Civil War to Civil Rights
—Downtown Heritage Trail —
Billions for the war and a bunker for the president
The grand, pillared United States Treasury
building that stands before you was the financial command center for the Union during the Civil War. It was here between 1861 and 1865 that Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase raised the unprecedented sum of $2.7 billion to finance the government and the war.
Chase issued bonds, instituted internal revenue taxes, printed paper money called "greenbacks," and created the first personal income tax in the United States. He also revived the nation's early but short-lived system of national banks to provide financial stability — a network that remained in place until our present Federal Reserve System was established in 1913.
The first section of the Treasury was designed by Robert Mills in 1836. Throughout the Civil War, activity swirled here. The 5th Massachusetts camped here, cooking in the courtyard, and the basement became a bunker for the president and his cabinet in case of Confederate attack. It was here also that the short-handed federal government hired large numbers of women for the first time. These "lady clerks," as they were called, hand-trimmed the huge sheets of paper greenbacks invented by Secretary Chase.
In 1863 the Treasury provided the setting for an experiment
devised by President Lincoln. Here all loyal slave owners in the District of Columbia were paid to free their property. The concept, however, was never taken to other slave-holding communities.
(Captions, counter-clockwise from the top left)
Secretary Chase hired "lady clerks" to hand-cut his new greenbacks.
Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase's restored office.
This 1862 political cartoon captures Treasury Secretary Chase as "bleeding" funds from a willing United STates. At this time, a common method for treating illness was to drain some of the patient's blood.
Treasury's north front under construction, 1867.
Blanche K. Bruce, a U.S. senator from Mississippi, later served President James A. Garfield as the first African American Register of the Treasury. Born a slave, Bruce exemplified the civil rights gains made by African Americans as a result of the war and Reconstruction.