Federal Reserve Act


The Federal Reserve: A Knight in Shining Armor

"To suffer either the solicitation of merchants or the wishes
of government, to determine the measure of the bank issues,
is unquestionably to adopt a very false principle of conduct."
-Henry Thornton, 1802

The banker was frantic. A large mob was gathering outside his bank and the people were clamoring for their money. The banker called the Federal Reserve Bank in Minneapolis and warned that unless this "mad run" were stopped, he would soon be out of currency. With the bank nearly two-hundred miles from Minneapolis, a small plane carrying two Federal Reserve Bank officials and a half-million dollars in cash were quickly flown into town. Upon approaching the town the pilot guided the plane low over the main street in a sensational arrival and then landed. From there, the money was carried ceremoniously into town and stacked along the bank\'s teller windows. The sight of the money calmed the customers fears and saved the bank from failing.
Stories of bank runs- tales of people running to withdraw all their cash from their accounts- may seem dramatic, almost theatrical to people today. But to people living in an economically unstable society, like the early twentieth century, they were an expected occurrence. The banks were independent rivals, the amount of currency in circulation was fixed, and there was no element of trust between the depositor and the bank. Abram P. Andrews, secretary of the National Monetary Commission in 1908 provided a vivid description of the banks\' quandary at the time:
"[The banks] were so singularly unrelated and independent of each other that the majority of them had simultaneously engaged in a life and death contest with each other, forgetting for the time being the solidarity of their mutual interest and their common responsibility to the community at large. Two-thirds of the banks of the country entered upon an internecine struggle to obtain cash, had ceased to extend credit to their customers, had suspended cash payments and were hoarding such money as they had." (Born...,12).

The banks, in an attempt to avoid bank runs, were hoarding their money. However in order to hoard the money, they did not lend any out, bringing the economy to a standstill. The credit system of the country had ceased to operate, and thousands of firms went into bankruptcy (Born...,.12). Something had to be done that would provide for a flexible amount of currency as well as provide cohesion between banks across the United States. (Hepburn, 399) This knight in shining armor, as described in the story of the bank run, was the Federal Reserve. The Federal Reserve Act of 1913 helped to establish banks as a united force working for the people instead of independent agencies working against each other. By providing a flexible amount of currency, banks did not have to hoard their money in fear of a bank run. Because of this, there was no competitive edge to see who could keep the most currency on hand and a more expansionary economy was possible.

The evolution of the Federal Reserve did not begin on December 23, 1913 with the passage of the Federal Reserve Act. Rather, it began with the Banking Panic of 1907, the most severe of the four national banking panics that had occurred in the precious thirty-four years.
In response to this panic, a committee was established to find the flaws of the current banking system. This committee, the National Monetary Commission, found there were two main flaws dominating the system. First, the currency was not responsive to changes in demand. (Born...13). This meant that the bank had a fixed amount of currency, regardless of the demand for it. If people wanted to withdraw more money than the bank carried, then the bank had no way of providing the extra money . This led into the second problem of the bank, the fact that it was prone to panic. If people could not get their money out, then they panicked, and these panics drove banks out of business.

The Commission could agree on the problems, but not the remedy. They agreed something had to be done, but solutions were often looked down upon due to their political affiliation. A prime example of this was the proposal of