Fri Aug 6 18:56:10 UTC 1999

        David Muschell wrote recently on the history of the word "Dixie",
saying in part: "The distrust of federal paper money in the early
nineteenth century, especially in the South, led many, many banks to
issue their own scrip.  With cotton king and New Orleans in an
economic boom, several banks, the Citizens Bank among them, had scrip
that could be exchanged for gold as far away as New York City, their
assets being so sound."

        It is my impression, from extensive reading in the New York City
newspapers of 1815-1845 and before and after, that all, or nearly all
paper money in circulation in the United States before the Civil War
was issued by local banks.  The article on "Money" in the Dictionary
of American History supports this notion, saying that paper money was
issued by "state-chartered commercial banks" and by the two "Banks of
the United States", which were chartered by the federal government,
but were not divisions of the  Treasury department.  Both charters
ran for 20 years, 1791 to 1811 and 1816 to 1836, and neither charter
was renewed, for political reasons.  The U. S. Mint issued gold and
silver coins, but the Treasury department didn't print paper money
(greenbacks) until the Civil War.

        New York businessmen were wary of accepting unfamiliar money on
out-of-state banks, partly because given the slowness with which news
travelled, they could not be sure that they would know whether or not
the bank was still solvent, but also because counterfeiting was a
major criminal industry, and unless a merchant handled a bank's
currency regularly, he couldn't be sure that he would could tell
funny money from good money.  It appears that it was not illegal in
Canada to print American money; at least, whether for that reason or
another, the counterfeit money factories were often in Canada, and
couriers brought the money down to New York City.  I posted a note on
the word "boodle" here some months ago, citing a source from the late
1810s that referred to counterfeit money being packaged for shipment
in hard tight brick-like blocks.  New York City banks would exchange
out-of-town currency for local currency, but might discount the face
value of the money offered them.  Naturally, communications between
New Orleans and New York would have been excellent, by the standard
of the time, and a lot of business would have been transacted between
the two centers, so New York merchants and bankers may well have been
more familiar with New Orleans banks and willing to accept their
currency than, say, paper money from banks in Ohio or Kentucky.  But
the fact that New Orleans banks issued paper money, or that it was
carried to areas far from New Orleans, isn't remarkable.  A man
making a business trip from New Orleans would have to fill his wallet
with New Orleans currency, unless he collected New York City currency
as it circulated in New Orleans.  Another major criminal industry of
the time was pickpocketing, of course, since businessmen would come
to New York with a thousand dollars or more in their wallet, and then
not have the discretion to stay out of crowds, stay sober, and stay
away from painted women.  The fact that businessmen who did stay
sober, etc., might be given a hotel room to share -- even sometimes a
bed to share -- with a stranger, also helped to make this a truly
golden age for pickpockets.

        This all has no real bearing on the question of the origin of the
regional designation "Dixie".  The key point in this issue, it seems
to me, is the one made by another message to this group: if it's not
actually recorded that ten (or "dix") dollar bills from New Orleans
banks were ever called "dixies", then the supposition that this is
the origin of the name has no foundation.  (I unfortunately deleted
the message that made this point, so I can't cite the sender's name.)


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