The Financial Crisis of 1847 (A)
On October 25, 1847, British prime minister John Russell met with his cabinet to review a deepening financial crisis and to weigh proposals for government response. Chief among these were two proposals. The first was to suspend the Bank Charter Act of 1844 in order to permit the Bank of England to discount more freely and to issue banknotes in greater volume than the Act allowed. In recent days, delegations of merchants, industrialists, and country bankers had approached Russell to plead for more currency. The second was to do nothing and allow the crisis to run its course. Some members of Parliament argued that the whole point of the Act was to impose discipline at times like this, so to suspend it would make a mockery of that discipline and create moral hazard. As leaders of the Whig Party, Russell and his cabinet would need to navigate carefully through the crisis, owing to the slim majority his government held in Parliament. The A case describes five shocks that promoted the financial crisis of 1847-agriculture, railways, demand, monetary, and fiscal-as well as the complicated political situation at this time of the Irish potato famine. The B case offers an epilogue.