SOURCE: Salon (8-27-09)
Commodity prices plummeted, factories shut their doors, railroads declared bankruptcy, hundreds of thousands of people lost their jobs, and land prices deflated. As the economy ground to a halt, immigration dropped in 1858 to its lowest level in more than a decade.
What caused it? A confluence of factors, including the Crimean War, a speculative Western land boom, the newish technology of telegraph wires (damn those newfangled gadgets!), an embezzlement scandal, and the accidental sinking of a ship carrying $2 million of California gold. I like this post because it reminds us to look for multiple causative factors when trying to explain any discrete event. Conspiracy theories that pin all the blame on one villain -- Goldman Sachs! Phil Gramm! The Community Reinvestment Act! -- tend to miss the gloriously messy complexity of truth.