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Corporate Tricks and Devices

Few, if any, Gilded Age tycoons were expert economists – but all understood theories of supply and demand, the law of diminishing returns, and assumed that every man was motivated by the selfish love of gain. Most also believed in unfettered competition, theoretically, unless bribed government officials could be used to handicap competitors. U.S. Grant’s notorious administration of corrupt and bought politicians helped pave the way into the Gilded Age – the predictable outcome of Lincoln’s revolution.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Corporate Tricks and Devices

“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 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 be 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)

 

New England’s Industrial Slaves

Apparently missing the brutal industrial slavery that flourished among them, New England abolitionists, “looking about with an eye long-trained to detect sinners,” began a moral crusade against the aristocrats of the American South who they imagined were mistreating their own laborers. All the ills of Northern society, social, agricultural and financial, were found to originate with the evil slaveholders.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

New England’s Industrial Slaves

“[The] first significant result of the coming of finance-industrial capitalism to [New England] in the years between 1815 and 1844, was the rise of a new and powerful group of business leaders, and the creation of a new and uniquely dependent body of workers.

A decline in commerce made capital available and scattered cotton mills about wherever water power could be found. Profits soared. Successful groups . . . bought up power sites, built machine shops, laid out and built whole factory towns, speculated in lands, projected canals and railroads, and found use for their surplus capital in banking and insurance.

[The Northern merchants] harsh old Calvinistic beliefs gave way to more rational and dignified ones, and their political needs found expression in the conservative doctrines of the Whig party. A new aristocracy of growing wealth and power had come into being.

The young folks who came down from the country to work in the mills soon learned that their move meant . . . Long hours . . . in a poorly ventilated, lint-filled room spent at a single task . . . They also learned that bitter competition between factories in period of depression meant longer hours, more spindles to tend, and reduced wages. To protest or to strike brought lockouts and black lists. By 1844 most New England girls had chosen the latter course, and French Canadian and Irish girls had taken their places.

Workers looked “round them upon the princely palaces and gaudy equipages of the rich” who consumed the fruits of the poor man’s labor without adding to “the common stock a grain of wheat or a blade of grass.”

And when the right to organize was denied by the courts, workers solemnly proclaimed that “the freemen of the North are now on a level with the slaves of the South, with no other privilege than laboring, that drones may fatten on your life blood.”

Sympathy for the workers was [intense]. “There is not a State’s prison or house of correction in New England where the hours of labor are so long, the hours for meals so short, and the ventilation so neglected as in the cotton mills with which I am acquainted,” wrote Dr. Josiah C. Curtis in his report to the American Medical Association.

“Where is the humanity,” asked another. “It is swallowed up in gain – for the almighty dollar, and for this, poor girls are enslaved and kept in a state little better than machinery, [but when they become unable to work they] are laid to one side and new [human] machinery procured.”

And what became of the girl who was laid aside? The Daily Democrat tells us that “while those who reaped the profits” dropped “their heads on the cologne-scented handkerchiefs on prayer and thanksgiving every Sabbath day,” the poor mill-girl came “to Boston to die in the brothel.”

“ . . . At the North, the master has a lash more potent than the whipthong to stimulate the energies of his white slaves: fear of want.” And because the Northern worker did not see his chains, he was none the less a slave.

As one man put it: “When capital has gotten thirteen hours of labor daily out of a being it can get nothing more. It would be a very poor speculation in an industrial point of view to own the [laborers], for the trouble and expense of providing for times of sickness and old-age would more than counterbalance the difference between the price of wages and the expense of boarding and clothing . . . “

“Wages,” added Orestes Brownson, “is a cunning device of the devil for the benefit of the tender conscience, who would retain all the advantages of the slave system, without the expense, trouble and odium of being slaveholders.”

(The Civil War in the Making, Avery O. Craven, LSU Press, 1959, excerpts, pp. 9-16)

The Dollar Invades and Conquers

Lee was not alone in seeing the masked reasons for the war prosecuted by the North and the opportunity seen in reducing the American South to a politically-weak economic colony. The bounty-enriched foreign mercenaries and displaced slaves used to fight its war of conquest were expendable tools for the task, and later employed to eradicate Indians.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

The Dollar Invades and Conquers

“Certainly he must have sensed that in the future “those people,” as he called his Northern adversaries, were determined to push aside “his people” with their aristocratic prerogatives and privileges. Despite his determination to stay out of politics both during and after the war, Lee could see the handwriting on the wall as plain as anyone, and plainer than most.

He understood that in addition to the sharp odor of gunpowder, there was the sweet smell of profits in the balmy spring air. Lincoln’s Secretary of the Treasury, visiting New York earlier that spring, had noted that many people there paid more attention to the stock market than to the casualty reports. To this a New York editor added: “Real or professed patriotism may be made to cover a multitude of sins. Gallantry in battle may be regarded as a substitute for all the duties of the Decalogue.”

In the Northern States, the rapid transformation from a conglomeration of farmers to a nation of industrialists had been hastened by the war. The exclusion of Southern planters from the halls of government made the change considerably easier. Astronomical profits on wartime speculation and gouging encouraged rapid expansion. While the brave boys in [blue] shed blood on the battlefields, the crafty made profits back home.

If the drama of collapse and surrender centered in the South, the drama of growth and expansion focused on the West. Hundreds of millions of dollars would go there; the receding frontier would be whittled down by systematic attacks of the Yankee investor. The Federal government would help by showering the railroads and settlers with land and services. Mines, cattle and farming would boom. Where bayonet had never been, the dollar would invade and conquer.”

(Lee After the War, Marshall W. Fishwick, Dodd, Mead & Company, 1963, pp. 39-40)

 

Tariffs and War Pensions of the North

Author Walter Webb asserted that “The North reduced to the vanishing point the economic power of the South . . . the armies had taken much, but their damage was small in comparison with that which the politicians wrought later.” The only thing the North failed to do after the war is destroy the spiritual power and pride of the South, even after marital law, enfranchising their former slaves into rulers, and revolutionizing the Southern social structure. As Webb further relates, “This is the supreme act of degradation, one that has no parallel in world history. This was the Second American Revolution.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Tariffs & War Pensions of the North

“The North did not stop with settling old sectional disputes in its favor. Since 1861 it has, through control of the government, legislated for itself subsidies, pensions, privileges, and bonuses which would, if totaled, make the government expenditures of recent years seem less appalling. The most lucrative bounty that the North has conferred upon itself, largely at the expense of the other two sections, is the high protective tariff. It is true that the protective tariff was not a new problem, but one that has been long disputed in Congress.

When the tariff bill of 1828 was under consideration, a Massachusetts manufacturer, Abbott Lawrence, wrote Daniel Webster sagely about the amendments. Lawrence thought the bill improved as to woolens and some thought the bill now good enough.

“I must say,” wrote Webster’s political and economic advisor, “I think it would do much good, and that New England would reap great harvest by having the bill adopted as it now is . . . This bill if adopted as amended will keep the South and the West in debt to New England the next hundred years.”

Since the Civil War the tariff wall has been built higher and higher, not so much for a nation as around and for the benefit of a section. For seventy-five years, and more, the tariff [cornucopias] hung over the North, showering it with thousands of blessings and billions of dollars, bringing it without doubt the greatest gift that any modern government ever bestowed on one group of people at the expense of other groups.

Abbott Lawrence was right. His hundred years has passed, and almost a decade to boot, and the South and West are still in debt to the North, more deeply than they were in 1828. Less remunerative, but no less partial to the North and equally prejudicial to the South and the West, were the federal Civil War pensions.

The pension system was put into effect in 1862, about the time the first bandages were removed. After hostilities ceased pensions grew in number and in amount and in a manner most gratifying to recipients and incidental beneficiaries. No need to dwell on the frauds, lying, broomstick wives, attorneys, and perjurers.

The Grand Army of the Republic was powerful at the polls, where it won a far larger percentage of victories than it won against the armies of Lee. No politician dared deny the soldier who had saved the Union a lifelong government subsidy which was paid impartially to the pauper and the millionaire.

By 1875, the government was giving Northern soldiers $29,000,000 annually. This had jumped to $60 million in 1879, to $89 million in 1889, to $159 million in 1893, and to $180 million in 1912. The peak was not reached until 1923, when the veterans received the sum of $238,924,872.

(Divided We Stand, The Crisis of a Frontierless Democracy, Walter Prescott Webb, Farrar & Rinehart, Inc., 1937, pp. 19-20)

 

North and South Before the Alien Tide

The colonies North and South before the Revolution had little in common other than being transplanted Britons; Southern troops were there to help the North in the war it initiated over trade and taxes. The model of American statesmanship was the Southern planter-aristocrat until the arrival of Andrew Jackson – seen as the product of the ragged edges of British civilization. Such a product, also, was Abraham Lincoln.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

North and South Before the Alien Tide

“New Englanders at all stages in the history of the country have busied themselves so actively with advertising in print their part in the making of America; the compact circle of New England authors before the war managed so effectively to enhance each other’s reputations by piling criticism on authorship and authorship on criticism again; that most foreigners and many busty Americans have absorbed the notion that American character is a New England product, and “culture” a plant nourished solely in that region.

This idea has been reinforced by the assiduity of New Englanders since the war, in working over their material, in composing voluminous biographies, appreciations, memoirs, poems, critiques, histories, about every New Englander whoever wrote a book, or, indeed, did anything out of the ordinary.

As a matter of fact, what is called the Puritan influence, what is fathered on the New England conscience, is not essentially Puritan at all; it is British seriousness, aggravated by a hand-to-hand conflict with a new country, and th4e responsibility for it is shared about equally by Massachusetts and Virginia.

The truth is, that so long as America was distinctly a nation of transplanted Britons, the New England conscience, so-called, was a common heritage of all. It is only since the flood of alien blood has swamped the country and diluted the original strain that this conscience has ceased to be the common standard, however modified as to particular judgments by differences in the conditions to be faced.

In New England proper at one time, for instance, it approved capital punishment for witches, promoted piracy and drew sustenance from the [transatlantic] slave traffic.

In the South, at another period, it sanctioned the duel and the holding of the involuntary black man in bondage. At the present time, because the white population of the South is still is of predominantly British descent, because the alien has not swarmed over the land and diluted the original stock, the last stronghold of New England conscience is actually below Mason and Dixon’s line, with its citadel in Richmond, Va.

The thing survives, in spots, in New England also, but only in little pools and back waters not yet reached by the tide. Even the presence of the Negro, with his stone-age morals, has not sufficed to destroy it in the South – though it has, of course, modified it – for the Negro stands outside the stream.

In the first place, then, the Briton in the South, even if he were not descended from the landed gentry, a special breed of masters of other men in the old country, presently developed for himself a special breed of masters of men by reason of his training on the plantation where he ruled over many. At the same time he gained a boldness, and initiative, an adaptability quite foreign to the stay-at-home Briton. For he had to rule over an alien and barbaric people in a new and unformed country strange to him and to them.”

(Contributions of the South to the Character and Culture of the North, H.I. Brock; History of the Literary and Intellectual Life of the Southern States, Volume VII, Samuel Chiles Mitchell, editor, Southern Publication Society, 1909, pp. 269-271)

Those Yankees!

Thomas Jefferson, a Southerner, proposed the prohibition of slavery in the Northwest Territory (belonging to Virginia) though Congress failed to approve the plan by one vote. “Thus,” Jefferson wrote, “we see the fate of millions unborn hanging on the tongue of one man, and heaven was silent in that awful moment.” Seven years later, a Massachusetts man invented the cotton gin that inspired New England mill owners.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Those Yankees!

“If it hadnt been for cotton and Yankee inventiveness, chattel slavery would have died a natural death in the South, as it did in the North, long before the [War Between the States]. In the years following the Revolution, the accent throughout the Colonies was on freedom. More and more leaders in the South were speaking out against slavery and being listened to with respect.

In 1791 William and Mary College conferred the degree of LL.D on Granville Sharp, a noted Abolitionist from England. As late as 1832, a bill to provide for the emancipation of slaves was passed by one House of the Virginia Legislature and defeated in the other by only one vote. Manumission societies were springing up everywhere.

The movement wasn’t exactly a matter of ethics. It was mostly economic. Tobacco and indigo and rice just couldn’t support a wasteful slave economy. There was cotton and the South could grow a lot of it . . . but getting out the pesky seed killed off the profit.

A program of gradual emancipation under which the children of slave parents were to be freed at the age of 25 was gaining momentum when a Yankee school-teacher down in Georgia by the name of Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin. The year was 1791. Everyone went cotton crazy and slavery, instead of dying out, was tremendously expanded. Many Southern States passed laws forbidding manumission. Those Yankees!

Virginia was our first slave State . . . and the biggest. During the War, forty-eight counties in western Virginia split off from Virginia and remained loyal to the Union with a slave population of 18,371.

All the Negroes were not slaves. There were 260,000 free Negroes in the South owning property valued at more than $25,000,000. About one in every one-hundred of these owned Negro slaves. Most of them owned just two or three but there were some big Negro slave-owners too.  Cypian Ricard, of Macon [Georgia], had a big plantation and 91 slaves. Charles Roges had 47 and Marie Metoyer had 58. The richest man and the biggest slave-owner in Jefferson County. Virginia, was a Negro.

Negroes were in business in the South too, other than farming. Solomon Humphries of Macon, was the town’s leading grocer. Jehu Jones was proprietor of one of Charleston’s best hotels. Thomy Lafon down in New Orleans, was worth half a million dollars. He contributed so much to the city the State legislature ordered a bust to be carved and set up in a public building in his honor.”

(My Old Kentucky Home, Chapter XVI, W.E. Debnam, The Graphic Press, 1955, pp. 38-39)

 

The North’s Extended Payday

Beyond eliminating Negro slavery in the South, the war “hastened the transformation of the North from a country of farmers and small manufacturers to a highly organized industrial region.” The North had no shortage of those who saw no need to carry a rifle, as great profit awaited those supplying war materiel.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

The North’s Extended Payday

“With the war, too, came what moral philosophers have said was moral decay in wholesale volume, an apparently illimitable increase in man’s cupidity. Scandals uncorked during and right after the fighting showed that [Northern] soldiers had been given clothing and blankets made of shoddy, technically a material of reclaimed wool, such as old rags, which gave a new term to our language.

Soldiers also got boots made largely of paper; they were fed meat that had come from diseased cattle and hogs; they rode hags that had been doctored to make a sale to the cavalry. Only too often the very guns put into their hands would not shoot. One big order for such weapons, refused by ordnance offices in the East, was sold and shipped to General [John] Fremont in the West.

Likely the moral condition of the country was lower than usual. Perhaps the moral philosophers should take into account the possibility that man’s inherent cupidity fluctuates, like a thermometer, with the number and quality of opportunities to commit theft, legal or otherwise; that the honesty of too few men is constant.

The decade after 1865 in the United States appears in retrospect to be an extended payday for the vast military exploit just concluded. Somebody observed it was as if Booth’s bullet had released all the chicanery and cupidity of thirty-five million people. Pastor’s warned that God’s hand would smite the Republic. And yet, the more numerous and grosser sort continued to admire the “smart” man.

The most notoriously smart figures of the postwar period in the United States were three characters who without too much exaggeration were also known as the men of disaster. They were Daniel Drew, Jay Gould, and Jim Fisk. Many called them wreckers, “Foul hyenas,” said an editorial writer of the time, “who when their prey was full rotten came to sink their slavering jaws into the carrion.”

As a big herd of anywhere from six hundred to a thousand head of Ohio beef approached New York City, Drew had his drovers salt them well, then, just before reaching the market place, let them drink their fill. Cattle were sold live-weight. Drew’s processing with salt and water added many tons to the average herd [and] “Watered stock” soon became a term in Wall Street.

Jim Fisk was a genial, handsome fellow . . . Both men and women liked him. He could sell them stuff they did not want before they realized they had bought it. When New Orleans fell into federal hands, Fisk took off to buy cotton for a Boston syndicate, which made a mint of money quickly.

(The Age of the Moguls, Stewart H. Holbrook, Doubleday and Company, 1953, excerpts, pp. 20-24)

New England Commerce Born of the Slave Trade

By 1750, Rhode Island had surpassed Liverpool as the center of the triangular transatlantic slave trade, with British shipbuilders complaining to Parliament that New Englanders were luring their shipwrights away with promises of high pay.  Yankee notions and rum were shipped to Africa to be traded for slaves, thence to the West Indies to trade slaves for molasses, then returning to New England to make more rum for future slave voyages. The American South had no involvement in this inhumane and illicit traffic.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

New England Commerce Born of the Slave Trade

“The planting of the commercial States of North America began with the colony of Puritan Independents at Plymouth, in 1620, which was subsequently enlarged into the State of Massachusetts. The other trading colonies, Rhode Island and Connecticut, as well as New Hampshire (which never had an extensive shipping interest) were offshoots of Massachusetts.

They partook of the same characteristics and pursuits; and hence, the example of the parent colony is taken here as a fair representation of them. The first ship from America, which embarked in the African slave trade, was the Desire, Captain Pierce, of Salem; and this was among the first vessels ever built in the colony.

The promptitude with which the “Puritan Fathers” embarked in this business may be comprehended, when it is stated that the Desire sailed upon her voyage in June, 1637. The first feeble and dubious foothold was gained by white man at Plymouth less than seventeen years before; and as is well known, many years were expended by the struggle of the handful of settlers for existence.

So that it may be correctly said, that the commerce of New England was born of the slave trade; as its subsequent prosperity was largely founded upon it. To understand the growth of the New England slave trade, two connected topics must be a little illustrated. The first of these is the enslaving of Indians. The pious “Puritan Fathers” found it convenient to assume that they were God’s chosen Israel, and the pagans about them were Amalek and Amorites. They hence deduced their righteous title to exterminate or enslave the Indians, whenever they became troublesome.

As soon as the Indian wars began, we find the captives enslaved. The ministers and magistrates solemnly authorized the enslaving of the wives and posterity of their enemies for the crimes of the fathers and husbands in daring to defend their own soil. In 1677, the General Court of Massachusetts ordered the enslaving of the Indian youths or girls “of such as had been in hostility with the colony, or had lived among its enemies in the time of war.”

By means of these proceedings, the number of Indian servants became so large, that they were regarded as dangerous to the Colony. They were, moreover, often untamable in temper…Hence the prudent and thrifty saints saw the advantage of exporting them to the Bermudas, Barbadoes, and other islands, in exchange for Negroes and merchandise; and this traffick, being much encouraged, and finally enjoined, by the authorities, became so extensive as to substitute Negroes for Indian slaves, almost wholly in the Colony. Among the slaves thus deported were the favourite wife and little son of the heroic King Philip.”

(A Defence of Virginia, and Through Her, The South, Robert Louis Dabney, E.J. Hale & Son, 1867, pp. 32-35)

Aug 4, 2016 - Foreign Viewpoints, Sharp Yankees    Comments Off on British View of Yankees

British View of Yankees

British View of Yankees

“In England the term “Yankee” was applied to all Americans, South as well as North, and “carried with it the implication of crass commercial dealings, shrewd bargaining, and even sharp practices.” By 1815 the word “Yankee” in England evoked a general image of uncouth and curious rustics whose energies were almost exclusively given over to pursuit of economic gain. Southerners attempted to free themselves from this stigma.

For instance, William C. Preston, while traveling in England, insisted in a conversation with an English lady that he was a “Virginian,” not a “Yankee.” But she replied: “Aye, a proud Virginian. But to us you are all Yankees, rascals who cheat the whole world.”

Northerners also resented the charge that they were greedy, selfish, grasping, and lacking in genteel taste, intellectual distinction, and private as well as public decorum. Henry David Thoreau wrote that “the Yankee, though undisciplined, had this advantage at least, and he is especially a man who, everywhere and under all circumstances, is fully resolved to better his condition.”

(The Role of the Yankee in the Old South, Fletcher Green, UGA Press, 1972, page 2)

Jul 2, 2016 - Northern Culture Laid Bare, Sharp Yankees    Comments Off on Unstoppable Yankee Avarice

Unstoppable Yankee Avarice

While in the western theater early in the war, Grant observed the brisk illicit traffic passing around his lines as Yankee traders and speculators bribed Northern officers to allow their passage to purchase cotton. Later in the war, General W.H.C. Whiting in command of the Cape Fear District at Wilmington wrote President Davis that blockade runners with Northern goods aboard seemed to pass through the blockade more easily.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Unstoppable Yankee Avarice

“The amount of greed and corruption that attended the business of blockade-running was about what might have been anticipated, and involved not only Southerners and Britons, but some grasping Yankees.

When Gazaway B. Lamar (though born in Georgia, Lamar removed to Brooklyn in 1845 and became successful in business, and for several years president of the Bank of the Republic, New York), a pre-war smuggler of Africans into the South, headed a company that vigorously operated four steamers, and along with Fraser and Company of Charleston, and Fraser, Trenholm of Liverpool reported lucrative returns, it is no wonder that some Northerners watched these traders enviously! The contraband commerce had all the attractions of gambling for high stakes.

More than half the ships and cargoes tried in the New York prize court were British, but the British name too often concealed Northern interests. Some Yankees were as ready to evade trading-with-the-enemy laws as their fathers had been in 1812. Northern goods, their labels altered to flaunt famous English names, passed through Boston or New York on long roundabout trips, Boston-Bermuda-Wilmington, or New York-Nassau-Mobile, and sometimes were even shipped with bold directness to Charleston or Matamoros.

At its height, the New York trade with Bermuda, Nassau and Havana was scandalously large. A “ring” of dealers, shippers, and blockade-runners helped organize the traffic and made arrangements with the Custom House for shipments. In the autumn of 1864, information was given Naval Officer William E. Dennison that blockade-runners had been heard to boast of ease with which they could clear outward-bound goods through the [New York] Custom House. Several men swore that one employee, the son of H.B. Stanton the noted Abolitionist orator, had taken bribes, and he and his father were dismissed.

[As for Yankee cotton-buying in the West, Grant] . . . “in private conversations to the end of the war, he always spoke of them as a gang of thieves.” As Lincoln crisply put it, “The army itself is diverted from fighting the rebels to speculating in cotton.” Rear Admiral Porter said of the Treasury agents sent down by [Treasury Secretary Salmon P.] Chase to control the situation: “A greater pack of knaves never went unhung.”

Yet his own gunboat crews were equally unscrupulous, one Senator later declaring that they had made a hundred millions during the war. Charles A. Dana wrote: “Every soldier dreams of adding a bale of cotton to his monthly pay.” And David Perry of the Fifth Illinois Cavalry, son of a mayor of Bloomington, Illinois, made a yet graver charge.

“Many lives have been sacrificed during the past summer and fall, he informed his father as the year 1862 ended, “that certain high officers might make their fortunes with cotton-trade, and many a poor darkey who had fled to us has been traded off, by officers holding high positions in the army and before the world, for cotton. The truth is, when an impartial history of this war shall be written, it will expose a greater amount of fraud and corruption than the world has ever before seen. Even your Bloomington general, Hovey, traded Negroes for cotton and sacrificed many lives . . . for the sole purpose of making money.”

By Autumn [1862], a correspondent of the New York Tribune was asserting flatly, “One of the causes of the want of discipline, energy and military power in the army of the Southwest is the mania for cotton speculation which has seized upon the officers of the Army, from generals down to quartermasters and lieutenants.”

Loyal Union planters saw their cotton pounced upon by greedy [Northern] officers who waved papers, talked of the violation of obscure military orders, and shipped the crop away with almost no concealment of the fact of private interest.

The ebullient “Russ” Jones of Chicago, close friend of both Grant and Elihu Washburne, made no secret of his activities. He wrote Congressman Washburne at the beginning of 1863 from Holly Springs, Mississippi, that Grant had treated him kindly.

He hoped the army would push farther South, “as I want to get as far into the enemy’s country as possible. If we get out safely with what cotton we have bought, I shall clear four or five thousand for my share . . .” Jones, former Galena businessman and Republican politician, continued to serve in his patronage post of Marshal. In 1869 he was named Minister to Belgium by Grant, and was very active in Republican politics and Chicago street railroads. At one time he managed some property and investments for Grant.”

(The War for the Union, Allan Nevins, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1971, excerpts, pp. 342-353)

 

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