United States and American History: 1837

About the history of the United States in 1837, P.T. Barnum's first hoax, Irish gangs flourish, first major depression and the abolitionist Elijah Lovejoy is killed.


--P. T. Barnum, fabulous showman, sold a credulous public his 1st successful hoax: Joice Heth, a 46-1b., 161-year-old ex-slave, who allegedly was the midwife who brought George Washington into the world. Over 10,000 New Yorkers jammed into Niblo's Garden to catch a glimpse of the "wonder." After her death, an autopsy revealed that she was no more than 80.

--The American Peace Society condemned all wars, defensive as well as offensive. Its founder, William Ladd, called for a Congress of Nations and a world court of arbitration. Later, author James Russell Lowell summed up the Society's philosophy in his Bigelow Papers:

Ez fer war, I call it murder,--

There you hev it plain an' flat;

I don't want to go no furder

Than my Testyment fer that. . . .

--Sign of the times: Washington Irving coined a new phrase in his book The Creole Village when he referred to "The Almighty Dollar, that great object of universal devotion throughout the land." Irving felt Americans were concerned only with the material goods that "Almighty Dollar" would purchase.

--The Forty Thieves, the Roach Guards, the Plug Uglies, the Shirt Tales, and the Dead Rabbits were predominantly Irish gangs which flourished in the Five Points area of New York City, bounded by Broadway, Canal Street, the Bowery, and Park Row.

--Robert Montgomery Bird was responsible for an Indian stereotype which lasted for generations--that of the unwashed dirty heathen who is a vicious animal. Bird's popular novel of the frontier, Nick of the Woods, presented the Indian as a savage beast that it was necessary to exterminate. Because of American acceptance of this attitude, the book has gone through more than 25 editions in this country.

Feb. The Flour Riot of 1837 broke out when the crowd attending a "bread, meat, rent, and fuel" meeting in Chatham Square, N. Y., drove the police and mayor to cover and stormed a flour warehouse.

Mar. First major depression in the U.S. Stock prices broke on Wall Street, plunging the nation into the deep depression now known as the Panic of 1837. George Templeton Strong's diary revealed its extent:

April 19 . . . State of things in Wall Street worse than ever. The whole city is going to the devil in a pecunia point of view.

May 2 . . . Matters worse and worse . . .everyone discouraged; prospect of universal ruin . . . . Workmen thrown out of employ by the hundred daily.

May 5 . . . Something like 20 failures yesterday! . . .

May 10 . . . The Bank of America, Merchants, and Manhattan which had resolved to try and hold out a little longer, have closed. Immense crowd and excitement in Wall St. . . .

Nov. 7 Abolitionist Elijah P. Lovejoy was killed by a proslavery mob at Alton, Ill. Earlier, Reverend Lovejoy, as editor of the Alton Observer, had run an abolitionist editorial stating:

Abolitionists, therefore, hold American slavery to be a wrong, a legalized system of inconceivable injustice, and a SIN. . . against God . . .

Lovejoy was cornered in his newspaper office by an angry law-and-order "posse" that shot him 5 times, dumped his printing press into the river, and set fire to the building. The next day, proslavers lined the streets and cheered as his mutilated corpse was dragged through the town.

Nov. After 2 years of raising money at small meetings, parlor gatherings, and sewing circles, Mary Lyon was able to open the 1st women's college--Mount Holyoke.

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