In 1837, President Martin Van Buren confronted a dilemma over the appropriate federal response to the recent Panic of 1837 that seemed to undercut the policies and power of Andrew Jackson's "Democracy." Now, Van Buren must decide how best to harness the civic reaction in stabilizing the financial system and returning the American economy to growth. Van Buren's dilemma occurs in the midst of a dramatic regime shift in American politics. The rise of Whig politicians in reaction to the populist policies of Jackson marked 1837 as a historic pivot point. It is useful to consider how the Panic of 1837 contributed to that pivot and how the subsequent civic reaction to the panic developed.
This C case describes the failures to enact the proposal in 1837, 1838, and 1839—ultimately the proposal was enacted in 1840. The case also describes other civic reactions: a new Bankruptcy Act and state-level free-banking laws. Finally, the case describes the economic aftermath: another panic in 1839 and a long depression that ensued.