Back When Protests On Wall Street Weren’t Peaceful

by Stuart Shapiro

The Occupy Wall Street protests have justifiably garnered growing attention.  Protests against bankers and financiers are not new in American history, however.  And they have historically been violent.  From the Smithsonian:

Many of the World War I veterans on the scene suspected that the “infernal machine” that wreaked such destruction had come from the skies, but the delivery system consisted of a horse-drawn wagon. On September 16, 1920, an explosion at the corner of Wall and Broad Streets in downtown Manhattan killed 39 people and wounded hundreds more. It would be the deadliest terror attack on American soil until the Oklahoma City bombing 75 years later. . .

Before the turn of the 20th century, the emotions directed toward the financial barons of New York were anything but peaceful. The vast concentration wealth among a powerful few at the expense of laborers and their unions resonated with many Americans, leading to terrorism by anarchists, including assassination attempts on some of the country’s most famous multimillionaires.

This era is similar in many ways to the Gilded Age.  The growing disparity in wealth has reached levels not seen since before the Depression.  The repeated turnover in political power mirrors politics between the end of Reconstruction and the election of William McKinnley in 1896.  Let’s hope that the parallels do not extend to the nature of the protests against the malefactors of great wealth.

About Stuart Shapiro

Stuart is a professor and the Director of the Public Policy program at the Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University. He teaches economics and cost-benefit analysis and studies regulation in the United States at both the federal and state levels. Prior to coming to Rutgers, Stuart worked for five years at the Office of Management and Budget in Washington under Presidents Clinton and George W. Bush.

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