On this day in 1841, President John Tyler vetoes a second attempt by Congress to re-establish the Bank of the United States. In response, angry supporters of the bank gathered outside the White House and burned an effigy of Tyler. The protestors were comprised primarily of members of Tyler’s own political party, the Whigs, who dominated Congress at the time.
The first federal U.S. Bank, created by Alexander Hamilton and set into place by George Washington in 1791, provided a repository for federal funds and issued currency. However, beginning with President Thomas Jefferson, who opposed the idea of a national bank as “unconstitutional,” anti-Federalists in Congress chipped away at the bank’s power and importance. In 1811, President James Madison and Congress let the bank’s charter expire. Although a second Bank of the United States was implemented in 1819 during James Monroe’s presidency, successive attempts by different Congresses to re-charter the second bank were denied by Presidents Andrew Jackson, in 1832, and Martin Van Buren, in 1837. Tyler, as a senator during Jackson’s tenure, had originally condemned Jackson’s attempts to nullify the bank as an “abuse of executive power.” However, as president in 1841, President Tyler, faced with a U.S. economy plagued by wildly fluctuating currency valuation and bank fraud, made an about-face and “betrayed” the Whigs, declaring the U.S. bank a threat to individual states’ rights. When word of the veto spread, the bank’s Congressional supporters flew into a collective rage and stormed out of the Capitol toward the White House.
The rioters hurled stones at the White House, shot guns into the air and hung an effigy of the president that they then set on fire. The protest is considered one of, if not the most violent demonstration held near the White House. As a result of the unrest, the District of Columbia decided to create its own police force.