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Economics thru the Long History of America's First Bank

Capitalism and the American nation have long been bedfellows; after all, they are both the children of eighteenth century Neo-Classical Liberalism.  It is worth noting that both the “Declaration of Independence” and Adam Smith’s “Wealth of Nations” were presented to the public in the same fateful year of 1776.

However, the America of Revolutionary days certainly was neither the financial nor business force that it is today, and understanding how the nation came to be so closely linked to capital is an important understanding.  This is why this Unit Plan draws heavily on the  Bank of North America collection a the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.  A wide range of primary sources have been selected and digitized to represent the hundreds of volumes of bank material held at HSP.

Through the manuscripts, images, and financial data in the Bank of North America collection, high school students of Economics, History, and/or Government can come to terms with the capitalistic development of America.

  • What were the Founders’ opinions of banking in America?

  • How were financial institutions created?

  • What can be said about financial history and the consequences of war, epidemics, and politics?

Lessons on a variety of U.S. History, Government, and Economics topics have been developed in order to encourage students to think critically, engage primary source materials, and develop their own opinions on personal finance, commerce, and especially banking in America.

These lessons were created with a special focus on the Bank of North America collection, consisting of more than 650 volumes of material.  Many sources were selected and then digitized in order to be used in these lesson plans.  They are listed below, with the understanding that teachers might find different uses than that which was originally intended.

Primary Sources relating to the Founding of the Bank of North America

Primary Sources relating to the Bank's 1785 Charter Controversy

Primary Source relating to the Yellow Fever Epidemic

  • A Memorandum Book recording minutes from the Bank of North America’s Board of Directors during the Yellow Fever epidemic (Vol 3).

Primary Sources Relating to the Civil War

Money in the Bank's Collection


18th century

19th century

21st century






Military conflict

American Revolution

Civil War




Big Ideas

Cause and Effect

Historical Context

US History

Essential Questions

How does continuity and change within the United States history influence your community today?

How has social disagreement and collaboration been beneficial to American society?

What does it mean to be a United States citizen, and what is your role in the history of the world?

What role do multiple causations play in describing a historic event?

What role does analysis have in historical construction?

Why is time and space important to the study of history?


  • Historical literacy prepares one for participation as active, critical citizens in a democratic society.

  • Historical comprehension involves evidence-based discussion and explanation, an analysis of sources including multiple points of view, and an ability to read critically to recognize fact from conjecture and evidence from assertion.

  • Historical causation involves motives, reasons and consequences that result in events and actions. Some consequences may be impacted by forces of the irrational or the accidental.

  • Historical skills - organizing information chronologically, explaining historical issues, locating sources and investigate materials, synthesizing and evaluating evidence, and developing arguments and interpretations based on evidence – are used by an analytical thinker to create a historical construction.

  • Textual evidence, material artifacts, the built environment, and historic sites are central to understanding United States history.

  • Long-term continuities and discontinuities in the structures of United States society provide vital contributions to contemporary issues.  Belief systems and religion, commerce and industry, innovations, settlement patterns, social organization, transportation and trade, and equality are examples continuity and change.

  • Conflict and cooperation among social groups, organizations, and nation-states are critical to comprehending society in the United States.  Domestic instability, ethnic and racial relations, labor relation, immigration, and wars and revolutions are examples of social disagreement and collaboration.


  • Analyze the interaction of cultural, economic, geographic, political and social relations for a specific time and place.

  • Articulate the context of a historical event or action.

  • Evaluate cause-and-result relationships bearing in mind multiple causations.

  • Contrast multiple perspectives of individuals and groups in interpreting other times, cultures and places.

  • Analyze a primary source for accuracy and bias and connect it to a time a  place in United States history.

  • Apply the theme of continuity and change in United States history and relate the benefits and drawbacks of your example.

  • Summarize how conflict and compromise in United States history impacts contemporary society.

  • Analyze how a historically important issue in the United States was resolved and evaluate what techniques and decisions may be applied today.

Background Material for Teacher

From the Wells Fargo "Guided by History" Blog ...

Relevant Books available online ...

Relevant JSTOR articles ...

Relevant Dissertations ...

  • "The Bank of North America and the transformation of political ideology in early national Pennsylvania."  Hans Louis Eicholz, University of California, Los Angeles, Ph.D. 1992 dissertation.

  • "The Sources and Early Development of the Hostility to Banks in Early American Thought." George David Rappaport, New York University Ph.D. 1970 dissertation

End of Unit Assessment

Since this “unit” engages in multiple disciplines (especially history, government/civics, and economics), it would perhaps be most beneficial to fit a specific lesson into a teacher's pre-existing unit instead of judging a student’s overall performance based off of these 10 lessons altogether.  Therefore, reflection questions and other forms of formal and/or informal assessment have been included in each specific lesson.


Plans in this Unit

“Neither a borrower nor a lender be”: What is a bank?

"Money is a good soldier": Financing the Revolution

Pro’s and Con’s of the Bank

A Lesson on Currency in America

Business during an Epidemic: Yellow Fever Notes

Signing Checks for the Signers: The Importance of Security in Banks

A History of Personal Finance and Investing in America’s First Bank

The Effect of the Civil War on American Banking

The Invisible Hand and Salaries in Banking

Money in American Politics

Grade Level

High School

Standards/Eligible Content






Common Core Standards:











In Partnership with:

Wells Fargo Bank

About the Author

Leo J. Vaccaro, the Wells Fargo Teacher Fellow, completed these lessons in the Summer of 2015. Vaccaro is a high school teacher, currently working at St. Joseph's Preparatory School in Philadelphia.  Follow him on Twitter: @MrVaccaro1


Blog Post

Notes from the Bank Vault

Attention Teachers!

Let us know how you used this plan and be featured on our site! Submit your story here.

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