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First Bank of the United States Chartered

The story behind the Bank of the United States begins with the Bank of North America chartered by the Continental Congress on May 26, 1781, and opened in Philadelphia on January 7, 1782. However, that bank didn't survive but the discussion over a national bank continued.

One of the chief proponents of a national bank was Alexander Hamilton the first Secretary of the Treasury because he felt it would stabilize and improve the nation's credit. Two of his chief opponents were Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson and James Madison both of whom felt a national bank was unconstitutional.

A new bank was proposed and legislation passed. The new bank was chartered for one term of twenty years, by the United States Congress on February 25, 1791 (1 Stat. 191 (1791)). The law began:

Whereas it is conceived that the establishment of a bank for the United States, upon a foundation sufficiently extensive to answer the purposes intended thereby, and at the same time upon the principles which afford adequate security or an upright and prudent administration therefore, will be very conducive to the successful conducting of the national finances; will tend to give facility to the obtaining of loans, for the use of government, in sudden emergencies; and will be productive of considerable advantages to trade and industry in general:

Therefore,

Section 1. Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in the Congress assembled, That a Bank of the United States shall be established;

Once the law that established the bank was passed, other housekeeping was undertaken. President Washington appointed Thomas Willing, David Rittenhouse, and Samuel Howell as the commissioners and later, on page 2 of the October 26, 1791 edition of the Gazette of the United States  the following Notice ran:

"WE the Subscribers, this day appointed by the Stockholders of the Bank of the United States, to preside at the election of twenty-five Directors for the said Bank, do hereby certify, that the following Gentlemen were duly elected, agreeably to the number of votes annexed to their respective names.

Carol Highsmith, photographer. First Bank of the United States, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. 1980. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.
  • James Watson, 2936
  • Philip Livingston, 2936
  • Rufus King, 2936
  • Nicholas Low, 2936
  • Joseph Anthony, 2936
  • Herman Le Roy, 2936
  • Thomas Willing, 2936
  • Dr. James McClurg, 2936
  • Samuel Johnson, N.C. 2936
  • William Smith, S.C. 2936
  • Jonathan Mason, jun. 2928
  • Jeremiah Wadsworth 2935
  • John Lawrence, 2935
  • Joseph Barrell, 2928
  • John Watts, 2928
  • Joseph Ball, 2928
  • William Bingham, 2928
  • James Cole Fisher, 2928
  • Robert Smith, 2928
  • Archibald M'Call, 2928
  • Charles Carroll, C. 2928
  • Charles Pettit, 2927
  • John M. Nesbitt, 2920
  • George Cabot, 2897
  • Fisher Ames, 2897

In witness whereof, we have hereunto set out hands and seals the day and year first above written.

TRISTRAM DALTON, (L.S.) GERARD BANCKER, (L.S.) SAMUEL POWEL, (L.S.)

The first bank was located in Philadelphia and Thomas Willing, the previous president or the Bank of North America (1781-1791), was elected to be its first president serving until 1807. Eventually branches were opened in major ports around the country including Boston, New York, Charleston, Baltimore, Norfolk, Savannah, Washington, D.C., and New Orleans.

Disagreement about the Bank continued and when the discussion over the renewal of the charter began in earnest in late 1810, then Secretary of the Treasury Albert Gallatin argued in favor of renewal while those like Vice President George Clinton, argued in opposition. In 1811 the vote for renewal failed and the bank's charter expired that year. However, the topic of a national bank came up again, and in 1816 another bank, what became known as the Second Bank of the United States, was chartered.

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