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Crisis Chronicles: Defensive Suspension and the Panic of 1857

Thomas Klitgaard and James Narron

No 20151002, Liberty Street Economics from Federal Reserve Bank of New York

Abstract: Sometimes the world loses its bearings and the best alternative is a timeout. Such was the case during the Panic of 1857, which started when a prestigious bank in New York City collapsed, making all banks suddenly suspect. Banks, fearing a run on their gold reserves, started calling in loans from commercial firms and brokers, leading to asset sales at fire-sale prices and bankruptcies. By mid-October, banks in Philadelphia and New York suspended convertibility, meaning they would not allow gold to be withdrawn from their vaults even while all other banking services continued. Suspension then swept the nation as part of a defensive strategy, supported by local business interests, to prevent the Panic from spreading. While the suspensions appeared successful and few banks ended up failing, President Buchanan was outraged by what he viewed as yet another corrupt banking practice. He proposed making suspension a ?death sentence? for banks as a draconian incentive to encourage safer banking practices. In this edition of Crisis Chronicles, we describe the Panic of 1857 and explain why businesses pushed for national suspension to save themselves.

Keywords: panic; 1857; suspension; banking; specie; gold; new york (search for similar items in EconPapers)
JEL-codes: N2 (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2015-10-02
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