One hundred and fifty years ago in Arkansas, the inevitable was taking place: people were taking advantage of a bad situation and creating a worse condition for fellow Arkansawyers. Throughout American history, people have always taken advantage of others in difficult and distressing times. Entitled “Extortion”, an article found in an 1862 Little Rock newspaper tells of price gouging, “Between the shopkeepers, who skin us all, including the country people; and the latter, who, to get even, run their produce up to the highest price, the people of towns and cities are plundered without sting.”
What could have caused such economic behavior in Arkansas? Lincoln’s illegal blockade had all but strangled the life from the Southern people making it difficult to obtain needed supplies from Europe and the rest of the world. One also cannot discount the dwindling morale of the South amid news of the reports of the high casualties from the Battle of Shiloh less than a month previous. One cannot also not discount the fall of New Orleans, thus shutting the Mississippi River off from the rest of civilization: “Upon the news of the fall of New Orleans, certain of our patriotic dealers ran sugar up from five and six to ten and twelve cents a pound, and molasses rose fifty or a hundred per cent. They pile on the price, and their plea is that they cannot replace their goods for a less price.”
The article continued, “Poor men are ground to the very dust, and the necessaries of life placed beyond their reach by the exactions of heartless spectators. When greed so fills the heart of a man as to lead him to such extortion, he is not fit to live among a free people. He is a Lincolnite in heart. Such a man would sell his country and his soul, if he had any, for ‘hard money.’ Dead to all the nobler impulses of humanity and the honest feelings of a patriot, he seeks to grow fat upon the life-blood of the poor. They may do so with impunity.”
As the Spring of 1862 warms up, the condition of Arkansas and its people worsens and a quick and easy fix to the economic problem becomes impossible as Arkansawyers dig in for the duration of the war.