Video of a Trailer from the recently released movie "Lincoln" which is now in US theaters. I have not seen this Steven Spielberg movie yet (plan to sometime), and it looks pretty good, let's face it, Spielberg makes a pretty good flick...
I'm going to assume that this movie does not cover any details related to the US monetary policy during the period depicted. Probably thought "too dry" for most by Spielberg, but of course not for readers of MNE here!
Some time back I was looking into what I could find from some Lincoln archives sites and have come across some interesting correspondence which we can read today and take a look into the past.
Not as vivid as a motion picture of course but here are two pieces of correspondence that reveal the thoughts of both Salmon Chase, who was a Treasury Secretary in the Lincoln Administration, and President Lincoln himself, on the topic of US monetary policy.
I'll post them in their entirety (neither are long).
Here is the first one by Chase in 1863:
Salmon P. Chase, Draft of Address to Congress 1, January 1863
The condition of the Finances will claim your most diligent consideration.
The vast expenditures incident to the military and naval operations required for the suppression of the rebellion have hitherto been met with a promptitude and certainty unusual in similar circumstances, and the public credit has been fully maintained.
The continuance of the war, however, and the increased disbursements made necessary by the augmented forces now in the field demand your best reflections on the best modes of providing the necessary revenue without injury to business & with the least possible burdens upon labor.
The suspension of specie payments by the Banks soon after the commencement of your last session made larger issues of United States notes unavoidable. In no other way could the payment of the troops and the satisfaction of other just demands be so economically or so well provided for..
The judicious legislation of Congress securing the receivability of these notes for loans & Internal duties & making them a legal tender for other debts has made them an universal currency; and and has satisfied, partially at least and for the time, the long felt want of a uniform circulating medium, saving thereby to the people immense sums in discounts and exchanges.
A return to specie payments, however, at the earliest period compatible with due regard to all interests concerned, should always ever be kept in view.
Fluctuations in the value of currency are always injurious and to reduce these fluctuations to the lowest possible point will always be a leading purpose in wise legislation. Convertibility -- prompt & certain convertibility into coin is generally acknowledged to be the best & surest safeguard against them; and it is extremely doubtful whether a circulation of United States notes payable in coin and sufficiently large for the wants of the people can be permanently, usefully & safely maintained.
Is there then any other mode in which the necessary provision for the public wants can be made & the great advantages of a safe & uniform currency secured?
I know of none, which promises so certain results and is at the same time so unobjectionable as the organization of Banking Associations under a general act of Congress, well guarded in its provisions. To such Associations the Government might furnish circulating notes on the security of United States Bonds deposited in the Treasury. These notes prepared under the supervision of proper officers, being uniform in appearance and security & convertible always in to coin, would at once protect labor against the evils of a vicious currency and facilitate commerce by cheap and safe exchanges.
A moderate reservation from the interest on the bonds would compensate the United States for the preparation & distribution of the notes and a general supervision of the system, & would lighten the burden of that part of the Public Debt employed as securities. The Public Credit, moreover, would be greatly improved and the negotiation of new loans greatly facilitated by the steady market demand for Government Bonds which the adoption of the proposed system would create.
It is an additional recommendation of the measure, of considerable weight in my judgment, that it would reconcile as far as possible all existing interests by the opportunities offered to existing institutions to reorganize under the act, substituting only the secured uniform national circulation for the local & various circulation, secured & unsecured, now issued by them.
The Receipts into the Treasury, from all sources, including loans, & balance from last the preceding year, for the fiscal year ending on the 30th June 1862 was $583.885.247.06: of which sum $49,056,397.62 were derived from customs; 1.795.331.73 from the Direct Tax; from Public Lands 152.203.77; from Miscellaneous sources $931.787.64; & a from Loans in all forms $529.692.460,50. and The remainder, $2.257.065,80, was the balance in the from last year. The Disbursements during the same period were for Legislative Congressional, Executive, & Judicial expenses purposes, $5.939.009.29; for Foreign Intercourse $1.339.710,35; for Misallaneous Expences, including the Mints, Loans, Post office deficiencies, collection of revenue and other like charge $14,129,771.50; for expences under the Interior Department, $3.102.985.52; under the War Department, $394,368,407,36; under the Navy Department, $42.674.569,69; for Interest on public debt, $13.190,324,45; and for payment of public debt, including reimbursement of Temporary Loan & Redemptions $96.096,922,09; making an aggregate of $570.841,700,25; & leaving a balance in the Treasury on the 1st day of July 1862, of $13.043,546,81.
It should be observed that the sum of $96.096,922.09 expended for Reimbursement & Redemption of Public Debt being included also in the Loans made may be properly deducted both from Receipts & Expenditures, leaving the actual Receipts for the year $487,788,324,97; and the Expenditures $474,744,778,16. Other information on the subject of the Finances will be found in the Report of the Secretary of the Treasury; to whose Statements & views I invite your most candid and considerate attentionThere is this note at the end which identifies the context of Chase's letter:
[Note 1 The following document was prepared by Chase for Lincoln to deliver to Congress in January 1863 when he signed a joint resolution that provided for the immediate payment of the military forces. Lincoln took the opportunity to urge Congress to consider Chase's plan for a national banking system that would supply a uniform currency. For the final text of Lincoln's message, see Collected Works, VI, 60-61.]
January 17, 1863 To the Senate and House of Representatives:
I have signed the Joint Resolution to provide for the immediate payment of the army and navy of the United States, passed by the House of Representatives on the 14th, and by the Senate on the 15th instant.
The Joint Resolution is a simple authority, amounting however, under existing circumstances, to a direction to the Secretary of the Treasury to make an additional issue of one hundred millions of dollars in United States notes if so much money is needed for the payment of the army and navy.
My approval is given in order that every possible facility may be afforded for the prompt discharge of all arrears of pay due to our soldiers and our sailors.
While giving this approval, however, I think it my duty to express my sincere regret that it has been found necessary to authorize so large an additional issue of United States notes, when this circulation, and that of the suspended banks together have become already so redundant as to increase prices beyond real values, thereby augmenting the cost of living to the injury of labor, and the cost of supplies to the injury of the whole country.
It seems very plain that continued issues of United States notes, without any check to the issues of suspended banks, and without adequate provision for the raising of money by loans, and for founding the issues so as to keep them within due limits, must soon produce disastrous consequences. And this matter appears to me so important that I feel bound to avail myself of this occasion to ask the special attention of Congress to it.
That Congress has power to regulate the currency of the country, can hardly admit of doubt; and that a judicious measure to prevent the deterioration of this currency, by a reasonable taxation of bank circulation or otherwise is needed, seems equally clear. Independently of this general consideration, it would be unjust to the people at large, to exempt banks, enjoying the special privilege of circulation, from their just proportion of the public burdens.
In order to raise money by way of loans most easily and cheaply, it is clearly necessary to give every possible support to the public credit. To that end, a uniform currency, in which taxes, subscriptions to loans, and all other ordinary public dues, as well as all private dues may be paid, is almost, if not quite indispensable. Such a currency can be furnished by banking associations, organized under a general act of Congress, as suggested in my message at the beginning of the present session. The securing of this circulation, by the pledge of United States bonds, as therein suggested, would still further facilitate loans, by increasing the present and causing a future demand for such bonds.
In view of the actual financial embarrassments of the government, and of the greater embarrassments sure to come, if the necessary means of relief be not afforded, I feel that I should not perform my duty by a simple announcement of my approval of the Joint Resolution which proposes relief only by increasing circulation, without expressing my earnest desire that measures, such in substances as those I have just referred to, may receive the early sanction of Congress.
By such measures, in my opinion, will payment be most certainly secured, not only to the army and navy, but to all honest creditors of the government, and satisfactory provision made for future demands on the treasury.
ABRAHAM LINCOLN January 17. 1863.Looks like in 1863, both President Lincoln and his Treasury Secretary Chase at best reluctantly issued US Notes to pay for US Government war provision.
Chase felt obligation to return the US to a "specie" or what I interpret as a metallic standard as soon as possible and Chase also exhibits overt supportive language for banking institutions. Chase doesn't mention taxes and includes language stressing the interest that would be paid on future US bonds.
Lincoln though, does not make statements as overtly accommodating of the banks, and also does not specifically mention a return to "specie"; but rather is imploring Congress to legislate for a national currency system furnished by an association of banking institutions organized and authorized under federal law. Lincoln mentions taxes in association with such a new currency system, and does not mention interest on US bonds at all.
Although they both can be seen here as strongly advocating for federal legislation from Congress, I detect some disagreement between Lincoln and his Treasury Secretary on the details of any future lawfully authorized US monetary arrangements.
Could there be a future movie in this?