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In 1792, though, Duer voluntarily entered the New Gaol, a debtor’s prison in downtown New York, to escape his creditors. He had borrowed money to corner the market on U.S. bonds and couldn’t cover his losses.
In addition to his prominent associates, Duer had hit up shopkeepers, widows, orphans, butchers and even the famous bawd Mrs. Macarty. All were ruined.
For days, an angry crowd gathered outside the prison, cursing Duer, threatening vengeance, throwing stones and rioting. With his fall, a financial panic ensued, the nation’s first, with Duer the most reviled deadbeat.
I spoke with Scott Reynolds Nelson, author of “A Nation of Deadbeats: An Uncommon History of America’s Financial Disasters,” on the following topics:
1. Consumer Debt
2. Periodic Crashes
3. Unsteady Borrowers
4. Shady Operators
5. Birth of Democrats
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