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Bulloch History with Roger Allen: William Leggett, bank 'Panic of 1837' and Loco-Foco-ism
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Roger Allen - photo by Special

    Note: The following is part of a series of columns looking at the establishment and evolution of the banking system in Georgia and Bulloch County.

    Savannah-born William Leggett was hired as the New York Evening Post's theatrical and literary critic. In 1836, he left the Post to start his own two papers: the Plain Dealer and the Examiner.
    The nation was in one of its deepest depressions, which had begun with the collapse of many of the nation's banks. The radicals of New York's Democratic Party founded a new Equal Rights Party.
    Leggett became their ideological guru. They became known as the "Loco-Focos" (after a popular brand of friction match). Their members were largely abolitionists and anti-bank men.
    Loco-Focos and Leggett blamed banks for the "Panic of 1837." Leggett was particularly outraged when the Georgia Constitutionalist newspaper wrote, "Only a restored Bank of the United States can save us."
    Leggett fumed, "The bank … has failed in all its great ends." However, Leggett's Loco-Foco ideals frightened Georgians. The Athens Southern Whig paper warned its readers repeatedly about the "heresies of radical, destructive Loco-Focism."
    Indeed, the Macon Georgia Telegraph felt it necessary to reassure their readers that the people "possessed too much good sense" for the "Loco-Foco doctrines (to) prevail in Georgia."

Railroad banks
    The first Southern railroad was the South Carolina Canal & Railroad Company. Re-chartered as the South Carolina Railroad Company, it opened the Southwestern Railroad Bank as its financial arm.
    Similarly, Georgia's two largest railroads became banking institutions as well. The first to do so was the Central Railroad & Canal Company, originally chartered in 1833.
    It was reorganized as the Central Railroad & Banking Company in 1835 so that it too could begin offering banking services. Headquartered in Savannah, the Central Railroad soon purchased many other railroads.
    One was the Monroe Railroad & Banking Company. Renamed the Macon & Western Railroad, it ran from Macon to Atlanta. The Central Railroad of Georgia bought it so that its line would, as a consequence, reach from Savannah to Atlanta.
    In 1836, the Georgia Railroad's original 1833 charter was amended to allow it to become the Georgia Railroad & Banking Company. Headquartered in Augusta, it connected Augusta with the city of Terminus, later renamed Atlanta. Hunt's Merchant Magazine praised the financial soundness of the Central and Georgia Railroad banks, declaring, "The unredeemed currency of Georgia banks … (are) practically worthless with the exception of (these two banks)."
    Rather curiously, the Georgia Railroad & Banking Co. was absorbed by the First Railroad & Banking Co., then merged with the First Union, and was later absorbed by Wachovia Bank. It is, therefore, part of what is now Wells Fargo Bank.

    Roger Allen is a local lover of history. Allen provides a brief look each week at the area's past. Email Roger at rwasr1953@gmail.com.

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