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The E-Sylum: Volume 14, Number 12, March 20, 2011, Article 18

CHRISTOPHER MEMMINGER AND THE CREATION OF CONFEDERATE CURRENCY

Stephen Searle forwarded this New York Times article about Confederate paper money by Ben Tarnoff, author of Moneymakers (a new book on counterfeiting in the U.S.). Here are some excerpts. -Editor

Christopher Gustavus Memminger

Montgomery, Ala.

On March 9, 1861, the mood in the new capital was jubilant. Celebratory cannon fire rang through the streets. Roving bands of patriots honored Confederate officials with nighttime serenades. The first flag of the Southern nation could be seen flying over the Alabama state Capitol, the site where, one month earlier, Jefferson Davis had been inaugurated president of the Confederacy before a crowd of thousands. "[T]he grandest pageant ever witnessed in the South," reported the New York Times. Now a provisional congress held session in its chamber, doing the far less glamorous work required to bring the Confederacy into being. It was not enough to declare a country; it had to be legislated, down to the most mundane detail.

That day, the congressmen passed a bill that gave the Confederate treasury the power to print notes. The amount they authorized was relatively small: only $1 million. In the coming months, however, that number would increase dramatically. Over time, Confederate paper currency would outgrow its modest origins in Montgomery and become the South's single most important source of revenue the financial fuel without which the machinery of its government would cease to function. It would both help and hinder the Confederate war effort, sustaining the South in the short term at the cost of future disaster.

The man the legislators entrusted with the authority to make money was sitting among them in the chamber: Christopher Gustavus Memminger, a delegate from South Carolina and President Davis's choice for Treasury secretary. Memminger's white hair, blue-gray eyes and sharply featured face had been a fixture in Montgomery for weeks. The month before, he had chaired the committee that drafted a provisional Confederate Constitution in just four days. His loyalty to the Southern cause was beyond question yet he differed in one crucial respect from his colleagues. He wasn't a native-born Southerner. In fact, he had been born in Germany, and grew up an orphan in Charleston. A foreigner without a family, he would always remain somewhat of an outsider in the keenly class-conscious aristocracy of the South.

To read the complete article, see: Money for Nothing (opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/03/14/money-for-nothing/)



Wayne Homren, Editor

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