By the early 1840s, the post’s vast system of 150,000 miles of mail routes had unified an ever-expanding America, but the institution was one of many enterprises, both private and public, to find itself in deep financial trouble. A burst of wild economic excess and speculation had culminated in the great Panic of 1837, which set off a recession that dragged on for seven years. A third of the states defaulted on loans for building railroads, canals, and other overly ambitious projects. Many banks closed, the real estate bubble burst, businesses failed, and unemployment climbed. By 1842, the catastrophe’s ripple effect had left even the U.S. Treasury nearly penniless.