The Effect of the Civil War on American Banking

Home Education Unit Plans Economics through the Long History of America’s First Bank The Effect of the Civil War on American Banking

The Effect of the Civil War on American Banking

"... until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk ..." - Abraham Lincoln

The Civil War claimed the lives of more than 700,000 soldiers, but there was also an economic cost to the war in addition to a human cost.  In the words of historian Murray N. Rothbard, “War has generally had grave and fateful consequences for the American monetary and financial system.”

In this challenging assignment, students will need to analyze and synthesize three different selections from primary sources, related to the Bank of North America and the Civil War.  Students will then need to develop a thesis statement regarding the American economy during the Civil War.

Essential Questions

What role does analysis have in historical construction?



The students will be able to:

  • synthesize multiple sources in order to produce an evidence-based argument, using a graphic organizer.
  •  evaluate the ways in which wafare can affect the marketplace by evaluating and comparing three primary sources relating to our economy during the Civil War.

Suggested Instructional Procedures

  1. In this lesson plan, there are three primary sources.  Students will be expected to analyze each primary source before developing a thesis statement concerning the economy and the American Civil War.
    1. The first source - Selected Civil War Era Meeting Minutes from the Board of the Bank of North America (Vol 18) - consists of selected meeting minutes of the Bank’s directors, concerning issues that the bank faced during the Civil War.  Students ought to notice that the Bank of North America’s directors made efforts to support the Northern cause, and perhaps most incredibly, provide loans specifically for the defense of Pennsylvania during Robert E. Lee’s invasion in 1863.
    2. The second source - 1860 Listing of Banks Belonging to the Bank of North America, Including a Detailed Look at the Citizens Bank of Louisiana, New Orleans (Vol 278) - shows all of the banks controlled by the Bank of North America in 1860, before the war broke out.  It also provides the general ledger for the “Citizens Bank of Louisiana, New Orleans.”
    3. The third source - 1866 Listing of Southern Banks Belonging to the Bank of North American, Shwoing the Business Suspended or Destroyed Due to the War (Vol 284) - from 1866, shows all of the Banks that, having been in the South during the Civil War, were cut off from the Bank of North America.
  2. The teacher may also decide to pair these three primary sources with any number of secondary sources.  For example, a short article on the birth of the National Banking system (by Kevin Foley from CoinWeek) can be found here, and might help students provide additional context for banking in the American Civil War economy.
  3. Students can use this graphic organizer in order to develop a basic outline concerning the economy during the Civil War, as expressed in these sources.
  4. Assessment: Teachers can use this rubric in order to evaluate how well the students completed this assignment.

Related Resources for Students