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Bread Riot of 1857

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In the autumn, there came a financial crisis, that was so wide spread and disastrous that the lower classes suffered for want of food. Banks suspended specie payment, manufactures were forced to stop work, and paralysis fell on the whole industry of the nation. It was estimated that ten thousand persons were thrown out of employment. These soon used up their earnings, and destitution and suffering of course followed. Their condition grew worse as cold weather came on, and many actually died of starvation. At length they became goaded to desperation, and determined to help themselves to food. Gaunt men and women, clad in tatters, gathered in the Park, and that most fearful of all cries, when raised by a mob, “Bread,” arose on every side. Propositions were made to break open the stores, and get what they needed. Flour was hoarded up in them because so little could be got on from the West. The granaries there were groaning with provisions; but there was no money to pay for the transportation. There was money East, but kept locked up in fear. As this became known to the mob, their exasperation increased. To know that there were both food enough and money enough, while they were starving to death, was enough to drive them mad, and there were ominous mutterings. Fortunately, the authorities saw in time the threatened danger, and warded it off. A great many were set to work on the Central Park and other public works, while soup houses were opened throughout the city, and private associations formed to relieve the suffering; and the winter passed without any outbreak, though more than five thousand business houses in the country failed, with liabilities reaching three hundred millions of dollars.

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