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Turning Points in the Civil War: Views from the Greenback Market

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Listed:
  • Willard, Kristen L
  • Guinnane, Timothy W
  • Rosen, Harvey S

Abstract

In early 1862, the United States government began issuing Greenbacks, a legal tender currency that was not convertible into gold. The government promised to redeem the Greenbacks in gold eventually, but speculators understood that the probability of redemption depended on Union Army military fortunes and political developments that affected the total cost of the war. To serve the speculative interest in gold, a market emerged for the purpose of trading Greenbacks for gold dollars. Because the market price of a Greenback reflected the public's perceptions of future war costs, the movement of these prices provides unique insights into how people at the time perceived various events. We use daily quotations of the gold price of Greenbacks to identify a set of dates during the Civil War that market participants regarded as turning points. In some cases, these dates coincide with events familiar from conventional historical accounts of the war. In other instances, however, market participants reacted strongly to events that historians have not viewed as very significant.
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Suggested Citation

  • Willard, Kristen L & Guinnane, Timothy W & Rosen, Harvey S, 1996. "Turning Points in the Civil War: Views from the Greenback Market," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 86(4), pages 1001-1018, September.
  • Handle: RePEc:aea:aecrev:v:86:y:1996:i:4:p:1001-18
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Banerjee, Anindya & Lumsdaine, Robin L & Stock, James H, 1992. "Recursive and Sequential Tests of the Unit-Root and Trend-Break Hypotheses: Theory and International Evidence," Journal of Business & Economic Statistics, American Statistical Association, vol. 10(3), pages 271-287, July.
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    7. Calomiris, Charles W, 1994. "Price and Exchange Rate Determination during the Greenback Suspension," Oxford Economic Papers, Oxford University Press, vol. 46(2), pages 344-344, April.
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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • N21 - Economic History - - Financial Markets and Institutions - - - U.S.; Canada: Pre-1913
    • G1 - Financial Economics - - General Financial Markets

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