Wall Street is a famous road across southern Manhattan which is the physical and figurative heart of the New York City financial district. The term "Wall Street" can also refer figuratively to the collective set of commercial banks, brokerages, insurance and investment companies with a nationwide scope, even though they are not located on that particular street. It stands in contrast to the figurative concept of Main Street, which refers to locally owned small businesses in smaller cities and towns.
Today there is sometimes a political tension between the interests of Wall Street and Main Street. For example, Main Street was reluctant to support the $700 billion bailout authorized by Congress in the Financial Crisis of 2008.
Historically, populists, agrarians and liberals have been quite hostile to Wall Street, as typified by Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson and William Jennings Bryan. Under President Bill Clinton leading Wall Street financiers played a major role in shaping economic policies, especially Robert Rubin, his Treasury Secretary.
In the 1600s Dutch settlers built a wall in Manhattan to guard against Indians and pirates. A nearby path became a commercial center because the path joined the East River on one side with the Hudson River on the other. Soon merchants built shops and warehouses along the path, and then a city hall and church were constructed. New York City became national capitol from 1785 until 1790. Federal Hall, where George Washington was inaugurated, was located on Wall Street.
In March, 1792, 24 leading merchants met at Corre's Hotel to launch a securities (stock) business in order to win business back from auctioneers, and on May 17, 1792, they signed the Buttonwood Agreement requiring them to trade securities only among themselves and avoid the auctioneers. This became the New York Stock Exchange, later built at 11 Wall Street.
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