Greed Created These Horrific Financial Crises

The defeat of Napoleon left the economies of Europe and the United States in turmoil for decades. Wikimedia

3. The Post-Napoleonic recessions of the early 19th century

Following the military defeat of Napoleon in 1815, the economies of Europe and the United States suffered a downturn in trade which lasted in some cases more than a decade. The United States was already producing grain at levels which exceeded the demand of its own population, and in the South cotton was supplanting tobacco as the main cash crop. Both excess corn and cotton were marked for export to Europe, especially to England, where mill owners welcomed the cotton. But British farmers opposed the importation of American grain, and to protect British farmers Parliament passed the Corn Laws, increasing tariffs on American agricultural goods. Both British citizens and American farmers suffered. The British were forced to pay higher prices for their locally grown food. The Americans were left with excess grain.

In the United States an economic downturn known as the Panic of 1819 was the result. In response, Americans resourcefully converted excess corn and wheat into whiskey and pork, and the internal cities of Louisville, St. Louis, and Cincinnati experienced booms as butchers and distillers thrived along the rivers. In Great Britain, Parliament passed a series of measures to manipulate prices and the economy, with less than desirable results. Grain from a recovering France exacerbated the problem. By the 1830s, the global economy had recovered, and the United States was the leading producer of both whiskey and pork in the world. Pork remained the most popular meat on American dinner plates until after the Civil War, when western beef supplanted it.