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"Give me control of a nation's money and I care not who makes it's laws" — Mayer Amschel Bauer Rothschild

This prominent international banker is commonly quoted this. First, did he actually say it? Second, what was its context (when and where was he and what other things did he say shortly before or after this) if we know? Finally, seeing as how this is likely his most notable quote, did he ever reflect on it at a later time shedding some light on it?

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3 Answers 3

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The actual quote which is attributed to Mayer Amschel Rothschild is:

Permit me to issue and control the money of a nation, and I care not who makes its laws!

A number of sources (such as this one) claim that this statement was made in 1838 (which would have been a difficult feat as he would have been dead for 26 years by then). Wikiquote claims that there is no way to verify by whom, when or why it was made. It notes:

No primary source for this is known and the earliest attribution to him known is 1935 (Money Creators, Gertrude M. Coogan). Before that, "Let us control the money of a nation, and we care not who makes its laws" was said to be a "maxim" of the House of Rothschilds, or, even more vaguely, of the "money lenders of the Old World".

It is adapted from another well known quote:

Let me make the songs of a nation, and I care not who makes its laws.

This is in turn attributed to the Scot, Andrew Fletcher:

In An Account of a Conversation he made his well-known remark "I knew a very wise man so much of Sir Christopher's sentiment, that he believed if a man were permitted to make all the ballads, he need not care who should make the laws of a nation."

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6  
iow it's contributed to Rothschild most likely by conspiracy theorists wanting to paint a black system of "evil bankers controlling the world's governments" :) –  jwenting Mar 6 '13 at 13:23
    
I'm a little confused at your first source. It seems that there was more than one Rothschild with the names Meyer and Amschel. Maybe I have confused the two (or more). However, wikiquotes indicates that the earliest cite is 1935. What is the evidence that Mr. Daniel in that work was making a play on that old English proverb and not simply stating a commonly believed notion? +1 so far. –  fredsbend Mar 6 '13 at 18:50
    
@fredsbend In the Wikipedia article that you cite in your Question, his eldest son is named as Amschel Mayer Rothschild. –  Eugene Seidel Mar 7 '13 at 6:41
    
@fredsbend I've clarified the identity of the Rothschild with a link. As for the 1935 source, we simply don't know. It is suggested that if Mayer Amschel did make such a statement, then he was simply adapting an earlier saying. However, it is not certainly known if he actually made such a statement at all as the earliest record of it being made was written ~123 years after his death. Presumably Mr. Daniel did not cite a reliable source which makes the matter questionable in terms of its authenticity. –  coleopterist Mar 7 '13 at 7:13

The saying is apocryphal and was originated by the populist author T. Cushing Daniel in his testimony before the U.S. Congress in 1911 in hearings on House Resolution 314 (whether financiers were restricting trade by domination of the money supply). This is what Daniel said:

William Pitt made this statement: "Let the American people go into their debt-funding schemes and banking systems, and from that hour their boasted independence will be a mere phantom." He realized the maxim that Rothschilds laid down as fundamental: "Let us control the money of a country and we care not who makes its laws."

It is true that the Rothschilds had "maxims" and these were published by London weeklies in the 1890s. All of these maxims were homey things like "Be sure you are right, then go forward." Cushing simply invented the imaginary "control the money" maxim for the purposes of his books and testimony.

The original Rothschilds were very religious, modest people. Its hard to imagine Nathan R. or his brothers as having said such an arrogant thing and it conflicts with what is known about his personality. Long after Nathan R. was dead, during the period 1890-1910, which was a period of anti-trust and anti-wealth agitation in the United States many writers made up all kinds of stories to portray the Rothschilds and other "barons" according to their stereotypes of rich, arrogant puppet masters. These stereotypes often did not resemble the actual people.

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What he (probably) meant by it (who can say for sure now?) is that of all the possible means a government has to control and influence it's people, the issueing of money is the most powerful one. Even more powerful than law.

By creating new money, the government can decrease the value of the existing money in circulation, thereby lowering the buying power of those holding it. In turn it can use the created money to buy assets on the free market. It's not fair competition.

This quote is often used in (political) statements against fiat money. They reason that by inflating the money supply, governments are actually stealing the wealth from their people without them (directly) noticing it. It is much easier to just create new money than to raise taxes. Tax revolts were quitte common back in the old days, but inflation revolts? None would be the wiser untill it was too late. "Read my lips, I will not raise taxes.". He says nothing about national debt eh?

The United States, before they became independent of England, had issues with their (forced) use of the English pound, a currency which they did not control. The US constitution actually spends quite some words on trying to prevent US money from ever becoming fiat. Money should belong to the people was the founding fathers opinion, and not to the head of state. Thomas Jefferson has even been quoted as saying that

I believe that banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies.

So there you have it. Money is more powerful and dangerous than both laws and standing armies.

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Can you show us some sources with your answer? –  Bruce James 2 days ago
    
I agree with you, but you answered the question from an economist's standpoint, not an historian's. If you take a peek at the selected answer you will see that the earliest source we could find for this quote was over 100 years after Rothschild's death. Unless someone finds something else, I actually have no reason to believe that the quote originated with Rothschild. –  fredsbend 2 days ago
    
True. Sorry I'm a StackOverflow regular, not a history.stackexchange regular. I guess it shows. In my defense though I like to point out that I was answering the actual question being asked: "What did Rothschild actually mean by this famous quote?". This is why my answer does not focus on the origin of the quote but the meaning. Why would he compare the control of the nation's money supply with it's laws? Because control over the money supply is a tremendous political force. Also, I believed that the origin was already very well covered in the other answers. –  Stijn de Witt yesterday

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