A short THREAD on counterfeiting in the 1830s & 1840s. A cul de sac off last night’s case study.

Also an object lesson on the problems with private currencies.

In 1815, 200 private banks & corps were authorized to print notes. 400+ by 1840. Plus foreign currency. BIG MESS.

Once upon a time, a guy who lived in upstate New York processed the zeitgeist of his time through his brain. He tinker-toyed it into a religion, and convinced a bunch of other people he was right.

That’s a WAY condensed foundation narrative of the LDS.

The guy started moving his followers west, in the years before the Civil War. Events often got weird, dangerous, or deadly.

One of the reasons for that was... counterfeiting. See? The US allowed banks to print their own banknotes.

Worst Idea Ever.

Some of these notes were awesome, but if you’ve got a talented engraver and a printing press?

The temptation to run off forgeries got really high.

I’m not saying all printers in the Mississippi watershed were printing notes from 50+ miles away... but it happened. A LOT.

The unspoken deal was you only printed the money of the rivals.

If you broke your enemy’s bank with bad paper, well fuck those guys.

Massive interstate problems in the 1830s & 1840s. This is the era of Bleeding Kansas & Free vs Slave states.

The Mississippi watershed was ground zero.

Enter: Mormons, who didn’t quite play by the deal. After being massacred &driven out of Missouri, they kinda considered everyone not them an enemy. They tolerated counterfeiters if the notes went outward. They were NOT behaving significantly differently from anyone else, but they’d also collected diverse professions within their community, so they were actually close to self-sufficiency in terms of material goods.

They weren’t spending much money at all in neighboring communities.

And passed bad notes, just like everyone else.

This tends to make neighbors hostile.

Your neighbors may gossip about you if you’re having outside sexy-times without telling your wife.

If you’re a good neighbor, you’ll probably get away with it.

But cheating on your wife AND your neighbors?

Moral: 1 dick move at a time.

(Also, Joseph Smith was far more egalitarian & abolitionist than Mormondom became. Brigham Young was the racist shitbag who cheered on the Confederacy. If Smith lived, Mormondom would have probably been no more racist than most sects who emerged from 19th C. New England. ...Black and mixed race people were baptized into the Church and allowed into the priesthood while Joseph Smith lived. This didn’t go over well in southern Illinois & Missouri.

End of this digression.)

All of this HOA drama & bad money & repeated abuse of law came to a bloody conclusion in 1844.

Joseph was 1) mayor of Nauvoo 2) head of the Nauvoo Legion (militia), which was about 2500 troops. (Note: US Army at same time was 8500.) 3) leading his church 4) running for Prez

Someone (definitely dissenters) wrote a newspaper that exposed Mormon polygamy and also exaltation (which reads like polytheism for many people.)

This was secret stuff, even from a lot of Mormons. Embarrassing.

Joseph ordered the destruction of that printing press.

Today? The equivalent would be trying to turn off the internet in a town. The right to print was taken incredibly seriously. People rioted. So... Joseph, who had an army, declared martial law in his city.

Bad decisions, those. But power corrupts.

Those decisions led to Joseph Smith’s arrest, then to his murder by a mob. Mormons see this as a martyrdom. And yes, he didn’t deserve to die without trial.

Historians say it’s a lot more complex than just martyrdom.

But Mormondom wouldn’t exist without that event.

After that? Mormondom underwent its first schism. Most decided to follow Brigham Young into the far reaches of North America, past what the United States claimed at the time. They considered the US to have betrayed them multiple times, and were leaving. Some stayed & rebuilt an egalitarian, just church around the mythos of the Book of Mormon, but without polygamy & coercive control (& counterfeiting.)

I just condensed about 2 years of vitriol into 2 tweets.

But yes, money, counterfeiting & printing are in Mormondom’s DNA. ~End

Citations: Stephen Mihm, A Nation of Counterfeiters.

And this online exhibit: Capitalism by Gaslight: The Shadow Economies of 19th Century America, curated by Wendy Woloson