Case | HBS Case Collection | December 2007

Envisioning "Free Banking" in Antebellum New York (A)

by David A. Moss and Cole Bolton


Banks throughout New York State suspended specie payments (i.e., payments in gold and silver) in May 1837 following the collapse of several state banks and the onset of a nationwide financial panic. Amid the chaos, the upstart Whigs were able to depose the longstanding Republican majority in the state legislature. Responding to citizen anger, as well as perennial calls for more banking capital, the Whigs drafted a novel "free banking" bill, which would override the established bank chartering mechanism and allow any association with sufficient capital the opportunity to open a bank and issue bank notes (a widely accepted form of paper money at the time). The bill also required that every note issued by a New York bank be fully backed by bonds or mortgages. If enacted, the bill seemed likely to encourage the establishment of many new banks. There was no telling what the economic impact of the bill's special bank note provisions would be. Once the bill passed the legislature, Governor Marcy had to decide whether to sign this radical proposal into law.

Keywords: History; Government Legislation; Capital; Financial Crisis; Banks and Banking; Banking Industry;


Moss, David A., and Cole Bolton. Envisioning "Free Banking" in Antebellum New York (A). Harvard Business School Case 708-038, December 2007.