During the Napoleonic Wars of Europe, England imposed trade restrictions and practiced impressment of American sailors. The United States responded by declaring war on Great Britain in the summer of 1812. The (First) Bank of the United States' charter had expired in 1811, leaving the government limited options for financing a war America was unprepared for. The government's coffers were insufficient to sustain a conflict, so Treasury Secretary Albert Gallatin proposed a series of interest and non-interest bearing notes to raise needed revenue. (The final cost of the war would total some $158 million). Issued from 1812-1815, these notes would be redeemable as payment for government duties and taxes. While they were not technically legal tender, they served a de facto role as America's first circulating currency, as merchants and individuals used these notes in that capacity. Presented here is an 1812 Treasury Circular signed by Secretary Gallatin, and four of the small denomination notes from the 1815 issue.
1812 Treasury Department Circular
Signed by Treasury Secretary Albert Gallatin to the Collector of the Customs in Marblehead, MA
This Treasury Circular was issued September 21, 1812, some ten weeks following the authorization of Treasury Notes to fund the government during the War. It prescribes the details of the notes and how they are to be received as payment for federal duties and taxes. This circular would have been distributed to Treasury officials throughout the country.
1815 FIVE DOLLAR NOTE
Authorized by a February 24, 1815 Act of Congress
This non-interest bearing note was accepted for all payments owed to the United States. At the discretion of the government, it was exchangeable for a 7% government stock. When issued, the note would bear three separate signatures. As a security feature these notes contained colored fibers and a UNITED STATES watermark. The notes bear the printer's mark of Murray Draper Fairman Co.
1815 TEN DOLLAR NOTE
The ten dollar series from this issue featured two variations: one with the denomination printed on both the left and right sides, and this rarer version where the right portion of the note bore the notation: Receivable everywhere by the United States in payment of duties taxes & public lands.
1815 TWENTY DOLLAR NOTE
1815 FIFTY DOLLAR NOTE
Copyright The Joe I. Herbstman Memorial Collection of American Finance
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