It vowed send men of our own description if we can to the Legislature at Albany

It vowed send men of our own description if we can to

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aristocratic orders of society,” declared the New York Working Men’s Party. It vowed “to send men of our own description, if we can, to the Legislature at Albany.” In Philadelphia, the Working Men’s Party elected a number of assemblymen; in 1834, they persuaded the Pennsylvania legislature to authorize tax-supported schools so that workers’ children could rise in the world.Indeed, the workers’ ultimate goal was a society without dependent wage earners. In such an artisan republic, said labor intellectual Orestes Brownson,“All men will be independent proprietors, working on their own capitals, on their own farms, or in their own shops.” Like the rising middle class, artisan republicans demanded equal rights andequal opportunity. Joseph Weydemeyer, a close friend of Karl Marx, reported from New York in the early 1850s that most American workers “are incipient bourgeois, and feel themselves to be such.” Thus William Leggett, a leading member of the New York Loco-Foco (Equal Rights) Party, demanded “a system of legislation which leaves to all the freeexercise of their talents and industry.” Working Men’s candidates won office in many cities, but divisions over policy and the parties’ weakness in statewide contests soon took a toll. By the mid-1830s,most politically active workers had joined the Democratic Party and were urging it to eliminate protective tariffs and tax the stocks and bonds of wealthy capitalists.Financial Panic and Economic DepressionAt this juncture, the Panic of 1837 threw the American economy — and the union movement — into disarray.The panic began when the Bank of England decided to boost the faltering British economy by sharply curtailing the flow of money and credit to the United States. Since 1822, British manufacturers had extended credit to southern planters to expand cotton production, and British investors had purchased millions of dollars of the canal bonds issued by northern states.Suddenly deprived of British funds, American planters, merchants, and canal corporations had to withdraw gold from domestic banks to pay their commercial debts and interest on their foreign
loans. Moreover, as British textile mills drastically reduced their purchases of raw cottonfrom the South,cotton prices plummeted from 20 cents a pound to 10 cents or less.Falling cotton prices and the drain of specie to Britain set off a financial panic.On May 8, the Dry Dock Bank of New York City closed its doors, and worried depositors began to withdraw gold and silver coins from other banks. Within two weeks, every bank in the United States had stopped trading specie and curtailed credit, turning a financial panic into an economic crisis. “This sudden overthrow of the commercial credit” had a “stunning effect,” observed Henry Fox, the British minister in Washington. “The conquest of the land by a foreign power could hardly have produced a more general sense of humiliation and grief.”A second, longer-lasting downturn began in 1839. To revive the economy after the Panic of 1837, state governments had increased their investments in canals and railroads. As they issued more and more bonds to finance these ventures, bond prices fell sharply in

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