Funding the War of 1812 - Stephen Girard and His Bank

Funding the War of 1812 - Stephen Girard and His Bank

Between the Thomas Jefferson Presidency and the Andrew Jackson Administration, Stephen Girard was the wealthiest man in the United States.

Girard was perhaps the first philanthropist, donating unbelievable sums of his wealth for the betterment of his city and his country.

Girard even bankrolled the United States’ participation in the War of 1812.


Stephen Girard

Stephen Girard arrived in Philadelphia just as the Continental Congress was preparing to declare independence. 

The Frenchman had spent the last several years captaining ships on the high seas and making connections in markets throughout the Atlantic.

Girard decided to establish a merchant firm in his new city.

It would lead him to unfathomable riches. 


Philanthropy

Throughout the 1780’s Girard slowly expanded the reach of his trading business, first to Europe, then as far as Asia.

Stephen invested his profits in a private bank, with a good deal also spent on land.

While building his wealth, Girard became one of the first American philanthropists. In addition to donating to several local causes and starting an orphanage, he personally tended to the sick during two separate yellow fever outbreaks.


Fortune

By 1805, Stephen Girard was far and away the wealthiest man in America.

He would hold this notable position for 25 years (tied with Cornelius Vanderbilt for the longest tenure in history).

His good fortune did not extend to his personal life, however, as his wife, Mary, suffered a nervous breakdown and was committed to a mental institution.


Girard’s Bank

In 1811, the charter for the First Bank of the United States expired.

When the Federal Government decided not to renew the charter, Girard purchased most of the stocks and the building itself.

Girard’s Bank, as it came to be known, survived until 1983, when it was purchased by Mellon Bank (and afterward, Citizens Bank).


Bankrolling America

When the War of 1812 broke out, the Government needed funds.

Stephen Girard used both his Bank and his personal fortune to pay for the United States Army, almost single handedly...just as Robert Morris had three decades earlier.

Without Girard’s finances, America simply could not have afforded to fight the war, let alone win it. 

If it weren’t for Stephen Girard, the United States may simply have been recolonized by Great Britain.


Here are some other articles about early American banking:

William Duer Almost Bankrupts America

Hamilton Plays Middleman - The Founding of the Bank of New York

Sugar, Money and Revolution - Issac Roosevelt Amasses a Fortune

It is hard to overstate Girard’s role as America’s first Fat Cat.

‘America’s First Tycoon’ is an interesting look at this man’s fascinating life.

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