Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Riding It Out On The Great Financial Roller Coaster - The United States' Early Panics: Part 2 (c)

Wall Street has always been the commercial heart of America as well as the heart of Society's wealth. The most expensive parties, and presentations of elegance in New York, Saratoga, and Newport, were connected with stock operations. On Wall Street you would find the most daring and shrewd intellect from around the nation, people who could produce a panic in an instant and shock the world's foundation. It has been remarked that the men who did business on Wall Street prematurely aged and that they died at a comparatively early age. This was not unusual. They lived too fast. Their bodies and minds were taxed too severely to endure. No man could tell one week to the next whether he would be a beggar or a millionaire. While one man made a fortune by a sudden increase in stocks or gold, one thousand were ruined. Even the soundest and most established firms fell with a thud, crashing under the sudden reverses.

The image of the once powerful, self-confident, rich men walking briskly to and from was replaced by that of nervous, pacing, anguished men as they watched their world crumble. "Once they had palatial mansions on Fifth Avenue and were the favorites of fortune." Now they had no future, no hope. They had fallen never to rise again.

Those who were once bankers, stock brokers and wealthy merchants had suffered staggering losses during the various panics that affected our nation, leaving them thoroughly destitute. Much of their failure was attributed to stock speculations; business deals gone wrong and extravagant lifestyles. Once respected amongst the world of prominent society, there were remarkably few that would offer help or express sympathy for the ruined businessmen and their families. For these men and women who had only known wealth and comfort, the life of poverty was actually an extremely traumatic experience which they looked upon with aversion. Unable to cope with their losses, there were those that suffered nervous breakdowns, heart attacks, or committed suicide, leaving their families financially unprotected and homeless.

Since 1819, the United States has experienced many economic and industrial depressions more extensive and severe than the ones preceding it. Usually these would follow periods of speculation and abnormally inflated values just like 1819. Banks, businesses, manufacturing plants and factories were failing in large numbers. Money was becoming extremely scarce. Farm and home foreclosures were at an all time high. As for unemployment, it was inevitable for millions in the work force.

The fact is, each crisis with its dreadful consequences culminates in "Hard Times" for the American people. After a short or long interval, the country manages to resume its former prosperity, ignoring the lessons of the past. In part 3 of this 4 part series, we'll examine the Roaring Twenties.

Next: Part 3 (a)

To contact: miriammedina@earthlink.net

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