Back to the Future
This introductory chapter begins by the discussing how the 2007–2008 financial crisis rocked the US economy and placed the status of the United States as a great power at risk. It reviews economic data which demonstrates that the relative importance of the United States within the global economic order is indeed declining. The chapter then sets out the book’s focus—a critical period in the economic history of the nineteenth century, the years 1836–1848. The period began with the collapse of a speculative boom and panic that caused a “paralysis of credit” among U.S. financial institutions. The panic was eventually followed by a dramatic decline in economic activity and defaults by eight of the country’s twenty-six state governments. By 1843, the United States was frozen out of international financial markets. The nation was thrown into political turmoil so deep that some observers wondered whether it could survive intact. Economic decline unleashed civil and political disorder and caused an unraveling of the unwritten compact that held the federal system together.
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