How Big Banks Created a Fed to Serve Their Own Interests

After the Panic of 1907, bankers and politicians alike sought a more stable banking system, though for different reasons. Despite J. P. Morgan's ability to harness backing from the Treasury Department when he needed it (and vice versa), he desired a more permanent solution to financial emergencies. The rest of the big bankers concurred. But they wanted such a mechanism to be established on their terms.

In Washington, Republicans and Democrats both concluded that excessive reliance on bankers to stabilize the financial system in times of turbulence was too high a risk to their own influence over the country, and possibly damaging to America's status in the world. The axiom that the group that controlled the money controlled the country remained true. But with the nation struggling economically, such a condition had political implications and had to be navigated accordingly.

William Howard Taft knew this when he campaigned on a vow to continue Teddy Roosevelt's reform policies, including the trust-busting activities Roosevelt had set in motion. Though his own background was largely blue-blooded and warm toward the financiers, he knew the population blamed the bankers for their problems and that the Democrats would capitalize on those suspicions if he didn't balance his support for business interests with empathy for the public. The tactic worked. In the presidential election of 1908 Taft won handily over populist Democrat William Jennings Bryan, even as the country was experiencing a post-Panic recession.

Congress established the bipartisan National Monetary Commission to develop a banking reform proposal and study the problems underlying the panic and alternative foreign central banking systems, for analytical and competitive purposes. The commission had no populist bent; it was headed by Senator Nelson Aldrich and largely made up of men sympathetic to bankers and their lawyers.