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What Caused the Crisis of 1839?


  • John Joseph Wallis


The 1830s were a decade of enormous importance in American economic history. A disproportionate amount of attention has been paid to the Panic of 1837. The Crisis of 1839, however, led to four years of deflation and depression. This paper shows that events in 1839 followed a different path than events in 1837. Domestic, rather than international forces, played a key role in the origins and duration of the crisis. The critical element was the massive increase in state borrowing after 1836, and the subsequent collapse of internal improvement projects in the west and south in the summer 1839. This was an American cycle of events.

Suggested Citation

  • John Joseph Wallis, 2001. "What Caused the Crisis of 1839?," NBER Historical Working Papers 0133, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberhi:0133 Note: DAE

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Maxim Engers & Jonathan Eaton, 1999. "Sanctions: Some Simple Analytics," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 89(2), pages 409-414, May.
    2. Gary Clyde Hufbauer & Jeffrey J. Schott & Kimberly Ann Elliott, 2009. "Economic Sanctions Reconsidered, 3rd Edition (paper)," Peterson Institute Press: All Books, Peterson Institute for International Economics, number 4129.
    3. Gary Clyde Hufbauer & Jeffrey J. Schott & Kimberly Ann Elliott, 1990. "Economic Sanctions Reconsidered: 2nd Edition," Peterson Institute Press: All Books, Peterson Institute for International Economics, number 82, January.
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    Cited by:

    1. Davis, Joseph H. & Irwin, Douglas A., 2008. "The antebellum U.S. iron industry: Domestic production and foreign competition," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 45(3), pages 254-269, July.
    2. Michael Bordo & Andrew Filardo, 2005. "Deflation and monetary policy in a historical perspective: remembering the past or being condemned to repeat it?," Economic Policy, CEPR;CES;MSH, vol. 20(44), pages 799-844, October.
    3. repec:ibn:ijefaa:v:9:y:2017:i:10:p:46-63 is not listed on IDEAS
    4. Wallis, John Joseph, 2003. "The property tax as a coordinating device: Financing Indiana's Mammoth Internal Improvement System, 1835-1842," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 40(3), pages 223-250, July.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • N1 - Economic History - - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics; Industrial Structure; Growth; Fluctuations
    • N2 - Economic History - - Financial Markets and Institutions


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