Abstract

Abstract:

After President Andrew Jackson destroyed the Second Bank of the United States, oversight of the banking industry in the latter 1830s fell to state governments that were overburdened and unable to fulfill all of their regulatory responsibilities. The resulting financial climate enabled the growth of wildcat banks founded for the benefit of economically savvy but ethically bankrupt individuals who grasped the workings of the emerging capitalist economy. The Commercial Bank of Millington, Maryland, and its spawn institution in Hagerstown together offer a well documented case study showing how wildcat banks could sprout, function, and proliferate in the context of the antebellum South. Recent scholarship has demonstrated slave traders' centrality to slave-based capitalism's expansion southwestward and banks' generous extension of credit to facilitate traders' business. Yet the relationship between antebellum banks and slave dealers could go deeper still. Banking entrepreneurs appealed directly to slave traders to capitalize newly chartered financial institutions. Slave dealers, wealthy and calculating businessmen constantly in search of promising investment opportunities, not only sometimes agreed to underwrite the very enterprises that later extended them the ready cash they required to purchase slaves; they also then carried those bank notes tens or even hundreds of miles away from the issuing institution, permitting wildcat concerns to continue the reckless printing of paper money absent anxieties over the prompt redemption for specie. Based on legislative reports, court cases, and newspapers, this study chronicles the relationship—often reciprocal but at times contentious—between obscure Washington, DC, slave traders William H. Williams and Thomas N. Davis, on one hand, and, on the other, two suspect Maryland banking concerns run by a pair of unscrupulous brothers named F.A. and William Weed and their associate Joseph T. Guthrie. Through the collaboration of professional slave traders and bankers, bank notes and commodified bodies circulated throughout the antebellum South.

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Additional Information

ISSN
1553-0620
Print ISSN
0275-1275
Pages
pp. 709-736
Launched on MUSE
2019-11-19
Open Access
No
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