BY THE DECADE of the 1850s banking was no longer a major divisive issue in the states. The Panic of 1837 was but a distant memory to most Americans, and the threatening clouds of civil war already were on the horizon. For almost a decade and a half after 1837, however, banking had been a bitterly contested question, separating not only Democrat from Whig but also Democrat from Democrat.
The Democratic party did not engage in the battle over banks and currency as the party of the entrepreneur in an age of enterprise. In contrast, the party's appeal was in the nature of a plaintive warning against the increasing commercialization and vulgarization of American life. If the laissez faire logic of the Jacksonian antibank and anticorporate argument eventually led to the enthronemeou of the business ethic in the last half of the nineteenth century, it is one of history's cruelest paradoxes.
After the Panic of 1837, although the rhetoric of the two parties sometimes obscured their real positions, it is clear that the Whigs were the champions of the banks against the "radicalism" of the Jacksonians. Despite internal feuding, the main body of the Democratic party supported radical reform of the banks and, in some cases, their destruction. The party reflected, in both ethos and program, the hard-money position.
The commercialization of the country and the extension of the market economy were major innovative factors that stimulated profound and unsettling economic and social changes in ante-bellum America. The Panic of 1837 threw these changes into sharp relief and under-