Banking and the Confederacy “Graybacks”: A Forgotten Example of State Credit

Article by K. R. Bolton.



The goodwill towards the Southern states that one might expect from monetary reformers has been clouded by the claim that the War of Secession was instigated by international bankers for the control of the USA, and specifically that it was the South that was for this purpose backed by the Rothschilds and other European banking dynasties in Europe. While monetary reformers often allude to Abraham Lincoln having issued state credit in the form of the “Greenbacks,” and therefore Lincoln has become something of an icon among those who advocate alternatives to the usurious world financial system, seldom realized is that the Confederacy issued its own “Graybacks,” and did not have any type of fellowship with international finance. The condemnation of the South often includes an anti-Semitic element, because the Confederate Secretary of State, Judah P Benjamin, was Jewish, and from there flights of fancy roam free, including the claim that Benjamin was a “Rothschild agent” and even a that he was a “Rothschild relative.” This paper examines the claim as to whether the Rothschilds and other banking dynasties supported the South, and in particular examines the manner by which the Confederacy was really funded.

The “Grayback” served the Confederacy as the “Greenback” served the Union, and perhaps moreso, as the Confederacy was shut out of financial markets. It was a pragmatic move and one that better served the Confederate States of America (CSA) by force of circumstances than by going cap-in-hand to the international money-lenders, as most states then did and still do. Hence, the “Grayback” is an example of state credit used on a wide scale that allowed the functioning of an economy without recourse to usurious debt, and stands with other examples such as the use of Reserve Bank state credit by the 1935 New Zealand Labour Government.[i] Given the present widespread economic tumult caused by the compound interest intrinsic to the debt-finance system that controls much of the world, a concentration of alternative systems of banking and finance are of vital importance, but are presently problems seldom understood by the “Right.” This was not always the case, as exemplified by the writings of Ezra Pound[ii] and the “Social Justice” movement of Father Coughlin,[iii] et al.

Origins of a Myth

One of the first, if not the first, to circulate the allegation that the Confederacy was controlled by the Rothschilds as a means of weakening the Union and of taking control of the banking system was the Czarist émigré Count Cherep-Spiridovitch, who cites an alleged interview with German Chancellor Bismarck in 1876:

The division of the United States into two federations of equal force was decided long before the civil war by the High Financial Power of Europe. These bankers were afraid that the United States, if they remained in one block and as one nation, would attain economical and financial independence, which would upset the financial domination over the world. The voice of the Rothschilds predominated. They foresaw tremendous booty if they could substitute two feeble democracies indebted to the Jewish financiers for the vigorous republic confident and self-providing. Therefore they started their emissaries in order to exploit the question of slavery and thus to dig an abyss between the two parts of the republic….[iv]

The alleged quote from Bismarck goes on to praise Lincoln for being conscious of the plans of the “Jewish financiers” and for bypassing them with his own credit, for which he was assassinated.

The Czarist Count’s interest in this matter might be accounted for by:

1. His tendency, common among Czarist émigrés in the aftermath of the Bolshevik Revolution, where Jewish involvement was regarded as predominant because of the conspicuousness Trotsky, Zinoviev, Kamenev, Uritsky, Sverdlov, et al, to seek out explanations for all upheavals by tracing their origins to the Jews. The Count’s book, The Secret World Government, ascribes much of history to the “hidden hand” (sic) of Jewry. The Count sees the same “hidden hand” that killed Czar Nicholas and his family after the Bolshevik seizure, as being that which also assassinated Lincoln.[v]

2. The historically good relations that had existed between the United States and Czarist Russia. Cherep-Spiridovitch alludes to Russia being “friendly to the Union cause and in 1863, when the success of the cause looked doubtful, a fleet of Russian war ships came into the harbor in New York.”[vi] Cherep-Spiridovitch states that Czar Alexander II’s orders were for the Russian fleet to be ready to “take orders from Lincoln.”[vii]

These accounts have been repeated ever since, especially among Right-wing conspiracy theorists, but are incorrect. The circumstances of the Russian Atlantic Fleet’s entry into New York harbor are related by Marshall B Davidson, who captures the imagery of welcome and jubilation among New Yorkers at the arrival of the Russians. Davidson states that at the time there were many rumors as to why the Russians had arrived, chief among them being that they were there to assist the Union against the South.

. . . In any case, New York seems generally to have assumed that this was a “friendship visit,” and must indicate Russian support for the Northern cause—a legend that lost nothing in its retelling, over the years, and that was not finally put to rest until 1915.[viii]

The reference by Davidson that the matter was “finally put to rest” in 1915 is optimistic as the legend has remained firm among certain quarters, Cherep-Spiridovitch’s 1926 book being one such example. Marshall states that at the time the Russian ships sailed into New York and San Francisco, a potential for conflict had emerged between Russia and England, Austria and France over Russia’s suppression of the Polish revolt. In 1915 Dr Frank A Golder, having had access to official Russian records, wrote in the American Historical Review that the Russian visits were not ones of “friendship,” but had been highly secret manoeuvres to get the best of the Russian ships into safe ports, the concern being that they would be trapped in the event of conflict with the European powers.[ix] New York and San Francisco were the only convenient ports for the best ships of Russia’s Atlantic and Pacific squadrons. From here the Russian ships could harass British commercial routes. The manoeuvre seems to have succeeded, states Davidson, as there was no ultimatum against Russia. “That they came as interested supporters of the Northern cause was a notion concocted and nurtured by the Unionists who were only too happy to imagine it to be true,” writes Davidson.[x]

However, ninety-five years on from the article by Dr Golder, and the image of an alliance between Lincoln and Czar Alexander against “international financiers” and/or the Jewish “hidden hand” is still being nurtured. While those with what one might call a cynical attitude towards Jews see the presence of Judah P Benjamin as Confederate Secretary of State as sufficient reason to consider the South as nothing but a Rothschild contrivance, monetary reformers see Lincoln in heroic terms for his having issued the Greenbacks as state credit to bypass plutocratic interests. What is overlooked is that the Confederacy issued its own Greenback equivalent, known as Graybacks. Hence the scenario is that, for example, according to Rochelle Ascher, a supporter of Lyndon LaRouche, Lincoln fought the “British-backed New York banking system” bringing banking under control and issuing $450 million state-created Greenbacks to fund the war.[xi]

The very fact that the Confederacy was not supported by international finance caused the necessity of the Confederacy to generate its own credit. While an examination of the efficacy of government currency issue is not the subject of this essay, what should be noted is that price-inflation was caused in significant part by large-scale counterfeiting of Graybacks from the North, and was also affected greatly by public confidence or loss of confidence, depending on the development of the war. State currency amounted to 60% of the CSA revenue during the war.[xii] Marc Wiedenmier states that the money issued by the CSA was interest-free:

. . . [N]on-interest-bearing money remained the predominant medium of exchange in the Southern Confederacy despite the existence of large quantities of interest-bearing money…. state and Confederate governments forced banks to accept both types of money through de facto legal restrictions.[xiii]

The diehard manner by which myths about the Confederacy persist is accounted for by the presence of Judah P. Benjamin, more than by any other factor. Such a “Court Jew” (sic) can only be explained. So it goes, by the existence of a high-powered conspiracy that placed him in that position. We have previously seen how this attitude was taken up by the Czarist émigré Count Cherep-Spiridovitch, in 1926. The White Russian émigrés were to become very influential in shaping anti-Semitic ideologies outside Russia. Two obvious examples are Alfred Rosenberg who was to have a major input into the ideology of the National Socialist party in Germany; and Boris Brasol, a Czarist jurist who had been a member of a Russian trade delegation in the USA when the Russian revolutions destroyed his world, and who maintained influential contacts and was instrumental in popularising the Protocols of Zion in the USA. At any rate, the anti-Southern attitude was taken up by leading American conservatives whom one might normally expect to support the aristocratic and agrarian virtues and states’ rights of the South against Northern industrialism and plutocracy, and might have done so if it was not for the pervasive bugbear of Judah P. Benjamin.

One of the most prominent of the American conservatives was Gerald L. K. Smith, a force in his day first as aide to Louisiana’s Huey Long, then as an eloquent “America Firster” along with Father Coughlin, Charles Lindbergh, et al.[xiv] During the course of his long career attacking Communism, Zionism and Judaism, including what he states was his campaign in the South that was instrumental in the creation of the “Dixie Party,”[xv]Smith published an article on the War of Secession in which he states that,

. . . if we look behind the scenes we will find that the “slave question” was but the surface issue. Below the surface ran a current of intrigue that ended with the assassination of Abraham Lincoln because he was determined that the United State be free from the bondage of the international bankers.[xvi]

Smith cites a passage from a book by John Reeves, who was said to have had access to the Rothschild archives, in which Reeves states that the division of the USA was decided by the Rothschilds at the wedding of Leonara, daughter of Lionel, to her cousin, Alphonse, son of James of Paris, at the family gathering in the City of London, in 1857. British Prime Minister Disraeli is reported to have said that it was here that a plan was devised to divide the USA into two, split between James and Lionel.[xvii]

Be that as it may, Smith jumped to the conclusion that, “Judah P Benjamin was chosen by the Rothschilds to do their work in the United States and he was the first adviser to Jefferson Davis, the President of the Southern Confederacy…”[xviii] The claim is repeated that Czar Alexander knew of the Rothschild plans for the USA and that this was the reason for his dispatching ships to New York and San Francisco harbors. The article concludes with the often-used alleged material from Bismarck. Other articles attempting to relate the Confederacy to Rothschild domination follow the same pattern to the present time.

Judah P. Benjamin: Davis’ “Court Jew”?

As indicated by the several references above, the CSA’s alleged subservience to Rothschild interests centres around Judah P. Benjamin, Confederate Secretary of State, who is called by friend and foe alike the “brains of the Confederacy.”[xix]

Benjamin has been described not only as a “Rothschild agent,” but also as a “Rothschild relative.” Benjamin’s association with Rothschild agencies is said to have started early in his career. The LaRouche-sponsored “Modern History Project,” which sees the conspiratorial apparatus as of Anglo-imperialist[xx] rather than Jewish pedigree, for example, states:

Judah P. Benjamin (1811-84) of the law firm of Slidell, Benjamin and Conrad in Louisiana was a Rothschild agent who became Secretary of State for the Confederacy in 1862. His law partner John Slidell (August Belmont’s[xxi] wife’s uncle) was the Confederate envoy to France. Slidell’s daughter was married to Baron Frederick d’Erlanger in Frankfurt who was related to the Rothschilds and acted on their behalf. Slidell was the representative of the South who borrowed money from the d’Erlangers to finance the Confederacy.[xxii]

The conspiracy theorist Commander William Guy Carr wrote without evidence or references that, “Judah P. Benjamin, a Rothschild relative, was appointed as their professional strategist in America.”[xxiii] There does not appear to be any evidence of, or reason for believing, that Benjamin was a “relative of the Rothschilds.”

The attitude of Rothschild’s actual agent in the USA, August Belmont, who was also National Chairman of the Democratic Party, was, however, avidly and fanatically pro-Union. The attitude of the Rothschilds towards either side was cautious, but Belmont warned that if it were not Rothschild funding that was provided to the North, which Belmont was convinced would win any conflict, the Rothschilds’ rivals would take their place. The bankers who did emerge best from the war were J. and W. Seligman and Company who, “had been the main financial stay of Lincoln’s administration during the war and they reaped the benefits afterward.”[xxiv]

Diplomatic Failures with Europe

While it is generally held by friend and foe alike that the Rothschilds reigned above all in Europe, logic would suggest that Britain, France, and other states heavily influenced by Rothschild lending, would be inclined towards formal support for the Confederacy, if the CSA was a client state of the bankers. This was not the case, despite much being made of supposedly pro-South sentiments among some quarters in England and France.

Despite Benjamin’s efforts, diplomatic recognition by Britain was not forthcoming. Moreover, in 1863 Benjamin closed the CSA mission to England, and evicted the remaining British consular agents from the South.[xxv] This latter expulsion was at the direct instigation of Benjamin when he called a Cabinet meeting while Davis was en route to Tennessee, an action that nonetheless brought prompt agreement from Davis.[xxvi] Efforts to secure French recognition were also unsuccessful. Indeed, in a breach of supposed British neutrality, by 1863 around 75,000 Irishmen had volunteered to fight with the North, as did Germans and other foreign recruits.[xxvii]

Loans Not Forthcoming

As mentioned above, Seligman provided the North with its financial wherewithal, despite the claim that the Union stood against international finance, while the South was in thrall to usury.

The primary claim in regard to the “Rothschild” (sic) funding of the Confederacy is that an important loan was secured from the Erlanger bank in Paris. This financial arrangement was not however favorable to the Confederacy; it was nothing other than a typical money-lending deal that did the South no favors.

Much is made of CSA emissary and Benjamin’s former law partner John Sliddell’s daughter being engaged to Baron Erlanger; and of Slidell’s niece being married to August Belmont, the Rothschild representative to the Northern States.[xxviii] Despite the family connections, the Erlangers showed the Confederacy no support outside of a single usurious business deal. Benjamin personally negotiated the $2.5 million loan with Baron Emile Erlanger when the latter visited Richmond, Virginia. Benjamin hoped that involvement with the banking house of Erlanger and Cie, and with the Erlanger family, who were close friends and advisors to Emperor Louis Napoleon, would secure diplomatic relations with France,[xxix] having failed to make any headway with Britain. The original plan had been for a loan of $25 million to be repaid with bonds and the sale of cotton, with the Erlangers reaping a huge profit from a 23% commission and an additional 8% for handling the bonds.[xxx] Ironically, it was Benjamin who regarded the terms with outrage, as “usury.” Intensive face-to-face negotiations by Benjamin with Erlanger reduced the rate from 8% to 7%. Speculators and investors in Europe bought up the bonds and the Erlangers made a quick profit.[xxxi]

The seminal study on funding and diplomacy during the American Civil War is Jay Sexton’s[xxxii] Debtor Diplomacy.[xxxiii] Sexton does not try to obfuscate the role of international finance in politics. He states that the desire of the American states to gain European capital influenced foreign policy, and that the primary influence was that of Britain, and this influence was particularly evident during the Civil War. “Furthermore, the financial needs of the United States (and the Confederacy) imparted significant political power to an elite group of London-based financiers who became intimately involved in American foreign relations during this period,”[xxxiv] which Sexton describes as: “The unprecedented power of an elite group of international financiers.”[xxxv]

The mid-nineteenth century witnessed the great British-based banking houses reach the pinnacle of their power and influence in American affairs. Led by Baring Brothers, the Rothschilds, and George Peabody and Company (the predecessor to the house of J P Morgan), banks in the City of London were the architects of nearly every facet of the Atlantic economy. In addition to negotiating loans and marketing American securities abroad, banks such as the Barings and Rothschilds underwrote transatlantic trade, provided insurance, exchanged currencies, and compiled influential market reports. During the westward flow of capital across the Atlantic, however, remained the central function of the leasing transatlantic banks. Ninety percent of the United States’ foreign indebtness in 1861 was of British origin.[xxxvi]

The financial and commercial power of these banks “extended to them significant political and diplomatic influence on both sides of the Atlantic,” adds Sexton, and he alludes to the poem “Don Juan” by Lord Bryon, where it is stated that the Barings and the Rothschilds are the “true lords of Europe.” [xxxvii]

In the USA these bankers also exercised considerable influence through the connections of their emissaries; in particular August Belmont, and Thomas Ward and Daniel Webster acting for Barings, in Massachusetts, whom Sexton describes as “highly influential politicians and lobbyists.”[xxxviii] “These transnational banks established a network of high finance and high politics that connected Britain and the United State and merged international finance with international relations.”[xxxix]

Hence, Sexton confirms what so-called “conspiracy theorists” are often scoffed at for by academe and media; that there was—and is—an international elite of bankers who weld political power through their use of money and trade. This is also how another eminent historian, Dr Carroll Quigley of Harvard, described these same international bankers when he wrote that they are, “devoted to secrecy and the secret use of financial influence on political life.”[xl] Quigley described their aim as being:

[T]o form a single financial system on an international scale which manipulated the quantity and flow of money so that they were able to influence, if not control, governments on one side and industries on the other. The men who did this aspired to establish dynasties of international bankers and were at least as successful at this as were many of the dynastic political rulers.[xli]

Amidst the power of the financial elite over much of Europe and the North, the most that can be said for CSA relations with the supposedly pro-Confederate England is that Confederate emissaries secured Enfield rifles from the London Armoury, which also provided arms for the North.[xlii]

The only bank that was sympathetic to the Confederacy was Fraser, Trenholm, and Company, Liverpool, under the directorship of Charles Prioleau, which became the Confederacy’s “unofficial bank.” This hardly amounts to collusion between international finance and the Confederacy, let alone with the Rothschilds. As Sexton observes, “the bank was far from a financial powerhouse by most estimations,” but by 1860 had become a leading cotton importer.[xliii] Charles Prioleau was a South Carolinian, “who had long attempted to free the South from, as he viewed it, the economic hegemony of the North.”[xliv] Hence the motivation of the firm, headed by a Southerner, was not only one of Confederate sympathies but that the primary individual concerned, Prioleau, wanted to assist the South in opposing the plutocratic interests centred in the North. The company was responsible for arranging for the ships that ran the Northern blockade, and its own ships even flew the Confederate Flag. In 1861 CSA President Jefferson Davis authorized the use of the bank as the Confederacy’s depository.[xlv] However, the agency of this relatively modest bank could not compensate for the lack of credit from international finance, and already by 1862 the CSA’s account with Fraser, Trenholm, and Co. was in severe overdraft.

Considering the disruption of the cotton trade to England as the result of war what is remarkable is the lack of support that Britain showed the Confederacy, despite turning a blind eye to the supply of ships from Britain. What the international financiers of The City of London sought by 1862 was a quick diplomatic solution to the war. However, Sexton emphasizes that:

It is important to note that the Rothschilds, whose holdings of Southern states securities were minimal and were only tangentially involved in the cotton trade, did not financially nor politically support the Confederacy. Rothschild records clearly reveal the firm’s disdain for slavery. Nor, despite the myth, did the bank loan money to the Confederacy during the war.[xlvi]

Sexton states in a footnote in regard to the “myth” of Rothschild funding of the Confederacy that there is only one instance when the bank brokered (as distinct from purchased) a sale of Confederate bonds, for only $6,000, on behalf of Joseph Deynood in 1864. “This sole instance pales in comparison to the hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of Union bonds that the bank brokered in the same period.”[xlvii]

It was amidst this dire financial situation, denied the financial bloodline of international finance, that the Confederacy resorted to the issue of its equivalent to Lincoln’s Greenbacks, the Graybacks, for which Davis is seldom acknowledged by those who present Lincoln as a champion of banking reform against usury.


[i] K R Bolton, “State Credit and Reconstruction: The First NZ Labour Government”, International Journal of Social Economics, Issue 1, Volume 38. 2011.


[ii] The great poet’s pamphlets on banking and credit are particularly cogent, and are written in a style from which present day monetary reformers could learn. Pound’s pamphlets of the subject include: A Visiting Card, Gold & Work, Social Credit – An Impact, The Economic Nature of America, What is Money for?, The Revolution Betrayed.

[iii] The 6th of the 16 points of Fr. Coughlin’s National Union for Social Justice reads: “Abolition of private banking, and the institution of a central government bank.” Point 7: “ The ‘return’ to Congress of the right to coin and regulate money.” 8. “Control of the cost of living and the value of money by the central government bank.” However, private property was affirmed in point 4, other than the nationalization of strategic utilities and resources of national importance (3). The policy was, as one would expect, based on the Papal encyclicals on social justice, and the church’s historical repudiation of usury. The Church has long since obfuscated its sound “social doctrine” in favor of a banal type of “liberation theology.”

[iv] Maj. Gen. Count Cherep-Spiridovitch, The Secret World Government (New York: the Anti-Bolshevist Publishing Association, 1926), 180. The alleged quote was published in La Vieille France, N-216, March 1921, according to Cherep-Spiridovitch.

[v] Ibid., 181.

[vi] Ibid.

[vii] Ibid.

[viii] Marshall B Davidson, “A Royal Welcome for the Russian Navy,” America and Russia: a century and a half of dramatic encounters, edited by Oliver Jensen (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1962), 64.

[ix] Ibid., 69.

[x] Ibid., 70.

Marc Weidenmier, “Money and Finance in the Confederate State of America,” E H Net, http://eh.net/encyclopedia/article/weidenmier.finance.confederacy.us

[xiii] Ibid.

[xiv] Gerald L K Smith, Besieged Patriot: Autobiographical Episodes Exposing Communism, Traitorism and Zionism (Eureka Springs, Arkansas: Christian Nationalist Crusade, 1978).

[xv] Ibid., 37.

[xvi] Gerald L K Smith, “Abraham Lincoln and the Rothschilds: Civil War was not fought over slavery but financial freedom,” The Cross and the Flag, Arkansas, June, 1971. Also published as a leaflet.

[xvii] Smith, ibid., citing John Reeves, The Rothschilds: the financial rulers of nations, 228.

[xviii] Smith, ibid.

“The Brains of the Confederacy,” Jewish-American History Foundation, http://www.jewish-history.com/civilwar/judahpb.html

[xxi] August Belmont was Rothschild emissary for the Northern states.

[xxii] The Modern History Project, Chapter 2.1 “The Bank of the US.” http://www.modernhistoryproject.org/mhp/ArticleDisplay.php?Article=FinalWarn02-1

The claim that Slidell arranged the Erlanger loan is incorrect.

[xxiii] William Guy Carr, Pawns in the Game (California: Angriff Press, n.d.) 53.

[xxiv] Derek Wilson, Rothschild: the story of wealth and power (London: André Deutsch, 1988), 188.

[xxv] Albert N Rosen, op.cit., 294.

[xxvi] Ibid.

[xxvii] Robert Douthat Meade and William C Davis, op.cit., 296.

[xxviii] Robert N Rosen, op.cit., 79.

[xxix] Ibid.

[xxx] Ibid.

[xxxi] Ibid.

[xxxii] Oxford University Lecturer in American History.

[xxxiii] Jay Sexton, Debtor Finance: Finance and American Foreign Relations in the Civil War Era 1837-1873 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005).

[xxxiv] Ibid., 1.

[xxxv] Ibid., 12.

[xxxvi] Ibid.

[xxxvii] Ibid.

[xxxviii] Ibid., 13.

[xxxix] Ibid.

[xl] Carroll Quigley, Tragedy and Hope: A History of the World in Our Time (New York: MacMillan Co., 1966), 52.

[xli] Ibid., p. 51.

[xlii] Jay Sexton, op.cit., 142.

[xliii] Ibid., 144.

[xliv] Ibid..

[xlv] Ibid.

[xlvi] Ibid., 151. Sexton’s references to Rothschild disdain for slavery: “N M Rothschild and Sons to [August] Belmont,” 7 May, 9 July 1861, Rothschild Archive, London.

[xlvii] Ibid., 151; footnote 44.

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