Many collectors know the story of the 1804 dollars struck for the king of Siam and the sultan of Muscat. They were gifts to rulers with whom America was currying favor in hopes of opening up new trading relations.
Hmm. Sounds like 2008, doesn’t it?
The question that occurred to me and perhaps to other collectors is why were 1804 dollars also not given to rulers or Presidents of other countries? There is no historical answer. It was a moment in time. It seemed like a good idea. Andrew Jackson was President. The country was growing. It all adds up.
Perhaps the two gifts underwhelmed the rulers who did receive them and some diplomatic archive somewhere has an American representative writing that in the area of diplomatic gifts, something else should be tried.
I was thinking these crazy thoughts because I have just finished reading a new book called American Lion: Andrew Jackson at the White House by Jon Meacham.
It is worth reading. It is a good book.
I often find myself asking whether any of the history I am learning relates to numismatics.
When Jackson became President in 1829, he had it in his mind that Turkey, which at the time was the very large Ottoman Empire, would be a good place to do business with.
Naturally, my first thought, was, wow, what if he had sent an 1804 dollar there as part of a gift box to the sultan. It didn’t happen, but there is a certain logic that wanting to trade with the Middle Eastern empire in 1829 led to a gift to a Middle Eastern ruler in Muscat in 1834.
Also, Jackson was suspicious of the power of the Bank of the United States, which used its vast resources of government deposits to lobby the government itself to do its bidding. It did this by timely loans to key congressmen and talking up the candidacies of favored candidates.
Sound familiar? The ways of the world haven’t changed much, have they?
Jackson thought this activity was inherently corrupt. He thought it would always be so as long as the bank existed.
The president of the bank, Nicholas Biddle, thought he knew better, but then proceeded to talk up the candidacies of Jackson’s opponents in 1832 and make loans to them as well, thereby proving Jackson’s point to the American public.
The bank charter was not renewed. It expired in 1836. It tried to make a go of it without government deposits as a state bank, but was bankrupt by 1841.
Economic students, of which I was one in my long ago college days, always look at the question of the Bank of the United States as one of how much good a well run central bank could have done for the country from 1836 onwards.
The panics and money crunches brought on by bad harvests, wars and other reasons could have been mitigated.
But then came the current bank panics of 2008, which have happened while we have a central bank trying to do good things for one and all. The whole system nearly collapsed in September.
Maybe Jackson was right. In the present recession, the facts of the case make him look good. Read the book.