This section is from the "Practical Banking" book, by Albert S. Bolles.
* This essay, by Lorenzo Sabine, of Framingham, Mass., was originally published in the Banker's Magazine in January, 1852. A few changes have been made to adapt it to the present work.
Banking has become a part of the very framework of our system of business. Even Mr. Calhoun said, as long ago as 1816, when the whole banking capital in the United States was only eighty millions of dollars, that "the question whether banks are favorable to public liberty and prosperity was one purely speculative. The fact of the existence of banks, and their incorporation with the commercial concerns and industry of the nation, prove that inquiry to come too late. The only question was, on this hand, under what modifications were banks most useful," etc. Banks now exist, in some form or other, everywhere, and will continue, probably, as long as property shall be bought and sold on credit. In all coming time, therefore, we are to have a class of men to deal in money, in promissory notes, and foreign and domestic exchange. The avocation has ever been honorable, to the last degree responsible, and exposed to many and to peculiar temptations.
The world, seemingly more inexorable with our profession than with others, deals out its direct maledictions upon those of us who err, and will hardly forgive the managers of a broken bank, or the officer whose "cash is short," even when there is no other guilt than credulity, too easy good nature, or incapacity. To stand upon our defence against unjust accusations, and to do what we can to diminish the causes of corporate and of individual delinquency, are duties which we owe to ourselves and to those who are to succeed us. Dispersed, as we are, over a vast extent of country, we can best correct public sentiment, and afford counsel and admonition to one another, as well as render our knowledge of banking available as common stock, by means of the work established for, and devoted to, our benefit.
Banks, with us, both public and private, differ—as none need to be told—in many things from those of England and of Continental Europe. It is known, also, that our system is not perfect, and that essential improvements can be made in it. Hence, whatever the value of essays upon foreign banking, papers devoted to our own are far more useful to us, regarded as a class; and hence, too, the necessity for a free interchange of thought by bankers in different parts of the Union.
I pass now to topics immediately connected with the duties of a Cashier. The limits of this essay do not admit of elaborate reasoning, but demand, indeed, that mere suggestions shall be made with the brevity of proverbs. I may be permitted, then, to address myself to the young officer, directly, and, as it were, personally.
You are to lead a life so confined, sedentary, and, in some respects, so mechanical, that, unless you observe great care, you will become, in the lapse of years, a sort of machine for computing discounts, counting money, writing letters, and keeping books.* You are to transact business, and to have a constant intercourse, with men of every shade of character, of every variety of disposition, and of every degree of intelligence. Your temper is to be tried by interruptions at the most unseasonable moments, to attend to the calls of the impatient, or to answer the inquiries of the ignorant or inquisitive. You are to be tempted to embark in speculations in stocks: to be solicited to allow overdrawings and other irregularities by the companions of your social hours, and it may be, by one or more of your own directors; and you are to have the same domestic cares and afflictions, the same personal aches and pains as other men; and yet you are expected to be ever at your post, to be ever courteous, to stand fast in your integrity, and to seem cheerful, and even happy. In a word, and as Girard said, at the decease of his old and faithful cashier, "the bank must go on" whatever your private griefs or individual disabilities. Your position is thus one of much difficulty, responsibility and peril; and you need a knowledge of the laws of your physical being, the counsel of wise friends, strict and daily self-examination, and deep religious principle, to enable you to sustain it in health and honor. But be of good cheer; be a true man, and you will overcome every obstacle in the way of a long and of a useful life.
Your bank has secrets; and, that they be kept inviolable, adopt a rule to speak of its affairs only to persons connected with you in its management.
You should embrace every opportunity to acquire information as to the standing of your customers; and whatever is imparted to you on the subject, whether in confidence, or otherwise, should be communicated to your directors, and to them alone.
* Every person of observation will attest to the need of the caution in the text. Long and close application to one branch of business, and the habit of being at one place for a course of years, produce wonderful transformations in the character. The case of Mr. Rippon, the late chief Cashier of the Bank of England, furnishes an illustration well worth citing. He was connected with that institution for more than half a century, and asked but for a single leave of absence from his post during the entire period, and in this instance, even, he applied at the suggestion of his physician, on the ground of ill health. Permission was granted, and our bank officer departed from London to be absent two weeks. But the country was without charms, idleness preyed upon his spirits, and the habit of years was so strong that, at the end of three days, he returned to the bank, solely to become happy again.