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Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 May 2015

Birkbeck College, University of London
Department of History, Classics, and Archaeology, Birkbeck College, University of London, Malet Street, London, wc1e


This article considers British society's response to the suspension of cash payments in February 1797. Although this event marked the beginning of the so-called Bank Restriction Period, during which the Bank of England's notes were inconvertible, there have been no detailed studies on the social and political situation surrounding the suspension. This article provides an in-depth examination of the events leading up to and immediately following the suspension. It questions existing accounts of the suspension as a smooth transition into the nationwide use of paper money and describes the complex process that came into play to avert a nationwide financial collapse. The decision to suspend the Bank's cash payments stemmed from deep-rooted financial instability, exacerbated by recurrent invasion scares that heightened after the French attempt on Bantry Bay, Ireland, in December 1796. Under such circumstances, national support for drastic financial measures could not be taken for granted. The article demonstrates that the declaration movement, which was a form of consolidated and visualized trust in the financial system, played a crucial role in the 1797 suspension crisis.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2015 

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The author would like to thank Professor Martin Daunton, Professor Julian Hoppit, Dr Craig Muldrew, and Dr Perry Gauci for their invaluable comments and suggestions. He is also grateful for the comments received from seminar audiences at the Institute of Historical Research, Oxford, and York.


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34 The connection between the enquiry and the alarm was pointed out elsewhere. Morning Chronicle, 22 and 24 Feb. 1797. Also see Ehrman, The Younger Pitt, iii, p. 5.

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44 The first information of the French movement was obtained on 20 Feb., when French warships were seen sailing near Portsmouth. Lord Spencer to the king, 25 Feb. 1797, in Aspinall, Arthur, ed., The later correspondence of George III (5 vols., Cambridge, 1962–70), ii, p. 541Google Scholar.

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49 Helleiner, Making of national money, pp. 45–6; Rowlinson, Real money, p. 51.

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52 Bank of England, Private Minute Book, BE, M5/472. The Bank might have known the Cork declaration, and they must have been aware of the situation in the north.

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54 Newcastle Chronicle, 25 Feb., 4 Mar. 1797.

55 The second Newcastle declaration was issued by a group that mainly consisted of landowners.

56 Newcastle Chronicle, 25 Feb. 1797; Newcastle Advertiser, 25 Feb., 4 Mar. 1797.

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92 Mr Foster at the meeting said ‘he was among the few present who recollected what passed in the year 1745’. Times, 28 Feb. 1797.

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94 Newcastle Advertiser, 4 Mar. 1797.

95 Pressnell calls the suspension ‘virtually legal recognition’. Pressnell, Country banking, p. 159.

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97 Norfolk Mercury, 18 Mar. 1797. The Plymouth declaration went farther by saying that they would not hesitate to undertake ‘any Action or Suit…at the Instance of any Person whatsoever, who may refuse to receive Bank of England Notes’. Exeter Flying Post, 16 Mar. 1797. On a similar address given by Judge Hardinge at Glamorgan assizes, see Thomas, Hilary, ed., The diaries of John Bird of Cardiff: clerk to the first marquess of Bute, 1790–1803 (Cardiff, 1987), p. 96Google Scholar.

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116 Declaration of the merchants, bankers, traders, and other inhabitants of London made at Grocers' Hall, December 2nd, 1795 (London, 1795); St. James's Chronicle, 1–3 Dec. 1795.

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123 James Gillray, ‘Bank notes, – paper money, – French alarmists, – o the devil, the devil! – ah! poor John Bull!!!’, published in Mar. 1797, in George, M. D., Catalogue of political and personal satires (11 vols., London, 1942–52), vii, pp. 336–7.Google Scholar

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129 The duke of Northumberland to T. Matthew, 23 Feb. 1797, the same to the Bankers of Newcastle, 27 Feb. 1797, Northumberland RO, Ridley papers, ZRI 34/2. Also see Lord Delaval to Surtees & Co., 25 Sept. 1797, Northumberland RO, Delaval papers, 2DE/85/18/8. On the bishop of Durham's action, Newcastle Chronicle, 4 Mar. 1797.

130 House of Commons, Third report from the committee of secrecy, p. 143; John Carr to Lord Delaval, 6 Mar. 1797, Northumberland RO, Delaval papers, 2DE/4/57/80; Jos Oxley to Lord Delaval, 6 Mar. and 15 July 1797, Northumberland RO, Delaval papers, 2DE 4/18/44; Winstanley and Jameson, eds., Diary of Woodforde, xv, p. 128.

131 37 Geo. III, c. 28, and 37 Geo. III, c. 32. See Acres, Bank of England from within, i, p. 278. The £5 note had been issued since 1793, Ehrman, The Younger Pitt, ii, p. 387.

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136 Greenfeld, Liah, The spirit of capitalism: nationalism and economic growth (Cambridge, MA, and London, 2001)Google Scholar.

137 Brantlinger, Patrick, Fictions of state: culture and credit in Britain, 1694–1994 (Ithaca, NY, 1996), p. 93Google Scholar; Hume, David, ‘Of public credit’, in Rotwein, Eugene, ed., Writings on economics (Madison, WI, 1970), pp. 90106Google Scholar, at pp. 96–8.

138 Colley, Linda, Britons: forging the nation, 1707–1837 (New Haven, CT, 1992), p. 67Google Scholar; Mori, Jennifer, ‘Languages of loyalism: patriotism, nationhood and the state in the 1790s’, English Historical Review, 118, (2003), pp. 3358CrossRefGoogle Scholar, at p. 50.