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Published by EH.NET (September 2000)

Edward S. Kaplan, The Bank of the United States and the American

Economy. Westport, CT and London: Greenwood Press, 1999. x + 172 pp. $57.95

(cloth), ISBN: 0-313-30866-7.

Reviewed for EH.NET by Clair E. Morris, Department of Economics, United States

Naval Academy.

This book, by a professor in the Department of Social Science at New York

Technical College of the City University of New York, will not excite much

interest among economic historians. It adds very little to what is already

known about the First and Second Banks of the United States and in some areas

may be more confusing than enlightening. First, almost all the research sources

are well known secondary sources by noted scholars, e.g., Merrill Jensen, Davis

R. Dewey, Bray Hammond, Broadus Mitchell, Richard Timberlake, Ralph Catterall,

Margaret Myers, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., Gilbert Fite and Jim Reese, and Gary

Walton and Hugh Rockoff. You can not argue with the credibility of those

researchers. On the other hand, hardly an original source is cited in the

entire work. The bibliography lists four U.S. Congress publications, one

newspaper (National Intelligencer, 1814), eleven journal articles, and two

pages of book titles. Sadly, this is term paper work, not serious research.

One is struck by the fact that almost every paragraph of every chapter ends in

a footnote, and a random check of citations shows considerable paraphrasing

that would invariably earn a student no more than a C grade. Even the proof

reading and editing become suspect when one sees the frequent misuse and

absence of articles (pp. 7, 74, 84, 86, 125), failure to show the possessive or

plural where needed (p.136), misuse of “effected” and “affected” (p.157), and

the use of “payed” (p.89). Most of these errors are quite inexcusable either by

the author or the publisher.

A contribution might have been made by applying some contemporary economic

theory to the policies of the Banks at the time, particularly in the case of

Chapter Six which focuses on Nicholas Biddle and the Second Bank. Generally,

what we get is a restatement of the facts surrounding the events without much

analysis. One senses that the author’s understanding of economics is quite

shallow. He mines his sources and reports what they say, but without any real

understanding of banking. Indeed, one wonders at times if he grasps the meaning

of terms like assets, liabilities, capital, fractional reserve banking, and the

distinction between debt and equity, stocks and bonds (pp. 44, 53, 56, 92).

If one is familiar with the existing sources pertaining to the First and Second

Banks of the United States, there will be nothing to gain by consulting this

book. On the other hand, a person starting from scratch might find this an

adequate summary and sufficient information about what is known to this time.

It is certainly true that the published literature on the subject is well

surveyed.

Clair Morris is a professor of economics at the United States Naval Academy.

His research interests are in the areas of economic history and economic

thought.