Financial History Issue 113 (Spring 2015) | Page 21

Collection of the Museum of American Finance Letter from Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton to Bank of New York President Gulian ver Planck, Esq., dated September 7, 1791, requesting the bank to purchase $50,000 worth of public debt. difficulty seeing the bank as a dynamic commercial force that would help unite the new nation. Washington was not in the least bothered by the BUS’s similarity to the Bank of England. Unlike Jefferson, the President’s view of the mother country was remarkably free of hostility. At a dinner Washington gave for British officers after they surrendered at Yorktown, one of them boldly offered a toast to “The King.” Washington raised his glass and added: “Of England. Confine him there and I’ll drink him a full bumper.” A few months after the Bank of the United States became law, a delighted President told one of his closest friends: “Our public credit stands on the ground which three years ago it would have been considered a species of madness to have foretold.” Jefferson and Madison remained violently opposed to the bank. They saw it as an institution designed to enrich the wealthy — and warned it was tempting Americans to risk their money and their peace of mind in what Jefferson called “an appetite for gambling.” Madison described the welcome that the bank received as “a mere scramble for public plunder.” In the spring of 1791, largely unaware that there was a deepening clash among his cabinet and close advisors, President Washington decided to take a trip through the southern states. He wanted to show the citizens below the Potomac that the President had the same concern for their welfare as he had displayed for the New Englanders the year before. He also wanted to reassure the southerners that signing the bank bill did not mean he was aligned with a so-called “northern phalanx” that, according to some Virginians, was conspiring to seize control of the government. The trip was no small task. The President’s itinerary covered 1,826 miles — a huge distance to traverse by horseback and coach. At every stop there were parades, rallies and dinners, at which he had to appear both affable and presidential to hundreds of strangers. The military side of Washington’s character came to the fore. Every day was planned in advance; he let neither rain nor dust-choked roads delay him. His reward was the enormous enthusiasm with which people greeted him everywhere. At Wilmington, North Carolina, “ [