Browsing "Aftermath: The Gilded Age"

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)

 

Workers of the North's Gilded Age

In 1876, the Republican party and the New York Times were securely on the side of big business rather than labor, and though vocal against slavery stood they silent as young children and women slaved in unhealthy Northern factories fourteen hours a day. The moral spirit and standard of the Gilded Age called for good jails, tenements and factories, but cared little for the human worker. It was not uncommon for antebellum travelers to remark on Southern slaves living better lives than Northern workers.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Workers of the North’s Gilded Age

“Factory Life: For those lucky enough not to be out of work, factory conditions were far from ideal. Skilled workers, who had earned $4.50 to $5 per day in 1873; in 1876 had their wages reduced to between $1.50 and $2. Nevertheless, the New York times chided workers for not accepting wage reductions necessitated by the 1873 Panic; why should skilled laborers who “earned liberal wages . . . sullenly refuse to accept any reduction . . . It seems almost incredible than men should be capable of such blind folly.”

Child Labor: In 1876 Massachusetts passed a child-labor law, but child-labor laws were not enforced and had no effect until years later. Thus in 1876, children worked long, hard days and were often involved in very dangerous work. Harper’s Weekly stated:

“Recent legislation in Massachusetts has introduced new regulations for protecting young children from overwork and neglect in factories and workshops. A law which went into operation last March [1876] forbade, under penalty of from twenty to fifty dollars, the employment in any manufacturing, mechanical, or mercantile establishment of children under ten years of age at all, and of children under fourteen, unless during the preceding year the child has attended school at least ten consecutive weeks.”

John F. Weir, “Forging the Shaft, 1877:

“When a workingman was injured in shop, mine or on the railroad, the claim agent of the employing company would at once present himself with an instrument of agreement for the injured man and his wife, if he had one, to sign,” wrote Terrance Powderly. “By the terms of the instrument the company would be released from all responsibility in consideration of the payment of a few dollars.

Let me tell you of one such case out of the hundreds I witnessed. A coal miner, a neighbor of mine, had his back injured through a fall of rock in the darkness of the mine. The claim agent called to see him; he asked for time to consider and sent for me. He had a wife and children, his means were meager. I advised against signing a release, and here is what he said: “I am buying this house from the company.

If I don’t sign this release, I can never get a day’s work under that company or any other round here, for if I get well I’ll be blacklisted. When my next payment on the house falls due, or the interest not paid we’ll be thrown out on the street. With no work, no money, no friends, what will my wife and babies do? . . . ”

(America in 1876, The Plight of the Poor, Lally Weymouth, Vintage Books, 1976, page 195)

Grant's Royal Robes

Imprisoned by scalawag Governor William Holden for alleged activities with North Carolina’s postwar Klan as it fought Holden’s Union League, Randolph A. Shotwell spent three hard years in an Albany, NY prison, which he termed the “Radical Bastille.” The prison staff was instructed to use any means to extract confessions of Klan outrages and lists of Klan members in North Carolina. Below, Shotwell criticizes the 1872 victory of Grant’s corrupt administration and the low quality of the Northern electorate.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org
Grant’s Royal Robes

“Nov. 6th. All is over! The Great Farce, (the Presidential Election) closed yesterday, as had been foreseen for the past month, with a complete triumph for the Bully Butcher, and National Gift Taker. Grant walked the track. Telegraphic reports from all quarters leave it doubtful whether [Horace] Greeley will get a single vote. Even New York – the Democratic Old Guard – surrenders to the tune of 3500 majority for the “Coming Man.”

Twenty-five other States are in the same column – marching the Despot gaily to his throne! Selah! It is absolutely amazing, the apathy, the blindness, the infatuation of the people!

Is there no longer an patriotism, any conservatism in the land? What do we see this day? A nation yielding its elective franchise to elect a worse than Napoleonic despot! I say the nation yields its franchises because no one believes that Grant is the choice of the people, that he is worthy of the high Authority which is now his for another term and doubtless for life.

Bu corruption, and greed, and avarice, and fear, and Prejudice, and Misrepresentation, every malignant passion, every illegal and dishonorable means have been made to bring about the stupendous result. And now, what next?

Historians tell us that every Republic that has fallen, to shake the faith of man in his own capacity for government, has been, preceding its final fall, the scene of just such transactions as these; sectional prejudices, the majority trampling on the minority, the courts corrupted and used for political ends, open corruption in office, bribery of voters, use of the military to intimidate the opposition, great monopolies supporting the most promising candidates, and finally much unanimity in favor of some popular leader, who quietly took the crown and Royal Robes when a suitable opportunity occurred.

This is the political panorama now unfolding, slowly but surely, in our own country. The end we may almost see. And then bloodshed, insurrections, turbulence and anarchy! I do not predict that all of this is to occur in a year or two; it may be postponed for a score of years. But one thing is certain it will not be half so long, nor a third of it, if the Government continues to usurp power, and hold it, as it has done during the last decade.”

(The Diary, 1871-1873, The Papers of R. A. Shotwell, Volume III, Jos. D.R. Hamilton, editor, NC Historical Commission, 1936, pp. 276-277)

Vance Resists the Party of Misrule and Ignorance

Under the pretense of ensuring the purity of elections the South, the Republican party in 1890 proposed a Force Bill to reinstitute federal interference at the polls in the South as had been done during Reconstruction. Below Senator Zebulon Vance of North Carolina addresses his Republican colleagues.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circ1865.com

 

Vance Resists the Party of Misrule and Ignorance

“The title of this [Force] bill reads: “An act to prevent force and fraud in elections of the House of Representatives of the United States . . . and to insure the lawful and peaceable conduct of such elections.”

“[Senator Vance]: The object then, of the bill is to restore the purity of elections!

I presume that no one will doubt that this is desirable, nay, that it is indispensable. But the manner in which the Senator and his associates propose to bring about this purity is what strikes us with wonder.

When this [Republican] party presents itself as the defender of public virtue, and by reason of its high pretensions claims that only through its agency can this beatitude be reached, a prudent man would naturally inquire into its history for proof of its exalted qualifications.

Let us take this method for a moment and see who is, and what is the Republican party, as represented by the supporters of this bill. We shall find that it is the same party, which inaugurated Reconstruction. By Reconstruction, it will be remembered one-fifth of the votes in eleven States was suppressed by law. The punishment of disfranchisement was freely inflicted as a punishment for crime without trial and conviction.

Thousands upon . . . thousands of other votes were suppressed by fraud, the returns being counted and canvassed in secret by men not sworn or in any way responsible to anybody, acting in States far distant from the places where the votes were cast. In addition to this there were received and counted the ballots of those who were not entitled to suffrage under any law known to American history or tradition.

In this way eleven Southern States were subjected to the control of this fountain of purity. The Republican party took full charge of them and their destinies. Behind and in support of their leaders stood the Army of the United States and all the moral power of the government then under the control of this great party whose chief desire is the purity and freedom of elections.

The carnival of corruption and fraud, the trampling down of decency, the rioting in the overthrow of the traditions of a proud people, the chaos of hell on earth which took place beggars the descriptive powers of plain history . . . I believe a committee of Congress, who took some testimony on this subject, estimated in 1871 the amount of plunder which was extracted from the Southern people in about 5 short years — some $300 millions of dollars in the shape of increased debt alone, to say nothing of the indirect damage inflicted by the many ways of corruption and misrule which can not be estimated in money.

The trick by which Republicans fastened itself for a term of years upon the downtrodden States was one which could only have been originated with a party devoted to the highest morality and the purest elections.

In the formation of new governments primarily, the Negro who had no right to vote was permitted to do so by military force. The historical inquirer will likewise learn that during the time the South was being thus plundered by the carpetbaggers through the ignorance of the Negroes in the Southern department of the party of purity and free elections, the home office was doing a business, which reflected no mean luster on the active and energetic Southern branches.

The system of levying contributions upon all Federal officeholders for corrupt political purposes was inaugurated and set going with efficiency and success.

Grants of the public domain equal to the area of many great nations were jobbed away to companies of loyal speculators. The Credit Mobilier was born and with incredible rapidity became the scandal of Christendom. Whiskey rings fastened their thievish grip upon the revenues. The Black Friday conspiracy shook the credit of the continent and made businessmen lose faith in human integrity.

As soon as there began to appear any necessity for it, that is to say, so soon as there appeared a feeble and languid rallying of political virtue in the dazed public mind, this pure and virtuous party began to provide against the reaction with a system of gerrymander. New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Ohio and various other States were so arranged in their Congressional and legislative districts as to completely drown the will of the majority and suppress their votes.

It is not an exaggeration to say that the dominant majority in both Houses of this Congress is the legitimate result of this suppression of the popular will by the methods of gerrymandering, aided and supplemented by a skillful application of the “fat” fried out of the tariff beneficiaries and used for the purposes of floating voters in blocks of five, by the very party leader who here says that the [Force] bill is intended to defend the Constitution of the United States against those who . . . are in the habit of substituting “processes of fraud, intimidation and bribery” [for honest elections].

At the present moment there are in the Union but twelve Republican States, representing some 9,000,000 of people, whilst there are thirty Democratic States containing 53,000,000 of people; yet the 9,000,000 control both Houses of Congress and every department of government . . .

The bill is not intended to preserve purity in elections. It is not intended to defend the Constitution of the United States against those who would substitute “processes of fraud, intimidation and bribery” for honest elections.

It is intended to resurrect, if possible, the Republican party and restore its hold on power. To do this, it is intended by this bill to subject the people of the South once more to the domination of their recent slaves. The objects at which the provisions of this bill are aimed are the Democratic South, the great Democratic cities of the North, and all naturalized citizens.

The policy of subjecting the intelligence and property of the South to the control of ignorance and poverty is not a new one. It has been tried. To the candid man who really desires the welfare of his country, the experiment resulted in a failure so disastrous that he would never desire to see it repeated.

The carpetbag rulers were infinitely worse than the Negroes. The evil propensities of the one were directed by intelligence, and the ignorance of the other became simply the instrument by which the purposes of the white leaders were carried out. The material and moral ruin wrought under this infernal conjunction of ignorance and intelligent vice was far greater than that inflicted by war. The very foundations of public virtue were undermined, and the seeds of hatred were thickly sown between the races.

In this great struggle to escape Negro rule and restore our State governments to the control of those who made them, and whose ancestors had established their principles in their blood, we had both the aid and the sympathy of Northern Democrats everywhere. We had neither from you.

You did not even stand by with indifference. You upheld the party of misrule and ignorance in every way you could. You kept the Army of the United States in the South to overcome the struggling whites as long as you dared. You sorrowed when the plundering of our people was stopped, and you received to your arms as martyrs the carpetbag fugitives expelled by the indignation of an outraged people.

In 1865, the property of North Carolina assessed for taxation was $121,000,000; in 1860 it had been $292,000,000, showing a loss of $171,000,000. In 1865, the debt of the State was $10,899,000; in 1871 the debt of the State was $34,887,000. Taxation in 1860 for State and county purposes was $799,000; in 1870 taxation for State and county purposes was $2,083,000 per annum.

But such were the recuperative powers of our people when freed from the corrupt yoke of strangers and permitted to manage their own affairs, that our taxable property is now assessed at about $230,000,000. Best of all, under the influence of the kindly associations of these years of labor and recuperation, race asperities have become softened and white and black have grown closer to each other in the recognition of the fact that the interest of one is inseparably connected with the other.

The direct effect, if not the object of this bill will be to disturb this prosperity and peace. There is made no secret of the fact that it is intended to secure the domination of the black voters of the South wherever they can be persuaded or morally coerced by this army of Federal officers into voting the Republican ticket. It [the bill] is a scheme for managing elections in the interest of a party as purely as was ever framed by designing politicians.”

(Excerpts of Speech by Senator Zebulon B. Vance of North Carolina in the Senate of the United States, December 15, 1890)

 

 

Fiasco of Radical Reconstruction

The study of the postwar Republican party often reveals a political organization seeking power at any cost, and an abolitionist movement that was simply an expedient for the destruction of the American South politically and economically. The transcendentalists and Unitarian radicals drifted off after the war without a cause to embrace; the Republicans had their desired political hegemony which would only be interrupted by Grover Cleveland and Woodrow Wilson.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Fiasco of Radical Reconstruction

“By 1867, [Wendell] Phillips and “a little band of abolitionists he represented, like Robespierre and the Jacobins, believed that their will was the General Will” and looked for the federal government to establish and maintain an equal political and social position for the Negro in the South, by as much force as proved necessary. They were groping for something like the modern welfare state – foreshadowed as it was by pragmatic programs of the time like the Freedmen’s Bureau – but their intense hatred of the white South prevented a rational approach.

As a result, “Radical Reconstruction,” as it finally emerged from the Congressional cauldron, was a set of half-measures. Not faced was the problem of how a despised, impoverished, and largely illiterate minority was to maintain its rights in the face of a determined majority in full possession of economic and social power. The fiasco of Radical Reconstruction had begun.

Republican opportunism was important [in this fiasco]. There was the desire to get the Southern States readmitted to the Union under Republican control in time to deliver critical votes in 1868 and thereafter.

While idealists like Carl Schurz, Charles Sumner, Charles Francis Adams, and Horace Greeley were deserting the Republican party and the Reconstruction program to set up the abortive Liberal Republican movement of 1872, that cause of the Southern Negro was taken up and further discredited by political opportunists of the regular party organization.

The issues of the war were kept alive in the seventies and eighties as a Republican campaign technique – a way of recalling the “disloyalty” of the Democrats by “waving the bloody shirt.” In the character of Senator Dilworthy in The Gilded Age, Mark Twain has provided an unforgettable portrait of the Republican politician making unscrupulous use of the “Negro question” for his own ends.

The Reconstruction era was a perplexing time for intellectuals who had been antislavery militants before and during the war. Unable to support the sordid Grant administration and filled with doubts about the form that Radical Reconstruction was taking in the South, they had little to offer in the way of insight or inspiration.

William Dean Howells, who had once been a fervent abolitionist, intimated as editor of the Atlantic Monthly in 1869 that he was tired of the Negro question. Howell’s diminishing interest in the Negro, which reflected the disenchantment of the New England literary community in general, was further manifested in subsequent issues of the Atlantic.”

(The Inner Civil War, Northern Intellectuals and the Crisis of the Union, George M. Frederickson, Harper & Row, 1965, excerpts, pp. 191-196)

Changing Masters Rather Than Systems

Author Walter Prescott Webb saw in 1937 a world of people in chains, stating that: “Wherever I turn in the South and the West I find people busily engaged in paying tribute to someone in the North.” Henry Ford then ran a feudal chain that gave him a great private fortune, making him lord and master over millions of people across the country.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Changing Masters Rather Than Systems

“History tells us that the position of the serf on the feudal manor was a humble one and that he had little to show for his labor. History adds with emphasis, however, that he enjoyed an unalienable security. He was attached to the land that nourished him and he could not be separated from it. His children inherited his security.

When we compare his lot with that of the clerks in a chain store (leaving aside what they have to show for their labor) we find that in point of security the serf had the better of it. Though the land was not his, he was the land’s, and from it he could make a livelihood. The chain or corporate employee does not own the store and is not owned by it. He can be kicked out at any time. He has no contract, either by law or by custom, and he enjoys no security.

With our theory of equality between a real and corporate person, the tie between them can be broken by either at will. What the law loses sight of is that the tie is as strong as the chains of necessity for one and as weak as a distant, impersonal will for the other.

The feudal world set great store by symbols, insignia and uniforms. Every man’s station was announced by what he wore. The jester had his cap and the fool had his bell. The knight was distinguished by his armor, the king by his crown. A member of the high orders of chivalry was known by the fraternity pin he wore.

As I look out upon the South and the West I not only see men everywhere in chains, but I see thousands wearing the insignia of their allegiance to their overlords. Boys clad in blue or brown and wearing caps with the symbols of the telegraph companies are hurrying along on bicycles. In oil stations young men in puttees and jackets exhibit the insignia of Standard Oil, Texaco, Humble, and Andy Mellon’s Gulf.

Tire punctures are recommended by men in long dusters which have Goodyear or Firestone woven in bright red letters across the back. Most of these are doubtless conscious that they are under unseen control; to a man, they must long for independence, for something they can call their own.

Some of them do not conceal their resentment. “These damn corporations dont give a man a chance,” says one. “I’m through with these oil companies,” said another. “I am doing my best to get a job with the International Business Machine Corporation.” Thus they exchange masters, but rarely systems.

(Divided We Stand, The Crisis of a Frontierless Democracy, Walter Prescott Webb, Farrar & Rinehart, 1937, pp. 114-116)

Republican Political Bosses and Layers of Graft

Accidental presidents like Chester Alan Arthur were the result of the war, the marriage of government and big business, the predictable Gilded Age, and rampant political corruption in the North. Conservative Southern statesmen in prewar Congresses were an impediment to the Republican revolutionaries bent on power.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Republican Political Bosses and Layers of Graft

“Chester [Alan] Arthur was an accidental president at an inopportune time, but he is part of the tapestry of who we are more than most ever have been or most of us will ever be. He was president in an un-ideological era. The Senate would shortly be dubbed the “Millionaires’ Club,” and the House of Representatives was an unruly place of loose coalitions and influence trading.   State and local politics were controlled by party machines that prized loyalty. Politicians genuflected to the concept of the public good, and they occasionally spoke of public service. But they didn’t seem to hold either very dear.

The politicians of the Gilded Age, perhaps mirroring the mood of the public, turned away from troubling intractable like freedom, democracy, equality, and attended instead to order, stability and prosperity.

Though the Republican party continued to “wave the bloody shirt” at each presidential convention, hoping to dredge up Civil War passions and eke out an advantage against the better-organized though less popular Democrats, that yielded diminishing returns. In a Gilded Age version of what-have-you-done-for-me-lately, the voting public demanded more than nostalgia for the glorious battles of Gettysburg and Antietam.

Cities were kept together by political machines, which were tight-knit organizations that corralled votes, collected a percentage of profits, and kept the peace. The machine was epitomized by Tammany Hall in New York City and its majordomo, William Marcy Tweed, a Democrat boos surrounded by a sea of Republicans. More than any mayor, “Boss” Tweed ran New York.

His men greeted immigrants as they stepped ashore in lower Manhattan, offered them money and liquor, found them work, and in return demanded their allegiance and a tithe. Supported by Irish Catholics, who made up nearly a quarter of New York’s population, Tweed held multiple offices, controlled lucrative public works projects (including early plans for Central Park), chose aldermen, and herded voters to the polls, where they drunkenly anointed the Boss’s candidates.

Tweed was gone by 1872, forced out and prosecuted, but the system kept going. Every [Northern] city had its machine, and counties did as well. National politics was simply the apex of the pyramid that rested on local bosses and layers of graft.”

(Chester Alan Arthur, Zachary Karabell, Henry holt and Company, 2004, pp. 5-6)

Making the South a Political and Social Inferno

Famed historian Douglas Southall Freeman edited the Richmond News Leader from 1915 to 1949 and lived by the maxim prominently displayed in his office: “Time alone is irreplaceable. Waste is not.” He lived to regret supporting Woodrow Wilson’s war in 1917, feeling that he had been swept up in the psychosis of war hysteria. In his commentary on the Republican party below, Freeman mentions the notorious GOP method of ballots being “distributed wholesale to rascals who were divided into “blocks of five” and paid to cast them illegally.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Making the South a Political and Social Inferno

“On the political front, Freeman was writing his first partisan editorials on behalf of [Woodrow] Wilson’s reelection. Virginia was reliably Democratic . . . [and] Freeman lashed the Republicans with gusto and turned loose his most vicious attack with a history-laden philippic. “Yes, the country knows” about the Republican party he wrote:

“It knows that during the forty-seven years and more of power of their party since the close of the war between the States the Republicans, in 1876, stole the presidency, and in 1880 bought it with their “blocks of five.” It knows that they forced upon the South the reconstruction additions to the Constitution in violation of that instrument; it knows that they turned loose upon the South an army of alien cormorants to prey upon what little substance was left us after the wreck of the war.

It knows that they made parts of the South political and social infernos, and that in malice and envy they aimed to uproot and destroy the very foundations of Southern civilization. The country also knows that they, the Republicans . . . retarded Southern industrial recuperation and Development . . . bound the nation to a juggernaut of robber protection . . . and perpetuated a banking and currency system that entrenched a currency monopoly.”

Freeman tended to be more restrained in his attacks on the Republican nominee for president, former Supreme Court justice Charles Evans Hughes. “We have had in previous years a high respect for Mr. Hughes,” he wrote, “and we have believed him a man of courage and capacity.” Now that he was the leader of “the party responsible for the most criminal class legislation the United States has ever seen,” Freeman dismissed him as a “camp-following wagon-driver.”

(Douglas Southall Freeman, David E. Johnson, Pelican Publishing, 2002, pp. 120-121)

Credit Mobilier's Gentlemen Thieves

With Southern conservatives absent from the United States Congress after the war, Whig/Republicans had free rein for legislation and schemes to benefit the corporate interests which kept them in power.  Thus the Northern marriage of government and corporations gave birth to public treasury-raiding schemes like the Credit Mobilier scandal, and all under the watchful eye of President U.S. Grant.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Credit Mobilier’s Gentlemen Thieves

“The looting of the Erie Railroad was accomplished with the help of the easily corruptible legislatures of only two States, New York and New Jersey. It was a fairly simple business. But to loot the immense federal project of the Union Pacific Railroad required far more sophisticated talents. This monumental piece of thievery involved United States representatives and senators. It involved cabinet officers, the Vice-President of the United States, and a future President. The loot ran to approximately forty-four million dollars. It was removed almost painlessly from the Union Pacific’s coffers by a trick outfit with a fancy French name, the Credit Mobilier.

The Union Pacific was sponsored and financed by the United States. The purpose of the Credit Mobilier was to take over the contract for building the road. Stockholders of both companies were identical. They proceeded to contract with themselves to build the road at a cost calculated to exhaust the resources of the Union Pacific. The so-called profits were to be divided among Credit Mobilier stockholders.

Prominent in Credit Mobilier were Oakes and Oliver Ames, brothers of Easton, Massachusetts, who had inherited a business . . . [and the] Hon. Oakes Ames was a representative of the old Bay State in Congress.

From the day it was whelped, the double-jointed money-making machine worked perfectly. As the tracks of the Union Pacific pushed across the Great Plains, the Credit Mobilier collected the enormous bounty granted to the line from the public purse and domain. Mile upon mile the railroad was systematically stripped of its cash, which reappeared almost simultaneously as dividends for the happy stockholders of Credit Mobilier. It was, as the Hon. Oakes Ames told his comrades in the House, “a diamond mine.”

Yet the gentlemen-thieves of Credit Mobilier had a falling out when two factions fought for control; and the warfare gave those senators and congressmen who were not involved the courage to demand an investigation of the Union Pacific-Credit Moblier situation.

In an effort to forestall just such a possibility, the Credit Mobilier officers had been distributing free stock in the House and Senate, and elsewhere. But Congress was at last forced to act, and the revelations of its investigating committee . . . were so appalling that “all decent men trembled for the honor of the nation.”

No one was more hopelessly involved in the scandal than Vice-President Schuyler Colfax . . . except of course, Representative Oakes Ames of Massachusetts . . . along with Representative Brooks, also of Massachusetts . . .

Although the Congressional investigation resulted in an almost complete official whitewash, it did leave strong doubt in many minds regarding the character of such eminent men as James A. Garfield, James G. Blaine, and almost a score more.”

(The Age of the Moguls, Stewart H. Holbrook, Doubleday & Company, 1953, pp. 49-50)

 

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