Ohio History Journal

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Thomas Kelsey,

Hardluck Entrepreneur




In the years following the close of the War of 1812 a wave of economic

speculation swept through the West. The Treaty of Ghent, which ended the

war, offered nothing in concrete terms beyond a much desired peace. But if

the United States had not won the war against the powerful British,

Americans could at least revel in the knowledge that they had not lost it ei-

ther. They quickly forgot the many near-disasters that the nation encountered

during the war and turned their minds to more important business: No longer

fettered by a preoccupation with the problems caused by the European wars,

Americans were now free to concentrate on the great task of nation building.

The postwar optimism that accompanied this change was particularly

strong in the West. Since the 1750s the British, the French, the Spanish, the

Indians, and the Americans had been engaged in a continuous struggle for con-

trol of the Mississippi Valley. The defeat of the Indians in both the Old

Northwest and in the Gulf region and Andrew Jackson's victory at New

Orleans confirmed American dominance over this vast territory. This new

sense of security, combined with a nationwide economic surge, created an aura

of prosperity and optimism. Immigration into the West increased tremen-

dously, land prices rose, and businesses expanded. Driven by a belief in a fu-

ture of unbounded growth, farmers and townsmen alike speculated in land,

agricultural produce, bank stock, transportation improvement projects, and

other sorts of business enterprise.1 Western journalist Timothy Flint, writ-

ing in 1832, described this phenomenon in detail:


[The] flood of immigration of course increased the amount of transport and gave

new impulse to enterprise of every sort. Lands rose above their values, and specu-

lation in them became a raging epidemic. Money, put in circulation by the sale of

lands, abounded in the country. Town making, steam boat building,-in short, ev-

ery specie of speculation was carried on to ruinous excess. Mercantile importa-

tions filled the country with foreign goods. There were no reasonable foundations



Daniel Preston is editor of the James Monroe Papers at the College of William and Mary. An

earlier version of this paper was presented at the spring meeting of the Ohio Academy of

History at Columbus, Ohio, in April 1986.

1. Donald Hickey, The War of 1812:A Forgotten Conflict (Urbana, 1989); Malcolm

Rohrbough, The Trans-Appalachian Frontier: People, Societies, and Institutions, 1775-1850

(New York, 1978), 157-61.