Graduation Year

Fall 2011

Document Type

Open Access Senior Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts



Reader 1

Marc Weidenmier

Reader 2

Gregory Hess

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Rights Information

© 2011 Ryan Shaffer


This paper identifies America's first Great Moderation, a period from 1841-1856 of unbroken economic expansion and low volatility comparable to the Great Moderation of the 1980s-2000s. This moderation occurred despite a lack of central banks, low governmental spending, and barriers to interstate commerce during the antebellum period. I demonstrate this moderation in industrial production and stock market indexes and compare the first Great Moderation with the second in these economic factors. These results also call into question the conventional wisdom of the National Bureau of Economic Research business cycle chronology that the antebellum period was volatile and fraught with recessions. I then identify several possible causes of this stable growth in the effects of cotton prices, technological revolutions such as railroads, and wage and interest rate integration during the period, among other factors. Understanding these factors helps develop our understanding of the American antebellum economy and the causes of economic growth and stability, especially during these Great Moderations.