Baltimore bank riot
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The Baltimore bank riot of 1835 was a violent reaction to the failure of the Bank of Maryland in 1834. The riot, which lasted from 6–9 August, was aimed at the homes and property of a number of former directors of the bank, who had been accused of financial misconduct and fraud. The Baltimore bank riot was one of the most violent and destructive events in any American city prior to the Civil War. Rioters destroyed many of the homes of the city's wealthiest and most prominent citizens, and much valuable property was smashed or burned. The authorities were unable to control the violence and effectively surrendered the city to the mob, which was actively or passively supported by numerous bystanders.
The closure of the Bank of Maryland in the spring of 1834, combined with the failure of other financial institutions, resulted in the loss of millions of dollars in deposits held by the public. The bank's creditors awaited a financial settlement, but after 17 months without a result, many had lost patience and would soon turn to violence.
On Thursday, August 6, 1835, a small crowd approached bank director and U.S. Senator Reverdy Johnson's (1796-1876) home (previously mansion/townhouse of James Buchanan, built 1799 opposite old Courthouse Square and site of first brick house built in Baltimore Town in 1741 for Edward Fortrell) on Battle Monument Square on the northwest corner of North Calvert and East Fayette Streets in Baltimore, broke his windows and left. Anticipating further violence, Mayor of Baltimore Jesse Hunt and other citizens began to guard Johnson's home. A hostile crowd returned on Friday evening, August 7 and broke more windows, despite the mayor's presence. Mayor Hunt addressed the mob and managed to persuade them to disperse.
Anticipating further violence, Mayor Jesse Hunt summoned thirty armed horsemen who formed a cordon across the entrance to Battle Monument Square. The next evening, a large crowd gathered in Baltimore Street and marched north on Calvert toward the mayor and his guard. Unable to break through, the crowd moved to the home of Judge John Glenn, another bank director, where they smashed windows, broke through a barricaded front door, threw furniture into the street, and tore down the entire front wall. Police arrived and fired into the mob, but the rioters refused to disperse.
On Sunday, August 9, the mob returned to the Johnson home, this time overpowering the guard there and causing further destruction, making a bonfire in the street out of Johnson's valuable law library. Having taken full control of the town, the mob continued its destruction against the homes of bank director John B. Morris, Mayor Hunt, Evan T. Ellicott, a Captain Bentzinger, and one "Captain Willy", whose guilt was merely that he had protested the mob's activities.
In an effort to resolve the situation, a mass meeting was held at the massive domed "Merchants' Exchange" building, (designed by famed architect Benjamin Henry Latrobe which housed various Federal offices, courts, post office and maritime businesses) on South Gay between Water and East Lombard Streets. Mayor Hunt, having lost the confidence of the citizens of Baltimore, resigned. In his place the 83-year old General Sam Smith (1752-1839), former senator and mayor, hero of the Revolution at Fort Mifflin and of Baltimore's defenses during the Battle of Baltimore during the War of 1812, took over the government of the city.
Smith organized volunteers to march with him to Howard's Park (and Woods) at the estate of "Belvedere" of recently deceased Col. John Eager Howard (1752-1827), commander of the famed "Maryland Line" regiment of the Continental Army in the Revolution, north of the town where the Washington Monument had recently been completed. A great crowd responded and received instructions to arm themselves and assemble at old City Hall, then located on Holliday Street between East Saratoga and Lexington Streets in the former old Peale Museum. At 3,000 in number, Smith's army of volunteers humbled the mob. A call for help had already gone out to Annapolis and Washington for federal troops, though by the time they arrived, the Baltimore mob had dispersed and the city was quiet.
The leaders of the mob were identified, brought to trial, fined, and imprisoned. Those whose property was destroyed filed suit against the State of Maryland for its failure to protect them. They won their cases and received a total of $100,000 in compensation.
The Baltimore bank riot foreshadowed the later Panic of 1837, a national financial crisis which damaged the reputation of the administration of President Andrew Jackson and his successor Martin van Buren.
- The Chronicles of Baltimore: Being a Complete History of "Baltimore Town" and Baltimore City, From the Earliest Period to the Present Time. J. Thomas Scharf. (Baltimore) Turnbull Brothers, 1874
- The Baltimore Bank Riot: Political Upheaval in Antebellum Maryland. Robert E. Shalhope. (Illinois) University of Illinois Press, 2009
- Mayor Jesse Hunt and the Baltimore Bank Riot at the Maryland State Archives Retrieved March 2013