A Nation of Deadbeats: An Uncommon History of America's Financial Disasters

A Nation of Deadbeats: An Uncommon History of America's Financial Disasters

Scott Reynolds Nelson

Language: English

Pages: 368

ISBN: 0307474321

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


Pundits will argue that the 2008 financial crisis was the first crash in American history driven by consumer debt. But in this spirited, highly engaging account, Scott Reynolds Nelson demonstrates that consumer debt has underpinned almost every major financial panic in the nation’s history. From William Duer’s attempts to profit off the country’s post-Revolutionary War debt to an 1815 plan to sell English coats to Americans on credit, to the debt-fueled railroad expansion that precipitated the 1857 crash: in each case, the chain of banks, brokers, moneylenders, and insurance companies that separated borrowers and lenders made it impossible to distinguish good loans from bad. Bound up in this history are stories of national banks funded by smugglers, fistfights in Congress over the gold standard, America’s early dependence on British bankers, and how presidential campaigns were forged in controversies over private debt. An irreverent, wholly accessible, eye-opening book.

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Isaac for suggesting the wording here. 33. “From the Virginia Gazette,” National Gazette, Aug. 31, 1791. 34. Oliver Wolcott, Memoirs of the Administrations of Washington and John Adams, ed. George Gibbs (New York, 1846), 24. 35. Thomas Paine, The Decline and Fall of the English System of Finance (Paris, 1796), 31–32. 36. The cashier had latitude in assessing fees. For larger notes the board had to approve the discount. On 6 percent, see James O. Wettereau, “New Light on the First Bank of the

the Democrats’ land distribution scheme was extended to all lands south of Tennessee. By 1804 the minimum tract was lowered from 320 acres to 160; the new price was lowered from $2.00 to $1.64 per acre. For a little more than $260, and only $66 down, anyone could own a piece of the West. The potential for profit was real. Between 1797 and 1815, as long as artillery was rumbling and European wheat fields were burning, a barrel of flour could command nearly ten silver dollars in Philadelphia or New

As Jackson returned from the Adams inaugural in March 1825, he visited a tavern in Washington, Pennsylvania. A supporter stopped him there to shake his hand, noting: “Well, general, we did all we could for you here but the rascals at Washington cheated you out of it.” Jackson replied, “Indeed, my old friend, there was cheating, and corruption, and bribery too.”58 His angry reply was day one of the campaign for the presidential election of 1828. THE MAN WHO would transform national politics in

1864 and practically deserted the gates of the Confederate capital at Richmond in 1865. So ended James Henry Hammond’s dream of a cotton empire, and so ended the system of slavery that had made it possible. Cotton made from forced labor in India and Egypt competed with the southern empire’s fleecy staple. From 1866 to 1890 a glut in international exports caused cotton prices to slowly drop around the world. Cotton was no longer king. As the war concluded in April 1865, a Republican-dominated

the expectations of the CW&V, the Braidwood strike and lockout ended in a draw. The company was forced to make concessions, the most important of which was that the management sit down to talk with the leaders of the strike. The rate for coal fell slightly while the company made concessions on the price paid to mule drivers, the boys who drove the carts from the coal face to the trains.63 In less than ten years this would be young Anton’s job. Meanwhile, his father and his neighbors built a

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