The national capital being insufficient, loans were made in England and Holland, where the rate of interest being more moderate stimulated the passion for enterprises. Finally, in order to stop the flow of English capital to America, the Bank of England raised the rate of interest; this brought people to their senses. They saw the impossibility of carrying out a third of their schemes. Cotton fell, and panic seized the public.
Since 1818 a period of flow and ebb in trade had been seen every five or six years, but this stoppage was much more serious. The lack of ready money and capital destroyed confidence. Money was not to be had upon any collateral; and the banks stopped discounting. The people lacked bread, the streets were deserted, the theatres empty; social observances were in abeyance, there were no more concerts, and the whole social round was stopped.
The Bank of the United States used various expedients to temporarily moderate the crisis until the very moment that it burst all the more violently in 1839, and brought about a new and radical reform.
From the time that the separation of the Bank of the United States from the Government and the cessation of its operations as the National Bank was brought about, the quotation on bank notes considerably decreased, as well for those payable at sight as for the deferred notes payable in twelve months. The President sent an agent to London to raise money upon the bank shares.
Fearing that General Jackson would not establish a new bank, and by way of counterpoise, one hundred banks were created with a capital of more than $125,000,000; issues of bank stock were not to exceed three times the amount of the capital, but this provision was not observed; the issue was without regulation and without limits, and during an inflation in prices of the necessaries of life which had doubled in value, and which had turned the people's attention to agriculture. The price of land had for some time advanced tenfold, and the advance in cotton caused the Southern planters to abandon indigo and rice.
Imports in 1836 exceeded the exports by $50,000,000, which had to be paid in gold or silver. This outflow of metal created a great void.
The advance in the discount rate in the Bank of England under such circumstances came like a thunder-clap, and the distended bladder burst. Banks suspended payment, and bank notes lost from 10 to 20 per cent. Exchange on France and England rose to 22 per cent., all metal disappeared from circulation, and a thousand failures took place. The English export houses lost from L5,000,000 to L6,000,000 sterling; values fell from maximum to minimum. The losses in America were even greater; cotton fell to nothing. At the worst of the panic people turned to the Bank of the United States, and its President, being examined as to the means of remedying the trouble, stated that it was above all necessary to maintain the credit of the Bank of England in stead and in place of private credit, which had disappeared. He proposed to pay everything in bank paper on Paris, London, and Amsterdam.
When the panic came the Bank was very much shaken. At the beginning of April, 1837, the New York banks suspended payments because demands for hard money for export played the chief role; the other banks suspended in their turn, promising to resume with them.
The Bank of the United States, suspended also, Mr. Biddle, the President, asserting that it would have continued to pay were it not for the injury done by New York. This was false, for the New York banks shortly after resumed payment, hoping they would be imitated, but the other banks refused to do so. Mr. Biddle wished, in the first place, to await the result of the harvest. To uphold the Bank, he tried to bring about exchanges, both with banks and general business, not only in America but in Europe, in order to establish a unity of interests which would sustain him and conceal his real condition. In this he was successful to a certain degree, for in 1840 in his balance sheet $53,000,000 of paper of the different States was shown up. He wished above all to secure the monopoly of the sale of cotton: a senseless speculation hitherto unexampled, [Footnote: A similar episode has occurred in our time in the speculation in metals by the "Comptoir d'Escompte."] the like of which may never be seen again.
Whilst the Bank came to the relief of New York business through its exchange and its deferred notes, Biddle posed as the great cotton agent, on condition that the Bank's agents should be consigned to at Havre and Liverpool. In their embarrassment this proposition was accepted by the planters. Cotton was thus accumulated in those two places. This monopoly advanced the price, and vast sums were realized, which enabled him to enlarge the scope of his business. In 1837 he was enabled by this means to draw on London for L3,000,000 sterling; the difference between 5 to 6 per cent. interest and discount at 2 per cent. produced a very handsome profit. The cotton merchants prospered as well as the exchange agent, and Mr. Biddle paid the planters in bank notes which the Bank could furnish without limit, while he received in Europe hard money for the cotton; this aroused opposition.
In the second half of 1837 he established in Missouri, Arkansas, Alabama, Georgia, and Louisiana a number of new banks, to make advances to the planters, and to sell their products for them in Europe. They started with very slight capital, they observed no rules in issuing paper, their bank notes fell 30 per cent. in 1838, and the planters would not take them.
The Bank of the United States, fearing lest foreign capitalists should take advantage of the difficulties of the planters by buying this cotton, cheapened on account of the encumbrances upon the district producing it, resolved to come to the rescue of the Southern banks, and to join them in their operations by purchasing their shares and their long-time paper, having two years to run. It thus put $100,000,000 into the business, and in 1838 it had loaned them upon their cotton crops not less than $20,000,000 at 7 per cent. payable in three years.
It had bought the bank shares at 28 per cent. below par; through its help they had risen again to par; and then it threw them upon the London market, which absorbed them. In order to explain the immense credit enjoyed in Europe by the United States and their banks, we must observe that the extinguishment of the National obligations through surplus crops threw a false light upon the credit of the States, as well as particularly upon that of the corporation. For many years American investments had been sought for above all others in London, and as nothing happened during the first year to destroy that confidence, the amount thus employed increased from $150,000,000 to $200,000,000 in 1840. In Pennsylvania $16,000,000 of European money was used in the Bank of the United States, and $40,000,000 in those of the different States, all of which was payable in two or three years.
Mr. Biddle had succeeded in sustaining the different States with the National credit. He knew how to utilize the credit of American goods in Europe, and drew from the London market an immense sum against exchange long-time paper and paper payable in America. The Bank's paper fell from 4 to 6 per cent., and it was in such demand that the Bank of England took it at 2 to 3 per cent. discount. But finally the market had all that it could take. The attention of merchants was attracted to Mr. Biddle's gigantic speculations, who paid paper in America and collected hard money in London. Business interests complained about the contraction in the market. The Bank's stock of cotton increased steadily, and between June and July it rose from fifty-eight to ninety million bales.
This speculation had already yielded $15,000,000 profit, but the market was overloaded, and quotations could not keep up. The planters had made a great deal by the advance in cotton, but the paper money remitted them lost from 15 to 25 per cent. A panic was approaching. The cotton crop, amounting to 400,000 bales, was one fifth less than was expected; they awaited an advance in price, but the contrary occurred. The high prices had brought out all the stored cotton; the factories had reduced their work. Nevertheless bale after bale was forwarded to Liverpool and to Havre. The sale in this last port in February and March, 1839, having produced a loss, they continued to store it. As soon as Mr. Biddle was aware of this stoppage he sought to hide the difficulty by extending his business. He proposed to start a new bank in New York (the other had headquarters in Philadelphia) with a capital of $50,000,000. He once more issued long-time paper, and bought with American paper canals, rail-roads, and shares which he threw upon the English market. This lasted until the long-time paper lost 18 per cent. in America, and until American exchange and investments were no longer received on the Continent.
The Parisian house of Hottinguer like its other agents, sold little until the first of July, and when it saw that the effort to monopolize cotton could not succeed, fearing to continue this gigantic operation, it declared that it employed too much capital. In the midst of all this, some new bills of exchange reached Paris without consignment of corresponding value; and the house of Hottinguer protested.
Hope of Amsterdam discontinued his connection. The London agent called upon the Bank of England for help, which was granted upon the guaranty of certain firms of that place and a deposit of good American paper.
Rothschild accepted the refused bills of exchange, after having found out that a sum of L400,000 would suffice for Mr. Biddle's agent; these L400,000 offered as a guaranty consisted of Government stock, and of shares in railroads, canals, and banks. This agreement was not given out freely, which still further increased the feeling of distrust. A crisis in which $150,000,000 of European capital were destined to be engulfed was rapidly approaching.
BREAKING OUT OF THE PANIC OF 1839.—The English papers had already warned the people to be distrustful. The Times said it was impossible to have any confidence in the Bank as long as it would not resume specie payments. Mr. Biddle defended himself through papers paid for the purpose, finally in the Augsburg Gazette, while he waited for the soap bubble to burst. His retained defenders claimed that the 150,000 bales of cotton sent to Europe had not been sold, but received on commission. Advances in paper had been made which in the month of August, 1839, were to be paid in notes by the Southern banks, for a new grant made to the Bank by the State of Pennsylvania permitted it to buy the shares of other banks, and by this means to gain their management; their notes lost 20 to 50 per cent. as compared with the Northern banks.
Through his profit upon the difference of the notes, and through the payment for the cotton in paper, and through the sale of bullion exchange, Mr. Biddle had made five to six million dollars, which lay at his command in London.
The protection of his bills of exchange made a great impression in England; the rebound was felt in America, where the panic, moderated in 1837 through the intervention of the Bank, burst forth with renewed fury in 1839, and brought about the complete liquidation of that establishment.
At the same time the English market was very much pressed, for, according to a notice of the Chamber of Commerce, the number of that year's bankruptcies was greater than usual. From June 11, 1838 to June, 1839, there were 306 bankruptcies in London, and 781 in the "provinces,"—in all, 1,087. At Manchester there were 82, at Birmingham 54, at Liverpool 44, at Leeds 33. The London Exchange was flooded with unsalable paper, an occurrence which had also taken place on a smaller scale in 1837.
Such was the interruption of business that interest for money rose to 20 per cent., and the discount rate for the best paper to 15 or 18 per cent.
The various States in the Union had contracted debts with inconceivable ease, and interest payments were provided for by new loans. President Jackson declared it necessary to make a loan in order to pay interest moneys. It was deemed inexpedient to impose new taxes to provide for the cost of the public works. Great was the embarrassment in America, and as no more money came from England, it was necessary for the Americans to look for it in their own country.
Business circles were flooded with long-time paper running at a discount of one half of 1 per cent. a month. Discount rose to 25 per cent. The panic was so great that all confidence was destroyed. The Bank of the United States, in order to maintain its credit, paid its depreciated long-time paper.
The struggle between the Bank and its opponents, led by President Van Buren, re-commenced. These last declared that the Bank had erred in circulating the $4,000,000 of notes of the old bank, which should have been retired coincidently with the charter; and the Senate forbade their circulation.
The Government claimed large sums from the Bank, the statement of which showed close to $4,000,000; and, as it could not secure this amount in money, it was decided to issue $10,000,000 of Treasury bonds. The Bank party wished to push the Government into bankruptcy, in order to induce it to turn to them for help, and, through the issue of "circular specie," oblige it to adopt a system of paper money.
A bill was brought forward with this view. Biddle, who wished to increase the circulation, said he could resume specie payments, and thus forced his shares to rise; but the rejoicing of the Bank party was soon disturbed by the fact that collectors of taxes were forbidden to receive any bank note for less than $20, which was not redeemable in hard money.
After a struggle of eight years the separation became complete, and the administration of National finances was withdrawn from the Bank.
In 1836, a law was passed providing that upon the expiration of its charter, the National funds should be again deposited with it, as soon as the Bank resumed specie payment. Upon the suspension in 1837, the Government was forced to abate the law, in order to protect the specie, and imposed on its financial and postal agents some of the duties of the Treasury. In 1840, the management of the public Treasury constituted a separate and distinct department. Such was the liquidation following the panic, that Congress granted the Bank three months in which it must either resume specie payment or liquidate. To conform to this decree the State of Pennsylvania fixed the resumption of specie payments by its banks, for January 15, 1841. The shares of the Bank, which had yielded no dividend in 1839, and offered a similar outlook for the first half of 1840, fell to $61. They had been quoted as high as $1,500. General liquidation and a loss of 50 per cent. was inevitable. This occurred in 1841. Thus ceased for a time the bank mania in the United States.
We will recall here Buchanan's opinion about the Bank: "If the Bank of the United States, after ceasing to be a national bank, and obtaining a new charter in Pennsylvania, had restrained itself to legitimate banking, had used its resources to regulate the rate of home exchange, and had done everything to hasten the resumption of specie payments, it would have resurrected the National Bank.
"But this is no longer possible; it has defied Congress, violated the laws, and is mixed up in politics. The people have recognized the viciousness of its administration; the President, Mr. Biddle, has concluded the work Jackson began."
Tables indicating the banks which suspended during the panic: In 1814, 90; in 1830, 165; in 1837, 618; in 1839, 959. The last panic, from 1837 to 1839, produced, according to some pretty accurate reports of 1841, 33,000 failures, involving a loss of $440,000,000.
PANIC OF 1848.—The entire discounts, which had risen to $525,000,000 in 1837, fell to $485,000,000 in 1838, only to rise again to $492,000,000 in 1839, and the real liquidation of the panic occurred only then. Discounts fell at once to $462,000,000, then $386,000,000; the abundance of capital, and the low price at which it was offered, cleared out bank paper until it was reduced from $525,000,000 to $254,000,000 in 1843. [Footnote: We have not the outside figures, the maximum or minimum.]
The metallic reserve increased from $37,000,000 to $49,000,000 (1844); the circulation was reduced from $149,000,000 to $58,000,000.
The number of banks in 1840, from 901 fell to 691 in 1843, and the capital itself from $350,000,000 in 1840 was reduced to $200,000,000 in 1845 and to even $196,000,000 in 1846.
All these figures clearly indicate liquidation. The market, freed from its exchange, was enabled to permit affairs to resume their ordinary course.
In fact an upward movement was taking place. Discounts rose from $264,000,000 to $344,000,006 in 1848.
Banks increased from 691 in 1843 to 751 in 1848, and their capital grew from $196,000,000 in 1846 to $207,000,000. The paper circulation rose from $58,000,000 to $128,000,000 in 1848. Deposits from $62,000,000 reached $103,000,000 in 1848. The metallic reserve alone fell from $49,000,000 in 1844 to $35,000,000 in 1848.
The consequences of the European panic were felt in America, but without causing much trouble. The liquidation of the panic of 1839 was barely over, and was still too recent to have permitted sufficient extension of business.
Embarrassments were slight and brief; discounts, nevertheless, fell from $344,000,000 to $332,000,000.
The store of bullion, in spite of the surplus and the favorable balance produced by the export of grain to Europe, fell from $49,000,000 to $35,000,000; with the following year the forward movement recommenced.
PANIC IN 1857.—The stoppage in 1848 was very brief. Discounts rose regularly from $332,000,000 to $364,000,000, $413,000,000, $557,000,000, $576,000,000, $634,000,000, and finally $684,000,000 in 1857. The progression was irresistible. The circulation rose from $114,000,000 to $214,000,000. The banks increased at such a rate that, from 707 in 1846, with a capital of $196,000,000, there were in 1857 1416, whose capital had risen to $370,000,000,—a very inferior figure, in comparison to the number of banks, to that of 1840, when 901 banks only had a capital of $358,000,000.
The metallic reserve, from $35,000,000 in 1847, easily reached $59,000,000 in 1856: but it was in proportion neither with the number of the banks nor their discounts and circulation; and, after all, this is only a moderate sum. We have not the extreme maximum or minimum, and the suspension of specie payments took place notwithstanding the amount of cash on hand, which was greater in 1857 than in 1856.
Deposits accumulated from $91,000,000 to $230,000,000; they rose to their greatest height in the very year of the crisis; nevertheless, they could not be drawn out.
During the Eastern war the prosperity of the United States had been so great that the clearing-houses established in New York in 1853, and in Boston in 1855, offered only a slight opposition to the excessive issue: at least, in 1837 the Congressional report stated the cash on hand was $6,500,00—that is to say, $1.00 in metal to each $6,00 in paper.
In 1857 cash on hand was $14,300,000, or $1.00 in hard money for each $8.00 in paper.
The banks had attracted deposits by high interest, and loaned the money to wild speculators. On the 22d of August, 1857, the amount of loans had become almost $12,000,000, counting together metal, notes, and deposits.
From December, 1856, to June, 1857, they had shown great strength. Discounts had risen from $183,000,000 to $190,000,000 in June; cash on hand had risen from $11,000,000 to $14,000,000. The only evidence of weakness, so to speak, was that the withdrawal of deposits had risen from $94,000,000 to $104,000,000, while the circulation diminished $1,000,000.
In June "the position of the Bank ought not to have caused any fear, to the most far-sighted," says the report of the Committee of Inquiry.
Foreign exchange was favorable, and it is known that is the bankers' guide. June, July, and August were tranquil, except for a slight disturbance in business experienced by the country bankers through the constantly increasing amount of notes presented for redemption, and among the city bankers by requests for discount.
The collapse of the "Ohio Life," which had the best New York connection, was the first muttering of the storm, and was soon followed by the suspension of the Mechanics' Banking Association, one of the oldest banks in the country. The suspension of the Pennsylvania and Maryland banks followed. Public confidence remained unshaken—it relied upon the circulating medium.
Only one bank went to protest, and that on September 4th, on a $250 demand. Another protest followed on the 12th, a third on the 15th, both for insignificant amounts. Demands in the way of withdrawal amounted to almost nothing, and there was nothing like a panic.
The deposits at the savings banks were a little less, but this did not continue. Only at the close of September was the demand by the country banks for payment upon the Metropolitan American Exchange Bank for payment greater than it had ever been.
On the 13th of October, with exchange at par, an abundant harvest, with a premium of 1/4 to 1/2 per cent. on metal, the banks suspended specie payment, but resumed it on the 11th of December. The most critical period lasted about a month. The first step towards resumption of payments was made after the resolution adopted by the Committee of Liquidation to call upon the country banks to redeem the notes of the Metropolitan Bank, paying an allowance of 1/4 of 1 per cent. interest, running from the 20th of November.
At this time the city bankers held, in bills issued and in signed parcels of $5,000 each, about $7,000,000 due by the country banks. They were thus enabled to accomplish the payment of their notes at the rate of 20 per cent. a month by the 1st of January, 1858. The same favor of repaying their notes at the rate of 6 per cent. was granted to the city banks.
We need not inquire if, having granted this delay, the banks proved their liberality. The abundant harvest also assisted liquidation.
From 1853 to 1857 the metallic reserve fell to $7,000,000, deposits rose to $99,000,000, and discounts and loans to $122,000,000.
BANKS OF NEW YORK.
Proportion of Metallic Reserve. Deposits. Discounts, the Metallic Advances. Reserve to Deposits.
1854 ... $15,000,000 $ 58,000,000 $ 80,000,000 26% 1855 ... 9,900,000 85,000,000 101,000,000 11% 1856 ... 10,000,000 100,000,000 112,000,000 10% 1857 ... 7,000,000 99,000,000 122,600,000 7%
The reduction of the metallic reserve, increase of deposits and of discounts and of advances, are here clearly indicated.
From 1853 to 1857 the bank circulation hardly varied $100,000, indicating that the demand for hard money came from abroad and from the interior. The circulation was not the cause of the suspension,—at least such was the opinion expressed by the superintendent of the New York banks in his report.
In 1856 twenty-five companies were started, and three bankers opened business with a capital of $7,500,000, of which $7,200,000, was paid in.
In 1857 there were only five of these banks and three bankers having a capital of $6,000,000, of which only $4,000,000 were paid in. The collateral deposited by the banks represented $2,500,000 in 1856, on which credit of $2,000,000 in notes was granted.
In 1857 the same collateral did not exceed $560,000 estimated value, on which a credit of $383,000 in paper was granted.
At the height of the crisis failures were so numerous that a general suspension of payments, and, in consequence, a stoppage of business was dreaded. This suspension, in place of being general, turned out to be merely partial; it occurred at a juncture when it might well be feared that it would lead on to the very greatest disasters, but, far from harming, it helped the market. The banks had suspended payment upon a common understanding among themselves and with business circles. The critical moment having passed, tranquillity reappeared as soon as the course determined on was known.
If suspension of payment hurts the credit of a bank, it does not necessarily lead to the depreciation of its bank notes.
There are a good many proofs of this: in 1796, when the Bank of England suspended, its bank notes did not depreciate; and if this state of things did not last, the blame must be laid upon the excessive issue. And in France, in 1848 as well as in 1871, the Bank of France suspended without the depreciation of its bank notes becoming very noticeable. So, in New York, bank notes passed at 2 or 3 per cent. loss at this crisis.
The crisis disappeared with the end of the year, and resumption of payments took place between New York and Hamburg, with the return of specie and a rate of 4 per cent.
It was the same in France and England. A more serious panic and a more rapid recovery had never been seen. The rigidness and not the severity of the pressure that had to be exercised shows the condition of business. There had been most blamable practices employed; but the market as a whole was sound, and had faced the storm.
Only four banks had suspended, three of which were shaky before the panic, and the fourth had already resumed payments.
At no other period could one have obtained such an amount of credit upon a simple paper circulation; fictitious paper was the source of all the wrecks. To get it into circulation the most varied contrivances were resorted to, and fraud itself was not wanting; the signatures even became fictitious, their owners could not be found. Shams and discriminations under all forms, designed to permit speculation without capital, without exchange of goods, without real transactions between the drawer and the acceptor of the bill of exchange, were rife.
In his message, President Buchanan ascribed the crisis to the vicious system of the fiduciary circulation, and to the extravagant credits granted by the banks, although he was aware that Congress had no power to curb these excesses. When there is too much paper, when the public has created an endless chain of bank notes, representing no real value, it is enough that the first ring break for the whole gear, thus no longer held together, to fall to pieces. If we mark the situation of the New York banks before and during the panic—that is to say, in 1852 and in 1857, we will ascertain as follows:
June, 1851. June, 1856. June, 1857.
Capital ............ $59,700,000 $92,300,000 $107,500,000 Circulation ........ 27,900,000 30,700,000 27,100,000 Deposits ........... 65,600,000 96,200,000 84,500,000 Paper discounted ... 127,000,000 174,100,000 170,800,000 Cash on hand ....... 13,300,000 18,500,000 14,300,000
This table demonstrates that two items show a great increase: capital increased $47,000,000 and paper discounted $43,000,000; while, in face of an increase of $1,000,000 of specie on hand, the note circulation decreased $800,000.
Far from finding a mistake, we find a proof of the Directors' prudence. If there was an error in the issuing of paper, it was not on the side of the banks; it was the public itself that was chiefly in fault.
We find the causes of the panic in the issues of railway obligations and shares, which had chiefly been placed in European markets, and whose gross amount was estimated at L1,000,000. The speculation in land and railroads had been carried on either with borrowed money or by open credits, and by accommodation notes, back of which there was no second party.
The mistake of the banks was in trying to conduct their whole business by their note circulation and to concentrate their capital in the bank offices, and meanwhile, as they refused to loan to the stockholders of the banks, discounts in New York fell off $10,000,000. Finally the capital could not be entrusted to the disposal of the banks and it was necessary to compel them to make a deposit of $100,000 for each association, and $50,000 for each banker.
Such were the final advices given by the inspector-general of the banks of New York at the close of his report, dealing with how to prevent the recurrence of panics. To have confidence in their efficacy, it was necessary to forget the past and its lessons.
The reforms already made and those still asked for in the bank system could yield no remedy for those abuses lying beyond legislative action. The American newspapers did not hesitate to demand them, well aware that they would produce no effect; however, they congratulated themselves with having drawn away from effete Europe one million sterling now realized upon the soil of the United States without any equivalent given for it to the foreign lenders.
PANIC OF 1864.—The crisis of 1864 was mixed up in the United States with the War of Secession; it was a political crisis, and is not properly to be considered here.
PANIC OF 1873.—During the last two months of 1872 the American market had been very much embarrassed; the lowest rate of discount was 7 per cent., and in December it was quoted at even 1/32 of 1 per cent. or a quarter of 1 per cent. a day!
The year 1873 was anxiously awaited in hope of better times. In the middle of January, 1873 the rate of interest declined a little to 6 or 7 per cent., but soon the rate of 1/32 of 1 per cent. per day reappeared and continued until the month of May.
In the first days of April the market was in full panic; it grew steadier in the first week of May, and in the month following. It relapsed on September 1st, and requests for accommodation redoubled until the sharpest moment of the panic. On that day there were no quoted rates; money could not be had at any price: some few loans were made at 1-1/2 per cent. per day.
This panic broke forth on September 18th, through the failure of Jay Cooke, after a miserable year, during which money was constantly sought for and was held at very high prices in all branches of business. As to the loans for building railroads, they followed one another so rapidly that, from the month of October, 1871, to the month of May, 1873, they could not be placed at a lower rate than 7 per cent. Bankers succumbed beneath the burden of their unsalable issues. This was a grave misfortune for the railroads. In the single year 1873 there were constructed 4,190 miles of railroad in the United States, which, at $29,000 per mile, represented the enormous sum of $121,000,000, and in the last five years $1,700,000,000.
The commercial situation was not so bad, and the number of failures did not reach the proportion that might have been feared.
After the failure of Jay Cooke came those of Fiske & Hatch, of the Union Trust Company, of the National Trust Company, and of the National Bank of the Commonwealth. On the 20th of September, for the first time, the Stock Exchange in New York City was closed for ten days, during which legal-tender notes were at a premium of 1/4 per cent. to 3 per cent. above certified cheques.
On the 18th there was a run on the deposits. Withdrawals continued on the 19th and 20th, especially by the country banks, and the banks' correspondents. No security could be realized upon; and in order to relieve the situation the Secretary of the Treasury bought $13,500,000 of National 5-20 bonds, stating that he could do no more.
The New York Stock Exchange was reopened September 30th, without any notable occurrence; but everything was very low. Several other suspensions occurred—for instance, that of Sprague, Claflin, & Co.
The rate of discount being 9 per cent., a panic was feared in London. The banks passed the most critical period on October 14th; out of $32,278,000 legal-tender dollars at the beginning of the panic, only $5,800,000 remained on hand. Not until the middle of November did the decline stop and a slight advance take place. Throughout the panic the bank reserves were much below the legal requirement of 25 per cent; from the 13th to the 30th of September they fell to 24.44 and 23.55 per cent.
The New York Clearing House in September adopted a measure which permitted dealings to continue. It authorized the banks to deposit the bills on hand, or the other securities they had accepted, in exchange for which they issued certificates of deposit bearing 7 per cent. in notes of $5,000 to $10,000 to the extent of 70 per cent. of the security deposited. Thus $26,565,000 of them were put into circulation.
Furthermore, they made a common fund of the legal tenders belonging to the Associated Banks for mutual aid and protection. The suspension of payment took place first in New York and then extended to the large cities of the Union; it lasted forty days, until the 1st of November; this measure was looked upon as having prevented the greatest disasters.
The table setting forth the situation, compared with the balance sheets of the Associated Banks of New York on January 1st, April 1st, July 1st, September 1st, and October 1st of the years 1870, 1871, 1872, and 1873, shows us the following changes: discounts had fluctuated from $250,000,000 in January, 1870, to $309,000,000 in September, 1871; they had become reduced to $278,000,000 in September, 1873, on the eve of the panic, and from the month of September, liquidation of the panic having begun, they were reduced to $250,000,000. Deposits from $179,000,000 in January, 1870, rose to $248,000,000 in July, 1871, with $296,000,000 of bills discounted, and once more reached $198,000,000 in September, 1873, with $278,000,000 of discounts and $195,000,000 in December.
Even at the most critical moment of the panic they continued larger than the usual average of the preceding years.
The metallic reserves played too feeble a role to have caused failure; they had varied from $34,000,000 in June, 1870, to $9,000,000 in September, 1871, $18,000,000 in September, 1873, and $23,000,000 in December, 1873.
The circulation varied still less: from $34,000,000 in January, 1876, it decreased to $27,000,000 in July, 1872, and remained at the same figure during the year 1873, if we can judge of this by the balance sheet rendered on the first day of each quarter. In each case there is no opportunity for us to charge an excessive issue.
According to the statement of the Comptroller of the Currency, paper discounted decreased between the 12th of September and the 1st of November from $199,000,000 to $169,000,000.
To sum up, the circulation had fluctuated very little; deposits from $99,000,000 had increased to $167,000,000 between the 12th and 20th of September, at the most critical period; and when suspension was universal, they had declined to $89,000,000. After the breaking out on the 18th of October, and since then from the 22d of November, they had risen to $138,000,000.
The metallic reserve, after a brief revival from $14,000,000 to $18,000,000 between the 12th and 20th of September, had fallen back to $10,000,000, only to rise to $14,000,000 in November.
In the midst of these difficulties, the securities of the various States held up. Since the first months of 1873, the demands of the English market caused an upward movement in them; in September it was impossible to make a loan, without using them as collateral. In order to help the market somewhat, the Treasury bought about $13,000,000 of National securities on the Stock Exchange, but, lacking resources, that was the only effort it could make. The German Government invested quite a large sum in the new five per cents., so that the advance in public securities lasted through the whole year: the market rate for 5-20's advanced from 91 per cent. in April to 96 per cent. in October, in the midst of the market's panic.
The $15,000,000 of indemnity awarded by the Geneva Court of Arbitration, and paid by England for having admitted privateers into her ports, was put into 5-2O's. Apart from this strength in the public securities, the railway obligations, especially those upon new roads, were very much depressed; they could no longer be placed, ninety new companies having stopped paying their coupons, whilst those of the old lines held their quotations.
Great speculators, Vanderbilt at the head, formed syndicates, embracing several companies, and made prices as suited their plans. The death of Mr. Clarke in June dealt the first blow to this combination, and the failure of George Bird Grinnell brought about its dissolution.
The liquidation of this tremendous concern kept down prices for a long time.
The price of gold, still quoted at 112-1/2 per cent. in January, 1873, rose to 119-1/2 per cent. in April, superinduced by speculation, for at the height of the panic it declined to 106 on the 6th of November. It is true that at that time all doubtful accounts were liquidated, and demands for gold had disappeared; if we were to rely upon the export figures only, we would find them less than in the preceding years.
Exchange rates were much more depressed; from 109.45, representing par, they fell to 107.25 for the best 60-day paper. This paper was much sought after by speculators, who, when discounting it, procured bonds authorizing them to transfer the titles unless payment was made promptly at maturity. Prices fell so low that it was often impossible to negotiate paper at any price. The activity reigning at the beginning of the year showed itself in the Exchange movement; the excess of imports over exports rose in the first months to $100,000,000, whilst in the preceding year it did not exceed $62,000,000; prices ruling in the American market attracted goods from all quarters.
PANIC OF 1884.—The panic which burst upon the United States in 1884 was the last thunder-clap of the commercial tempest which had reigned since the month of January, 1882. Public opinion already recalled the decennial period which separated the existing panic from that of 1873. The acute period was of short duration; the crash occurred on May 14th, and the decline of values had touched bottom by the end of June. From the 9th of June the people began to steady up, they felt the ground firmer under their feet. The situation gave evidence of great strength; and, notwithstanding the dearness of money, and an enormous fall in prices, there were only a few failures, and at the close of the year equilibrium was re-established, although the liability of the losses had risen to $240,000,000. These losses, it is true, were almost entirely borne by financiers and speculators, rather than by manufacturers and traders.
The month of May, 1884, concludes the prosperous period which followed the crisis of 1873. During this period the most gigantic speculations in railroads occurred; the zenith of the movement was in 1880, and as early as 1881 a retrograde movement began, only to end in the disasters in question. The decline in prices had been steady for three years; they had sunk little by little under the influence of a ruinous competition, caused by the number of new lines and the lowering of rates, but above all through the manipulations by the managers on a scale unexampled until now. In connection with the disasters of May, 1884, the names of certain speculators who misused other people's money, such as Ward, of Grant & Ward; Fish, President of the Marine Bank; and John C. Eno, of the Second National Bank, will long be remembered. General Grant, who was a silent partner in Ward's concern, was an innocent sufferer, both in fortune and reputation.
The Marine Bank suspended on the 5th of May, and in the following week the Metropolitan drew down in its train a large number of bankers and houses of the second order. The confusion was then at its height. Owing to the very delicate mechanism of the credit circulation, the banks and the clearing house were the first attacked and the most shaken, but they immediately formed themselves into a syndicate to resist the storm which was upsetting all about them. As cheques were no longer paid, settlements no longer took place, and the credit circulation was suspended; this stoppage was liable to induce the greatest consequences, hence it was necessary to be very circumspect. Here it was not possible to suspend the law, as in England the Act of 1844 was suspended, permitting an excess of the official limit for the note issue, but the banks could have been empowered to demand authority to change the proportion enacted by the law creating National Banks. They had no recourse to any of these violations of the Statutes, which prove only too often under such circumstances that regulation by law is impossible; they satisfied themselves, without having the public powers intervene, with issuing clearing-house certificates, that is to say, promises, which they were bound to accept as cheques in settling up the operations of each day. It was through this help that the Metropolitan Bank was enabled to resume payments on the 15th of May, the evening of the day following its suspension. The Second National Bank was a loser through the acts of its President, Mr. John C. Eno, but his father and the Directors hastened to make good the deficit. At this moment the excitement was intense, deposits were withdrawn, and 1 per cent. a day was paid, and even more, to obtain ready money or credit; under the influence of numerous sales of securities, exchange fell rapidly, metallic money was secured in London even, to be hurried to New York. Never could purchases be made under better auspices. Above all is this true when we observe that the condition of companies was much better known than in 1873. The year 1883 had been disturbed by numerous failures. There had been no crash, but prices, far from advancing, had held their own with difficulty. On the eve of the breaking out of the panic there was complaint about the accumulation of goods in the warehouses, and of the difficulty of making exports. No scheme worked out, despite a very high protective tariff, and people were asking themselves what was its effect under the influence of unfavorable exchanges. Gold flowed away from the country, and cash on hand decreased each day.
On the 1st of January, 1884, the New York & New England Railroad was placed in the hands of a receiver by order of the court. The same thing happened on the 12th of January to the North River Company. In February, March, and April many houses exhibited their balance sheets. The fall in prices grew accentuated not only on the Stock Exchange, but in all markets. The discomfort increased until the 6th of May, the day on which occurred the failure of the National Marine Bank, whose President was associated with the house of Grant and Ward, which went down shortly afterwards with a liability of $17,000,000. This financial disaster made a great stir. Anxiety spread everywhere, when on the 13th of May the President of the Second National Bank of New York was also forced to suspend payment with a liability of $3,000,000; this was the final blow to credit. Every operation was suspended, all exchange became impossible; not securities but money was lacking. At one time the panic was such that the rate of discount and loans rose to 4 per cent. a day!
Although the panic was general, it was rather a panic of securities in the chief places of the United States, especially in New York.
One no longer knew on whom to count to provide ready money. Offerings were made on the Stock Exchange where there were no bidders, and the market disappeared in the midst of a panic which paralyzed every one.
This melancholy state of things was still further aggravated on the 14th of May by the failure of Donnel, Lawson, & Simpson and Hatch & Foote. On May 15th it was the turn of the Savings Banks of New York, of Piske & Hatch, and of many others. It was impossible to obtain any credit from the banks, and all securities were unsalable, unless at ruinous rates. Reduced to such an extremity, it was necessary to adopt some course to help the market and avoid suspension of payments.
The certified checks issued by the banks did not answer, and it was necessary to have recourse to a new means of settlement. The members of the clearing house emerged from their usual passive role to intervene and to do a novel thing: they issued certificates that they accepted in the name of the most embarrassed institutions whose fall they wished to avert, in order to prevent the failure of others. Then, as everybody was making default, the Secretary of the Treasury in his turn wished to aid the common effort to sustain the credit of the situation, and, in order to accomplish this by the most regular methods, he pledged himself to prepay the debt, whose term was close at hand.
Despite these last helps it was easily seen how great must be the disorder, to induce recourse to such methods. Never had they been employed until now, which is proof enough of the enormity of the situation, whose equilibrium, had been disturbed since 1887, the year in which high prices in everything had been reached on the Stock Exchange.
To still further increase the joint responsibility of the members of the clearing house, it was agreed that a committee should be charged with receiving as collateral bills and securities in exchange for which certificates of deposit bearing 3 per cent. were issued at the rate of 75 per cent. of the amounts deposited. This agreement being adopted, a way to re-open the National Metropolitan Bank was sought. A selection made from its collection of bills showed the securities it could pledge for clearing-house certificates; and, its circulation being thus re-established, it was enabled on May 15th to take part in settlements.
Upon the announcement of a syndicate composed of the banks and the clearing house, things settled down; the general distrust diminished; there was the necessity and wish to realize, but funds were lacking.
The rise in the discount rate attracted foreign capital little by little, and exchange grew easier. With the help of the syndicate the credit circulation became re-established, and the rate of discount declined to 5 per cent. For commercial needs money was always to be had at 4-1/2 per cent. and at 5 per cent. when at the Stock Exchange it was necessary to pay 4 per cent. per day!
The panic was terrible from the 3d to the 10th of May; for two days no one wished to part with his money; it was impossible to borrow on any collateral, at any price whatever. Hence came a decline in the public securities, which fell below the low prices of 1873.
The public complained that it could not have foreseen the panic, because the loss of gold had been concealed by the oft-repeated assurance that there was a reserve of $600,000,000 in Washington.
Similar situations in 1857 and in 1873 were recalled, and it was remarked that like troubles had not occurred until after a long period of high prices, when capital was scarce and the rate of interest high, whereas this was far from being the case at this period.
It was nevertheless notorious that the decline in prices began two years back, that the advance in prices had been stopped by the breaking out of the panic of 1882 in Europe, at Paris, and that since that moment prices had begun to decline, less rapidly, however, than in Europe, because the shock had then merely disturbed a market which had not yet recovered from the panic of 1873, from which, in consequence of the Franco-Prussian war, France had escaped. The mine not being sufficiently charged in the United States the explosion had not recurred. Speculation, unable to restore a new impulse to the rise in prices, was nevertheless able to hold its own, until May, 1884, when the delayed explosion finally occurred, covering the market with ruins and bringing about a liquidation with its accustomed train, a great and lengthy decline of prices.
We may here note similar delays in the breaking out of panics, in the period of 1837, 1839, 1864-1866 in France and in England. Even an involved state of affairs may be hidden by certain conditions, and the situation, although itself exposed to the same excessive speculation, may witness the breaking out of the panic which has been delayed for a certain time, only to occur simultaneously with the beginning of a decline of prices, and when it is thought that danger has been escaped.
As in Brussels and in the United States in 1837-1839 and in England in 1864-1866, large houses and powerful institutions of credit had maintained a whole scaffolding of speculation which was already out of plumb, but still able to stand upright through the general effect of the parts which connected them, and in this unstable equilibrium it sufficed for a single one to detach itself in order to overthrow the whole edifice at a juncture at which it was hoped it would continue to stand and even grow stronger. Does not this prove that after these epochs of expansion and activity characterizing prosperous periods (and there is no prosperous period without a rise in prices) a stoppage is necessary, a panic allowing a period of rest to permit the liquidation of transactions employed in helping to make a series of exchanges at high prices, and to allow the capital and savings of countries which had been too rapidly scattered and exhausted to reconstruct themselves during these years of tranquillity and of slackening business?
Confidence had already returned in New York despite the steady demands of the country bankers upon their correspondents, which pulled down the reserve below the legal limit; nevertheless in the midst of all the failures there was no suspension of specie payments.
The crisis of 1884, according to the Comptroller of the Currency, had been less foreseen than the crisis of 1873, and this notwithstanding it was sufficient to observe the number of enterprises and schemes flung as a prey to speculation, in order to foresee that financial troubles and disasters to the country must result.
The continuation of payments in gold, the low prices, and the outlook for a fine harvest gave courage, preserved the remaining confidence, and already allowed a speedy resumption of business to be anticipated.
The panic, although spreading over the whole Union, raged especially in New York. Without wishing to expatiate upon its primary causes, the Comptroller of the Treasury could not help remarking that it had shown itself under the same circumstances as recently as in 1873; above all there were issues for new enterprises; the speculation had rushed to take them up at a premium, and people now asked their true value.
At this juncture railroad earnings, instead of increasing, showed weakness, and suffered a slight reaction; the solvency of houses interested began to be doubted; new loans were refused them, and immediately the artificially constructed edifice gave way.
To advance prices on the Stock Exchange, the banks had made immense loans on the shares and obligations of the new railway issues, and as soon as quotations, artificially maintained at the rates to which they had been carried, began to drop, everything became unsalable. Until this occurrence, led on and fascinated by the rise in prices, every one had bought; hardly was the advance arrested when every one reversed their operations at the same time. The bankers had loaned not only their capital but in addition a part of their clients' deposits; brokers had encouraged a speculation which brought them business; and thus it was that all hands had flung themselves upon a path that could only lead to ruin.
The Comptroller of the Currency remarks with pride that, in the midst of the general upheaval and numerous failures of honorable houses, only two National Banks were involved: one of them failed, the other suspended payment.
The amount of liability of the banks and bankers of New York who succumbed during the month of May was estimated at $32,000,000, whereas that of the only National Bank which shared their fate did not exceed $4,000,000, the bank which suspended not having occasioned any loss.
Unhappily the year did not pass without its being necessary to mention new misfortunes: eleven National Banks failed, and it is a fact that among the banks and private bankers more than a hundred were counted in the list.
Despite the close watch bestowed upon the banks it was surprising to uncover all the tricks to which the National Marine Bank of New York was given over, and, which until now had escaped the official examiners.
It suspended payment on May 6th, and the same day it was debited with $555,000; the books had been erased and overcharged for the benefit of one client alone to the amount of $766,000. He was a debtor to the amount of $2,400,000, six times the Bank's capital, and a portion of this debt was under a good many names of subordinate clerks. This same client had three open accounts, one as administrator, then a general account, and a special account. The whole thing was fictitious; the schemers sought to conceal irregularities, and had thus imposed on the examiners and on the Directors themselves.
The certificates issued by the clearing house, when credit had entirely disappeared, rendered a great service and sustained a great number of houses in equilibrium, which without this assistance must have succumbed. They were granted especially to the banks belonging to the Association, in order to make their daily settlements.
During the crisis of 1873 the same means had been resorted to, but too late; the panic was already at its height and the commotion general, so that nothing could re-establish confidence. This was not the case in 1884: the rapidity and decision with which the Associated Banks took steps gradually re-established confidence throughout the country. The maximum of issue did not exceed $24,900,000, of which $7,000,000 were for the National Metropolitan Bank; from the 10th of June balances at the clearing house were paid in legal money. Commercial paper, which for the most part was the collateral for these certificates, had already been redeemed. The Metropolitan National Bank alone requested time to liquidate.
The issue of these certificates was very rapid: $3,800,000 on the 15th day of May, $6,800,000 on the 16th, $6,700,000 on the 17th, or more than $17,000,000 in these first three days; then on the 19th, 20th, and 22d, $1,500,000, and that was all. The remainder of the amount was given in driblets. Payments, although slower, were made from the 1st of July to the 1st of August.
Let us now run over these occurrences: in 1873 instead of $24,900,000 in certificates $26,565,000 had been issued; $22,000,000, had been issued between the 22d and the 29th of September, the redemptions took place from the 3d of November to the 31st of December.
In both cases the same amount, so to speak, had been sufficient to answer for all needs. If so small a difference sufficed to save a disordered market, people could not understand why panics could not be provided against. It was necessary to remember that this assistance was only felt when the decline of prices had already re-established an exchange of goods, bringing about the liquidation of houses unfortunately involved.
From the month of June, owing to the bank balances or the rate of exchange, the tranquillity and steadiness which had become re-established grew daily; after the storm of the first few days no new disasters had occurred except the failures of Mathew and of Morgan.
The position of the market grew firmer and the clearing house reduced its loan certificates, which now replaced the former excessive issues of bank notes. From $24,000,000 they had already decreased to $18,000,000; of this amount $6,000,000 were taken by banks as a last resource, and there then remained only $12,000,000 in circulation. These $6,000,000 had served to sustain the shaken banks, and it is pleasant to state that outside of these requirements the amount needed was no larger.
Failures had ceased in the great centres, but they continued in the interior of the country; the shock, like a great wave, took a certain time to overrun the various States.
SUCCESSION OF PANICS IN THE UNITED STATES STUDIED THROUGH THE BALANCES OF THE BANKS.—Following the historical summary of panics in the United States it will be useful to have a general table, so as to glance at the very rare documents which permit us to follow the working of the Banks through their balance sheets. We know their organization, and we take upon ourselves to state results flowing from it.
It strikes us at once that abuses and panics have constantly occurred. Can we note a difference in the frequency and gravity of the casualties, according to whether we observe them working under the former or the new (the National Bank) system, inaugurated during the War of the Secession in 1864, when the machinery for the issue of bank notes was insufficient for the new requirements?
Without lingering over the regulations before and after 1864, let us consider the differences we may ascertain by examining the balance sheets. Unfortunately, the exactness of our observation is lessened on account of the very diversity of the field it covers.
In the case of the banks of the United States we have had to content ourselves with the returns that the Comptroller of the Currency gives in his annual report on a stated day during the months of February, May, June, October, and December, beginning with the year 1865. Before that period we had only the yearly situation of the banks of the different States upon one given day; we are better informed on the second period; however, basing our conclusions upon the few balance sheets we possess, we ascertain the same series of development and increase. Although there are lapses, still, from another point of view, the table will be more complete, because it embraces all the banks of the United States. On such an extended field, it is true, we risk seeing great discrepancies disappear and lose themselves in the magnitude of the amounts whose movements we follow. In order better to grasp them, we have put before us the returns of the banks of the United States, together with those of the Associated Banks of New York City; we may thus recognize and follow the share played by each of them.
During the first period of the State Banks (1811-1864), the increase in the number of the banks was continuous, except for two stoppages, in 1841 and in 1862; in 1841, during the liquidation of the panic of 1839, and in 1862 at the beginning of the War of Secession; the crisis of 1857 did not interrupt the movement.
The capital of the banks had followed the same changes. From $52,000,000 in 1811 to $368,000,000 in 1840, a reduction to $196,000,000 in 1846, and finally the last maximum reached in 1861, $429,000,000, at the breaking out of the war. In 1864 a new organization of the banks under the name of "National Banks" presented to the State Banks, without suppressing them, a state of affairs destined to cause their liquidation, which, in fact, practically occurred.
As in England and France, the amount of discounts, as the balance sheets give it to us, rose each year during the prosperous period.
Thus from 1830 to 1839 it reached $492,000,000 from $200,000,000, to decline again to $254,000,000 at the end of the liquidation in 1843.
In the following period the same rising movement from $254,000,000 to $344,000,000 was reproduced in 1848. The panic in Europe burst forth in 1847; it resounded very slightly in the United States in 1848, as its subsequent liquidation in 1849 indicates, which only reduced the local discounts to $332,000,000.
A new period of prosperity followed the preceding events; the growing movement re-appeared, and from $332,000,000 carried the amount of the discounts to $684,000,000 between 1849 and 1857. The panic broke out simultaneously throughout the whole world; but notwithstanding the wrecks it caused, such was the saving already, so healthy was the general situation of business, that, after having thrown out a little scum, the current of affairs resumed its course until 1861, and discounts had already reached the amount of $696,000,000. This amount is greater than that we have noted in 1857, but at that time (whilst the movement continued in Europe up to 1864), despite the shock it received by the declaration of war here, there was complete stoppage until the end of the struggle; we have here come across a political panic, not a business one. Peace re-established, the movement resumed its course under new conditions and with a reorganization of the banks under the name of "National Banks." A change was due, but, as everything was made ready, it was speedy. The first balance sheet of the National Banks dates from 1864. The amount of discounts had already exceeded the sum of $100,000,000 in 1865, and grew to $500,000,000 in 1866. Once started the movement took its own course:
1865 ...... $166,000,000 1870 ...... $725,000,000 1866 ....... 500,000,000 1871 ....... 831,000,000 1867 ....... 609,000,000 1872 ....... 885,000,000 1868 ....... 657,000,000 1873 ....... 944,000,000 1869 ....... 686,000,000
The yearly progression was interrupted as in Europe, and the explosion occurred at the same time. The rise in prices stopped, and incipient liquidation became apparent at the end of the year, and reduced the amount of paper on hand to $846,000,000, but, instead of lasting, as in Europe, a movement of revival, analogous to that which had followed the panic of 1864 in England, occurred. The amount of discounts rose from $856,000,000 to $984,000,000 in 1875, and then, and then only, the real retrograde movement showed itself as in Europe, and reduced the amount of the discounts to $814,000,000 in 1879, simultaneously with the movement in France and in England, when prices had reached the lowest quotations, and when a resumption of business was about to occur. In a word, affairs resumed their course; from the end of the year the amount of paper discounted rose to $933,000,000, and the steady advance as set forth in table No. 3 continued each year, until it reached $1,300,000,000 in 1884. The panic had burst forth in Europe in 1882, and the agitation, so lively was its impulse, lasted during eighteen months; but, as we have stated, the rise in prices ceased in 1882.
Starting from this time, a reaction appeared. The paper on hand lowered to $1,200,000,000 in 1885. This liquidation was scarcely noticeable, because we cover the whole Union, and there is always an upward movement in the new portions of it which have not yet taken part in business movements. If we note what occurred in the Associated Banks of New York, the very place where the greatest amount of business is carried on, the depression of the amount of paper on hand is most noticeable after the inflation observed at the height of the panic, while the decrease that we point out showed itself more slowly with the slackening of business. Thus, in the last period, the greatest amount of paper appears on hand—at the close of 1881, $350,000,000, and the minimum in December, 1884, the very year the panic had burst forth, and when, during the first months, the sum of $351,000,000 reappeared once more; except for a million, exactly the same amount there was in 1881.
This maximum amount was only an accident, under the influence of pressing needs at the time of the difficulty, for since 1881 the yearly reduction of the maximum and minimum amounts ensued. This tendency had occurred suddenly, and disappeared likewise; the resumption dating from 1885, a year sooner than in Europe.
The discounts of the New York Banks, which had been reduced to $287,000,000, rose immediately upon the opening of the new period of prosperity, and a growing activity carried them to $408,000,000 in 1889; after a few more fortunate years we come to the end of the period of prosperity and high prices.
We gather the following about discounts from the balance sheets of the Associated Banks of New York. If we cast our eyes over the balance sheets of the National Banks of the Union, we must note a falling off of $100,000,000 in the paper discounted, that is, from $1,300,000,000 to $1,200,000,000 (1884-1885). After this short period of stoppage, clearly indicating the necessity for liquidation, discounts resumed their steady expansion, and rose to $1,470,000,000 in 1886, to $1,587,000,000 in 1887, and finally to $1,684,000,000 in 1888, when we were in the midst of a period of development and consequently of high prices and of prosperity; and the same is true in France and England.
The study of a single section of the balance sheets, that of discounts and loans, has allowed us to follow the periods of prosperity, of panic, and of liquidation. When we next consider the other sections, we find the confirmation of our anticipations. Among these sections, in the order of importance, we notice first, public deposits in the form of running accounts; they constitute the reverse of the loans and discounts, whose total is immediately credited to the banks' clients, and the increase of paper on hand also follows. From 1865 to 1873 the steady increase was uninterrupted, viz., from $183,000,000 to $656,000,000; the maximum amount shows itself in the first quarter of 1873, eight months before the maximum of discounts and loans; in 1888 they ran down to $622,000,000; there is, say, a difference of $300,000,000 between the two totals, and this difference is the same, we observe, as that between the highest and the lowest of the two sections, as we notice it in the same year, during the liquidation of the panic of 1873. [Footnote: See table of balance sheets of the Banks of the United States.]
In the last period the progression is the same; from $598,000,000 the amount of deposits advanced to $1,350,000,000, whilst discounts and loans reached $1,684,000,000; that is to say, there was still a difference of $334,000,000. The relationship of the two sections was much more marked than in France and in England, where the amounts carried in accounts current vary more.
In the United States we then experienced a market based on credit, which, through discounts or loans by the banks, had reached the amount of the accounts current, and was about to call the clearing house into action to settle debts everywhere.
The office of the circulation of bank notes, subsequent to the severe regulations enacted in 1863 for the organization of National Banks, had varied in the last two periods that we are studying. From 1863 to 1873, after the war troubles, in proportion as greenbacks were withdrawn, the bank notes issued by the National Banks not only took their place, but replaced those of the State Banks, whose position the National Banks had taken.
We observe them rise firstly from $66,000,000 to $341,000,000 (1865-1873) at the sharpest period of the panic. We might even charge them with causing it, if the disproportion alone of the two sums, $341,000,000 bank notes compared with $944,000,000 of bills discounted, did not at once repel this theory. It is only necessary to glance at this idea to see its falsity.
The maximum circulation of bank notes has here coincided with the panic, a thing which had not happened either in France or in England for a long time, and instead of presenting its highest figure during the liquidation of the panic of 1873, it shows us its lowest figure, $290,000,000 in 1877. Far indeed from increasing at this time as happened in Europe, the amount of bank notes in circulation decreased by means of the ebbs of metallic cash into the coffers of the banks: in reality the cause was lacking here; the ebb of specie was hardly felt at all.
With $4,000,000 in 1865, the reserve was poorly provided, increasing to $48,000,000 in 1870. At the end of the bursting forth of the panic of 1873 it became reduced to $10,000,000, at the worst of the panic to $16,000,000; then, under the influence of a slight whirl, it rose to $33,000,000 in 1874, without reaching the highest figure of the preceding period, but soon the flow reappeared and reduced this metallic reserve to $8,000,000 in 1875. It was not until after this depression that the true ebb reappeared, when the circulation of bank notes was at its lowest figure ($290,000,000).
Whilst the $8,000,000 specie reserve grew successively to $54,000,000, $79,000,000; $109,000,000, and finally to $128,000,000 in 1878, 1879, 1880, and 1881; that is to say, upon the approach of the panic, the circulation also expanded from $290,000,000 to its highest figure $323,000,000 in 1882, the year of the European crash and of the stoppage of the rise of prices in the United States. As to the minimum amount of the specie reserve, it is to be noted in 1883, between the critical years 1882 and 1884.
Metallic reserves are too small in the United States for their fluctuations to exhibit the same regular course they offer us in Europe; the least need exhausts them, and the smallest payments fill them to overflowing. The panic soon brought about a default in payment and a need of metallic money to re-establish equilibrium, but this remedy, if it does precede panics, sometimes precedes them by a year, as we have observed in 1883, and the same irregularity is apparent whether we observe the banks of the whole United States, or the Associated Banks of the City of New York.
After the panic of 1882-1884, the ebb of specie into the coffers of the National Banks of the United States and of the Associated Banks of New York resumed its usual course, and raised its level in the case of the National Banks from $97,000,000 to $177,000,000 between 1883 and 1885, and even to $181,000,000 in 1888. This ebb occurred both in England and France at the same time, proving that cash reserves do not increase to the detriment of each other; it is a flood of specie or of bar-gold rendered easily available, through the conclusion of the decline of prices and the slackening of business, extending to the whole world, and in which each one partakes in proportion to its wealth, and above all in proportion to its credit circulation, and of the perfection of the settlements by means of clearing houses.
This regular course in the metallic reserves is no longer to be noted in the circulation of bank notes; instead of increasing and of entering its exchanges during the return of specie into the coffers of the banks, they again took part in the paper-money reserves. From $323,000,000 in 1882 we see the circulation of bank notes decrease each year little by little until it is reduced to $151,000,000 in 1888; and this remarkable fact confronts us in the face of an unheard of expansion of business, almost 50 per cent. greater than in 1873; and of a twofold simultaneous reappearance of $84,000,000 specie and of $172,000,000 bank notes. What then is the role of specie and of bank notes in the course of business in the United States? Much inferior to that which it plays in Europe in the absence of the machinery of a clearing house embracing the whole country, instead of being limited to some large cities.
The multiplicity of banks has strikingly helped the economic progress of the United States. From 1,500 National Banks in 1865 with a capital of $393,000,000, the number rapidly rose to 2,089 in 1876.
The panic of 1873 did not hinder the movement; however, during its liquidation, the number shrank to 2,048, only to rapidly advance to 2,500 by the close of 1882, and 2,664 in 1884, and this movement did not even suffer a slackening as in 1873 during the liquidation of its crisis; it continued steadily, and we enumerate 3,120 banks in 1888.
The increase is a third more than in 1876, but it is far from being thus in the case of the capital, which only rose from $504,000,000 to $588,000,000—that is, only 16 per cent. The small banks in the new centres of population are the factor, then, which annually increases the number.
THE CONDITION OF BUSINESS IN 1888-92.—[Footnote: The facts I state in this resume are based upon statistics printed in the Commercial and Financial Chronicle.—DEC. W. THOM.]—The year 1888 was fairly prosperous despite a Presidential election, but securities were heavy, depression was general, and some few stocks shrank amazingly. Excessive issue of new railroad securities and disastrous competition between certain of the Southwestern roads were without prudence. Money was easy, bank-note circulation continued to decrease till it was only $151,000,000, and legal tenders to $81,000,000, but specie reserve rose to $181,000,000, the banking capital to $592,000,000 plus, the exports to $1,350,000,000, and discounts and loans rose to $1,684,000,000.
The sharp speculations in wheat and the formation of the French copper corner caused a certain fluctuation in general business. Large crops, excepting wheat; a flourishing cotton manufacture, a decline in production of petroleum by agreement, a 6 per cent. decline in pig-iron production, a very heavy one in Bessemer iron, and a very small export trade as compared with imports occurred. But in the year 1889, the export movement, consisting largely of cotton, was very great, being the greatest since 1880, and near the maximum, and compared favorably with the immense imports induced by the new tariff of 1890. In fact, the year 1889 surpassed all its predecessors in the volume of trade movements; the bank clearings showing an increase of 13 per cent. over 1888. The cotton, corn, and oats crops were the largest ever raised, and the wheat crop was almost the largest. But cotton brought fair prices, and cotton manufactures and production of iron were also considerably ahead of any previous year, while petroleum played an important part at good prices. Railroad earnings showed a wonderful recovery from 1888, and many reports gave the largest figures ever recorded.
During this year many consolidations and a number of foreclosures occurred. Railroad building fell to 5,000 miles compared to 7,000 in 1888. In general business, manufacturing and trade were extremely active, yielding plenty of work, good wages, and fair profits.
But the wool crop and its manufacture, a decline in the anthracite coal production, farm-mortgage pressure in the middle West, and low rates for corn and oats were untoward circumstances. Speculation on the general exchange was small, indicating a growing congestion, as was proved by the low bank reserves, especially in the last quarter of the year; but there was a heavy absorption of investment securities.
Gold, to the amount of $37,000,000, was exported in the first six months. A small amount of it returned before 1890. Failures exceeded those of 1888 by 203 in number and about 20 per cent. in money. The woollen trade contributed much of this showing.
Importations surpassed all previous years, while exports exceeded them by nearly $20,000,000, and the net export of gold amounted to nearly $40,000,000. Money was easy during the first quarter, and then for a week a 10 per cent. rate occurred.
Thereafter, excepting the usual July 1st hardening, easy rates prevailed till August. Stiffening and fluctuating rates ensued till 30 to 40 per cent. in exceptional cases had been reached in December.
During the year, bank circulation declined to $126,000,000. Specie reserve sank to $164,000,000 and rose to $171,000,000 with the ending of the year; legal tenders to $84,000,000, and the number of banks rose to 3,326; their capital to $617,000,000; their deposits to $1,436,000,000, and their discounts and loans to $1,817,000,000, and surplus and undivided profits to $269,000,000.
Unused deposits, capital, surplus, and undivided profits were growing very small in comparison with loans and discounts at the end of the year.
The banks had to work closely, and the demands of the South and West for currency were severely felt.
PANIC OF 1890.—In this condition the year 1890 opened, and, with ever growing pressure for bank accommodation, displayed great activity throughout all departments of trade and transportation, with an unequalled volume of transactions.
But it was as impossible to grant to the overtrading the money needed,—though the Secretary of the Treasury, in seventy days, threw a million a day into the market by buying Government Bonds,—as it had been for the "Gentleman's Agreement" of 1888—that of the chief railroad presidents—to maintain rates, to permanently sustain prices of railroad securities against an oversupply of them; however, both delayed the inevitable.
The debates on the silver question in Congress, leading to hopes of cheap money, and the higher prices due to this temporary and delusive stimulus; the large gross railroad earnings, demand for structural iron; the Buenos Ayres crisis, leading London to ship us large amounts of our securities; our small wheat, oats, and corn crops, and large cotton crop; the tariff discussion, ending with the McKinley Bill on October 6th, and the low bank reserves and money pressure beginning in August and lasting pretty steadily till December, and an immense shrinking of securities, were the chief features of the year; and failures beginning with that of Decker, Howell, & Co., in New York, on November 11th, and reaching a climax with the embarrassment of Baring Brothers [Footnote: Meanwhile Messrs. Charles M. Whitney & Co., David Richmond, J. C. Walcott & Co., Mills, Roberson, & Smith, Randall & Wierum, Gregory & Ballou, P. Gallaudet & Co., had failed in New York, the North River Bank of that city had been thrown into a receivership, and in Philadelphia the failure of Messrs. Barker Brothers, had been followed by a number of others. This was all bad enough, but sinks into insignificance when we recall the financial terror inspired by the great and historic house of Baring Brothers proving unable to meet its engagements, amounting to about, L28,000,000. The Bank of England received notice of its difficulties on September 7th, and by the 15th had secured from a syndicate, composed of the great London houses, a guaranty that it would be protected from loss to the amount of L4,000,000 if it would liquidate the Barings' business, and from the British Government the right to issue L7,000,000 of notes provided that sum was used to loan the Barings, and it therefore assumed on that date the task of paying the Barings' acceptances of L21,000,000 and L7,500,000 of other liabilities. Thus was averted what would probably have been the greatest panic in the world's history. That which occurred was a mere bagatelle to what was threatened. It is difficult to bestow too much credit upon Mr. William Lidderdale, Governor of the Bank of England, for conceiving and managing this plan. He has saved hundreds of thousands of homes and interests from misery. Under his able administration it is expected to extinguish the Barings' liabilities without calling on the Government, and it is believed something will be saved for the Barings from their former assets in business. This is deeply to be wished, for though the Barings have continued business under form of a stock concern with a million pounds capital, they are wonderfully restricted as compared with their former state. They have performed in banking too many helpful actions in furtherance of civilization to be eclipsed without sincere regret.] in mid-November, which failure itself greatly accelerated the panic, were the chief events of the year. Railroad building had increased to 6,081 miles, and the consequent new securities were poorly absorbed. Manufactures were generally prosperous.
The huge imports to take advantage of old tariff rates absorbed much money, while the Baring liquidation and that of other houses identified with South American enterprises, and the distrust bred by our Silver Bill caused a return of our securities, necessitating such a curtailment of credit that our panic took place. From July through December 31st, money ruled high and fluctuating.
The year shows a decline in circulation to $123,000,000, a decline of specie reserve to $178,000,000 with a subsequent rise to $190,000,000, a decline in legal tenders to $82,000,000, and of deposits to $1,485,000,000, while the banks increased to 3,573 with a capital of $657,000,000, and a surplus and reserve of $316,000,000, and discounts and loans rose to $1,932,000,000.
The year 1891 has exhibited the usual incidents succeeding a time of reorganizations after panics and, after a period of selling and settlement, a rehabilitation of affairs and the consequent advance in prices of securities. The unprecedented abundance of our crops as a whole, coupled with the almost universal shortage in European countries, largely aided the rehabilitation. Bank balances reflected this startlingly. On February 26, 1891, loans and discounts and over-drafts amounted to $1,927,654,559.80. On May 4, 1891, loans and discounts and over-drafts amounted to $1,969,-$46,379.67. On the former date capital, deposits, surplus, and undivided profits amounted to $2,462,456,677.92, and on the latter date to $2,567,288,143.45.
On July 9, 1891, discounts, loans, and over-drafts amounted to $1,963,704,948.07, and capital, deposits, surplus, and undivided profits to $2,522,609,679.78.
Confidence is restored and prices have advanced, and should advance still further. There seem to be only three things that could check the advancing market, and of those the two chief ones seem pretty surely relegated to a fairly distant future. These latter two are, in the order of importance: (1) a free silver law, i.e., a law making, say, 67 cents' worth of silver pass for an equivalent of a 100-cent dollar; and (2) a very radical and abrupt change in our tariff law. The remaining and very minor influence is the breaking out of a general European war, which would at first induce a selling of our securities, and so lower prices, but which finally and shortly would benefit us by a subsequent returning flood of money exchanged for our various bread-stuffs, and supplies, and even securities of different sorts.
It would be better for our future if the liquidation of the last panic had been more radical in some cases, notably in land speculation. In this liquidation has not been thorough, and, as far as these cases influence the market, it has remained for a long time unsound, and even now is not fully recovered.
The past twelve months have witnessed a continued settling of old accounts, and the undertaking of new business, in a limited way, despite a somewhat uneasy feeling about silver and the now accomplished Presidential election. But the fact that an analysis of the bank returns to the Comptroller of the Treasury shows that available resources (capital, deposits, surplus, and undivided profits), as compared with demands (loans and discounts), are good and growing, considered in regard to the other signs indicating prosperity (see Introduction), justifies the prediction of the steady development of a prosperous period.
PANIC OF 1893-4.—It was early in 1893 that I wrote the last page of A Brief History of Panics in the United States. Two of the three checks to business prosperity to which I then referred, virtually occurred very soon. The determined resolve of the "free silver" members of Congress to continue the heavy monthly utterance of silver dollars redeemable at par in gold kept many business men most disquieted. They saw that the free gold in the Treasury was sinking greatly and steadily. They knew, also, that there was semi-official assertion of the right of the United States to redeem its silver dollars in Government notes. The Free-Coinage Bill had been passed by the Senate in July. The House defeated it. The legal fights against certain great railroad combinations and frequent labor strikes put additional burdens on the market.
In the United States and abroad the doubt of our willingness and ability to redeem our obligations at par in gold on demand grew most rapidly. Accordingly, exports of gold increased and hoarding of it began at home. To all this was added the expectation of a severe downward revision of our tariff laws if the Democratic Party should succeed, as was expected, in the Presidential election in November.
Business was scared and slowing down and, therefore, using less and less of its working capital. The false ease of increasing loanable funds in the custody of the banks lulled many into a specious confidence. But gold was exported in increasing quantities. Should the Government issue bonds in exchange for gold for the purposes of redemption? The Philadelphia & Reading receivership occurred. Easy money led to many consolidations of transportation properties and to very many large commitments. Money tightened. In March, it loaned at 60% per annum. Would President Cleveland call an extra session of Congress in March to repeal the silver law and to issue bonds in order to replenish the free gold in the Treasury? The Stock Market showed a great decline in quotations.
In April, 1894, Secretary of the Treasury Jno. G. Carlisle forbade the further issuance of gold certificates for gold deposited in the Treasury under Act of July 12, 1882, whenever the gold in the Treasury "reserved for the redemption of United States notes falls below $100,000,000." This further alarmed the business world, which was not reassured when on the 20th Carlisle announced that the Treasury would pay gold for all Treasury notes so long as he had "gold lawfully available for that purpose." President Cleveland, that stalwart man, uttered this high and firm pronouncement on April 24th: "The President and his Cabinet are absolutely harmonious in the determination to exercise every power conferred upon them to maintain the public credit, to keep the public faith, and to preserve the parity between gold and silver and between all financial obligations of the Government." Very good, thought business, but how and when will you act accordingly?
Lack of business confidence increased greatly. Money rates advanced. Security values fell; imports greatly exceeded exports. Silver certificates were at 83. Something was about to snap in the general business machine. National Cordage broke from 57 to 15-1/2 on May 1st, receivers were appointed, and the panic of 1894 had declared itself and grew worse on the 4th and 5th. Call money rose to 40%. June witnessed great distress in business circles. On the 27th the Government of India stopped the coinage of silver for individuals and decreed the exchange value of the rupee at 16 pence. This lowered the exchange value of our silver bullion certificates to 62. President Cleveland helped matters somewhat by announcing that Congress would be convened early in September. In early July the panic increased somewhat despite the President's call for Congress to assemble on August 7th. Time loans were hardly obtainable. Conditions in August grew worse. Business was almost at a standstill, and failures were very frequent. From August 7th until the affirmative action on the 28th by the House of Representatives as to the repeal of the Silver Act, there was great concern.
Then hope revived; but hoarding of currency increased. Great banking interests in New York helped the situation mightily by importing over $40,000,000 gold. September was an anxious but more hopeful month as the prompt adoption by the Senate of the Free-Silver Bill was anticipated. However, the weary debate dragged on in the Senate. President Cleveland demanded the unconditional adoption of the House measure. Certain compromisers, led by Senator Arthur P. German of Maryland, suggested that during each of the following fifteen months the Government purchase the minimum amount of 1,000,000 ounces of silver, and then stop all such purchases against which silver certificates had to be issued. This plan for speedy action President Cleveland and the Secretary of the Treasury opposed as worthless unless concurrently there was an issue of $100,000,000 of Government bonds to replenish the gold in the Treasury. They asserted that new legislation must be had before any such bonds could be validated. So the business world continued to suffer.
Let me here state the fact, that without any fresh authorization, Secretary of the Treasury Carlisle did in January, 1895, issue $50,000,000 of Government bonds to replenish the free gold in the Treasury, and that an injunction suit against their sale was dissolved by Judge Cox at Washington on the 30th of that month. Gorman had been right. The credit of the country would not have suffered by the additional issuance of some final $60,000,000 (?) of silver certificates if the gold in the Treasury had concurrently been upbuilt to the extent of $50,000,000 to $100,000,000; but an immensity of business loss would have been averted.
But to resume the orderly recital of those times. October dragged along its weary length, while the Senate debated and business withered. Finally, on the 30th, the Senate accepted unconditional repeal of the Free-Silver Act. On November 1st, it became a law. The fear of repudiation thus escaped, though with fearful loss, the country plunged into all the unsettlement caused by a too sudden and too extensive change in the tariff. These changes were announced by the House Committee on December 27th.
The conditions mentioned in the last paragraph beginning on page 22 of the introduction to this book, were at work. Before the market had recovered from the "Silver panic" of 1893-4, the terror caused to the business world by the proposed very decided changes in the customs dues laid hold upon every trader in the United States and reflectedly upon every one of its citizens. It shook business throughout. Would not such a plan as is set forth in the footnote below [Footnote: "Mr. DeCourcy W. Thorn expressed himself yesterday as heartily indorsing the Democratic celebration to be held in this city January 17 next, to which all the party leaders will be invited and at which subjects of interest to the party will be discussed.
"When asked to give his opinion on some of the questions worthy of discussion at this gathering Mr. Thorn mentioned the tariff and economy in the conduct of national affairs.
"In the coming national Democratic celebration," he said, "I hope suggestions dealing with a rational reformation of the tariff and the need for national economy of every kind will be duly considered, and that on these two subjects alone, to be treated thoroughly but temperately, will this national Democratic gathering advise our party as to its best course to pursue.
"In three successive Presidential canvasses since the Civil War the Democratic party has received a majority vote of the people of the United States, and in my opinion would have gained three thereby, instead of the alternate two, elections to the Presidency if the tariff issue, the major one of the two great issues—namely, tariff and economy—on which they won, had been so sought to be applied as not to threaten unduly to affect general business."
PROTESTS AGAINST EXTRAVAGANCE
"All will agree with me that a reasonable economy, instead of the actual wild extravagance of government, is more than ever a national need. Who will disagree with me, that in addition to the contribution from internal revenue, the tariff should be used merely to contribute towards the due expenses of the Government economically administered, but so applied as not to break down the standard of American citizenship, as exemplified in the working people of our country; and eked out, if it is possible, by contributions into the national treasury of sound inheritance taxes?"
URGES CUT ON NECESSARIES
"Is it not possible to apply that general plan as follows: Divide, say, all of the articles now upon the tariff list into three classes.
"(a) All such as are usually found in the typical American homes—I mean the homes of those admirably called by Grover Cleveland the 'plain people,' who are just the same class, I believe, as those indicated by Abraham Lincoln, when he said, 'God must greatly love the common people, for he made so many of them'—and put that list of articles on a free list or a severely tariff-for-revenue-only list.
"(b) Create a second division composed of all the articles of luxury. Put upon them the very highest tariff they will stand and yet come into the country, except in the case of articles of antique art. These latter should be admitted free.