Pro’s and Con’s of the Bank

Pro’s and Con’s of the Bank

“All honest men should support their country, by cheating their creditors” - satirical remark that appeared in the Pennsylvania Gazette, 21 September 1785 (quoted in Wilson, pg. 12)

Although the United States today, and New York City in particular, might be considered the center of the world’s banking and financial systems, this was certainly not true when the country was founded – a time when modern capitalism was in its infancy and Philadelphia was the financial center of the former colonies.  The first generation of American politicians grappled with fundamental issues of capitalism and government while they were formulating ideas that would eventually turn into the Constitution and subsequent Bill of Rights.

This can especially be seen in the intense debates concerning the legality of America’s first bank (The Bank of North America) in the mid-1780’s.  Founding Fathers including Benjamin Franklin, Robert Morris, and Thomas Paine weighed in on the establishment of the bank, and a conflict divided these politicians, and roughly predicted the so-called “First Party System.”  The Revolutionary generation’s reflections on (and divided opinions of) the capitalist system cast some interesting observations that are still relevant today, even if they were speaking from the beginning of the epoch.

This is an important lesson and can be used in U.S. Government, Economics, and/or American History courses.  On the other hand, the significance of this 18th century debate encouraged the preservation of many sources now held by the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, some of which have been digitized as part of this lesson plan.  Teachers are encouraged to differentiate according the needs and abilities of their students, and consider using these sources in the construction of a student-created research paper, but this lesson as written requires a straightforward "source-analysis."

Essential Questions

How has social disagreement and collaboration been beneficial to American society?
How has social disagreement and collaboration been beneficial to Pennsylvania society?



The students will be able to:

  • evaluate the basic concept of banking by looking at the pro's and con's of a bank based on an article by Janet Wilson.
  • analyze the historic development of poilitical divides in the United States by examining the divide created by the Bank of North America.
  • examine multiple perspectives by outlining the different opinions of historic Americans concerning their opinions on the economy.

This lesson fulfills Civics and Economic Standards as well as History ones.

Big Ideas

  • Engaged citizens understand the workings of government and use historic precedents in shaping thought and action.


  • Conflict is a natural outgrowth of any society. Civil discourse and the deliberative process are effective means of dealing with conflict and compromise.
  • Documents and principles define the procedures, operations and rules for the functioning of government and society.
  • Individuals, businesses, and nation-states all seek to accumulate wealth through economic enterprise.
  • Government actions, the forces of nature, and international events are also market factors that can alter supply and demand and, therefore, price.
  • A government's fiscal policy and monetary policy also influence the market in a variety of ways. 
  • A nation's overall economic success are determined by the interaction of the specific economic decisions made by all individuals, households, firms, government agencies, and other actors within a market.


  • Analyze changes in how rights and responsibilities are interpreted.
  • Analyze the impact of a variety of changes in national fiscal and monetary policies on the market.
  • Explain why advanced economic systems are highly dependent on the availability of financial capital, an expanding monetary supply, and free trade to promote continuing economic development.

Suggested Instructional Procedures

Regardless of specific approach, teachers and students may want to begin by reviewing Janet Wilson’s article “The Bank of North America and Pennsylvania Politics: 1781-1787” (The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. 66, No. 1, January, 1942) or simply dive right into the primary sources.

Here are some potential questions that can be used in order to evaluate the reading comprehension of students on these topics.  The students should write their responses:

  1. What were the pro’s and con’s of the Bank of North America (BNA) according to the “Debates and Proceedings of the General Assembly of Pennsylvania”?
    1. Which side do you most agree with?
    2. Where is “usury” discussed, and why?
    3. What is the concern about paper money?
    4. Explain the relevance of the example of Ireland in the debate.
  2. What did Thomas Paine think about the BNA?
    1. What relevance does Paine’s discussion of the fundamental rights have on the discussion of the chartering of the Bank?
    2. Why was the BNA created in the first place according the Paine?
    3. Why does Paine reference “the Philosopher’s stone” on page 31?
    4. What is Paine’s opinion of the BNA’s never-ending charter?
  3. What did James Wilson (“Considerations on the Bank of North-America”) think about the BNA?
    1. Wilson lists five reasons why he legally supports the bank’s charter, but then goes on to enumerate four reasons banks – and particularly the BNA – stimulate the economy.  Summarize and evaluate those reasons.
  4. If you were these occupations, how would you feel about the BNA in 1785?  Would having a bank be in your best interest?
    1. Artisan
    2. Laborer
    3. Indentured servant
    4. Slave
    5. “Gentleman” (i.e. wealthy person, not someone who needs to rely on a specific occupation.  Consider the personal examples of Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, etc.)
    6. Lawyer
    7. Businessman
    8. Housewife
    9. Widow
    10. Soldier

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