Abstract: “Our Worst Enemies, the Merchants”: The Panic of 1819 on the Missouri Frontier

Rebekah Mergenthal


This paper explores public debates about the economic stresses resulting from the Panic of 1819 on the Missouri frontier. Settlers contested the causes and meaning of economic developments and strongly correlated them to their own definitions of the common good. In particular, their attacks on local merchants, and the defenses those merchants offered, show how economic interactions and negotiations shaped a sense of belonging on the Missouri frontier. This economic crisis brought economic fault lines to the fore. Yet even as farmers criticized the self-interested merchants, they realized that merchants played a crucial role in the development of the society when they exported the farmers' crops. Thus, while the ramifications of the 1819 Panic brought to the fore tensions between different economic groups, it did not cause a major reordering of the frontier Missouri society. This paper explores these specific tensions to see how settlers and merchants defended their own roles in the local society of the Missouri River Valley and how the definition of the common good was being negotiated on the frontier in this period.