Heather Cox Richardson: When Republicans Deliberately Sowed a Financial Crisis

Roundup: Historians' Take

Heather Cox Richardson is a professor of history at Boston College and the president of the Historical Society.

This week, President Barack Obama won re-election in a victory that so surprised many of his ideological opponents that they have spent the hours since wailing that the country is going to wrack and ruin.

With a divided and polarized government, and a battle looming over a “fiscal cliff” of more than $600 billion in tax increases and spending cuts scheduled for next year, Obama faces a rocky term ahead -- even assuming his Republican opponents negotiate in good faith.

But good faith fiscal negotiation isn’t something a president can always count on. In 1892, a dramatic Democratic victory prompted Republicans to sabotage the economy in order to ruin the incoming administration.

Then, as now, Republican insiders couldn’t believe that misguided voters had bucked the wise business leaders who backed the Republican incumbent. At the annual meeting of the New York Chamber of Commerce, held at the fancy Delmonico’s restaurant shortly after the election, members commiserated over vintage wine and an expensive dinner. Republican railroad baron Chauncey Depew snarled to his comrades about the Democrats who had just taken over Congress and the White House for the first time since the Civil War. “Business interests” were dangerous, he warned, and the Democrats had better be careful....

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