A Nation of Deadbeats: An Uncommon History of America's Financial Disasters

Front Cover
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Sep 4, 2012 - History - 352 pages

The story of America is a story of dreamers and defaulters.  It is also a story of dramatic financial panics that defined the nation, created its political parties, and forced tens of thousands to escape their creditors to new towns in Texas, Florida, and California.  As far back as 1792, these panics boiled down to one simple question: Would Americans pay their debts—or were we just a nation of deadbeats?

From the merchant William Duer’s attempts to speculate on post–Revolutionary War debt, to an ill-conceived 1815 plan to sell English coats to Americans on credit, to the debt-fueled railroad expansion that precipitated the Panic of 1857, Scott Reynolds Nelson offers a crash course in America’s worst financial disastersand a concise explanation of the first principles that caused them all. Nelson shows how consumer debt, both at the highest levels of finance and in the everyday lives of citizens, has time and again left us unable to make good. The problem always starts with the chain of banks, brokers, moneylenders, and insurance companies that separate borrowers and lenders.  At a certain point lenders cannot tell good loans from bad—and when chits are called in, lenders frantically try to unload the debts, hide from their own creditors, go into bankruptcy, and lobby state and federal institutions for relief.

With a historian’s keen observations and a storyteller’s nose for character and incident, Nelson captures the entire sweep of America’s financial history in all its utter irrationality: national banks funded by smugglers; fistfights in Congress over the gold standard; and presidential campaigns forged in stinging controversies on the subject of private debt. A Nation of Deadbeats is a fresh, irreverent look at Americans’ addiction to debt and how it has made us what we are today. 

 

What people are saying - Write a review

LibraryThing Review

User Review  - Scapegoats - LibraryThing

Nelson looks at the economic crises that have plagued the United States since the founding of the republic. He looks at different forms that credit and money have taken in the United States. He then ... Read full review

A Nation of Deadbeats: An Uncommon History of America's Financial Disasters

User Review  - Book Verdict

The major strength of Nelson's (Leslie and Naomi Legum Professor of History, Coll. of William and Mary; Steel Drivin' Man: John Henry, the Untold Story of an American Legend) latest work is in showing ... Read full review

Contents

CHAPTER ONE Ducrs Disgrace
23
CHAPTER THREE Monkcyjackcts the Uncorkcd Mississippi
48
CHAPTER SIX Leviathan
95
CHAPTER SEVEN Of Swamps and Calculus
126
CHAPTER EIGHT Ceres Americana
149
CHAPTER NINE A Storm of Wheat
180
CHAPTER ELEVEN Who Put the Roar in the Roaring Twenties?
207
CHAPTER TVElE Conclusions Conclusions
240
PbotograJbic Credits
321
Copyright

Other editions - View all

Common terms and phrases

About the author (2012)

SCOTT REYNOLDS NELSON is the author of, among other works, Steel Drivin’ Man: John Henry, the Untold Story of an American Legend, which won the National Award for Arts Writing, the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, the Merle Curti Award for best book in American social history, and the Library of Virginia Literary Award for nonfiction. His related book for young adults, Ain't Nothing But a Man (coauthored with Marc Aronson), received the Jane Addams Prize for the best book on social justice, as well as numerous other awards. Nelson is the Leslie and Naomi Legum Professor of History at the College of William and Mary.

Bibliographic information