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The Money Men: Capitalism, Democracy, and the Hundred Years' War Over the American Dollar

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Most Americans are familiar with the political history of the United States, but there is another history woven all through it, a largely forgotten history—the story of the money men. Acclaimed historian H. W. Brands brings them back to life: J. P. Morgan, who stabilized a foundering U.S. Treasury in 1907; Alexander Hamilton, who founded the first national bank, and Nichol Most Americans are familiar with the political history of the United States, but there is another history woven all through it, a largely forgotten history—the story of the money men. Acclaimed historian H. W. Brands brings them back to life: J. P. Morgan, who stabilized a foundering U.S. Treasury in 1907; Alexander Hamilton, who founded the first national bank, and Nicholas Biddle, under whose directorship it failed; Jay Cooke, who helped to finance the Union war effort through his then-innovative strategy of selling bonds to ordinary Americans; and Jay Gould, who tried to corner the market on gold in 1869 and as a result brought about Black Friday and fled for his life.


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Most Americans are familiar with the political history of the United States, but there is another history woven all through it, a largely forgotten history—the story of the money men. Acclaimed historian H. W. Brands brings them back to life: J. P. Morgan, who stabilized a foundering U.S. Treasury in 1907; Alexander Hamilton, who founded the first national bank, and Nichol Most Americans are familiar with the political history of the United States, but there is another history woven all through it, a largely forgotten history—the story of the money men. Acclaimed historian H. W. Brands brings them back to life: J. P. Morgan, who stabilized a foundering U.S. Treasury in 1907; Alexander Hamilton, who founded the first national bank, and Nicholas Biddle, under whose directorship it failed; Jay Cooke, who helped to finance the Union war effort through his then-innovative strategy of selling bonds to ordinary Americans; and Jay Gould, who tried to corner the market on gold in 1869 and as a result brought about Black Friday and fled for his life.

30 review for The Money Men: Capitalism, Democracy, and the Hundred Years' War Over the American Dollar

  1. 4 out of 5

    Louise

    H. W. Brands defines the roles played by the “Money Men” Alexander Hamilton, Nicholas Biddle, Jay Cooke, Jay Gould and J. P. Morgan in shaping the US financial system. The first half covering the roles of Hamilton, Biddle and Cooke was very good. The second half on Gould and Morgan was a not up the standard of the first, perhaps because the emphasis was on their abuse of the unfettered system more that the resulting changes. Brands writes of the young nation's leaders holding different perspectiv H. W. Brands defines the roles played by the “Money Men” Alexander Hamilton, Nicholas Biddle, Jay Cooke, Jay Gould and J. P. Morgan in shaping the US financial system. The first half covering the roles of Hamilton, Biddle and Cooke was very good. The second half on Gould and Morgan was a not up the standard of the first, perhaps because the emphasis was on their abuse of the unfettered system more that the resulting changes. Brands writes of the young nation's leaders holding different perspectives. Those who emphasized democracy are represented by Jefferson who saw a nation of farmers and limited government and those who stressed capitalism represented by Hamilton who envisioned an industrial nation and a government that would enable the growth of capital. You see how Hamilton’s fight for a National Bank created significant foundations for the US. The Supreme Court solidified its role as a Constitutional interpreter, the federal role was extended to include all “that is necessary and proper…” and the nation’s capital was moved from Philadelphia to what is now Washington DC. Hamilton’s bank operated for 20 years, but its charter was not renewed by Congress. Necessity, the need to borrow money for the War of 1812, brought it back. The Second National Bank did not survive the populism of Andrew Jackson. The section on the financing of the Civil War was a highlight. I had never heard of Jay Cooke and or his significant contribution to the war effort. The book gets a little bogged down in the robber baron era, or maybe it is just that the details of the abuses of Gould and Morgan are not very interesting to me. It would have been better if organized (i.e. had chapters) on the either these "money men" or the significant periods of time in monetary development.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Arminius

    The great financiers who emerged as the Capitalist juggernauts of our history are discussed. It starts with the smartest man ever to grace the continental United States Alexander Hamilton. Hamilton intuitively knew that a Capitalist economy would lead to great prosperity. He learned this as he saw a farming community in Barbados languish in poverty and read Adam Smith’s influential book “The Wealth of Nations.” When the Great George Washington was unanimously voted into America as its first Pre The great financiers who emerged as the Capitalist juggernauts of our history are discussed. It starts with the smartest man ever to grace the continental United States Alexander Hamilton. Hamilton intuitively knew that a Capitalist economy would lead to great prosperity. He learned this as he saw a farming community in Barbados languish in poverty and read Adam Smith’s influential book “The Wealth of Nations.” When the Great George Washington was unanimously voted into America as its first President he quickly asked Hamilton to plan the economy. Washington, albeit a surveyor and farmer himself, knew from his experience running the war that an agrarian economy would not sustain a government. Hamilton’s plan was for a National Bank with 12 regional banks that could provide credit to needed business. And for the government assuming the debt of the States they incurred during the Revolutionary War. Thomas Jefferson opposed Hamilton’s program and formed the Democratic Republican party after Washington relinquished the presidency and retired. Jefferson and his followers (Madison and Monroe) agreed with the Monticello Sage. However, each found that the National Bank was a needed instrument when the government needed money. The Jefferson gang left their vision to a man that was much tougher than they in the 7th President Andrew Jackson. The National Bank charter expired in 1836, President Jackson vetoed its reauthorization and the bank vanquished. The killing of the national Bank led to a financial panic and Depression inherited mainly by Jackson’s successor Martin Van Buren due to local banks freedom to over extend causing the Banks to go insolvent. The next Money man discussed is Jay Cooke. When President Lincoln needed money to finance the Civil War he relied on an income tax, the Legal Tender Act which made paper money non-redeemable for gold. This did not amount to enough money to fund the war. So Salmon Chase, Lincolns’ Treasury Security, turned to Cooke for help. Cook engineered what was called Five-twenty bonds. This meant that the bonds can be called in 5 years and matured in 20. They also paid a handsome 6 percent. Cooke advertised heavily for these bonds. He received a letter from a man with questions he had about the bonds. He answered each question in laymen terms. The man was so impressed that he sent the letter to the local paper and it spread across the North. This made his bonds more popular than anyone could have dreamed of and provided the needed funding for the North. In a second fund raising effort for the Union Cause Cooke came up with the “seven-thirties’ bond. This was named for its high interest payments of 7.30% Again he marketed these heavily and had much success. The next Money Men discussed were Jay Gould, Daniel Drew and James Fisk. The trio gradually bought up stock of the Erie Railroad with borrowed money. After America’s richest man, Cornelius Vanderbilt put an end to their attempted take over the trio turned to Gold. They next followed the increased and decreased price of gold. They bought when low and sold when high and amassed a fortune doing so. Gould was called to Congress to explain the effects of Gold prices on the economy. Gould explained that Gold prices at 40 to 45 would produce the best economy for America. The final Money Man discussed is the American Banking Giant JP Morgan. When investor’s grew nervous after learning the federal governments gold reserves fell to just over $100 million in 1894 they sprinted to the Treasury to redeem their notes in gold pieces. This caused a panic. President Cleveland did not know how to stop it. So he called on JP Morgan who told him to issue a $100 million bond float and he personally would run the float. His actions rescued the treasury. When the New York Stock exchange ran out of money they appealed to JP who summoned all the bank presidents to his office and secured 27 million from them to save the Stock market. When the public made yet another run on the banks President Theodore Roosevelt again called on Morgan. He told the President if people would keep their money in the bank everything would work out. So he ordered the larger banks to accept scrip (which are IOU’s) to smaller banks to keep them solvent. When the public realized that they would not lose money because of this, the crises resolved. The public appreciated JP Morgan’s saving of America’s financial condition but still feared that when he passed on that no one would be capable to do the job of what this private citizen could do. In response, the Federal Reserve was created so the government had control over the financial sector. In effect, it is another version of Hamilton’s National Bank. And just as Hamilton’s original National Bank had its critics so now does the Federal Reserve.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Donald Powell

    This short book is a biography of several American men with profound impact on money and banking. It is a good recapitulation of the history of banking and money supply of our country. Much of this history is available in other more general history and biography; however, this is much more detailed in the background, transactions and effects of the banking and money issues. A very worthy read and a primer on money economics.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Literary Chic

    I found Mr. Brands' book on the Money Men well written and succinct. At barely 200 pages, it wasn't a thorough history of the American finance system, but it was a good synopsis of the roots of American capitalism. He spent more time fleshing out the Hamilton/Jefferson capitalism vs. democracy argument than any other. After reading this book, I would like to hear more about the magnates of capitalism (Vanderbilt, Carnegie, Rockefeller) as Mr. Brands barely mentioned them. If you're not looking f I found Mr. Brands' book on the Money Men well written and succinct. At barely 200 pages, it wasn't a thorough history of the American finance system, but it was a good synopsis of the roots of American capitalism. He spent more time fleshing out the Hamilton/Jefferson capitalism vs. democracy argument than any other. After reading this book, I would like to hear more about the magnates of capitalism (Vanderbilt, Carnegie, Rockefeller) as Mr. Brands barely mentioned them. If you're not looking for an in depth study, the THE MONEY MEN is a great book.

  5. 4 out of 5

    keatssycamore

    Here's what I learned from the book: The banksters and speculators having been screwing up (and over) the United States for the entirety of it's existence. Here's what I learned from the book: The banksters and speculators having been screwing up (and over) the United States for the entirety of it's existence.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Emily Ross

    This was a pretty good book, brief but relatively detailed about five important men to the world of American finance; Alexander Hamilton, Nicholas Biddle, Jay Cooke, Jay Gould and J. P. Morgan. It was really interesting seeing how finance evolved over the years and how Brands changed the historical narrative to focus on capitalism vs democracy. It did feel like there was quite a bit missing, so bigger, more in depth books might be a better alternative if a person was looking for specifics.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Emily Ross

    This was a pretty good book, brief but relatively detailed about five important men to the world of American finance; Alexander Hamilton, Nicholas Biddle, Jay Cooke, Jay Gould and J. P. Morgan. It was really interesting seeing how finance evolved over the years and how Brands changed the historical narrative to focus on capitalism vs democracy. It did feel like there was quite a bit missing, so bigger, more in depth books might be a better alternative if a person was looking for specifics.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Mark

    More on my efforts to learn a little about economics. This is hard work for me, because it relies on human behavior more than the laws of nature like physics or engineering. I'm still grappling with some of the concepts, and the separation of capitalism from democracy. The two are often linked, but they are not the same thing. At any rate, I'd heard some of this before in an audiobook or two from last year about the Great Depression. Still, repetition helps me internalize it. Better for me was the More on my efforts to learn a little about economics. This is hard work for me, because it relies on human behavior more than the laws of nature like physics or engineering. I'm still grappling with some of the concepts, and the separation of capitalism from democracy. The two are often linked, but they are not the same thing. At any rate, I'd heard some of this before in an audiobook or two from last year about the Great Depression. Still, repetition helps me internalize it. Better for me was the material about the earlier history, about Hamilton, Andrew Jackson, and the first national banks.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Richard

    The most disappointing aspect of this book was its focus on specific individuals. In retrospect, it shouldn't have been a surprise considering the title; however, I was looking for a book that was more technical and focused more on broader trends during the time period discussed. Instead, it provided a lot of biographical information, and in my opinion, inflated the importance of some, although not all, individuals discussed. Also I only read small sections of the first two-thirds of the book, be The most disappointing aspect of this book was its focus on specific individuals. In retrospect, it shouldn't have been a surprise considering the title; however, I was looking for a book that was more technical and focused more on broader trends during the time period discussed. Instead, it provided a lot of biographical information, and in my opinion, inflated the importance of some, although not all, individuals discussed. Also I only read small sections of the first two-thirds of the book, because it covered a lot of information with which I was already familiar. This may have biased my perspective, so for readers unfamiliar with this part of American history this book might be more of a worthwhile read. Finally, this book repeated a historical myth and it leads me to question other parts of the book. The myth repeated at the end of the book is that President Hoover cut spending as a result of the onset of the Great Depression. This is a false claim, and a historian of American financial history should know it is.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Chuck

    An enjoyable walk through history of the creation of our National banking system, how went went from silver to gold as the standard and how our money system was created. Nice overview that policy wonks will enjoy. Hits the highlights without bogging the reader down in too much detail, which can be an issue when approaching this type of economics. Does a good job bringing the personalities of the key players including Presidents into play. Though thought he went a bit soft on US Grant and his scan An enjoyable walk through history of the creation of our National banking system, how went went from silver to gold as the standard and how our money system was created. Nice overview that policy wonks will enjoy. Hits the highlights without bogging the reader down in too much detail, which can be an issue when approaching this type of economics. Does a good job bringing the personalities of the key players including Presidents into play. Though thought he went a bit soft on US Grant and his scandals/lack of oversight. Still, did not white wash things either. Enjoyed HW Brands' style of writing and he has a bunch of books out there. Will not be my last read of his.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Penelope

    I listened to the audiobook and found the first two thirds of the books very interesting because it covered the Gilded Age titans that I am most interested in. It also covered the struggle to settle on what type of currency America would most benefit from. Not a long or overly detailed book like the author's books on individuals, it fills in the broader view. I listened to the audiobook and found the first two thirds of the books very interesting because it covered the Gilded Age titans that I am most interested in. It also covered the struggle to settle on what type of currency America would most benefit from. Not a long or overly detailed book like the author's books on individuals, it fills in the broader view.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Steve Rice

    Love H.W. Brands, and once again he does not disappoint. Brands bings to life the history of money in the United States and the role that monetary policy plays in the development of capitalism. I especially enjoyed learning about the political battles between those who supported a gold and silver system and those who supported paper money.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Josh

    So far, Brands has yet to disappoint me. This is a succinct yet learned overview of the American debates about money from the time of the founding to the early 20th century. As someone with only a tenuous grasp of economic issues, I found this history especially helpful.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Batu

    Accessible, interesting, and sometimes entertaining explanation of how money works. Everything you want and need to know but didn’t know how or who to ask.

  15. 4 out of 5

    S.L. Berry

    A good basic introduction to American economic history from the American Revolution to just before the creation of the Federal Reserve with a quick summary of events to modern times.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Kevin Guidry

    Well written and informative, but not sure the facts are convincing as to what seems to be his thesis.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Andrew Sternisha

    Solid work on the early battles on American currency. It could go more in depth, but this is a nice primer.

  18. 5 out of 5

    James McGlynn

    reads like a textbook but informative nonetheless. Hamilton/Morgan/Biddle/Gould/Cooke. Interesting to see what Fed policy will be.

  19. 4 out of 5

    William

    The Founding Fathers of the United States had referred to our government based on a democratic republic as a "grand experiment". One of the main catalysts for the success of this experiment has to be the economic system of Capitalism. The early establishment of the National Bank System, the Department of the Treasury, the adoption of a national paper currency, the evolution of the silver and gold standard, and early market crashes and reforms, and the figures behind these developments is the sub The Founding Fathers of the United States had referred to our government based on a democratic republic as a "grand experiment". One of the main catalysts for the success of this experiment has to be the economic system of Capitalism. The early establishment of the National Bank System, the Department of the Treasury, the adoption of a national paper currency, the evolution of the silver and gold standard, and early market crashes and reforms, and the figures behind these developments is the subject of H.W. Brands "The Money Men". Although each of the main figures, such as Alexander Hamilton, Andrew Jackson, and James Pierpont Morgan, are covered in greater depth and detail by other authors such as Ron Chernow, and Jon Meacham, Brand presents each with the main events that shaped the intimate and often tumultuous relationship between our democratic government and our free market economy. The character sketches drawn by Brand, especially of the intense adversarial relationship between Andrew Jackson and Nicholas Biddle, under whom the National Bank system were dissolved, and the uneasy reliance between J.P. Morgan and the administration of President Theodore Roosevelt to quell the Stock Market Panic of 1907 are told with great fluidity; the narratives are masterful. But what I found a bit lacking in the book was the omission of additional explanation, analysis and context that prompted the key changes in economic policies backed by the government, such as the switch for the U.S. currency away from the gold standard. Nonetheless, Brand's book is concise, well written, engaging and should not be overlooked when further exploring the rich and unique history of the United States and its economic development.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Paige

    Um, I don't know. I think this book could have been a lot better. I know they're "essays" or whatever, but I just felt like they weren't very fleshed out. He doesn't always explain things completely, like he made it sound like there was no president at all between Andrew Jackson and William Henry Harrison. It kind of threw me off and I had to go reread it to make sure that I just didn't miss it. He could've dedicated, like, half a sentence to the election & presidency of Martin Van Buren , espec Um, I don't know. I think this book could have been a lot better. I know they're "essays" or whatever, but I just felt like they weren't very fleshed out. He doesn't always explain things completely, like he made it sound like there was no president at all between Andrew Jackson and William Henry Harrison. It kind of threw me off and I had to go reread it to make sure that I just didn't miss it. He could've dedicated, like, half a sentence to the election & presidency of Martin Van Buren , especially when he quotes people at length (and occasionally past when it becomes necessary). It just seems like, even though the book had no connecting thread or idea through it (besides money, which, come on, is a huge subject), even if you took the essays by themselves, they were wanting. Despite that, I did like the writing style and the way he presented information so maybe this was just not his shining work. I'll probably read something of his some time that's a little more highly rated.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Dan Hatcher

    This book covers a lot of ground in 206 pages, from Andrew Hamilton v. Thomas Jefferson on big vs. small government ; Jackson vs. Biddle on the constitutionality of the national bank ; to Jay Cooke financing the Union war efforts with bonds; to the Panic of 1873 ; to the gilded age trusts up to the Federal Reserve Act of 1913. This book was a good primer, but too brief. I look forward to one day reading about these topics individually. H.W Brands frequently puts democracy against capitalism, each This book covers a lot of ground in 206 pages, from Andrew Hamilton v. Thomas Jefferson on big vs. small government ; Jackson vs. Biddle on the constitutionality of the national bank ; to Jay Cooke financing the Union war efforts with bonds; to the Panic of 1873 ; to the gilded age trusts up to the Federal Reserve Act of 1913. This book was a good primer, but too brief. I look forward to one day reading about these topics individually. H.W Brands frequently puts democracy against capitalism, each of these struggles are proxies for the push and pull between the monied interests and the common good. The same as it ever was.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Derek

    As a big fan of Brands, I was a bit disappointed. Perhaps it is because of the length of the work, a fraction of the length of most of his books I've read, and because it covered several individuals in that time rather than one biography. It may, frankly, been because I was less sympathetic to the individuals covered. Whatever the reason, I didn't feel it really got to the core of the people involved, nor did it weave a unified narrative. Yes, these were all people important in US financial hist As a big fan of Brands, I was a bit disappointed. Perhaps it is because of the length of the work, a fraction of the length of most of his books I've read, and because it covered several individuals in that time rather than one biography. It may, frankly, been because I was less sympathetic to the individuals covered. Whatever the reason, I didn't feel it really got to the core of the people involved, nor did it weave a unified narrative. Yes, these were all people important in US financial history, but it didn't have any particular message about that history. But all in all, not bad for a very brief study of the US financial system in the first century of the nation.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Bruce

    Though copyright in 2006 this book encourages thought on the current financial world. Starting with Hamilton, then treating Bibble, Gould, Cooke and Morgan in turn, H.W. Brands provides insight into the financial world. Each of these men fought for a strong central monetary control authority. In his epilogue the author posits that the current (2006) controllers of money were in the main anonymous (with the exception of Alan Greenspan). Perhaps when the real history of the 2008 financial crises i Though copyright in 2006 this book encourages thought on the current financial world. Starting with Hamilton, then treating Bibble, Gould, Cooke and Morgan in turn, H.W. Brands provides insight into the financial world. Each of these men fought for a strong central monetary control authority. In his epilogue the author posits that the current (2006) controllers of money were in the main anonymous (with the exception of Alan Greenspan). Perhaps when the real history of the 2008 financial crises is revealed we will find who really controls government, the people or Wall Street.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Oleksandr Zholud

    The book concentrates on the struggle, as the author puts it, between capitalism and democracy in the USA, chiefly during the XIXth century. It is akin to banking vs currency schools in the same period England, but the author, being a historian doesn’t try to aggreagate as see it as a part of economic history, more like a pieces of biographies of people, who created this history – Hamilton, Jackson, Biddle, Jefferson, JP Morgan, Gould, Cook… in short a series of interesting anecdotes linked by a The book concentrates on the struggle, as the author puts it, between capitalism and democracy in the USA, chiefly during the XIXth century. It is akin to banking vs currency schools in the same period England, but the author, being a historian doesn’t try to aggreagate as see it as a part of economic history, more like a pieces of biographies of people, who created this history – Hamilton, Jackson, Biddle, Jefferson, JP Morgan, Gould, Cook… in short a series of interesting anecdotes linked by a larger theme of struggle between the wealthiest Americans and the broad masses

  25. 4 out of 5

    Leif Erik

    If you're anything like me (God help you) then you have often pined for a concise (sub 200 pg) account of American monetary policy pre-establishment of the Federal Reserve, ideally with the focus the inherit conflict between hard money and inflationary interests. This is book for you! Brand does an excellent job of explaining the interests and motivations of each side and how that played out over the 19th century. If you're anything like me (God help you) then you have often pined for a concise (sub 200 pg) account of American monetary policy pre-establishment of the Federal Reserve, ideally with the focus the inherit conflict between hard money and inflationary interests. This is book for you! Brand does an excellent job of explaining the interests and motivations of each side and how that played out over the 19th century.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Dave

    Although the cover of this book looks cool, the material inside was not as entertaining. Brands is an excellent historical writer (see my review of his Jackson biography), but for the subject matter of this book considering the recent economic problems we have been experiencing, you will probably hate these major bankers more and not get a complete grasp of the history for the book is short.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Lew

    Interesting, but nothing special. It reads like a college lecture that is an overview of the history of money in America, with emphasis on the prime money man of the time being . A good introduction to the individuals that were the movers and shakers of the time. Sparks interest in reading more in depth about each money man.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Ryan

    Got excited to learn a little more about the Federal Reserve bank... so far learned that Alexander Hamilton was pushing for a central U.S. bank long before the Federal Reserve Act was passed to create the "Fed" as we know it. Interesting read so far... Got excited to learn a little more about the Federal Reserve bank... so far learned that Alexander Hamilton was pushing for a central U.S. bank long before the Federal Reserve Act was passed to create the "Fed" as we know it. Interesting read so far...

  29. 5 out of 5

    Glenn Robinson

    A quick basic overview of the financial leaders that have shaped the US financial system, both in good ways and poor ways. Not one part of the history is view in depth, so do not view this as providing answers, just raising many more questions.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Nicole Marble

    Interesting view of US history via money and how it has been used and peoples' attitude to it. Gracefully written, Brands points out the natural antagonism between capitalism and democracy. Something to think about! Interesting view of US history via money and how it has been used and peoples' attitude to it. Gracefully written, Brands points out the natural antagonism between capitalism and democracy. Something to think about!

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