First Bank of the United States

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The First Bank of the United States is a National Historic Landmark located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania within Independence National Historical Park.


Banking History

The First Bank was a bank chartered by the United States Congress on February 25, 1791. The charter was for 20 years. The Bank was created to handle the financial needs and requirements of the central government of the newly formed United States, which had previously been thirteen individual states with their own banks, currencies, financial institutions, and policies.

Officially proposed by Alexander Hamilton, Secretary of the Treasury, to the first session of the First Congress in 1790, the concept for the Bank had both its support and origin in and among Northern merchants and more than a few New England state governments. It was, however, eyed with great suspicion by the representatives of the Southern States, whose chief industry, agriculture, did not require centrally concentrated banks, and whose feelings of states' rights and suspicion of Northern motives ran strong.

The bank's charter expired in 1811 under President James Madison. The bill to recharter failed in the House of Representatives by one vote, 65 to 64, on January 24, 1811. It failed in the Senate when Vice President George Clinton broke a tie vote that February 20. In 1816, however, Madison revived it in the form of the Second Bank of the United States.[citation needed]

A paradise for speculators

In the last decade of the eighteenth century the United States had just three banks but more than fifty different currencies in circulation: English, Spanish, French, Portuguese coinage, scrip issued by states, cities, backwood stores, and big city enterprises. The values of these currencies were wildly unstable, thereby making it a paradise for politically indifferent currency speculators thriving on uncertainty. In addition, the value and exchange rate was almost always outdated or unknown by the party agreeing to receive it, especially the farther it moved away from the coast; and because of distances, primitive roads, and absence of communications technology, values were not only unknown but unknowable as well. Speculators in the United States bought up bonds for about 15 cents and through Hamilton's plan were paid their face value of one dollar.

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