Browsing "Aftermath: The Gilded Age"

Watching Richmond with a Cold Profiteering Eye

“Diamond Jim” Fisk, was a Vermonter who by 1864 had made a fortune through shrewd dealing with army contracts and smuggling cotton northward through Union lines. Allied with the notorious New York political boss Boss Tweed, his buying of judges and bribery of legislatures was the stuff of legend.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Watching Richmond With a Cold, Profiteering Eye

[Losing a large sum in stocks, Fisk] saw an opportunity to recoup his losses by capitalizing in a similar way on victory. Confederate bonds had fallen on the London exchange with Southern losses but were still selling at some eighty cents on the dollar. Grant now had Richmond in a vise. Victory seemed certain, and when the Confederacy met defeat her bonds would plummet in value.

Not yet was there an Atlantic cable, so it would take more than a week for news of the war’s end to reach England by fast steamship.  If anyone could get to London before the news, he could sell Confederate bonds short like mad at eighty cents on the dollar and reap a harvest when they sank. Fisk resolved to get there first.

Forming a pool with three capitalists, he furnished the scheme while they supplied the money. Chartering a fast steamer, he sent it to Halifax, the nearest North American port to England with orders to keep up steam for instant departure. Aboard the ship was his agent, a knowing New York broker named Hargreaves, who had instructions to speed to England when given the signal.

One obstacle was the telegraph, which then fell fifty miles short of reaching Halifax. Fisk had the last fifty miles strung at his colleagues’ expense, then watched Richmond with a cold, profiteering eye.

On the historic day when Lee surrendered, the word sped over the wires to Hargreaves: “Go!”  Hargreaves went.

He reached Liverpool in six days and a half — two days ahead of the arrival of the first ship from New York with the news. Speeding to London, he kept mum about defeat and dutifully sold Confederate bonds short to all buyers.

Alas! — one of Fisk’s partners, a conservative man, had privately telegraphed Hargreaves not to sell more than five millions in bonds, so he limited his sales to that amount. When the news of the surrender reached London, the bonds tumbled to $22.  Hargreaves therefore collected the difference between $22 and $80, making a handsome profit for his employers but missing the downright killing that would have been possible.”

(Jim Fisk The Career of an Improbable Rascal, W.A. Swanberg, Scribner’s Sons, 1959, pp. 20-21)

 

 

Sheridan Hastens the Indians’ Demise

Grant, Sherman and Sheridan applied the same hard hand of war used on the American South to the Plains Indians. Sheridan endorsed the slaughter of western buffalo herds as a way to subjugate the Indians and break their will to fight – the same as he had done earlier in the Shenandoah Valley. Notably, one of the most successful western hunters was “New England Yankee Josiah W. Mooar, who killed nearly 21,000 buffalo in three years . . .”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Sheridan Hastens the Indians’ Demise

“At the same time they were going hungry [on reservations], the Indians watched with impotent disgust as growing numbers of white hunters set up their forked rifle sticks on ancestral hunting grounds and slew the animals in staggering numbers with their .50 caliber Sharps buffalo guns.

In 1872-73 alone, 1,250,000 hides were shipped east to fashionable furriers. By the end of 1874, an estimated 4,373,730 buffalo had been slain, of which a grand total of 150,000 had been taken by the Indians.

The hunters’ intrusion on tribal lands was patently illegal, but the army did little to stop it. Despite the Medicine Lodge Treaty, which had outlawed white intrusion on Indian land, the unofficial attitude of the government toward the hunters was one of de facto cooperation.

Secretary Columbus Delano, whose department was charged with looking out for the Indian’s welfare, stated bluntly in his annual report, “I would not seriously regret the total disappearance of the buffalo from our western prairies, in its effects upon the Indians, regarding it as a means of hastening their sense of dependence upon the products of the soil.”

Sheridan, who had rather less confidence in the farming capabilities of the Indians, nevertheless looked upon the slaughter of the buffalo as an effective means of subjugating the tribes and breaking their wills.

When the Texas legislature briefly considered passing a bill outlawing buffalo poaching on native lands, Sheridan made a personal appearance before the lawmakers in Austin. Rather than penalize the hunters, he said, the legislature ought to give them each a medal, engraved with a dead buffalo on one side and a discouraged-looking Indian on the other.

In an attempt to keep closer watch on the wide-ranging Sioux, Sheridan received permission from Grant in late 1873 to mount an expedition into the Black Hills to scout locations for a new fort in the area. Custer and the Seventh Cavalry spent the better part of eight weeks exploring the sacred territory. As usual, Custer turned the expedition into a combination picnic, big-game hunt, and public relations extravaganza, sending back glowing reports of the region’s vast animal and mineral resources.

Injudiciously, he also fanned the flames of public greed by claiming, with some exaggeration, that pieces of gold could be plucked up from the very ground one walked on. At the first mention of gold, hundreds, then thousands, of ears pricked up. It was, after all, the Gilded Age, and fortune-making was the national sport.

[Though the 1868 treaty with the Sioux] “virtually deeds this portion of the Black Hills to the Sioux,” [Sheridan suggested] that miners and homesteaders try their luck further west in the unceded lands of Wyoming and Montana. The Sioux had hunting rights there, too, but Sheridan hoped to nullify these rights by encouraging the further depopulation of buffalo and other game. When there was nothing left to hunt, he reasoned, the Indians would have no more hunting rights to lose. Needless to say, the Sioux were unamused by this line of reasoning.”

(Sheridan: The Life and Times of General Phil Sheridan, Roy Morris, Jr., Crown Publishers, 1992, pp. 342-343; 348-349)

The Forces Lincoln Unleashed

By initiating war against his own people, overturning the Constitution, creating fiat money and fusing government with corporations, Lincoln destroyed the Founders’ republic and ushered in the Gilded Age.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

The Forces Lincoln Unleashed

“As a result of the war, corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow and the Money Power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working on the prejudices of the people until wealth is aggregated in the hands of the few and the Republic is destroyed. I feel at this moment more anxiety for the safety of my country than ever before, even in the midst of war.”   Abraham Lincoln.

(Collective Speeches of Louis T. McFadden, Omni Publications, pg. vi, 1970)

Taxes Only for Public Objects and Ends

In May of 1882 Delaware’s Senator Bayard recalled the meaning of the Mecklenburg Resolves and warned against the continuing expenditure of public tax dollars on projects unrelated to a strictly “public objects and ends.” Americans then were witnessing a federal government, unrestrained since 1861, complicit in subsidies to private businesses and pursuing vast imperial ambitions.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Taxes Only for Public Objects and Ends

“The commemorative celebration of the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence took place at Charlotte on May 20th [1882]. The streets were fairly decked with flags and banners, filled with citizen soldiers in bright uniforms, and at least 20,000 people from the surrounding country.

Governor [Thomas] Jarvis and his staff, Senators Vance, [Matt] Ransom, Wade Hampton and [Thomas] Bayard were present. The Mecklenburg Declaration was read by Senator Ransom, and Senator Vance introduced the orator of the occasion, Thomas F. Bayard of Delaware. The address was enthusiastically received, especially the sentiments contained in the following extract:

“I wish I could impress upon you gentlemen, and not upon you only but upon our fellow-countrymen everywhere, the fatal fallacy and mischief that underlies and inheres to every proposition to use the money of the people — drawn from them by taxation, the powers of the government, the force of their government, under any name or pretext — for any other than really public objects and ends.

I include the maintenance of the public honor, dignity, and credit, the protection of American citizenship everywhere, among the just objects for the exercise of governmental powers; but I wish to deny . . . the rightfulness of involving the welfare and happiness of the 50,000,000 men, women, and children of the country, whether by laying taxes upon them which are not needed for the support of their government, or paying bounties and subsidies to maintain lines of private business which are too unskillfully or unprofitably conducted otherwise to sustain themselves, or promising the presence of our fleets or armies, or risking the issue of peace or war, or shedding the blood of our soldiers and sailors in aid of schemes of private greed or personal ambition under the guise of claims foreign or domestic.”

(North Carolina, Appleton’s Annual Cyclopedia, 1882, New Series Vol VII, D. Appleton and Company, 1883, page 634)

Common-Sense Agrarian

Tom Watson of Georgia was old enough in 1863 to see Yankee prisoners on trains, and his father and two uncles served in defense of the American Confederacy. He remembered his grandfather’s plantation as belonging to another world, “a complete social and industrial organization, almost wholly sufficient unto itself,” and the old agrarian traditions of his childhood held sway for all his days.  He attacked those wanting to increase military appropriations for being “Afraid of your own proletariat. You are afraid of the dissatisfied workman, thrown of work by these soulless, these heartless, these insatiable trusts and combinations of capital . . .”

Watson was elected senator from Georgia in September 1920, and fought tirelessly against Woodrow Wilson’s League of Nations.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Common-Sense Agrarian

“The first subject on which the new Senator delivered himself at any length was the proposed treaty with Columbia, intended to conciliate that country for the Panama affair by the payment of $25,000,000. Republican senators, rallying to the defense of [Theodore] Roosevelt, had opposed the treaty as proposed by the Wilson administration.

Now that Roosevelt was dead . . . even [Henry Cabot] Lodge had reversed himself to support the treaty . . . [and] let the cat out of the bag by his statement: “We must not only enlarge our trade, but we must enlarge our source of supply of oil wherever it is possible to do so, and we cannot do it if we take the position that it is a sin for Americans to make money and that those who are engages in foreign investment and foreign commerce are to be punished instead of sustained.”

“Mr. President, are we the agents of Standard Oil Company – that and nothing more?” asked Watson. “When did that infant, protected in all its roots and branches, need our assistance in securing access to foreign oil fields?” He intimated that all the fine talk about Pan-American brotherhood turned his stomach. “Let us confess what we are doing – that we are here to buy property for the Standard Oil Company.”

If the country was in such need of oil, why did we cut ourselves off from the richest oil fields in the world – those of Soviet Russia.? “Because we did not like their form of government.” Did the senators like the form of government in Columbia any better? “What is it, by the way? “Despotism tempered by assassination.”

[Senators] who professed to be horrified at Red atrocities met with his ridicule. “Where is the consistency,” he asked, “of staying in a state of war, or at least non-intercourse, with a great nation which has always been our friend and at the same time handing out food to them as objects of charity? First we destroy their commerce and then try to replace it by gifts, by doles of food.” We had no more right to dictate Russia’s form of government than we had to dictate Germany’s.

He quoted a speech of [Daniel] Webster’s advocating recognition of Greece. “Let us not affect too much saintliness,” he admonished. “Are our skirts entirely clear of wrong in Hawaii, the Philippines, and in Santo Domingo?”

In a different connection, but in the same trend, he said: “We are hereditary revolutionists. We are so from instinct, history and tradition. We are so by sentiment.” Whence, then, all this outcry against revolutionists.”

[On questions of foreign policy Watson opposed] anything that remotely smacked of the [Woodrow Wilson’s] League of Nations, which, he said, was as much like the Holy Alliance of the nineteenth century “as two black cats are like one another.”

His most conspicuous fight was waged against the ratification of the Four-Power Treaty upon insular affairs in the Pacific. He denounced it as in reality an alliance with the dominant imperialist powers, designed to promote imperialism, and to draw the United States into the web of foreign rivalries, if not into the League itself.”

(Tom Watson, Agrarian Rebel, C. Vann Woodward, Oxford University Press, 1979, pp. 477-479

The Myth of Saving the Union

The Republican Party was the primary obstacle confronting the peaceful Christian charity which would eventually end slavery. Had the latter occurred, the Union would have been saved peacefully and no Northern citizens and editors would have been imprisoned in American bastilles for opposing Jacobin Republican hegemony and corruption. “Smiler” Colfax, Grant’s vice-president, was brought down by the Credit Mobilier scandals which bribed high government officials with cash and stocks; he was replaced as vice president in 1872 with another corrupt Republican, Henry Wilson.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

The Myth of Saving the Union

Letter of acceptance of the vice-presidential nomination, National Union Republican party, 29 May, 1868:

“The debt of gratitude [my acceptance] acknowledges to the brave men who saved the Union from destruction, the frank approval of amnesty based on repentance and loyalty, the demand for the most thorough economy and honesty in government, the sympathy of the party of liberty with all throughout the world who long for the liberty we here enjoy, and the recognition of the principles of the Declaration of Independence, are worthy of the [Republican party] on whose banners they are to be written in the coming contest.

Its past record cannot be blotted out or forgotten. If there had been no Republican party, Slavery would to-day cast its baneful shadow over the Republic. If there had been no Republican party, the free press and free speech would be unknown from the Potomac to the Rio Grande as ten years ago. If the Republican party could have been stricken from existence when the banner of rebellion was unfurled, and when the response of “no coercion” was heard in the North, we would have no nation to-day.

But for the Republican party daring to risk the odium of tax and draft laws our flag could not be kept flying on the field until the long-hoped for victory came. Without the Republican party the Civil Rights bill – the guarantee of equality under the law to the humble and the defenceless, as well as to the strong – would not be to-day upon our national statute book.

With such inspiration from the past, the example of the founders of the Republic, who called the victorious General of the Republic to preside over the land his triumphs had saved from its enemies, I cannot doubt that our labors with be crowned with success.”

Very truly yours, Schuyler Colfax”

(The Republican Party, 1854-1904, Francis Curtis, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1904, page 507)

Hustling Northerners to Save the Union

Without resorting to financial trickery, propaganda and suppressed casualty reports Lincoln could not have sustained his destructive invasion of the American South. Unconstitutional paper money and financier Jay Gould provided the money for war — the latter used whatever means necessary to sell war bonds and demonstrated that indeed patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Hustling Northerners to Save the Union

“The Credit Mobilier scandal . . . brought on, or at least hastened, the panic of 1873 and turned the greatest American financier of the era into a bankrupt. This was Jay Cooke. At the time of the crash he was engaged in financing the second transcontinental railroad, the Northern Pacific.

[In the past he] showed fine judgment in his promotion of canals, then of railroads. He did well with loans to the government during the Mexican War. Then the Civil War gave him his big chance and he took it famously. In 1861, the State of Pennsylvania wanted to sell a large bond issue to finance its war effort. No banker but Jay Cooke would touch it. He sold the issue quickly, with a rousing appeal to patriotism. It was the first bond issue ever sold in that manner in the United States.

Noting his success, the federal government asked Cooke for his help. Moving his office to Washington . . . Cooke organized a spectacular country-wide campaign to sell federal war bonds to the public. He engaged brass bands. He hired spread-eagle speakers. He caused hundreds of thousands of flags to be displayed at bond rallies.

His salesmen worked on commission and were not turned loose until they had been thoroughly indoctrinated with the equivalent of pep talks and had learned at least ten ways of making non-buyers look and feel like traitors. Jay Cooke, in short, set the American, or rather the Union, eagle to screaming for money. He disposed of the bond issue of 1861, and of many more that followed. They amounted in four years to nearly three billion dollars.

What Cooke had done was to invent and bring to the management of national finance a wholly new technique – the drive. With little modification it has been used ever since. The boys in blue must be supported by fighting dollars.

From his immense commissions on bond sales and his many other activities, Cooke emerged at war’s end as the greatest banker in the country. “On the day Richmond fell, Cooke marked out the lines of a pretentious country house that was to cost one million dollars [with] an Italian garden facing a wall built to resemble “the ruined castle of some ancient nobleman.” This was the fifty-two room palace named Ogontz. Here he entertained, among others, President Grant, on whom he showered fine cigars and a plentitude of whiskey and wine.

Cooke dazzled Grant as he dazzled most contemporary Americans. He exemplified, said a critic, all of the substantial upper middle-class virtues of a people “newly given to the worship of a sterile money economy.”

One might call him also a vulgarian of money; placed in his own era, being a rich vulgarian merely made him a genuine great man. More than once, editorial writers and speakers coupled Cooke’s name with Lincoln and Grant.”

(The Age of the Moguls, Stewart H. Holbrook, Doubleday & Company, 1953, pp. 51-52)

Colfax's Myth of Saving the Union

Americans in the South had no reason for repentance after being crushed militarily, and in no way did the radical Republican party which destroyed the Founders’ union of 1787 recognize the principles of that Declaration which it did all in its power to subvert.  Had there been no Republican party, the Union would indeed have been saved, peaceful Christian charity and time would have ended slavery, equality under the law would have reigned as provided in the United States Constitution, and no Northern citizens and editors would have been imprisoned in American bastilles for opposing Republican Jacobin political hegemony.

Grant’s vice-president “Smiler” Colfax would be brought down by the Credit Mobilier scandals which bribed high government officials with cash and stocks; he was replaced as vice president in 1872 with another corrupt Republican, Henry Wilson.  Colfax went on to further infamy as a political boss whose expertise was rigging elections.  Below, he accepts the 1868 nomination.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Colfax’s Myth of Saving the Union

Letter of acceptance of the vice-presidential nomination, National Union Republican party, 29 May, 1868:

“The debt of gratitude [my acceptance] acknowledges to the brave men who saved the Union from destruction, the frank approval of amnesty based on repentance and loyalty, the demand for the most thorough economy and honesty in government, the sympathy of the party of liberty with all throughout the world who long for the liberty we here enjoy, and the recognition of the principles of the Declaration of Independence, are worthy of the [Republican party] on whose banners they are to be written in the coming contest.

Its past record cannot be blotted out or forgotten. If there had been no Republican party, Slavery would to-day cast its baneful shadow over the Republic. If there had been no Republican party, the free press and free speech would be unknown from the Potomac to the Rio Grande as ten years ago. If the Republican party could have been stricken from existence when the banner of rebellion was unfurled, and when the response of “no coercion” was heard in the North, we would have no nation to-day.

But for the Republican party daring to risk the odium of tax and draft laws our flag could not be kept flying on the field until the long-hoped for victory came. Without the Republican party the Civil Rights bill – the guarantee of equality under the law to the humble and the defenceless, as well as to the strong – would not be to-day upon our national statute book.

With such inspiration from the past, the example of the founders of the Republic, who called the victorious General of the Republic to preside over the land his triumphs had saved from its enemies, I cannot doubt that our labors with be crowned with success.”

Very truly yours, Schuyler Colfax”

(The Republican Party, 1854-1904, Francis Curtis, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1904, page 507)

Equality and Corporate Tricks

Few Gilded Age tycoons had ever studied economics and all might be described as graduates of the school of hard knocks – but all knew the theories of supply and demand, law of diminishing returns and that bad money drives out bad. They assumed that any man was motivated by the selfish love of gain and most believed in competition, theoretically, and unless bribed government officials could be used to handicap the competition. Grant’s postwar administration of corrupt and bought politicians led the way into the Gilded Age.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Equality and Corporate Tricks

“Nobody expounded the folly of tampering with the laws of economics more eloquently than Yale’s great teacher of political economy, the dynamic William Graham Sumner. In his book What Social Classes Owe to Each Other, published in 1883, he had put the reformers to rout.

“The yearning after equality,” he had written, “”is the offspring of envy and covetousness, and there is no possible plan for satisfying that yearning which can do aught else than rob A to give to B; consequently all such plans nourish some of the meanest vices of human nature, waste capital, and overthrow civilization.”

This emphatically did not mean that Sumner was opposed to a better life for everybody. On the contrary, as a man of high and generous principle – he had begun his working life as a clergyman – he was heartily in favor of it. But he believed in the wider extension of opportunity, not in changing the rules under which business was conducted. He argued that:

“[Instead] of endeavoring to redistribute acquisitions which have been made between the existing classes, our aim should be to increase, multiply, and extend the chances. Such is the work of civilization. Every improvement in education, science, art or government expands the chances of man on earth. Such expansion is no guarantee of equality. On the contrary, if there be liberty, some will profit by the chances eagerly and some will neglect them altogether. Therefore, the greater the chances, the more unequal will be the fortune of these two sets of men. So it ought to be, in all justice and right reason.”

Sumner would not have argued that there were not some ways in which legislation could protect the economically helpless. But he thought that most reform legislation was conceived in ignorance and drafted in folly.

“You need not think it necessary,” he would tell his Yale classes, “to have Washington exercise a political providence over the country. God has done that a good deal better by the laws of political economy.”

The irony of the situation lay in the fact that for generations men have been tinkering with economic law to their own advantage, and in the process had produced institutions which were emphatically not God’s work – as most of Sumner’s hearers presumably supposed them to be – but man’s.

The corporation, for instance, was not an invention of God’s. It was an invention of man’s. It was a creature of the state . . . [and] one of the great inventions of the nineteenth century . . . Yet by taking adroit advantage of the legislative acts which defined its privileges, one could play extraordinary tricks with it. Corporate devices could be used to permit A to rob B – or, let us say, more charitably, to permit A to drain off all the gravy in sight and leave none for B.

It was largely as a result of the discovery of tricks that could be played with corporations, and particularly with their capital stock, that the wealth produced in such a tremendous spate at the turn of the century flowed in large proportion into a few well-placed hands.”

(The Big Change, America Transforms Itself, 1900-1950, Frederick Lewis Allen, Harper & Brothers, 1952, pp. 67-69)

Postwar Gospel of Pecuniary Success

The United States of 1868 was unrecognizable to someone returning to this country after a ten year absence – the Founders’ republic had been replaced by a virtual military dictatorship of one-party rule, government informants and a nouveau-rich class of corporations and congressmen.  The adminstration of Grant — enabled by the military subjugation of the American South, enfranchising illiterates while disenfranchising literates, and fraudulent Republican regimes governing defeated States — became the first such in American history known for rampant corruption, vote-buying and outright incompetency.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Postwar Gospel of Pecuniary Success

“The great omnipresence during this pivotal decade [1860-1870] in American thought was, of course, the Civil War and its aftermath. In that crucible were produced not merely a new South but a new nation. Said Henry Adams, referring to his return to American soil in 1868: “Had they been Tyrian traders of the year B.C. 1000, landing from a galley fresh from Gibraltar, they could hardly have been stranger on the shore of a world, so changed from what it had been ten years before.”

The cataclysm had compressed a profound economic upheaval into a few short years; it had introduced almost overnight the vast complexities of an industrial society; it had bred up a new race of entrepreneurs who acknowledged no morality but pecuniary success. The nation had been brought to a point of ethical exhaustion.

“The old idealism had been burnt away, the hopes of the patriot fathers, the youthful and generous dreams of the early republic. The war, with its fearful tension, draining the national vitality, had left the mind of the people morally flabby.”

The effect of the war . . . was not only to waste away the old democratic values of American life, but to raise up new gods and new ideals in their vacated places. The new capitalism required a gospel of assertion as well as of negation; its position would not be secure if it rested only on moral indifference: it needed discipleship.”

(American Conservatism, In the Age of Enterprise, 1865-1910, Robert Green McCloskey, Harper, 1951, pp. 100-101)

 

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