Boom and Bust
Boom and Bust
This chapter discusses events surrounding the 1836–1848 economic crisis. The crisis not only imposed massive economic costs on the nation, but also threatened to undermine social order and the integrity of the nation’s major public institutions. It is for this reason that it can be called the country’s First Great Depression. The crisis was a test of the maturity of the American polity. Since its founding, the United States professed its commitment to a decentralized system of government and broad political enfranchisement. But it was also an open economy, vulnerable to unexpected shocks from abroad, and dependent on the goodwill of foreign merchants and lenders. The question was whether the country’s political culture and institutions could accommodate the pressures that followed from its place in the international economy. In essence, an expansive and increasingly fractious polity would have to negotiate its response to economic problems that were poorly understood.
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