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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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Law and Order

Law and Order

(p.137) Chapter 4 Law and Order
America's First Great Depression

Alasdair Roberts

Cornell University Press

This chapter discusses the impact of the First Great Depression on law and order. In cities and farms across the United States, economic decline awakened old grievances about inequities in the distribution of economic and political power. Disgruntled Americans were organized more easily to push for change, and many were willing to resort to violence to demonstrate their resistance to the status quo. This was most clearly the case in the northeastern United States, where agrarian and industrial laborers, not shackled by the institution of slavery, had the capacity to organize and articulate their grievances. The violence raised questions about the capacity of citizens to regulate themselves, and also about the ability of a nation organized on democratic principles to maintain civil peace. In Rhode Island, New York, and Philadelphia, authorities responded to severe outbreaks of violence in similar ways. Tentative attempts to maintain order eventually gave way to the ruthless suppression of resistance against established authority. Law and order had to be preserved, and police power became one of the essential requirements for the survival of a fragile, open economy.

Keywords:   First Great Depression, economic crisis, US economy, law and order, protests, uprising, inequality, police power

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