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In the spring of 1837, people panicked as financial and economic uncertainty spread within and between New York, New Orleans, and London. Although the period of panic would dramatically influence political, cultural, and social history, those who panicked sought to erase from history their experiences of one of America's worst early financial crises. The Many Panics of 183 In the spring of 1837, people panicked as financial and economic uncertainty spread within and between New York, New Orleans, and London. Although the period of panic would dramatically influence political, cultural, and social history, those who panicked sought to erase from history their experiences of one of America's worst early financial crises. The Many Panics of 1837 reconstructs the period between March and May 1837 in order to make arguments about the national boundaries of history, the role of information in the economy, the personal and local nature of national and international events, the origins and dissemination of economic ideas, and most importantly, what actually happened in 1837. This riveting transatlantic cultural history, based on archival research on two continents, reveals how people transformed their experiences of financial crisis into the "Panic of 1837," a single event that would serve as a turning point in American history and an early inspiration for business cycle theory.


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In the spring of 1837, people panicked as financial and economic uncertainty spread within and between New York, New Orleans, and London. Although the period of panic would dramatically influence political, cultural, and social history, those who panicked sought to erase from history their experiences of one of America's worst early financial crises. The Many Panics of 183 In the spring of 1837, people panicked as financial and economic uncertainty spread within and between New York, New Orleans, and London. Although the period of panic would dramatically influence political, cultural, and social history, those who panicked sought to erase from history their experiences of one of America's worst early financial crises. The Many Panics of 1837 reconstructs the period between March and May 1837 in order to make arguments about the national boundaries of history, the role of information in the economy, the personal and local nature of national and international events, the origins and dissemination of economic ideas, and most importantly, what actually happened in 1837. This riveting transatlantic cultural history, based on archival research on two continents, reveals how people transformed their experiences of financial crisis into the "Panic of 1837," a single event that would serve as a turning point in American history and an early inspiration for business cycle theory.

43 review for The Many Panics of 1837: People, Politics, and the Creation of a Transatlantic Financial Crisis

  1. 4 out of 5

    Frank Stein

    This book shows what a dedicated financial historian can accomplish by assiduous perusal of the archives. In this case, such a historian can offer new insights into one of the most important crises of the 19th century, and show why even many people at the time were confused by what was happening. As the author shows, every modern American history textbook describes the Panic of 1837 as a monumental crisis, but they agree on almost nothing else about it. The panic is sometimes said to start in 183 This book shows what a dedicated financial historian can accomplish by assiduous perusal of the archives. In this case, such a historian can offer new insights into one of the most important crises of the 19th century, and show why even many people at the time were confused by what was happening. As the author shows, every modern American history textbook describes the Panic of 1837 as a monumental crisis, but they agree on almost nothing else about it. The panic is sometimes said to start in 1836, and continue even to 1842. It is blamed on Jackson's Species Circular, the distribution of specie to the western "Pet Banks," the policies of the Bank of England, random international gold flows, or just purblind terror. Almost all of these different explanations were in the air at the time of the panic, and all of course have some justification. Whigs tended to emphasize the national politic stories, Democrats the speculation of bankers and merchants, and individual merchants blamed other failed banks, terror, or the Bank of England. The first real hint of panic came on September 27, 1836, when news reached New York that the BOE, fearful of losing specie and suspicious of American banking expansion, refused to discount the paper of the seven "American houses" which usually traded on cotton sales. (The BOE's concern had been piqued by a speech by hard-money Democrat and chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, C.C. Camberlang, who cited questionable statistics to show "overtrading" in America, which speech had in turn been cited in English newspapers. The recent death of Nathan Rotshschild didn't help either though). But, after an interview with Liverpudlian bill broker, William Brown, the BOE reversed itself and kept discounting, but it continued pressuing the American houses, especially the "Three Ws" of Wiggins, Wilson, and Wildes, to pay back the bank as soon as they could. The money market stayed tight, cotton prices dropped, and, by February, several Liverpool houses failed, just as Americans, still in the midst of an inflationary spiral, were engaging in a "flour riot" in New York because of the high prices. Yet on March 4, 1837, the day of President Martin Van Buren's inauguration, the New Orleans merchant and banking company of Herman, Briggs, weighted down by a sunken cotton shipment on the Mississippi, as well as other perils, was inspected by 16 other local banks. Within days, the other banks declared it insolvent and closed it up. Ironically, the brand new penny-press, the New Orleans Picayune, published rumors at the same time that the House of Joseph in New York had failed. It wasn't true, but when the news of the Herman, Briggs company collapse reached New York, the Josephs did close up shop. A more general terror spread. Meanwhile, across the pond, unbeknownest to Americans, the BOE had decided to bail-out the "Three Ws" with big discounts, assisted by other London banks, as it so happened, on March 4. The slowness of communications and the ability of rumors to circulate in its absence is one of the themes of this book. And indeed, an odd wind prevented news from traveling across the Atlantic for almost two months, from early March to late April. On both sides of the Atlantic, separate crises spread in the interim. In New York, Nicholas Biddle and the Bank of the United States issued post-notes and bills to try to calm the crisis (and BUS notes seemed the only in the US people would accept). In London, the BOE agreed to loan to the Ws again, and this time without any collateral at all, with the promise that at least the Wildes and Co. bank would wind down. Both actions calmed markets for a moment. But on May 8th the Dry Dock Bank of New York suspended species payment, and the new New York mayor, and banker, Aaron Carter, organized an agreement for all city banks to suspend species payments entirely. The suspension spread through the country, and, counter to what later writers would argue, meant the end of the panic. When the news of the suspension reached London, the BOE decided, by one vote margin in its Board of Directors, to end their bailout of the "Three Ws," which soon suspended payments themselves. There too, trade began to revive after suspension. The Panic of 1837 was actually many panics, in many places, often for different reasons. Economists can show that all of them were connected by the international gold standard, but a good historian like the author here can also show how individual decisions in individual banks shaped events, for good or ill. They can also show how we're still wrestling with understanding the meaning of financial panics, and especially this one, today.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Grady

    This book, published in 2012 but based on the author’s 2007 dissertation, has a fairly specialized agenda. It offers a narrative history of financial turbulence in New Orleans, New York, and London from mid 1836 through June 1837, and a historiography of the way that turbulence became understood and interpreted as ‘the Panic of 1837’. A central paradox for the author is the way the Panic was - by historians in the 1860s through today - deemed to have started with the freezing of specie payments This book, published in 2012 but based on the author’s 2007 dissertation, has a fairly specialized agenda. It offers a narrative history of financial turbulence in New Orleans, New York, and London from mid 1836 through June 1837, and a historiography of the way that turbulence became understood and interpreted as ‘the Panic of 1837’. A central paradox for the author is the way the Panic was - by historians in the 1860s through today - deemed to have started with the freezing of specie payments by US banks and the Bank of England in May 1837. That’s a paradox because she finds, working from the primary sources, that May 1837 actually marks the end of a short period of intense anxiety and trading house failures in all three cities - the ‘many panics’ of the title. The book excels at the close-focus narrative history, although it’s not clear initially whether the book is presenting the central narrative of the turbulence, tracking the actual causes, or just a set of related experiences of merchants and bankers caught up in it. Deeper into the book, it becomes evident that the author is tracking the core actors. Because the United States had recently decentralized banking and weakened the Bank of the United States, while Britain had not yet weakened the Bank of England, the book also serves as a comparative history. (Spoiler: the Bank of England allowed merchant houses in Liverpool to fail, but initially acted as lender of last resort for several houses in the City; the New York and New Orleans banks failed at collective financial action, and instead froze specie payments; when that news made it back to Britain, the Bank of England froze specie payments as well. After that, economic conditions stabilized and began slowly to improve in all three cities). Lepler dedicates much attention to the ways contemporaries understood and spoke of the crisis. She argues that in the US, businessfolk and newspapers initially attributed bankruptcies to personal moral infirmity, but then relatively quickly framed the fiscal turbulence in partisan political terms, blaming either the Democrats (for weakening the Bank of the US) or the Whig merchants (for expanding the economy too quickly through use of credit). In Britain, the failures were understood as an economic problem, but largely blamed on too liberal reliance on credit and excessive absorption of specie by American banks, on the basis of a misunderstanding of the limited statistics available to the Bank of England. If your interest is in the blow by blow mechanics of how the crisis unfolded - who made what decisions, and with what effects - that’s here, in clear and elegant prose. You just have to wade through a lot of discussion of how people made sense of the chaos unfolding around them - and how, once committed to paper, those interpretations came to obscure the actual sequence of decisions before June 1837. There’s some detail on what happened after that date as well - particularly for main characters from the earlier part of the narrative - but Lepler isn’t nearly as interested how the recovery unfolded, or the social and political consequences of the multi-year economic depression that followed, except as that shaped the historiography of 1837.

  3. 4 out of 5

    John Turlockton

    Judging by the title, I was expecting a book about, well, the panic(s) of 1837 but it was more like the history of individual people and public opinion during 1836-7. A lot of very boring individual histories of people, what they thought, their motivations, the back and forth of their opinions, their negotiations with banks and other merchants etc, but absolutely no historical and/or economic overview of the actual panic itself, it's causes or impact. She spent a ridiculous amount of time talkin Judging by the title, I was expecting a book about, well, the panic(s) of 1837 but it was more like the history of individual people and public opinion during 1836-7. A lot of very boring individual histories of people, what they thought, their motivations, the back and forth of their opinions, their negotiations with banks and other merchants etc, but absolutely no historical and/or economic overview of the actual panic itself, it's causes or impact. She spent a ridiculous amount of time talking about public opinion without ever providing an overarching thesis or opinion throughout the book. It overall makes for very dull reading. The first chapter is the best where she explains the system of paper bills and Anglo-American trade. However, there are surely other books out there which will give a proper history of the panic, this book is very mistitled.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Matthew Rohn

    It's an informative book about the panic of 1837. It does a fine job at giving you information about it that isn't just a financial history. Lepler is absolutely amazing at writing opening lines in every chapter though It's an informative book about the panic of 1837. It does a fine job at giving you information about it that isn't just a financial history. Lepler is absolutely amazing at writing opening lines in every chapter though

  5. 4 out of 5

    Jason Slemons

    finance was bananas back then. national finance even more so.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Ed

    This book started out as a PhD dissertation. The detail that fills it is a consequence of that. While Lepler writes quite well, I might have wished for a somewhat breezier trip through this period. She looks at the panic of 1837 as her title suggests as several panics, which were rhetorically turned into a single panic for largely political reasons, that is to say, whose fault was the Panic. She describes events in New Orleans, New York and London in the months before the dat at which the Panic This book started out as a PhD dissertation. The detail that fills it is a consequence of that. While Lepler writes quite well, I might have wished for a somewhat breezier trip through this period. She looks at the panic of 1837 as her title suggests as several panics, which were rhetorically turned into a single panic for largely political reasons, that is to say, whose fault was the Panic. She describes events in New Orleans, New York and London in the months before the dat at which the Panic is usually said to have started. Doing this allows her to describe in detail what people were thinking and doing in that period. The general impression that I got was that many actions intended to prevent panic only increased it. What was most striking to me was the way in which the limits on transportation and communication [this was before the telegraph and trans-Atlantic steam ships] created increased difficulties. While ti took patience to read, I never wanted to give up. She portrays individual people so vividly that it was like reading a sprawling novel.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Lucia

  8. 5 out of 5

    Walker

  9. 4 out of 5

    Mark O'Donoghue

  10. 4 out of 5

    Emily Pawley

  11. 4 out of 5

    Randall Fockens

  12. 5 out of 5

    Zachary

  13. 4 out of 5

    Derek Donwerth

  14. 4 out of 5

    Eric Pecile

  15. 5 out of 5

    Anca Sandu

  16. 4 out of 5

    Theresa Arias

  17. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth

    As heard on Planet Money: http://www.npr.org/sections/money/201... As heard on Planet Money: http://www.npr.org/sections/money/201...

  18. 5 out of 5

    Tony

  19. 5 out of 5

    Turtle Bite

  20. 5 out of 5

    Natalie

  21. 4 out of 5

    Dael

  22. 5 out of 5

    Mark Cheathem

  23. 4 out of 5

    Ben

  24. 4 out of 5

    David

  25. 5 out of 5

    Srkal

  26. 4 out of 5

    John Baker

  27. 4 out of 5

    Chevan Nanayakkara

  28. 4 out of 5

    Lawrence T.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Mina baş Ejderha

  30. 5 out of 5

    James Rucker

  31. 4 out of 5

    Marko Mehner

  32. 5 out of 5

    Michael Calvillo

  33. 4 out of 5

    Rmariz

  34. 5 out of 5

    Joseph

  35. 4 out of 5

    Caleb

  36. 4 out of 5

    Fred

  37. 5 out of 5

    Nicholas Cox

  38. 5 out of 5

    Jessica

  39. 5 out of 5

    Dominic

  40. 4 out of 5

    Holly

  41. 5 out of 5

    Runwiththewind

  42. 4 out of 5

    Jessica

  43. 4 out of 5

    Vikster

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