Land Of The Free Trade

Foreign trade—import and export alike—has been indispensable in building America from the very start, and many of our worst economic troubles have arisen when that trade wasn’t free enough. A historic overview.

It is not a coincidence that Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations and what would one day be the world’s wealthiest nation should both have burst upon the global scene in 1776. Read more »

The Radical Revolution

For years people have argued that France had the real revolution and that ours was mild by comparison. But now a powerful new book says the American Revolution was the most sweeping in all history. It alone established a pure commercial culture—a culture that makes America the universal society we are today.

The French Revolution followed American independence by six years, but it was the later event that went into the books as “the Great Revolution” and became the revolutionary archetype. It is not only the contrast of the conspicuously greater political violence of the French Revolution that has led historians to play down the comparative radicalism of its American counterpart but the fact that the French Revolution swiftly became the model for radical political transformation.Read more »

The Day Wall Street Turned Into Orchard Street

As long as there have been bankers and brokers, there have been people asking what would happen if they had to earn an honest living

On October 26, 1911, the old Life magazine published a cartoon entitled “When We All Get Wise.” The implication of the cartoon, of course, was that if the ordinary people of the country would “just say no,” this time to bankers, brokers, and capitalists, Wall Street would collapse, and all those people would have to go out and start earning an honest living for a change. John D. Rockefeller would have to give golf lessons to get by. Swift and Armour would be back to selling meat at retail (buying it from whom? one wonders).Read more »

Understanding The S&L Mess

At its roots lie fundamental tensions that have bedeviled American banking since the nation began

Bank failure is as American as apple pie. The first American failure took place in Rhode Island in 1809, when a bank capitalized at forty-five dollars issued eight hundred thousand dollars in bank notes, a sum equal to more than seventeen thousand times the resources behind it. In the 1990s the latest bank failure, alas, almost certainly took place less than a week before you began reading this article, as another savings and loan association was taken over by the government. Read more »

The Founding Wizard

Two hundred years ago the United States was a weakling republic prostrate beneath a ruinous national debt. Then Alexander Hamilton worked the miracle of fiscal imagination that made America a healthy young economic giant. How did he do it?

One price of political greatness is to be forced to campaign even long after death. The Founding Fathers, particularly, have been constantly dragged from their graves for partisan purposes. The shades of Washington, Jefferson, Hamilton, and Madison have been invoked right up to the present by American politicians seeking to add luster to their own political agendas. Read more »

The Magnitude of J. P. Morgan

It cannot be measured in dollars alone. It involved a kind of personal power no man of affairs will ever have again.

On the night of Thursday, October 24, 1907, nearly every important banker in New York was meeting in J. P. Morgan’s exquisite private library, located next to his house at the northeast corner of Madison Avenue and Thirty-sixth Street. In the magnificent East Room, with its three tiers of inlaid wood and glass cabinets containing the printed masterpieces of the world, the bankers sought a way to end the financial panic that held Wall Street, and thus the country, in its grip. Read more »

The Problem of Money and Time

Why do you need so much money to be rich nowadays? It’s a question that historians and readers of history have always found difficult to answer.

L.P. Hartley began his masterly novel The Go-Between with the words “The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.” No-where is this difference with the past more apparent than in the realm of getting and spending, for like most foreign countries, the past uses a money different from ours, and the historian must somehow translate its value into modern terms. Read more »

America’s True Power

At a time when many are concerned by the nation’s loss of the unassailable economic position it occupied just after World War II, one historian argues that our real strength—and our real peril—lie elsewhere

We know more about sickness than about health. This is as true of medicine as it is of history, and as true of the condition of a nation as it is of a person. Moreover, the diagnosis must proceed not only from symptoms but from retrospect. For the diagnosis of a patient, some kind of knowledge of his medical history is fundamental. Read more »

100 Years Of The ‘Journal’

In June 1984 I got an odd call from an editor at The Wall Street Journal. I had submitted an article that marked the one hundredth anniversary of the first publication of Charles Dow’s stock-market average. How do you know, the editor asked, that July 3, 1984, is the right date? What is your source? Read more »

I. America’s Junction

All through the 1920s eager young emigrants left the towns and farms of America and headed for New York City. One of them recalls the magnetism of the life that pulled him there.

And still they come.

From west of the Appalachians, from the prairies of the middle border, from the shortgrass country, and from the South, young Americans troop to New York in search of fullfillment—or perhaps to get away from something. Read more »