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The Cycles of History: The Panic of 1857

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Interesting insights this morning from Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men: The Ideology of the Republican Party Before the Civil War by Eric Foner. I’ll let you draw your own parallels to our current challenges.

“As they were to do many times subsequently, Republicans blamed the Panic not on impersonal economic forces, but on the individual shortcomings of Americans, particularly their speculation in land and stocks which had reached ‘mania’ proportions in the years preceding the crash, and on generally extravagant living. The Cincinnati Gazette defined the basic economic problems as an overexpansion of the credit system, rooted in too many ‘great speculations.’ But speculation was only one aspect of the problem of general extravagance. ‘We have been living too fast,’ complained the Gazette. ‘Individuals, families, have been eagerly trying to outdo each other in dress, furniture, style and luxury.’ The Chicago Press and Tribune likewise blamed ‘ruinous extravagance’ and luxurious living’ for the economic troubles, and both papers urged a return to ‘republican simplicity,’ and the frugal, industrious ways of the Protestant ethic.”

Eric Foner, Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men: The ideology of the Republican Party Before the Civil War (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995). 24.freesoil

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