Sunday, March 7, 2010

7 March 1857: Howell Cobb Appointed Secretary of the Treasury

On this day in 1857, Athenian Howell Cobb joined the Cabinet of newly inaugurated President James Buchanan, by accepting the position of Secretary of the Treasury. He had recently been re-elected to his 6th District seat in the House of Representatives, but had also campaigned strongly for Buchanan in other parts of the nation. The Southern Banner reprinted a glowing editorial from the Pennsylvanian, extolling Cobb for his campaign efforts in Buchanan's home state, noting that Cobb "rises by the wisdom and sagacity which distinguish his remarks, above the wordy din of ordinary Congressional speakers" and that he "possesses a firm and powerful hold on the affections of the people of (Pennsylvania)."

The Southern Watchman was less keen on Cobb's appointment to the Buchanan Administration. Still bothered by his work to pass the Compromise of 1850 when he was Speaker of the House, the Watchman stated that the "The Southern Rights wing of the Democratic party can never admire Mr. Cobb as a politician so long as they remember his declaration that the compromise was 'fair, liberal and just,'" and predicted his new position would be "a blighting influence on the prospects of Mr. Cobb."

During his first year as Treasury Secretary, Cobb faced the Panic of 1857, considered "the first worldwide economic crisis." Though the panic itself was brief, and fueled, in part, by the new technology of the telegraph, the recession that followed caused a severe drop in U. S. government income. Cobb wanted an increase in tariffs to fill the gap, but Congress did not pass the increase until 1860. Northern industries were harder hit than the South, since the cotton market had remained fairly stable through the panic, but the ripple effect was felt throughout the world.

Cobb would resign his post in December, 1860, a month after the election of Abraham Lincoln, a result he knew his home state of Georgia would not accept. However, before leaving Washington D.C., he insisted on fulfilling his duty to submit the Treasury Department's annual report to Congress.

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