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The 19th century was rife with financial problems; mainly in the absence of money for what one desired. In short, debt was the dark gloom that cast a pall over the citizens of England. The English government was lackadaisical about many issues during the first half of the century, but they were militant about finances.

Debt stemmed from personal savings of the holder. From what my readings implied there were not optional added accounts such as another savings, checking, business v. personal, etc. There was only one; personal savings. It was rather unfortunate it was easy to go into debt. The wealthy aristocrats of England set the standards for decorum. For the upwardly mobile it was required an exhaustive amount of money to obtain and maintain this lifestyle. Numerous people, trying to improve their social standing or a better life for themselves, were met with complete financial failure.

Today, it is our experience that the owner of a failed business declares it bankrupt and walks away from it, psychologically scarred, perhaps, but with his home and personal belongings intact. But, until the mid-1800s, every owner of a business in England was personally liable to the extent of every last thing he owned–home and furnishings included–for any debt incurred in his business life.

The British viewed debt as a personal character flaw and were quick to moralize the penalties for debtors. Along with this view, the legal system found it much more effective to arrest the debtor than to send out a notice to appear in court. Twice a week, the newspapers published a list of debtors; adding the public humiliation and shame, and consequently dragging the Family name through the mud. Prison sentence was on a reoccurring three-month basis. Many times, the families left behind were left homeless or scattered to the few sympathetic relatives.

The Severe Steward by William Redmore Bigg

The Severe Steward by William Redmore Bigg

My, have times have changed! Would this system of imprisonment of debt or selling of all personal assets work in modern times? Would there be less debt crisis or more homeless families, I wonder?