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William Hogeland, a white man with glasses and a salt and pepper beard, speaks from a podium with the Museum logo on it.

Author and historian William Hogeland joined the Museum in October 2022, to discuss the establishment of the First Bank of the United States, hub of the comprehensive system of national finance created by the first U.S. Treasury secretary, Alexander Hamilton, and the bank’s relevance today. The country’s first national financial institution, chartered by Congress in 1791 for 20 years, with a building completed in 1797, the First Bank is located directly across Third Street from the Museum.

Drawing both on his 2012 book Founding Finance and his narrative trilogy The Whiskey Rebellion, Declaration, and Autumn of the Black Snake, Hogeland presented a lecture titled Hamilton's Hub: The First Bank of the U.S. in the Creation of the American Economy. The talk traced conflicts and alliances among Hamilton, Jefferson, Madison, Gallatin, and ordinary people who had financial ideas of their own; connected those conflicts to ensuing generations’ decisions regarding debt, speculation, foreclosures, and taxation; and revealed the startling relevance of founding American struggles over economics to our political struggles today.

The First Bank was crucial to Hamilton’s financial system. As developed from the ideas of his mentor, the great Philadelphia merchant Robert Morris, the system combined funding the public war debt on a long-term basis, via national taxation, with growing and consolidating the debt by assuming the states’ debts in the national obligation. The bank was that system’s hub, and while it withstood two threatened crashes during Hamilton’s tenure, his opponents Jefferson and Madison excoriated its existence as unconstitutional. In 1801, when they came to power, the new agenda was to dismantle Hamilton’s entire system.

In the ensuing decade, Albert Gallatin, a Genevan émigré, Treasury secretary first to President Jefferson and then to President Madison, worked tirelessly to reduce the public debt. And yet by 1811, when the bank’s charter expired, and the Jeffersonian majority in Congress sought to shutter the institution for good, Gallatin had concluded that the bank should remain open. What happened next involved a war, a national financial crisis, and political and ideological realignments that would shape American life throughout the next century. 

About William Hogeland

William Hogeland author headshot

William Hogeland is the author of the narrative trilogy The Whiskey Rebellion, Declaration, and Autumn of the Black Snake, as well as the expository work Founding Finance and a collection of essays, Inventing American History. Born in Virginia, he was raised in Brooklyn, New York, where he lives.

Presented in partnership with Independence Historical Trust.

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