The Bank of the United States found powerful rivals during its life and successors after its death in the banks chartered by the separate states. In the undeveloped state of the country in the early days there was much unsound and speculative banking. The most successful systems were those of New York and New England, where the surplus capital of the country in the early days was chiefly concentrated. The least successful banking systems were those in the newer and poorer sections of the country, and they grew progressively worse as poverty and inexperience added to the difficulty of setting aside capital for investment in the tools of exchange.
The termination of the first charter of the Bank of the United States was followed by a banking mania. In Pennsylvania a bill authorizing 41 new banks was passed over the veto of the governor, and 37 of them were in operation in 1814. Similar movements in other states increased the number of banks in four years (1811-1815) from 88 to 208. The amount of specie was not adequate to support the mass of credit which these banks created, and what there was in the country drifted to New England, which was upon a metallic basis. A number of banks collapsed in 1814, and business prostration was prolonged for several years.
The banking laws of the states varied considerably. Some states authorized the issue of notes upon state bonds, many of which, especially at the outbreak of the Civil War, proved valueless. In New England, however, a system prevailed which required the prompt redemption of the banks' notes at par. The New England Bank was the pioneer of this movement in 1814. In 1824 what was known as the "Suffolk system" of redemption came into operation. This system provided for the deposit by a bank in the Suffolk Bank in Boston of a redemption fund, from which the notes were redeemed and afterwards sent home by the Suffolk Bank for collection. This system, with slight modifications, continued in successful operation until 1858. The circulation of the New England banks in 1858 was less than $40,000,000 and the redemptions in the course of the year through the Suffolk Bank were $400,000,000. It was the essential merit claimed for the system that it tended to keep the volume of the circulation constantly adjusted to the requirements of business.
A branch redemption agency was established at Providence. Legal sanction was given to the system in Vermont by an act of 1842, which levied a tax of 1% upon bank capital, but remitted this tax to any bank which should "keep a sufficient deposit of funds in the city of Boston, and should at that city uniformly cause its bills to be redeemed at par."
The period from 1836 to 1842 was a trying one for American banking. It was preceded by another great expansion in financial ventures, made without sufficient circulating capital or adherence to conservative banking methods. Foreign capital had come into the country in considerable amounts after the English crisis of 1825, the entire debt of the general government was paid off and a tremendous speculation occurred in public lands, which were expected to advance rapidly in value as the result of immigration and the growth of the country. The sales of public lands in 1836, on the eve of the crisis, reached 20,074,870 acres and brought receipts to the treasury of $25,167,833. How essentially speculative was the mass of these sales is indicated by the fact that such receipts declined in 1842 to only $1,417,972. President Jackson pricked the bubble of speculation by the "Specie circular" of July 11, 1836, requiring payments for public lands to be made only in specie or notes of specie value. Practically every bank in the Union stopped payment, and banking capital fell from $358,442,692 in 1840 to $196,894,309 in 1846. As usual in periods of business collapse the shrinkage of capital did not follow at once the outbreak of the panic, but was the result of gradual liquidation.
Specie payments were resumed in 1838, but there was another crash in 1842, after the United States Bank finally suspended.
In New York, which was becoming the chief commercial state of the Union, the banks of New York City were generally sound, but several different systems were tried of securing the circulating notes. The "safety-fund system," inaugurated in 1829, provided for a contribution by each bank towards a fund to meet the deficit of any contributing bank which might fail with assets insufficient to meet its liabilities. It was the intention of the act to protect by this fund only the bank-notes, but it was treated as a fund for the payment of all the liabilities of a failed bank and in consequence the fund was exhausted by important failures which occurred in the panics of 1837 and 1857. Before 1843 the issue of notes was not controlled by the state, so that in several cases there were illegal over-issues.
What was called the "free-banking system" was inaugurated in New York by the act of 1838. This system permitted any body of persons, complying with the requirements of the law, to form a bank and issue circulation secured by the deposit of various classes of public bonds. This system was in operation at the outbreak of the Civil War, was imitated in several other states, and became in a measure the model of the national banking system. The state banks of Indiana and Ohio were among the most successful of the state banks, being modelled somewhat on the European plan of a central bank. They held in their states an exclusive charter for issuing notes and had branches at important points throughout the state. Under the management of Hugh McCulloch, afterwards secretary of the treasury, the bank of Indiana weathered the crisis of 1857 without suspending specie payments, and retired its circulation when gold went to a premium in 1862.
One of the defects of the state system of note-issues was the inconvenience which it occasioned. Notes issued outside a state could not safely be received without careful scrutiny as to the responsibility of their issuers. The systems prevailing in New England, in Louisiana, in Ohio and in Indiana were eminently successful, and proved the soundness of the issue of bank-notes upon the assets of a well-conducted commercial bank. But the speculation fostered by loose banking laws in some other states, and the need for uniformity, cast a certain degree of discredit upon the state banks, and prepared the way for the acceptance of a uniform banking system in 1864.
The power of note-issue formed a more important part of banking resources before the Civil War than in later years, because the deposit system had not attained its full development. Thus in 1835 circulation and capital of state banks combined were about $335,000,000 and deposits were only $83,000,000, in 1907 circulation and capital of national banks $1,430,000,000, while deposits were $4,322,000,000 - in the earlier period deposits forming less than one-third of the other two items and in the later period three times the other items. The circulation of the state banks fluctuated widely at different periods. A maximum of $149,185,890 was attained in 1837, to decline to $106,968,572 three years later and to a minimum of $58,563,608 in 1843. From this point there was a tendency upward, with some variations, which put the circulation in 1845 at $89,608,711; 1848, $128,506,091; 1850, $131,366,526; 1854, $204,689,207; 1856, $195,747,950; 1858, $155,208,344; 1860, $207,102,477; 1863, $238,677,218.
Other leading items of the accounts of the state banks for representative years are as follows: -
State Banking Progress, 1835-1863.