NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

O.M.W. Sprague (the Man who “Wrote the Book” on Financial Crises) and the Founding of the Federal Reserve

Hugh Rockoff

NBER Working Paper No. 19758
Issued in December 2013
NBER Program(s):   DAE

O.M.W. Sprague was America’s leading expert on financial crises when America was debating establishing the Federal Reserve. His History of Crises under the National Banking Act is one of the most enduring legacies of the National Monetary Commission; a still frequently cited classic. Since the Commission recommended a central bank, and its recommendation after some modifications became the Federal Reserve System, it might be assumed that Sprague was a strong supporter of establishing a central bank. But he was not. Initially, Sprague favored more limited reforms, a position that he did not abandon until the Federal Reserve became a fait accompli. Here I discuss the sources of Sprague’s opposition to a central bank and the relationship of that opposition to his understanding of the history and structure of the American banking system at the turn of the nineteenth century.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w19758

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