My readings the biographies of Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and James Monroe sparked an interest in the Panic of 1819, America’s first depression following the adoption of our Constitution. This panic had parallels to our present economic problems in that it was caused by credit policies of the Second Bank of the United States, federal credit policies related to the sale of western land, and changes in world trade resulting from the end of the Napoleonic wars.

Searching for a book on the event, only one kept popped up: The Panic of 1819: Reactions and Policies by Murray N. Rothbard. Frankly, this set off my crap detector. I have never read any Rothbard, but reference to his name left a bad taste in my mouth. Doing a quick Google search to investigate my reaction, I found the he had something to do with Libertarianism and was a critic of Objectivism. Not a ringing endorsement for his judgment and knowledge.

Thus, I decided to find an alternate reference by reviewing the sources and footnotes of Dumas, Ketcham, and Ammon from the biographies of the above referenced Presidents. I was surprised to find that, in addition to volumes of primary sources, both Dumas and Ammon cited Rothbard’s book. Further, Ammon praised it in a footnote by saying, “See the excellent study by Murray N. Rothbard…” As potential alternative sources, Ammon lamented the lack of a scholarly biography of Sec. of Treasury William H. Crawford, which I understand to still be true; and, he suggested Smith’s Economic Aspects of the Second Bank of the United States (Harvard Press, 1953) as a source on the public sector operations of the bank.

Lacking a better focused and concise alternative, I purchased and will read Rothbard’s book. If I can critically read authors as vile as Marx, Foucault, and Fanon, then sorting the Rothbard errors from the facts should not be too difficult of a task. I understand that this book is founded in his dissertation, so perhaps there was sufficient oversight to prevent biased analysis and omission of relevant facts. Plus, I will be able to assess Rothbard’s cited sources, if need be. I plan future posts related to the book as I read it.

Note to self: perhaps the Miller Center at UVa should organize a panel on the Panic of 1819, as it has interesting impacts upon our Presidents: Jefferson and Madison as former Presidents, and Monroe as the acting President; I suspect the same to be true of John Q. Adams as Sec. of State plus later President and legislator, and the subsequent presidencies of Jackson and Van Buren, who served during the Panic of 1837. I cannot recall any discussion associating Jackson’s veto of the Bank of the United States and the Panic of 1819, which seems like missing the elephant in the room; perhaps Remini’s trilogy on Jackson will offer me some information on that point.

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