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[Detail] The Diary of Horatio Nelson Taft, 1861-1865

Economic Issues

On January 12, 1862, Taft wrote that the financial affairs of the nation were in a critical state and noted the rising war debt but remarked that it was "nothing compared to the Value of the Union and the integrity and preservation of the constitution inviolate."

In January 1863, he expressed support for Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase's recommendations "…that all paper money shall be U.S. Money and that all Banking Institutions shall be based upon U.S. Stocks. That would give us a safe and uniform Currency." On March 8, he reported that Secretary Chase had "almost unlimited power" to control the nation's finances and to issue paper currency and "…the probability is that 'green backs' will be our circulating medium henceforth."

In May 1864, Taft remarked that the war costs had risen to two million dollars a day, caustically adding

…it probably takes one Million to pay the legitimate expenses of the Govt (perhaps a little more). The balance is squandered and stolen. Not a very small number of those who have the management of the expenses and the disbursements are knaves and fools. The one have no idea of honesty, the other no idea of economy. But in times of great popular commotion the scum will float on the surface, where the brazen villain and the conceited ass are often found occupying positions of great responsibility.

From "The Diary of Horatio Nelson Taft, 1861-1865. Volume 3, May 3, 1864"

Throughout the war, Taft often referred to the rising costs of goods and services. He lamented his economic situation in July 1864 when he remarked, "A 'place' in the Goverment Departments is not worth much now with the old Salaries which were fixed when gold was paid but are now paid in 'paper' worth about forty cents on the dollar."

  • Find evidence in the diary of rising prices. What factors contributed to the rising price of goods and services? Look for evidence of how the rising prices affected the Taft family.
  • What happened in July 1861 that further affected the finances of the Taft family? For several months, Taft "danced attendance" on people in power, even using his acquaintance with President and Mrs. Lincoln in his effort to find a position. Scan his diary entries through November. What was his mental state with respect to the search for a position? What was his family's financial position?
  • What can you learn about the system of political patronage (appointing friends or political allies to office) from reading about Taft's quest to find a position?
  • Conduct research to learn more about Secretary Chase's economic policies. How effective was Secretary Chase in securing a sound economic policy? What was the controversy over Chase's plan to use "greenbacks" to finance the war? How was this issue settled by the Supreme Court after the war?