The logic and legitimacy of bank supervision: the case of the bank holiday of 1933

Conti-Brown, P. and Vanatta, S. H. (2021) The logic and legitimacy of bank supervision: the case of the bank holiday of 1933. Business History Review, 95(1), pp. 87-120. (doi: 10.1017/S0007680520000896)

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The U.S. banking holiday of March 1933 was a pivotal event in 20th century political and economic history. After closing the nation’s banks for nine days, the newly inaugurated Franklin D. Roosevelt administration restarted the banking system as the first step toward national recovery from the global Great Depression. In the conventional narrative, the holiday succeeded because Roosevelt used his political talents to restore public confidence in the nation’s banks. Such accounts, however, say virtually nothing about what happened during the holiday itself. In this article, we reinterpret the banking crises of the 1930s and the 1933 holiday through the lens of bank supervision, the continuous oversight of commercial banks by government officials. Through the 1930s banking crises, federal supervisors identified troubled banks but could not act to close them. Roosevelt empowered supervisors to act decisively during the holiday. By closing some banks, supervisors made credible Roosevelt’s claims that banks which reopened were sound. Thus, the union of FDR’s political skills with the technical judgement of bank supervisors was the key to the solving the banking crisis. Neither could stand alone, and both together were the vital precondition for further economic reforms—including devaluing the dollar—and with them, Roosevelt’s New Deal.

Item Type:Articles
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Vanatta, Dr Sean
Authors: Conti-Brown, P., and Vanatta, S. H.
Subjects:E History America > E151 United States (General)
F History United States, Canada, Latin America > F001 United States local history
H Social Sciences > HC Economic History and Conditions
H Social Sciences > HG Finance
J Political Science > JK Political institutions (United States)
K Law > KF United States Federal Law
College/School:College of Social Sciences > School of Social and Political Sciences > Economic and Social History
Journal Name:Business History Review
Publisher:Cambridge University Press
ISSN (Online):2044-768X
Published Online:16 March 2021
Copyright Holders:Copyright © 2021 The President and Fellows of Harvard College
First Published:First published in Business History Review 95(1): 87-120
Publisher Policy:Reproduced in accordance with the publisher copyright policy

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