Belmont Club

The King's Shilling

Stuart Varney of Fox Business complains that the government isn’t accepting TARP repayments from some banks because it would allow them to escape the mandated controls that are coming down the pike.

Here’s a true story first reported by my Fox News colleague Andrew Napolitano (with the names and some details obscured to prevent retaliation). … Fast forward to today, and that same bank is begging to give the money back. The chairman offers to write a check, now, with interest. He’s been sitting on the cash for months and has felt the dead hand of government threatening to run his business and dictate pay scales. He sees the writing on the wall and he wants out. But the Obama team says no, since unlike the smaller banks that gave their TARP money back, this bank is far more prominent. The bank has also been threatened with “adverse” consequences if its chairman persists. That’s politics talking, not economics. …

I’m an Englishman. We invented class warfare, and I know it when I see it. This legislation allows the administration to dictate pay for anyone working in any company that takes a dime of TARP money. This is a whip with which to thrash the unpopular bankers, a tool to advance the Obama administration’s goal of controlling the financial system.

After 35 years in America, I never thought I would see this. I still can’t quite believe we will sit by as this crisis is used to hand control of our economy over to government. But here we are, on the brink. Clearly, I have been naive.

Varney should have reached back deeper into English lore and recalled the ways of the Press Gang. In those days it was held that anyone in possession of the King’s Shilling — anybody who received money from the government — was indentured. The Urban Dictionary describes what role the King’s Shilling played in the recruitment — if that is the word — of seamen. It incidentally sheds light on the origin of glass beer mugs.

v. The act of forced conscription into the British navy. Used most commonly in the 19th century, as a means of crewing warships. Also known as “impressment”, it was a royally sanctioned activity that started with King Edward I.

Since most men were reluctant to join the navy due to low pay and the requirement of lifetime service, groups of ‘press-gangs’ would go around pubs on the coast of Britain, kidnapping men and forcing them into lifetime service. Anyone found in possession of the “King’s shilling” was thought to be a loyal subject, and thus a candidate for the royal navy.

The press-gangs would travel to various pubs, and drop shillings into the beer mugs of hapless victims. When the victim got to the bottom of their beer, they would find the king’s shilling, and the press-gang waiting for them outside to drag them off. Fancier pubs invented the glass bottomed beer mug so that their patrons could see if there was a king’s shilling in the bottom, and refuse the drink.

Press-ganging was one of the factors leading to the war of 1812. Press gangs would land on the coast of America and would “accidentally” press-gang American civilians into navy service. Over 6000 American men were kidnapped in this manner in the early 1800s.

Maybe history doesn’t repeat itself; but it sure rhymes. Speaking of rhymes …

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