California Gold Rush

The economics of the California Gold Rush (1848–55) reflected a blending of capitalism, individualism, and countercultures. The estimated $2 billion in extracted gold stimulated a tumultuous global economy. California’s immature economic machines, devised by “California Humbugs” (merchants utilizing deceptive practices), were designed to foster continuous wealth for a few, and “feeding a dead horse” became a euphemism for forms of involuntary servitude as a result of the subsequent economic boom-and-bust cycles. The transcendentalist Orestes Brownson (1803–76) observed in his article “The Laboring Class,” published in the Boston Quarterly Review in 1840, that during America’s first sustained industrial depression (prior to the discovery of gold on January 24, 1848, in Coloma, California) the differences between the wealthy capitalists and labor reached a crisis point. For the ...

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