Panic of 1837


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Economy and Culture—Readings, 1800-1845:

Speculation, Morality, and the
Panic of 1837


Compiled and Edited by Roy Richard Thomas





Economy and Culture  


Samuel Rezneck, Business Depressions and Financial Panics:  Collected Essays in American Business and Economic History (1971)


National Character  


Josiah Goddard, An Oration, Delivered on the Anniversary of Independence (1804)


John Hathaway Stevens, The Duty of Union in a Just War (1813)


[Chandler Robbins], Remarks on the Disorders of Literary Men, or An Inquiry into the Means of Preventing the Evils Usually Incident to Sedentary and Studious Habits (1825)


Royal Washburn, Evils Which Threaten Our Country (1829)


Samuel Nott, Jr., The Freedom of the Mind Demanded of American Freeman (1830)


Lydia Maria Child, The American Frugal Housewife (1832)


Brief Statement of Facts in Relation to the Western Railroad (from 1833)


E. P. Swift, Misdirection of Physical and Intellectual Effort (1837)


Philadelphia Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends, Address . . . By the Committee . . .to Have Charge of the Subject of Slavery (1839)


John H. Gourlie, An Address Delivered Before the Mercantile Library Association (1839)


C.S. Henry, The Position and Duties of the Educated Men of the Country (1840)


Enterprise, Insolvency, and Social Justice  


The Debtor’s Friend, Or Religious Advice to Persons Imprisoned for Debt (1813)


New York City Chamber of Commerce, Memorial Praying for a General System of Bankruptcy (1823)


Jonathan M. Wainwright, Inequality of Individual Wealth the Ordinance of Providence, and Essential to Civilization (1835)


James Lloyd Homer, An Address Delivered Before the Massachusetts Charitable Mechanic Association (1836)


            John Whipple, The Usury Laws (1836)


Leonard Bacon, The Duties Connected with the Present Commercial Distress (1837)


Henry Colman, The Times (1837)


Report in Relation to the Sunbury and Erie Railroad (from 1837)


The Pleasing Art of Money-Catching, and the Way to Thrive, by Turning a Penny to Advantage  (1840)


[Calvin Colton], The Crisis of the Country By Junius (1840)


Barrett Family Papers, Legal records, letters, bankruptcy (1841-1843)


P. Salmon, Bill of Horse [Cast in Marble] (1844)



Thrift, Widows, and Philanthropy  


Edward Streeter, Window on America (from 1814)


Massachusetts Congregational Charitable Society, Act of Incorporation . . . With Brief Sketch of Its Origin, Progress, and Purposes (1815)


Barber Beaumont, Esq., F.A.S., An Essay on Provident or Parish Banks (1816)


Burton Mansfield, History of Savings Banks in the United States (from 1816)


Boston Provident Institution for Savings, One Hundred Years of Savings Bank Service:  A Brief Account . . . (from 1816)


Leonard Woods, Duties of the Rich (1827)


            Pharcellus Church, The Philosophy of Benevolence (1836)


George Shepard, The Duty of Helping the Weak (1835)


Girard Trust Corn Exchange Bank, Girard Trust Company (from 1836)


Proposals of the Pennsylvania Company for Insurances on Lives and Granting Annuities  (1837)


Massachusetts Secretary of the Commonwealth, Abstract of the Returns of Insurance Companies  (1838)



A Consumers’ Republic  


Fourth Experiment of Living:  Living Without Means (1837; fiction)


Report of the Secretary of War; . . . Difficulties Which Took Place at the Payment of the Sac and Fox Annuities, Last Fall (under Treaty of 1842)


[William Crosby], I Will Be a Lady:  A Book for Girls (1844; fiction)

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Economy and Culture


Samuel Rezneck, in Business Depressions and Financial Panics:  Collected Essays in American Business and Economic History (Westport CT:  Greenwood, 1971, 201 pp.), presented six essays that had originally appeared in historical and economic journals between 1930 and 1960.   He wrote about the effects upon social cohesion in the United States of the hard times that occurred after financial crises in the nineteenth century:  1819-22, 1837-43, 1857-59, 1873-78, 1882-86, and 1893-97.  He also included two previously unpublished essays:  “The Sociology of American Depressions . . .” and “The Rise and Early Development of Industrial Consciousness . . . 1760-1830.”  In his Preface, Rezneck observed:

“As more and more people were drawn into the intricate interdependence of a modern industrial and market economy, its pulsations and swings became universal phenomena, affecting not only the level of business but equally social and political conditions, and particularly the state of mind and spirit of people, whether in a buoyant or depressed direction.”  [v.]

In the opinion of those whose views are expressed in these samples of the “state of mind and spirit of people,” the low point of the business cycle was an aberration that required more than an economic explanation and response.  None considered financial panics to be unpleasant but necessary purges of unsuccessful business models.  They slighted or ignored the virtue and benefits to society of risk taking and the accompanying possibility of failure.

Instead, they concentrated on what they perceived to be the moral and spiritual lapses that contributed to economic decline.  They believed they could ameliorate its consequences or even prevent its recurrence by educating individual citizens to their duties to God and country.

There is a geographical bias in this array, since most of these publications originated in New England, the Middle Atlantic States, or Washington DC.  They were selected from recent acquisitions of the Special Collections Department, Sheridan Libraries, Johns Hopkins University.       

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National Character

Josiah Goddard, An Oration, Delivered on the Anniversary of Independence, at Conway MA, on the Fourth of July, 1804 (Northampton MA:  Andrew Wright, 1804), 24 pp.

“. . .  That the right and power of government is primarily found in the people, is as evident as that all men are born equally free, which is the fundamental principle on which our noble Constitution is founded.  If this right be in the people, it follows, that every system which does not secure this right unto them is unjust, and opens the way for the most unbounded oppression, and ought to be despised and rejected.  But if not found in the people, it follows, that some men born rulers and others slaves, and that every exertion of the people to obtain their liberty, in the known world, has been unjust and rebellious, and even our Revolution which produced our Independence has been most [8] wicked rebellion, and this day ought ever to be held in memorable contempt.

That civil government was designed for the good of mankind, is indisputable.  That every political system which has not a tendency to produce this effect is evil, is undeniable.  That an effective government, administered by the express will of the people, is only calculated to that end, is as evident, as that all men are heirs by nature of equal rights.”  [7-8]

            . . .

“That religion is founded on the power of civil government, and supported thereby, is a most absurd idea, demonstrated by a world of evidences and known facts.  It has, it does, and it will flourish without its aid, and in spite of every opposition therefrom.  To protect all in the enjoyment of the inalienable rights of conscience, is the province of civil government—to control or dictate, is the province of DEITY.

Our Constitution is the first that has appeared in the world, wholly free from these deadly seeds, laying a foundation for the full enjoyment of religion, without being accountable to any man.  . . .”  [11]

John Hathaway Stevens, The Duty of Union in a Just War; A Discourse, Delivered in Stoneham MA, April 8, 1813, Being the Day of the State Fast (New Haven CT:  J. Barber, 1813), 24 pp.  “Third New York Edition, 1814.”

“Pride is a sin which has greatly prevailed in this nation.  We have been lifted up with pride.  We have been proud of our independence; proud of our liberty; proud of our constitutions of government; proud of our rulers, our numbers, and wealth.  Some have been proud of their religion; and others of their wickedness, glorying in their shame.  Pride is a hateful, dangerous sin.  . . .  [8]

Profaneness is another awful sin in our land. . . .  Intemperance is another prevalent sin in this nation; the intemperate use of spirituous liquors has been awfully alarming.  It is thought by some, that ardent spirits consumed in this nation, cost more than to maintain government.  . . .  This vice leads on to many others, such as idleness, gaming, lewdness, and the like.  This sin has become so prevalent and alarming, the serious people through the state and nation, are uniting together, and forming societies for the express purpose of suppressing it.

Falsehood is another great sin.  . . .  Gaming and vain amusements are prevailing sins . . .  [9] Lewdness, perjury, and oppression, are great sins in this land.  Division, strife, and contention [regarding the War of 1812], are abounding sins, which threaten the ruin of our nation.  . . .”  [7-9]


[Chandler Robbins], Remarks on the Disorders of Literary Men, or An Inquiry into the Means of Preventing the Evils Usually Incident to Sedentary and Studious Habits (Boston:  Cummings, Hilliard & Co., 1825; Benton Harbor MI:  Israelite House of David, 1974), 92 pp.

“The remarks offered to the public in the following pages were originally suggested by the lamented indisposition of the distinguished [Reverend Francis William Pitt Greenwood] to whom they are inscribed.  They first appeared as a series of Essays in the Boston Medical Intelligencer.  . . .” [Preface]

“Section V.  Female Society.  In our preceding pages we have adverted to the best modes of amusement and relaxation for those hours, during which the usual employments of the student are suspended.  In making choice of these amusements, reference must be had to the peculiar habits of men of this character; what to vulgar minds would afford satisfaction, can have no charms for them; they require something intellectual, even in their intervals of occupation; and their pleasures must partake more or less of that exalted character which belongs peculiarly to their to their serious employments.

            Nothing is so well calculated to [accomplish] the object that we have mentioned, nothing so admirably fitted to fill up the elegant leisure of the scholar, as the society of women.  That the society of the intelligent and refined of either sex can afford great pleasure, and that to those who are capable of enjoying it, it is the greatest of all enjoyments, is [69] undoubted—but the softer sex must be allowed to possess some peculiar advantages.

Conversation with men requires some exertion, exacts some labor; there must always be something more or less approaching to contention, in discussions with those who are constituted like ourselves.  If our opinions are different, there will be dispute in maintaining them—if similar, [rivalry] in expressing them; and in consequence there will be more or less effort.  In conversation with women there is nothing of all this; nature has established a mutual spirit of concession between the sexes, which prevents it.

If we dispute a female, it is because by so doing we protract the pleasure of conversation.  If we assent to her opinion, it is the heart that [acts] before the understanding, and the latter becomes a willing slave to the former.  The man of letters experiences this more than any other.  Habitually devoted to what is beautiful and engaging, he finds in the society of women his fairest visions realized.  Their gaiety, charms, and their wit amuses him; while on the other hand, he finds, in the hope of creating a [70] corresponding emotion, both the motive and the means of eloquence.” [68-70]

            . . .

“Women are neither required nor expected to gain a profound knowledge of the sciences, far less do they add to their charms by a display of their acquirements; but a cultivated taste, and an acquaintance with the various subjects of knowledge, are necessary to give the female character its just weight in polished society, and, [74] by enabling them to enter into the feelings and views of those around them, to render them what they should be, the most delightful companions of our hours of relaxation, and the most valuable friends and supporters in periods of melancholy and sorrow.  . . .” [73-74]


Royal Washburn, Evils Which Threaten Our Country:  A Sermon Delivered in Amherst MA First Parish on Thursday, April 9,1829, the Day of Public Fast (Amherst MA: J.S. & C. Adams, 1829), 22 pp.

“Some of the things ominous of evil I shall mention.  Much is to be feared from the increasing wealth of the country.  Never has it been known that national opulence was not connected as the cause with national corruption, and never will this be known until human nature is changed, or more powerful moral causes are brought to counteract this tendency than ever have been.  This nation has the facilities of becoming immensely rich, and it is improving them with a spirit of enterprise that has never been equaled.  The nation is growing rich, and riches furnish means for the gratification of the corrupt passions.  Pride, love of external show, luxury, and even profligacy follow in their train, and are fast increasing through the land.

In connection with this I mention, as a source of danger, the general prevalence of a worldly spirit.  From the character of our people, from the nature of our free institutions, from the unbounded field which here opens to worldly enterprise, as well as from the success which has hitherto crowned exertion, worldly interests and speculations come to occupy an almost exclusive share of attention.  A worldly spirit pervades all classes of our fellow citizens, almost to exclude entirely other interests.  [8]  We are in danger of becoming a thoroughly worldly people . . . [that] form the habit of deciding all questions, not on the ground of right and duty, but on the ground of mere expediency—a test which shows a nation far declined from that righteousness which exalteth. [sic]

I mention also intemperance, and profaneness with their whole family of vulgar sins . . .

Another evil that spreads gloom over our future prospects is the increasing neglect of the public worship of God.  . . .  In New York City it is ascertained that one hundred [9] thousand souls are connected with no religious society.  . . .  About the same proportion are in a similar situation in Philadelphia.”  [7-9]

            . . .

“Another thing, which forebodes evil to our country, is the increasing corruption of the periodical press.  The press is an engine of vast power.  It is so especially, in a country where the whole population can read.  A free press exerts a mighty sway, and many a politician has placed his hopes of the permanency of our government.  This he has thought was to distinguish us from other republics, which have been destroyed.  But it should not be forgotten that a free press may be licentious and unprincipled, and then all its mighty influence corrupts and destroys.  It has become so in other lands, and its influence been most deadly.  We have reason to fear it is fast becoming here.

The American press now sends forth more than thirteen hundred newspapers.  Most of these are [12] devoted chiefly to the politics of the country.  . . .  Papers, whose columns are loaded with personal scandal or positive falsehood, are read with great avidity by thousands and millions.  What must be the moral taste of our fellow citizens already?”  [11-12]

Samuel Nott, Jr., The Freedom of the Mind Demanded of American Freeman; Being Lectures to the Lyceum, on the Development of the People (Boston:  Crocker & Brewster, 1830), 131 pp.


“This course of Lectures was prepared for the Lyceum, Wareham, Mass., the place of the author’s residence.” [32]


“Preface.  There has been no end, and there appears no prospect of an end to the appeal to the people on their civil rights and privileges.  The press teems with folios that are scattered many times a week, through the whole community, displaying to the American people the rights of man, and stimulating them to the extreme point of the demand.  Let no one object to this work for which there are so many ready and active hands, if the Patriots of the periodical press will be the steady advocates of [vi] principles, instead of the vacillating organs and instruments of party zeal.

It is grateful however to perceive an aspiring in the spirits of the people, for a higher liberty—a liberty of the noblest character, which has no blood to shed in revolutionary battles; and no party warfare to maintain in its extension and establishment; a liberty which makes man FREE [sic] on whatever soil he treads, and under whatever government he lives; and which, if by the favor of Providence, it should become as universal as the elective franchise would secure the civil liberty and the happiness of our country, and make the United States the example and ornament of the human race.

Every conscientious and careful Student in the common walks of life is a specimen of such a freedom—The freedom of the mind.  If there had not been many such, our civil freedom would never have been either conceived or realized; and if it should be perverted or lost, it will be because their number and worth have not increased with the growth and necessities of the country.  [vii]

The Lyceum, is a hall of patriotism for the Union, and improvement; for the influence and increase of such freemen, which will do more for the cause of civil liberty, than the caucuses of party politics.  For if the plans are carried into execution, if its designs prevail, it will produce a community, which the sophistry of party zeal will not long assail, because it cannot with its fickle light be forever exciting and misguiding them: over which ignorance and baseness would not dare to rule, even if such a people would construct a ladder for their ascent to the heights of office.

Let us hope that the Master-spirits of our country, will become the leaders and guides of the people in their struggles for deliverance from mental bondage—in their [aspirations] and efforts for mental freedom; that the time may be hastened on, for laying the top-stone of the temple of our liberty: and that the dangers which threaten its unfinished walls may be forever averted.  The finishing and the securing of this whole structure, will not be accomplished by the [viii] preparations and skirmishes of party warfare nor by grand battles [every four years]; nor by repairing and renewing our constitutions, but by renewing and creating those mental habits which alone can make self-government the glory and happiness of any people.

Let us hope that every town and village will find within itself, not only candidates worthy to represent the predominant party in the state legislature, and to sustain the minor offices of civil society, but men released from the bondage of the mind; who shall be examples, and advocates and aids of mental freedom.  And that those whom divine Providence has blessed with higher opportunities, will neither bury themselves in professional duties; nor vent all their patriotism in aspiring for high official station, but by an example of liberal studies, and by exciting the exchange of thought, and by laying their hand upon the great Lever of public opinion, possess and exert a power which is not gained in the halls of state—or national legislation—in the [ix] Cabinet or in the Presidential chair.  That they will exert an influence upon the public welfare, which shall endure for ages and command the gratitude of the present and future generations.  Wareham, Mass., March 15th, 1830.”  [v-ix]


“Lecture I.  American Opportunity.  We are all familiar with the praise that among ourselves is lavished upon the condition of the American people.  Every child knows and adopts the popular sentiment, that ours is the happiest nation on the globe.  I fear that we are guilty in this matter of an inconsiderate vanity, which withholds the glory of our mercies from God’s good Providence and prevents us from receiving their full benefit.”  [2]

            . . .

“It may be questioned whether our equality of rank forms an important part of our moral and mental opportunity, except as it tends to perpetuate our means of knowledge; but if it be, we must look at that facility of intercourse, which thus exists, and which gives opportunity for a free circulation of all that is good and useful through the entire mass, and at that motive to the highest exertions which it applies to every mind.  . . .  In every view, the framework of our society, as our proper inheritance from our ancestors, gives the opportunity for mental improvement; not by means of giving us indolence and luxury, but by putting it in our power to possess ourselves of the wisdom of all human experience.  So that nothing is in the way of our becoming, en masse, a refined, intelligent, and virtuous nation.”  [16]

            . . .

“If we would preserve the blessings of our own inheritance, and show an example to all nations that shall allure them to substantial blessings, we must add to our exhibition of free constitutions, a display of the freedom of the mind.  With all the civil immunities of the nobility and gentry of other nations, we must show, that it is possible, on our broad table land to acquire the intelligence, the urbanity, the refinement, which may be found among the finest specimens of noble birth.  Let us show to the enslaved nations that they have a nobler battle to fight than against Kings and Emperors; that if, they will establish a liberty which will set them free, whatever be their outward form of government, they must assert and vindicate the freedom of the mind.”  [30]

            . . . 

“Lecture II.  Leisure in the Midst of Business.  This Lyceum was formed and we are now met together in the true spirit of our republican institutions.  We have come up from our farms, our mechanic shops, and our counters.  I may even say also, from our needles and our housewifery, to assert our claim to a true republican freedom, the freedom of the mind.  We have come to appropriate to ourselves, the uses and ornaments of true science and philosophy.  We believe that the privilege and glory of our country consist, in the expansion and improvement of the public soul; and not in the mere extension of the elective franchise, which fools and knaves can enjoy in common with wise and honest men.  We hold by our political constitution our civil freedom, but we will not consider the blessing of our condition complete, until we unite with it the freedom of our minds, and expatiate without restraint in the fields of science and philosophy.”  [32]

            . . .

“The false and enslaving maxim which is to be considered this evening is that men of business and toil have no leisure for study and improvement.  This maxim takes it for granted that the avocations and toils of life are so numerous and constant, as to prevent any regular and sufficient intervals for study and improvement; or that intervals of sufficient length and regularity are rendered useless by the unavoidable distractions and fatigues which they occasion.  [Thus,] in our country, study and improvement are considered for the most part as the proper business of the learned professions, whose whole time in youth and manhood is separated to intellectual leisure.  This is chain enough.  If those who are occupied in the proper business concerns of life, and its severest toils, have no time for study, then the great mass of society is doomed to mental degradation; and the independence of the mind can never be declared, until the day is more than twenty-four hours long.  [36]  . . .

Suppose that twelve hours be spent in labor, eight in sleep, two in meals and recreation, are there not two hours left in every twenty-four?  We ask for one of those two hours to be devoted to study, hard study, leaving the other for lighter occupations; study from day to day and from year to year.  . . .  Each one must find it for himself.  If he has not yet found it, and asks where it is, we tell him to look for it among his hours of vacancy, which most men, by habit, waste unconsciously, and without conscience.”  [36-37]

            . . .

“Lecture III.  Self Improvement.  . . .  Indeed it is the proper business of the schools to develop the principles of self-improvement; and not to complete a mere mechanical education.  That pupil is badly educated, who leaves his teachers with the impression that his education is finished.”  [53]

            . . .

“Lecture IV.  Mental Pleasures Open to the Public.  . . .  Intellectual pleasures are worthy of still higher regard [than mere conversation or personal correspondence], because they combine with and exalt those of morals and religion.  Instead of withdrawing us from the highest and most enduring pleasures of which we are capable, they harmonize with them, and both exalt and are exalted by them.  For science in her place does but lead the mind forth to more full discoveries of the wisdom and goodness of God; and religion does but carry it back with every [83] fresh accession of knowledge, to adore, and love, and praise him.  . . .

Let us hail the Lyceum as the safeguard of the country.  It prepares no amusement to dissipate and weaken the mind.  It arranges and fills no seat of the scornful; it spreads no board; it fills no cup of intemperate indulgence.  But, without force or clamor by its books, its apparatus, its lectures, its conversations, it leads them forth to the fountains of refinement, of intellectual light, or moral renovation.”  [82-83]

            . . . 

“Lecture V.  The Claims of the Rising Generation.  The chief inducement to studious habits is that they fit us to be useful; that in proportion to the improvement of one’s faculties, and the furniture of one’s mind, he may expect to be useful to all the interests of society.  . . .  We ought as Christians, as patriots, as neighbors, as parents, and even as brothers and sisters, to consider it as motive enough, that by the careful cultivation of our own minds, we may be more useful to society, to our families, our kindred, our neighbors, our country, and the world.”    [84]

            . . .

“The Lyceum is admirably fitted to cooperate with our political and circumstantial facilities, in recovering our families and common schools from their present condition.  For its object is to unite the whole people in the acquisition and diffusion of agreeable and useful knowledge.  Let us make the Lyceum a Central Academy; where we may mutually teach and be taught; where the most enlightened of us may come to a fountain of more light; and where with all our ignorance we may meet a light so soft and gentle that it shall not hurt our mental eye.”  [98]

            . . .

“The like necessity exists with reference to that professional worth, which should pervade with benign influence, families and schools and all the relations and divisions of society.  It is not enough, that professional men have had the advantage of studying the rudiments of general knowledge and the theories of their own particular professions.  How likely if they mix mainly with the unenlightened and unrefined, that they will forget as rapidly as possible, all that is not called into use by the routine of their [100] professions?”  [99-100]

            . . .

“Lecture VI.  The Demands of Business.  It is owing to the want of just views of the demands of our complicated nature that men are wont to limit the question of utility, to what [serves] one’s livelihood.  . . .  [In reality,] it is not possible to separate our moral and intellectual culture from a most useful influence upon the common affairs and business of life.  Every man in proportion to his mental improvement, is so [102] much better prepared to turn to good account all the favorable circumstances of his lot, and to obviate the difficulties which more or less, sooner or later, beset every path of life.

The habit of daily study, places the mind in the fittest condition for a skilful and willing attention to business.  . . .  No doubt that owing to false principles, or special personal defects in character, there may be cases of a disrelish for business, created by scientific pursuits; though I apprehend the specimens are less numerous than the objection supposes.  While on the other hand, scores of instances might be quoted of persons, who were previously indolent, becoming by means of mental training more fitted to a business activity.  Few men of reading and study are drones in their proper business.  Most idlers in business are idle in the care of their minds.  [103]  . . .  In the progress of improvement [in learning], labor even in the field and in the shop would cease to be a stigma—and the temptation to shun it, which human pride feels would be no more; and he who should aspire to be a gentleman and to enjoy the society of gentlemen, would attain it by a more sensible course, than by quitting his shop and his field.”  [101-103]

            . . .

“Lecture VII.  The Freedom of the Mind Made Perfect.  I cannot separate the freedom of the mind, from that moral liberty which a sinner needs and needs forever.  That is no just philosophy that gives to a creature an independent wisdom; or to immortal beings, but the promise of life that now is.  Such philosophy is a mockery, and will disappoint the man or the community or the whole train of dying generations who may follow its deceiving light.  That is the true philosophy which leads the mind to the communion with its Maker; which opens the eye to behold Him in his works and in his word, and inclines the heart to repose upon his favor and to follow his pilgrimage of life and forever; which aims at pervading the entire people with hearty trust in the ALMIGHTY [sic]; at conveying the freeman of earth, to the freedom of immortality.  To this true philosophy, a philosophy for time and for eternity, intellectual culture is subservient; and the highest motive to the self-improvement we have urged, and for promoting the improvement of others, is its tendency to spiritual and [119] everlasting blessings—to a liberty that will have no end.

I have already referred to the Bible as a textbook for intellectual improvement.  . . .  The doctrines and precepts of the Bible are revealed to us in connection with the history and customs of antiquity, and offer as the rewards of extensive and various historical research a more distinct outline and brighter light.  . . .  Thus are we called forth into the boundless paths of natural science, a means of apprehension and impression of the transforming truths of God.”  [118-119]

            . . .

“And oh, let us turn in horror from that deceptive philosophy [130] which confines us to this world, from which we are so soon to pass away; which withdraws us in our impurity from the fountain of Purity; and which will deliver us uncleaned [sic] into the bosom of Eternity; and will make us base and wicked spirits forever; and which if this generation shall give its character to those which follow, will make our growing country a more and more gloomy theatre of preparation for an eternity of sin and woe.

But we are not the advocates of that deceptive Philosophy.  The Lyceum is no temple of another God that made not the heavens and the earth; but we would enter it as the vestibule of the temple of the Lord God of Hosts.”  [129-130]

            . . .

“The Lyceum speaks with a Christian tongue when it calls you to the freedom of the mind; to a freedom which will pass the grave and endure eternity.  How commanding the motive, which calls us to study intently, earnestly, progressively, the works and word of Him who is calling us upwards to his temple, to go no more out forever—where we shall increase in knowledge, and where our faculties will expand forever.  Let us escape from the slavery that enchains us now—from our intellectual, above all from our moral bondage.  LET THE SOUL HAVE SCOPE, THAT ETHEREAL SPIRIT WHICH WILL SOAR FOREVER.  THE END”  [131]


Lydia Maria Child, The American Frugal Housewife, Dedicated to Those Who Are Not Ashamed of Economy, by Mrs. Child (Boston:  Carter, Hendee, 1832), 130 pp.


“The true economy of housekeeping is simply the art of gathering up all the fragments, so that nothing be lost.  I mean fragments of time, as well as materials.  Nothing should be thrown away so long as it is possible to make any use of it, however trifling that use may be; and whatever be the size of a family, every member should be employed either in earning or saving money.  ‘Time is money.’  [1]

            . . .

“If you are about to furnish a house, do not spend all your money, be it much or little.  Do not let the beauty of this thing, the cheapness of that, tempt you to buy unnecessary articles.  . . .  Buy merely enough to get along with at first.  It is only by experience that you can tell what will be the wants of your family.  If you spend all your money, you will find you have purchased many things you do not want.  If you have enough, and more than enough, to get everything suitable to your situation, do not think you must spend it all, merely because you happen to have it.

Begin humbly.  As riches increase, it is easy and pleasant to increase in hospitality and splendor; but it is always painful and inconvenient to decrease.  After all, these things are viewed in the proper light by the truly judicious and respectable.  . . .  These qualities are always praised, and always treated with respect and attention.  The consideration which many purchase by living beyond their income, and of course living upon others, is not worth the trouble it costs.

The glare there is about this false and wicked parade is deceptive; it does not in fact procure a man valuable friends, or extensive influence.  More than than, it is wrong—morally wrong, so far as the individual is concerned; and injurious beyond calculation to the interests [6] of our country.

To what are the increasing beggary and discouraged exertions of the present period owing?  A multitude of causes have no doubt tended to increase the evil; but the root of the whole matter is the extravagance of all classes of people.  We never shall be prosperous till we make pride and vanity yield to the dictates of honesty and prudence!  We shall never be free from embarrassment until we cease to be ashamed of industry and economy.

Let women do their share towards reformation—Let their fathers and husbands see them happy without finery; and if their husbands and fathers have (as is often the case) a foolish pride in seeing them decorated, let them gently and gradually check this feeling, by showing that they have better and surer means of commanding respect—Let them prove, by the exertion of ingenuity and economy, that neatness, good taste, and gentility, are attainable without great expense.”  [5-6]

            . . .

“There is one kind of extravagance rapidly increasing in this country, which, in its effects on our purses and our habits, is one of the worst kinds of extravagance; I mean the rage for traveling, and for public amusements.  The good old home habits of our ancestors are breaking up—it will be well if our virtue and freedom do not follow them!

It is easy to laugh at such prognostics—and we are well aware that the virtue we preach is considered almost obsolete—but let any reflecting mind inquire how decay has begun in all republics, and then let them calmly ask themselves whether we are in no danger, departing thus rapidly from the simplicity and industry of our forefathers.  Nations do not plunge at once into ruin—governments do not change suddenly—the causes which bring about the final blow, are scarcely perceptible in the beginning; but they increase in numbers, and in power.  They press harder and harder upon the energies and virtues of a people; and the last steps only are alarmingly hurried and irregular.

A republic without industry, economy, and integrity, is Samson shorn of his locks.  A luxurious and idle republic!   Look at the phrase!—The words were never made to be married together; everybody sees it would be death to one of them.

And are not we becoming luxurious and idle?  Look at out steamboats, and stages, and taverns!  There you will find mechanics, who have left debts and employment to take care of themselves, while they go take a peep at the great canal or the opera dancers.  There you will find domestics all agog for their wages-worth of traveling; why should they look out for ‘a rainy day?’  There are hospitals enough to provide for them in sickness; and as for marrying, they have no idea of that, till they can find a man who will support them genteelly.  There you will find mothers, who have left the children at home with Betsey, while they go to improve their minds at the Mountain House, or the Springs.  [100]

If only the rich did this, all would be well.  They benefit others, and do not injure themselves.  In any situation, idleness is their curse, and uneasiness is the tax they must pay for their affluence.  But their restlessness is as great a benefit to the community as the motions of Prince Esterhazy, when at every step the pearls drop from his coat.

People of modest fortune have just as good a right to travel as the wealthy; but is it not unwise?  Do they not injure themselves and their families?  You say traveling is cheap.  So is staying at home.  Besides, do you count all the costs?      . . .  Children are perhaps left with domestics, or strangers, their health and morals, to say the least, under very uncertain influence.  Your substance is wasted in your absence by those who have no self-interest to prompt them to carefulness.  You form an acquaintance with a multitude of people, who will be sure to take your house in their way, when they travel next year.  Finally, you become so accustomed to excitement, that home appears insipid, and it requires no small effort to return to the quiet routine of your duties.

And what do you get in return for all this?  Some pleasant scenes, which will soon seem to you like a dream; some pleasant faces, which you will never see again; and much of crowd, and toil, and dust, and bustle.”  [99-100]

            . . .

“However, it is not our farmers, who are in the greatest danger of this species of extravagance; for we look to that class of people, as the strongest hold of republican simplicity, industry, and virtue.  It is from adventurers, swindlers, broken down traders—all that rapidly increasing class of idlers, too genteel to work, and too proud to beg—that we have most reason to dread examples of extravagance.  A very respectable tavern keeper has lately been driven to establish a rule, that no customer shall be allowed to rise from the table till he pays for his meal.  ‘I know it is rude to give such orders to honest men,’ said he, ‘and three years ago I would as soon cut off my hand as have done it; but now, traveling is so cheap, that all sorts of [103] characters are on the move; and I find that more than half of them will get away, if they can, without paying a cent.’

With regard to public amusements, it is still worse.  Rope dancers, and opera dancers, and all sorts of dancers, go through the country, making thousands as they go; while, from high to low, there is one universal, despairing groan of ‘hard times,’ ‘dreadful gloomy times!’

These things ought not to be.  People who have little to spend, should partake sparingly of useless amusements; those who are in debt should deny themselves entirely.

Let me not be supposed to inculcate exclusive doctrines.  I would have every species of enjoyment as open to the poor as the rich; but I would have people consider well how they are likely to obtain the greatest portion of happiness, taking the whole of their lives in view.  I would not have them sacrifice permanent respectability and comfort to present gentility and love of excitement; above all, I caution them to beware that this love of excitement does not grow into habit, till the fireside becomes a dull place, and the gambling table and the barroom finish what the theatre began.  . . .

We make a great deal of talk about being republicans.  If we are so in reality, we shall stay at home, to mind our business, and educate our children, so long as one or the other need our attention, or can suffer by our neglect.”  [102-103]


Brief Statement of Facts in Relation to the Western Railroad, [from its beginning in 1833 to] February 6, 1841  (Massachusetts, 1841), 15 pp.


Charter.  Dated Mar 15, 1833—to construct a Railroad from the Worcester road, through Springfield to the western boundary of the State.  Capital stock—not less than one, nor more than two millions.

After ten years from completion, a right in the legislature to reduce tolls on certain conditions.  After twenty years, Legislature may purchase the road, by paying cost and ten percent net annual income.  No other railroad to be granted from Worcester or Milbury to the county of Hampden, or from Springfield to the County of Berkshire, within thirty years: with power to make branches from the main road to any places in the towns through which the road passes, or the towns adjoining the same; also to make a branch to the southern boundary of the State, to meet a road from New Haven and Hartford.

In 1835, private individuals made extensive surveys from Worcester to Springfield, and collected statistics of business and freight.  [4]  In June, 1835, books for subscription to the stock were opened in various parts of the State, and in New York, Hudson, and Albany.  Great efforts were made for several weeks; but little was subscribed.


In December 1835, two millions of stock had been subscribed.  January, 1836, the Corporation was organized, and the stockholders directed an application to the Legislature for aid. April 4, 1836, the capital stock was increased to three million, and the Treasurer of the State directed to subscribe for one million of the stock, and to pay the State’s share on each assessment, when seventy-five per cent of the same assessment had been paid by individuals; one third of the Directors to be chosen by the State.

Prior to February, 1838, the Stockholders had been required to pay assessments    . . . equal to $600,000.  By act of February 21, 1838, the credit of the State was granted, in aid of the Western Railroad for $2,100,000 on the condition the stockholders should be assessed $300,000.  By the act of March 23, 1839, the credit of the State was granted, in further aid of the Western Railroad, for $1,200,000 on condition that the Stockholders should lay further assessments, for $300,000 and on condition that the State should elect four Directors, out of the nine which compose the Board and on condition also that the State should have [5] the right to take (at any time it so elects) the Road, by paying its cost—and also paying seven per cent [to the Stockholders] on said cost, first deducting from said cost the amount of State Script, which the State might pay or assume to pay and deducting any Dividends received by Stockholders.

In result, then, the total amount to be paid in by the stockholders (and which all is paid in, except a trifling amount) is . . . $1,200,000, and the total amount furnished by the credit of the State is $3,300,000, and if the State furnish the Loan, now petitioned for, $1,000,000, the amount invested, in the Property pledged to the State, will be $5,500,000, on which the State will have loaned its credit, in all, for $4,300,000.

In other words, it will be, in effect, the same as loaning seventy-eight percent on one of the best built Railroads in the world—which Railroad is so situated, as to make its triumphant success certain.  It is therefore a Loan of the safest character.  A Loan of ninety percent on the Stock of the Nashua or New Bedford or Worcester or Lowell or Eastern Railroad is readily taken by our most cautious Loaners [sic], now that these Roads are completed, although while in construction, such Loans on the Stock of these very Roads were difficult to be obtained and although three of these very Roads found themselves under the necessity of asking aid of the State, while the Roads were yet unfinished.  . . .  The Stock of these three Railroads, although now above par, could not, at the time, [6] have been sold without great sacrifice.  The aid of the State has thus protected the men of enterprise and of moderate means, from this sacrifice, and has cost no loss to the State.  . . .”  [3-6]


E. P. Swift, Misdirection of Physical and Intellectual Effort:  Annual Address to the Franklin and Philo Literary Societies of Jefferson College, PA Delivered . . . September 28, 1837 (Pittsburgh PA:  William Allinder, 1838), 23 pp.


“A great nation, to whom in such times as these, and when there seems to open a prospect of redirecting the energies of man all over the earth, once more to the wise and just pursuits of his political and religious happiness and welfare, is given the high honor of testing the practicality of self-government, should doubtless be deeply sensible of its eventful career, as acting not only for itself and remote posterity, but for the entire family of man.  We have fixed the deepest brand of infamy upon the odious usurpations of despotic power, and the princely  domination [over the people].  . . .  We have sounded to the utmost corners of the earth, the trumpet of freedom, and offered ourselves not only as a brilliant [21] example of what patriotism and principle can do, but as pioneer and leader in the march of universal independence.  . . .

Let us indulge the supposition, that amidst all dangers and fluctuations, this republic stands firm and unshaken, the home of religion and the abode of enterprise, science, and political happiness.  If so, what, according to the established course of comparative growth, and improvement, will be its aspect at the end of one century from this day?  What will be the number and resources—the results of industry and education of the American people; and their relative influence on the world, one hundred years hence, if their growth and internal order, and enterprise, and expansive religious effort for the world becomes as falls fairly within the compass of human possibility?  I shall enter upon no numerical calculations here, as to the increase of population and wealth—of colleges, and schools, and churches, and moral and intellectual power.  But if I may ask, what may this spot may then become in its intellectual treasures, in the associations of alumni scattered in their persons or descendents over every part of this country, and every unevangelized [sic] clime on earth? . . .” [20-21]


Philadelphia Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends, Address . . . By the Committee . . .to Have Charge of the Subject of Slavery (Philadelphia:  John Richards, 1839), 12 pp.


“Minutes . . . appointing the Committee to have charge of the subject of Slavery, 17th May 1839:  ‘A concern being spread before this meeting on subjects connected with the welfare of the people of color, both bond and free; and it being believed that an advantage would arise not only to that deeply injured people, but also to those who hold them in bondage, as well as to the support of our Christian testimony against Slavery; from the appointment of a Committee to take charge of the subject generally; upon consideration, a Committee of four Friends from each Quarterly Meeting was appointed, to unite with women Friends in attending to the concern as way may open, and to report to our next Yearly Meeting.’  Extracted from the Minutes, Benjamin Price, Jr., Clerk.”  [3]

            . . .

“That conflicting opinions, as to the course proper to be pursued, do now exist in our Society, is obvious.  But if we, as a people, dwell near the fountain of Divine Goodness, we shall be equally preserved from apathy and negligence on the one hand, as from intemperate zeal and creaturely activity on the other; so that in the peaceable spirit and wisdom of Jesus, all may join in harmonious labor, as with the heart of one man.  [9]

Within a few years, great events have occurred in relation to Slavery, and much light has been spread on the subject.  The experience derived from emancipation in the British West Indies, has opened a new era.  In the midst of violent opposition, the great truth has been successfully realized, that liberated slaves may with safety immediately become freemen; and that the actual interests of their former masters, as well as their own, may be greatly promoted by the change.

On this point as well as others, it is thought much benefit would result from spreading correct information among all our members; fully believing that as Friends are apprized of well authenticated facts, connected with this deeply affecting question as it now stands, that their interest and zeal will also increase in the promotion of our righteous testimony against Slavery; and as we reverently seek for Divine direction under an humbling sense of our own weakness, we shall be brought near each other in the unity of the Spirit, which is the bond of peace.

Although we would avoid entering far into particular views, yet there is one portion of our southern brethren on whose account our sympathetic feelings are called forth.  While we have painful evidence that a great body of slaveholders are [10] influenced by injustice and cruelty, while they stiffen their necks, and harden their hearts, against all entreaties on behalf of their oppressed slaves, we believe this is far from being the case with all who hold their fellow creatures in bondage.  There are many whose consciences are burdened by a system that they derived from their ancestors, who find themselves surrounded by iniquitous and restraining laws against Emancipation.  A swift witness in the soul assures them that their obedience in this instance to the laws of man, is a fearful violation of the law of God.  These feel the want of kind and judicious advisers to aid in extricating them from their tried situation.

Self-interest might prompt them speedily to free themselves from difficulty; the money of the slave trader is temptingly held up before them; but humanity shudders at the thought; they cannot separate the tender ties of family connection among their slaves; they dare not receive the price of blood.  . . .  We believe they are fervently desiring the deliverance of master and slave, from the bondage to which both are subjected.  . . .”  [8-10]


John H. Gourlie, An Address Delivered Before the Mercantile Library Association . . . January 8, 1839 (New York:  James Van Norden, 1839), 20 pp.


“‘We, the subscribers, Merchants’ Clerks of the city of New York, being desirous to adopt the most efficient means to facilitate mutual intercourse; to extend our information upon mercantile and other subjects of general ability; promote a spirit of useful inquiry, and qualify ourselves to discharge with dignity the duties of our profession and the social offices of life, have associated ourselves for the purpose of establishing a Library and Reading Room, to be appropriated to the use of young men engaged in mercantile pursuits . . .’”  [6]

            . . .

“It may surprise many, that any serious opposition was raised against the establishment of a Mercantile Library; but such was the fact, and it required the strenuous efforts of its friends to force it into the approbation of the public.  Its practical advantages were doubted by some, who feared it would have a tendency to divert the attention of the young men from their professional duties; and for this reason they withheld their support and approbation.  A few years, however, removed these unfounded prejudices, and the patrons of the institution increased both in zeal and numbers, and by their friendly aid and council its objects were greatly promoted.    . . .  [8]

The Annual Report of this year [1838] informs us that the Library contained 3,300 volumes, and that the members were in number of between 600 and 700.  . . .  The Librarian informs us, that the number of books taken annually from the Library, amounted to twenty-five thousand!  . . .

At this period, a course of Lectures on various subjects was commenced by eminent scientific men.  This system of instruction has been continued from year to year, and so universally popular has it become, that it has been found impossible to accommodate the public demand for admission into our Lecture Hall.  We are therefore reluctantly compelled to confine the advantages of our lectures, almost exclusively, to our own members, for whose benefits they were at first instituted.”  [7-9]

            . . .

“The responsibilities that will devolve upon you, as merchants and citizens, call upon you to cultivate those pursuits that tend to elevate your minds and increase your knowledge.  You all have more or less leisure to devote to reading and study, and here the opportunities of improvement are beautifully furnished.  It is not necessary, indeed, that a merchant should be a literary man; but I venture to assert, that no merchant can ever attain the highest honors of his profession, unless he is essentially a reading man.  Nor need he confine himself to the study of mere statistical information; he may refine and elevate his tastes, by a discriminate application of a portion of his time to the classical authors of his language, and I do not see why he may not make a profitable or a shrewd bargain, although he may devote an hour daily to the study of the English poets.  The pursuit of wealth is not, or should not be, the sole object of the merchant.  Where that is the engrossing principle of action, the mind becomes depraved, and the powers within us are paralyzed, and we sink into a position below contempt.

To such as pursue wealth as an end, and not as the means of obtaining happiness, the hours of commercial adversity (which in this country too frequently overshadow the hopes of the merchant) come with tenfold horror.  Without that intellectual and moral energy which enables the cultivated man to meet and subdue his misfortunes, they sink beneath the blow, and frequently end their days in madness and despair.  Pursue wealth, then, with a higher and nobler purpose.”  [18]


C.S. Henry, The Position and Duties of the Educated Men of the Country:  A Discourse    . . . Geneva College, August 5, 1840 (New York:  Robert Craighead, 1840), 47 pp.


“Young Gentlemen of the Literary Societies of Geneva College:  . . .  [4]  It will not be questioned that the scholars of our country have a special vocation, which is determined by all that constitutes the peculiar characteristics of our county and of our age.  It is incumbent on us, therefore, to comprehend the spirit of our country and of our age.  We are to remember that we have fallen on the nineteenth century and not on the twelfth—that we live in America, not Austria.  I do not mean that we should not understand the Past.  Unless we understand the Past, we cannot understand the Present; for the Present is born of the Past.

Nor do I mean that we should not seek to understand the most general spirit of the world, as well as of the country in which we live; for our [5] country stands in manifold relations with other countries, and, rightly considered, moreover, there are, in every age, pulsations which throb throughout the heart of universal Humanity.  Still, it is to the actual mind and heart of our own country we must speak, if we mean to live and speak to any purpose in our own times, or even the times that shall come after us.  Rarely in the history of mankind is there to be found any great work of genius, of permanent and enduring influence, which has not borne the form and pressure of its age.  . . .

The educated class represents the liberal cultivation of the nation; to them, chiefly, belongs the duty of sustaining and cherishing the higher and more spiritual elements of social well-being.  The manifold elements which compose the well-being of a nation may be comprehended under the [6] two fold division of ‘material or physical’, and ‘moral and spiritual.’  In the ‘material’ are included the means of physical support and comfort—food, clothing, and shelter; the security of personal property; the arts of life which serve to multiply and refine the sources of material enjoyment; in short, everything that relates to the useful or to the agreeable—everything that is implied in the proper meaning of the word ‘civilization.’

On the other hand, the ‘spiritual’ elements of national well being result from the unfolding and activity of the principles of man’s higher life, as a being capable of the Idea and Love of the True, the Beautiful, and the Good—capable of discerning that these words relate to objects having a reality and a worth beyond all material objects, a value independent of all consequences of private advantage.  Hence, among the ‘spiritual’ elements of social welfare are to be reckoned the pursuits of pure science; the productions of creative Art; the sense also of justice, honor, patriotism, loyalty, and reverence; and the heroic spirit that can dare and endure for unselfish ends; in short, every thing that is implied in the ‘culture’ of a nation as distinguished from its mere ‘civilization.’  [7]

To the proper well being of a nation it is essential that these elements should exist in a due and proportionate blending.  It is indispensable that the ‘material’ should be subordinated to the ‘moral’ interests.  . . .  Yet it is the infirmity of our corrupted nature that the sensual life, as in individuals so in nations, is ever tending to predominate over the spiritual.  In our country this tendency is prodigiously increased by causes connected with the physical growth of our country, and with the working of our political institutions.  . . .”  [3-7]

“Now, looking at the condition of our country at this moment, have we nothing to fear?  I do not quarrel with the prodigious growth of the elements of physical prosperity.  I only ask, whether we have not reason to dread an overgrowth?  Is not our danger on this side?  I know there are many who have no other idea of national well being than riches and greatness.  So that a people can subdue the earth to serve the turn of their worldly uses; so that they can accumulate wealth and the means of enjoyment—that is the extent of their solicitude.  They laugh at all this talk about the higher and more spiritual elements of social welfare.  I thank God I am not of the number of such persons. [14]  . . .

If God has planted us in a richer land, I do not see but we may unfold and appropriate its manifold resources, without neglecting the culture of our higher life.  We may dwell on the earth, and thrive; yet we need not be mere thriving earthworms.  We may follow worldly callings, and yet not be worldly-minded.  We may possess and enjoy wealth, without sinking into the life of mere material enjoyment.  The danger is great, it is true; but corruption is not the necessary [15] result of physical prosperity.  . . .

Let us now for a moment advert to the working of our political institutions; for in this respect our country presents a spectacle no less remarkable than in its physical growth.  . . .  I am of no political party; and I shall not speak of party questions, but of principles and of the tendencies of principles, common to all parties; and perhaps may say some things which to neither party will be [16] entirely acceptable.”  [13-16]

            . . .

“The amount of the political rights of the majority, then, is this:  that their will, when legally expressed, is decisive in regard to a certain number of questions submitted by the Constitution to a popular vote.  So far therefore from constituting the State, a numerical majority of the people in their political action is simply an organic part of the State, just as the Legislative, Judiciary, and Executive, are organic parts of the Government; and its rights and powers, like theirs, are conferred, defined, and limited by the Constitution; and finally these rights and powers are inseparably linked with duties—the majority are bound to act within their limits, and to act conscientiously there.  . . .  [23]

Whenever the people are told that there is any thing that they cannot rightfully do, their impulse is to feel indignant, as if some monstrous outrage were perpetrated against the sacred principles of eternal justice, which they were called upon to avenge.  To differ from the popular opinion seems to them a crime—a thing to be punished.  They cannot understand that you have as good a right to your opinion, as they to theirs; that they differ from you, as much as you do from them.

In proof that this is so, go and address the popular political assemblages of our county.  Tell them that you honestly believe it to be a possible thing that there shall not be wisdom and virtue enough in the nation to make the experiment of self-government successful; and nine cases out of ten you provoke their displeasure, not merely for being bold enough to utter an unpopular doctrine, but as being guilty of treason against the sacred principles of freedom.  Tell them that you think it best for the popular good, and therefore right, that the popular will should be checked by constitutional restraints; and ten to one [24] you will be hustled from the stand as an aristocrat, a monarchist, an enemy of the people.  . . .

From this erroneous and exaggerated notion of Rights, and this feeble sense of Duties, it is easy to see to what dangers we are exposed.  When the people feel as if the cause of popular rights, as they understand them—that is, the right of the majority to do just what it pleases—is not their own [25] cause, but the cause of every thing most sacred, of Truth, of Freedom, and of God; what protection has society against licentious abuses of power?

In private life, the man who does everything he has a right to do, in the sense of the word now in question—that is, everything which the Law will not punish him for doing—is a villain.  That we are not cursed with such villains at every turn in life, we owe to the influence of conscience and the power of opinion.  But what protection is there in conscience, or in public opinion against the unjust acting of a people firmly believing in the Divine Right of a majority to have its own way at all events?  How much is the responsibility of a multitude felt by the individuals that compose it?  . . .”  [22-25]

 [Return to Top]

Enterprise, Insolvency, and Social Justice

The Debtor’s Friend, Or Religious Advice to Persons Imprisoned for Debt (Boston:  Cummings & Hilliard, 1813), 15 pp.


“Liberty is justly esteemed the choicest of human blessings; the loss of it must therefore be considered one of the greatest misfortunes of life.  . . .  It has sometimes happened, that the prisoner confined for debt, has been brought into this unhappy situation, without having any reasons to charge himself with negligence, imprudence, extravagance, or dishonesty.  In a commercial country, so various, so sudden, so unexpected are the turns of affairs in the life of the tradesman, especially if has been his misfortune to fall into bad hands, that he may find himself totally unable to satisfy the just demands of his creditors; he may also be so unhappy as not to be able to convince them of his integrity . . . [1]


New York City Chamber of Commerce, Memorial Praying for a General System of Bankruptcy, 18th U. S. Congress, 1st Session, December 31, 1823, Read, and ordered to lie upon the table (Washington DC:  Gales & Seaton, 1823), 5 pp.

“To the Senate and House of Representative in Congress assembled:


Without a general bankrupt law, all of the creditors of a merchant who fails, have not an equal chance of receiving a dividend from his estate.  When a merchant’s affairs become embarrassed in any of our commercial cities (the practice is so uniform that it has become a perfect system,) he assigns all his property, in the first place, to pay his confidential friends, who have lent him their names and their money, and thus given him false credit, which has been the means of imposing upon others . . . and his honest business creditors get nothing.” [4]


Jonathan M. Wainwright, Inequality of Individual Wealth the Ordinance of Providence, and Essential to Civilization:  A Sermon . . . January 7, 1835 (Boston:  Dutton and Wentworth, 1835), 60 pp.


“Dr. Wainwright’s Annual Election Sermon.  [cover]  A Sermon Preached Before His Excellency John Davis, Governor, His Honor Samuel T. Armstrong, Lieutenant Governor, the Honorable Council, and the Legislature of Massachusetts . . . By the Rector of Trinity Church, Boston.”  [title page]

The poor shall never cease out of the land. (Deuteronomy, xv. 11.)  From these words we must of necessity infer that there existed amongst the Jews a marked inequality in the distribution of wealth; and, moreover, that this condition of things was not accidental or temporary, but was to be regarded by them as perpetual.  The same prominent feature being equally discernable in our own and in all other communities of civilized men, two questions obviously claim our attention

First, is this distinction between the rich and the poor essential to the improvement and happiness of man, or may we anticipate its removal at some future period, and under some more favorable combination of the elements of the social compact?  And [secondly], if we cannot reasonably look forward to its removal, but are constrained to believe that it is a distinction arising out of the nature of man and the present order of God’s providence, can such a [6] conclusion be adduced as an argument against the wisdom and goodness of that great Being who created man, and hath determined the bounds of his habitation?  (Acts, xvii. 26)  . . .  I am aware that it is a difficult and delicate one to treat of, and also that it may require the introduction of topics not generally regarded as with the province of preachers of the gospel.*

*Appendix A.  Why should not ministers of religion, as well as the other members of the community, take a lively interest in those studies that relate to civil society and unfold the principles upon which its advancement and happiness in temporal things mainly depend?  But not to the physical condition of man, does the science of Political Economy, properly considered, have sole or chief reference; his moral and intellectual improvement is deeply involved in almost every discussion connected with it.  Moreover Christianity is eminently the religion of civilized man, and will only consent to live and flourish in connection with civilization.  It sets in motion all the elements that improve the social condition, and reciprocally is itself advanced or retarded by the movement of the community into which it is introduced.  . . .  [56]  I refer to the present Archbishop of Dublin.  . . .  In the preface to his lectures on Political Economy while Professor of this department at the University of Oxford, Professor Whately avows, that his chief inducement to offer himself as a candidate for his chair in the University, and his first object in his course of introductory lectures, were to remove the prejudices against Political Economy, existing in the minds of some persons as being inimical to religion.  . . .”  [55-56]

“As, however, the civil authorities of the State must be supposed to acknowledge the truth and [excellence] of religion, when they come to the house of God annually, in solemn form, as the opening act of their session, it would seem to be a fit opportunity to exhibit religion in what may be called its temporal aspect, as advancing and sustaining principles essential to the welfare and happiness of civil society.  This I conceive it does, when it recognizes and sanctions the principle of inequality in the distribution of wealth among men; and when it declares, both in express terms, and by the particular duties it enjoins on the rich and on the poor, that this is to be acquiesced in as a permanent condition of society.

But it may be said, that religion recognizes and [7] sanctions many other things, which, in the present advanced state of knowledge and morals, are either not essential to the welfare of civil society, or else are absolutely detrimental to its true interests; as, for example, a kingly government, and the condition of slavery.  It is incumbent therefore upon the advocate of religion, who believes that the declaration of the text will remain true while this state of probation lasts, to vindicate the Divine Benevolence in this respect; and to show, that if it is ordained that the poor shall never cease out of the land, it is so ordained because such an appointment is essential to the true happiness and progressive improvement of the human family.  . . .  [8]

Under every form of government, and in every varied state of society, distinctions, caused by the unequal distribution of wealth, have existed.  Notwithstanding they have been often denounced as unjust and injurious, and efforts have repeatedly been made, both by legislative interference, and during the excitement of political commotions, to remove them; yet all has been unavailing.  Nor have we any reason to believe that this condition of our being can be altered by any exertions of man, his own nature remaining what it is, and the arrangements of Divine Providence, in relation to him, continuing unchanged.  Whilst one man is weak of body, and another possesses athletic strength; while the intelligence of one is dull and inactive, and that of another is bright and vigorous . . . ; [9] so long will the rich and poor meet together  (Proverbs, xxii. 2.) in human society; and so long must we acknowledge that the Lord is the maker of them all.  (Proverbs, xxii. 2.) 

These are causes sufficient to produce the effect, setting aside those that originate in the vices of men, as dissipated living, prodigality, improvidence, contrasted with the virtues of temperance, frugality, and prudence.  But notwithstanding the clearest indications that such is the ordinance of an overruling Providence, yet there have never been wanting those who have inveighed against it, and have thus either openly or by inference, charged God foolishly.  (Job, i. 22.)

Some taking counsel of their own benevolent but visionary feelings, and wishing to distribute happiness more equally amongst men, have thought that this could be done by more nearly equalizing their outward condition; others have been incited by a restless impatience under their comparative inferiority, and have hoped to extend their own boundaries by removing the ancient landmarks (Proverbs, xxii.  28.  Deut., xxvii. 17); others, again, impelled by inordinate and unprincipled ambition, have been ever eager to catch the ear and secure the favor of the unthinking multitude, by flattering their ignorant; prejudices, and inflaming their unhappy jealousies against those they esteem more favored by [10] fortune than themselves.

We need not look to past ages, or to transatlantic countries, for such examples of enthusiastic and shortsighted benevolence on the one hand, or reckless and unprincipled avarice and ambition on the other.  I do not think that in a community as intelligent as our own, and as well grounded in the great principles of moral and religious obligation, we are to apprehend any great danger from the prevalence of such false and pernicious doctrines.  Still they should not be permitted to pass unnoticed.  They should occasionally be brought forward to keep in general circulation the important considerations by which they are refuted; and they should uniformly be reprobated, not simply because they are speculatively untrue, but because they are at war with the permanent interests and the true happiness of society.  . . .

Is the human race then doomed forever to groan under the load of evils and miseries heaped upon society in consequence of exorbitant, heartless, and luxurious wealth, on the one hand, and abject and squalid poverty, on the other?    . . .  [11]  God forbid!  I would not by such and admission, imply a heavy suspicion against the doctrine of a wise and merciful superintending Providence.  I draw a far different inference from the actual operations of this Providence, as we read them in the past history and present condition of the human race.

I exult in the conviction that the whole tendency of civilized society is to improvement in knowledge, virtue, and happiness.  I see the elements in vigorous activity, that are producing this effect, in the spread of the Gospel, the multiplication of the Bible, the diffusion of education, the progress of the temperance reformation, the prevailing conviction that peace is the greatest of earthly blessings to nations, and last of all, but by no means the least of all, in the increasing attention paid to that valuable science which is yet destined to shed innumerable blessings upon the family of man, Political Economy.**  [6-11]

**Appendix B.  I do not think that I overrate the value of this science, when I place it not least amongst the means by which the human race is to be made wiser, better, and happier.  The bettering the condition of man, is the very object to which it directs all its investigations, and if some of there appear at first view to be exclusively devoted to his temporal and perishing state of being, yet followed out into their legitimate connections and dependencies, they will be found to bear closely upon his [58] intellectual and immortal nature.  . . .”  [57-58]

“Why may we not with joyful hope look forward, to a state of far greater and far more diffused happiness and prosperity than the present, in reserve for our children’s children, if not for ourselves or our immediate offspring?  Why may we not even indulge a confident belief that they will find themselves in a community where depraved and reckless indigence will be unknown, or where if observed it will be regarded as a crime against society, and where neither suffering nor disgrace, nor any idea of unworthy inferiority will be attached to poverty—a community in which a man will be called poor, not because he is destitute of the means of a comfortable existence—not because rare and far distant opportunities are afforded him of relaxation [14] from severe toil for the purpose of bodily health, rational enjoyment, or mental cultivation—not because he is deprived of the means of giving to his offspring every advantage for education which the development of their faculties may render desirable—but poor simply by contrast with his neighbor who has been endued with firmer health, or a more active and enterprising mind, or who has enjoyed more favorable opportunities for the exercise of his powers.     . . .  [15]

The power of God then acknowledged, we rely upon his goodness, justice and benevolence, to bring to pass in his own time, and by his own wise ordinances, the desirable changes in the social state to which we have just alluded.  But are we led astray by a vain delusion, when we anticipate such results?  Is imagination suggesting some idle dream of perfectibility that shall never be realized in the waking existence of man?  We believe not.  . . .  [16]

In such a state of society there will be heard no repining of the poor at the better success of the rich—no secret and corroding envy will be pent up in their breasts—no outbreak of mad and unprincipled efforts to reduce all to their own condition; and at the same time, there will be no glorying in the distinction that wealth confers, no hoarding it up for selfish gratification; but all members of society feeling that its laws and regulations have been just, and have given to each, as far as was practicable, equal opportunities for success, they will know that their respective conditions have been influenced by the providence of God; and the tendency of this conviction will be to render the poor man patient and contented, the rich humble, charitable and public spirited.  . . .  [17]

Why may not a still greater improvement be effected, why may not all inequalities amongst men as to outward condition be removed, and as we are offspring of one common parent, why may we not hope that the human race will in process of time be prepared for an equal distribution of wealth, and that this consummation, so devoutly wished for by many, will be actually realized at the auspicious opening of some millennial age?  Why?  Because we believe that constituted as the world is, such a modification of the social relations would not be practicable, nor if practicable would it conduce to the virtue and happiness of men as individuals, or to the progress of society at large.”  [13-17]

            . . .

“But follow out the consequences resulting from diversity in the condition of men, and you will see accumulated reasons to assent to and admire this ordination of Providence.  . . .  If you oblige every man to be his own mechanic, farmer, manufacturer, and navigator, and to do his share of the magistracy upon some principle of rotation, it is obvious that we can none of us enjoy as many or as great advantages as we do under the present system; and it is equally obvious that all these various occupations receiving only the divided attention of an individual, must very fast go [26] backward, and the knowledge and dexterity, which men now possess in their various employments in proportion to the undivided attention they give to them, must be constantly and rapidly diminished.

I take it for granted that no man, even in very modest circumstances, would choose to relinquish the comforts and conveniences he now possesses in his humble habitation.  . . .  Yet such would be the inevitable result were the benign and admirable principle of the division of labor be banished from society.  How then is it to be maintained, but by holding forth to every man a stimulus to activity, ingenuity, and enterprise in the hope of bettering his condition.  Many employments essential to the existence of civilized society are yet so unpleasant in themselves, that no one would undertake them but from the excitement of such a motive.  But were all men to be made equal, and [27] were they obliged by the laws of society to continue so, there could be no such animating impulse to the exertion of our bodily or mental powers.  . . .  Strike this out of the social state and we should deteriorate year by year, till we dropped down to the degraded level of savages.

Now this important, essential principle cannot subsist without the distinctions of rich and poor.  It actually exists, and can only be removed by violence.  . . .”  [25-27]


James Lloyd Homer, An Address Delivered Before the Massachusetts Charitable Mechanic Association at the Celebration of Their Tenth Triennial Festival, October 6, 1836 (Boston:  Holmes & Palmer and Joseph T. Adams, 1836), 40 pp.

Homer was a trustee, but not in 1836 an officer of this trade group (founded 1796) of employers.

“Surely no liberal minded master mechanic would wish to withhold from his journeymen those rights and liberties which he himself freely exercises; and if there is anything wrong or pernicious in ‘trades unions’—if, in our eyes, they are ‘illegal combinations’—let us, by all means, set those in our employ a good example—an example worthy of their imitation—by breaking up every combination of the kind to which we belong, and allowing each other to have once more a breathing spell—to move, in our own business circles, free, unrestricted, and without fear of having a written pledge thrust before our eyes, if interest or inclination should prompt any of us to turn right or left.  . . .  Let us hereafter strive to live upon friendly terms with our journeymen;—let us, by kind treatment and good counsel, dispel the envy and hatred which too often brood upon their minds, and awaken in their breasts a high and holy feeling—a feeling of gratitude and respect for their employers.”  [22]

            . . .

[To help younger journeymen to start their own shops, Homer proposed formation of a] “Bank, conducted on liberal principles, and managed exclusively by master mechanics—members of this Association.  . . .  [28]  I think it may be safely said, gentlemen, that there are no active business men in the city who find it so difficult, at all times, to obtain facilities and accommodations at our banks, as the mechanics—none suffer more, or bleed more freely, than they.  How often have we heard of enterprising young men, who have been torn in pieces by the sharks and vampires that infest the purlieus of State Street, and who might have been saved from premature destruction, if they had a bank to resort to, the directors of which could understand their wants, and be ready to render them such facilities and favors as they stood in need of?” [27-28]


John Whipple, The Usury Laws (New York, 1836; 1857), 23 pp.

In this pamphlet, Whipple attacked Jeremy Bentham’s arguments in A Defense of Usury, Showing the Impolicy of the Present Legal Restraints of the Terms of Pecuniary Bargains” (1787), and asked,  “Are the borrower and lender of equal means?  And:  Does a private contract between equals at an unusually high rate of interest harm society?”

“Money is concentrative in its very nature.  Its home is the pockets of the few.  Under the free-trade system [of unlimited rates of interest], this concentrative quality would naturally increase.  Merchandise, on the other hand, is diffusive.  The object of its creation is distribution and consumption.  Without this consumption, trade would not exist, and its natural effect is, that merchandise of all kinds is found in great abundance all over the country.  When a sale of goods of any kind takes place, they part from their owner never to return again.  They abide but a short period with no one but the ultimate consumer.  Money, on the other hand, is loaned, not sold, and it returns to its owner invigorated with additional power by an increase in its amount.  This tendency in merchandise, of diffusion among the many, and in money, of concentration among the few, prevents an artificial scarcity in the one case and facilitates it in the other.” [22]

In an introductory essay, “Stringent Usury Laws:  The Best Defense Against ‘Hard Times’” (ca. 1857, 12 pp.), an anonymous author asserted:

“If the people of the United States have a desire to secure for themselves and posterity a permanent prosperity, based upon even justice, industry and skillful enterprise, let them combine to establish a uniform rate of interest throughout the Union, not more than six per cent; and let them so protect their currency by stringent usury laws, that speculators can have no motive to use it, except in connection with objects of industry, and traders can find no advantage in seeking long credit, for purposes foreign to a legitimate business.  We insert for reference, a brief sketch of the ‘Usury Laws of the United States.’”  [1]

Leonard Bacon, The Duties Connected with the Present Commercial Distress:  A Sermon . . . Center Church, New Haven, May 21, 1837 . . . Repeated May 23, 1837 (New Haven CT:  Hitchcock & Stafford, 1837), 18 pp.   

“The substance of the following sermon is published in the Christian Spectator, [of which Bacon was the editor,] for June, 1837.  The sermon having been called for by the hearers, it is now published in its original form.”  [inside front cover]

“Amos iii.6—Shall there be evil in the city, and the Lord hath not done it?

A few months ago, the unparalleled prosperity of our country was the theme of universal [congratulation].  Such a development of resources, so rapid an augmentation of individual and public wealth, so great a manifestation of the spirit of enterprise, so strong and seemingly rational a confidence in the prospect of unlimited success, were never known before.  But how suddenly all this prosperity has been arrested.  That confidence, which in modern times, and especially in our own country, is the basis of commercial intercourse, is failing in every quarter; and all the financial interests of the country seem to be convulsed and disorganized.

The merchant, whose business is spread out over a wide extent of territory, and who regarding all his transactions as conducted on safe principles, feared no embarrassment, finds his paper evidences of debt, the acceptances and promises which he received in exchange for his goods, losing their value; and his ability to meet his engagements is at an end.  The manufacturer finds the vent for his commodities obstructed.  He finds that his commodities sold in distant parts of the country have been sold for that which is not money, and loss succeeds to loss, till he shuts up his manufactory and dismisses his laborers.  The speculator who dreamed himself rich, finds his fancied riches disappearing like an exhalation.

Many a laborer who, a year ago, listening to the teachings of those who wanted to use him for their own purposes, felt as if his employers were his oppressors, and as if the rich were the natural enemies of the poor, now finds to his sorrow, that the rich and the poor have one interest, and must prosper or suffer together; and that the impoverishment of capitalists and the ruin of employers is starvation to operatives.  The distress already widespread is [4] still spreading, and none, however wise in such things, venture to predict where or when it will end.  Already in many a huge [factory], that but a few days since resounded with the cheerful noise of labor and with the roar of enginery, all is silent as in a deserted city.  Already a work of public improvement upon which multitudes were toiling to bring it to the speediest conclusion, that commerce might rush upon its iron track with wings of fire, is broken off, and stands unfinished, like the work of some great conqueror struck down amidst his victories.  Already want, like an armed man, stands at the threshold of many a dwelling, where a few days ago, daily industry brought the supply of daily comforts.

Soon, unless God shall send relief, our great cities will echo with human suffering, and then with the rage of men, not only exasperated by finding that which they have received as money, turning to rags in their hands, but driven to desperation by hunger and by cries of their famishing children.  What more may be before us in the progress of God’s judgment—what tumults—what convulsions—what bloody revolutions—we need not now imagine.  It is enough to know that this distress is hourly becoming wider and more intense, and that no political or financial foresight can as yet discover the end.

Amid these present calamities, and these portentous omens of the future, it is not strange that many minds are seeking, and all voices are debating the cause and the remedy.  But, in this place, we discuss neither questions of finance nor questions of government.  We propose to speak only of the duties connected with the present crisis.

The most obvious of these duties is, devoutly to recognize the hand of God, which brings these calamities upon us.  One speaks of the distress as caused by the policy of government; another ascribes it to the measures of financial institutions; another talks of overproduction and over-trading.  But shall we, in the discussion of second causes, forget that this is God’s judgment upon us—God’s chastisement of our sins?  ‘Shall there be evil in a city, and the Lord hath not done it?’

There is a peculiarity in this calamity, which perhaps [5] prevents some minds from recognizing the providence of God.  We see the springs of industry and enterprise all broken.  We see great manufacturing establishments shut up, and the workmen wandering about in quest of employment.  We see capitalists made insolvent, and hunger invading the home of the honest laborer.  But in all this, we see not the operation of any of the ordinary agents of calamity.  It is not war, nor pestilence, nor conflagration, nor tempest, not the cutting off of the fruits of the earth, nor the drying up of the streams of water, that brings us this distress.  Yet to a thoughtful mind is there not, even in this absence of God’s ordinary ministers of wrath, a more impressive indication of his presence?  . . .  If we see the hand of God in war and pestilence, in fire and tempest and famine, shall we not much more recognize his presence, when without the intervention of these ordinary instrumentalities, he spreads sudden distress and consternation over the land?

Another duty connected with the present crisis, is the duty of regarding properly those moral causes that have brought the distress upon us.  Attribute this distress to whatever political or financial causes you may, you cannot but believe that it may be traced, directly or indirectly, to certain causes in the moral sentiments and habits of the people.  Whatever may be said about excessive importations, or the expansion and [6] contraction of the currency, or arbitrary obstructions in the way of the natural circulation of money, as having occasioned these embarrassments, every thinking man—every man whose thoughts recognize the government of God—must feel that there are causes of entirely another order.  He whose providence has permitted these evils to take place, does all things well.  It is for the sins of this people, that calamity and fear have so suddenly come upon them.  What are the particular sins?  . . .  [7]

Who doubts, that we are now as a people, experiencing God’s visitation upon that madness of making haste to be rich, by which we are so eminently characterized?  In this country, we have succeeded to a great extent in annihilating those distinctions that in other countries check somewhat the pride of wealth, and the fever of acquisition.  . . .  In the attempt to do away all distinctions, and to force men to one level, we have come near to making riches the only object of competition or desire.  Thus it is, that in this country, the love of money, that root of all evil—the fever of avaricious and grasping desires—the recklessness of adventure—and the arrogance of successful accumulation, have attained a strength and [dominance] unequaled, perhaps, in all the world besides.

To acquire riches, seems to thousands upon thousands the chief end of man.  To be rich is, in their estimation, the highest felicity.  No endowment of the mind, no skill or knowledge, whether from nature or from education seems great to them, save as it may be turned to account in [8] getting rich.  No attainment or possession is valuable in their eyes, save as it has an exchangeable value in the market.

Naturally connected with this universal and engrossing love of money, is the desire and hope of acquiring wealth, without helping to create it, and the effort to get possession of wealth by other methods than those of productive industry and skill.  By this, I mean what is commonly called speculation, as opposed to honest enterprise.

The difference between the traffic of the honorable merchant and the art of the mere speculator, is wide as heaven.  The merchant whose business is to transfer commodities from the producer to the consumer, gives an augmented value to the commodities thus transferred, and has an equitable title to the value created by his skill, his capital, and his labor.  The mere speculator, on the other hand, renders no actual service to the community.  His whole art is, to get possession of commodities at one price, and to get rid of the same commodities at a higher price, without any corresponding augmentation of their value.  The mere speculator, whose only capital is his acquaintance with the arts of panic and excitement, whose hopes of success depend on the skill with which he calculates the expansibility of a bubble and the chances of it bursting, is twin-brother to the gambler.

Now, in what degree the entire traffic of this country, for the past three years, has been prosecuted on the plan of acquiring wealth without aiding in the production of wealth—let others tell.  How few there are, who have not paid in the augmented price of every article, whether of subsistence or of luxury, a tax for the support of speculation, and for encouragement of the art of controlling the market—let others tell.

It is enough for our present purpose, to remember, that the country has been full of the most extravagant schemes, and agitated with the most extravagant hopes, of sudden and vast accumulation; and that this has necessarily been accompanied with a melancholy (we need not say universal) relaxation of the bonds of integrity.  What usurious exactions—what fraudulent negotiations—what conspiracies to swindle—what forgeries before unheard of—has this country witnessed, within a few months past!  [9]  . . .  This is the most obvious of the moral causes of that universal embarrassment, which not only terrifies the capitalist, the merchant, and the artisan, with the stoppage of all business, but threatens the nation and the government with universal bankruptcy.

Another of the pecuniary causes of this common adversity, may be seen in those luxurious and profligate habits of expenditure, which have so rapidly become characteristic of our whole country.  As a people, we have gone mad with our sudden prosperity; and, fancying it to be far grater than the reality, we have introduced from older and more profligate countries, habits of luxury ill suited to our republican state of society.  To be rich—to seem rich—to live in the style of princely riches—has been the grand object with myriads of our citizens.

In the great cities, among those who are rich, or who would be thought rich, there has been a mode of living in respect to furniture, equipage, apparel, eating, and drinking, and the giving of entertainments, more suited to the character of the idle, oppressive, worn-out aristocracy of Europe, born to consume without earning, and to wear without winning, than to the more honorable character of American citizens, born to no hereditary distinctions, generally beginning life with few resources out of themselves, and compelled to be the artificers of their own fortunes.

From that class of families in our great cities, who have learned to spend from $15,000 to $30,000 yearly, the fashion of extravagant living has spread through almost every class, and over the whole land, till we are no longer worthy to be recognized as the countrymen of Franklin.  The wealth lavished upon articles of dress, which add nothing to health, to comfort, or even to dignity or beauty of personal appearance—the still greater wealth invested in articles of costly furniture, which answer no purpose of convenience or rational enjoyment—the untold riches which have been consumed in that yet lower form of luxury of the table—would go far to relieve the [10] country of its financial embarrassments.  The wine-drinking of this country, without taking anything else into the calculation—the wine-drinking which, with the drinkers, is so often more a matter of pride and fashion, than a matter of sensual indulgence—the wine-drinking upon which the money is squandered as if for the mere sake of waste and ruin—is enough to bring poverty upon thousands.  Many a man there is, whose creditors would rejoice to see the money that he has expended upon champagne at two dollars a bottle.

In brief, the whole country has been living not only ‘up to the means,’ but ‘beyond the means.’  The man who was in the midst of his speculations and adventures, has presumed upon his success as if it were infallible—has begun to expend his expected riches in advance—has set up his equipage, and spread his sideboard and tables with plate, while as yet he was rich only in projects and prospectuses.  Old fashioned frugality has gone out of fashion; and the honesty that scrupled about spending money before earning it, is regarded as a narrow parsimony.

And in connection with these luxurious and reckless habits of expenditure, there has of course been a rapid deterioration of morals.  Not to speak of the tendency of such habits to frivolity, to the destruction of dignified and manly sentiments in the public mind, and to the practice of dishonorable artifices to maintain the style of wealth, these habits of expenditure pervading the country, can no more be separated from the wide prevalence of intemperance and licentiousness, and of a passion for the most corrupting amusements, than the habit of acquiring wealth by adroit or gambling speculations, can be separated from the prevalence of dishonest maxims and practices in business.

Is there any presumption in saying, that for this sin, a righteous Providence is now visiting the country with chastisement?  Is not the connection between our present distress and this, as one of the moral causes of the distress, too obvious to be disputed?  . . .

One most alarming feature of the madness which has filled [11] the country in respect to both the acquisition and the use of wealth, is the fact that the conservative energy of religion has not been exerted as it ought to have been.  Indeed, so far as the acquisition of riches is concerned, and the estimation to be put upon riches, religion itself seems to have caught the spirit of the times.  You find men of high religious professions, among the foremost in the pursuit of wealth—not merely serving God and their generation in the ways of honest productive industry, and receiving, to hold and to use as the stewards of God, whatever of gain his providence may distribute to them—but rushing headlong in the wild scramble of speculation, justifying it all to their own conscience, and to the friends who behold them with fear, by the plea, that thus they are to acquire the means of great usefulness, and to do much for the kingdom of Christ.

Nay, we have seen religious institutions of no small name and credit in the religious world—colleges and theological seminaries, [peculiarly adapted] to the spirits and wants of the age—embarking with all the credit of their sanctity, and inviting thousands to embark with them in the name of God, upon the uncertain sea of traffic in wild lands, and in the building lots of cities yet to be.  So in respect to expenditure, has there not been, on the part of those who profess to shine as lights in the world, a most mischievous conformity to the extravagances and selfishness around them?  . . .

Though these are the most obvious among the moral causes of our present calamities, we are by no means, to consider these as all.  Is there not also a cause to be seen, in the want of a true and intelligent patriotism?  [12]  To the multitudes, the mere propounding of this question may seem like an insult upon the public spirit of the nation.  . . .  [However,] of false, affected patriotism, the thin disguise of selfishness and base ambition, there is more than enough.  Of blind, misguided, patriotic passion, there is no lack.  But what we need, is true and intelligent patriotism; the patriotism which, rising above all selfish and factious views, seeks, with simplicity of aim, the public welfare.  The patriotism which, guided by the same common sense that is ordinarily employed in respect to other interests, is willing to commit the public welfare to men honest enough and wise enough to be trusted; and then is willing to treat them with respectful confidence due to men of superior wisdom and unstained integrity, in the administration of so great a trust.

Instead of this, . . . the whole country is divided into organized parties, to one or the other of which every citizen is summoned to attach himself, under the penalty of being denounced on all side as indifferent to the public welfare.  Every

citizen is to choose only to which side he will attach himself, and thenceforward his political duty is summed up in acting with and for his party.  His duty, as invested with the right of suffrage, is to vote for the candidates agreed upon in the party conventions—candidates, selected not for their capacity or integrity, but with a leading or exclusive reference to their ‘availability.’  Thus citizens in all other respects conscientious, will give their suffrages and their influence to place in high stations, men whom they would not trust with the guardianship of their children, or their estates.  . . .

Next, it is made an established principle, that whatever party is successful in an election, is to seize immediately upon every office and every lucrative contract in the gift of the [13] government as their lawful and exclusive possession, sweeping from all place of emolument in the public service, every incumbent who is not [of their party.]  No party is ever in the minority, which does not complain of this proscription.  No party fails to practice the same proscription, whenever it becomes the majority.  . . .  The government, not only in its distribution of patronage, but in all measures, is expected to be administered, as far as practicable, with a chief regard to the continued ascendancy of the party in power, which is assumed to be the only means of saving the country.  Those entrusted with the government, know that their power has been committed to them, not by the people for the public good, but by an organized faction of the people, for the benefit of that faction.

They know full well, that every measure of theirs, however wise or patriotic, will of course be misrepresented and opposed by those of the opposing faction; and they have no choice but either to abdicate their power, or to wield it for the uses and at the dictation of the party that gave it to their keeping.  Thus, whatever may be the changes of party ascendancy, we are doomed to behold, in the places once made illustrious by the Trumbulls, the Shermans, the Jays, and the Washington of elder and better times, men who, whatever may be their talents or their virtues, are there only as the heads, perhaps only as the tools, of a triumphant faction.  . . . [14]

Another of the moral causes of the present embarrassment—and one which ought not to be overlooked—may be sufficiently indicated by a few easy questions.  In what part of the country did this distress begin?  Where is it felt with the heaviest pressure?  Where is it, that the depreciation of all kinds of property has been most rapid and fatal?  It is just where the soil, cultivated by the reluctant toil of slaves, yields its abundant products into hand unhardened by labor.  . . .  [15]  There is probably no hazard in saying, that God has now commenced his own measures for the abolition of slavery.  . . .”  [3-15]


Henry Colman, The Times:  A Discourse . . . Sunday, June 11, 1837 (Boston:  Weeks, Jordan; Marden & Kimball, 1837), 28 pp.

“Mr. Colman’s Sermon [cover], Delivered in the Hollis Street Church, Boston.”  [title page]

“The condition of our community, anxious and distressed as it is, strongly engages the thoughts and feelings of every man who is capable of thought and sentiment.  . . .  In such an emergency, it is alike our duty and interest to preserve as far as possible our self-possession; to look at our actual situation; to behave like men prepared to meet any event; and not to be wanting in any duty, which the occasion may demand.  If there is cause for anxiety, there is no [4] ground for despair; and nothing, under the blessing of Heaven, is more necessary to the occasion than clearness of mind and firmness of heart.

If this occasion were strictly political, I should leave the subject untouched.  In my humble opinion, party politics should under no circumstances be suffered to obtrude themselves upon the pulpit.  Just as far as it may be deemed political, I shall leave the subject with those whose province it appertains.

But it has important moral bearings; and in this view, it is a legitimate subject of our consideration.  Religion properly concerns itself with every matter of moral duty; and in the events which have recently passed and are now passing before us, there are illustrations of the moral government of God, which deeply affect every thoughtful mind; and breathe, in every incident, the most salutary admonition.

I.  What then is the condition in which we find ourselves?  Are we overtaken by pestilence, war, famine, earthquake, civil disturbance, anarchy, or revolution?  Nothing of this has come; little of this is at present to be feared.  The worst evils, therefore, that we could suffer have not reached us.”  [3-4]

. . .

“A stranger, in traveling from one portion of our privileged country to another, would hear indeed much complaint; but he would perceive no want; he would see nothing of war, or pestilence, or famine, or civil commotion.  . . .  [7]  What are the evils from which we suffer?  Are they real or imaginary?  . . .

Our calamities are of a pecuniary nature in their origin, but a great amount of actual distress and misery spring out of them.  Money is the representative of wealth.  Wealth is the result of human labor, in creating, gathering, or fitting for man’s subsistence and comfort the products of the earth, and appears in the accumulation of those products.  As the representative of wealth, money performs various important services; sets everywhere human industry and enterprise in operation; and thus increases production and wealth.  If what is called money were the representative always and only of real wealth, there would be many fewer difficulties than now attend it.

But another element comes in; an early, and in many respects a [8] convenient and useful invention, under the form of credit; and credit is made to represent wealth; and promises to pay pass by agreement as money.  It might be deemed not befitting the place or occasion to go far into this subject.  I shall therefore forbear.  I shall only say that credit is not money; credit is not wealth; and a vast amount of our difficulties and distresses have arisen from the great mistake of considering it and using it as wealth.

Credit, when given for the purpose of stimulating a wholesome industry and enterprise in pursuits, which promise a fair return on labor, is a valuable agent.  But when loaned for the purposes of speculating upon the products of the industry of others, and of abusing their ignorance, folly, imbecility, or incapacity of self-protection; credit, when lent for the purposes of gambling, and of staking everything upon what are called mere chances of trade, becomes a curse of the community; destroys all useful and patient industry; breaks down integrity and honor; and is sure in the end to bring distress and ruin.  Credit, when kept within exact and judicious limits, is a most serviceable agent; but it is always liable to gross abuses and prolific in evil when unrestrained.

Now whether the government were themselves the first movers in this system of almost unbounded credit; or whether they are responsible for not having restrained it when they had the power, if they had that power; or whether they voluntarily or knowingly removed the salutary restraints, which would have limited this evil; or whether it [9] were possible for the government to have done anything in the case—are matters which it would be improper here to express any opinion.  . . .

The government among us is what the majority of the people choose it should be.  If the government be bad, the people made the government what it is; and upon them should rest the heaviest weight of blame, who, knowing beforehand what it would be, voluntarily declared it should be what it is.

The abuses of the credit system certainly lie at the bottom of our troubles.  Credit implies of course a promise to pay.  If the man who gets credit does not mean to pay; if he has not a reasonable and confident prospect of making payment; if he does not make proper exertion to pay; if he take any unusual risk, any risk which he knows that his creditor, if he had expected him to take it, would not have given him the means of taking; if by any improper personal indulgence, extravagance, want of due economy and carefulness, he squanders and destroys his means of making payment; then he is blamable; and such conduct is a breach of trust; it is fraud, and it is nothing else.  . . .”  [6-9]

“But what have been our abuses of the credit system?  Not a little, then, of what has been called money among us has never been based on real value; has had no intrinsic worth; has been the representative of nothing; was conceived in fraud, brought forth in fraud; and carries nothing but villainy on its front; a promise to pay, which there were never any means nor honest intention of fulfilling.  . . .  Yet, while honest institutions kept within the limits of safety, others, if with no intentions of fraud, yet certainly with an excessive imprudence, flooded the community with what was called money, but which was only in a measure the representative of actual wealth, and was issued upon what may have been deemed a reasonable presumption that the abundant returns of agriculture, commerce, and manufactures would be sufficient and in season to make those obligations [11] good.  Now had they kept strictly within these limits; and had those persons in whose hands this money was placed, confined themselves to these wholesome pursuits, and by persevering industry and exemplary frugality looked anxiously to the means of discharging their obligations, and have incurred no unnecessary risks, all might have been well.

But these institutions found themselves possessed of a power of creating what seemed wealth and what a credulous community regarded as wealth, at their pleasure; and became competitors with each other in extending their loans, these loans were immensely expanded.  And as again men are always ready to borrow when they find those who are not only ready but urgent to lend, the consequence was a sudden and vast influx of supposed wealth; and it became everywhere and to all persons accessible.

II.  1.  The great and sudden increase of money depreciates its value; and leads to an increase in the nominal value of every other kind of property.  As property of every description seems rapidly to rise in value, the spirit of speculation is enkindled; soon it becomes everywhere a race; and thousands of competitors are rushing into the arena.  The wholesome and quiet pursuits of industry are forsaken in the passion for sudden acquisitions.  The trumpeted successes of some individuals give a powerful excitement to the awakened passions of the community.  Dreams, golden dreams of possession, power, and luxury dazzle the mind, obscure the light of reason, pervert the judgment, and [12] silence all lessons of experience.  Acquisition stimulates the already excited passion of avarice to an enormous degree.  Everything is now converted into a gambling stake; and with spirit and desperation of gamblers, men bid upon each other, every one hoping that he may at least in his turn have an opportunity of preying upon some one less shrewd than himself.

In such a competition every man becomes thoroughly selfish; and the way is prepared for and the transition easy to the grossest deceptions, and to acts of extreme injustice, fraud, and inhumanity, with men who, in the beginning, would have shrunk back with alarm from the consequences into which they now rush headlong, and are thinking but little what articles they put to sale in the market, where character and honor become venal at almost any price.

The result of all this, it requires little sagacity to foresee.  As time goes on, the day of reckoning advances; a day of reckoning comes to everything in human life.  . . .  Promises to pay have been piled upon one another like bricks in a building.  One necessarily depends upon another; and as the property in question has been carried up by this factitious process, far indeed out of sight of its original and true value, when the account is to be closed, there is in truth nothing to pay with; the rocket bursts at its highest elevation; and a general failure, with its consequent dishonor, is the inevitable result.  [13]

2.  The next great evil in this system of credit is the extravagance and wastefulness of expenditure to which it leads.  In the former case, the property which was the subject of speculation remains unaltered, and the increased value was wholly factitious and capricious.  In the latter there occurs an actual loss, a waste of wealth; and therefore a serious tax upon labor.

The possession of money, though it all be borrowed, gives a man the appearance of wealth, and leads others to credit him; and consequently, by a kind of principle of reproduction, affords him in some cases an almost unlimited command over the purses of other men.  That he is thought rich, induces him to live in a way to keep up the delusion.  The possession of money, though it be not his own, is apt to deceive a man’s own self; and to lead him to think himself rich, when in fact he owns nothing.  A foolish confidence in his own good luck, as he chooses to term it, induces him often to speculate upon chances of success, which are altogether precarious; and to spend upon gains that he may never realize.

As he enjoys unquestioned credit, and has always money at command, he does not hesitate to live upon credit, and to go deep into extravagant and luxurious expenditures.  His habitation is magnificent and gorgeous; his furniture most splendid; his table covered with the most costly viands; his equipages numerous and expensive.  All these are the product of other men’s labor; he consumes them; they are eaten, or drunken, or worn out.  Thus the means of human comfort and subsistence [14] are wasted.  . . .

3.  The curses of abused credit to the honest and diligent merchant and the frugal and hard-working laborer, are very great.  In a community so thoroughly imbued, may I not say diseased, with the credit system as ours is, it becomes all but impossible for any merchant, who has not a superabundance of capital, to get on without credit.  He must sell upon credit, if he would sell at all.  He must of necessity, therefore, buy upon credit.  . . .

A true merchant values his word as he does his life.  But in a community where business concerns extend in such various directions and are intermingles with each other in such countless ramifications, he is inevitably exposed to suffer from the defalcations or improvidence or frauds of others.  . . .  [15]

4.  The effects of these abuses upon public morals are most seriously to be depreciated.  The extension of credit is regarded by most persons as the creation of so much wealth.  In no case are men more ready to be deceived; and in none is the deception more hurtful.”  [10-15]

            . . .

“In what light, then, are we to look upon this result; and what are the duties which the crisis calls for?  It is, as we all may see, the operation of natural causes.  . . .  The religious mind will see in it the righteous retribution of Divine Providence for our avarice, extravagance, and frauds.”  [17]

            . . .

III.  . . .  “The remedy for these evils is not for human wisdom at once to prescribe nor human power to apply.  Evils of such widespread magnitude, in a state of violent effervescence, must presently work themselves clear.  The remedy may be, in the necessity of the case must be, painful; but to evils which we cannot escape, let us submit with firmness and a calm reliance upon the providence of God to carry us through them.  It is perhaps little that any single individual can do; but anyone is criminal if he fails to do that little,” which includes paying debts, forbearing where possible obligations of others, practicing frugality, working hard, obeying all laws, and keeping the peace.  . . .  [19]

            . . .

“The evils and miseries of civil commotion, anarchy and revolution, no language can utter; the fire being once kindled, no imagination can predict the misery, the losses, the extent or the end of the conflagration.  . . .  [24]  We have much to fear in our popular government from angry and violent excitements of the people.  I should look upon it as fatal to the hopes of every friend of a free and elective government, when the ball of civil war and armed resistance to the laws should once be set in active motion.

Never in my life have I experienced a more disagreeable sensation, never have I had a more painful shudder come over me, than when a short time since, [the day of the suspension of specie payments by the banks in New York], in our great commercial metropolis, I found the military, with their beating drums and glittering bayonets, assembled to keep the citizens in subjection, and prevent their demanding their honest dues.  I give no opinion of the expediency or inexpediency of these measures; but I confess I felt at first some reasonable doubts whether I was still a citizen of a free and happy America.

The great principle of our government is, that the people shall rule; and their will, as expressed by the majority, shall be the law.  Now is there any government on earth, has history ever furnished an example of a government for which, as the friends of human rights and liberty, we would exchange such a constitution? I know of none; and may God in his mercy long preserve us from any different one.  The majority prevail here.  . . .  [25]

I am prompt to admit that there are cases in which resistance to government becomes a duty; but this is always a matter to be most maturely considered. The evil suffered must be extreme to justify an extreme remedy; and the remedy must be comparatively certain, or it would be folly or madness to apply it.  The right of revolution is an ultimate right; and certainly not to be resorted to until every constitutional remedy has failed; and we have fully prepared our minds for the consequences that may ensue.”  [23-25]

            . . .

“As Christians and as men, let us free ourselves from that miserable, narrow, and degrading avarice to which so many are enslaved.  The actual wants of men are comparatively small to the well-regulated and religious mind.  . . .

Viewed in the light of true religion, which is none other than the light of the truest philosophy, this life is a scene of moral discipline and probation.  It must end in death.  As we brought nothing into this world, so we can carry nothing out.  There are, however, imperishable riches, which are infinitely raised above all mortal changes; the riches of wisdom, integrity, usefulness, benevolence, and piety.  . . .”  [28]


Report, [beginning in 1837] of the Select Committee [to the Pennsylvania Legislature] in Relation to the Sunbury and Erie Railroad (Reading PA, 1851), 15 p.

“Mr. Walker, from the select Committee to which was referred so much of the Governor’s Message as relates to the Sunbury and Erie Railroad, made a report which was read as follows:  . . .

They find that a company was incorporated in the year 1837, to construct a railroad between Sunbury PA and Erie PA.  That the provisions of the incorporating act are liberal and that the company organized under it in the year 1837.  That during the years 1838 and 1839, a corps of engineers, under Edward Miller, explored the country between the points mentioned in the charter.  That at the close of each year a report was made.  . . .  That these reports demonstrate the practicability of constructing a continuous road without an inclined plane, and with no grade exceeding 52.8 feet to the mile, [and much less over most of the route].  . . . By these  [facts] it appears that the engineers made as full, accurate, and thorough an exploration of the country as the time would permit, and demonstrated that, by the Sunbury and Erie line, the seaboard can be connected with the [Great] Lakes at Erie, not only by the shortest [some 250 miles], but by a route (except at Albany PA) in which the least elevation is to be overcome.  . . .

That financial and commercial revulsion that arrested many of the improvements of the country then in apparent prosperity, that compelled the company then constructing the New York and Erie Railroad, the natural rival of the Sunbury and Erie, to stop, arrested also the progress of this company.  Unfortunately, upon the return of better times, the work was not resumed.  The important question presented for consideration by the [Governor’s] Message referred to your committee is, should this work be resumed, and if so, when?  . . .”  [3]

In pages 3-15, the Committee presented information about the area’s history, commencing with the treaty between the United States and the Indians that deeded in 1792 to Pennsylvania some “forty-five miles of the south shore of Lake Erie” and the steady growth of commerce around the Lakes.  The Committee described engineering reports and comparisons with routes of competing railroads and provided an optimistic assessment of the line’s prospects for expanding shipments from Pennsylvania’s major coal fields, as well as for connecting with canals and existing railroad lines to Philadelphia.  Construction started in 1852 and was completed in 1864.

“READING, PENNSYLVANIA, February 13, 1851.  Your committee, then, recommends the renewal of the charter of the Sunbury and Erie Railroad, a reorganization of the company, and a more thorough investigation of the subject.

We do not recommend that the State take stock, but suggest the propriety of a legislative appeal being made to the [federal] government, for the donation to this State of 3,000,000 acres of land, the proceeds of which to be invested in this road, and the dividends [received] to be pledged for the support of our Common Schools.

This, if Pennsylvania insists upon it, can be had.  It is due to her position, and the objects to be accomplished—the education of her children, and the improvement of her territory, are worthy of the exertion.”  [15]


The Pleasing Art of Money-Catching, and the Way to Thrive, by Turning a Penny to Advantage; With a New Method of Regulating Daily Expenses (Falkirk, Scotland, 1840), 24 pp.


 “The Misery of Those that Want Money and Are in Debt.  If you have money, you may become one of the Livery-men of London, an Assistant, Warden, or a master of a company.  But if you want money, you will never arrive to the honor of a beadle; for even for such an inferior employment you must make friends, and that cannot be done without bribes, nor can you bribe without money.  If you have money, you may be an honest man, and a good man; but if you want money, you must be a knave by consequence.”  [6]

            . . .

“The Causes of Men Wanting Money.  . . .  Some again live in perpetual want, being wholly given to idleness.  These are the drones of the commonwealth, who deserve not to live.”  [14]

. . .

“How Persons May Supply Themselves with Money at All Times.  . . .  First, be very diligent and industrious in their respective trades and callings, and not slothful in business.  Secondly, let him take heed of idleness, and all vain and idle companions, that loiter up and down, and squander away their time as it were of no value, though it is the most precious thing in the world, there being nothing in the world that is a more certain indication of ruin and destruction, than the wasting and mis-inproving [sic] of our time.”  [16]

 . . .

“New Method for Ordering Expenses.  1.  See that your comings in be more than your layings out . . .  2.  Keep an exact account of what you lay out, and what you receive . . .  3.  Balance your accounts at least once every quarter     . . .  4.  In laying out your money, trust not to your servants. . . .”  [21]


[Calvin Colton], The Crisis of the Country By Junius (New York:  Egbert Benson, 1840), 16 pp.


Colton had been a Presbyterian missionary in western New York and a rector of an Episcopal congregation in New York City.  In the 1840s and 1850s, he was an author of numerous tracts in support of the Whig Party and Henry Clay, whose writings he edited and life he wrote.


The Credit System and the No Credit System.  How the Credit System Affects the Poor.  The poor man’s family is sick, and he wants a doctor.  The doctor comes, and waits until the poor man can pay.  He wants medicine at the apothecary’s and the apothecary does him the same favor.  Suppose he can never pay.  The doctor and the apothecary can both afford to forgive him the debt; they consented to the risk; distress has been relieved; and society is benefited by a voluntary tax on those who could afford it.  Besides, the man may be able to pay; and in nine cases out of ten, or in nineteen out of twenty, he will.

How the No Credit System Affects the Same Case.  The doctor doesn’t come; the apothecary refuses medicine; the sick member of the family may live, but more likely will die.  There is distress aggravated; there is perhaps loss of life; on one part. There is a sense of unkindness, and a want of humanity, despair, death.  On the other is hardness of heart, a consciousness of wrong, at least to humanity.  Society is injured; nobody is benefitted.

How the Credit System Affects a Young Man Setting Up in Life.  We will suppose he has earned a good character, is respected, esteemed, and in all respects qualified for this, that, or the other kind of business; but he has nothing to begin with—no capital.  He has friends, however, who are able and willing to supply his wants, and wait till his success in business may enable him to refund.  The parties who help him know there is some risk, but they can afford it, and they have a good feeling, a gratification in the mater.  If they lose all, they are not embarassed by it; whether they lose or not, they are better in heart; they are conscious of having done a good thing; and society is benefited.  It is in no way injured, because the property is somewhere, in use, though it may not come back to them.  But in most cases of this kind, the young man succeeds, pays all, is thereby put forward in life, obtains standing, has credit of his own, can do the same favor to others, will be disposed to it from gratitude, is respected, honored, blessed.  He is also enabled to do a great deal of good in various relations, and for the most important purposes in life, because he has the means.  He may be honored with public trusts, and discharge them for public good.  He is a made man, and made by credit; a blessing to himself, to his family, to society.

How the No Credit System Affects the Same Case.  The money lent by these kind friends to this worthy young man, would perhaps otherwise have been hoarded up as dead capital, to do nobody any good.  At least [2] it would have been retained for selfish ends, instead of being appropriated for generous objects.  The feelings of these parties, who have come to the aid of so worthy a person, and by that means made a thrifty, useful, happy man, would, in the case of the no credit system, have failed of this high gratification, and been bound up in selfishness.  This young man would have been doomed to remain where he was, to look this way and that way for help, finding none.  He would have failed to get into the business of the case supposed, which belongs to the credit system; he would have encountered hard-heartedness all around him, grown selfish himself, perhaps discouraged.  The chances are many that he would never come to any importance in society, that he would have got into low pursuits and a low condition, perhaps abandoned to vice or ended his days in crime.

What proportion of young men in our country are so favored as to inherit capital?  Probably not one in a hundred.  Will they not, then, be in favor of the credit system?  Will not fathers, who look with anxious concern on the sons to whom they can leave nothing but their blessing, be in favor of this system?

How the Credit System Affects Mechanics.  Take, for example a journeyman printer of good character, who is offered a chance, with good prospects, of placing himself at the head of an establishment in his line of business as proprietor; but he has not sufficient capital.  The credit system, however, comes in and enables hm to conclude the purchase.  He rises at once to importance, with every prospect of doing well.  The credit system has given him a place and advantages in one day, which, it is possible, he could not have acquired in all his lifetime under the no credit system, and nobody is injured by it.  They who have accommodated him were perhaps as willing to do it for their own interest, as he was to accept it for his.

This may illustrate the case of ten thousand, more probably of a hundred thousand mechanics in our cities and country, who are deeply interested in the credit system, as the individual here supposed.  The same may be said of young men and others engaged in agriculture, manufactures, in trade, in any calling of life, requiring some capital to begin with.  On the no credit system, most of them might give up all hope of being able to establish themselves, within a reasonable period, in a respectable and advantageoud position for the business they have chosen.

How the Credit System Affects Those Who Are Already Established in Business, and Are Worthy of Credit.  It enables them to enlarge their plans on a prudent basis, as they may judge best; to attempt and accomplish many things which active minds prompt to, which are essential to happiness, possibly to the greater usefulness.  It is a right which they have earned by their probity, by their good conduct, by their diligence in business, and which is conceded to them by the respect and good esteem in which they are held.  Their good name is as much a capital as their money; in acquiring the last honestly, they have acquired the first, and with the same pains.  They are, therefore, as fairly entitled to trade upon one, as upon the other.

How the No Credit System Affects the Same Cases.  It is a libel on good character; it is a libel on society; it is a quenching of the spirit of noble and generous confidence; it is cramping the expansive powers of sound public morality; it prevents the accomplishment of great good; it checks activity and limits useful enterprise; it curtails individual and public wealth; and in a thousand ways robs society of benefits and advantages it woud otherwise realize.

How the Credit System Affects a Poor Young Man of Promising Abilities Who Has Lost His Health and Cannot Work, and Wants to Get a Liberal Education.  His friends take him by the hand, and help him, with the understanding, if he [3] should be able, that he should remunerate them.  The young man gets his education by this assistance, enters his profession, is successful, and returns to his benefactors to redeem his pledge.  Possibly they may be in circumstances not to want it, or so gratified with the good they have done, as to say, ‘No, you are welcome,’ and offer to cancel the obligation.  Still, he may insist upon repayment.  Who will deny that this is a great blessing to all parties and society?

But suppose the young man dies in the course of his education, or is unsuccessful, his benefactors always had this contingency in prospect, can generally afford the loss, and there is no complaint.  Who is injured?

How the No Credit System Affects the Same Case.  The unfortunate young man is cut off from all prospects in life, left to want, perhaps to misery and starvation.  His supposed benefactors must now be supposed hard-hearted and selfish; kindness and morality are so much the less; and it is possible, that society is deprived of one of its brightest ornaments, of a most useful and public character, and the country of one of its most illustrious men.

How the Credit System Affects the Honest and Strong, Though Poor Man, Who Goes with No Estate but His Axe and Rifle on His Shoulder into the Western Wilderness.  It is possible that even his rifle and axe were furnished by a kind neighbor who said, ‘Pay for it if you prosper; if not, you are welcome.’  In the first place, on the basis of the credit system, he may avail himself of the privileges of a squatter, if he choses.  That is credit, and his creditor is the Government of his country.  He has no money, but he has a strong arm, and a sound and courageous heart.  . . .

Our pioneer of the wilderness, having cleared away his patch . . . and built his cabin, takes down his rifle, makes his way through the forest to the nearest of one of the older ‘settlers,’ who had begun in like manner, but now has large openings [of cleared land], a barn filled with grain, cattle, pigs, poultry, &c.  He negotiates with this neighbor, whom he perhaps he had never seen before, for seed, pigs, fowl, a cow, perhaps a yoke of oxen—all on credit, for still he has no money.  The look and bearing of the man are a sufficient recommendation, the bargain is closed, with no other security than the common generous faith of the West, ‘Pay us when you can.’  Not even a scrap of paper is demanded.  The obligation is written on the heart, the best of all securities in such a case.  ‘God bless you, neighbor,’ says the generous creditor, who knows how to symphathize with such a case, ‘Let us see you when you can,’ and they part.

Our pioneer takes care to assert the preseumption right of a squatter, has booked to him at the Government land office as much land as the terms of the sale will allow, or as he may want.  He works away upon credit, pays for his seed and first supply of stock, meets his engagements at the land office; after two, three, or four years, is well off, though still in debt, still living and prospering on credit.  He revisits his native place, marries the daughter of the kind nieghbor who gave him the axe and rifle, who welcomes his return with all the generous feelings of a benefactor.

We may suppose our pioneer to have squatted on the prairies of the West, and by adapting the scene to the circumstances, the result would be the same.  . . .  This brief story is not fiction, but fact.  It is a true copy of the history of our ‘Great West;’ it is exactly in accordance with the whole history of our country.  Nearly all of our best citizens and greatest men began with nothing—started on [4] credit.  Credit has been the spring of our enterprise, the nurse of our prosperity, the cause of our greatness.

How the No Credit System Would Affect the Case.  Clearly this noble-hearted man would have never gone west, for he had not the means to get there, and cut down the trees.  Nor could the Government have allowed him to squat on the no credit system.  Neither could he have obtained his pre-emption right.  Not one of the results of this interesting narrative—which would apply equally well to a thousand, to ten thousand cases of fact, to the whole history of our western world—would have transpired without the credit system.  Without this, western states would have remained a wilderness to this day.  The prosperity and greatness of that teeming, active, go-ahead portion of the American Union, are founded on the creative, prolific principle of credit.  The prosperity and greatness of our whole country, of this Republic, are founded upon it.  In describing a few of these cases, we write the history of this nation, so far as respects the causes of our unprecedented growth and importance.”  [1-4]


Colton titled the next sections, “How the Credit System Affected the Early History of the North American Colonies, How the No Credit System Would Have Affected the Early history of the Country, [5] How the Credit System Affected the Attainment of our Independence, How the Credit System Enabled Us to Carry on the Last War with Great Britain, How the Credit System Still Affects the Government of the United States, How the No Credit System Would Affect the Government of the United States, [6] How the Credit System Affects the British Empire, How the No Credit System Would Affect the British Empire.


How the Attempt to Introduce the No Credit System Has Forced Our Government to Resort to Credit.  Nothing but bad government can keep the American people down.  It they are not up soon after the revulsion of overaction, it is only because the Government will not let them get up; if they are not going ahead, it is only because the Government has knocked them on the head.  The no credit system will not only destroy a Government, but it will destroy a people.  Carried out, it is the dissolution of society.  This is the true definition, as well as its effect.  An attempt to introduce it, therefore, from the highest department of society, from the Government, is just knocking the people on the head.  They can’t stand it.  It is governing too much.  It is destroying faith, morality, the bond of the social state.

Just let the people know that this is what the Government is about, and that is enough.  They feel the blow and reel under it.  The body politic shakes, trembles, and quivers through all its parts to its extremities.  Men are frightened; confidence takes flight; rumor with her thousand tongues stalks abroad, and society presents a scene of confusion, with disaster quick upon the heel of disaster.

When a Government, instead of endeavoring to repair and reinvigorate a shaken credit, strikes another and more tremendous blow, by telling the people, ‘Since you will abuse credit, you shan’t have it,’ it is like a bolt from heaven that shivers the oak.  It is punishing the whole nation for the sins of the few.  . . .  No wonder such a mode of treatment reacts upon the Government, and they find themselves in a few short months fallen from a surplus to a deficient and rapidly falling revenue.  No wonder they are compelled to resort to credit to save themselves, as they have destroyed credit in the ranks of the people by the threat of doing it.  A country thus injured is so far imperverished.”  [5-6]


Colton titled the next sections, “How the State Debts Are Affected by This Alarm Occasioned by the Action of the Government, How the Independent Treasury Is a Government Bank, and How a Government Bank Differs from a National Bank, How the Constitutional Prerogative of the Respective States to Control Their Own Monetary Capital May Be, and Is Likely to be Ursurped by this Government Bank, How the Operation of This Government Bank Will Work a Revolution in a Ruinous Depreciation of the Prices of Property and Labor, How a Despotism Can Grow Up In a Republic, [11] How This Experiment Will Affect Our Relations to Great Britain and Other Nations.


“How New theories and New Experiments of Government Are Dangerous to Our Institutions.  If they enter into the vitals of society, affecting the whole body from the heart to the extremities, forcing the entire machinery to act on a new principle, or new principles, like the scheme of the Government Bank and its comprehensive policy, it is a revolution.  It was the intention of the framers of our Government, it is the intention of the democracy of this country, that this Government and these institutions should be maintained, not overthrown.  No more theories.  No more experiments.  No more deviations from the advice of experience.  We know what is good.  We don’t want that which is uncertain.  In our present state and prospects, the probable results of this rashness are fearful to contemplate. [12]

How to Know the True Democracy.  Fortunately, the true doctrine of American democracy has obtained such a place in the public mind, that it cannot be easily dislodged, or cheated out of its claims.  Every freeman has got it stereotyped in his brain.  It is this:  Don’t govern us too much.  . . .  Let the people alone.  They make mistakes, but they will in the end come right of themselves, quicker than any government can set them right.  Indeed, any attempts of Government to prevent the transient evils which result from the action of our free institutions, will only abridge freedom, and aggravate public calamity.  Ours is a popular, democratic government, and you cannot touch the primary springs of such institutions to control them, without embarassing the whole machinery.  It won’t do.  It is the very destruction of our liberties.

It will be seen, by the things we have had under consideration in these pages, that this great and fundamental principle of American democracy has been and is being violated by the policy and measures of our Government.  Our only safety is in returning to that principle.  The voice of the people of this land should be heard, from Nova Scotia to Texas, in one loud, long note of determined purpose:  Don’t govern too much.  Let the people alone.  If we get into difficulty, we’ll get out again.

It is the violation of this vital principle of democracy, it is this concentration of influence in the national Executive, this gradual encroachment of the principle of consolidation, this Federal grasp that clutches all things it can lay its hands upon, to perpetuate power in the same set of men—yes, it is this that has led to all our difficulties.

How the Abolition of Credit Is the Abolition of Morality.  Define credit as we will, we cannot disjoin it from public morality.  It is always the exact measure of the soundness of the social state.  What could be more preposterous, then, what more shocking, than for a Christian Government, for any Government, whatever, to undertake the abolition of credit?  Is it possible there should be too much, ‘a rendundancy.’ of public morality, or that it should be too influential?  It has certainly received a shock in the recent disasters of our country, and urgently demands the healing, restoring agency of a parental Government.  Yet they seem to have set themselves to eject it from the body politic, as if it were a foul demon?

How the Government Governs Too Much.  [Politicians] govern too much in presuming that, if the people think they can better their condition or promote their happiness by planting mulberry trees, or trading in city lots, or projecting a new town in the woods, or shipping warming pans to the West Indies, or ice to Calcutta or New South Wales, or sailing in a balloon, they will not claim leave to try; and if they fail, that they will not assert the right of trying something else according to their best discretion.  They govern too much in presuming that the people will allow their private enterprises to be interfered with, or their private affairs superintended, by Government regulations and police.  They govern too much in presuming that the evils of indiscretion in the management of private affairs can better be remedied by the action of Government, than by the experience of the parties concerned.  They govern too much in presuming to call the private enterprises of our citizens ‘wild speculation,’ ‘fraudulent credit,’ ‘gambling,’ ‘swindling,’ &c., and then proceeding to punish these acts as vices and crimes, without trial, themselves being accusers, judges, and executioners.  They govern us too much in punishing the innocent with the guilty—a nation of innocents for a few offenders—and in doing the whole by an ex post facto law of their own devising.

It may be that many of our citizens have made too free with their freedom.  This is the natural operation of our free institutions.  But they were for the most part honest; they made haste to get rich; they have suffered for it; and now what do they get from the Government of their country?  Sympathy, kindness, [13] help, protection?  No such thing.  But they are visited in vengenance, arraigned as criminals, sentenced without trial, put to torture without mercy; and here we are all in the same mass; all dragged to the same doom, whipped and scouraged as if we were a nation of malefactors!

What right have our Government, either to call the private enterprises of our citizens vices and crimes, or to punish them as such by ex post facto enactments?  . . .  Obviously, we are governed too much.  The best Government is that which is neither seen, nor felt, by the innocent and good citizen.  That is true American democracy.  . . .”  [11-13]


Colton titled the next sections, “A Hard Case, How We Have Fallen, How the Grievances We Now Suffer Compare with Those Complained of in the Declaration of Independence, It Can’t Be Worse, It Must Be Better, One Presidential Term, Now and Forever, Away with Party.


“NOTICE.  The price of this pamphlet is $3.00 per 100 and $20.00 per 1000, post paid. . . .  One hundred thousand of this Tract have been ordered in two weeks.”  [16]




Barrett Family Papers, Legal records, four letters, bankruptcy, 1841-1843.  [JHU Special Collections:  Financial Services Manuscripts, Chronological File]


Most of the papers relate to the financial affairs of Jaazaniah B. Barrett (1788-1845), a farmer/merchant in Rutland County, Vermont, who was the fourth of eleven children born to Jazaniah Barrett (1752-1834) and Rhoda Reed (1760-1844).  Jazaniah and Rhoda married in 1780 at Smithfield, Rhode Island and settled in Uxbridge, which would be the birthplace of their first three children.

The family moved north through Worcester to the border town of Richmond, New Hampshire where Jaazaniah B. Barrett, Jr. was born December 6, 1788.  Their last child, Stephen, was born in 1803 at Danby, Vermont.  Jaazaniah, then age fourteen, and Stephen would remain in Rutland County even though their parents later crossed the border to Washington County, New York.

Jaazaniah Barrett, Jr. married Sally (Sallie) Barker, prospered, and at age thirty-five, bought for $400 about sixty-four acres in Rupert, Bennington, Vermont and eight years later, acquired for $1000 from a member of his wife’s family some 300 acres near Middletown, Rutland, Vermont.  Reflecting her parents’ status, their daughter, Louisa Barrett married Moses E. Vail.  Vail years later would cap a successful mercantile career in partnership with Harris G. Otis (Vail & Otis) by being elected to the Vermont Legislature.

The papers document, beginning in 1837, a growing tangle of disputes between Jaazaniah’s firm, Barrett & Lillie, and its customers as well as its suppliers.  One Amasa Bancroft sued Jaazaniah Barrett, who subsequently did not accept a court appointed auditor’s analysis and decision that favored Bancroft.  Jaazaniah Barrett was incarcerated and ultimately declared bankruptcy.

While Jaazaniah was in jail, he received word from Stephen that his wife, was ill enough to be taken to the surgeon for bleeding.  She recovered and would outlive Jaazaniah by about a year.

Papers from several lawsuits in the two years before Jaazaniah’s death in 1845 and the settlement of the widow’s estate, by her executor and son-in-law, Moses E. Vail, hint at the extent of the family’s tribulations during their last years.



Amasa Bancroft v. Jaazaniah B. Barrett, Subpoena, March 20, 1841.  Half sheet, printed and holograph, folded and docketed as below.


“Amasa Bancroft vs. J.Barrett, Sub for [illegible], with itemization of costs, which total $7.63”


“State of Vermont, Rutland County.  To the Sheriff of the County of Rutland his Deputy or either Constable in said County, or any person to serve & return.  Greeting.  By the authority of State of Vermont.  You are hereby commanded to [much print crossed out] summon Stephen Barrett of Middletown to appear before me at A.R. Vail’s office in Danby on the 24th day of March 1841 at 1:00 o’clock in the afternoon; then and there to give evidence of what he knows in a case wherein Amasa Bancroft, surviving partner of  [illegible firm name], is plaintiff.  Barrett, Deft., to be heard third before John Vail, Esq., Justice of the Peace in said Danby.  To the damage of the witness if he does not appear, fifty-five Dollars.  Hereof fail not, and of your doings hereon, make return according to law.  Given under my hand at Middletown this 20th day of March A.D. 1841.  [illegible signature] Justice Peace.”  [much print crossed out]


[verso]  “Middletown.  March 24, 1841 then served this subpoena on Stephen Barrett by reading the same in his hearing.  Jonathan Francis.  [itemized calculation of costs], total $1.02.”



Amasa Bancroft v. Jaazaniah B. Barrett, Appointment of Reuben R. Theall, auditor, April term, 1841.  Half sheet, holograph, docketed as below:


            “Bancroft vs. Barrett, audit, 10 Sept [illegible]”


“Rutland County Court, April term 1841.  Amasa Bancroft v. Jaazaniah Barrett.  In this case, R.R. Theall is appointed Auditor to hear [illegible] examine and adjust the Book accounts between the plaintiff and defendant and make a report to this court at the next of the balances due to either party.  And if either party after having been duly notified of the time and place of meeting shall neglect to attend, said Auditor may proceed ex parte.  F.W. Hopkins, Clerk  . . .


The parties will take notice that I will attend to auditing the accounts between the parties in the above entitled case at my office in Rutland on Friday, the 10th day of Sept 1841 at 1:00 o’clock afternoon.  Dated 31st day of Aug 1841.  Reuben R. Theall, Auditor.”



Reuben R. Theall, note to Jaazaniah Barrett, June 15, 1841.  Quarter sheet, holograph.


“Will Mr. J. Barrett send my cow by the bearer, Moses Head.  16 June 1841.  Reuben R. Theall.



Stephen Barrett, Middletown VT to Jaazaniah B. Barrett, December 11, 1842.  One sheet, folded in form of an envelope, “East Rutland, Vermont” and docketed:  “S. Barrett, Letter, December 1841 [1842].”


“Middletown, December 11, 1842.  Brother J. Barrett.  I went to Whitehall [NY?] yesterday after a load for you, but did not get any.  Childs said the leather was so poor that he did not want any more of it at any price.   And for pelts, he did not want to contract any before he see them.

I went to Baker.  He said he would let me have some rock salt, as that was all he had got, but he must have the money for it next week, and I thought best not to take any.

Sally [Barrett] gets along very slow.  The bell is now tolling for old David Griswald.

I shall be in Rutland the fore part of next week—I got the tobacco at Poultny and will bring it up when I go and have barrels.  S. Barrett


[P.S.]  Monday, December 12.  Sally is not as well.  She had a turn bleeding at the Surgeon’s last night and she rained about half pint.  It has left her very low.  We are doing all we can for her.  She is not considered dangerous, but is not able to sit up any now.

I think I shall be at Rutland Wednesday—I went yesterday with Eliza to Danby to see Mother.  She is very [illegible] and some childish.  Write her when you have time, for she thinks her children have all forgotten her.  S.B.


I send one store, you are out account to A.H. [illegible] for one [illegible] to Micah Vail.



Stephen Barrett, Middletown, Vermont to Jaazaniah B. Barrett, December 15, 1842.  Half sheet, folded, and docketed:  “S. Barrett, Letter.”


“Middletown, December 15, 1842.  Brother J. Barrett.  Sally has just had a chill turn with some fever.  She was very low yesterday, but we think she is a very little better today.  She is not able to turn herself in there.  I wish you could be here.  But as you wrote me not to pay one cent for your liberty of [illegible], I shall follow your direction.

I am surprised at what you wrote disputing Theall not going to [illegible].  I cannot imagine what he means.

I think I shall be at Rutland tomorrow.  [illegible] is [illegible].

Yours in haste.  Stephen Barrett.”



Stephen Barrett, Middletown, Vermont to Jaazaniah B. Barrett, January 30, 1843.  One sheet, folded, and docketed:  “S. Barrett, Letter.”


“Middletown, January 30, 1843.  Brother J. Barrett.  You will recollect that Barriett & Lillie was owing [illegible] Spaulding at the time of the assignment.  And that you was owing Nathaniel Clift.  And you settled with Clift, and made a turn on the note Barrett & Lillie turned out to Spaulding.  I am a little before my story.

Barrett & Lillie turned out a note you held against Clift to Spaulding for Seventy, and when you settled with Clift, you said that what you was owing Clift was to be an offset on the note Barrett & Lillie held against him that was turned out to Spaulding.  And on that ground, I discharged the note Clift at the same time.

Spaulding held the note and Spaulding has now sued Clift for the pay on the note, which is $50.00.

And Clift has got a receipt against me that discharged the note in full.  So you will see that it places me in a rather bad spot unless we can show that I had a right to discharge the note.

Spaulding had not notified Clift that he held the note till after I discharged it.  At any rate, I did not receive any consideration from you to discharge the note; and in that case, I suppose they cannot make me holder on the receipt.  The court is next Monday.

If you get this in [illegible] the which by the mail tomorrow, I wish you would and say what you know about it.

Sally has been gaining about a week past.  She is some better.  Your brother, Stephen Barrett.”


Stephen Barrett, Middletown, Vermont to Jaazaniah B. Barrett, May 16, 1843.  One sheet, folded, and docketed:  “S. Barrett, Letter.”


“Middletown, May 16, 1843.  Brother J. Barrett.  As the time is drawing nigh for you to get your discharge in Bankruptcy, I should like to know what you want me to do about it, whether you want J. Norton, to go to Rutland and if so, what day must he be there—and whether you want anybody else.

I have seen James [illegible] today.  He has signed the paper that Theall let me have.  He says he wants you to get your discharge if you can.  Say whether you want G.B. Harrington, the signer [illegible] anybody else.  I shall go the Granville this week to see Norton.

Send a letter by the [illegible] on direct to Giest Poultney.  I will get it when I go to Granville and write what day you want Norton to be at Rutland.  If the Court is the 24th, there is not much time to  [illegible] out what day Theall will start and the [illegible] ought to be done the day before.

Sally is gaining slowly.  S. Barrett”



Vail & Otis v. Ormel Ames, “Writ of Attachment against the body of said Ames . . . on a note dated March 2d, 1843.”  Holograph, one sheet, folded.


“Vail & Otis v. Ormel Ames, Vail, aff.; Filed August 17th, 1843, L. Fillmore, Justice of Peace.”[file title on obverse]


“Vail & Otis v. Ormel Ames.  To Luther Gillmore, Esq., comes Moses E. Nail and prays for a writ of Attachment against the body of said Ames on a note dated March 2, 1843 for the sum of twenty-three dollars and forty-nine cents, signed by said Ames and payable to said Vail and Otis.  And the said Nail further prays for a writ of Execution against the body of said Ames on a judgment rendered by said Fillmore on the 14th day of January 1843 for the sum of 9 dollars and 65 cents damages and $11.59 cost and for an Execution issued against said Ames on said judgment March 14th, 1843—25 cents—said judgment rendered by law, Fillmore against said Ames in favor of said Vail & Otis on a note or contract dated June 4th, 1832 and the said Nail [illegible] and says that he has good reason to believe and does believe that said Ames is about to abscond from this State and has secreted about his person or elsewhere money or other property.  [signed] M.E. Vail.


Sworn & Subscribed before me this 17th day of August 1843, L. Fillmore, Justice of the Peace.”




P. Salmon, Bill of Horse [Cast in Marble], holograph, one sheet folded and docketed as below.  [Special Collections:  Financial Services Manuscripts, Chronological File]


“P. Salmon, Bill of Horse on Oct. 2, 1844.”


A second date, “Sept 24th, 1844” appears independently near the longer edge, but is not otherwise explained.  No geographical locations are provided.


Evidently, an unnamed merchant/trader recorded for his own use his actual cost of the purchase of a marble statue and a supply of “good shingles.”  The merchant purchased a sulky for $25 and two other items, possibly cloth, for $12 and $5, a total of $42.00.  He traded these three items for a watch.

The merchant and P. Solman together subsequently purchased a statue of a bay horse cast in marble for $80 cash, of which Salmon paid $37.50 and the merchant $42.50.  P. Salmon bought the watch from the merchant by trading his interest in the statue plus a supply of “good shingles” valued at $15.

Thus, the merchant in this series of transactions had expended cash in the amount of $42.00 plus $42.50, a total of $84.50.  He owned a statue valued at $80.00 and $15 in shingles, a total of $95, for a paper profit thus far of $10.50.  Undoubtedly, the merchant/trader hoped to sell the statue and the shingles for more than his cost.



“1 bay Horse cast in marble                                        $80.00

Salmon paid in [illegible]                                            37.50

I paid                                                                           42.50



Sold watch to Salmon                                                 $52.50

Paid in Salmon’s share of the Horse                           37.50

And for 10 [illegible] good [illegible] shingles           15.00



The watch cost:

1 [illegible, perhaps cloth]                                           12.00

1 [illegible, perhaps a different cloth]                         5.00

1 sulky [illegible]                                                         25.00




 [Return to Top]





Thrift, Widows, and Philanthropy




Edward Streeter, Window on America (New York:  Bank of New York, 1959), 123 pp.


 “The Growth of a Nation as seen by New York’s First Bank, 1784-1959.” [cover subtitle]  “Published on the occasion of the 175th Anniversary” [title page]


“. . .  The Bank of New York [13] was organized with a capital of $500,000 payable in gold or silver.  Failing to obtain a charter, it operated until 1791 under a constitution drawn up by Alexander Hamilton.  The new bank opened its offices on June 9, 1784.  . . .  The Board of Directors was made up of well-to-do businessmen of the City [that included] merchants, importers and shippers involved in the West Indian trade, and manufacturers.  It was Hamilton, however, who was most active in the organization of the Bank and in guiding it through its early stages.” [12-13]

            . . .

            “The American banking system was going through its adolescent period.  Operating without the guidance of precedent, the banks that were in existence in 1791 were forced to improvise and experiment.  Bank credit was a new and little understood force and it would be years before they would learn to use it to the best public advantage.

There were four banks doing business in the United States by the middle of 1791:  The Bank of North America in Philadelphia (1781), The Bank of New York (1784), The Massachusetts Bank in Boston (1784), and the Bank of Maryland (1791).  They stood alone, each the sole representative of banking in its respective state.  By 1794, however, their number had been increased to eighteen and they were beginning to coalesce into a single system which became more and more integrated as communications improved and their volume of business increased.” [29]

            . . .

“After 16 years, The Bank of New York at last had a local competitor in Aaron Burr’s Manhattan Company, chartered the previous year.  There were now twenty-seven banks in operation outside New York City; [they were] located in coastal and river towns and served water-borne commerce based on foreign trade.  During the next 20 years this number would grow to 300, [for] the economic picture was changing.  . . . American business, [because of disruptions in trade that accompanied in the war of 1812], was forced to develop its own resources, creating thereby a constantly increasing demand for bank accommodation from both industry and agriculture.” [33]

            . . .

“In 1830 a number of the Bank’s officers and directors participated in the founding of the New York Life Insurance and Trust Company with which The Bank of New York was to merge [in 1922].  Insurance business and investment banking were frequently combined during this early period.  . . .

In New York, prosperity was eventually brought to a halt by the great fire of 1835 which gutted a huge area south of Wall Street and destroyed over 600 buildings, [including those opposite the Bank of New York].

By this time it had become evident to those whose business it was [to look to the future], that a dramatic economic readjustment was in the making.  All over the nation speculation had been increasing in public land and practically every other form of tangible property from city lots to mines.  By 1836 it had reached fever pitch.  [49]  Much of it was financed by means of excessive note issues on the part of the small country banks, [which then numbered] almost 600.  . . . [50]

[Other businesses failed in the resulting panic of 1837, but] the Bank of New York remained strong during its first major crisis.  It took advantage of State authorization to borrow $112,500 in London and it also borrowed approximately $300,000 from domestic sources.  On the other hand, it paid its regular four per cent dividend just after the fire and in October of the same year, it paid a dividend of ten per cent.” [49-50]













Massachusetts Congregational Charitable Society, Act of Incorporation, Regulations, and Members . . . With Brief Sketch of Its Origin, Progress, and Purposes (Boston:  John Eliot, 1815), 20 pp.  “Published for the Society.”


[Historical] Account of the Massachusetts Congregational Charitable Society.  [cover title] 


“Act of Incorporation, March 24, 1786.  . . . Whereas a number of Congregational ministers, within this Commonwealth, have petitioned, and it appears to the General Court expedient, that a number of persons be incorporated into a society, for the humane and benevolent purposes of affording relief and support to the widows and children of deceased ministers, and other persons herein mentioned.”  [3]

            . . .

“In 1795, a sermon was preached by Rev. Peter Thacher, D.D. and published with an appendix, containing a history of the society, ‘By a member, who is not a minister’ from which a few extracts follow:


‘The Congregational ministers of the late Province, now Commonwealth, of Massachusetts, from the beginning of the government under the charter of 1692, have practiced the holding of a convention in Boston, on the next day after the general elections of counselors.  Thus being assembled, from time to time, their reflections were carried to the seats which death had rendered vacant, since their last meeting.  The transition from this reflection was very easy and natural, to that of the situation of the widows and orphans of their deceased brethren.  They realized, that in general, the salaries of ministers, gave them but a bare competency; and that, when this was their only dependence, and they died in early life, leaving large families, their widows and children become real objects of charity.  They considered this a strong objection, with men of genius and learning, to engaging in the work of the ministry.

Upon these ideas, with others worthy of their character, they originated the plan of an annual collection amongst themselves, for the relief of widows and children of ministers, who had died without leaving a competency for the support of their families.  From year to year, they continued this benevolent collection; which, though it was small, yet gave relief to many distressed persons, who had seen better days, and who had, on a reasonable foundation, entertained hopes of a prosperous and plentiful life.  When the public attention had been attracted by this extraordinary scheme of liberality in the ministers, it was aided by donations from others, who realized the advantages of public devotion, and of religious instructions.

In the year 1786, an application, which had long been in agitation, was made by the Convention to the Legislature, expressing their intentions on this subject, [13] and praying for an act of incorporation of a certain number, for the directing of the funds, which charity had placed in their hands; and an act was accordingly passed.

This indulgence of our government to the clergy, and the respect so universally paid to religious institutions, by the rulers of our state, will continue the encouragement to men of literary talents to settle as ministers; and will give ease to the pained hearts of many, who, after spending the prime of their life in labors to promote the happiness of others, are leaving widows and orphans on the arms of public charity.’”  [12-13]







Barber Beaumont, Esq., F.A.S., An Essay on Provident or Parish Banks; for the Security and Improvement of the Savings of Tradesmen, Artificers, Servants, &c. Until Required for Their Future Wants or Advancement in Life, Containing a Brief History of the Several Schemes for the Above Purpose; and Developing the Causes Which Have Promoted or Prevented Their Success (London, 1816), pp.476-496 removed from an unknown volume.


Beaumont was “Managing Director of the Provident Institution (St. Paul’s Parish, Covent Garden) and County Fire Office, and one of His Majesty’s Justices of the Peace for Middlesex.”


“If we examine the registers of offenses, we find the immediate cause of delinquency to be, most frequently, POVERTY; the remote cause, IDLENESS and EXTRAVAGANCE; hence we see young working men and women higher fed and better dressed than formerly; but we also see pawnbrokers in greater abundance, misery in families and old age more frequent, pauperism extended beyond all bounds, and the calendars of offenses increasing every sessions.  This is a very diseased state of society . . .” [477]


[He also critiqued the specific proposals and plans that existed, beginning in 1773.  An objection voiced by many related to malingering.]


“If a man could receive an income, however small, by joining the sick list, why should he work?”  [484]

            . . .

“Then as to the management:  The principle of requiring a man at all parts of his life, and under all vicissitudes, to appropriate an equal sum from his earnings for future support is universally bad; at some periods this is quite impossible, and all he can do to prevent his being [removed from the roll of members] is to pawn or sell his goods and apparel, and thus raise a sum at a loss from twenty-three to fifty per cent, to deposit it in a fund that does not improve at more than three or four per cent, allowing for unproductive balances.”  Some also opposed on moral grounds the ‘club nights,’ parties for members that involved drinking and dancing.  The appointment of undercover investigators or ‘spies,’ while necessary to prevent cheating, led to ill feeling instead of the brotherhood encouraged by the leaders.”  [485]

. . .

“The plan of a General or National Benefit Club, for sickness as well as old age, would certainly be subject to continual abuses, against which no vigilance to be expected of the inspectors would be an effectual guard.  Upon this plan it might be said, as it is of others of similar kind, ‘that the country would be cheated, the poor abused, unfit persons appointed, and justice perverted.’” [486]





Burton Mansfield, History of Savings Banks in the United States:  A Paper Read . . . July 5, 1906 (New Haven:  Price, Lee, Adkins, 1906), 11 pp.


“There are four well defined types of savings banks:  the trustee or mutual, the cooperative, the municipal, and the national.  None of these includes the strictly private bank, run for private gain, which after all is only a form of business, carried on for the benefit of those directly interested in it and not primarily for the good of the of the depositors.  The cooperative type approaches this much in its character, even if it [is] far more general in its scope.

The first of these four types, the trustee, is best seen in the savings banks of New England and the other Eastern states; the second, or cooperative, in Germany; the third, or municipal, also in Germany as well as Austria, France, and Italy and in some degree in Denmark, Sweden, and Japan.  . . .

I should like to define what savings banks, as we use the term, are.  They are institutions organized by private individuals or under government authority, to encourage habits of saving, by affording special security to depositors, and by paying interest to the full extent of the earnings, less legitimate expenses and such surplus as good management requires.  They are intended primarily for wage earners and not as means [6] for investment for those who have funds to invest.  They are distinguished from commercial banks, inasmuch as they stand first and always for safety, economy and security, not for profit; and for the benefit of depositors, not of stockholders or private owners.

Such banks on the whole encourage habits of thrift and saving better than any other agencies.  I think it may be stated, without fear of successful contradiction, that none of the other institutions, with which we are familiar, such as insurance associations and fraternal societies, or building and loan associations, effectively reaches so many who are in need of the cultivation of habits of providence, as the savings bank under any of the four plans which we have here outlined.  They have within themselves more power for good to all and more hope for the wage earners than any other method—good to all, for whatever helps one, helps all; good to a particular portion of the community because they encourage habits of thrift and industry, improve conditions, and afford places where earnings can be put with convenience, security, and reward.  . . .

The trustee bank is an effort on the part of the well-to-do to improve the condition of the poorer people.  The trustees who manage them receive no pecuniary compensation, and while a man’s pride is no doubt often gratified by an election as a trustee, he [7] nevertheless gives his services, in part at least, from love for the cause for which such banks stand.  . . .

The first savings bank in the United States under legislative enactment was organized in Boston in 1816.  . . .  The second bank was founded in Salem, Mass., in January, 1818; the third in Baltimore in December, 1818; the fourth in Philadelphia in February, 1819, it being the incorporation of a previously existing voluntary association antedating 1816; the fifth in New York in March, 1819, and the sixth in Hartford in June, 1819, the latter being the Society for Saving, now the largest bank in Connecticut.  The growth of these institutions has been general and rapid.  . . .”  [5-7]

            . . .

“One principal objection to the trustee savings bank is the lack of confidence sometimes engendered in times of industrial depression.  It is at such times that security becomes of far greater importance than revenues and shows the necessity of hoarding strength in times of prosperity for use on such occasions . . .

That there is something in the first of these objections is shown by the frequency, in times of financial distress, with which banks have succumbed.  Prior to 1870, there were comparatively few failures throughout the country, but the wave of bankruptcy, literally, which spread over the country from 1870 to 1880, justly caused much alarm and many banks were wrecked.  Fortunately, however, wiser methods and better management followed, though it must be said of course at the expense of thousands of depositors who could little afford to lose their hard earned savings.  [10]  . . .

In conclusion, let me say that people at large do not have a correct conception of savings banks as they are organized and conducted [in Connecticut] and in our sister states.  They fail to grasp the mutual character of these institutions and think that they are conducted in the interests of private individuals or stockholders.  They fail to realize that the trustees of our banks stand in fiduciary relation to the depositors; that the highest sense of responsibility rests upon each trustee for the performance of his trust; that the relation between the trustee and the depositor is not simply one of debtor and creditor; that the trustees owe to their depositors all the care and scrutiny which the soundest and best judgment can produce; that security and not revenue is the foundation on which every properly conducted bank must stand.  . . .  [11]

We [trustees] are bound to guard, by every means within our power, the true spirit of honest self-support and the great moral elevation that comes to every individual and through him to society at large, by the proper application of that spirit.  . . .  God grant that this bank, the corner stone of whose new building we lay this day, may always be a home for the honest earnings of the frugal, the industrious, and the worthy; that those who administer its affairs may, under Him, always realize their great responsibility, and that the confidence of all people who entrust their savings here may never be shaken.”  [9-11]




Boston Provident Institution for Savings, One Hundred Years of Savings Bank Service:  A Brief Account . . . (Boston:  Walton Advertising and Printing, 1916), 25 pp.


“[The Boston Provident Institution for Savings] bears the distinction of being the first savings bank to be incorporated in the United States, and the second in the country to be established.  . . .  To James Savage, lawyer, scholar, philanthropist, [and father-in-law of William B. Rogers, first president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology], more than to any other person, the Institution owes its existence.  He first became interested in the project of establishing a savings bank while visiting in Gardiner, Maine.  . . .


‘I saw over the fireplace at Gardiner a plan on a single sheet of paper of the Institution in England (London) for the Savings Banks.  . . .  Though I did not half read, I was very much occupied with the subject on my way up, and find it a very desirable project to introduce [in the United States.]’  Mr. Savage interested a number of prominent gentlemen in the project, and the result was the founding of the Provident Institution for Savings in the Town of Boston.” [3]

            . . .

“Condition of the Country When the Bank Commenced Business.  . . .  The War of 1812 marked the beginning of the change of the United States from a commercial and agricultural nation to a manufacturing country.  Before the war the American people had engaged chiefly in shipping and the production of raw materials, and obtained the great bulk of their manufactured goods from abroad.  Jefferson’s Embargo, the Non-intercourse Act, and the War of 1812 struck heavy blows at American commerce and acted as a high protective tariff in keeping out foreign goods.  . . .  Unable to import manufactures, the country began to make them itself . . . and an era of great prosperity began.  [6]  Then came peace, and with it disaster to American industries.  . . .  The result was the protective tariff of 1816.

Quite as precarious in 1816 was the monetary condition of the country.  It was an era of inflated and depreciated currency, of ‘wild-cat’ banks, of ‘shin-plasters,’ and almost worthless banknotes.  . . .  As the tide of bank notes swelled, their purchasing power dropped.  Paper money issued by the Baltimore and Washington banks fell to below 22 per cent below par value.  . . .  At such a perilous time of financial disorders, it is small wonder that a number of prominent Boston gentlemen began to consider [7] the expediency of establishing a savings institution in which the surplus earnings of the people would be secure against the dangers that threatened the wage earner on every hand.  . . .”  [5-7]

“To Bishop Jean Lefebve de Cheverus, the first Roman Catholic Bishop of Boston, credit is also due.  Desiring a secure place of deposit for the earnings of his parishioners, who for a lack of a place to deposit their savings were wont to squander them, he made a strong appeal in support of the movement to establish a bank.  . . .  In their application for incorporation, the committee ‘humbly express the opinion that an institution, by which all classes in the community may be encouraged to the practice of frugality and especially industrious mechanics, either journeymen or masters, seamen, laborers, and men of small capital, widows and others—that [14] they do not expect or desire any benefit or profit to themselves other than is enjoyed by every individual in the Commonwealth; for the success of such a design, they are willing to devote a part of their time, without reward, to the management of such a charity—and give the profits of the establishment in due proportion to the depositors.”  [13-14]




Leonard Woods, Duties of the Rich: A Sermon Delivered in Newburyport, February 18, 1827 on the Occasion of the Death of Moses Brown, Esq. (Andover:  Flagg and Gould, 1827), 39 pp.


Moses Brown (b. 1742), a wealthy merchant, was a significant contributor to the founding (1808) of the Theological Seminary at Andover, Massachusetts, whose professors opposed the Unitarian proclivities of the faculty at Harvard.  Leonard Woods was the Abbot Professor of Christian Theology at Andover.


“Although we have seen many animating proofs of increasing benevolence in the Christian community; still the public benevolence, actually in operation, falls far below what the exigencies of the world and the spirit of our religion imperiously demand.” [3]

. . .

 “Has not the experience of the ages shown, that inheriting large estates is a very dangerous temptation to children; much more dangerous, than the same estates would be, if obtained by their own diligent efforts?” [23] . . .


            [In contrast, Moses Brown exemplified the Christian spirit.]


“Many a time did he, from mere kindness of his heart, exercise a forbearance towards his debtors, which occasioned him the loss of what he was justly due.  And many a time, especially in the latter part of his life, did he relinquish valuable claims upon individuals, not because they had nothing to pay him, but they could not pay him, without reducing themselves to straits.” [31]



Pharcellus Church, The Philosophy of Benevolence (New York:  Leavitt & Lord, 1836), 355 pp. plus 11 pp. of advertising for the publisher’s books.


“Extracts of Letters to the Publishers:  Rev. Mr. Church . . . avers that the accumulation of wealth is a pregnant source of danger to this country, and its beneficent appropriation to suitable objects, and on correct [Christian] principles, is the only preventive of national and individual disaster.—Jonathan Going”  [end matter]






George Shepard, The Duty of Helping the Weak:  A Sermon, Delivered in Bangor ME, June 24, 1835, Before the Maine Missionary Society at Its Twenty-eighth Anniversary (Hallowell ME:  Glazier, Masters, & Smith, 1835), 39 pp.


            “With the Report of the Trustees.” [cover]


“. . . Truly we ought to help the weak. [4]  . . .

1.  The manner of helping the feeble and destitute.  How help them?  I answer, by your prayers.  This is one way.  Indeed it is the beginning, the middle, and the end of every other way.  . . .  [5]  But some perhaps are beginning to think, that I am inventing a very cheap kind of charity, somewhat akin to that which stops saying, ‘Be ye warmed and be ye filled.’  No.  I do not stop yet, but proceed to suggest another way of helping the weak and destitute, namely, by visiting them and laboring amongst them to strengthen and build them up:  . . . Sabbath Schools, distribution of bibles and tracts, sustaining of meetings for preaching and praying.  . . .  Another method, and it is the last I shall mention, of helping the weak and destitute, is by pecuniary contribution.  . . .

2.  The measure of help.  The measure should correspond to the condition or degree of real weakness in the body helped.  . . .  We will now just pass, for a moment, on the other side, of too much help, or help where it is not really needed.  This too is an evil; not a misfortune, but always a mistake, and a mistake that does mischief.” [4-6]







Girard Trust Corn Exchange Bank, Girard Trust Company:  A Century of Financial Activity, 1836-1936 (Philadelphia:  Edward Stern, 1936), 191 pp.


The corporate name, Girard Trust Corn Exchange Bank, derived from a merger in the twentieth century with Philadelphia’s Corn Exchange Bank, which ultimately became a part of Mellon Bank. 


“By 1835 there were fifty-two savings banks in the country, . . . [including] fifteen or more savings banks in Philadelphia [when] the Girard Beneficial Association entered the field of activity.  . . . [11]  After nine months of business, the ‘Girard Beneficial Association’ gave way to ‘The Girard Life [12] Insurance, Annuity and Trust Company of Philadelphia,’ as the Girard Trust Company was first known.”  [11-12]

            . . .

The new company was chartered in 1836.  “The trust business was closely associated with life insurance companies, for the embryo of the modern trust company was then beginning to emerge in this country as a collateral feature of the insurance business.”  [13]

. . . 

“This perpetual Charter empowered the Company to make insurance on lives, to sell annuities, to receive and administer estates in trust from persons or bodies corporate, and to receive money on deposit.

At that time there were, in this country, very few companies specifically empowered to do a trust business.”  [17]

. . .

“For some years the trust business, where practiced at all, was to be looked upon merely as one of the less important features of insurance companies.

Not until after the Civil War did the trust company movement really develop.”  [19]

. . .

“The Girard Life Insurance, Annuity, and Trust Company of Philadelphia had little more than been established, when the panic of 1837 swept over the country, and the speculation and monetary inflation of the preceding years ended in a crash.  . . .  The whole expansion was aided by the distribution of the government money and accelerated by the mania for internal [domestic infrastructure] improvements and the great speculation in western lands.  . . .  The Panic of 1837 was presaged by the crop failure of 1835, which had prevented farmers from meeting their obligations to the land speculators and merchants, and the latter had been unable to pay their loans at [42] banks.  The crop failure also produced a balance of trade unfavorable to the United States, resulting in the withdrawal of foreign credits, and a need for specie to pay foreign creditors.  . . .  It was the worst panic the nation had experienced up to that time.  By the end of May 1837, every bank in the country had suspended specie payments.” [41-42]     . . .

 “During a large portion of that period dividends were suspended by the banks, by most of the insurance companies, and by other dividend-paying companies, yet [Girard] had grown in size and strength, and had earned modest but consistent profits for its shareholders.  . . .”   [44].



Proposals of the Pennsylvania Company for Insurances on Lives and Granting Annuities; Incorporated March 10, 1812, with a Perpetual Charter, the Entire Capital, $500,000, Paid in to Make Insurance on Lives, to Grant Annuities and Endowments for Children, and to Execute Trusts of Every Description (Philadelphia:  James Kay, Jr. and Brother, 1837), 16 pp.


The pamphlet contains an explanation of the benefits, accompanied by examples, of the separate forms of policies offered by the company: 


“Life Insurances:  A husband, age 30, with an annual income of $1,000 may protect his family by paying $100 annually for seven years.  Should he die, his beneficiary would receive $4,200.  Similarly, creditors may protect themselves by insuring the lives of debtors.”  [7]

            . . .

Endowment Contracts are useful to “young ladies” as a “safe and certain marriage portion,” a dowry, and to men who at age twenty-one wish to start a business. [10]  Annuities appeal to “numerous dowagers, spinsters, and retired merchants.”  [11]



Massachusetts Secretary of the Commonwealth, Abstract of the Returns of Insurance

Companies, Incorporated with Specific Capital, Exhibiting the Condition of Those Companies on the First Day of December, 1838 (Boston:  Dutton and Wentworth, 1839), 8 pp.  Cover title:  Insurance Abstract for December, 1838.


Pages one and two are long foldout charts that contain tabulations of such data as premiums collected, losses paid, and descriptions of investments (mainly stock in banks).


The Secretary sent questionnaires to forty-two fire and/or marine insurance companies chartered in Massachusetts and believed to be actively engaged in business; all but the Phoenix Insurance Company of Nantucket replied.  In accordance with the Act of April 18, 1837, their responses were voluntary.  This law and survey were early steps toward the regulation of insurance companies in Massachusetts and the United States.



 [Return to Top]

A Consumers’ Republic


Fourth Experiment of Living:  Living Without Means (Boston:  Otis, Broaders, 1837), 68 pp.  “Twelfth Edition.”


“Credit is intended for the rich; but we would ask, if those without means can live without credit?” [cover]


 “Living Without Means” is a short story that begins with a “Prefatory Dissertation, Upon Alms Giving, Pauperism, and So Forth” in which the anonymous author explained his point of view and which, he stated, “the reader may read or not.”  He also readily admitted borrowing the title, but not the plot or text, of another’s work:  Hannah Farnham Sawyer Lee’s well-known Third Experiment of Living.

In “Living Without Means,” a shop owner named Blake remained in business by avoiding his creditors, by stalling whenever they confronted him, and lastly, by forging a note that carried an outrageous rate of interest.  He sold the worthless paper for cash to his unsuspecting, wealthy uncle and told him to keep the transaction a secret in order to protect the privacy of the gentleman who had borrowed the money.  Over time, Blake paid some and borrowed more, and his life spiraled downward.  At intervals, the author commented upon the habits and social status of those who, like Blake, lived off the toil of others.

In time, Blake’s uncle began to regret his involvement in what he took to be the sin of usury.  The conscience-stricken relative gave the note in an envelope to Mrs. Blake, who opened it.   Mr. Blake chastised his wife for reading his business mail, realized that he was found out, rushed into another part of the house, and ended his wretched career with one shot.


“Preface, which the reader may read or not.    . . .  The difference between begging and stealing is only, as that between walking and running.  They are only different means, equally honest, for gaining the same end; the principal, and indeed the sole difference being, that stealing is a quicker way of what is coveted, as running is but a faster mode of walking.  . . .

‘Please to suggest a remedy.’  [vi]  With all my heart—and in two words, never give.  ‘Would you drive the wretched to theft in despair?’  . . .  [vii]  No—but we would save them from dishonesty in debasement.  Never give—but loan” in anticipation that the recipient will repay the loan of food, firewood, or other necessity with honest work in season:  gardening, clearing brush, or shoveling snow and ice. [v-vii]

            . . .

“This, then is the true principle of charity—to manage so to give, that it may seem, not gratuitous donations, but payment for value received.  There is no need of an unkind preface—no assurance in ungentle terms that you are willing ‘to help those who work.’  Seek out objects of charity, and persuade them that they have something, or can do something, which you need.  Let every cent disbursed in the relief of the poor, be given in [xii] this way.  . . .  When you see absolute distress, from which they have not the means to extricate themselves, loan them assistance.  If they die, the debt is cancelled; if they live, preserve a feeling of independence with life.  . . .

A course like this, generally pursued, would relieve the community from the thankless support [xiii] of many of the miserable who exist apparently ‘without means.’  It would save the republic many good citizens, and cheat the House of Correction out of many inmates.  . . .  The poor laborer would cease to regard with envy the genteel swindler.  . . .  The ability of those in moderate circumstances, to bestow enlightened charity in the way we have described, would be increased—and the disposition to do it would become universal, as soon as a pursuance of the system by a majority had made its advantages apparent.”        [xi-xiii]

            . . .

 “Chapter One.  ‘Oh it’s the merest [sic] accident in the world, [exclaimed the debtor Blake,] that I do not happen to have a dollar in my pocket—but why should you call?  I am going into the street and shall see you at twelve.  I should have called at your store at any rate.’  The dun [bill collector] departed partially satisfied—for Blake has always been tolerably punctual in paying loans, and this was one.”  [2]

            . . .

“Blake remained [at the tavern]—he had no particular business except the avoidance of duns—and a coffee house is rather a good shelter from such annoyances; because very few of those shockingly unnatural people who demand their own, frequent such places in pursuit of it—and of those who do, none have the impudence to dun a man there—except in a decidedly hopeless case.  Like the vessels of countries at war, under the guns of a neutral country’s fort, debtor and creditor may fearlessly encounter each other at the Theatre—in a bar room any time—and anywhere on the footstool, upon the Sabbath.  There is a beseeching look on the face of one, and the blandest smile in the world on the countenance of the other—both being perfectly well understood; a few words of common compliment perhaps, but none of business.” [19]



Report of the Secretary of War Transmitting . . . Documents in Relation to the Difficulties Which Took Place at the Payment of the Sac and Fox Annuities, Last Fall [under Treaty of 1842] (Washington DC, 1848), 128 pp.  Senate. “August 9, 1848, read, and ordered to be printed.”  [title page]


Briefly stated, the Sac (Sauk) and Fox tribes (Treaty of 1842) sold their land to the federal government in exchange for an immediate payment in cash (plus horses) and a number of annual payments.  An agent representing the Superintendent of Indian Affairs and his superior, the Secretary of War, disbursed these “annuities” in the years 1843-1846 directly to the chiefs just before the onset of winter, the time of greatest need.

In response to complaints by heads of families that chiefs favored some and slighted others, the Superintendent mailed this new instruction to the agent:  Just before the winter of 1847, the agent must disburse the funds directly to the heads of families.

The “difficulties” arose when an unknown party intercepted the mail.  The agent in early fall, and without receiving his instruction, again disbursed only to the chiefs and immediately resigned.  The Superintendent described the hardships that ensued, accused the creditors of the Sacs and Foxes of conspiring to collect lump sums from chiefs instead of smaller amounts from the more numerous heads of families, and recommended closer scrutiny and regulation of agents by government.  He attached excerpts from the testimony of witnesses and lists of goods (e.g., “3 silk umbrellas, $18”) sold to Native Americans.

The relationships between the creditors (traders) and the debtors (Sacs and Foxes) as described in the Superintendent’s Report predated, but was not unlike those between landlords and tenant farmers (Steven Hahn, The Roots of Southern Populism:  Yeoman Farmers and the Transformation of the Georgia Upcountry, 1850-1890, pp. 171-74) as well as those between credit merchants and factory workers (Lendol Calder, Financing the American Dream:  A Cultural History of Consumer Credit, pp. 55-58).  The Sacs and Foxes, like tenant farmers and machinists, were avid consumers to the extent credit was available.


The Superintendent’s Report:  “We now proceed . . . to give some account of the system of payment . . . which has enriched Indian chiefs and thousands of whites engaged in the Indian trade, to the wrong of the great mass of red men.  . . .  The consequence of this system was, that the chiefs and their particular friends received nearly all the bounty and liberality of the government . . . while the common Indian received little or nothing.  The parties most benefited, however, were the traders, who, during the long intervals of the payments, would induce the Indians to purchase goods and trinkets from them, on which they charged enormous profits, and who at the [annual] payments would, on the requirement of the chiefs, receive all or nearly all, of their annuities—the chiefs being controlled by [the traders] through the hope of further large credits in the future, and in various other ways.   . . .  Thus, in everyway, the poorer and less influential Indian was ground down, wronged, and robbed.” [26-27]

 [William Crosby], I Will Be a Lady:  A Book for Girls by Mrs. Tuthill (1844; Boston MA:  Crosby and Nichols, 18th ed., 1850; fiction), 167 pp.


The town of Baxter in Crosby’s tale of manners was “a primitive New England Village, where the good people have yet only ‘heard tell’ of a railroad; where no factories have yet disturbed the pure streams.  . . .  The old brown houses are two stories in front, and behind, slope almost to the ground . . .” [2]  The settlement was also in the country, so much so that one mother “has forbidden [her daughter] to go anymore” to visit her friend Beulah “because she says country folks are all vulgar.” [12]

Beulah Morris, age fourteen and the daughter of a prominent farmer in Baxter, received an invitation from her father’s cousin, Mrs. Whately, to spend a year in Boston.  Mrs. Whately lived in a large home that was furnished with “rich furniture” and “situated on one of the finest streets.” [85]  An important component of Beulah’s preparation to be a lady involved a visit to Boston’s commercial district.


“Ch. XIV.  Shopping.   Mrs. Whately took Beulah out to make some needful purchases.  No sooner did they enter a shop than the clerks were all politeness and attention.  It was not altogether because that lady came in her own carriage, but because there was in her mode of shopping something so agreeable that everyone was pleased to wait upon her.  She knew before she left home just what she wanted, and about what would be a reasonable price, and therefore never stood cheapening [i.e., negotiating a lower price] for hours the articles she intended to purchase. . . .  [92]

When they returned home with their purchases, Mrs. Whately observed, ‘Habits of order and economy are important to every woman, rich or poor.  In our country, especially, she who is rich today may be poor tomorrow; and, besides, wealth should be expended conscientiously and with good taste.’

‘But,’ said Beulah, ‘I think those young ladies we met shopping today could not be very economical, for they wanted to purchase the greatest quantities of things—lace, shawls, silks, velvets, everything.  The counters were heaped with the various articles.  And yet,’ said she, ‘they did try to be economical, for they asked again and again if that was the lowest price they could possibly take.’

‘They were probably only shopping for amusement.  Many of them went home without purchasing a single article,’ said Mrs. Whately.  [93]

‘How provoking it must be to the merchants,’ said Beulah.  ‘I can’t imagine what pleasure the young ladies take in such a strange amusement.’

‘I hope you never will know from experience,’ was the reply.”  [91-93]