The First Bank of the United States is the country’s oldest bank building and the only federal building left from George Washington's presidency. Completed in 1795, it served as the nation’s first central bank until 1811 when its charter was not renewed by Congress. The bank is thought to have been designed by Samuel Blodgett, although some argue James Hoben was the architect. Regardless, the three-story, neo-classically designed building provided a fitting home for the National Bank. It is now part of the larger Independence National Historical Park and has been since 1955. It is currently not open to the public while its future is being determined. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1966 and achieved National Landmark Status in 1987.
Bank of the United States was chartered when President George Washington signed
the Bank Bill in February of 1791. However,
its creation was no forgone conclusion as then Secretary of State, Thomas
Jefferson, led the opposition to its formation.
The idea for a national bank was put forth by Secretary of the Treasury,
Alexander Hamilton, as a means to secure the country’s financial well-being
after the Revolutionary War and the failed Articles of Confederation. Hamilton believed the bank would achieve
several necessary goals, to include establishing the secure credit of the United
States, the paying off of federal and state Revolutionary War debts, the
creation of a national currency, and as a means to raise and store money for
the federal government.
arguments for and against the creation of the bank essentially boiled down
whether or not it was permitted under the federal government’s new framing
document, the Constitution. Jefferson, who feared the power of a strong, centralized government and favored the continued existence of state banks,
offered a strict interpretation of the Constitution. In this instance, he claimed
that what the Constitution does not expressly allow, it prohibits. Hamilton, in the other hand, chose to interpret
the Constitution in a loose manner. He
claimed that what the Constitution does not expressly forbid, it allows, now
known as the “implied powers” of the Constitution. As evidenced by what you’re reading, Hamilton’s
argument swayed both houses of Congress and President Washington and the bank
was created with a twenty-year charter.
It was initially
housed in Carpenters’ Hall and then was transferred to the new bank building in
1797. After the bank was not re-chartered,
the building was purchased by Philadelphia bank magnate Stephen Girard in 1812,
who then operated his own bank from the premises. The interior was remodeled in 1902 and Girard
Bank moved its operations from the bank building in 1929. It was then acquired by the Independence
National Historic Park in 1955 and was renovated in 1976. It served as a temporary visitor’s center in
1967, then as the park’s headquarters until they moved to the Merchants’
Exchange Building in 2000. Plans were
underway to convert it into a Philadelphia Civil War museum, but it failed to
gain the necessary state funding.