Democracy in Desperation: The Depression of 1893

Democracy in Desperation: The Depression of 1893

Democracy in Desperation: The Depression of 1893

Democracy in Desperation: The Depression of 1893


The Panic of 1893 and the depression it triggered mark one of the decisive crises in American history. Devastating broad sections of the country like a tidal wave, the depression forced the nation to change its way of life and altered the pattern and pace of national development ever after. The depression served as the setting for the transformation from an agricultural to an industrial society, exposed grave economic and social problems, sharply tested the country's resourcefulness, reshaped popular thought, and changed the direction of foreign policy. It was a crucible in which the elements of the modern United States were clarified and refined. Yet no study to date has examined the depression in its entirety. This is the first book to treat these disparate matters in detail, and to trace and interpret the business contraction of the 1890s in the context of national economic, political, and social development.


Corn … was commonly burned … in lieu of coal.

—John Donald Hicks

The Populist Revolt (1931)

As the March 1893 date of his inauguration approached, Grover Cleveland likely turned for a time from the myriad tasks of selecting a cabinet and planning an administration to reflect on the nation whose presidency he was about to assume. He may well have considered the startling changes in the United States between his entry into legal practice in Buffalo, New York, on the eve of the Civil War and the imminent beginning of his second term as chief executive. Certainly those changes merited his attention, as they did the thoughtful consideration of his countrymen. They represented a reshaping of national life and the emergence of conditions that required deep-rooted economic, social, political, and intellectual adjustments. They posed far-reaching problems, some of which tested the new administration to the utmost.

Of the developments transforming the United States, none was more visible than the extending area of settlement. In 1860, the frontier defined the limits of an expanding American society. Beginning at the Gulf Coast, it stretched north through Texas at about the hundredth meridian, swung east around the Indian Territory, then bent west again to enclose the eastern portions of Kansas and Nebraska. Settlement had penetrated the Mississippi valley to the vicinity of Minneapolis, the southern third of Minnesota, and most of Wisconsin and Mich-igan’s lower peninsula. In the Southeast only southern Florida remained vacant,

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