Penn State History major Kristen Campbell contributes this blog post about an interesting item she found while conducting research for her senior thesis. Her post illustrates the fun in finding unexpected items that sometimes take you, temporarily, off your intended path. Fun Things Found While Researching Sifting through databases can get pretty tedious, but every once in a while I find little serendipitous gems amongst the dry and obscure. While they might be irrelevant to the research at hand, they provide some good food for thought. This time: Economy During War!
From the description: By 1864, Grant's armies were demanding and using so many supplies that the gold standard was in line to be shattered, causing a severe economic downturn.I found this to be a pretty interesting, multi-layered cartoon. The expense of the war was a major concern to many citizens in the North. By 1864 not only were the armies becoming a dangerous economic burden, the staggering casualty rates and limited or inconclusive victories caused many Northern citizens to agitate for peace in fears that the Union itself might collapse. In Jennifer Weber's recent book Copperheads: The Rise and Fall of the Lincoln's Opponents in the North, she uses the Gold Standard as a means of gauging public confidence in the government. Gold is generally considered a safe investment - when people are feeling uneasy about the future, they will invest in gold, causing its price to rise. In August of 1864, the price of gold reached its highest peak during the war years. Generally, holding to a gold standard helps a country limit inflation and government spending. Since paper money was tied to gold reserves, the government had finite resources. This cartoon however highlights public fears about economic instability. Grant is depicted breaking the gold standard with his "Army" hammer. If the United States were to move away from the gold standard by increasing the money supply to a level higher than its gold reserves, inflation could skyrocket and recession would ensue. In order to finance the war, the government did in fact move away from the gold standard, issuing paper money known as "greenbacks". Instead of gold, its value was tied to consumer confidence in the stability of the national government. During wartime, this was a tricky situation. Inflation rates became closely tied to the Union army's success or failure. After the Civil War, the nation would again return, though temporarily, to a modified form of the gold standard. This cartoon is in support of removing the gold standard policy in order fund the war effort. It proves its point through an interesting biblical reference. Grant is depicted as an iconoclast knocking the head off a golden calf, as businessmen worship below. With his "Army" mallet, he is derailing a false god. The cartoon is actually arguing that the gold standard needs to be shattered in order to preserve the union. The men left praying to its broken throne are clinging to false hopes, as money can no longer be an American credo in the North.