Front Page Titles (by Subject) § 1.—: The United States Bank of Pennsylvania. - A History of Banking in all the Leading Nations, vol. 1 (U.S.A.)
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§ 1.—: The United States Bank of Pennsylvania. - William Graham Sumner, A History of Banking in all the Leading Nations, vol. 1 (U.S.A.) 
A History of Banking in all the Leading Nations; comprising the United States; Great Britain; Germany; Austro-Hungary; France; Italy; Belgium; Spain; Switzerland; Portugal; Roumania; Russia; Holland; The Scandinavian Nations; Canada; China; Japan; compiled by thirteen authors. Edited by the Editor of the Journal of Commerce and Commercial Bulletin. In Four Volumes. (New York: The Journal of Commerce and Commercial Bulletin, 1896). Vol. 1: A History of Banking in the United States.
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The United States Bank of Pennsylvania.
THE Committee of Stockholders to investigate the Bank of the United States, January 4, 1841, said: “The origin of the course of policy which has conducted to the present situation of the affairs of the institution dates beyond the period of the recharter by the State.” We shall therefore use the information which that Committee obtained in regard to the internal history of the Bank, so as to present both that and the external history at the same time.
“When it was perceived,” the Committee go on to say, “that the charter of the late Bank of the United States would not be renewed or extended by Congress, the president and directors commenced winding up its concerns, and among the first measures taken to that end was to sell or dispose of, as far and as speedily as could be effected, the assets of its several branches. This was generally done to State banks, who gave for them their obligations, payable by installments at distant periods. At the same time the policy was adopted of converting the active debt into loans upon the security of stocks, by which permanent investments might be provided for the capital of the bank during the long period of its anticipated liquidation.” On the 6th of March, 1835, “the president submitted to the Board a general view of the situation of the Bank, its means and liabilities, its circulation and deposits, and the probable future demands upon it, showing its ample resources and power of expansion; whereupon” the Committee of Exchange, which was composed of three directors, appointed by the president, were authorized by the Board “to make loans on the security of the stock of this Bank, or other approved security, and if necessary at a lower rate than six, but not less than five per cent. per annum.” “This delegation of power to the Exchange Committee was never expressly and formally renewed under the new charter, unless it be considered as included under a general resolution of the new Board adopting ‘the By-Laws, Rules, and Regulations’ of the former Bank. By the statement of the condition of the Bank upon the 2d of March, 1835, the whole amount of loans upon Bank stock and other than personal security, was $4,797,936.25, while by that of March 3, 1836, these loans had increased to the sum of $20,446,367.88. Under such circumstances, the active means of the Bank were comparatively small to pay the immediate demand of the State for the bonus, to settle with the government of the United States for its stock, and to meet its circulation of $20,114,227.56, which, contrary to the anticipation, expressed at the period of its recharter, soon began to be rapidly presented for redemption. The Bank was of necessity driven into the market as a borrower, and very soon the first step was taken to obtain loans abroad, by sending the cashier to Europe for that purpose. Two loans were accordingly negotiated by him; one in England of £1 million sterling; and another in France of 12,500,000 francs, on favorable terms.”
“To this [foreign indebtedness] has been superadded extensive dealing in stocks, and a continuation of the policy of loaning upon stock securities, though it was evidently proper upon the recharter that such a policy should be at once and entirely abandoned. Such indeed was its avowed purpose, yet one year afterwards, in March, 1837, its loans upon stocks and other than personal security had increased $7,821,541, while the bills discounted on personal security and domestic exchange had suffered a diminution of $9,516,463.78. It seems to have been sufficient to obtain money on loan, to pledge the stock of an ‘Incorporated Company,’ however remote its operations or uncertain its prospects. Many large loans, originally made on a pledge of stocks, were paid for in the same kind of property, and that too at par, when in many instances they had become depreciated in value. It is very evident to the Committee that several of the officers of the Bank were themselves engaged in large operations in stocks and speculations, of a similar character, with funds obtained of the Bank, and at the same time loans were made to the companies in which they were interested, and to others engaged in the same kind of operations, in amounts greatly disproportionate to the means of the parties, or to their proper and legitimate wants and dealings.”
In other words, the United States Bank of Pennsylvania became a Credit Mobilier, and engaged in promoting all sorts of enterprises all over the Union, and making financial contracts of various kinds.
“From March, 1835, the chief control and management of the affairs of the institution appears to have passed from the hands of the directors. The mode in which the Committee of Exchange transacted their business shows that there really existed no check whatever upon the officers, and that the funds of the Bank were almost entirely at their disposition. That committee met daily and were attended by the cashier and at times by the president. They exercised the power of making loans and settlements to full as great an extent as the Board itself. They kept no minutes of their proceedings, no book in which the loans made and the business done were entered, but their decisions and directions were verbally given to the officers, to be by them carried into execution. The established course of business seems to have been for the first teller to pay on presentation at the counter all checks, notes, or due bills, having endorsed the order or the initials of one of the cashiers, and to place these as vouchers in his drawer for so much cash, where they remained until just before the regular periodical counting of the cash by the Standing Committee of the Board on the state of the Bank. These vouchers were then taken out, and entered as ‘Bills Receivable’ in a small memorandum book, under the charge of one of the clerks. These bills were not discounted but bore interest payable semi-annually and were secured by a pledge of stock or some other kind of property.”
In November, 1835, fifteen of the branches had been sold. Until this time, therefore, it appears that the Bank was proceeding directly and steadily with the work of winding up its affairs. In November, however, projects began to be talked about for getting a State charter from Pennsylvania. One of the controlling motives, and perhaps the most powerful of all, in this and the subsequent proceedings, was the jealousy between New York and Philadelphia. There was a proposition to establish a great fifty-million-dollar bank at New York, and it seemed that if Philadelphia lost her bank and New York got one, the financial hegemony would be permanently transferred to the latter city. On two occasions already since the fate of the Bank was sealed New York had been in trouble, and had turned to Biddle for help. In December, 1835, after the great fire in New York, the Bank opened credits for two million dollars in favor of the insurance companies.* In May, 1836, in the midst of the financial stringency† New York called on the Bank of the United States for aid, which it gave. In the newspaper discussion over the first proposition that Pennsylvania should charter the Bank, the probable effect of such a step on the rivalry of the two cities was openly debated.‡
The whigs had a majority of forty-four in the House of Representatives of Pennsylvania, in January, 1836, but the democrats had five majority in the Senate. The proposition was first broached in the shape of a letter to Biddle from two members of the Legislature, asking him what should be the main features of a charter which would be satisfactory to the Bank. Biddle afterwards referred to this as if it had been a bona fide offer from these gentlemen, and in no way inspired by the Bank.§
The act for the Pennsylvania charter was passed February 18, 1836. It comprised three projects in an obviously log-rolling combination; remission of taxes, public improvements, and bank charter. It was no new thing in Pennsylvania or elsewhere to put into bank charters a requirement that the bank should subscribe to some public improvement, or charitable enterprise. Education was very commonly dragged in as a make-weight. This might be regarded as only an appropriation of a bonus which was exacted. In any case, the appropriation of it to some purpose which some people had very much at heart was intended to help the bill through. Remission of taxes was the most effective lever of this kind. The Bank was chartered for thirty years. It was to pay a bonus of two and a half million dollars; pay a hundred thousand dollars per year for twenty years for schools; loan the State not over a million dollars a year, in temporary loans at four per cent., and six million dollars on State bonds, payable in 1868 at four per cent., and subscribe six hundred and forty thousand dollars to railroads and turnpikes. The lowest note was to be $10, and elaborate rules which the law of the State already contained for enabling note-holders to enforce a remedy for non-redemption were here repeated. Personal taxes were repealed by other sections of the bill, and $1,368,147 were appropriated out of the Bank bonus for various canals and turnpikes. Evidently all the hobbies and local schemes in the State clustered around this big carcass and fought with one another for slices of it. The charter passed the Senate 19 to 12, and the House 57 to 30.*
A loud outcry was at once raised that this bill could only have been passed by corruption, because of the democratic majority in the Senate. A member of the House who had made such a statement was, after an investigation, called to the bar of the House and reprimanded for “an attempt to mislead public sentiment at the expense of the character and reputation of the Legislature of the Commonwealth.”† At the next session the Legislature ordered an investigation of the method by which the United States Bank had obtained its State charter. The majority of the committee reported denying that the letter which had been written to Biddle was intended as an application to him on behalf of the State. A particular question had arisen already with regard to the continued issue of the notes of the old Bank. This the minority of the committee justified. As to the alleged corruption, nothing was discovered.
There was a mysterious item of $400,000 in the accounts at about this date which is often referred to. The only approximate explanation is in the second report of the Committee of 1841. On February 29, 1836, there were in the teller’s drawer Biddle’s receipts for money received on cashier’s checks to the amount of that sum. They were taken out. At the same time a lot of notes of the old Bank were burned, including ten post-notes of $40,000 each, which had never been issued. One of these items was made to cover the other. The clerk, however, later discovered that the account of notes showed more burned than issued. June 27, 1840, the account was balanced by charging $400,000 to the contingent fund as losses.
It was common tea-table gossip in Philadelphia that the State charter was obtained by bribery.‡
Jackson’s chief charge against the Bank at last was that it spent large sums to influence politics and legislation. This charge the Bank seemed to repel successfully, but the United States Bank of Pennsylvania began in political corruption and legislative abuse and never desisted from them while it existed.
Upon the passage of this charter the stock rose to 126. At the meeting of the stockholders Biddle said that the Bank had a surplus with which it could pay all the sums which the charter imposed upon it. The charter was accepted two days after it was passed, with great enthusiasm, and a service of plate was presented to Biddle for his services in getting it.* His salary was $8,000. Bevan was made president of the old Bank for the purpose of transferring it to the new, and on the 2d of March, all the assets of the old Bank were turned over to the new one on condition that the latter should assume all the obligations of the former.
April 11, 1836, Congress repealed the act of 1817, by which the United States Bank was charged with the duties of commissioners of loans. The Bank was ordered to hand over all the books, papers, and money within three months. April 20th, its duties as agent for the payment of pensions were ended. June 23d, the Secretary of the Treasury was charged with the property rights of the United States in the Bank, and was directed to act on its behalf, by virtue of its stock. June 15th the fourteenth section of the old charter was repealed, which made the notes receivable at the Treasury. This crippled the circulation of the Bank to some extent.
In October there was a report that the Bank would surrender its State charter if it could get back its bonus. In that same month, however, Biddle wrote another letter to Adams, showing the wrong which would be done by a plan which was on foot to call a State convention for the purpose of repealing the State charter. In November the question was raised in the Legislature whether the charter could not be repealed. It was disposed of by a general resolution affirming the inviolability of charters except by the action of the courts.
June 23d Congress authorized the Secretary of the Treasury to negotiate with the Bank for the payment of the government stock. No agreement was reached, but, February 25, 1837, the Bank sent a memorial to the Speaker of the House, in which it offered to pay off the public shares at $115.58 per share, in four installments; September, 1837, 1838, 1839, 1840. This proposition was accepted and the installments were all paid.† As the Bank sold new shares in England at £24 and £25, it gained on this operation. The Treasury tried, at this time, to induce the Bank to repay the damages which it had retained on the French bill.
In his message of 1836, Jackson discharged his last broadside at the Bank. He was very angry that it should have taken the State charter and prolonged its existence. His fears and the hopes of the Bank centered on the same point,—that it would be taken up again as a national bank. The most important complaint which he made of it was that it was re-issuing the notes of the old Bank.
When the State charter was taken, there were 3,417 stockholders, of whom there were Pennsylvanians 590; other citizens of the United States, 2,267; foreigners, 560. The distribution of the capital by ownership was, in the New England States, $3.1 millions; New York and New Jersey, $4.5 millions; Delaware, Maryland, and the District of Columbia, $2 millions; Virginia and North Carolina, $0.8 million: South Carolina and Georgia, $3 millions; other States, $99,000; Pennsylvania, $5.2 millions; foreigners, $9.1 millions.
The loans made by the Exchange Committee to the officers of the Bank and to the favored clique connected with it amounted, March 4, 1836, to $6.2 millions. On the same date, one year later, they were $8.1 millions. With regard to these loans the Committee of 1841 said: “In the list of debttors on ‘Bills Receivable’ of the 1st of January, 1837, twenty-one individuals, firms, and companies stand charged, each with an amount of $100,000 and upwards. One firm of this city [Philadelphia] received accommodations of this kind between August, 1835, and November, 1837, to the extent of $4,213,878.30, more than half of which was obtained in 1837. The officers of the Bank themselves received in this way loans to a large amount. In March, 1836, when the Bank went into operation under its new charter, Mr. Samuel Jaudon, then elected its principal cashier, was indebted to it $100,500. When he resigned the situation of cashier and was appointed foreign agent, he was in debt $408,389.25, and on the 1st of March, 1841, he still stood charged with an indebtedness of $117,500. Mr. John Andrews, first assistant cashier, was indebted to the Bank in March, 1836, $104,000. By subsequent loans and advances made during the next three years, he received in all the sum of $426,930.67. Mr. Joseph Cowperthwaite, then second assistant cashier, was in debt to the Bank, in March, 1836, $115,000; when he was appointed cashier in September, 1837, $326,382.50; when he resigned, and was elected a director by the Board, in June, 1840, $72,960, and he stands charged, March 3, 1841, on the books with the sum of $55,081.95. It appears on the books of the Bank that these three gentlemen were engaged in making investments on their joint account, in the Stock and Loan of the Camden & Woodbury Railroad Co., Philadelphia, Wilmington & Baltimore Railroad Co., Dauphin & Lycoming Coal Lands, and Grand Gulf Railroad and Banking Company.”
Such was the internal condition of the Bank when the crisis of 1837 occurred.
[* ] 45 Niles, 307.
[† ] See page 264.
[‡ ] 49 Niles, 162.
[§ ] Letter to Adams, 1 Raguet’s Register, 404.
[* ] 49 Niles, 434.
[† ] 50 Niles, 111.
[‡ ] Handy’s Testimony. (1842.)
[* ] 49 Niles, 441.
[† ] The commissioners to adjust the accounts of the Bank with the government assumed that $600,000 of its circulation were lost and would never be presented for redemption. It was the estimate, in 1841, that five-dollar notes would be one-fourth of the circulation, and notes under five dollars another fourth. The lost notes were often estimated at ten per cent of those below five dollars. (Treasury Report, February 12, 1841.)