It Can’t Happen in America… Oh, Really?
by Tim Case: Natural
people don’t want to hear the truth because they don’t want their
If there are
two things that can be said with all confidence they are that throughout
American history the American public has had and continues to have
an enduring commitment to owning firearms. Second is the government’s
unerring ability to be the sole cause of economic calamities, regardless
of how vibrant the markets.
War and the
market place are strange bedfellows. A case in point is the Spencer
On March 6,
1860 the Spencer Repeating Rifle was patented in the United States.
This rifle was developed for the sole purpose of brother using it
against brother during the War Between the States. In the words
of Warren Fisher, Jr. treasurer of the Spencer Repeating Rifle company:
the hands of scouts or sharpshooters, or regular troops – taking
into consideration all the elements of range, rapidity of firing,
and facility of reloading, the Spencer Rifle is so effective as
to render one man with it fully equal to half a dozen men armed
with single-loading muskets…"
Of this rifle
and in conjunction with testimony of a great many within the Federal
Army’s General staff, George Armstrong Custer wrote:
Mr. F. Cheney,
Sir: – Being in command of a Brigade of Cavalry which is armed
throughout with the Spencer Carbine and Rifle, I take pleasure
in testifying to their superiority over all other weapons. I am
firmly of the opinion that fifteen hundred men armed with the
Spencer Carbine are more than a match for twenty-five hundred
armed with any other firearm – I know this to be true from actual
that Custer seems to have either forgotten or through his arrogance
rejected when on June 25, 1876 he pitted his greatly divided and
ill prepared 7th Cavalry using slow firing breach loading
Springfield Model 1873 45-70 rifles against a greatly superior force;
many of whom pressed the battle at the Little Bighorn with Spencer
and Winchester repeating rifles.)
1874 George Cary Eggleston, a veteran of the War Between the
States, who had fought for the Confederacy, wrote in "The Atlantic"
of the events in the South following the war:
end came, technically, at Appomattox, but of the real difficulties
of the war the end was not yet. The trials and the perils of utter
disorganization were still to be endured, and as the condition
in which many parts of the South were left by the fall of the
Confederate government was an anomalous one, some account of it
seems necessary to the completeness of this narrative."
principal danger was from the lawless bands of marauders who infested
the country, and our greatest difficulty in dealing with them
lay in the utter absence of constituted authority of any sort.
Our country was full of highwaymen - not the picturesque highwaymen
of whom fiction and questionable history tell us, those gallant,
generous fellows whose purse-cutting proclivities seem mere peccadilloes
in the midst of so many virtues; not these, by any means, but
plain highwaymen of the most brutal description possible, and
destitute even of the merit of presenting a respectable appearance…"
Confederate soldiers found themselves in upon returning home were
a direct result of Federal policy toward the Southern states and
the National Bank Notes (AKA National Currency) that were now a
permanent fixture in America’s monetary system. This "new"
money was liability-money (debt-obligation money) and with it came
the real possibility of inflation as Jay Cooke, one of the creators
of the national banking system, was acutely aware. At the war's
conclusion any money the Confederate government had issued was rendered
worthless and the "greenback" dollar wasn’t far behind;
the value of which was no more then 35 cents in 1860 gold.
I am sure more
than one Southern gentleman desired to own the Spencer rifle to
protect his hearth and home during this era, but the 1866 Spencer
Repeating Arms Catalog shows the rifle in the 44 caliber retailed
for a whopping $45.00.
To a present
day buyer this may not sound like a lot but let’s put this in perspective;
a frame of reference, which will remain constant throughout
the rest of the article.
In 1866, according
to nber.org, the average weekly wage of working Americans was $41.18,
(adjusted to 1866 dollar), with the average work week being estimated
at sixty-four hours. The results were an hourly wage of $0.64. With
this in mind it would take a worker dedicating everything they earned
from 70 hours of labor to purchase a Spencer rifle.
The rifle was
undoubtedly obtained by those in the North who had an income somewhere
equal to the national average. For the Confederate veterans who
needed the rifle but were faced with high taxes, hyperinflation,
the need to feed and cloth their families, then rebuild their society,
which had suffered the scorched earth military policies of the Northern
high command, such an item, for the moment, was far too expensive.
It was also
in 1866 that an American icon under the corporate name of "Winchester
Repeating Arms Company" came into being. At the same time "Winchester,"
as the company was to be commonly referred to, began production
of the "Winchester Repeating Arm, Model 1866" better known
as the "Yellow Boy" which sold to the public at around
Model 1866 was the standard bearer of repeating rifles until 1873
when Winchester introduced the Model 1873 repeating rifle.
Of the Winchester
Model 1873 William F. Cody writing from Fort McPherson, Nebraska
been using and have thoroughly tested you latest improved rifle…While
in the Black Hills this last summer I crippled a bear, and Mr.
Bear made for me, and I am certain had I not been armed with one
of your repeating rifles I would now be in the happy hunting grounds.
The bear was not thirty feet from me when he charged, but before
he could reach me I had eleven bullets in him, which was a little
more lead than he could comfortably digest."
me that you have the most complete rifle now made."
(Emphasis in the original)
intervening years between 1866 and 1873 the hourly wage of American
workers steadily increased first to $0.71 and hour in 1867 to $0.89
in 1873. During the same period the work week decreased from 64
hours 62 hours.
In 1870 the
Montgomery Wards catalog (of 1870,) advertised the Sharps (?) 7
shot repeating rifle at $50.00 still requiring the American worker
to dedicate 59.25 hours a 15% reduction in hours needed to work
before purchasing the rifle.
1873 saw Winchester
introduce the "Model 73" repeating rifle, however September
1873 ushered in the event known as the "Panic of 1873"
followed by its supposed depression.
argue concerning what caused this panic but there is no doubt the
following factors contributed to the US economy’s predicament.
- a large
and growing trade deficit
- High Tariffs
in the Nebraska
Advertiser, September 13, 1877 former Vice President Schuyler
Colfax, in a speech entitled "Hard Times Their Cause and
Cure" said this: "The chief, though not the only cause,
for the panic of 1873, was the overbuilding of railroads, and
the enormous amount of money they withdrew from other uses."
(The other causes conveniently missing in Colfax’s statements
certainly must take into account the state and federal subsidies
which resulted in blatant, widespread corruption.)
(To read a
fascinating discussion of the corruption during this era, see "The
Consolidation of State Power via Reconstruction, 1865-1890"
by Thomas J. DiLorenzo)
of the cause or causes the first indication of a problem occurred
on September 8 with the failure of the New York Warehouse and Securities
Company. Then Daniel Drew’s firm Kenyon, Cox and Company ceased
business a week later.
who had been instrumental in establishing the national banking system
during the war by marketing government bonds, was next. Cooke had
taken control of the Northern Pacific Railroad during the 1860s
which had been the recipient of Federal land grants to the tune
of 47 million acres. Cooke was so heavily invested in the railroad
that once the Northern Pacific Railroad failed, in 1873, when millions
of dollars in NPR bonds
became unmarketable, it took the financial house of
Jay Cooke and Company with it.
With the collapse
of Jay Cooke and Company the house of cards began to fall rather
quickly. Two other important financial firms closed their doors
the same day with 37 more on September 19th. These shocks
waves to the financial world set off the Panic of 1873.
business failures, some 5000 bankruptcies in the first year, and
there were certainly many who became unemployed. Unemployment took
place most notably in the railroad industry which was the largest
single employer outside of agriculture. Persistent joblessness among
the railroad workers eventually resulted in violence during the
summer of 1877.
Of course the
failing bankers immediately called for a "bail out", but
President Grant, to his credit, refused to sign the April 14, 1874
bill that would inflate the currency supply by 100 million dollars.
Grant justified his veto stating that the short term advantage of
such a bill did not out weight the long term damage it would do
to the economy.
veto was important in that it gave the "hard money" politicians
the needed impetus to pass the 1875 Specie Resumption Act, which
programmed the US to return to a gold and silver standard on January
was right. The yearly average wholesale hundred weight price for
native beef steers, all weights from 750 to 1800 pounds, as compiled
by the Chicago Daily Drover Journal indicates, during the period
of 1874 to 1879, they were not as volatile as the prices were during
the prosperous expansion years of 1881 to 1890.
era one is hard pressed to find the "Long Depression"
so many historians claim occurred.
1873 and March 1879 there was no contraction in the money supply.
It has been reported that during this period the money held by banks
increased from 1.964 billion dollars to 2.221 billion dollars; increasing
at an average rate of 2.6% per annum. Furthermore, we have to wonder
how a "depression" could possibly result in an expansion
(some even go so far as to call it an extraordinary expansion) of
industry and real per capita income.
Nor do we see
goods chasing dollars in the gun industry of the 1870s. Remington
firearms catalog of 1875 shows the Remington’s breech loading rifle,
with 24 or 26 inch barrel, sold for $32.00 requiring the general
public to dedicate 33 3/4 hours of labor to acquiring one. These
prices reflect the value of the US greenbacks which were now roughly
worth $0.86 in prewar gold dollars.
fallen since 1866 but not because of any tightening in the money
supply. What had occurred was that under President Grant’s direction
the Federal government, through its banking system, hadn’t caused
a marked increase in the money made available. The lack of inflation
allowed the relatively free-market capitalists to increase production
along with economic growth at a rate greater than the rate new money
was being pumped into the US economy.
prosperity hadn’t resulted in a price change within the Winchester
line. The 1876 Winchester catalog shows the least expensive standard
New Model ‘73’ Sporting Rifle with 24 inch barrel in the 44 caliber
sold for $45.00; requiring the purchaser to contribute his earning
from slightly more than 47 hours of toil before claiming it, as
opposed to 70 hours in 1866.
What had happened
was that wages had increased so that the average consumer was rewarded
by having to work 23 hours less to purchase the Model 73
then it took in 1866 to acquire the Spenser rifle at the same price.
Even a notoriously under paid sheriff from North Platte, Nebraska,
of whom the Republican said was a "worthy and efficient
sheriff", found he could own a Winchester rifle. Writing Winchester
corporate headquarters Sheriff Struthers remarked:
succeeded in getting one of your guns here that is first-class.
It is, without any exception, the best gun I ever shot, and I
am safe in saying that I have handled all sorts." (Emphasis
in the original)
Lincoln Co., Nebraska
With the implementation
Resumption Of Specie Act of January 14, 1875, the miracle of
what can transpire in a free market, began to expose itself. Congress
had commanded that the fiat greenbacks be redeemed by either gold
or silver coin.
in the Federal government’s gold and silver holdings in combination
with the ongoing flushing of the fiat dollars from circulation set
up the American economy for the decade of the 1880s, which produced
an era of remarkable economic growth.
In the intervening
years of 1875 to 1880 this action by Congress had a positive influence
on American’s lives. During these years American’s cost
of living dropped by nearly 15%. This increase in American’s
standard of living is emphasized by the average yearly wholesale
price of 750 to 1800 pound beef steers being reduced in value by
over 17% during the same period.
also declined, they dropped at the much slower rate of just over
9%. When adjusted to the value of the dollar of each respective
year and its purchasing power – a consequence of the increased volume
of gold and silver in circulation – there was a modest but positive
improvement; the hourly wage in 1875 lost ground until 1877 before
recovering in 1878 and again in 1879. While the money people had
to spend had decreased in volume (up to 1878) their overall purchasing
power had increased.
were beginning to be seen less as necessary tools of the West and
more as sporting objects, due to people’s increasing disposable
income, can be gleaned from the an article printed in the "Nebraska
advertiser" of September 05, 1878 which featured a Mr.
Adam Goldie of Shannon County, Missouri.
was a sharpshooter who many thought could beat the up and coming
then later acknowledged reigning king of marksmen, William
Frank "Doc" Carver.
entitled "The Greatest Marksman Yet" states the 38 year-old
Goldie could break "299 glass balls out of 300 in twelve minutes
with a forty-four caliber Winchester rifle…A seemingly incredible
feat that he performs is as follows: A soda-water bottle is thrown
into the air in a certain manner, and before it falls, Goldie will
send a bullet down the neck of the bottle and make a hole in the
Goldie was not a bad shot either. Remember these shooters were shooting
with open sights. "…At one thousand yards he will hit the centre
of the bulls eye and then send six bullets one after the other
hitting the very indent made by the first…"
I don’t know
if the shooting match between Goldie and "Doc" Carver
ever took place, but an article like this had to spark the imagination
of every young man – along with anyone who fancied themselves good
with a rifle – to sharpen his shooting skills. Nor would it hurt
Winchester sales whose advertising stressed their rifle’s rapid-fire
ability and its accuracy.
As the end
of 1880 approached Winchester Repeating Arms August catalog reports
that the Model 73 had been reduced in price by 33% to $30.00 from
$45.00 in 1876. The American buying public now was able, with less
then twenty-nine and a half hours of labor to purchase a Winchester,
down nearly 58% from 1866.
With the now
continuing expansion of railroads, overland shipping costs – moving
goods to markets – were continually falling. Technology resulted
in large-scale production (and lower cost) of many goods including
steel. By 1880 the once agrarian society, which had been so dominant
in the U.S. was almost evenly divided between farm and non-farm
saw a nearly 13% increase in the average America’s wage.
of wages during 1881 comes to us from Webster County, Nebraska paper
Red Cloud Chief", of June 02, 1881 in which "Billy
the Kid" was hired, in the vicinity of Albuquerque New Mexico,
to stop a rash of sheep thefts. Billy’s starting salary, according
to the article, was $40.00 a month, but within two days and because
of his proficiency with his Winchester rifle was quickly raised
to $60.00 a month.
The next day
Billy "dispatched" two more thieves and as a result his
boss purposed "that hereafter… his salary from the time he
entered his employ would be $100 per month, (plus) grub (room/board)
and ammunition." This raise, plus room and board, put Billy
the Kid’s total monthly income no more than $30.00 short of the
expansion of the US economy during the 1880s produced a real GNP
of approximately 24%.
Thomas J. DiLorenzo
from his 1991 paper "The Antitrust Economists' Paradox"
measures of output, not all of the relevant price data are available,
but the information that is at hand indicates that falling prices
accompanied the rapid expansion of output in the "monopolized"
industries. In addition, although the consumer price index fell
by 7 percent from 1880 to 1890, prices in many of the suspect
industries were falling even faster.
price of steel rails, for example, fell by 53 percent from $68
per ton in 1880 to $32 per ton in 1890. The price of refined sugar
fell from 9 cents per pound in 1880, to 7 cents in 1890, to 4.5
cents in 1900. The price of lead dropped 12 percent, from $5.04
per pound in 1880 to $4.41 in 1890. The price of zinc declined
by 20 percent, from $5.51 to $4.40 per pound from 1880 to 1890."
And fall prices
did! In February 1890 rifles from Winchester had been further reduced
by 35% from the 1880 cost to the following: Model 1873 – $19.50;
Model 1876 – $19.50; with the newest Model 1886, in a round barrel
also retailing for $19.50. These prices represented a reduction
in hours the buyer needed to work by 78.28% over 1866 and down 48.35%
from 1880. The sportsman now needed only to dedicate less then 16
hours (one and one half days labor) in wages before owning a new
To some it
may seem like today is light-years removed from the world of the
late 1860s and early 1870s.
Have we really
advanced that far when property values continue to fall; 100 million
out of a population of 242 million Americans, of working age, are
unemployed; 15% of the American population needs government assistance
just to survive; inflation is running close to 10% making working
people poorer by the day; and the value of the American dollar has
lost 97% of its purchasing power since 1913?
Are we content
with rampant corruption on Wall Street with its deceitful mortgage
schemes and reckless looting of the American people? Is it to our
advantage when, no longer capable of continuing their criminal scheme
and faced with financial ruin, this corrupt system is granted trillions
of dollars in bail outs, further impoverishing the nation? Are we
better off when rampant crony capitalism, which makes the swindling
of Americans out of their future a virtual certainty; is the standard
operating procedure among all levels of American government?
aren’t happy with either their current situation or the path that
is being taken by government. In a recent Rasmussen Report the headline
read "92% Favor Strict Limits on Government to Protect the
How this is
to be accomplished is never mentioned.
have convinced themselves that the only way to solve the continuing
federal, state and local debt problem is by the creation of more
debt. This lie will only add to their sorrows as the federal debt
is projected to reach 20 trillion dollars by 2020 resulting in larger
government and with it an escalation of the use of fear to acquire
unprecedented powers intended to subject, harass, imprison, and
murder citizens of this country.
As we have
just seen, anyone who is serious about restoring smaller government
MUST begin with the establishment of honest money.
In The Commercial
and Financial Chronicle of May 6, 1948 Congressman Howard Buffett
from Nebraska makes a strong case for honest money. In his article
entitled "Human Freedom Rests on Gold Redeemable Money"
Congressman Buffett saw clearly America’s future if it continued
with a debt ridden fiat money system.
individual citizen is deprived of freedom of movement. He is prevented
from laying away purchasing power for the future. He becomes dependent
upon the goodwill of the politicians for his daily bread. Unless
he lives on land that will sustain him, freedom for him does not
Nor was the
fact that honest money and freedom go hand in hand lost on the former
of the Federal Reserve, Alan Greenspan, who wrote in his 1966
article "Gold and Economic Freedom":
opposition to the gold standard in any form-from a growing number
of welfare-state advocates-was prompted by a much subtler insight:
the realization that the gold standard is incompatible with
chronic deficit spending (the hallmark of the welfare state).
Stripped of its academic jargon, the welfare state is nothing
more than a mechanism by which governments confiscate the wealth
of the productive members of a society to support a wide variety
of welfare schemes… But the welfare statists were quick to
recognize that if they wished to retain political power, the amount
of taxation had to be limited and they had to resort to programs
of massive deficit spending, i.e., they had to borrow money,
by issuing government bonds, to finance welfare expenditures on
a large scale…" (Emphasis mine)
those who continue to remain ensconced in the delusion that "it
can’t happen in America" remember this. If your income falls
within the medium average family income of most Americans at $46,326.00
a year and you wish to own that icon of the Old West, the Winchester
Model 1894, it will cost you $1399.99. You are now committed to
dedicating a minimum of 63 hours labor to owning one.
the defeated South of 1866 and your future.
thanks to Abby Mouat at Cornell Publications whose guidance helped
me in purchasing the right catalogs for this article. If you enjoy
old catalogs for either reading or research Cornell Publications
has available over 3000 titles which they will reprint on acid free
paper at more than reasonable prices.
Case [send him mail]
is a 30-year student of the ancient histories who agrees with the
first-century stoic Epictetus on this one point: “Only the educated
© 2012 by LewRockwell.com. Permission to reprint in whole or in
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