Making Monies in the Global South: Foreign and Domestic Currency Circuits in Antebellum New Orleans

Manuel Alejandro Bautista Gonzalez

Before the Civil War, New Orleans was the central entrepôt of the Cotton Kingdom, uniting and reuniting the interests of wealthy Yankee and English merchants with Southern planters and slave traders. However, a rendering of this Atlantic network is incomplete without considering that New Orleans was also the main antebellum U.S. port of trade with Latin America, especially Mexico. Latin American traders bought American and British goods and paid with them in silver dollars, even more so after the Mexican-American War, when considerable amounts of foreign metallic currency were injected into New Orleans and its hinterland. This paper is a first approach to explore the importance and linkages of foreign traders in this prime entrepôt of the antebellum era. The paper will be guided by Akinobu Kuroda's theoretical framework to explain the diversity of means of payment as an optimal solution for the demand of monies by different monetary circuits—that is, economic actors who required monies in different localities and temporalities due to a) their geographic dispersion, b) the temporality of their money usage, c) the seasonality of their activities, d) the varying degree of state intervention in the money, and e) the preferred denomination to conduct transactions within their short- or long-distance trade. This paper adopts the Kurodian concept of currency circuits to illuminate the functioning of a multilayered market demanding several differentiated monies. Particular attention will be paid to the behavior of the Mexican silver dollar and its exchange rates vis-à-vis notes from New Orleans and Northern banks. The paper will also assess the impact of the influx of foreign metallic currency into the region, with consideration of the actors benefiting from its intermediation and final usage.