The Baltimore Bank Riot of 1835 was a result of the greed of the Bank of Maryland’s directors, and was further aided by the inability of the authorities to aid the victims of the bank’s crash. There was little protection for the investors of the bank; thus, they had to defend themselves. The enemy that the investors had to be protected from was the bank’s directors, who were entrusted with the people’s livelihoods and abused that trust in an attempt to add to their wealth.
The events leading up to the Baltimore Bank Riot were, at first, rather innocuous. A number of banks were set up in Maryland to fund internal improvements, most notably railroads. A number of Baltimore’s working class citizens were enticed into investing in these banks for the good of the community. For one, the banks needed the money for public improvements, which would be for the benefit of everyone. Also, putting money in local and state banks would help to take power from the national bank, which was regarded by the Democracy as an unnecessary evil. Here, we see liberal republicanism at its finest. The common people were doing something to aid themselves, namely investing their money and, hopefully, making a profit. At the same time, they were funding public works and helping to eliminate a source of unearned, concentrated power.
Unfortunately, things soon turned sour for our hero, John Q. Public. Operating on inside information, the directorship of the Bank of Maryland began speculating heavily, issuing far more paper money than they would be able to back up with gold and silver, all the while investing all their gold and silver in the Union Bank of Maryland. The Union Bank of Maryland was expected to be favored by Andrew Jackson once the evil influence of the national back was out of the way, and was thus counted on to turn a large profit, take out the trash, change diapers and give you a back rub. Making the story interesting (who wants to read about people making a small profit and being happy, right?), the Union Bank was not massively profitable, causing the Bank of Maryland to collapse. After a good deal of discussion, the moral economy of the crowd eventually took over in Baltimore, during the summer of 1835. During my personal reflection time, I have decided that the crowd was just in its decisions and actions.
The leaders of the Bank of Maryland were trusted by the liberal republican middle classes, and the leaders did not act very uprightly. They used inside information, meaning that they were attempting to use others’s ignorance to their advantage, and that they were keeping useful knowledge from the public and from other banks so that they, personally, might obtain more wealth. Also, the directors abused their investors’ trust by issuing more paper money than the bank had, thus misleading the public. Furthermore, once the gig was up, many of the directors and their lawyers attempted to shovel all the blame onto the shoulders of the bank’s president, again, putting themselves first. The board of directors of the Bank of Maryland was not in compliance with the doctrines of liberal republicanism and deserved what they got.
It should also be noted that, once a mob had formed, the bank’s investors continued to conduct themselves righteously. They caused no injuries, even though they were fired upon by the bank's guards. They stole nothing nonpotable, despite the fact that the houses they sacked were brimming with valuables. They made sure to control their fires, and even voted on whether or not to burn a boatyard. As oxymoronic as it sounds, there was order to their destruction; morality to their violence. It is clear that the good of the community was a major issue; care was taken not to negatively affect anyone except those that had so carelessly jeopardized the savings of the people that had believed in them.
Another issue that hits close to home is that of abused freedom, one of the US's worst plagues. Numerous individuals have fallen into the mindset of, “I can get away with it, so I should go ahead and do it”. While this might not end up causing direct consequences to that person, enough mistreatments of freedom will invariably cause an official (or unofficial) tightening of reigns. Also, mob rule tends to even the playing field. It is not an easy task to maintain one’s holier-than-thou attitude while looking at 500 angry people out on the front lawn, with rocks.
As we have seen, the conflict between personal gain and communal well-being has been storming since long before you or I can remember, and it is this struggle which defines liberal republicanism. Which is more important, oneself or the whole, of which one is only a small part? For the leaders of the Bank of Maryland, their personal fortune was placed before their obligations to the community that had put their faith and money behind the bank. For the people that were wronged by the bank, their allegiance to the community was of equal consequence to their personal needs. This liberally republican outlook gave the mob the moral upper hand against the bank’s directors.
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