Essay on Timeline: Federal Reserve System and Central Bank

Submitted By QueenB3000
Words: 1292
Pages: 6

To finance the American Revolution, the Continental Congress printed the new nation's first paper money. Known as "continentals," the fiat money notes were issued in such quantity they led to price increases, known as inflation which, though mild at first, rapidly accelerated as the war progressed. Eventually, people lost faith in the notes, and the phrase "Not worth a continental" came to mean "utterly worthless." At the urging of then Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton, Congress established the First Bank of the United States, headquartered in Philadelphia, in 1791. It was the largest corporation in the country and was dominated by big banking and money interests. Many agricultural minded Americans uncomfortable with the idea of a large and powerful bank opposed it. When the bank’s 20-year charter expired in 1811 Congress refused to renew it by one vote. By 1816, the political climate was once again inclined toward the idea of a central bank; by a narrow margin, Congress agreed to charter the Second Bank of the United States. But when Andrew Jackson, a central bank foe, was elected president in 1828, he vowed to kill it. His attack on its banker-controlled power touched a popular nerve with Americans, and when the Second Bank’s charter expired in 1836, it was not renewed. State-chartered banks and unchartered “free banks” took hold during this period, issuing their own notes, redeemable in gold or specie. Banks also began offering demand deposits to enhance commerce. In response to a rising volume of check transactions, the New York Clearinghouse Association was established in 1853 to provide a way for the city’s banks to exchange checks and settle accounts. During the Civil War, the National Banking Act of 1863 was passed, providing for nationally chartered banks, whose circulating notes had to be backed by U.S. government securities. An amendment to the act required taxation on state bank notes but not national bank notes, effectively creating a uniform currency for the nation. Despite taxation on their notes, state banks continued to flourish due to the growing popularity of demand deposits, which had taken hold during the Free Banking Era. Although the National Banking Act of 1863 established some measure of currency stability for the growing nation, bank runs and financial panics continued to plague the economy. In 1893, a banking panic triggered the worst depression the United States had ever seen, and the economy stabilized only after the intervention of financial mogul J.P. Morgan. It was clear that the nation’s banking and financial system needed serious attention. In 1907, a bout of speculation on Wall Street ended in failure, triggering a particularly severe banking panic. J.P. Morgan was again called upon to avert disaster. By this time, most Americans were calling for reform of the banking system, but the structure of that reform was cause for deep division among the country’s citizens. Conservatives and powerful “money trusts” in the big eastern cities were vehemently opposed by “progressives.” But there was a growing consensus among all Americans that a central banking authority was needed to ensure a healthy banking system and provide for an elastic currency. The 1912 election of Democrat Woodrow Wilson killed the Republican Aldrich plan, but the stage was set for the emergence of a decentralized central bank. Though not personally knowledgeable about banking and financial issues, Woodrow Wilson solicited expert advice from Virginia Representative Carter Glass, soon to become the chairman of the House Committee on Banking and Finance, and from the Committee’s expert advisor, H. Parker Willis, formerly a professor of economics at Washington and Lee University. Throughout most of 1912, Glass and Willis labored over a central bank proposal, and by December 1912, they presented Wilson with what would become, with some modifications, the Federal Reserve Act. From December 1912 to December 1913, the…