101 More Things Every College Graduate Should Know About American History


Triggered by the failure of the National Cordage Company in May and marked by many bank failures and business bankruptcies later in the year, this panic exacerbated an already serious economic decline. The causes were worldwide, but in the United States the conflict over the coinage of silver, which was advocated by groups hurt by the long deflationary cycle, was a major factor. The Treasury’s declining gold reserves, which fell below a hundred million dollars (considered a danger point), further eroded public confidence in the economy. The next few years were among the darkest in American history, being marked by the Pullman Strike, in which federal troops were used to keep the trains running, widespread protest marches by unemployed people, and the spectacle of the government’s having to turn to a private banker, J. P. Morgan, to obtain enough gold to avoid bankruptcy. The question of the free coinage of silver seems less important today than it did in the 1890s, but it split the Democratic party, gave force to the Populist movement, and made a national figure of William Jennings Bryan.

64 Panic of 1907.

This was known as the “rich man’s panic.” In October the failure of F. Augustus Heinze’s United Copper Company led to runs on a number of banks. When depositors suddenly began to withdraw money in huge amounts from the Knickerbocker Trust Company, whose president had been associated with Heinze, the bank had to close its doors. This precipitated a full-fledged panic. The hero of the resulting crisis was the same J. P. Morgan who had been pictured as a villain during the depression of the 1890s. Morgan rallied other bankers to raise cash to help hard-pressed but sound institutions to withstand the pressure of frightened depositors and to bolster sagging prices on the stock exchange. President Theodore Roosevelt helped by authorizing the deposit of federal funds in New York banks to bolster their reserves. The President also agreed to allow U.S. Steel to swallow the Tennessee Coal and Iron Company in order to save the brokerage house that owned it, a decision he was later to regret. The long-range effect of the panic on the economy was not great, but it led to important reforms, notably the creation of the Federal Reserve System in 1913–14.

65 Panic of 1929.

This was the famous “Black Thursday,” the stock market collapse of October 24, 1929. The trend of securities prices had been down for several weeks, when suddenly the market gave way. Although it certainly had a psychologically depressing effect on millions of people, the Crash, as it was called, did not cause the depression that followed. By the end of the year stock prices had regained a good part of what had been lost in October, and it was only in the spring of 1930 that the serious economic downturn began. What was remarkable about the resulting depression was its length and the persistent high unemployment.


66 Bonhomme Richard.

Forty-two guns, flagship of Capt. John Paul Jones during the Revolution. In a bloody battle off the east coast of England in 1779, the Bonhomme Richard defeated the vastly more powerful Serapis. Early in the engagement, when asked by the Briton if he had struck his colors, Jones replied, “I have not yet begun to fight.”

67 Constitution.

During the War of 1812, while under the command of Capt. Isaac Hull, the heavy frigate Constitution defeated HMS Guerrière . Eater in the war, while commanded by William Bainbridge, the Constitution destroyed HMS Java; she was known as Old Ironsides. The Constitution is still a commissioned warship in the U.S. Navy and can be visited today at the Boston Navy Yard.

68 Alabama.

A Confederate warship, powered by steam and sail, that was built during the Civil War in England. Between July 1862, when she put to sea, and her destruction in a battle with the USS Kearsarge in June 1864 in the English Channel off Cherbourg, the Alabama captured or destroyed some sixty Union ships. In 1872 arbitrators awarded the United States $15,500,000 in compensation for damage to its shipping done by Alabama and two other Confederate raiders built in England during the war.

69 Monitor.