South Sea Bubble
The monopoly was based on the expectation of securing extensive trading concessions from Spain in the peace treaty. These concessions barely materialized, however, so that the company had a very shaky commercial basis. Nonetheless, it was active financially, and in 1720 it proposed that it should assume responsibility for the entire national debt, again offering its own stock in exchange for government bonds, a transaction on which it expected to make a considerable profit. The government accepted this proposal, and the result was an incredible wave of speculation, which drove the price of the company's stock from
In Sept., 1720, the bubble burst. Banks failed when they could not collect loans on inflated stock, prices of stock fell, thousands were ruined (including many members of the government), and fraud in the South Sea Company was exposed. Robert Walpole became first lord of the treasury and chancellor of the exchequer and started a series of measures to restore the credit of the company and to reorganize it. The bursting of the bubble, which coincided with the similar collapse of the Mississippi Scheme in France, ended the prevalent belief that prosperity could be achieved through unlimited expansion of credit. Legislation was enacted that forbade unincorporated joint stock enterprise.
See studies by L. S. Benjamin (1921, repr. 1968), J. Carswell (1960), and V. S. Cowles (1960).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
See more Encyclopedia articles on: British and Irish History