This is the building of the Second Bank of the United States in Philadelphia. As I mentioned Monday, the First and Second Banks of the United States were very controversial in their day, and part of the dispute about them centered on whether the Federal government had the power to charter a National Bank.
Today the Supreme Court upheld the individual mandate portion of the healthcare overhaul, in a manner that nearly everybody found surprising. The Administration defended the mandate on the grounds that (1) it is justified under the Commerce Clause, and alternatively (2) it is justified under the Necessary and Proper clause, and finally (3) it is justified under the Taxing power. The Court ruled against positions (1) and (2) and in favor of (3), which pretty much nobody predicted. It just goes to show you can sum up the Supreme Court in 1 word: “You never know.”*
* “There is one word in America that says it all, and that one word is, ‘You never know.'” MLB Baseball Player Joaquin Andujar.
As for the Banks, in 1819, the Supreme Court ruled in McCullough v. Maryland that the Federal government did, in fact, have the power to charter a national bank under the Necessary and Proper Clause of the Constitution, an argument that failed today in connection with the healthcare law even though the healthcare act was upheld. Which is again, why today’s image ties in to today’s decision on the health care act challenges. We have been having this argument for 200 years.
The First Bank had a limited charter of 20 years, from 1791 to 1811. When that charter expired the Federalist Party that had favored the Bank was out of power and nearly destroyed. In a few more years it would no longer exist in any meaningful sense. Bank opponents in the Democratic Party were firmly in control of the US Government.
* Back then the Democratic Party went through a variety of different names, including being called the both Republicans and Democrat-Republicans for a while, but today that’s just confusing so I just call the party and its members the Democrats no matter the era because it is, in fact, the same organization, which nobody disputes.
But eventually Democratic President and Bank opponent James Madison found that he could not manage the economy, including especially inflation brought on by the debt from the War of 1812 without a national bank. So he massaged his position and supported the chartering of the Second Bank in April 1816. With the Federalist party in tatters, the Democratic Party became the sole party for a while, and not surprisingly much of the political maneuvering at the national level took place between opposing factions within the party. Much of the dispute between those factions centered on the continued existence and management of the Second Bank. Eventually the anti-Bank faction became dominant within the party, and under the Presidency of Andrew Jackson, this dispute became known as the Bank War. President Jackson fought fiercely with Bank President Nicholas Biddle for public support. Although most indirect indicators of public support showed that the public favored the bank, in 1832 Jackson won reelection over pro-bank candidate Henry Clay and he understandably considered that to be an anti-bank mandate. Congress passed a bill to recharter the bank for a new term but Jackson vetoed it. Pro-Bank Democrats such as Henry Clay left the party and formed the Whigs.*
*The Whigs did not last long. They had little in common except an opposition to Andrew Jackson and support for the Bank. The issue of slavery tore them apart only 20-30 years into their existence, leading to the rise of the Republican Party as the party of anti-slavery and abolition.
Today, the building houses a national Portrait Gallery, open for free to the public. I also find the building interesting because of the lack of any words, sign or indication of what it was, or is. It looks almost like a building on a movie lot, capable of being presented as a bank, courthouse or temple as needs require.