What were the reasons for the controversy over the Bank of the United States? Explain both the pro-bank and anti-bank positions.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The original controversy over the Bank of the United States had its origins in part of a larger conflict between Alexander Hamilton and the Federalists and Thomas Jefferson and the Democratic-Republicans. Ultimately, we are looking at two very different visions of where the country should be moving. Hamilton believed in a more centralized government which could more effectively foster economic growth and investment, whereas Jefferson favored states' rights and small government. Jefferson also championed strict constitutionalism and tended to be nervous about the prospects of a federal government seizing additional powers to itself that went beyond its original purview, and what that could mean for the future of the United States. This fundamental difference in ideology was at the center of the Bank dispute.

The defenders of the National Bank argued for the institution on practical grounds, arguing that it was necessary to coordinate the economy on a federal level, to collect and store federal income, and to maintain a degree of consumer confidence which state banks would not be able to match. On the other hand, its critics accused it of being just another tool by which wealthy elites could prey upon the rest of the population, and also a dangerous expansion of federal power, one which was unsupported by the US Constitution. To the Constitutional argument, defenders of the Bank would respond that the Bank served as a natural expansion to the federal government's right to collect taxes and take out loans, and they could also point to the Elastic Clause to further bolster their point.

We see this same conflict playing out in the Bank War under Andrew Jackson. For Jackson, the Bank was a tool of Northern elites, essentially predatory, and an enemy to agricultural interests. This underlying conflict between the Bank's defenders and its opponents would become the main focus of the 1832 election. Jackson's victory proved devastating for the Bank.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

One side of this controversy wanted the Bank because they thought it helped to stabilize the US economy.  It prevented, for example, banks from lending money too easily, creating "bubbles" which could then pop and cause "panics."  (Sort of like how we had a housing bubble because of easy lending which popped in 2007-8 and helped lead to our current problems.)

Those who did not like the Bank generally thought of it as a tool of the elites.  They felt that it was being used by the elites to keep the common people down.  This is why President Jackson was so opposed to the Bank.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial Team