DEFINITION of 'Bank Restriction Act of 1797'

An act passed by the British government in 1797 to free the central Bank of England from converting bank notes and other financial claims into gold. The act was created in response to the flood of paper money issued by the British government that resulted in an economic catastrophe.

BREAKING DOWN 'Bank Restriction Act of 1797'

In 1694, the Bank of England, a private corporation, was created out of the British government's need for cheap loans to finance its expenses. Three years later, the Bank was given monopoly rights that covered banking and note-issuing activities in England. However, once the war with France began in the 1790s, the British government's military expenses rose very quickly. Thus, the government issued paper notes that the Bank of England was expected to convert into gold on demand. But, by 1797, the Bank's gold reserves had been reduced to dangerously low levels as a result of heavy demands for gold redemptions from both domestic and foreign note holders. To save the Bank from bankruptcy, the British government passed the Bank Restriction Act. By the end of the war in 1814, bank notes outstanding had a face value of 28.4 million pounds on gold reserves of only 2.2 million pounds, which caused the British currency to depreciate about 30%, creating so much stress on the British economy that a gold standard was needed to stabilize the currency.

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