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Revive Lincoln's Monetary Policy: An open letter to President Obama

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Dear President Obama:

 

The world was transfixed on that remarkable day in January when, to poetry, song, and dance, you gazed upon Abraham Lincoln’s likeness at the Lincoln Memorial and searched for wisdom to navigate these difficult times.  Indeed, you have so many things in common with that venerable President that one might imagine you were his reincarnation in different dress.  You are both thin and wiry, brilliant speakers, appearing on the national stage at pivotal times.  Fertile imaginations could envision you coming back dressed in that African heritage you freed, to help heal the great scar of slavery and prove once and for all the proposition that all men are created equal and can achieve great things if given a fighting chance. 

 

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As Wordsworth said, however, our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting; and if that is true, you may have forgotten a more subtle form of slavery from which Lincoln tried less successfully to free his countrymen.  You may have forgotten it because it has been omitted from our popular  history books, leaving Americans ill-equipped to interpret the lessons of our own past.  This letter is therefore meant to remind you. 

 

President Obama, we are now met on another battlefield of that same economic war that visited Lincoln and the Founding Fathers before him.  For you to finish the work Lincoln started would be a poetic triumph no American could miss.  The fate of our economy and the nation itself may depend on how well you understand Lincoln’s monetary breakthrough, the most far-reaching “economic stimulus plan” ever implemented by a U.S. President.  You can solve our economic crisis quickly and permanently, by implementing the same economic solution that allowed Lincoln to win the Civil War and thus save the Union from foreign economic masters. 

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Lincoln’s Monetary Breakthrough

 

The bankers had Lincoln’s government over a barrel, just as Wall Street has Congress in its vice-like grip today.  The North needed money to fund a war, and the bankers were willing to lend it only under circumstances that amounted to extortion, involving staggering interest rates of 24 to 36 percent.  Lincoln saw that this would bankrupt the North and asked a trusted colleague to research the matter and find a solution.  In what may be the best piece of advice ever given to a sitting President, Colonel Dick Taylor of Illinois reported back that the Union had the power under the Constitution to solve its financing problem by printing its money as a sovereign government.  Taylor said:

 

“Just get Congress to pass a bill authorizing the printing of full legal tender treasury notes . . . and pay your soldiers with them and go ahead and win your war with them also.  If you make them full legal tender . . . they will have the full sanction of the government and be just as good as any money; as Congress is given that express right by the Constitution.”

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The Greenbacks actually were just as good as the bankers’ banknotes.  Both were created on a printing press, but the banknotes had the veneer of legitimacy because they were “backed” by gold.  The catch was that this backing was based on “fractional reserves,” meaning the bankers held only a small fraction of the gold necessary to support all the loans represented by their banknotes.  The “fractional reserve” ruse is still used today to create the impression that bankers are lending something other than mere debt created with accounting entries on their books.1 

 

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Ellen Brown is an attorney, founder of the Public Banking Institute, and author of twelve books including the best-selling WEB OF DEBT. In THE PUBLIC BANK SOLUTION, her latest book, she explores successful public banking models historically and (more...)
 

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