America’s First Great Depression: Economic Crisis and Political Disorder After the Panic of 1837

Alasdair Roberts. Cornell Univ., $26 (264p) ISBN 978-0-8014-5033-4
For the first 50 years after achieving independence, Americans had every reason to believe theirs to be the most fortunate of nations. Then came the Panic of 1837, which caused a hopelessness rendered worse by the optimism that had preceded it and resulted in a crisis that lasted until 1848. The analysis by Suffolk University Law School professor Roberts (The Logic of Discipline) reveals how this disaster led to epochal shifts in policy and culture, and his lively narrative and commitment to character ensure that the human cost is never out of sight. Roberts is especially keen to demonstrate how this mid-19th century ordeal relates to America’s current woes. The “hard times” of the 1830s led to financial ruin for state governments, a near-cessation of federal aid, and an outbreak of violent protests in many major cities. For Roberts, though, the most relevant parallel by far is the relationship between the U.S. and its primary foreign creditor: Great Britain. If today’s commentators worry about a growing Chinese threat, during the 19th century British ascension was an established fact; its military had no rival and its investors and industry served as “the real engine of American development.” This timely work suggests that the U.S. has spent more time as a global underdog than as an undisputed hegemon. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 01/30/2012
Release date: 04/01/2012
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Paperback - 255 pages - 978-0-8014-7886-4
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