of exchange in bank notes. That branch would then send the bill of exchange to Pennsylvania, where it would eventually be paid for by the Merchant or debtor in Pennsylvania whom the bill was drawn on. Eventually, the notes that were issued in New Orleans to a merchant for that bill of exchange would wind up at one of the Atlantic branches, cashed in for payment, and the Eastern branch would be able to pay, based on having received coin from the debtor of the bill of exchange.
The producer or shipper of produce at New Orleans in making shipments to Europe, could cash his bill on credit, drawn against such shipment, without charge for brokerage. The planter would sell to the shipper, who then had his bill of exchange discounted by a branch of the Bank, and was thus able to pay the planter giving him the price of his crop without delay, and without charging the planter the interest he was charged by a broker.
The involvement of the Bank also kept the exchange rates low and relatively fixed. By becoming the great purchaser of bills in the producing regions of the country, and seller in the East, the bank prevented too great a fall in the rate of exchange in one place and too great a rise in the other, a reduction in fluctuation only protested by the brokers and speculators, whose interest it was that the rates of exchange be low in the interior, and high at the seaboard where they were sold.
Within six months the bank had transformed its role; its notes were a substantial portion of the circulation, allowing it to keep the state banks in check. 16Nicholas Biddle: Nationalist and Public Banker, Thomas Payne Govan, 1959. P. 86-87. Since national notes were sought for interstate commerce, and since domestic and foreign taxes were often paid with state bank notes, the branches were often able to raise a balance in their vaults of more state bank notes than the state banks held of its notes. When this occurred, if a state bank's exceeded the requirements of the business community, it was confronted with demands for settlement in specie from the other banks and was forced to contract its circulation. This balance in favor of the Bank was a condition built into the system, and served as a chief regulatory function. By keeping the currency sound and at or near par, the solvency of the banks having seldom to be considered in fixing the rate of exchange, business was done at less expense to the country.17Also, its great capital, its role as government depository in transmitting funds to the places where they were to be expended, and the fact that its notes were receivable for all debts to the government and custom house bonds, contributed to the bank's ability to keep the exchange rate relatively fixed and low. Friends of Domestic Industry, Report on the Bank Question, 1832, New York Convention.
In addition to engaging a large amount of the bank's capital in bills of exchange, with respect to loans, Biddle also altered the practice of Cheves with respect to loans. Instead of his policy of seeking security company stock held by its depositors or real estate, which had further decreased its influence in commerce, he sought quicker loans toward production, manufacturer, and distribution of raw materials and goods.
Over two years, the currency of the country had been brought under control, linked directly to the commercial exigencies of the nation, and brought state bank currencies to their appropriate place, relieving honest state banks from taking on a larger demand for commerce than they could support, and shutting down dishonest money making operations. 18 The speculative interests and enemies of the credit system which the Bank of the United States under Biddle was facilitating, reacted immediately to his operations of 1823-1824. Speculators who were owners of the shares of the Bank and controlled some of the Bank's directors, attacked Biddle for not increasing the dividends, and circulated letters that he was regulating the currency at the cost of state banks, attempting to sway stockholders to vote in a new President in January 1825. The vote by the directors on the speculators' motion failed setting into motion a speculative attack the following year in 1826 when the same interest would later attempt to subject the Bank to the control of a single private interest by owning the majority of the bank stock, timing the operation to coincide with a debt payment of the government when the funds of the bank would be fully tied up. Over the course of a year beginning in 1825, Jacob Barker, a New York speculator gained control of 14 banks and insurance companies. Biddle waited out the plan, and other such speculative attempts, by simply presenting any of the notes of Barker's banks for immediate redemption, knowing he had simply used the assets of his first purchase for the second bank, and the third with the second, and so on, and could not withstand actual redemption of its notes for specie, the whole scheme collapsing in fraud by the fall of the year. This is an extreme but precise example of the built-in regulating capability of the issuance of state bank notes possessed by a properly managed Bank of the United States. Govan, Op. Cit. The state bank presidents became some of the most ardent supporters of the Bank of the United States, understanding the challenge of regulating a national currency, and appreciative of allowing them to serve the local needs of their communities in smaller loans, while the Bank of the United States engaged in the larger scale regional and national trade associated with bills of exchange, the collection and distribution of government funds, as well as creating a far more extensive source of credit for all areas of productive enterprises, developed in the next section.
It is not among its least advantages that [the currency] bears a proper relation to the real business and exchanges of the country; being issued only to those whose credit entitles them to it, increasing with the wants of the active operations of society, and diminishing, as these subside, into comparative inactivity; while it is the radical vice of all government paper to be issued without regard to the business of the community, and to be governed wholly by convenience of government.191830 Congressional Committee for the Investigation of the Bank of the United States, McDuffie.
Later in 1828, in Richard Rush's last report as Secretary of the Treasury, he would review the actions of the bank, concluding that “Under the mixed jurisdiction and powers of the state and national systems of government, a national bank is the instrument alone by which Congress can effectively regulate the currency of the nation.”
Having reviewed these immediate actions by Biddle, we now pull back to view the more general characteristics of the full credit system which was being implemented.
3. The American Credit System
With the proper role of the Bank of the United States restored, and John Quincy Adams becoming President, the period which ensued inaugurated the greatest growth in our history and a new Declaration of Independence.20Chaitkin, Anton, “The American Industrial Revolution That Andrew Jackson Sought to Destroy,” EIR, vol. 39, no. 25, June 22, 2012.
The nationalist unification was ready and waiting, as its post-war desire and plans for major internal improvements and industries had been sitting nearly idle since 1817 and even earlier, due to the series of shocks to public and private credit. Canal subscriptions had been slow, and state governments were in no position to make such long-term investments which would be bigger than any undertaken before, and tie up much of their surplus funds. It was only by the new confidence of the people that the Bank was finally established and would provide a stable currency for the foreseeable future, and be a source of credit, that the new lands were then settled with such speed, manufactures with such spirit, and canal projects with such scope.
The bank, because of the facilities which it affords in the exchanges, as well as on account of the uniformity in the currency which it establishes, is now a splendid pillar in the broad “American System;” for a large part--perhaps two-thirds of all its accommodations, in one way or another, are for the direct encouragement and extension of agriculture and the mechanic arts, the promotion of internal improvements, and erection of all sorts of buildings--dwellings and stores, and factories and workshops... The power of this institution was once possessed by speculators--stock and money jobbers, monopolizing its means and playing into each others hands.21Niles' Weekly Register, Vo. XLIII, September 22nd, 1832.
We will now review the relationship of the Bank of the United States to the promotion of manufactures, agriculture, and internal improvements.
The Bank's Role in Canals
With the Hamiltonian Credit System of national banking re-established, American patriots around the country proceeded to work with the Bank of the United States to utilize its full power and promote internal improvements for continual growth and expansion of the interior of the country based on that very credit system, opening up transportation routes for the products of new land.
In April of 1824, President Monroe recognized the constitutional relation toward government financing of improvements of the interior regions of the country, and Congress authorized the General Survey Act of Congress, which appropriated money toward such ends. The Erie Canal was also coming to completion, and other states began realizing the vast resources of their interiors that were going to waste without being submitted to the application of labor.
Nicholas Biddle, who had himself pushed for canals in Pennsylvania unsuccessfully as a state senator in 1811, succeeded in persuading his fellow legislators to charter the Shuylkill Navigation Company in 1815, and attempted to gain support for a Chesapeake and Delaware canal, and a canal connecting the Susquehanna to Allegheny rivers in 1816-1817. Now as president of the Bank, Biddle spoke out on internal improvements, advocating investments and loans for canals, rail, turnpikes, river navigation, and harbors.
John Quincy Adams utilized the Bank for his purpose in financing large projects purely within the profit of the credit system itself without borrowing money, and Biddle loaned and subscribed directly for nearly 50% of all the capital raised to construct the six major anthracite coal canals for the iron industry. Some examples of this credit financing are reviewed here, and the peripheral history is included.
In November 1824, Biddle joined Mathew Carey in organizing the Society for the Promotion of Internal Improvements of Pennsylvania. Throughout 1825, Biddle held the position of secretary at the meetings throughout the year, where a canal convention in Pennsylvania was planned to petition the legislature to provide funds for the opening of a water route from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh by connecting the Susquehanna and Allegheny rivers, and creating a system of canals throughout the state.22As pointed out in Anton Chaitkin's article referenced earlier, William Strickland, a member of the Society who was sent to Europe to study canals and rail, moved the society in favor of rail projects. Biddle later pointed out to the association that, with coal at each end of the state and iron in the middle, the expense of building and operating the steam wagon would not be very great. “once established it would inevitably bring western trade through the heart of PA to its commercial capital.” The convention took place in August 1825, and the governor signed off on the project in February 1826. The final resolution of the Canal Convention, which led to the governor's signature a year later, stated, “Be it Resolved....that the application of the resources of the State to this undertaking ought not be regarded as an expenditure, but as a most beneficial investment; for its successful execution will increase the public wealth, improve the public revenue, and greatly enlarge the ability of the State to extend her aid to every quarter where it may be wanted, and, and at the same time, will encourage industry, create circulation, extend trade and commerce, enhance the value of land, and of agricultural and mineral products, and thereby augment the means of the citizens to promote his own and the public welfare by contributions to similar works.”
It was in this year when these various conventions led by these people converged on the determination that the state governments should undertake at their expense a vast network of internal improvements. President John Quincy Adams intended to promote the plans entirely, embarking on the largest Federally financed infrastructure project in our history, planning the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, and for the first time, subscribing to a national canal explicitly through the future profit of the directed loans of its stock in the Bank of United States.
In 1825, the Federal Congress authorized a subscription to the stock of the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal Company, stating, “That the Secretary of the Treasury be, and he is hereby, authorized and directed to subscribe, in the name and for the use of the United States for one thousand five hundred shares of the capital stock of the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal Company , and to pay for the same, at such times, and in such proportions, as may be required by the said company, out of the dividends which may grow due to the United States upon their bank stock in the Bank of the United States.” [emphasis added] In other words, the Treasury Secretary would purchase stock of the company with which it would pay its workers, with the credit of future profit made by the bank of the United States. In addition, between 1826-1828, the Bank of United States23On October 17th, 1828, after the Bank of the United States loaned 1 million dollars to complete the canal between 1826-1828, Biddle gave a address on the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal. He saw this section of the intracoastal waterway as a strategic block against foreign enemies, so that never again could the blockading fleets of a hostile power prevent the internal movement of troops and supplies. He described the general effect of the improvements and how local interests would be best served by promoting the interest of the others. “In truth every mile of the railroad westward, every section of a canal in the remotest part of the Union, is serviceable to all the American cities. They add to the movement and the mass of the nation’s wealth and industry; the develop its resources; and the share of these advantages which each can obtain is a fit subject of generous competition, not of querulous rivalry.” directly loaned the company 1 million dollars in four installments.24“Million Dollar Club” http://www.neversinkmuseum.org/articles.html
In his December 6th 1825 State of the Union Speech, John Quincy Adams announced this subscription and also the completed surveys for “a canal from the Chesapeake Bay to the Ohio River”, which would be the largest federally sponsored internal improvement up to that time.
Eight days later, Charles Carroll, Thomas Ellicott, and Hezekiah Niles pushed the state of Maryland forward toward this goal, holding the “State Convention on Internal Improvements” on December 14th 1825, of which the main topic was the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal. Charles Carroll—signer of the Declaration of Independence, and co-founder of the first and second bank of the United States—presided over the convention and became one of the directors of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal. Their analysis showed, as in Pennsylvania, that the temporary financial investment of taking a loan for the principal and interest for a few years, would generate almost immediately, through agricultural productions and coal shipped along the canal, more than enough to pay the interest on the loan, from increasing land values, exports, and and the density of productivity of the population. “From such a population, engaged in all the pursuits of agriculture commerce and manufactures, no revenue that can ever be required for the support and maintenance of the laws; the establishment and extension of public works; or, what is of still more importance, a well organized system of education, which shall ensure to all her children the lights of knowledge, can ever be oppressive or burdensome.”
President John Quincy Adams wrote in his memoirs, June 1826: “General Bernard told me that the Board of Engineers this morning completed their report upon the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal. He also mentioned the vote in the House of Representatives this day for the passage to the third reading of a bill authorizing the subscription of one million of dollars in five annual installments to the stock of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal. It passed by the unexpected majority of forty-four votes, and was very gratifying to the inhabitants of the District.”25Later in 1828, he continues: “Mr. Rush came to speak of putting into operation the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal. He subscribed last week for a million of dollars of the stock for the United States, and has been urging the Mayors of Washington and Georgetown to make preparations immediately for commencing the work.” Like the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal, Congress authorized the Secretary of the Treasury to make a subscription to its stock: "Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives....That the Secretary of the Treasury be, and he is hereby, authorized and directed to subscribe, in the name and for the use of the united States, for ten thousand shares of the capital stock of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Company, and to pay for the same, at such times, and in such proportions, as shall be required of and paid by the stockholders, generally, by the rules and regulations of the company, out of the dividends which may accrue to the United States upon their bank stock in the bank of the united States." On July 4th, 1828, John Quincy Adams dedicated the C & O canal, 26That same day, another groundbreaking ceremony took place for the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, where Charles Carroll, the last remaining signer of the declaration of independence, now 92 years old, laid the cornerstone. , giving his famous address here: "It is one of the happiest characteristics in the principle of internal improvement, that the success of one great enterprise, instead of counteracting, gives assistance to the execution of another."
Other canals reflected the same network of collaborators and participation of the Bank. The Lehigh River Canal, completed in 1829, was financed by Ebenezer Hazard, a political operative of Mathew Carey, and by the Bank of the United States. Philip Hone, a political lieutenant to Clay and Biddle who was elected mayor of New York in 1825, built the Delaware and Hudson Canal, from northeast Pennsylvania into New York City; this was financed by the State of New York, the Bank of the United States, and by Hone's merchant friends.27In 1830, the Bank of the United States loaned 250,000 to the Delaware and Raritan Canal. In the spring of 1832, records show “loans on other stocks” were roughly 1.2 million dollars each month January through April to various canal companies. In April 1832 alone, it loaned and purchased shares of stock to multiple ongoing canals and rail companies: Union Canal 160,000, Schuylkill Canal 130,000, Chesapeake & Delaware 300,000, Lehigh 340,000, Delaware and Hudson Canal 110,000, Delaware and Raritan Canal 100,000. In 1831 the Erie Rail Road Co. was chartered under the title of Little Schuylkill and Susquehanna Railroad Company. Little was done on the railroad until 1836 when the United States Bank subscribed 250,000, encouraging others as well, and enabled the company to commence construction. That same year, Biddle was president of the Erie Railroad convention.
The six major canal companies which were chartered in the 1820s which created the great canal systems were run by private individuals, but the Bank of the United States, state banks, the federal government, and the state governments were among the subscribers to its stock. The managers of the canal were constrained to operate it in the public interest, not with the single purpose of profit, and the politicians could not use it as a source of patronage to increase their personal or party power.
The American Exception
The credit system of the 1820s and 30s was a uniquely American experience and uniquely a product of the government's regulation of the currency, to channel all the available surpluses from the productive economy into an increased availability to generate more productive surpluses, through the means of the national bank.
The most fundamental concept of a credit system is the operation of a physical system on the basis of the future productive wealth to be generated by that system, which will exceed the physical capital initially invested into that system. The credit system meant that any citizen, beginning with nothing but a moral character could compete with a wealthy capitalist; that it was the right of anyone with a spirit of enterprise to receive the capability to increase productivity.
In settling and cultivating new lands, families, without stores of gold or stock in companies, took with them little more than their clothing, furniture, agricultural implements, and a small stock of domestic cattle. In a few years the fertility of the soil enabled them to send a surplus of agricultural produce to exchange for European products at the stores of the country traders in the nearest towns; who in their turn transmitted the produce to the sea coast, for consumption in the more thickly settled portions of the country, or for exportation. While they were in the process of generating this new wealth, these various classes obtained the necessaries of life to a great extent from the merchants in the interior, upon a credit founded on the expected returns of their industry, when they would be able to repay from the profits of their business, be it a few months from the tradesman, a year from the manufacturer, or when the farmer's crops are sold.
Active trade is kept between seaports and interior, and those in the interior stand in need of various articles, which for many years they require on credit to be paid for from the next years harvest, it follows that the interior is invariably in debt to the merchants on the sea board. These debts they are enabled to discharge by their cultivation and the advance of prosperity in the improvement of the country; and contrary to a received maxim in other countries, they grow rich although they continue in debt: that is, they are constantly augmenting the value of their farms, and each year they are enabled to enjoy some additional comfort or luxury, which they do not hesitate to purchase on credit, because they are in general certain of being better able to pay for it before the lapse of another year. [emphasis added]
They were able to purchase on credit, because of the operations of the Bank of the United States, which guaranteed payments for goods and wages for laborers, or made loans of bank notes available.
The merchant in the country obtains his credit to the usual amount from the merchant in the city, and he in turn has his accommodations from the United States Bank, the great center and source of the active capital of the country. Thus the accommodation and credit originally obtained from the bank is extended from the one to the other, in a beneficial course, until it reaches, in some useful degree, to every workshop and every cottage; and those acquainted with the operations of business, know that these benefits have been extensively enjoyed, although, in a manner silent and imperceptible, until a derangement of the course made us to feel and to perceive the injurious cause.28Rep. Barnitz May 19, 1834, House of Representatives, Speech on the Removal of the Deposits from the Bank of the United States.
The credit system was the system of transactions outside of the immediate exchange of goods, based on a means of future payment. Credit and money are not comparable; money is a direct conversion of goods, whereas credit lies outside the goods, and was the means to avoid such push and pull mechanisms. The Bank coordinated and balanced the debts and credits between the parties involved, allowing payment for commodities to be separated from the immediate transaction at hand, setting it off based on a separate debt, not involved in the transaction. The role of the branches of the national bank, in taking such a great role in the domestic and foreign exchange market, was to coordinate these debts and credits with the least expense and greatest facility for the whole economy, as well as to directly loan. Numerous transactions to settle debts, such as these bills of exchange between various branches, were handled so as not to involve any gold and silver in the operations, so as to allow the rest of the capital generated to be absorbed into further productive growth.
Biddle's statement in a letter to John Quincy Adams rings clear: “In truth the banks are but the mere agents of [the] community. They have no funds not already lent out to the people, of whose property and industry they are the representatives. They are only other names for the farms, the commerce, the factories, and the internal improvements of the country...”29Letter to John Quincy Adams on the Specie Circular April 5th, 1838. The Bank of the United States was not an object, but a means through which the powers of government and production operated.
Chevalier, a Frenchman touring the United States in 1834, made a number of observations on the uniqueness of the situation created by the Bank of the United States from 1823-1834 in contrast to Europe and France in particular:
The great extension of credit, which resulted from the great number of banks, and from the absence of all restraint on their proceedings, has been beneficial to all classes, to the farmers and mechanics not less than to the merchants. The banks have served the Americans as a lever to transfer to their soil, to the general profit, the agriculture and manufactures of Europe, and to cover their country with roads, canals, factories, schools, churches, and, in a word, with every thing that goes to make up civilization. Without the banks, the cultivator could not have had the first advances, nor the implements necessary for the cultivation of his farm... The credit system has... also enabled him, although indirectly, to buy at the rate of one, two, or three dollars an acre, and to cultivate lands, which are now, in his hands, worth tenfold or a hundred fold their first cost. The mechanics... owe to it that growth of manufacturing industry, which has raised their wages from one dollar to two dollars a day... it furnishes the means by which many of their number raise themselves to competence or wealth; for in this country every enterprising man, of a respectable character, is sure of obtaining credit, and thenceforth his fortune depends upon his own exertions.30Michael Chevalier, Letters on North America, 1834-1836.
It was only by this system that the opening of new lands was possible, and that the spirit of invention could take hold of any man without the exercise being in vain. Chevalier pointed out that this was not the case in Europe, where, on the other hand, manufacturers, smiths, masons, canal engineers, etc., who possessed the ample capital to construct a project for their community, that is, the necessary labor, skill, and workforce, etc., kept their designs on paper, since they had no means of raising on their lands and houses the ready money to serve as currency between the commodities to be exchanged.
31Chevalier, op. cit. Without the Bank, the tradesman was unable to sell his wares, the laborer was unable to use his hands, and the canal engineer unable to pay his workers, and this was exactly the case in most places in Europe at the time, which lacked this system of credit, and nearly all such projects and industrial growth which required large investment, stood idle, as only those with large stores of wealth had the ability to undertake them.
Loaning on interest was the proper use of superfluous capital to those who would generate more wealth far beyond the original use of the capital. While in Europe, credit from nobles was largely unavailable, for lack of confidence in loaning their capital out for use, and tended to accumulate as stores of metal currency, in America, anyone who wanted to get a loan was able to be industrious.
It was never the intention of equal rights, that the man qualified for commercial pursuits should not embark in them on capital obtained for an equivalent interest secured to the lender. It was never designed that the man of skill in the manufacturing arts should not have that scope given to his enterprise and usefulness which a confidence established between him and the money lender is so well calculated to carry out into the community; nor was it ever contemplated that the farmer, who stands first in the important train of interests... should not strive to become the owner of the soil he cultivates by a purchase upon credit, depending upon the products of his labors to discharge the debt.32Two Hundred and Fifty Three Citizens of Northumberland County, PA, “For the restoration of the Deposits, and renewal of the charter of the Bank of the United States.” May 1st, 1834 It was never designed by the laws which regulate and protect the rights of well ordered communities that none but capitalists should engage in the active pursuits of civilized life.
The success and possibility of this system of credit was based on the character of confidence of man in his fellow man which existed in America, and particularly so, once the government had made proper use of its powers. “Conscious of the ability to meet his own engagements, each was willing to repose confidence in those of his neighbor; and that confidence had been so fully and honorably redeemed as to have given to credit a firmness and extent which threw wide open to industry and enterprise the avenues to competence and wealth.”33Senate Documents, 23d Congress, 1st Session, Citizens of Essex County, NJ “Against the removal of the Deposits, and in favor of the recharter of the Bank of the United States” May, 13th, 1834. Since good conduct of a worker could ensure his ability to obtain the aid of capital, rendering his labor more productive and his condition improved, there were an increasingly large number of incentives for Americans to apply their property productively and accumulate real wealth. The tendency to moral improvement increased, while interest for borrowing capital decreased.
The situation opened up by this established system of credit led to the greatest prosperity throughout the union in its history. “Enterprise had encouraged industry; competence had rewarded labor; commerce had carried our produce to a ready, profitable, and fair market; and mutual confidence had extended, without weakening credit; that the constant occupation given to our mechanical and laboring classes, and ready payments made to them, had enabled them, equally with the more wealthy, to obtain those articles necessary to their wants or their comfort, which our commercial intercourse with the largest cities in our Union had introduced amongst us.”34Senate Documents, 23d Congress, 1st Session, People of Bristol County, Rhode Island, For the restoration of the Deposits, and recharter of the Bank of the United States, March 29th, 1834.
Chevalier pointed out that this confidence and security made the difference in Europe.
In France... it would be difficult to teach them to look upon a scrap of paper, although redeemable at sight with coin, as equivalent to the metals. A metallic currency, has, in our notions, a superiority to any other representative of value, which to an American... is quite incomprehensible; to our peasants, it is the object of a mysterious feeling, a real worship; and, in this respect we are all of us more or less peasants.
The Americans, on the other hand, have a firm faith in paper; and it is not a blind faith... they have had their continental money, and they need not go far back in their history to find a record of the failure of the banks in a body. Their confidence is founded in reason, their courage is a matter of reflexion... it will be a long time before we shall be in a condition, in France, to enjoy such a system of credit as exists in the United States or England; in this respect we are yet in a state of barbarism...35Chevalier, op. cit.
The ability to have an entire economy operating on the basis of accepting future payment for productive investment was, and still is, a revolution. It allowed an increasingly large amount of surplus productivity to be immediately absorbed into further productive investment, as the continued development of the Hamiltonian credit system 36See pages 57-67 of the NAWAPA XXI LaRouchePAC Special Report, available at www.larouchepac.com/nawapaxxi.viewed the currency as a constitutional responsibility of government to facilitate the spirit of enterprise and scientific ingenuity. With an established capability to direct and coordinate interactions of productive growth based on the credit of their completion, nearly any valid enterprise was facilitated through the credit of the Bank of the United States in coordination with the state and federal governments, provided it was within the means of the regulated currency. As more agricultural land was developed, as more manufacturing facilities became established, and as more transportation networks for produce and coal for manufacturing facilities were completed, the amount bank notes that could safely be put into circulation increased in proportion, doubling and tripling over that decade.
It is the ability to engage and embark on long term investments on the basis of their future completion which determines whether an economy is operating under a credit system, not what is exchanging hands. By removing the credit system, Americans suffered, and must always suffer a sick irony, that with a banner of equal rights waving over our heads, the demand to pay on the basis of existing or past wealth imprisons enterprise, disabling the ability of a man to increase the power of his labor.37For a further development of the concept of credit in physical economics, the reader is referred to writings on the subject by Economist Lyndon LaRouche available in Executive Intelligence Review Magazine and www.larouchepac.com.
Beating the Monetary System
Various regulations were taken to protect the internal economy, which was based increasingly on this credit system, from the influence of the system of speculation, which continuously threatened the delicate structure of future payment. The process of growth described in this period of 1823-1832, was only possible by constantly regulating and maintaining the whole financial system within the time scale of the credit system, and preventing the old system of money of Europe from the financial system into its destructive rules, which insist on immediate payment in cash.
As stated above, while the currency was fixed to specie in order to give it uniform value, and trade deficits were settled with specie, it was completely possible to engage in most transactions internally, on the basis on future productivity, credit, and not metal, since most transactions were in fact of such a nature. On the other hand, trade deficits with foreign nations were settled and arranged on the basis of specie, and therefore foreign merchants had to be paid in coin for imports, not with bank notes, the nationally accepted representation of coin. This necessity further augmented the importance of operating domestically on a credit system, as all of the metal coin which would otherwise be locked up for interior circulation is released for foreign trade. However, if an over-abundance of such payments occurred, it caused shocks to the internal currency, since a removal of coin from banks had a multiplier effect on credit, reducing the total amount of safe lending by banks.
Biddle describes the regulation capability in an essay in 1828, paraphrased here. The increase of too many bank notes increases the prices of domestic goods. While foreigners see a market for their goods in these conditions, they do not take home an equal amount due to the increased price of our goods. This trade deficit must settled by coin, and soon the specie reserves in the bank becomes too little to support excessive paper issues and the banks fail. To prevent failure, the Bank could therefore initiate a cutoff to merchants from borrowing coin to purchase foreign goods when sensing a drain on specie. When the regulated banking system can curtail loans, domestic goods now fall in price, with less notes in the hands of merchants. Debtors now want the scarce notes and therefore sell goods ever cheaper to obtain them. Foreigners export no more because of the cheap prices for which they would have to sell their goods, money being scarce, and Americans import no more since the market for foreign goods becomes poor. The remaining coin within the country seeks cheaper domestic goods instead, and foreigners find it more worthwhile to return the coin they took away by purchasing domestic goods. The coin will then stay until a superabundance of paper occurs again.38 Essay by Nicholas Biddle, National Gazette April 10th, 1828 Time is thus gained until the arrival of the internal southern exchange market which will supply the demand without the aid of coin and then everything resumes its accustomed course.
We will now detail this and other important regulatory functions which Biddle performed as President of the Bank, and then comment on the central feature of his method.
Biddle coordinated payments of war debt in such a way as to avoid a mass of funds being taken out of availability all at once on the anticipated dates, by inviting creditors to borrow money ahead of time gradually, protecting the economy from losing its customary credit facilities due to a mass of government funds being unavailable for lending.39 “In large payments of the principal of the debt...it avoids the inconvenience of too great an accumulation of money in the vaults of deposit used by the Government, and of the vacuum that would succeed its too sudden distribution. It does this by anticipating, as the periods of payment approach, the disbursement of a considerable portion of the stock, in the form of discounts in favor of those who are to be paid off; thereby enabling them otherwise to employ their capital, as opportunities may offer, beforehand. In this manner heavy payments of the debt are...made gradually, instead of the whole mass being thrown at once upon the money market, which might produce injurious shocks. So prudently this, and other respects, does the bank aid in the operation of paying off the debt, that the community hardly has a consciousness that it is going on.” --Secretary Treasury Richard Rush, Report of the Treasury 1828.
In 1825-1826, even in the midst of a government debt payment, Biddle protected the American economy from one of the greatest speculative waves of the century centered in London, by taking numerous measures to prevent all branches of the Bank from engaging in the excessive lending beyond the actual needs of the economy, and keeping the bank in a position to prevent bank panic due to the London market. When all state banks had closed their doors and a general panic was threatening the country, his Bank prevented interstate specie drains by coordinating through its branches, initiating a gradual supply of credit, even in the midst of 104 banks closing in London, and companies going bankrupt all throughout Latin America. The Bank however was in sound condition since it's primary motive was convenience and stability for the economy as a whole. 40Another key function Biddle initiated that year was to prevent a drain of specie contributed to the ability to weather the global storm. Instead of allowing an annual shock to the economy when merchants trading with China and India would pull a large amount of specie from the banks to trade with, Biddle sold bills of exchange drawn on London, as payment instead, which were equally or even more valuable in the Pacific than specie, since they had debts there to settle, which could be done faster this way through American shipowners, than sending the coin.“This advantage the bank has secured to the community by confining within prudent limits its issues of paper, whereby a restraint has been imposed upon excessive importations, which are thus kept more within the true wants and capacity of the country. Sometimes judiciously varying its course, it enlarges its issues, to relieve scarcity, as under the disastrous speculations of 1825.”--Treasury Secretary Richard Rush, 1828.
The Bank's regulation capability prevented an internal collapse in the winter of 1827-1828, which prevented an internal collapse of the economy. A flood of imports, combined with a collapse of American exports, created a perfect storm for the export of specie, as American planters were not supplying funds to purchase bills of exchange for imports, which continued to increase; a crisis which if allowed to correct itself, would have been a mirror of London's 1825 banking collapse. Biddle declined loans to brokers exporting specie, and sold assets to collect state bank notes, which aided but didn't prevent the speculative frenzy for imported goods. He then allowed time to slowly bring government tax payments into its branches in the form of state bank notes, and immediately demanded specie from the state banks, until the pressure to reduce their loans reined them in.
In these and similar situations of correction and intervention by the Bank, time was the essential factor during every period of strain and pressure, since every merchant, banker, and producer operated on credit;what was crucial was to provide the time for adjustment to keep all assets involved in long term investment and growth, not sitting idle in banks or in treasury department boxes.
No one could call in debts and pay for the production that had not yet been produced, without reducing the power of the economy, not because real capital doesn't exist among the merchants inside the credit system, but because the operation of the internal economy based on a credit system increasingly invests its surplus in the active capital of technological and productive progress, and cannot turn their active capital into the demanded payment of gold and silver, which the monetary system imposes. Valid debts are never immediately collectible in a credit system, as they only present themselves as a continual stream of benefit in the progress of wealth creation, never an object of money.
Biddle's principle was to maintain the economy's operations within the credit system, rather than dipping into an existence of the money system of metallic currency, by preventing the use of coin except to balance trade deficits (and even then as little as possible). Thus, internal economy was able to grow in relation to its productive power, on credit, rather than artificial controls. By these means, he was able to protect the credit system, upon which an increasingly number of all transactions were based, as the freedom and security of one's property was more and more established, and as confidence in one's neighbor and government increased.
The government used the Bank of the United States to protect the real economy from the speculative markets, unlike what later would occur in 1837 when Jackson had destroyed the Bank. This fact, and this fulfillment of a system of true equal rights of man makes a mockery of any analysis of economy from the standpoint of “the market” to explain the growth of the economy.
Conclusion: The People's Bank
After a few years of Biddle's reorganization of the bank, the confidence of the people that the bank of the United States would now be the dependable means for economic investment, gave the impetus to enterprise which led to the great expansion of canals and industries, encouraging thousands of industrious, honest, and capable men to commence operations as merchants, manufacturers, and farmers, without sufficient capital to support their enterprise, leaning for aid upon the credit system. They were fully invested into that future investment system.
With Jackson's attempted replacement of the credit system with a pure metallic system, the entire class of citizens who depended on credit--the poorest, yet most enterprising, farmers, manufacturers, and masons--were crushed, while the citizens of the states already bearing a tax for the internal improvements had ripped from their hands the vision of the future. Van Buren mocked the nation as President in the midst of the intentional contraction of the economy by fifty percent, following Jackson's actions with respect to the bank and currency, saying to the people and state governments, that they were in debt because they had spent too much money and must now live within their means; that the collapse was due to interference in the "free market" by the bank of the United States, and remnants of a currency not solely of gold and silver. Biddle and others attempted in vain, though righteously, to continue the facilities provided by the credit system without the government's role, preventing a complete contraction of the economy through the continued operations of Biddle's United States Bank of Pennsylvania, and nearly single-handedly aided the states in completing canals and creating America's railroads. The American attempt to break free from the monetary system of the British Empire by defeating them in foreign exchange war was thwarted by the destruction of the Bank, and in the years after, the specie was sucked out of the country into England. The U.S. reverted to near colonial status until Lincoln's forces, those patriots waiting in the wings, struck forward with an approximation of the system implemented under President John Quincy Adams, Nicholas Biddle, Mathew Carey, and others.
The credit system is a system of commerce where the intention and confidence in the future is the medium of exchange, not the past production or stores of wealth built up. It is a system where growth itself is the currency, not the products of growth. The merchants may be exchanging the same goods that they would with hard money, but the saving is made possible by a nation-wide regulation system and government control, which makes all the transactions on credit possible. Without the regulation and national banking structure, growth on credit and long term investment is not possible. Without the regulated exchange rates which the Bank of the United States created through its national power, there was no long-term assurance in investment, and everything included usurious taxes by private banks and brokers.
The credit system makes possible not merely more, but more of higher quality, and allows an economy to be related to confidence, allows it to be commensurable with the spirit of Man, the spirit of enterprise; it allows the economy to be related to moral incentive.
In addition to a re-establishment of a Bank of the United States, what is needed today is a group of statesmen in industry, agriculture, science, and technology to be the main drivers and directors of branches of a national banking system; men and women of the fiber of Mathew Carey, Nicholas Biddle, and Charles Carroll, who have a vision of what the country and world should look like, and work with their associates in government and businessmen to invest the nation's and the world's resources to that end.
Such a team of statesmen must immediately move to replace the bankrupt and rotten financial system now with the U.S. System of Public Credit, beginning with a wipe out of the vast derivatives bubble through the implementation of Glass-Steagall, a derivatives bubble whose creation was as equal a violation of the Constitution as that which usurped the Congress's control of the currency in 1811-1816, or the treasonous destruction of the Bank by Jackson in 1832-1836.