Conspiracy Nation -- Vol. 5 Num. 13

("Quid coniuratio est?")

By Gustavus Myers
(Condensed, from chapter 4)


-+- The Banking Frauds Begin -+-

The States began a course of reeling out bank charters. By 1799 New York City had one bank, the Bank of New York; this admixed the terrorism of trade and politics so overtly that presently an opposition application for a charter was made. This solitary bank was run by some of the old landowning families who fully understood the danger involved in the triumph of the democratic ideas represented by Jefferson; a danger far overestimated, however, since win as democratic principles did, the propertied class continued its victorious march, for the simple reason that property was able to divert manhood suffrage to its own account, and to aggrandize itself still further on the ruins of every subsequent similar reform expedient. What the agitated masses, for the most part, of that period could not comprehend was that they who hold the possession of the economic resources will indubitably sway the politics of a country, until such time as the proletariat, no longer divided but thoroughly conscious, organized, and aggressive, will avail itself of its majority vote to transfer the powers of government to itself. The Bank of New York injected itself virulently into politics and fought the spread of democratic ideas with sordid but effective weapons. If a merchant dared support what it denounced as heretical doctrines, the bank at once blacklisted him by rejecting his notes when he needed cash most.

It was now that Aaron Burr, that adroit leader of the opposition party, stepped in. Seconded or instigated by certain traders, he set out to get one of those useful and invaluable bank charters for his backers. The explanation of how he accomplished the act is thus given: Taking advantage of the epidemic of yellow fever then desolating New York City, he, with much preliminary of philanthropic motives, introduced a bill for the apparent beneficent purpose of diminishing the future possibility of the disease by incorporating a company, called the Manhattan Company, to supply pure, wholesome water. Supposing that the charter granted nothing more than this, the explanation goes on, the Legislature passed the bill, and was most painfully surprised and shocked when the fact came out that the measure had been so deftly drawn, that it, in fact, granted an unlimited charter, conferring banking powers on the company. {3}.

This explanation is probably shallow and deficient. It is much more likely that bribery was resorted to, considering the fact that the granting of every successive bank charter was invariably accompanied by bribery. Six years later the Mercantile Bank received a charter for a thirteen years' period -- a charter which, it was openly charged by certain members of the Assembly, was secured by bribery. These charges were substantially proved by the testimony before a legislative investigating committee. {4}. In 1811 the Mechanics' Bank was chartered with a time limit under circumstances indicating bribery.

Indeed, so often was bribing done and so pronounced were charges of corruption at frequent sessions of the Legislature, that in 1812, the Assembly, in an heroic spasm of impressive virtue, passed a resolution compelling each member to pledge himself that he had neither taken, nor would take, "any reward or profit, direct or indirect, for any vote on any measure." This resolution was palpably intended to blind the public; for, in that identical year, the Bank of America received a charter amid charges of flagrant corruption. One Assemblyman declared under oath that he had been offered the sum of $500, "besides a handsome present for his vote." All of the banks, except the Manhattan, had limited charters; measures for the renewal of these were practically all put through by bribery. In fact, many of the great landed fortunes were inseparably associated with the frauds of the banking system; money from land was used to bribe legislatures, and money made from the banks was employed in buying more land. Year after year the bribery went on industriously, without cessation.

-+- Bribery A Crime In Name Only -+-

Were the bribers ever punished, their illicitly gotten charters declared forfeited, and themselves placed under the ban of virtuous society? Far, very far, from it! The men who did the bribing were of the very pinnacle of social power, elegance and position, or quickly leaped to that height by reason of their wealth. The ancestors of some of the most conspicuous multi- millionaire families of the present day were deeply involved in the perpetration of all of those continuous frauds and crimes. The men who waded on to wealth through the muck of base practices and by means of crimes a millionfold more insidious and dangerous than the offense of the convict, were not only honored as leading citizens, but they became the extolled and unquestioned dictators of that supreme trading society which made modes, customs and laws.

It was by aid of the banking system that the trading class was greatly enabled to manipulate the existing and potential resources of the country and to extend valuable favors to themselves. For many years the banks, especially in New York State, were empowered by law to issue paper money to the extent of three times the amount of their capital. The actual specie [money in coin] was seized hold of by the shippers, and either hoarded, or exported in quantities to Asia or Europe which, of course, would not handle paper money. By 1819 the banks in New York had issued $12,500,000 and the total amount of specie to redeem this fiat stuff amounted to only $2,000,000. These banknotes were nothing more or less than irresponsible promises to pay. What became of them?

-+- What The Workers Got As Wages -+-

What, indeed, became of them? They were imposed upon the working class as payment for labor. Although these banknotes were subject to constant depreciation, the worker had to accept them as though they were full value. But when the worker went to buy provisions or pay rent, he was compelled to pay one-third, and often one- half, as much as the value represented by those banknotes. Sometimes, in crises, he could not get them cashed at all; they became pitiful souvenirs in his hands. Those in control of the banks had, with no expenditure, possessed themselves of a considerable part of the resources of the country and had made the worker yield up twice and three times as much of the produce of his labor as he had to give before the system was started.

[ be continued...]

---------------------------<< Notes >>--------------------------- {3} Hammond's "Political History of the State of New York." I:129-130.

{4} Journal of the [New York] Senate and Assembly, 1803(?): 351(?) and 399.

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