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1865 June 17: Uncle Sam’s Purse

June 22, 2015

This article on the War, gold, and the government’s finances comes from The Polk County Press of June 17, 1865.


The contest that has been so long waged between “gold” and “green-backs” has been settled by the complete triumph of the latter. It was a glorious conception when Secretary Chase proposed the plan of embodying the credit and the resources of the nation into the form of a circulating medium to give to the people to maintain our vast armies in the field, bind together as one man and by a new tie of interest the loyal masses to maintain the Union and government of their choice. the present generation will never give Salmon P. Chase the credit and honor he has earned; and it will be  only by the statesmen of future generations that this quiet unostentatious [sic] labor will be fully appreciated.

All will admit that money is the “sinews of war.”  At the breaking out of the rebellion, this means of crushing it had to be created and supplied by the new Secretary of the Treasury, as the Buchanan Administration had robbed the nation of its last dollar and thrown the Treasury Department into disgrace.  Thus Chase found it.  The nation was rich in resources, but its credit was rapidly sinking to nothing.  Something must be done, and that quickly, and Chase did it.  Suppose that such a stupid ass as Buchanan’s Secretary, Cobb [Howell Cobb], had been placed at the head of the National Treasury, would not national bankruptcy, ruin, and the success of the Southern Confederacy have been long since accomplished facts?  Most assuredly.  But Mr. Chase as with an inspiration of the desperate and stupendous contest into which the traitors had plunged the nation, and immense future demands for money, grasped the whole great question and solved the problem, by proposing to take from the people the worthless wild cat issues of fifteen hundred independent and State banks and bankers, and substituting in their place the “Legal Tender Notes” of the U.S. Treasury, with all the nation’s boundless wealth in lands, houses, cities, farms, railroads, canals, ships, steamboats, merchandise, machinery, grain and agricultural produce, mines, manufactures and everything else bought or sold, as the security for their faithful redemption.  The “greenbacks” were issued by millions, and became the proper representation of the nation’s credit and wealth.  They were circulated throughout the length and breadth of the nation, taken by all classes or [of?] people and entered into all kinds of business ;  and it is a remarkable fact, that, although circulated secretly, and when found regarded as a badge of treason to Jeff Davis [Jefferson Davis], yet they have been circulated and sold in all the strongholds of the Southern rebellion, and in Richmond they have always commanded a higher premium than did gold in New York.

Thus it will be seen that the “United States Treasury Notes” were the tangible evidence of the rescources [sic] of the nation, the bond of the Union, the affection of the people for their flag, the authority and power of the government, and the wealth, happiness and prosperity of its people.  It will be observed also, that the stability of the national currency and the credit of the nation’s obligations was not only the most vital point around loyal men rallied to sustain the government, but it was also the most vulnerable point at which the government could be assailed by the enemy, and most industriously has he improved his opportunities in this respect.  While Sherman, Grant and Sheridan were invulnerable in the field, the enemy could establish his little gold broker’s gambling shops in Wall street, and his dirt dealing, treason reeking newspapers throughout the North, and from day to day, and week to week, perfect and misrepresent the army news, and manufacture lies to advance the price of gold and decrease the value and circulation of the Treasury Notes.  Not only this, but the enemy of all grades, from the highfalutin orator, making a “candid” appeal from the stump, down to the bummer who could never raise even “greenbacks” to pay his whiskey bills with, never lost an opportunity on the streets, in the stores, in business transactions and everywhere, to denounce the Treasury Notes of the United States as “worthless rags,” or to express their profound (!) opinions that they were “unconstitutional.”  While Lee waged open, manly ware against his government on the James, Lee’s sympathizers and abettors in the loyal States made sneaking, insidnous [sic] war on their government by decrying the national currency, and by pretended felicitous, false and fraudulent sales of the precious metals.  [William T. Sherman, Ulysses S. Grant, Philip H. Sheridan, Robert E. Lee]

By such despicable means, the national currency has been depreciated, but the depreciation has done no damage except to the brave soldiers in the field, whose wages could not be advanced with any sliding scale to the price of gold, and the embarrassment it has given the government.  As the prices of labor and property advanced, it was found that the currency was sufficient to meet it, and money has ever been even more plentiful during the war than at any former period of the war.

But the tables are now being turned.  The Treasury Notes having passed through one of the most fearful ordeals ever applied to the financial system of any nation, we now see the “greenback” rapidly, and we trust securely, ascending the scale of credit to an equal position with the “glittering slave of the mine.”  The enemy’s agents in Wall street are beginning to find out that Uncle Sam’s purse is a little too long for the combined efforts of treason and “British gold.”


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