Political Cartoon, The Financial Panic of 1857
Tuesday Aug 24th Mrs Stetson took us out to ride this
morning in a double chaise We rode about
an hour and I then went to Mrs Mills.
Mrs Stetson Oakes A and Mrs Ames came
just at noon and we spent the rest of the
day Mrs S Ames Fred & Helen arrived
there about two. A part of us walked out
A double chaise – does that mean a “shay” with four wheels instead of two? Whatever its configuration, Evelina, Almira Ames, and possibly Oakes Angier, too, went out for a ride in it. For about an hour the group trotted around Burlington. They dropped Evelina off at Mrs. Mills, where she apparently spent most of the day.The others returned at midday and were soon joined by Sarah Lothrop Ames and her children, who had just arrived from Pittsford.
Other than a walk in the afternoon, Evelina appeared to have been sedentary most of the day. Had she brought any needlework with her? How did she occupy her hands, unaccustomed as they were to inactivity? Did she have to quell any inner misgivings about being idle? Or was she able to relax and submit to the quiet hospitality of her hostesses? And how often did she dwell on her son’s dilemma? Would he get better in this new place?
It wouldn’t happen this year, but exactly five years after this quiet day in Burlington, Vermont, one of the worst financial panics in American history commenced. On August 24, 1857, the Ohio Life Insurance and Trust Company, a bank with many mortgages and ties to New York banks, failed. Various consequences of the failure, whose immediate cause had been fraudulent practices at the bank, ensued, bringing other economic problems to light. In England, a declining international economy and new financial policies caused concern. In America, the domestic economy, too, was declining. Western migration was slowing down, in part because of the unsettling Dred Scott decision by the Supreme Court in March 1857, which in effect nullified the Missouri Compromise and raised new hackles between free soilers and slavery expansionists. As a consequence, Western land values were dropping, and this had an impact on the railroads, most of whom had built much of their business on expansion. Everyone feared there would be a run on the banks. The economy went into a recession from which the country didn’t really recover until the Civil War.
Economic downturns are nothing new. The Ames Shovel Works, by the way, would weather the Panic of 1857 in pretty good order.