THE eighth Comptroller of the Currency, A. Barton Hepburn, was appointed to succeed Mr. Lacey, August 2, 1892. He was born at Colton, N. Y., July 24, 1846. He received his preparatory education at St. Lawrence Academy, Potsdam, N. Y., and the Falley Seminary, Fulton, N. Y. In 1867 he entered Middlebury College, Middlebury, Vt., from which institution he received the degrees of A.B. and LL.D. After leaving college he was engaged as Professor of Mathematics in the St. Lawrence Academy and Principal of the Ogdensburg Educational Institute. He was later admitted to the bar and commenced the practice of law at Colton, N. Y. Shortly afterward he was appointed School Commissioner of the Second District of St. Lawrence County, which position he held for over three years. He was elected to the New York State Assembly and took his seat January 1, 1875. He represented his district in the Legislature for five consecutive terms, during which period he was a member of the Committees on Railroads, Insurance, Judiciary, and Ways and Means, and devoted his attention to commercial and financial interests, insurance, railroads and canals.
As chairman of the Committee on Insurance he was instrumental in introducing and securing the passage of a bill making life insurance policies non-forfeitable after the payment of three annual premiums, and requiring the insurance companies, upon application, to issue paid-up insurance to an amount which the surrender value of the policy would purchase at regular rates.
In 1879 he was chairman of the Special Railroad Investigation Committee, known as the "Hepburn Committee," created at the instance of the Chamber of Commerce of New York City, the Board of Trade and Transportation, and other commercial bodies of the State. He reported a number of important measures to the Legislature, which became laws, among which were the Act creating the Railroad Commission; an Act to regulate the use of proxies, and an Act defining and regulating annual reports and requiring a continuous balance sheet.
In April, 1880, he was appointed by Governor Cornell, Superintendent of the Banking Department of the State of New York, which position he retained over three years, until succeeded by Willis S. Paine, under Governor Grover Cleveland's administration. Mr. Hepburn's administration of the Banking Department of New York was very successful and satisfactory, and was generally commended by the banks and the public. In recognition of his exceptional ability as Superintendent, in 1883, he was appointed receiver of the Continental Life Insurance Company of New York City, and liquidated the affairs of that company.
In June, 1889, he was appointed, by Mr. Lacey, National Bank Examiner for New York City and Brooklyn, to succeed Valentine P. Snyder, former Deputy Comptroller of the Currency under President Cleveland. He demonstrated his ability as a financier and a man of discretion and judgment in this position, and his prompt and decisive action in connection with the Sixth and Lenox Hill bank frauds secured the conviction of the principal wrongdoers in those banks and a restitution of the funds misappropriated. He retained the position of examiner until appointed Comptroller of the Currency, July 27, 1892, by President Harrison, to succeed Mr. Lacey.
The position of National Bank Examiner for New York City was the most important and remunerative office within the patronage of the Comptroller of the Currency, and the examiner assigned to that city is supposed to be, and should be, one of the most efficient in the service. Under the fee system of compensating examiners, the fees paid for examinations in New York, like those in other Central Reserve Cities, were based on the capital of the banks examined, with an additional allowance of two cents on each one thousand dollars of the average gross liabilities as shown by the five reports of condition of the banks for the preceding year. The fee based upon capital varied with the size of the banks. For a bank with a capital stock of not exceeding $300,000, the fee was fifty dollars. With a capital of over $300,000 and not exceeding $500,000, it was sixty dollars. For a capital of over $500,000 and not exceeding $750,000, it was eighty dollars. For a capital of over $750,000 and under a million dollars, one hundred dollars. For a capital of $1,000,000, one hundred and twenty dollars, and an additional allowance was made of one dollar for every hundred thousand dollars of capital in excess of one million.
The gross fees for one examination of all the national banks in New York City, Brooklyn and Jersey City, which latter city was in the New York City district, amounted to about $17,000, and in later years to considerably more. While this may seem very large, measured by the average Government compensation, when the examiner's expenses were deducted the net fees were considerably less than those received by public accountants and others engaged in the same line of work.
The examiners in New York City employed several assistants, some of whom were high salaried men. They had to maintain an office with all the paraphernalia pertaining thereto, all of which had to be paid for out of their gross earnings. The duties of the position were very onerous, but the experience was invaluable.
With his experience as a legislator, as Superintendent of the Banking Department of New York State, and as a National Bank Examiner for New York City, Mr. Hepburn came to the office of Comptroller of the Currency thoroughly and unusually well equipped for an intelligent discharge of the responsible duties of the position. Unfortunately, however, he did not have an opportunity to demonstrate his special qualifications as a financier, owing to the brief period of his incumbency incident to a change in the political complexion of the Federal administration. His term of office was the shortest of any Comptroller who had occupied the position, covering a period of only nine months and twenty-three days. Notwithstanding this fact his administration was marked by the same characteristic ability and forcefulness that was shown in every public position he had held. His entire career in public life indicates that he was a man of exceptional attainments and executive force, and a worthy successor of the able men who preceded him in the office of Comptroller, a successful administration of which calls for qualifications of the highest type and character, broadmindedness and conservatism.
Upon his retirement as Comptroller, Mr. Hepburn was appointed president of the Third National Bank of New York City and continued at the head of that institution until it was merged with the National City Bank of New York in 1897. He was appointed vice-president of the consolidated institution, but shortly afterward resigned to accept the presidency of the Chase National Bank of New York, which position he continued to hold until January, 1911, when he resigned but continued to be connected with the bank as chairman of the board of directors, and later as chairman of the Advisory Committee.
Mr. Hepburn was recognized throughout the United States and the money centers of the world as a leading authority on financial and economic questions. He is the author of "The History of Coinage and Currency," a work which required much labor in its compilation, "Contest for Sound Money", and also of "Artificial Waterways and Commercial Development". He was also a frequent contributor to financial magazines and periodicals on various economic subjects comprehending a wide range of literary research.
Nothing of any special moment in connection with banking and currency occurred during Mr. Hepburn's short term of office, as his administration covered the brief period only between the temporary subsidence of the monetary stringency of 1890 and the memorable panic of 1893, so that no opportunity was afforded him to display the executive force that he possessed or to put into execution any administrative reforms in connection with his supervision of the banks. If he had had the opportunity there is no doubt that he would have inaugurated some practical reforms in the management of the banks and raised the standard of the examining force to a higher level than that which prevailed at that time.
Mr. Hepburn died in New York City on January 25, 1922, as the result of injuries received in an accident several days before that date. He was crossing Fifth Avenue and was struck by a passenger motor bus sustaining a compound fracture of the hip.