The year was 1840. Martin Van Buren was completing a Presidential term blighted by terrible economic depression. This era, called the Hard Times, resulted from years of reckless Western land speculation and the growth of unregulated banks issuing a flood of unsecured paper money. The prolonged depression ravaged America’s agriculture and industry and saw hundreds of thousands starving and unemployed.
Inherited from President Andrew Jackson was the Van Buren Administration’s faith in “hard money”— silver and gold—as the only reliable store of value in contrast to shaky credit and worthless paper money. Expressing this hard money outlook, the Mint strove from 1836 to 1840 to create a new circulating silver dollar. No dollar coin had appeared for circulation since 1804, when the last of the 1803-dated Draped Bust dollars were released.