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America's First Great DepressionEconomic Crisis and Political Disorder after the Panic of 1837$
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Alasdair Roberts

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780801450334

Published to Cornell Scholarship Online: August 2016

DOI: 10.7591/cornell/9780801450334.001.0001

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The Federal Government’s Crisis

The Federal Government’s Crisis

(p.85) Chapter 3 The Federal Government’s Crisis
America's First Great Depression

Alasdair Roberts

Cornell University Press

This chapter discusses the impact of the First Great Depression on national politics. On the eve of the onset of the First Great Depression in spring 1837, the United States was a fragile compound, made up of sections and classes with sharply divergent views about the role of central government in taxing, spending, and regulating. The negotiation of these differences was difficult even in the best of times, and sometimes punctuated by moments of resistance to central authority so fierce that they stoked fears about the survival of the union. Holding the nation together under such circumstances required constant bargaining and the careful cultivation of good will, and often resulted in legislative pacts or mutual understandings. Prosperity made it easier to negotiate such pacts. But when times were hard, it became more difficult to keep the peace in Washington. Good will collapsed, old animosities were revived, and delicately wrought truces were unwound. As a result, the depression years became a long, painful test of the federal government’s capacity to manage sectional and class conflict.

Keywords:   First Great Depression, economic crisis, US economy, federal government, national politics, Washington, sectional conflict, class conflict

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