Read the passage from Baldwin’s Flush Times of Alabama and Mississippi then respond to the questions that follow.
In the fulness of time the new era had set in–the era of the second great experiment of independence: the experiment, namely, of credit without capital, and enterprise without honesty. . . .
This country was just settling up. Marvellous accounts had gone forth of the fertility of its virgin lands; and the productions of the soil were commanding a price remunerating to slave labor as it had never been remunerated before. Emigrants came flocking in from all quarters of the Union, especially from the slaveholding States. The new country seemed to be a reservoir, and every road leading to it a vagrant stream of enterprise and adventure. Money, or what passed for money, was the only cheap thing to be had. Every cross road and every avocation presented an opening–through which a fortune was seen by the adventurer in near perspective. Credit was a thing of course. To refuse it–if the thing was ever done–were an insult for which a bowie knife were not a too summary or exemplary a means of redress. The State banks were issuing their bills by the sheet, like a patent steam printing-press its issues; and no other showing was asked of the applicant for the loan than an authentication of his great distress for money. Finance, even in its most exclusive quarter, had thus already got, in this wonderful revolution, to work upon the principles of the charity hospital. . . .
Under this stimulating process prices rose like smoke. Lots in obscure villages were held at city prices; lands, bought at the minimum cost of government, were sold at from thirty to forty dollars per acre, and considered dirt cheap at that. . . .
The old rules of business and the calculations of prudence were alike disregarded, and profligacy, in all the departments of the crimen falso, held riotous carnival. Larceny grew not only respectable, but genteel, and ruffled it in all the pomp of purple and fine linen. . . .
“Commerce was king”–and Rags, Tag and Bobtail his cabinet council. Rags were treasurer. Banks, chartered on a specie basis, did a very flourishing business on the promissory notes of the individual stockholders ingeniously substituted in lieu of cash. They issued ten for one, the one being fictitious. They generously loaned all the directors could not use themselves. . . .
The Jupiter Tonans of the White House saw the monster of a free credit prowling about like a beast of apocalyptic vision, and marked him for his prey. Gathering all his bolts in his sinewy grasp, and standing back on his heels, and waving his wiry arm, he let them all fly, hard and swift upon all the hydra’s heads. . . .
To get down from the clouds to level ground, the Specie Circular was issued without warning, and the splendid lie of a false credit burst into fragments. . . . he did some very pretty fairy work, in converting the bank bills back again from rags and oak-leaves. Men worth a million were insolvent for two millions: promising young cities marched back again into the wilderness. The ambitious town plat was re-annexed to the plantation, like a country girl taken home from the city. The frolic was ended, and what headaches, and feverish limbs the next morning! The retreat from Moscow was performed over again, and “Devil take the hindmost” was the tune to which the soldiers of fortune marched. The only question was as to the means of escape, and the nearest and best route to Texas.
Joseph G. Baldwin, The Flush Times of Alabama and Mississippi (New York: Appleton, 1853), pp. 80-91.
Write a brief but thorough essay response that addresses each part of the following questions:
· What is the author describing here? What gave rise to the economic conditions he pictures, and what is his opinion of what was taking place? What does Baldwin feel to be the main problem highlighted by these activities? On whom does he place the blame?
· Who was the “Jupiter Tonans of the White House” to whom the author calls attention? What action did this individual take to stop the abuses and what resulted? From the way it was described, what was the author’s opinion of the action taken by this Jupiter Tonans, and, considering what you have read in your text, would the author have been a Whig or a Democrat? In either case, what element (or branch or faction) of that party does he seem to support? What was the result of the action taken by Jupiter Tonans?
· Historian Bray Hammond, in his study of American banking, described the Jacksonian program as “one of enterpriser against capitalist, of banker against regulation.” How does the account by Baldwin correspond with Hammond’s theory? How might it be possible that the Jacksonian program both created and ended the situation described here?