The Weekly Text, 9 July 2021: The Panics of 1837 and 1873

This week’s Text is two sets of two documents, the first a reading on the Panic of 1837 and its accompanying vocabulary-building and comprehension worksheet; the second, a reading on the Panic of 1873  along with its attendant vocabulary-building and comprehension worksheet. Nota bene, please, that in the context of these materials, the word panic refers to “a sudden widespread fright concerning financial affairs that results in a depression of values caused by extreme measures for protection of property (as securities).” More recently, we American English speakers have replaced panic with crisis, as in the Financial crisis of 2007-2008.

I’ve always been fascinated by the obvious symmetry of these dates. Somewhere along the way in my undergraduate years, I wrote a paper that dealt with the Panic of 1896 in the context of something else–possibly the Spanish-American War. Then again, it might have had something to do with a paper on the Panic of 1893; although that said, I wrote a paper about the Supreme Court Justice Joseph Bradley that may well have included an excursus on the Panic of 1884. Somewhere along the way, I also got onto the Panic of 1857, which was a prelude to but not necessarily a precipitant of the American Civil War. One thing I can say with confidence: I only became familiar with the Panic of 1819 in researching the background of this blog post.

As you can see, the nineteenth century, like the twentieth, was an age of instability in financial markets. Am I imagining things, or is there a unit in all of this on the function and dysfunction of markets? All of these panics were the consequence of volatile commodities prices, especially precious metals, or excessive and overly leveraged speculation. The question is, can we ever learn from this? I’m no economist, but when I look at economic history, I see the same things happening over and over again with no one learning anything from them.

If you find typos in these documents, I would appreciate a notification. And, as always, if you find this material useful in your practice, I would be grateful to hear what you think of it. I seek your peer review.

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