Bank of North America

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The Bank of North America was a private business chartered on December 31, 1781 by the Congress of the Confederation and opened on January 7, 1782, at the prodding of Superintendent of Finance Robert Morris.[1] This was thus the nation's first de facto central bank. It was succeeded in its role as central bank by the First Bank of the United States in 1791. The Bank of North America along with the First Bank of the United States and The Bank of New York obtained the first shares in the New York Stock Exchange.[citation needed]

After Robert Morris became superintendent of finance in May 1781, continental currency had ceased to be issued. Earlier, on April 30, 1781, Alexander Hamilton, then only twenty-three years old and still serving in the military, had sent Morris a letter. First, Hamilton revealed that he had recommended Morris for the position the previous summer when the constitution of the executive was being solidified. Second, he proceeded to lay out a proposal for a National Bank. Morris, who had corresponded with Hamilton previously (1780) on the subject of funding the war, immediately drafted a legislative proposal based on Hamilton's suggestion and submitted it to the Congress. Morris persuaded Congress to charter the Bank of North America, the first private commercial bank in the United States.[2]

Meanwhile, Hamilton made public endorsement of the establishment under his pseudonym:[3]

Congress have wisely appointed a superintendent of their finances,—a man of acknowledged abilities and integrity, as well as of great personal credit and pecuniary influence.

It was impossible that the business of finance could be ably conducted by a body of men however well composed or well intentioned. Order in the future management of our moneyed concerns, a strict regard to the performance of public engagements, and of course the restoration of public credit may be reasonably and confidently expected from Mr. Morris' administration if he is furnished with materials upon which to operate—that is, if the federal government can acquire funds as the basis of his arrangements. He has very judiciously proposed a National Bank, which, by uniting the influence and interest of the moneyed men with the resources of government, can alone give it that durable and extensive credit of which it stands in need. This is the best expedient he could have devised for relieving the public embarrassments, but to give success to the plan it is essential that Congress should have it in their power to support him with unexceptionable funds. Had we begun the practice of funding four years ago, we should have avoided that depreciation of the currency which has been pernicious to the morals and to the credit of the nation, and there is no other method than this to prevent a continuance and multiplication of the evils flowing from that prolific source.
- 'The Continentalist' No. IV, August 30, 1781

Robert Morris deposited large quantities of gold and silver coin and bills of exchange obtained through loans from the Netherlands and France. He then issued new paper currency backed by this supply. He also managed to meet the interest obligations on the debt which he estimated to be about thirty million dollars. Accordingly, Thomas Goddard has called him "the father of the system of credit, and paper circulation, in the United States." Although able to operate nationwide, the Bank of North America primarily operated in three states, and in 1785 it lost its central bank status in Pennsylvania due to objections of "alarming foreign influence and fictitious credit", favoritism to foreigners and unfair competition against less corrupt state banks issuing their own bills of credit, such that Pennsylvania's legislature repealed its state charter on 13 September 1785. After a change of party in Pennsylvania's legislature in 1786 the Bank of North America was re-chartered within the Commonwealth in 1787, but under more restrictive conditions that would hinder it from performing its intended role as a central bank.[4]

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