Ohio History Journal

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4

Book Reviews

Book Reviews





Banks or No Banks: The Money Issue in

Western Politics, 1832-1865. By WILLIAM

GERALD SHADE. (Detroit: Wayne State Uni-

versity Press, 1972. 328p.; maps, tables,

notes, bibliography, and index. $15.95.)


Banks or No Banks develops a new thesis

from which to view the banking con-

troversies of the mid-nineteenth century and

the role of the bank issue in state politics.

Mr. Shade looks at the social roots and pro-

poses a broad social interpretation of the sig-

nificance of the issue. He also tries to ac-

count for mass political behavior by demon-

strating that party, not section, was the most

important determinant of attitudes on the

bank issue and that ethnoreligious factors,

not class or occupation, were prime determi-

nants of party affiliation.

The controversy over banking was both

real and symbolic; how it was resolved af-

fected the economic system, the status of

ethnoreligous groups, as well as the domin-

ance of certain value systems. That is, the

controversy was not, as historians have long

viewed the matter, a struggle between the

haves and the have-nots. Rather, the author

interprets the struggle as one between those

that were Yankee-Protestant, commercially

orientated who believed the government

could legislate economic progress and moral

reforms and those that were agrarian orien-

tated, southern, or foreign who felt society

could develop best without governmental in-

tervention. Opposition to banks became a

focal point for resisting the swift changes

that were bringing about an industrial and

urban society.

Mr. Shade has done an impressive amount

of research especially in manuscripts and

Northwest newspapers of the day. From

these he has culled the general feeling of the

times and the specific position of the two

major political parties on the bank issue. He

fills a needed gap with the state-by-state

study giving new depth to the banking con-

troversy and further revealing the com-

plexity of the economic issues of the times.

Each of the five states of the old Northwest-

Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, and

Michigan-are examined separately. Each

chapter has an introductory part delineating

the issue and a summary section which

draws generalizations and conclusions from

the experience in the five states.

The nine chapters divide the thirty-three

year time frame into logical segments: (1)

the bipartisan effort to respond to the de-

mand for banks and capital in the 1830's, (2)

the polarization of partisan positions after

the Panic of 1837, (3) the hard-money revul-

sion against banks as a result of the depres-

sion, (4) the rise of free banking in the early

1850's (5) the nationalization of free banking

in the 1860's, and (6) the key role westerners

played in the national currency legislation.

The book is arranged in a way that facilitates

use as a reference tool. Information on any

one state can be easily found and followed

throughout the book.

The author, however, does not start devel-

oping his thesis until the last half of the

book, beginning with the late 1840's. By de-

tailed quantitative voting analysis for the

state of Illinois, and to a much lesser extent

for other states, he shows the relation be-

tween the values of the various subcultures

and the responses to the leading economic

issue of the times.

Mr. Shade makes a valuable contribution

to scholarship by continuing his analysis of

the banking issue past the 1850's. He has put

in writing what a few banking historians

have only recently begun to realize. This is

that the banking controversy not only con-

tinued to be of local importance throughout

the 1850's, but also that the experience of the

states with free banking, without a national

bank, greatly affected the form in which the

Federal Government again began to regu-

late the currency and banking system of the

country. The creation of the national bank-