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Title: History of the Great American Fortunes, Vol. I - Conditions in Settlement and Colonial Times
Author: Gustavus, Myers
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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Copyright 1907, 1908 and 1909


In writing this work my aim has been to give the exact facts as far as
the available material allows. Necessarily it is impossible, from the
very nature of the case, to obtain all the facts. It is obvious that in
both past and present times the chief beneficiaries of our social and
industrial system have found it to their interest to represent their
accumulations as the rewards of industry and ability, and have likewise
had the strongest motives for concealing the circumstances of all those
complex and devious methods which have been used in building up great
fortunes. In this they have been assisted by a society so constituted
that the means by which these great fortunes have been amassed have been
generally lauded as legitimate and exemplary.

The possessors of towering fortunes have hitherto been described in two
ways. On the one hand, they have been held up as marvels of success, as
preëminent examples of thrift, enterprise and extraordinary ability.
More recently, however, the tendency in certain quarters has been
diametrically the opposite. This latter class of writers, intent upon
pandering to a supposed popular appetite for sensation, pile exposure
upon exposure, and hold up the objects of their diatribes as monsters of
commercial and political crime. Neither of these classes has sought to
establish definitely the relation of the great fortunes to the social
and industrial system which has propagated them. Consequently, these
superficial effusions and tirades--based upon a lack of understanding of
the propelling forces of society--have little value other than as
reflections of a certain aimless and disordered spirit of the times.
With all their volumes of print, they leave us in possession of a
scattered array of assertions, bearing some resemblance to facts, which,
however, fail to be facts inasmuch as they are either distorted to take
shape as fulsome eulogies or as wild, meaningless onslaughts.

They give no explanation of the fundamental laws and movements of the
present system, which have resulted in these vast fortunes; nor is there
the least glimmering of a scientific interpretation of a succession of
states and tendencies from which these men of great wealth have emerged.
With an entire absence of comprehension, they portray our
multimillionaires as a phenomenal group whose sudden rise to their
sinister and overshadowing position is a matter of wonder and surprise.
They do not seem to realize for a moment--what is clear to every real
student of economics--that the great fortunes are the natural, logical
outcome of a system based upon factors the inevitable result of which is
the utter despoilment of the many for the benefit of a few.

This being so, our plutocrats rank as nothing more or less than as so
many unavoidable creations of a set of processes which must imperatively
produce a certain set of results. These results we see in the
accelerated concentration of immense wealth running side by side with a
propertyless, expropriated and exploited multitude.

The dominant point of these denunciatory emanations, however, is that
certain of our men of great fortune have acquired their possessions by
dishonest methods. These men are singled out as especial creatures of
infamy. Their doings and sayings furnish material for many pages of
assault. Here, again, an utter lack of knowledge and perspective is
observable. For, while it is true that the methods employed by these
very rich men have been, and are, fraudulent, it is also true that they
are but the more conspicuous types of a whole class which, in varying
degrees, has used precisely the same methods, and the collective
fortunes and power of which have been derived from identically the same

In diagnosing an epidemic, it is not enough that we should be content
with the symptoms; wisdom and the protection of the community demand
that we should seek and eradicate the cause. Both wealth and poverty
spring from the same essential cause. Neither, then, should be
indiscriminately condemned as such; the all-important consideration is
to determine why they exist, and how such an absurd contrast can be

In taking up a series of types of great fortunes, as I have done in this
work, my object has not been the current one of portraying them either
as remarkable successes or as unspeakable criminals. My purpose is to
present a sufficient number of examples as indicative of the whole
character of the vested class and of the methods which have been
employed. And in doing this, neither prejudice nor declamation has
entered. Such a presentation, I believe, cannot fail to be useful for
many reasons.

It will, in the first place, satisfy a spirit of inquiry. As time
passes, and the power of the propertied oligarchy becomes greater and
greater, more and more of a studied attempt is made to represent the
origin of that property as the product of honest toil and great public
service. Every searcher for truth is entitled to know whether this is
true or not. But what is much more important is for the people to know
what have been the cumulative effects of a system which subsists upon
the institutions of private property and wage-labor. If it possesses the
many virtues that it is said to possess, what are these virtues? If it
is a superior order of civilization, in what does this superiority

This work will assist in explaining, for naturally a virtuous and
superior order ought to produce virtuous and superior men. The kind and
quality of methods and successful ruling men, which this particular
civilization forces to the front, are set forth in this exposition.
Still more important is the ascertainment of where these stupendous
fortunes came from, their particular origin and growth, and what
significance the concomitant methods and institutions have to the great
body of the people.

I may add that in Part I no attempt has been made to present an
exhaustive account of conditions in Settlement and Colonial times. I
have merely given what I believe to be a sufficient resumé of conditions
leading up to the later economic developments in the United States.

  September 1, 1909.



  PREFACE                                                            iii




     I. THE GREAT PROPRIETARY ESTATES                                 11

    II. THE SWAY OF THE LANDGRAVES                                    23

   III. THE RISE OF THE TRADING CLASS                                 45

    IV. THE SHIPPING FORTUNES                                         57

     V. THE SHIPPERS AND THEIR TIMES                                  65

    VI. GIRARD--THE RICHEST OF THE SHIPPERS                           83



     I. THE ORIGIN OF HUGE CITY ESTATES                               97

    II. THE INCEPTION OF THE ASTOR FORTUNE                           109

   III. THE GROWTH OF THE ASTOR FORTUNE                              126

    IV. THE RAMIFICATIONS OF THE ASTOR FORTUNE                       155

     V. THE MOMENTUM OF THE ASTOR FORTUNE                            182

    VI. THE PROPULSION OF THE ASTOR FORTUNE                          202

   VII. THE CLIMAX OF THE ASTOR FORTUNE                              224

  VIII. OTHER LAND FORTUNES CONSIDERED                               242

    IX. THE FIELD FORTUNE IN EXTENSO                                 262

     X. FURTHER VISTAS OF THE FIELD FORTUNE                          278





The noted private fortunes of settlement and colonial times were derived
from the ownership of land and the gains of trading. Usually both had a
combined influence and were frequently attended by agriculture.
Throughout the colonies were scattered lords of the soil who held vast
territorial domains over which they exercised an arbitrary and, in some
portions of the colonies, a feudal sway.

Nearly all the colonies were settled by chartered companies, organized
for purely commercial purposes and the success of which largely depended
upon the emigration which they were able to promote. These corporations
were vested with enormous powers and privileges which, in effect,
constituted them as sovereign rulers, although their charters were
subject to revision or amendment. The London Company, thrice chartered
to take over to itself the land and resources of Virginia and populate
its zone of rule, was endowed with sweeping rights and privileges which
made it an absolute monopoly. The impecunious noblemen or gentlemen who
transported themselves to Virginia to recoup their dissipated fortunes
or seek adventure, encountered no trouble in getting large grants of
land especially when after 1614 tobacco became a fashionable article in
England and took rank as a valuable commercial commodity.

Over this colony now spread planters who hastened to avail themselves of
this new-found means of getting rich. Land and climate alike favored
them, but they were confronted with a scarcity of labor. The emergency
was promptly met by the buying of white servants in England to be resold
in Virginia to the highest bidder. This, however, was not sufficient,
and complaints poured over to the English government. As the demands of
commerce had to be sustained at any price, a system was at once put into
operation of gathering in as many of the poorer English class as could
be impressed upon some pretext, and shipping them over to be held as
bonded laborers. Penniless and lowly Englishmen, arrested and convicted
for any one of the multitude of offenses then provided for severely in
law, were transported as criminals or sold into the colonies as slaves
for a term of years. The English courts were busy grinding out human
material for the Virginia plantations; and, as the objects of commerce
were considered paramount, this process of disposing of what was
regarded as the scum element was adjudged necessary and justifiable. No
voice was raised in protest.


But, fast as the English courts might work, they did not supply laborers
enough. It was with exultation that in 1619 the plantation owners were
made acquainted with a new means of supplying themselves with adequate
workers. A Dutch ship arrived at Jamestown with a cargo of negroes from
Guinea. The blacks were promptly bought at good prices by the planters.
From this time forth the problem of labor was considered sufficiently
solved. As chattel slavery harmonized well with the necessities of
tobacco growing and gain, it was accepted as a just condition and was
continued by the planters, whose interests and standards were the
dominant factor.

After 1620, when the London Company was dissolved by royal decree, and
the commerce of Virginia made free, the planters were the only factor.
Virginia, it was true, was made a royal province and put under deputy
rule, but the big planters contrived to get the laws and customs their
self-interest called for. There were only two classes--the rich
planters, with their gifts of land, their bond-servants and slaves and,
on the other hand, the poor whites. A middle class was entirely lacking.

As the supreme staple of commerce and as currency itself, tobacco could
buy anything, human, as well as inert, material. The labor question had
been sufficiently vanquished, but not so the domestic. Wives were much
needed; the officials in London instantly hearkened, and in 1620 sent
over sixty young women who were auctioned off and bought at from one
hundred and twenty to one hundred and sixty pounds of tobacco each.
Tobacco then sold at three shillings a pound. Its cultivation was
assiduously carried on. The use of the land mainly for agricultural
purposes led to the foundation of numerous settlements along the shores,
bays, rivers, and creeks with which Virginia is interspersed and which
afforded accessibility to the sea ports. As the years wore on and the
means and laborers of the planters increased, their lands became more
extensive, so that it was not an unusual thing to find plantations of
fifty or sixty thousand acres. But neither in Virginia nor in Maryland,
under the almost regal powers of Lord Baltimore who had propriety rights
over the whole of his province, were such huge estates to be seen as
were being donated in the northern colonies, especially in New
Netherlands and in New England.


In its intense aim to settle New Netherlands and make use of its
resources, Holland, through the States General, offered extraordinary
inducements to promoters of colonization. The prospect of immense
estates, with feudal rights and privileges, was held out as the alluring
incentive. The bill of Freedoms and Exemptions of 1629 made easy the
possibility of becoming a lord of the soil with comprehensive
possessions and powers. Any man who should succeed in planting a colony
of fifty "souls," each of whom was to be more than fifteen years old,
was to become at once a patroon with all the rights of lordship. He was
permitted to own sixteen miles along shore or on one side of a navigable
river. An alternative was given of the ownership of eight miles on one
side of a river and as far into the interior "as the situation of the
occupiers will permit." The title was vested in the patroon forever, and
he was presented with a monopoly of the resources of his domain except
furs and pelts. No patroon or other colonist was allowed to make woolen,
linen, cotton or cloth of any material under pain of banishment.[1]

These restrictions were in the interest of the Dutch West India Company,
a commercial corporation which had well-nigh dictatorial powers. A
complete monopoly throughout the whole of its subject territory, it was
armed with sweeping powers, a formidable equipment, and had a great
prestige. It was somewhat of a cross between legalized piracy and a body
of adroit colonization promoters. Pillage and butchery were often its
auxiliaries, although in these respects it in nowise equalled its twin
corporation, the Dutch East India Company, whose exploitation of
Holland's Asiatic possessions was a long record of horrors.


The policy of the Dutch West India Company was to offer generous prizes
for peopling the land while simultaneously forbidding competition with
any of the numerous products or commodities dealt in by itself. This had
much to do with determining the basic character of the conspicuous
fortunes of a century and two centuries later. It followed that when
native industries were forbidden or their output monopolized not only by
the Dutch West India Company in New Netherlands, but by other companies
elsewhere in the colonies, that ownership of land became the mainstay of
large private fortunes with agriculture as an accompanying factor.
Subsequently the effects of this continuous policy were more fully seen
when England by law after law paralyzed or closed up many forms of
colonial manufacture. The feudal character of Dutch colonization, as
carried on by the Dutch West India Company, necessarily created great
landed estates, the value of which arose not so much from agriculture,
as was the case in Virginia, Maryland and later the Carolinas and
Georgia, but from the natural resources of the land. The superb
primitive timber brought colossal profits in export, and there were
also very valuable fishery rights where an estate bounded a shore or
river. The pristine rivers were filled with great shoals of fish, to
which the river fishing of the present day cannot be compared. As
settlement increased, immigration pressed over, and more and more ships
carried cargo to and fro, these estates became consecutively more

To encourage colonization to its colonies still further, the States
General in 1635 passed a new decree. It repeated the feudal nature of
the rights granted and made strong additions.

Did any aspiring adventurer seek to leap at a bound to the exalted
position of patroonship? The terms were easy. All that he had to do was
to found a colony of forty-eight adults and he had a liberal six years
in which to do it. For his efforts he was allowed even more extensive
grants of land than under the act of 1629. So complete were his powers
of proprietorship that no one could approach within seven or eight miles
of his jurisdiction without his express permission. His was really a
principality. Over its bays, rivers, and islands, had it any, as well as
over the mainland, he was given command forever. The dispensation of
justice was his exclusive right. He and he only was the court with
summary powers of "high, low and middle jurisdiction," which were
harshly or capriciously exercised. Not only did he impose sentence for
violation of laws, but he, himself, ordained those laws and they were
laws which were always framed to coincide with his interests and
personality. He had full authority to appoint officers and magistrates
and enact laws. And finally he had the power of policing his domain and
of making use of the titles and arms of his colonies. All these things
he could do "according to his will and pleasure." These absolute rights
were to descend to his heirs and assigns.[2]


Thus, at the beginning of settlement times, the basis was laid in law
and custom of a landed aristocracy, or rather a group of intrenched
autocrats, along the banks of the Hudson, the shores of the ocean and
far inland. The theory then prevailed that the territory of the colonies
extended westward to the Pacific.

From these patroons and their lineal or collateral descendants issued
many of the landed generations of families which, by reason of their
wealth and power, proved themselves powerful factors in the economic and
political history of the country. The sinister effects of this first
great grasping of the land long permeated the whole fabric of society
and were prominently seen before and after the Revolution, and
especially in the third and fourth decades of the eighteenth century.
The results, in fact, are traceable to this very day, even though laws
and institutions are so greatly changed. Other colonies reflected the
constant changes of government, ruling party or policy of England, and
colonial companies chartered by England frequently forfeited their
charters. But conditions in New Netherlands remained stable under Dutch
rule, and the accumulation of great estates was intensified under
English rule. It was in New York that, at that period, the foremost
colonial estates and the predominant private fortunes were mostly held.

The extent of some of those early estates was amazingly large. But they
were far from being acquired wholly by colonization methods.

Many of the officers and directors of the Dutch West India Company were
Amsterdam merchants. Active, scheming, self-important men, they were
mighty in the money marts but were made use of, and looked down upon, by
the old Dutch aristocracy. Having amassed fortunes, these merchants
yearned to be the founders of great estates; to live as virtual princes
in the midst of wide possessions, even if these were still comparative
solitudes. This aspiration was mixed with the mercenary motive of
themselves owning the land from whence came the furs, pelts, timber and
the waters yielding the fishes.

One of these directors was Kiliaen van Rensselaer, an Amsterdam pearl
merchant. In 1630 his agents bought for him from the Indians a tract of
land twenty-four miles long and forty-eight broad on the west bank of
the Hudson. It comprised, it was estimated, seven hundred thousand acres
and included what are now the counties of Albany, Rensselaer, a part of
Columbia County and a strip of what is at present Massachusetts. And
what was the price paid for this vast estate? As the deeds showed, the
munificent consideration of "certain quantities of duffels, axes, knives
and wampum,"[3] which is equal to saying that the pearl merchant got it
for almost nothing. Two other directors--Godyn and Bloemart--became
owners of great feudal estates. One of these tracts, in what is now New
Jersey, extended sixteen miles both in length and breadth, forming a
square of sixty-four miles.[4]

So it was that these shrewd directors now combined a double advantage.
Their pride was satisfied with the absolute lordship of immense areas,
while the ownership of land gave them the manifold benefits and greater
profits of trading with the Indians at first hand. From a part of the
proceeds they later built manors which were contemplated as wonderful
and magnificent. Surrounded and served by their retainers, agents,
vassal tenants and slaves, they lived in princely and licentious style,
knowing no law in most matters except their unrestrained will. They
beheld themselves as ingenious and memorable founders of a potential
landed aristocracy whose possessions were more extended than that of
Europe. Wilderness much of it still was, but obviously the time was
coming when the population would be fairly abundant. The laws of entail
and primogeniture, then in full force, would operate to keep the estates
intact and gifted with inherent influence for generations.

Along with their landed estates, these directors had a copious inflowing
revenue. The Dutch West India Company was in a thriving condition. By
the year 1629 it had more than one hundred full-rigged ships in
commission. Most of them were fitted out for war on the commerce of
other countries or on pirates. Fifteen thousand seamen and soldiers were
on its payroll; in that one year it used more than one hundred thousand
pounds of powder--significant of the grim quality of business done. It
had more than four hundred cannon and thousands of other destructive
weapons.[5] Anything conducive to profit, no matter if indiscriminate
murder, was accepted as legitimate and justifiable functions of trade,
and was imposed alike upon royalty, which shared in the proceeds, and
upon the people at large. The energetic trading class, concentrated in
the one effort of getting money, and having no scruples as to the means
in an age when ideals were low and vulgar, had already begun to make
public opinion in many countries, although this public opinion counted
for little among submissive peoples. It was the king and the governing
class, either or both, whose favor and declarations counted; and so long
as these profited by the devious extortions and villainies of trade the
methods were legitimatized, if not royally sanctified.


A more potentially robust aristocracy than that which was forming in New
Netherlands could hardly be imagined. Resting upon gigantic gifts of
land, with feudal accompaniments, it held a monopoly, or nearly one, of
the land's resources. The old aristocracy of Holland grew jealous of the
power and pretensions of what it frowned upon as an upstart trading
clique and tried to curtail the rights and privileges of the patroons.
These latter contended that their absolute lordship was indisputable; to
put it in modern legal terminology that a contract could not be
impaired. They elaborated upon the argument that they had spent a "ton
of gold" (amounting to one hundred thousand guilders or forty thousand
dollars) upon their colonies.[6] They not only carried their point but
their power was confirmed and enlarged.

Now was seen the spectacle of the middle-class men of the Old World, the
traders, more than imitating--far exceeding--the customs and pretensions
of the aristocracy of their own country which they had inveighed
against, and setting themselves up as the original and mighty landed
aristocracy of the new country. The patroons encased themselves in an
environment of pomp and awe. Like so many petty monarchs each had his
distinct flag and insignia; each fortified his domain with fortresses,
armed with cannon and manned by his paid soldiery. The colonists were
but humble dependants; they were his immediate subjects and were forced
to take the oath of fealty and allegiance to him.[7]

In the old country the soil had long since passed into the hands of a
powerful few and was made the chief basis for the economic and political
enslavement of the people. To escape from this thralldom many of the
immigrants had endured hardships and privation to get here. They
expected that they could easily get land, the tillage of which would
insure them a measure of independence. Upon arriving they found vast
available parts of the country, especially the most desirable and
accessible portions bordering shores or rivers, preëmpted. An exacting
and tyrannous feudal government was in full control. Their only recourse
in many instances was to accept the best of unwelcome conditions and
become tenants of the great landed functionaries and workers for them.


The patroons naturally encouraged immigration. Apart from the additional
values created by increased population, it meant a quantity of labor
which, in turn, would precipitate wages to the lowest possible scale.
At the same time, in order to stifle every aspiring quality in the
drudging laborer, and to keep in conformity with the spirit and custom
of the age which considered the worker a mere menial undeserving of any
rights, the whole force of the law was made use of to bring about sharp
discriminations. The laborer was purposely abased to the utmost and he
was made to feel in many ways his particular low place in the social

Far above him, vested with enormous personal and legal powers, towered
the patroon, while he, the laborer, did not have the ordinary burgher
right, that of having a minor voice in public affairs. The burgher right
was made entirely dependent upon property, which was a facile method of
disfranchising the multitude of poor immigrants and of keeping them
down. Purchase was the one and only means of getting this right. To keep
it in as small and circumscribed class as possible the price was made
abnormally high. It was enacted in New Netherlands in 1659, for
instance, that immigrants coming with cargoes had to pay a thousand
guilders for the burgher right.[8] As the average laborer got two
shillings a day for his long hours of toil, often extending from sunrise
to sunset, he had little chance of ever getting this sum together. The
consequence was that the merchants became the burgher class; and all the
records of the time seem to prove conclusively that the merchants were
servile instruments of the patroons whose patronage and favor they
assiduously courted. This deliberately pursued policy of degrading and
despoiling the laboring class incited bitter hatreds and resentments,
the effects of which were permanent.

One of the Patroons.
(From an Engraving.)]

[Illustration: Signature]


[1] O'Callaghan's "History of New Netherlands," 1:112-120.

[2] Documents Relating to the Colonial History of the State of New York,

[3] O'Callaghan, 1:124. Although it was said that Kiliaen van Rensselaer
visited America, it seems to be established that he never did. He
governed his estate as an absentee landgrave, through agents. He was the
most powerful of all of the patroons.

[4] Ibid., 125.

[5] Colonial Documents, 1:41. The primary object of this company was a
monopoly of the Indian trade, not colonization. The "princely" manors
were a combination fort and trading house, surrounded by moat and

[6] Colonial Documents, 1:86.

[7] "Annals of Albany," iii:287. The power of the patroons over their
tenants, or serfs, was almost unlimited. No "man or woman, son or
daughter, man servant or maid servant" could leave a patroon's service
during the time that they had agreed to remain, except by his written
consent, no matter what abuses or breaches of contract were committed by
the patroon.

[8] "Burghers and Freemen of New York":29.



While this seizure of land was going on in New Netherlands, vast areas
in New England were passing suddenly into the hands of a few men. These
areas sometimes comprised what are now entire States, and were often
palpably obtained by fraud, collusion, trickery or favoritism. The
Puritan influx into Massachusetts was an admixture of different
occupations. Some were traders or merchants; others were mechanics. By
far the largest portion were cultivators of the soil whom economic
pressure not less than religious persecution had driven from England. To
these land was a paramount consideration.

Describing how the English tiller had been expropriated from the soil
Wallace says: "The ingenuity of lawyers and direct landlord legislation
steadily increased the powers of great landowners and encroached upon
the rights of the people, till at length the monstrous doctrine arose
that a landless Englishman has no right whatever to enjoyment even of
the unenclosed commons and heaths and the mountain and forest wastes of
his native country, but is everywhere in the eye of the law a trespasser
whenever he ventures off a public road or pathway."[9] By the sixteenth
century the English peasantry had been evicted even from the commons,
which were turned into sheep walks by the impoverished barons to make
money from the Flemish wool market. The land at home wrenched from them,
the poor English immigrants ardently expected that in America land would
be plentiful. They were bitterly disappointed. The various English
companies, chartered by royal command with all-inclusive powers, despite
the frequent opposition of Parliament, held the trade and land of the
greater part of the colonies as a rigid monopoly. In the case of the New
England Company severe punishment was threatened to all who should
encroach upon its rights. It also was freed from payment for twenty-one
years and was relieved from taxes forever.


The New England colonies were carved out into a few colossal private
estates. The example of the British nobility was emulated; but the
chartered companies did not have to resort to the adroit, disingenuous,
subterranean methods which the English land magnates used in
perpetuating their seizure, as so graphically described by S. W.
Thackery in his work, "The Land and the Community". The land in New
England was taken over boldly and arbitrarily by the directors of the
Plymouth Company, the most powerful of all the companies which exploited
New England. The handful of men who participated in this division,
sustained with a high hand their claims and pretensions, and augmented
and fortified them by every device. Quite regardless of who the changing
monarch was, or what country ruled, these colonial magnates generally
contrived to keep the power strong in their own hands. There might be a
superficial show of changed conditions, an apparent infusion of
democracy, but, in reality, the substance remained the same.

This was nowhere more lucidly or strikingly illustrated than after New
Netherlands passed into the control of the English and was renamed New
York. Laws were decreed which seemed to bear the impress of justice and
democracy. Monopoly was abolished, every man was given the much-prized
right of trading in furs and pelts, and the burgher right was extended
and its acquisition made easier.

However well-intentioned these altered laws were, they turned out to be
shallow delusions. Under English rule, the gifts of vast estates in New
York were even greater than under Dutch rule and beyond doubt were
granted corruptly or by favoritism. Miles upon miles of land in New York
which had not been preëmpted were brazenly given away by the royal
Governor Fletcher for bribes; and it was suspected, although not clearly
proved, that he trafficked in estates in Pennsylvania during the time
when, by royal order, he supplanted William Penn in the government of
that province. From the evidence which has come down it would appear
that any one who offered Fletcher his price could be transformed into a
great vested land owner. But still the people imagined that they had a
real democratic government. Had not England established representative
assemblies? These, with certain restrictions, alone had the power of
law-making for the provinces. These representative bodies were supposed
to rest upon the vote of the people, which vote, however, was determined
by a strict property qualification.


What really happened was that, apparently deprived of direct feudal
power, the landed interests had no difficulty in retaining their
law-making ascendancy by getting control of the various provincial
assemblies. Bodies supposedly representative of the whole people were,
in fact, composed of great landowners, of a quota of merchants who were
subservient to the landowners, and a sprinkling of farmers. In Virginia
this state was long-continuing, while in New York province it became
such an intolerable abuse and resulted in such oppressions to the body
of the people, that on Sept. 20, 1764, Lieutenant-Governor Cadwallader
Colden, writing from New York to the Lords of Trade at London, strongly
expostulated. He described how the land magnates had devised to set
themselves up as the law-making class. Three of the large land grants
contained provisions guaranteeing to each owner the privilege of sending
a representative to the General Assembly. These landed proprietors,
therefore, became hereditary legislators. "The owners of other great
Patents," Colden continued, "being men of the greatest opulence in the
several American counties where these Tracts are, have sufficient
influence to be perpetually elected for those counties. The General
Assembly, then, of this Province consists of the owners of these
extravagant Grants, the merchants of New York, the principal of them
strongly connected with the owners of these Great Tracts by Family
interest, and of Common Farmers, which last are men easily deluded and
led away with popular arguments of Liberty and Privileges. The
Proprietors of the great tracts are not only freed from the quit rents
which the other landholders in the Provinces pay, but by their
influences in the Assembly are freed from every other public Tax on
their lands."[10]

What Colden wrote of the landed class of New York was substantially true
of all the other provinces. The small, powerful clique of great
landowners had cunningly taken over to themselves the functions of
government and diverted them to their own ends. First the land was
seized and then it was declared exempt of taxation.

Inevitably there was but one sequel. Everywhere, but especially so in
New York and Virginia, the landed proprietors became richer and more
arrogant, while poverty, even in new country with extraordinary
resources, took root and continued to grow. The burden of taxation fell
entirely upon the farming and laboring classes; although the merchants
were nominally taxed they easily shifted their obligations upon those
two classes by indirect means of trade. Usurious loans and mortgages
became prevalent.

It was now seen what meaningless tinsel the unrestricted right to trade
in furs was. To get the furs access to the land was necessary; and the
land was monopolized. In the South, where tobacco and corn were the
important staples, the worker was likewise denied the soil except as a
laborer or tenant, and in Massachusetts colony, where fortunes were
being made from timber, furs and fisheries, the poor man had practically
no chance against the superior advantages of the landed and privileged
class. These conditions led to severe reprisals. Several uprisings in
New York, Bacon's rebellion in Virginia, after the restoration of
Charles II, when that king granted large tracts of land belonging to the
colony to his favorites, and subsequently, in 1734, a ferment in
Georgia, even under the mild proprietary rule of the philanthropist
Oglethorpe, were all really outbursts of popular discontent largely
against the oppressive form in which land was held and against
discriminative taxation, although each uprising had its local issues
differing from those elsewhere.

In this conflict between landed class and people, the only hope of the
mass of the people lay in getting the favorable attention of royal
governors. At least one of these considered earnestly and
conscientiously the grave existing abuses and responded to popular
protest which had become bitter.


This official was the Earl of Bellomont. Scarcely had he arrived after
his appointment as Captain-General and Governor of Massachusetts Bay,
New York and other provinces, when he was made acquainted with the
widespread discontent. The landed magnates had not only created an
abysmal difference between themselves and the masses in possessions and
privileges, but also in dress and air, founded upon strict distinctions
in law. The landed aristocrat with his laces and ruffles, his silks and
his gold and silver ornaments and his expensive tableware, his
consciously superior air and tone of grandiose authority, was far
removed in established position from the mechanic or the laborer with
his coarse clothes and mean habitation. Laws were long in force in
various provinces which prohibited the common people from wearing gold
and silver lace, silks and ornaments. Bellomont noted the sense of deep
injustice smouldering in the minds of the people and set out to
confiscate the great estates, particularly, as he set forth, as many of
them had been obtained by bribery.

It was with amazement that Bellomont learned that one man, Colonel
Samuel Allen, claimed to own the whole of what is now the state of New
Hampshire. When, in 1635, the Plymouth Colony was about to surrender its
charter, its directors apportioned their territory to themselves
individually. New Hampshire went by lot to Captain John Mason who, some
years before, had obtained a patent to the same area from the company.
Charles I had confirmed the company's action. After Mason's death, his
claims were bought up by Allen for about $1,250. Mason, however, left an
heir and protracted litigation followed. In the meantime, settlers
taking advantage of these conflicting claims, proceeded to spread over
New Hampshire and hew the forests for cleared agricultural land. Allen
managed to get himself appointed governor of New Hampshire in 1692 and
declared the whole province his personal property and threatened to oust
the settlers as trespassers unless they came to terms. There was
imminent danger of an uprising of the settlers, who failed to see why
the land upon which they had spent labor did not belong to them.
Bellomont investigated; and in communication, dated June 22, 1700, to
the Lords of Trade, denounced Allen's title as defective and
insufficient, and brought out the charge that Allen had tried to get his
confirmation of his, Allen's, claims by means of a heavy bribe.


"There was an offer made me," Bellomont wrote, "of £10,000 in money, but
I thank God I had not the least tempting thought to accept of the offer
and I hope nothing in this world will ever be able to attempt me to
betray England in the least degree. This offer was made me three or four
times." Bellomont added: "I will make it appear that the lands and woods
claimed by Colonel Allen are much more valuable than ten of the biggest
estates in England, and I will rate those ten estates at £300,000 a
piece, one with another, which is three millions. By his own confession
to me at Pescattaway last summer, he valued the Quit Rents of his lands
(as he calls 'em) at £22,000 per annum at 3d per acre of 6d in the pound
of all improv'd Rents; then I leave your lordships to judge what an
immense estate the improv'd rents must be, which (if his title be
allowed) he has as good a right to the forementioned Quit Rents. And all
this besides the Woods which I believe he might very well value at half
the worth of the lands. There never was, I believe, since the world
began so great a bargain as Allen has had of Mason, if it be allowed to
stand good, that all this vast estate I have been naming should be
purchased for a poor £250 and that a desperate debt, too, as Col. Allen
thought. He pretends to a great part of this province as far Westward as
Cape St. Ann, which is said to take in 17 of the best towns in this
province next to Boston, the best improved land, and, (I think Col.
Allen told me) 8 or 900,000 acres of their land. If Col. Allen shall at
any time go about to make a forcible entry on these lands he pretends to
(for, to be sure, the people will never turn tenants to him willingly)
the present occupants will resist him by any force he shall bring and
the Province will be put to a combustion and what may be the course I
dread to think."...[11]

But the persistent Allen did not establish his claim. Several times he
lost in the litigation, the last time in 1715. His death was followed by
his son's death; and after sixty years of fierce animosities and
litigation, the whole contention was allowed to lapse. Says Lodge: "His
heirs were minors who did not push the controversy, and the claim soon
sank out of sight to the great relief of the New Hampshire people, whose
right to their homes had so long been in question."[12]

Similarly, another area, the entirety of what is now the State of Maine,
went to the individual ownership of Sir Fernandino Gorges, the same who
had betrayed Essex to Queen Elizabeth and who had received rich rewards
for his treachery.[13] The domain descended to his grandson, Fernando
Gorges, who, on March 13, 1677, sold it by deed to John Usher, a Boston
merchant, for £1,250. The ominous dissatisfaction of the New Hampshire
and other settlers with the monopolization of land was not slighted by
the English government; at the very time Usher bought Maine the
government was on the point of doing the same thing and opening the land
for settlement. Usher at once gave a deed of the province to the
governor and company of Massachusetts, of which colony and later, State,
it remained a part until its creation as a State in 1820.[14]

These were two notable instances of vast land grants which reverted to
the people. In most of the colonies the popular outcry for free access
to the land was not so effective. In Pennsylvania, after the government
was restored to Penn, and in part of New Jersey conditions were more
favorable to the settlers. In those colonies corrupt usurpations of the
land were comparatively few, although the proprietary families continued
to hold extensive tracts. Penn's sons by his second wife, for instance,
became men of great wealth.[15] The pacific and conciliatory Quaker
faith operated as a check on any local extraordinary misuse of power.
Unfortunately for historical accuracy and penetration, there is an
obscurity as to the intimate circumstances under which many of the large
private estates in the South were obtained. The general facts as to
their grants, of course, are well known, but the same specific,
underlying details, such as may be disinterred from Bellomont's
correspondence, are lacking. In New York, at least, and presumably
during Fletcher's sway of government in Pennsylvania, great land grants
went for bribes. This is definitely brought out in Bellomont's official


Fletcher, it would seem, had carried on a brisk traffic in creating by a
stroke of the quill powerfully rich families by simply granting them
domains in return for bribes.

Captain John R. N. Evans had been in command of the royal warship
Richmond. An estate was his fervent ambition. Fletcher's mandate gave
him a grant of land running forty miles one way, and thirty another, on
the west bank of the Hudson. Beginning at the south line of the present
town of New Paltry, Ulster County, it included the southern tier of the
now existing towns in that picturesque county, two-thirds of the fertile
undulations of Orange County and a part of the present town of
Haverstraw. It is related of this area, that there was "but one house on
it, or rather a hut, where a poor man lives." Notwithstanding this lone,
solitary subject, Evans saw great trading and seignorial possibilities
in his tract. And what did he pay for this immense stretch of
territory? A very modest bribe; common report had it that he gave
Fletcher £100 for the grant.[16]

Nicholas Bayard, of whom it is told that he was a handy go-between in
arranging with the sea pirates the price that they should pay for
Fletcher's protection, was another favored personage. Bayard was the
recipient of a grant forty miles long and thirty broad on both sides of
Schoharie Creek. Col. William Smith's prize was a grant from Fletcher of
an estate fifty miles in length on Nassau--now Long Island. According to
Bellomont, Smith got this land "arbitrarily and by strong hand." Smith
was in collusion with Fletcher, and moreover, was chief justice of the
province, "a place of great awe as well as authority." This judicial
land wrester forced the town of Southampton to accept the insignificant
sum of £10 for the greater part of forty miles of beach--a singularly
profitable transaction for Smith, who cleared in one year £500, the
proceeds of whales taken there, as he admitted to Bellomont.[17] Henry
Beekman, the astute and smooth founder of a rich and powerful family,
was made a magnate of the first importance by a grant from Fletcher of a
tract sixteen miles in length in Dutchess County, and also of another
estate running twenty miles along the Hudson and eight miles inland.
This estate he valued at £5,000.[18] Likewise Peter Schuyler, Godfrey
Dellius and their associates had conjointly secured by Fletcher's
patent, a grant fifty miles long in the romantic Mohawk Valley--a grant
which "the Mohawk Indians have often complained of". Upon this estate
they placed a value of £25,000. This was a towering fortune for the
period; in its actual command of labor, necessities, comforts and
luxuries it ranked as a power of transcending importance.

These were some of the big estates created by "Colonel Fletcher's
intolerable corrupt selling away the lands of this Province," as
Bellomont termed it in his communication to the Lords of Trade of Nov.
28, 1700. Fletcher, it was set forth, profited richly by these corrupt
grants. He got in bribes, it was charged, at least £4,000.[19] But
Fletcher was not the only corrupt official. In his interesting work on
the times,[20] George W. Schuyler presents what is an undoubtedly
accurate description of how Robert Livingston, progenitor of a rich and
potent family which for generations exercised a profound influence in
politics and other public affairs, contrived to get together an estate
which soon ranked as the second largest in New York state and as one of
the greatest in the colonies.

Livingston was the younger son of a poor exiled clergyman. In currying
favor with one official after another he was unscrupulous, dexterous and
adaptable. He invariably changed his politics with the change of
administration. In less than a year after his arrival he was appointed
to an office which yielded him a good income. This office he held for
nearly half a century, and simultaneously was the incumbent of other
lucrative posts. Offices were created by Governor Dongan apparently for
his sole benefit. His passion was to get together an estate which would
equal the largest. Extremely penurious, he loaned money at frightfully
usurious rates and hounded his victims without a vestige of
sympathy.[21] As a trader and government contractor he made enormous
profits; such was his cohesive collusion with high officials that
competitors found it impossible to outdo him. A current saying of him
was that he made a fortune by "pinching the bellies of the
soldiers"--that is, as an army contractor who defrauded in quantity and
quality of supplies. By a multitude of underhand and ignoble artifices
he finally found himself the lord of a manor sixteen miles long and
twenty-four broad. On this estate he built flour and saw mills, a bakery
and a brewery. In his advanced old age he exhibited great piety but held
on grimly to every shilling that he could and as long as he could. When
he died about 1728--the exact date is unknown--at the age of 74 years,
he left an estate which was considered of such colossal value that its
true value was concealed for fear of further enraging the discontented


The seizure of these vast estates and the arbitrary exclusion of the
many from the land produced a combustible situation. An instantaneous
and distinct cleavage of class divisions was the result. Intrenched in
their possessions the landed class looked down with haughty disdain upon
the farming and laboring classes. On the other hand, the farm laborer
with his sixteen hours work a day for a forty-cent wage, the carpenter
straining for his fifty-two cents a day, the shoemaker drudging for his
seventy-three cents a day and the blacksmith for his seventy cents,[22]
thought over this injustice as they bent over their tasks. They could
sweat through their lifetime at honest labor, producing something of
value and yet be a constant prey to poverty while a few men, by means of
bribes, had possessed themselves of estates worth tens of thousands of
pounds and had preëmpted great stretches of the available lands.

In consulting extant historical works it is noticeable that they give
but the merest shadowy glimpse of this intense bitterness of what were
called the lower classes, and of the incessant struggle now raging, now
smouldering, between the landed aristocracy and the common people.
Contrary to the roseate descriptions often given of the independent
position of the settlers at that time, it was a time when the use and
misuse of law brought about sharp divisions of class lines which arose
from artificially created inequalities, economically and politically.
With the great landed estates came tenantry, wage slavery and chattel
slavery, the one condition the natural generator of the others.

The rebellious tendency of the poor colonists against becoming tenants,
and the usurpation of the land, were clearly brought out by Bellomont in
a letter written on Nov. 28, 1700, to the Lords of Trade. He complained
that "people are so cramped here for want of land that several families
within my own knowledge and observation are remov'd to the new country
(a name they give to Pennsylvania and the Jerseys) for, to use Mr.
Graham's expression to me, and that often repeated, too, what man will
be such a fool as to become a base tenant to Mr. Dellius, Colonel
Schuyler, Mr. Livingston (and so he ran through the whole role of our
mighty landgraves) when for crossing Hudson's River that man can, for a
song, purchase a good freehold in the Jerseys."

If the immigrant happened to be able to muster a sufficient sum he
could, indeed, become an independent agriculturist in New Jersey and in
parts of Pennsylvania and provide himself with the tools of trade. But
many immigrants landed with empty pockets and became laborers dependent
upon the favor of the landed proprietors. As for the artisans--the
carpenters, masons, tailors, blacksmiths--they either kept to the cities
and towns where their trade principally lay, or bonded themselves to the
lords of the manors.


Bellomont fully understood the serious evils which had been injected
into the body politic and strongly applied himself to the task of
confiscating the great estates. One of his first proposals was to urge
upon the Lords of Trade the restriction of all governors throughout the
colonies from granting more than a thousand acres to any man without
leave from the king, and putting a quit rent of half a crown on every
hundred acres, this sum to go to the royal treasury. This suggestion was
not acted upon. He next attacked the assembly of New York and called
upon it to annul the great grants. In doing this he found that the most
powerful members of the assembly were themselves the great land owners
and were putting obstacle after obstacle in his path. After great
exertions he finally prevailed upon the assembly to vacate at least two
of the grants, those to Evans and Bayard. The assembly did this probably
as a sop to Bellomont and to public opinion, and because Evans and
Bayard had lesser influence than the other landed functionaries. But the
owners of the other estates tenaciously held them intact. The people
regarded Bellomont as a sincere and ardent reformer, but the landed men
and their following abused him as a meddler and destructionist.
Despairing of getting a self-interested assembly to act, Bellomont
appealed to the Lords of Trade:

"If your Lordships mean I shall go on to break the rest of the
extravagant grants of land by Colonel Fletcher or other governors, by
act of assembly, I shall stand in need of a peremptory order from the
King so to do."[23] A month later he insisted to his superiors at home
that if they intended that the corrupt and extravagant grants should be
confiscated--"(which I will be bold to say by all the rules of reason
and justice ought to be done) I believe it must be done by act of
Parliament in England, for I am a little jealous I shall not have
strength enough in the assembly of New York to break them." The majority
of this body, he pointed out, were landed men, and when their own
interest was touched, they declined to act contrary to it. Unless, added
Bellomont, "the power of our Palatines, Smith, Livingston, the Phillips,
father and son[24]--and six or seven more were reduced ... the country
is ruined."[25]

Despite some occasional breaches in its intrenchments, the landocracy
continued to rule everywhere with a high hand, its power, as a whole,


A glancing picture of one of these landed proprietors will show the
manner in which they lived and what was then accounted their luxury. As
one of the "foremost men of his day," in the colonies Colonel Smith
lived in befitting style. This stern, bushy-eyed man who robbed the
community of a vast tract of land and who, as chief justice, was
inflexibly severe in dealing punishment to petty criminals and ever
vigilant in upholding the rights of property, was lord of the Manor of
St. George, Suffolk County. The finest silks and lace covered his
judicial person. His embroidered belts, costing £110, at once attested
his great wealth and high station. He had the extraordinary number of
one hundred and four silver buttons to adorn his clothing. When he
walked a heavy silver-headed cane supported him, and he rode on a fancy
velvet saddle. His three swords were of the finest make; occasionally he
affected a Turkish scimeter. Few watches in the colonies could compare
with his massive silver watch. His table was embellished with heavy
silver plate, valued at £150, on which his coat-of-arms was engraved.
Twelve negro slaves responded to his nod; he had a large corps of
bounded apprentices and dependant laborers. His mansion looked down on
twenty acres of wheat and twenty of corn; and as for his horses and
cattle they were the envy of the country. In his last year thirty horses
were his, fourteen oxen, sixty steers, forty-eight cows and two
bulls.[26] He lived high, drank, swore, cheated--and administered

One of the best and most intimate descriptions of a somewhat
contemporaneous landed magnate in the South is that given of Robert
Carter, a Virginia planter, by Philip Vickers Fithian,[27] a tutor in
Carter's family. Carter came to his estate from his grandfather, whose
land and other possessions were looked upon as so extensive that he was
called "King" Carter.

Robert Carter luxuriated in Nomini Hall, a great colonial mansion in
Westmoreland County. It was built between 1725 and 1732 of brick covered
with strong mortar, which imparted a perfectly white exterior, and was
seventy-six feet long and forty wide. The interior was one of unusual
splendor for the time, such as only the very rich could afford. There
were eight large rooms, one of which was a ball-room thirty feet long.
Carter spent most of his leisure hours cultivating the study of law and
of music; his library contained 1,500 volumes and he had a varied
assortment of musical instruments. He was the owner of 60,000 acres of
land spread over almost every county of Virginia, and he was the master
of six hundred negro slaves. The greater part of a prosperous iron-works
near Baltimore was owned by him, and near his mansion he built a flour
mill equipped to turn out 25,000 bushels of wheat a year. Carter was not
only one of the big planters but one of the big capitalists of the age;
all that he had to do was to exercise a general supervision; his
overseers saw to the running of his various industries. Like the other
large landholders he was one of the active governing class; as a member
of the Provincial Council he had great influence in the making of laws.
He was a thorough gentleman, we are told, and took good care of his
slaves and of his white laborers who were grouped in workhouses and
little cottages within range of his mansion. Within his domain he
exercised a sort of benevolent despotism. He was one of the first few to
see that chattel slavery could not compete in efficiency with white
labor, and he reckoned that more money could be made from the white
laborer, for whom no responsibility of shelter, clothing, food and
attendance had to be assumed than from the negro slave, whose sickness,
disability or death entailed direct financial loss. Before his death he
emancipated a number of his slaves. This, in brief, is the rather
flattering depiction of one of the conspicuously rich planters of the


Land continued to be the chief source of the wealth of the rich until
after the Revolution. The discriminative laws enacted by England had
held down the progress of the trading class; these laws overthrown, the
traders rose rapidly from a subordinate position to the supreme class in
point of wealth.

No close research into pre-Revolutionary currents and movements is
necessary to understand that the Revolution was brought about by the
dissatisfied trading class as the only means of securing absolute
freedom of trade. Notwithstanding the view often presented that it was
an altruistic movement for the freedom of man, it was essentially an
economic struggle fathered by the trading class and by a part of the
landed interests. Admixed was a sincere aim to establish free political
conditions. This, however, was not an aim for the benefit of all
classes, but merely one for the better interests of the propertied
class. The poverty-stricken soldiers who fought for their cause found
after the war that the machinery of government was devised to shut out
manhood suffrage and keep the power intact in the hands of the rich. Had
it not been for radicals such as Jefferson, Paine and others it is
doubtful whether such concessions as were made to the people would have
been made. The long struggle in various States for manhood suffrage
sufficiently attests the deliberate aim of the propertied interests to
concentrate in their own hands, and in that of a following favorable to
them, the voting power of the Government and of the States.

With the success of the Revolution, the trading class bounded to the
first rank. Entail and primogeniture were abolished and the great
estates gradually melted away. For more than a century and a half the
landed interests had dominated the social and political arena. As an
acknowledged, continuous organization they ceased to exist. Great
estates no longer passed unimpaired from generation to generation,
surviving as a distinct entity throughout all changes. They perforce
were partitioned among all the children; and through the vicissitudes of
subsequent years, passed bit by bit into many hands. Altered laws caused
a gradual disintegration in the case of individual holdings, but brought
no change in instances of corporate ownership. The Trinity Corporation
of New York City, for example, has held on to the vast estate which it
was given before the Revolution except such parts as it voluntarily has


The individual magnate, however, had no choice. He could no longer
entail his estates. Thus, estates which were very large before the
Revolution, and which were regarded with astonishment, ceased to exist.
The landed interests, however, remained paramount for several decades
after the Revolution by reason of the acceleration which long possession
and its profits had given them. Washington's fortune, amounting at his
death, to $530,000, was one of the largest in the country and consisted
mainly of land. He owned 9,744 acres, valued at $10 an acre, on the Ohio
River in Virginia, 3,075 acres, worth $200,000, on the Great Kenawa, and
also land elsewhere in Virginia and in Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York,
Kentucky, the City of Washington and other places.[28] About half a
century later it was only by persistent gatherings of public
contributions that his very home was saved to the nation, so had his
estate become divided and run down. After a long career, Benjamin
Franklin acquired what was considered a large fortune. But it did not
come from manufacture or invention, which he did so much to encourage,
but from land. His estate in 1788, two years before his death, was
estimated to be worth $150,000, mostly in land.[29] By the opening
decades of the nineteenth century few of the great estates in New York
remained. One of the last of the patroons was Stephen Van Rensselaer,
who died at the age of 75 on Jan. 26, 1839, leaving ten children. Up to
this time the manor had devolved upon the eldest son. Although it had
been diminished somewhat by various cessions, it was still of great
extent. The property was divided among the ten children, and, according
to Schuyler, "In less than fifty years after his death, the seven
hundred thousand acres originally in the manor were in the hands of

Long before old Van Rensselaer passed away he had seen the rise and
growth of the trading and manufacturing class and a new form of landed
aristocracy, and he observed with a haughty bitterness how in point of
wealth and power they far overshadowed the well-nigh defunct old feudal
aristocracy. A few hundred thousand dollars no longer was the summit of
a great fortune; the age of the millionaire had come. The lordly,
leisurely environment of the old landed class had been supplanted by
feverish trading and industrial activity which imposed upon society its
own newer standards, doctrines and ideals and made them uppermost


[9] "Land Nationalization,":122-125.

[10] Colonial Documents, vii:654-655.

[11] Colonial Documents, iv:673-674.

[12] "A Short History of the English Colonies in America":402.

[13] Yet, this fortune seeker, who had incurred the contempt of every
noble English mind, is described by one of the class of
power-worshipping historians as follows: "Fame and wealth, so often the
idols of _Superior Intellect_, were the prominent objects of this
aspiring man."--Williamson's "History of Maine," 1:305.

[14] The Public Domain: Its History, etc.:38.

[15] Pennsylvania: Colony and Commonwealth:66, 84, etc. Their claim to
inherit proprietary rights was bought at the time of the Revolutionary
War by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania for £130,000 sterling or about

[16] Colonial Documents, iv:463.

[17] Ibid.:535.

[18] Ibid.:39.

[19] Colonial Documents, iv:528. One of Bellomont's chief complaints was
that the landgraves monopolized the timber supply. He recommended the
passage of a law vesting in the King the right to all trees such as were
fit for masts of ships or for other use in building ships of war.

[20] "Colonial New York," 1:285-286.

[21] According to Reynolds's "Albany Chronicles," Livingston was in
collusion with Captain Kidd, the sea pirate. Reynolds also tells that
Livingston loaned money at ten per cent.

[22] Wright's "Industrial Evolution in the United States"; see also his
article "Wages" in Johnson's Encyclopædia. The New York Colonial
Documents relate that in 1699 in the three provinces of Bellomont's
jurisdiction, "the laboring man received three shillings a day, which
was considered dear," iv:588.

[23] Colonial Documents, iv:533-554.

[24] Frederick and his son Adolphus. Frederick was the employer of the
pirate, Captain Samuel Burgess of New York, who at first was sent out by
Phillips to Madagascar to trade with the pirates and who then turned
pirate himself. From the first voyage Phillips and Burgess cleared
together £5,000, the proceeds of trade and slaves. The second voyage
yielded £10,000 and three hundred slaves. Burgess married a relative of
Phillips and continued piracy, but was caught and imprisoned in Newgate.
Phillips spent great sums of money to save him and succeeded. Burgess
resumed piracy and met death from poisoning in Africa while engaged in
carrying off slaves.--"The Lives and Bloody Exploits of the Most Noted
Pirates":177-183. This work was a serious study of the different sea

[25] Colonial Docs, iv:533-534. On November 27, 1700, Bellomont wrote to
the Lords of the Treasury: "I can supply the King and all his dominions
with naval stores (except flax and hemp) from this province and New
Hampshire, but then your Lordships and the rest of the Ministers must
break through Coll. Fletcher's most corrupt grants of all the lands and
woods of this province which I think is the most impudent villainy I
ever heard or read of any man," iv:780.

[26] This is the inventory given in "Abstracts of Wills," 1:323.

[27] "Journal and Letters," 1767-1774.

[28] Sparks' "Life of Washington," Appendix, ix:557-559.

[29] Bigelow's "Life of Franklin," iii:470.

[30] "Colonial New York," 1:232.



The creation of the great landed estates was accompanied by the slow
development of the small trader and merchant. Necessarily, they first
established themselves in the sea ports where business was concentrated.

Many obstacles long held them down to a narrow sphere. The great
chartered companies monopolized the profitable resources. The land
magnates exacted tribute for the slightest privilege granted. Drastic
laws forbade competition with the companies, and the power of law and
the severities of class government were severely felt by the merchants.
The chartered corporations and the land dignitaries were often one group
with an identity of men and interests. Against their strength and
capital the petty trader or merchant could not prevail. Daring and
enterprising though he be, he was forced to a certain compressed routine
of business. He could sell the goods which the companies sold to him but
could not undertake to set up manufacturing. And after the companies had
passed away, the landed aristocracy used its power to suppress all undue
initiative on his part.


This was especially so in New York, where all power was concentrated in
the hands of a few landowners. "To say," says Sabine, "that the
political institutions of New York formed a feudal aristocracy is to
define them with tolerable accuracy. The soil was owned by a few. The
masses were mere retainers or tenants as in the monarchies of
Europe."[31] The feudal lord was also the dominant manufacturer and
trader. He forced his tenants to sign covenants that they should trade
in nothing else than the produce of the manor; that they should trade
nowhere else but at his store; that they should grind their flour at his
mill, and buy bread at his bakery, lumber at his sawmills and liquor at
his brewery. Thus he was not only able to squeeze the last penny from
them by exorbitant prices, but it was in his power to keep them
everlastingly in debt to him. He claimed, and held, a monopoly in his
domain of whatever trade he could seize. These feudal tenures were
established in law; woe to the tenant who presumed to infract them! He
became a criminal and was punished as a felon. The petty merchant could
not, and dared not, compete with the trading monopolies of the manorial
lords within these feudal jurisdictions. In such a system the merchant's
place for a century and a half was a minor one, although far above that
of the drudging laborer. Merchants resorted to sharp and frequently
dubious ways of getting money together. They bargained and sold
shrewdly, kept their wits ever open, turned sycophant to the aristocracy
and a fleecer of the laborer.

It would appear that in New York, at least, the practice of the most
audacious usury was an early and favorite means of acquiring the
property of others. These others were invariably the mechanic or
laborer; the merchant dared not attempt to overreach the aristocrat
whose power he had good reason to fear. Money which was taken in by
selling rum and by wheedling the unsophisticated Indians into yielding
up valuable furs, was loaned at frightfully onerous rates. The loans
unpaid, the lender swooped mercilessly upon the property of the
unfortunate and gathered it in.

The richest merchant of his period in the province of New York was
Cornelius Steenwyck, a liquor merchant, who died in 1686. He left a
total estate of £4,382 and a long list of book debts which disclosed
that almost every man in New York City owed money to him, partly for
rum, in part for loans.[32] The same was true of Peter Jacob Marius, a
rich merchant who died in 1706, leaving behind a host of debtors, "which
included about all the male population on Manhattan Island."[33] This
eminent counter-man was "buried like a gentleman." At his funeral large
sums were spent for wine, cookies, pipes and tobacco, beer, spice for
burnt wine and sugar--all according to approved and reverent Dutch
fashion. The actual currency left by some of these rich men was a
curious conglomeration of almost every stamp, showing the results of a
mixed assemblage of customers. There were Spanish pistoles, guineas,
Arabian coin, bank dollars, Dutch and French money--a motley assortment
all carefully heaped together. Without doubt, those enterprising pirate
captains, Kidd and Burgess, and their crews, were good customers of
these accommodating and undiscriminating merchants. It was a time when
money was triply valued, for little of it passed in circulation. To a
people who traded largely by barter and whose media of exchange, for a
long time, were wampum, peltries and other articles, the touch and clink
of gold and silver were extremely precious and fascinating. Buccaneers
Kidd and Burgess deserved the credit for introducing into New York much
of the variegated gold and silver coin, and it was believed that they
long had some of the leading merchants as their allies in disposing of
their plundered goods, in giving them information and affording them


By one means or another, some of the New York merchants of the period
attained a standing in point of wealth equal to not a few of the land
magnates. William Lawrence of Flushing, Long Island, was "a man of great
wealth and social standing." Like the rest of his class he affected to
despise the merchant class. After his death, an inventory showed his
estate to be worth £4,032, mostly in land and in slaves, of which he
left ten.[34] While the landed men often spent much of their time
carousing, hunting, gambling, and dispersing their money, the merchants
were hawk-eyed alert for every opportunity to gather in money. They
wasted no time in frivolous pursuits, had no use for sentiment or
scruples, saved money in infinitesimal ways and thought and dreamed of
nothing but business.

Throughout the colonies, not excepting Pennsylvania, it was the general
practice of the merchants and traders to take advantage of the Indians
by cunning and treacherous methods. The agents of the chartered
companies and the land owners first started the trick of getting the
Indians drunk, and then obtaining, for almost nothing, the furs that
they had gathered--for a couple of bottles of rum, a blanket or an axe.
After the charters of the companies were annulled or expired, the
landgraves kept up the practice, and the merchants improved on it in
various ingenious ways. "The Indians," says Felt,[35] "were ever ready
to give up their furs for knives, hatchets, beads, blankets, and
especially were anxious to obtain tobacco, guns, powder, shot and strong
water; the latter being a powerful instrument enabling the cunning
trader to perpetuate the grossest frauds. Immense quantities of furs
were shipped to Europe at a great profit."

This description appropriately applied also to New York, New Jersey, and
the South. In New York there were severe laws against Indians who got
drunk, and in Massachusetts colony an Indian found drunk was subject to
a fine of ten shillings or whipping, at the discretion of the
magistrate. As to the whites who, for purposes of gain, got the Indians
drunk, the law was strangely inactive. Everyone knew that drink might
incite the Indians to uprisings and imperil the lives of men, women and
children. But the considerations of trade were stronger than even the
instinct of self-preservation and the practice went on, not infrequently
resulting in the butchery of innocent white victims and in great cost
and suspense to the whole community.

Strict laws which pronounced penalties for profaneness and for not
attending church, connived at the systematic defrauding and swindling of
the Indians of land and furs. Two strong considerations were held to
justify this. The first was that the Indians were heathen and must give
way to civilization; that they were fair prey. The demands of trade,
upon which the colonies flourished was the second. The fact was that the
code of the trading class was everywhere gradually becoming the dominant
one, even breaking down the austere, almost ascetic, Puritan moral
professions. Among the common people--those who were ordinary wage
laborers--the methods of the rich were looked upon with suspicion and
enmity, and there was a prevalent consciousness that wealth was being
amassed by one-sided laws and fraud. Some of the noted sea pirates of
the age made this their strong justification for preying upon

In Virginia the life of the community depended upon agriculture;
therefore slavery was thought to be its labor prop and was joyfully
welcomed and earnestly defended. In Massachusetts and New York trading
was an elemental factor, and whatever swelled the volume and profits was
accounted a blessing to the community and was held justified. Laws, the
judges who enforced them, and the spirit of the age reflected not so
much the morality of the people as their trading necessities. The one
was often mistaken for the other.


This condition was shown repeatedly in the trade conflicts of the
competing merchants, their system of bonded laborers and in the long
contests between the traders of the colonies and those of England,
culminating in the Revolution. In the churches the colonists prayed to
God as the Father of all men and showed great humility. But in actual
practice the propertied men recognized no such thing as equality and
dispensed with humility. The merchants imitated in a small way the
seignorial pretensions of the land nabobs. Few merchants there were who
did not deal in negro slaves, and few also were there who did not have a
bonded laborer or two, whose labor they monopolized and whose career was
their property for a long term of years. Limited bondage, called
apprenticeship, was general.

Penniless boys, girls and adults were impressed by sheer necessity into
service. Nicholas Auger, 10 years old, binds himself, in 1694, to
Wessell Evertson, a cooper, for a term of nine years, and swears that
"he will truly serve the commandments of his master Lawfull, shall do no
hurt to his master, nor waste nor purloin his goods, nor lend them to
anybody at Dice, or other unlawful game, shall not contract matrimony,
nor frequent taverns, shall not absent himself from his master's service
day or night." In return Evertson will teach Nicholas the trade of a
cooper, give him "apparell, meat, drink and bedding" and at the
expiration of the term will supply him with "two good suits of wearing
apparell from head to foot." Cornelius Hendricks, a laborer, binds
himself in 1695 as an apprentice and servant to John Molet for five
years. Hendricks is to get £3 current silver money and two suits of
apparell--one for holy days, the other for working days, and also board
is to be provided. Elizabeth Morris, a spinster, in consideration of her
transportation from England to New York on the barkentine, "Antegun,"
binds herself in 1696 as a servant to Captain William Kidd for four
years for board. When her term is over she is to get two dresses. These
are a few specific instances of the bonding system--a system which
served its purpose in being highly advantageous to the merchants and


Toward the close of the seventeenth century the merchants of Boston were
the richest in the colonies. Trade there was the briskest. By 1687,
according to the records of the Massachusetts Historical Society, there
were ten to fifteen merchants in Boston whose aggregate property
amounted to £50,000, or about £5,000 each, and five hundred persons who
were worth £3,000 each. Some of these fortunes came from furs, timber
and vending merchandise.

But the great stimuli were the fisheries of the New England coast.
Bellomont in 1700 ascribed the superior trade of Massachusetts to the
fact that Fletcher had corruptly sold the best lands in New York
province and had thus brought on bad conditions. Had it not been for
this, he wrote, New York "would outthrive the Massachusetts Province and
quickly outdoe them in people and trade." While the people of the South
took to agriculture as a main support, and the merchants of New York
were contented with the more comfortable method of taking in coin over
counters, a large proportion of the 12,000 inhabitants of Boston and
those of Salem and Plymouth braved dangers to drag the sea of its spoil.
They developed hardy traits of character, a bold adventurousness and a
singular independence of movement which in time engendered a bustling
race of traders who navigated the world for trade.

It was from shipping that the noted fortunes of the early decades of the
eighteenth century came. The origin of the means by which these fortunes
were got together lay greatly in the fisheries. The emblem of the
codfish in the Massachusetts State House is a survival of the days when
the fisheries were the great and most prolific sources of wealth and the
chief incentive of all kinds of trade. A tremendous energy was shown in
the hazards of the business. So thoroughly were the fisheries recognized
as important to the life of the whole New England community that vessels
were often built by public subscription, as was instanced in Plymouth,
where public subscription on one occasion defrayed the expense.[37]

In response to the general incessant demand for ships, the business of
shipbuilding soon sprang up; presently there were nearly thirty ship
yards in Boston alone and sixty ships a year were built. It was a
lucrative industry. The price of a vessel was dear, while the wages of
the carpenters, smiths, caulkers and sparmakers were low. Not a few of
the merchants and traders or their sons who made their money by
debauching and cheating the Indians went into this highly profitable
business and became men of greater wealth. By 1700 Boston was shipping
50,000 quintals of dried codfish every year. The fish was divided into
several kinds. The choice quality went to the Catholic countries, where
there was a great demand for it, principally to Bilboa, Lisbon and
Oporto. The refuse was shipped to the West India Islands for sale to the
negro slaves and laborers. The price varied. In 1699 it was eighteen
shillings a quintal; the next year, we read, it had fallen to twelve
shillings because the French fisheries had glutted the market


Along with the fisheries, considerable wealth was extracted in New
England, as elsewhere in the colonies, from the shipment of timber.
Sharp traders easily got the advantage of Indians and landowners in
buying the privilege of cutting timber. In some cases, particularly in
New Hampshire, which Allen claimed to own, the timber was simply taken
without leave. The word was passed that force was as good as force,
fraud as good as fraud. Allen had got the province by force and fraud;
let him stop the timber cutters if he dare. Ship timber was eagerly
sought in European ports. One Boston merchant is recorded as having
taken a cargo of this timber to Lisbon and clearing a profit of £1,600
on an expenditure of £300. "Everybody is excited," wrote Bellomont on
June 22, 1700, to the Lords Commissioners for Trades and Plantations.
"Some of the merchants of Salem are now loading a ship with 12,000 feet
of the noblest ships timber that was ever seen."[39]

The whale fishery sprang up about this time and brought in great
profits. The original method was to sight the whale from a lookout on
shore, push out in a boat, capture him and return to the shore with the
carcass. The oil was extracted from the blubber and readily sold. As
whales became scarce around the New England islands the whalers pushed
off into the ocean in small vessels. Within fifty years at least sixty
craft were engaged in the venture. By degrees larger and larger vessels
were built until they began to double Cape Horn, and were sometimes
absent from a year and a half to three years. The labors of the cruise
were often richly rewarded with a thousand barrels of sperm oil and two
hundred and fifty barrels of whale oil.


By the middle of the seventeenth century the colonial merchants were in
a position to establish manufactures to compete with the British. A
seafaring race and a mercantile fleet had come into a militant
existence; and ambitious designs were meditated of conquering a part of
the import and export trade held by the British. The colonial shipowner,
sending tobacco, corn, timber or fish to Europe did not see why he
should not load his ship with commodities on the return trip and make a
double profit. It was now that the British trading class peremptorily
stepped in and used the power of government to suppress in its infancy a
competition that alarmed them.

Heavy export duties were now declared on every colonial article which
would interfere with the monopoly which the British trading class held,
and aimed to hold, while the most exacting duties were put on
non-British imports. Colonial factories were killed off by summary
legislation. In 1699 Parliament enacted that no wool yarn or woolen
manufactures of the American colonies should be exported to any place
whatever. This was a destructive bit of legislation, as nearly every
colonial rural family kept sheep and raised flax and were getting expert
at the making of coarse linen and woolen cloths. No sooner had the
colonists begun to make paper than that industry was likewise choked.
With hats it was the same. The colonists had scarcely begun to export
hats to Spain, Portugal and the West Indies before the British Company
of Hatters called upon the Government to put a stop to this colonial
interference with their trade. An act was thereupon passed by Parliament
forbidding the exportation of hats from any American colony, and the
selling in one colony of hats made in another. Colonial iron mills began
to blast; they were promptly declared a nuisance, and Parliament ordered
that no mill or engine for slitting or rolling iron be used, but
graciously allowed pig and bar iron to be imported from England into the
colonies. Distilleries were common; molasses was extensively used in the
making of rum and also by the fishermen; a heavy duty was put upon
molasses and sugar as also on tea, nails, glass and paints. Smuggling
became general; a narrative of the adroit devices resorted to would make
an interesting tale.

These restrictive acts brought about various momentous results. They not
only arrayed the whole trading class against Great Britain, and in turn
the great body of the colonists, but they operated to keep down in size
and latitude the private fortunes by limiting the ways in which the
wealth of individuals could be employed. Much money was withdrawn from
active business and invested in land and mortgages. Still, despite the
crushing laws with which colonial capitalists had to contend, the
fisheries were an incessant source of profit. By 1765 they employed
4,000 seamen and had 28,000 tons of shipping and did a business
estimated at somewhat more than a million dollars.


[31] "Lives of the Loyalists,":18.

[32] "Abstracts of Wills," ii:444-445.

[33] Ibid., 1:323-324.

[34] "Abstracts of Wills," 1:108.

[35] "An Historical Account of Massachusetts Currency." See also
Colonial Documents, iii:242, and the Records of New Amsterdam. See the
chapters on the Astor fortune in Part II for full details of the methods
in debauching and swindling the Indians in trading operations.

[36] Thus Captain Bellamy's speech in 1717 to Captain Baer of Boston,
whose sloop he had just sunk and rifled: "I am sorry that they [his
crew] won't let you have your sloop again, for I scorn to do any one a
mischief when it is not for my advantage; damn the sloop, we must sink
her, and she might be of use to you. Though you are a sneaking puppy,
and so are all those who will submit to be governed by laws which rich
men have made for their own security--for the cowardly whelps have not
the courage otherwise to defend what they get by their knavery. But damn
ye altogether; damn them for a pack of crafty rascals, and ye who serve
them, for a parcel of hen-hearted numbskulls. They villify us, the
scoundrels do, when there is only this difference: they rob the poor
under cover of law, forsooth, and we plunder the rich under protection
of our own courage. Had you better not make one of us than sneak after
these villains for employment." Baer refused and was put ashore.--"The
Lives and Bloody Exploits of the Most Noted Pirates":129-130.

[37] "A Commercial Sketch of Boston," Hunt's Merchant's Magazine, 1839,

[38] Colonial Documents, iv:790.

[39] Ibid., 678.



Thus it was that at the time of the Revolution many of the consequential
fortunes were those of shipowners and were principally concentrated in
New England. Some of these dealt in merchandise only, while others made
large sums of money by exporting fish, tobacco, corn, rice and timber
and lading their ships on the return with negro slaves, for which they
found a responsive market in the South. Many of the members of the
Continental Congress were ship merchants, or inherited their fortunes
from rich shippers, as, for instance, Samuel Adams, Robert Morris, Henry
Laurens of Charleston, S. C., John Hancock, whose fortune of $350,000
came from his uncle Thomas, Francis Lewis of New York and Joseph Hewes
of North Carolina. Others were members of various Constitutional
conventions or became high officials in the Federal or State
governments. The Revolution disrupted and almost destroyed the colonial
shipping, and trade remained stagnant.


Not wholly so, for the hazardous venture of privateering offered great
returns. George Cabot of Boston was the son of an opulent shipowner.
During the Revolution, George, with his brother swept the coast with
twenty privateers carrying from sixteen to twenty guns each. For four or
five years their booty was rich and heavy, but toward the end of the
war, British gun-boats swooped on most of their craft and the brothers
lost heavily. George subsequently became a United States Senator. Israel
Thorndike, who began life as a cooper's apprentice and died in 1832 at
the age of 75, leaving a fortune, "the greatest that has ever been left
in New England,"[40] made large sums of money as part owner and
commander of a privateer which made many successful cruises. With this
money he went into fisheries, foreign commerce and real estate, and
later into manufacturing establishments. One of the towering rich men of
the day, we are told that "his investments in real estate, shipping or
factories were wonderfully judicious and hundreds watched his movements,
believing his pathway was safe." The fortune he bequeathed was ranked as
immense. To each of his three sons he left about $500,000 each, and
other sums to another son, and to his widow and daughters. In all, the
legacies to the surviving members of his family amounted to about

Another "distinguished merchant," as he was styled, to take up
privateering was Nathaniel Tracy, the son of a Newburyport merchant.
College bred, as were most of the sons of rich merchants, he started out
at the age of 25 with a number of privateers, and for many years
returned flushed with prizes. To quote his appreciative biographer: "He
lived in a most magnificent style, having several country seats or large
farms with elegant summer houses and fine fish ponds, and all those
matters of convenience or taste that a British nobleman might think
necessary to his rank and happiness. His horses were of the choicest
kind and his coaches of the most splendid make." But alas! this gorgeous
career was abruptly dispelled when unfeeling British frigates and
gun-boats hooked in his saucy privateers and Tracy stood quite ruined.

Much more fortunate was Joseph Peabody. As a young man Peabody enlisted
as an officer on Derby's privateer "Bunker Hill." His second cruise was
on Cabot's privateer "Pilgrim" which captured a richly cargoed British
merchantman. Returning to shore he studied for an education, later
resuming the privateer deck. Some of his exploits, as narrated by George
Atkinson Ward in "Hunt's Lives of American Merchants," published in
1856, were thrilling enough to have found a deserved place in a gory
novel. With the money made as his share of the various prizes, he bought
a vessel which he commanded himself, and he personally made sundry
voyages to Europe and the West Indies. By 1791 he had amassed a large
fortune. There was no further need of his going to sea; he was now a
great merchant and could pay others to take charge of his ships. These
increased to such an extent that he built in Salem and owned
eighty-three ships which he freighted and dispatched to every known part
of the world. Seven thousand seamen were in his employ. His vessels were
known in Calcutta, Canton, Sumatra, St. Petersburg and dozens of other
ports. They came back with cargoes which were distributed by coasting
vessels among the various American ports. It was with wonderment that
his contemporaries spoke of his paying an aggregate of about $200,000 in
State, county and city taxes in Salem, where he lived.[42] He died on
Jan. 5, 1844, aged 84 years.

Asa Clapp, who at his death in 1848, at the age of 85 years, was
credited with being the richest man in Maine,[43] began his career
during the Revolution as an officer on a privateer. After the war he
commanded various trading vessels, and in 1796 established a shipping
business of his own, with headquarters at Portland. His vessels traded
with Europe, the East and West Indies and South America. In his later
years he went into banking. Of the size of his fortune we are left in


These are instances of rich men whose original capital came from
privateering, which was recognized as a legitimate method of reprisal.
As to the inception of the fortunes of other prominent capitalists of
the period, few details are extant in the cases of most of them. Of the
antecedents and life of Thomas Russell, a Boston shipper, who died in
1796, "supposedly leaving the largest amount of property which up to
that time had been accumulated in New England," little is known. The
extent of his fortune cannot be learned. Russell was one of the first,
after the Revolution, to engage in trade with Russia, and drove many a
hard bargain. He built a stately mansion in Charleston and daily
traveled to Boston in a coach drawn by four black horses. In business he
was inflexible; trade considerations aside he was an alms-giver. Of
Cyrus Butler, another shipowner and trader, who, according to one
authority, was probably the richest man in New England[44]--and who,
according to the statement of another publication[45]--left a fortune
estimated at from three to four millions of dollars, few details
likewise are known. He was the son of Samuel Butler, a shoemaker who
removed from Edgartown, Mass., to Providence about 1750 and became a
merchant and shipowner. Cyrus followed in his steps. When this
millionaire died at the age of 82 in 1849, the size of his fortune
excited wonderment throughout New England. It may be here noted as a
fact worthy of comment that of the group of hale rich shipowners there
were few who did not live to be octogenarians.

The rapidity with which large fortunes were made was not a riddle. Labor
was cheap and unorganized, and the profits of trade were enormous.
According to Weeden the customary profits at the close of the eighteenth
century on muslins and calicoes were one hundred per cent. Cargoes of
coffee sometimes yielded three or four times that amount. Weeden
instances one shipment of plain glass tumblers costing less than $1,000
which sold for $12,000 in the Isle of France.[46]

The prospects of a dazzling fortune, speedily reaped, instigated owners
of capital to take the most perilous chances. Decayed ships,
superficially patched up, were often sent out on the chance that luck
and skill would get them through the voyage and yield fortunes. Crew
after crew was sacrificed to this frenzied rush for money, but nothing
was thought of it. Again, there were examples of almost incredible
temerity. In his biography of Peter Charndon Brooks, one of the
principal merchants of the day, and his father-in-law, Edward Everett
tells of a ship sailing from Calcutta to Boston with a youth of nineteen
in command. Why or how this boy was placed in charge is not explained.
This juvenile captain had nothing in the way of a chart on board except
a small map of the world in Guthrie's Geography. He made the trip
successfully. Later, when he became a rich Boston banker, the tale of
this feat was one of the proud annals of his life and, if true,
deservedly so.[47]

Whitney's notable invention of the cotton gin in 1793 had given a
stupendous impetus to cotton growing in the Southern States. As the
shipowners were chiefly centered in New England the export of this
staple vastly increased their trade and fortunes. It might be thought,
parenthetically, that Whitney himself should have made a surpassing
fortune from an invention which brought millions of dollars to planters
and traders. But his inventive ability and perseverance, at least in his
creation of the cotton gin, brought him little more than a multitude of
infringements upon his patent, refusals to pay him, and vexatious and
expensive litigation to sustain his rights.[48] In despair, he turned,
in 1808, to the manufacture in New Haven of fire-arms for the
Government, and from this business managed to get a fortune. From the
Canton and Calcutta trade Thomas Handasyd Perkins, a Boston shipper,
extracted a fortune of $2,000,000. His ships made thirty voyages around
the world. This merchant peer lived to the venerable age of 90; when he
passed away in 1854 his fortune, although intact, had shrunken to modest
proportions compared with a few others which had sprung up. James Lloyd,
a partner of Perkins', likewise profited; in 1808 he was elected a
United States Senator and later reëlected.

William Gray, described as "one of the most successful of American
merchants," and as one who was considered and taxed in Salem "as one of
the wealthiest men in the place, where there were several of the largest
fortunes that could be found in the United States," owned, in his
heyday, more than sixty sail of vessels. Some scant details are
obtainable as to the career and personality of this moneyed colossus of
his day. He began as an apprenticed mechanic. For more than fifty years
he rose at dawn and was shaved and dressed. His letters and papers were
then spread before him and the day's business was begun. At his death in
1825 no inventory of his estate was taken. The present millions of the
Brown fortune of Rhode Island came largely from the trading activities
of Nicholas Brown and the accretions of which increased population and
values have brought. Nicholas Brown was born in Providence in 1760, of a
well-to-do father. He went to Rhode Island College (later named in his
honor by reason of his gifts) and greatly increased his fortune in the
shipping trade.

It is quite needless, however, to give further instances in support of
the statement that nearly all the large active fortunes of the latter
part of the eighteenth and the early period of the nineteenth century,
came from the shipping trade and were mainly concentrated in New
England. The proceeds of these fortunes frequently were put into
factories, canals, turnpikes and later into railroads, telegraph lines
and express companies. Seldom, however, has the money thus employed
really gone to the descendants of the men who amassed it, but has since
passed over to men who, by superior cunning, have contrived to get the
wealth into their own hands. This statement is an anticipation of facts
that will be more cognate in subsequent chapters, but may be
appropriately referred to here. There were some exceptions to the
general condition of the large fortunes from shipping being compactly
held in New England. Thomas Pym Cope, a Philadelphia Quaker, did a brisk
shipping trade, and founded the first regular line of packets between
Philadelphia and Baltimore; with the money thus made he went into canal
and railroad enterprises. And in New York and other ports there were a
number of shippers who made fortunes of several millions each.


Obviously these millionaires created nothing except the enterprise of
distributing products made by the toil and skill of millions of workers
the world over. But while the workers made these products their sole
share was meager wages, barely sufficient to sustain the ordinary
demands of life. Moreover, the workers of one country were compelled to
pay exorbitant prices for the goods turned out by the workers of other
countries. The shippers who stood as middlemen between the workers of
the different countries reaped the great rewards. Nevertheless, it
should not be overlooked that the shippers played their distinct and
useful part in their time and age, the spirit of which was intensely
ultra-competitive and individualistic in the most sordid sense.


[40] "Hunt's Merchant's Magazine," 11:516-517.

[41] Allen's "Biographical Dictionary," Edition of 1857:791.

[42] Hunt's "Lives of American Merchants":382.

[43] Allen's "Biographical Dictionary," Edit. of 1857:227.

[44] Stryker's "American Register" for 1849:241.

[45] "The American Almanac" for 1850:324.

[46] "An Economic and Social History of New England," 11:825.

[47] Hunt's "Lives of American Merchants":139.

[48] Life of Eli Whitney, "Our Great Benefactors":567.



Unfortunately only the most general and eulogistic accounts of the
careers of most of the rich shippers have appeared in such biographies
as have been published.

Scarcely any details are preserved of the underlying methods and
circumstances by which these fortunes were amassed. Sixty years ago,
when it was the unqualified fashion to extol the men of wealth as great
public benefactors and truckle to them, and when sociological inquiry
was in an undeveloped stage, there might have been some excuse for this.
But it is extremely unsatisfactory to find pretentious writers of the
present day glossing over essential facts or not taking the trouble to
get them. A "popular writer," who has pretended to deal with the origin
of one of the great present fortunes, the Astor fortune, and has given
facts, although conventionally interpreted, as to one or two of Astor's
land transactions,[49] passes over with a sentence the fundamental facts
as to Astor's shipping activities, and entirely ignores the peculiar
special privileges, worth millions of dollars, that Astor, in
conjunction with other merchants, had as a free gift from the
Government. This omission is characteristic, inasmuch as it leaves the
reader in complete ignorance of the kind of methods Astor used in
heaping up millions from the shipping trade--millions that enabled him
to embark in the buying of land in a large and ambitious way. Certainly
there is no lack of data regarding the two foremost millionaires of the
first decades of the nineteenth century--Stephen Girard and John Jacob
Astor. The very names of nearly all of the other powerful merchants of
the age have receded into the densest obscurity. But both those of
Girard and Astor live vivifyingly, the first by virtue of a memorable
benefaction, the second as the founder of one of the greatest fortunes
in the world.


Because of their unexcelled success, these two were the targets for the
bitter invective or the envy of their competitors on the one hand, and,
on the other, of the laudation of their friends and beneficiaries. Harsh
statements were made as to the methods of both, but, in reality, if we
but knew the truth, they were no worse than the other millionaires of
the time except in degree. The whole trading system was founded upon a
combination of superior executive ability and superior cunning--not
ability in creating, but in being able to get hold of, and distribute,
the products of others' creation.

Fraudulent substitution was an active factor in many, if not all, of the
shipping fortunes. The shippers and merchants practiced the grossest
frauds upon the unsophisticated people. Walter Barrett, that pseudonymic
merchant, who took part in them himself, and who writes glibly of them
as fine tricks of trade, gives many instances in his volumes dealing
with the merchants of that time.

The firm of F. & G. Carnes, he relates, was one of the many which made a
large fortune in the China trade. This firm found that Chinese
yellow-dog wood, when cut into proper sizes, bore a strong superficial
resemblance to real Turkey rhubarb. The Carnes brothers proceeded to
have the wood packed in China in boxes counterfeiting those of the
Turkey product. They then made a regular traffic importing this spurious
and deleterious stuff and selling it as the genuine Turkey article at
several times the cost. It entirely superseded the real product. This
firm also sent to China samples of Italian, French and English silks;
the Chinese imitated them closely, and the bogus wares were imported
into the United States where they were sold as the genuine European
goods. The Carneses were but a type of their class. Writing of the trade
carried on by the shipping class, Barrett says that the shippers sent to
China samples of the most noted Paris and London products in sauces,
condiments, preserves, sweetmeats, syrups and other goods. The Chinese
imitated them even to fac-similies of printed Paris and London labels.
The fraudulent substitutions were then brought in cargoes to the United
States where they were sold at fancy prices.


This was the prevalent commercial system. The most infamous frauds were
carried on; and so dominant were the traders' standards that these
frauds passed as legitimate business methods. The very men who profited
by them were the mainstays of churches, and not only that, but they were
the very same men who formed the various self-constituted committees
which demanded severe laws against paupers and petty criminals. A study
of the names of the men, for instance, who comprised the New York
Society for the Prevention of Pauperism, 1818-1823, shows that nearly
all of them were shippers or merchants who participated in the current
commercial frauds. Yet this was the class that sat in judgment upon the
poverty of the people and the acts of poor criminals and which dictated
laws to legislatures and to Congress.

Girard and Astor were the superfine products of this system; they did in
a greater way what others did in a lesser way. As a consequence, their
careers were fairly well illumined. The envious attacks of their
competitors ascribed their success to hard-hearted and ignoble
qualities, while their admirers heaped upon them tributes of praise for
their extraordinary genius. Both sets exaggerated. Their success in
garnering millions was merely an abnormal manifestation of an ambition
prevalent among the trading class. Their methods were an adroit
refinement of methods which were common. The game was one in which,
while fortunes were being amassed, masses of people were thrown into the
direst poverty and their lives were attended by injustice and suffering.
In this game a large company of eminent merchants played; Girard and
Astor were peers in the playing and got away with the greater share of
the stakes.


Before describing Girard's career, it is well to cast a retrospective
fleeting glance into conditions following the Revolution.

Despite the lofty sentiments of the Declaration of
Independence--sentiments which were submerged by the propertied class
when the cause was won--the gravity of law bore wholly in favor of the
propertied interests. The propertyless had no place or recognition. The
common man was good enough to shoulder a musket in the stress of war but
that he should have rights after the war, was deemed absurd. In the
whole scheme of government neither the feelings nor the interests of the
worker were thought of.

The Revolution brought no immediate betterment to his conditions; such
slight amelioration as came later was the result of years of agitation.
No sooner was the Revolution over than in stepped the propertied
interests and assumed control of government functions. They were
intelligent enough to know the value of class government--a lesson
learned from the tactics of the British trading class. They knew the
tremendous impact of law and how, directly and indirectly, it worked
great transformations in the body social. While the worker was
unorganized, unconscious of what his interests demanded, deluded by
slogans and rallying-cries which really meant nothing to him, the
propertied class was alert in its own interests.


It proceeded to intrench itself in political as well as in financial
power. The Constitution of the United States was so drafted as to take
as much direct power from the people as the landed and trading interests
dared. Most of the State Constitutions were more pronounced in rigid
property discriminations. In Massachusetts, no man could be governor
unless he were a Christian worth a clear £1,000; in North Carolina if he
failed of owning the required £1,000 in freehold estate; nor in Georgia
if he did not own five hundred acres of land and £4,000, nor in New
Hampshire if he lacked owning £500 in property. In South Carolina he had
to own £1,500 in property clear of all debts. In New York by the
Constitution of 1777, only actual residents having freeholds to the
value of £100 free of all debts, could vote for governor and other State
officials. The laws were so arranged as effectually to disfranchise
those who had no property. In his "Reminiscenses" Dr. John W. Francis
tells of the prevalence for years in New York of a supercilious class
which habitually sneered at the demand for political equality of the
leather-breeched mechanic with his few shillings a day.

Theoretically, religious standards were the prevailing ones; in
actuality the ethics and methods of the propertied class were all
powerful. The Church might preach equality, humility and the list of
virtues; but nevertheless that did not give the propertyless man a vote.
Thus it was, that in communities professing the strongest religious
convictions and embodying them in Constitutions and in laws and customs,
glaring inconsistencies ran side by side. The explanation lay in the
fact that as regarded essential things of property, the standards of the
trading class had supplanted the religious. Even the very admonition
given by pastors to the poor, "Be content with your lot," was a
preachment entirely in harmony with the aims of the trading class which,
in order to make money, necessarily had to have a multitude of workers
to work for it and from whose labor the money, in its finality, had to
come. In the very same breath that they advised the poverty-stricken to
reverence their superiors and to expect their reward in heaven, the
ministers glorified the aggrandizing merchants as God's chosen men who
were called upon to do His work.[50]

Since the laws favored the propertied interests, it was correspondingly
easy for them to get direct control of government functions and
personally exercise them. In New England rich shipowners rose at once to
powerful elective and appointive officers. Likewise in New York rich
landowners, and in the South, plantation men were selected for high
offices. Law-making bodies, from Congress down, were filled with
merchants, landowners, plantation men and lawyers, which last class was
trained, as a rule, by association and self-interest to take the views
of the propertied class and vote with, and for, it. A puissant
politico-commercial aristocracy developed which, at all times, was
perfectly conscious of its best interests. The worker was regaled with
flattering commendations of the dignity of labor and sonorous
generalizations and promises, but the ruling class took care of the

By means of these partial laws, the propertied interests early began to
get tremendously valuable special privileges. Banking rights, canal
construction, trade privileges, government favors, public franchises all
came in succession.


At the same time that laws were enacted or were twisted to suit the will
of property, other laws were long in force oppressing the poor to a
terrifying degree.

Poor debtors could be thrown in jail indefinitely, no matter how small a
sum they owned. In law, the laborer was accorded few rights. It was easy
to defraud him of his meager wages, since he had no lien upon the
products of his labor. His labor power was all that he had to sell, and
the value of this power was not safeguarded by law. But the products
created by his labor power in the form of property were fortified by the
severest laws. For the laborer to be in debt was equal to a crime, in
fact, in its results, worse than a crime. The burglar or pickpocket
would get a certain sentence and then go free. The poor debtor,
however, was compelled to languish in jail at the will of his creditor.

The report of the Prison Discipline Society for 1829 estimated that
fully 75,000 persons were annually imprisoned for debt in the United
States and that more than one-half of these owed less than twenty
dollars.[51] And such were the appalling conditions of these debtors'
prisons that there was no distinction of sex, age or character; all of
the unfortunates were indiscriminately herded together. Sometimes, even
in the inclement climate of the North, the jails were so poorly
constructed, that there was insufficient shelter from the elements. In
the newspapers of the period advertisements may be read in which
charitable societies or individuals appeal for food, fuel and clothing
for the inmates of these prisons. The thief and the murderer had a much
more comfortable time of it in prison than the poor debtor.


With the law-making mercantile class the situation was very different.
The state and national bankruptcy acts, as apply to merchants, bankers,
storekeepers--the whole commercial class--were so loosely drafted and so
laxly enforced and judicially interpreted, that it was not hard to
defraud creditors and escape with the proceeds. A propertied bankrupt
could conceal his assets and hire adroit lawyers to get him off
scot-free on quibbling technicalities--a condition which has survived
to the present time, though in a lesser degree.[52]

But imprisonment for debt was not the only fate that befell the
propertyless. According to the "Annual Report of the Managers of the
Society for the Prevention of Pauperism in New York City," there were
12,000 paupers in New York City in 1820.[53] Many of these were
destitute Irish who, after having been plundered and dispossessed by the
absentee landlords and the capitalists of their own country, were
induced to pay their last farthing to the shippers for passage to
America. There were laws providing that ship masters must report to the
Mayors of cities and give a bond that the destitutes that they brought
over should not become public charges. These laws were systematically
and successfully evaded; poor immigrants were dumped unceremoniously at
obscure places along the coast from whence they had to make their way,
carrying their baggage and beds, to the cities the best that they could.
Cadwallader D. Colden, mayor of New York for some years, tells, in his
reports, of harrowing cases of death after death resulting from
exposure due to this horrible form of exploitation.

Now when the immigrant or native found himself in a state of near, or
complete, destitution and resorted to the pawnbrokers's or to theft,
what happened? The law restricted pawnbrokers from charging more than
seven per cent on amounts more than $25, but on amounts below that they
were allowed to charge twenty-five per cent. which, as the wage value of
money then went, was oppressively high. Of course, the poor with their
cheap possessions seldom owned anything on which they could get more
than $25; consequently they were the victims of the most grinding
legalized usury. Occasionally some legislative committee recognized,
although in a dim and unanalytic way, this onerous discrimination of law
against the propertyless. "Their [the pawnbrokers'] rates of interest,"
an Aldermanic committee reported in 1832, "have always been exorbitant
and exceedingly oppressive. It has from time to time been regulated by
law, and its sanctions have (as is usual upon most occasions when
oppression has been legalized) been made to fall most heavily upon the
poor." The committee continued with the following comments which were
naïve in the extreme considering that for generations all law had been
made by and for the propertied interests: "It is a singular fact that
the smallest sums advanced have always been chargeable with the highest
rates of interest.... It is a fact worthy of consideration that by far
the greater number of loans effected at these establishments are less
than one dollar, and of the whole twelve-fifteenths are in sums less
than one dollar and a half."[54]

On the other hand, the propertied class not only was able to raise money
at a fairly low rate of interest, but, as will appear, had the free use
of the people's money, through the power of government, to the extent of
tens of millions of dollars.


If a man were absolutely destitute and took to theft as the only means
of warding off starvation for himself or his family, the whole force of
law at once descended heavily upon him. In New York State the law
decreed it grand larceny to steal to the value of $25, and in other
States the statutes were equally severe. For stealing $25 worth of
anything the penalty was three years in prison at hard labor. The
unfortunate was usually put in the convict chain-gang and forced to work
along the roads. Street-begging was prohibited by drastic laws; poverty
was substantially a crime. The moment a propertyless person stole, the
assumption at once was that he was _prima facie_ a criminal; but let the
powerful propertied man steal and government at once refused to see the
criminal _intent_; if he were prosecuted, the usual outcome was that he
never went to jail. Hundreds of specific instances could be given to
prove this. One of the most noted of these was that of Samuel Swartwout,
who was Collector of the Port of New York for a considerable period and
who, at the same time, was a financier and large land-speculation
promoter. It came out in 1838 that he had stolen the enormous sum of
$1,222,705.69 from the Government,[55] which money he had used in his
schemes. He was a fugitive from justice for a time, but upon his return
was looked upon extenuatingly as the "victim of circumstances" and he
never languished in jail.

Money was the standard of everything. The propertied person could commit
any kind of crime, short of murder, and could at once get free on bail.
But what happened to the accused who was poor? Here is a contemporaneous
description of one of the prisons of the period:

     "In Bridewell, white females of every grade of character, from the
     innocent who is in the end acquitted, down to the basest wretch
     that ever disgraced the refuges of prostitution, are crowded into
     the same abandoned abode. With the white male prisons, the case is
     little altered.... And so it is with the colored prisoners of both
     sexes. Hundreds are taken up and sent to these places, who, after
     remaining frequently several weeks, are found to be innocent of
     the crime alleged and are then let loose upon the community."[56]

"Let loose upon the community." Does not this clause in itself convey
volumes of significance of the attitude of the propertied interests,
even when banded together in a pseudo "charitable" enterprise, toward
the poverty-stricken? While thus the charitable societies were holding
up the destitute to scorn and contumely as outcasts and were loftily
lecturing down to the poor on the evils of intemperance and
gambling--practices which were astoundingly prevalent among the rich--at
no time did they make any attempt to alter laws so glaringly unjust that
they practically made poverty a distinct crime, subject to long terms of

For instance, if a rich man were assaulted and made a complaint, all
that he had to do was to give bail to insure his appearance as a
witness. But if a poor man or woman were cheated or assaulted and could
not give bail to insure his or her appearance at the trial as a
complaining witness, the law compelled the authorities to lock up that
man or woman in prison. In the debates in the New York Constitutional
Convention of 1846, numerous cases were cited of this continuing
barbarity in New York, Maryland, Pennsylvania and other states. In
Maryland a young woman was assaulted and preferred criminal charges. As
she could not give bail she was locked up for eighteen months as a
detained witness. This was but one instance in thousands of similar


For an apprenticed laborer to quit his master and job was a crime in
law; once caught he was forthwith bundled off to jail, there to await
the dispensation of his master. No matter how cruelly his master
ill-treated him, however dissatisfied he was, the apprenticed laborer in
law had no rights. Almost every day the newspapers of the eighteenth,
and the early part of the nineteenth, century contained offers of
rewards for the apprehension of fugitive apprentice laborers; from a
survey of the Pennsylvania, New York, Massachusetts and other colonial
and state newspapers it is clear that thousands of these apprentices had
to resort to flight to escape their bondage. This is a specimen


     RAN away from the subscriber, an Apprentice Boy, named William
     Rustes, about 18 years and 3 months old, by trade a house
     carpenter, of a dark complexion, dark eye brows, black eyes and
     black hair, about 5 feet, 8 inches high, his dress unknown as he
     took with him different kinds of clothes. The above reward will be
     paid to any person that will secure him in gaol or return him to
     his master.

  No. 12 First Street.[57]

In contradistinction to the scorpion-like laws which worked such
injustice to the poor and which made a mockery of doctrines of equality
before the law, the propertied interests endowed themselves, by their
control of government, with invaluable exemptions and peculiarly
profitable special privileges.

Even where, in civil cases, all men, theoretically, had an equal chance
in courts of equity, litigation was made so expensive, whether purposely
or not, that justice was really a one-sided pastime, in which the rich
man could easily wear out the poor contestant. This, however, is not the
place for a dissertation on that most remarkable of noteworthy
sorcerer's arts, the making of justice an expensive luxury, while still
deluding the people with the notion that the law knows no preferences.
The preferences which are more to the point at present are those in
which government force is used to enrich the already rich and impoverish
the impoverished still further. At the very time that property was
bitterly resisting enlightened pleas for the abolition of imprisonment
for debt, for the enactment of a mechanic's lien law, and for the
extension of the suffrage franchise it was using the public money of the
whole people for its personal and private enterprises. In works dealing
with those times it is not often that we get penetration into the
underlying methods of the trading class. But a lucid insight is
inadvertently given by Walter Barrett (who, for sixty years, was in the
mercantile trade), in his smug and conventional, but quaintly
entertaining, volumes, "The Merchants of Old New York." This strong
instance shows like a flashlight that while the success of the shippers
was attributed to a fine category of energetic qualities, the benevolent
assistance of the United States Government was, in a large measure,
responsible for part of their accumulations.


The Griswolds of New York owned the ship, "Panama." She carried spelter,
lead, iron and other products to China and returned with tea, false
cinnamon and various other Chinese goods. The duty on these was
extremely high. But the Government was far more lenient to the trading
class than the trader was to the poor debtor. It generously extended
credit for nine, twelve and eighteen months before it demanded the
payment of the tariff duties. What happened under this system? As soon
as the ship arrived, the cargo was sold at a profit of fifty per cent.
The Griswolds, for example, would pocket their profits and instead of
using their own capital in further ventures, they would have the
gratuitous use of Government money, that is to say, the people's money,
for periods of from six months to a year and a half. Thus the endless
chain was kept up. According to Barrett, this was the customary attitude
of the Government toward merchants: it was anything but unusual for a
merchant to have the free use of Government money to the sum of four or
five hundred thousand dollars.[58]

"John Jacob Astor," says Barrett in a view of admiration, "at one period
of his life had several vessels operating in this way. They would go to
the Pacific and carry furs from thence to Canton. These would be sold at
large profits. Then the cargoes of tea would pay enormous duties which
Astor did not have to pay to the United States for a year and a half.
His tea cargoes would be sold for good four and six months paper, or
perhaps cash; so that for eighteen or twenty years John Jacob Astor had
what was actually a free-of-interest loan from the Government of over
_five millions_ of dollars."[59]

"One house," continues Barrett, "was Thomas H. Smith & Sons. This firm
went enormously into the Canton trade, and, although possessing
originally but a few thousand dollars, Smith imported to such an extent
that when he failed he owed the United States three millions and not a
cent has ever been paid." Was Smith imprisoned for debt? Not at all.

It is such revelations as these that indicate how it was possible for
the shippers to pile up great fortunes at a time when "a house that
could raise $260,000 in specie had an uncommon capital." They showed how
the same functions of government which were used as an engine of such
oppressive power against the poor, were perverted into highly efficient
auxiliary of trading class aims and ambitions. By multifarious subtle
workings, these class laws inevitably had a double effect. They poured
wealth into the coffers of the merchant-class and simultaneously tended
to drive the masses into poverty. The gigantic profits taken in by
merchants had to be borne by the worker, perhaps not superficially, but
in reality so. They came from his slender wages, from the tea and cotton
and woolen goods that he used, the sugar and the coffee and so on. In
this indirect way the shippers absorbed a great part of the products of
his labor; what they did not expropriate the landlord did. Then when the
laborer fell in debt to the middleman tradesman to jail he went.[60]


The worker denounced these discriminations as barbarous and unjust. But
he could do nothing. The propertied class, with its keen understanding
of what was best for its interests, acted and voted, and usually
dragooned the masses of enfranchised into voting, for men and measures
entirely favorable to its designs. Sometimes these interests conflicted
as they did when a part of New England became manufacturing centers and
favored a high protective tariff in opposition to the importing trades,
the plantation owners and the agricultural class in general. Then the
vested class would divide, and each side would appeal with passionate
and patriotic exhortations to the voting elements of the people to
sustain it, or the country would go to ruin. But when the working class
made demands for better laws, the propertied class, as a whole, united
to oppose the workers bitterly. However it differed on the tariff, or
the question of state or national banks, substantially the whole trading
class solidly combated the principle of manhood suffrage and the
movements for the wiping out of laws for imprisonment for debt, for
mechanic's liens and for the establishment of shorter hours of work.

Political institutions and their offspring in the form of laws being
generally in the control of the trading class, the conditions were
extraordinarily favorable for the accumulation of large fortunes,
especially on the part of the shipowners, the dominant class. The grand
climax of the galaxy of American fortunes during the period from 1800 to
1831--the greatest of all the fortunes up to the beginning of the third
decade of that century--was that of Girard. He built up what was looked
up to as the gigantic fortune of about ten millions of dollars and far
overtopped every other strainer for money except Astor, who survived him
seventeen years, and whose wealth increased during that time to double
the amount that Girard left.


[49] "The Astor Fortune," McClure's Magazine, April, 1905.

[50] Innumerable were the sermons and addresses poured forth, all to the
same end. To cite one: The Rev. Daniel Sharp of the Third Baptist
Meeting House, Boston, delivered a sermon in 1828 on "The Tendency of
Evil Speaking Against Rulers." It was considered so powerful an argument
in favor of obedience that it was printed in pamphlet form (Beals, Homer
& Co., Printers), and was widely distributed to press and public.

[51] Various writers assert that twenty dollars was the average minimum.
In many places, however, the great majority of debts were for less than
ten dollars. Thus, for the year ending November 26, 1831, nearly one
thousand citizens had been imprisoned for debt in Baltimore. Of this
number more than half owed less than ten dollars, and of the whole
number, only thirty-four individually had debts exceeding one hundred
dollars.--Reports of Committees, First Session, Twenty-fourth Congress,
Vol. II, Report No. 732:3.

[52] In his series of published articles, "The History of the
Prosecution of Bankrupt Frauds," the author has brought out
comprehensive facts on this point.

[53] The eminent merchants who sat on this committee had their own
conclusive opinion of what produced poverty. In commenting on the growth
of paupers they ascribed pauperism to seven sources. (1) Ignorance, (2)
Intemperance, (3) Pawnbrokers, (4) Lotteries, (5) Charitable
Institutions, (6) Houses of Ill-Fame, (7) Gambling.

No documents more wonderfully illustrate the bourgeois type of
temperament and reasoning than their reports. The people of the city
were ignorant because 15,000 of the 25,000 families did not attend
church. Pawnbrokers were an incentive to theft, cunning and lack of
honest industry, etc., etc. Thus their explanations ran. In referring to
mechanics and paupers, the committee described them as "the middling and
inferior classes." Is it any wonder that the working class justly views
"charitable" societies, and the spirit behind them, with intense
suspicion and deep execration?

[54] Documents of the Board of Assistant Aldermen of New York City,
1831-32, Doc. No. 45:1.

[55] House Executive Document, No. 13, Twenty-fifth Congress, Third
Session; also, House Report, No. 313.

[56] Report for 1821 of the "Society for the Prevention of Pauperism."

[57] "New York Gazette and General Advertiser", Aug. 5, 1797. The
rewards offered for the apprehension of fugitive apprentices varied. An
advertisement in the same newspaper, issue of July 3, 1797, held out an
offer of five dollars reward for an indented German boy who had
"absconded." The fear was expressed that he would attempt to board some
ship, and all persons were notified not to harbor or conceal him as they
would be "proceeded against as the law directs". That old apprentice law
has never been repealed in New York State.

[58] The Government reports bear out Barrett's statements, although in
saying this it must be with qualifications. The shippers engaged in the
East India and China trade were more favored, it seems, than other
classes of shippers, which discrimination engendered much antagonism.
"Why," wrote the Mercantile Society of New York to the House Committee
on Manufactures in 1821, "should the merchant engaged in the East India
trade, who is the overgrown capitalist, have the extended credit of
twelve months in his duties, the amount of which on one cargo furnishes
nearly a sufficient capital for completing another voyage, before his
bonds are payable?" The Mercantile Society recommended that credits on
duties be reduced to three and six months on merchandise imported from
all quarters of the globe.--Reports of Committees, Second Session,
Sixteenth Congress, 1820-21, Vol. I, Document No. 34.

[59] "The Old Merchants of New York," 1:31-33. Barrett was a great
admirer of Astor. He inscribed Vol. iii, published in 1864, to Astor's

[60] The movement to abolish imprisonment for debt was a protracted one
lasting more than a quarter of a century, and was acrimoniously opposed
by the propertied classes, as a whole. By 1836, however, many State
legislatures had been induced to repeal or modify the provisions of the
various debtors' imprisonment acts. In response to a recommendation by
President Andrew Jackson that the practise be abolished in the District
of Columbia, a House Select Committee reported on January 17, 1832, that
"the system originated in cupidity. It is a confirmation of power in the
few against the many; the Patrician against the Plebeian." On May 31,
1836, the House Committee for the District of Columbia, in reporting on
the debtors' imprisonment acts, said: "They are disgraceful evidences of
the ingenious subtlety by which they were woven into the legal system we
adopted from England, and were obviously intended to increase and
confirm the power of a wealthy aristocracy by rendering poverty a crime,
and subjecting the liberty of the poor to the capricious will of the
rich."--Reports of Committees, Second Session, Twenty-second Congress,
1832-33, Report No. 5, and Reports of Committees, First Session,
Twenty-fourth Congress, 1836, Report No. 732, ii:2.



Girard was born at Bordeaux, France, on May 21, 1750, and was the eldest
of five children of Captain Pierre Girard, a mariner. When eight years
old he became blind in one eye, a loss and deformity which subjected his
sensibilities to severe trials and which had the effect of rendering him
morose and sour. It was his lament in later life that while his brothers
had been sent to college, he was the ugly duckling of the family and
came in for his father's neglect and a shrewish step-mother's
waspishness. At about fourteen years of age he relieved himself of these
home troubles and ran away to sea. During the nine years that he sailed
between Bordeaux and the West Indies, he rose from cabin-boy to mate.
Evading the French law which required that no man should be made master
of a ship unless he had sailed two cruises in the royal navy and was
twenty-five years old, Girard got the command of a trading vessel when
about twenty-two years old. While in this service he clandestinely
carried cargoes of his own which he sold at considerable profit. In May,
1776, while en route from New Orleans to a Canadian port, he became
enshrouded in a fog off the Delaware Capes, signaled for aid, and when
the fog had cleared away sufficiently for an American ship, near by, to
come to his assistance, learned that war was on. He thereupon scurried
for Philadelphia, where he sold vessel and cargo, of which latter only
a part belonged to him, and with the proceeds opened up a cider and wine
bottling and grocery business in a small store on Water street.

Girard made money fast; and in July, 1777, married Mary Lum, a woman of
his own class. She is usually described as a servant girl of great
beauty and as one whose temper was of quite tempestuous violence. This
unfortunate woman subsequently lost her reason; undoubtedly her
husband's meannesses and his forbidding qualities contributed to the
process. One of his most favorable biographers thus describes him: "In
person he was short and stout, with a dull repulsive countenance, which
his bushy eyebrows and solitary eye almost made hideous. He was cold and
reserved in manner, and was disliked by his neighbors, the most of whom
were afraid of him."[61]

During the British occupation of Philadelphia he was charged by the
revolutionists with extreme double-dealing and duplicity in pretending
to be a patriot, and taking the oath of allegiance to the colonies,
while secretly trading with the British. None of his biographers deny
this. While merchant after merchant was being bankrupted from disruption
of trade, Girard was incessantly making money. By 1780 he was again in
the shipping trade, his vessels plying between American ports and New
Orleans and San Domingo; not the least of his profits, it was said,
came from slave-trading.

[Illustration: STEPHEN GIRARD.
(From an Engraving.)]


A troublous partnership with his brother, Captain Jean Girard, lasted
but a short time; the brothers could not agree. At the dissolution in
1790 Stephen Girard's share of the profits amounted to $30,000. Girard's
greatest stroke came from the insurrection of the San Domingo negroes
against the French several years later. He had two vessels lying in the
harbor of one of the island ports. At the first mutterings of danger, a
number of planters took their valuables on board one of these ships and
scurried back to get the remainder. The sequel, as commonly narrated, is
represented thus: The planters failed to return, evidently falling
victims to the fury of the insurrectionists. The vessels were taken to
Philadelphia, and Girard persistently advertised for the owners of the
valuables. As no owners ever appeared, Girard sold the goods and put the
proceeds, $50,000, into his own bank account. "This," says Houghton,
"was a great assistance to him, and the next year he began the building
of those splendid ships which enabled him to engage so actively in the
Chinese and West India trades."

From this time on his profits were colossal. His ships circumnavigated
the world many times and each voyage brought him a fortune. He practiced
all of those arts of deception which were current among the trading
class and which were accepted as shrewdness and were inseparably
associated with legitimate business methods. In giving one of his
captains instructions he wrote, as was his invariable policy, the most
explicit directions to exercise secretiveness and cunning in his
purchases of coffee at Batavia. Be cautious and prudent, was his
admonition. Keep to yourself the intention of the voyage and the amount
of specie that you have on board. To satisfy the curious, throw them off
the scent by telling them that the ship will take in molasses, rice and
sugar, if the price is very low, adding that the whole will depend upon
the success in selling the small Liverpool cargo. If you do this, the
cargo of coffee can be bought ten per cent cheaper than it would be if
it is publicly known there is a quantity of Spanish dollars on board,
besides a valuable cargo of British goods intended to be invested in
coffee for Stephen Girard of Philadelphia.

By 1810 we see him ordering the Barings of London to invest in shares of
the Bank of the United States half a million dollars which they held for
him. When the charter expired, he was the principal creditor of that
bank; and he bought, at a great bargain, the bank and the cashier's
house for $120,000. On May 12, 1812, he opened the Girard Bank, with a
capital of $1,200,000, which he increased the following year by $100,000


His wealth was now overshadowingly great; his power immense. He was a
veritable dictator of the realms of finance; an assiduous, repellent
little man, with his devil's eye, who rode roughshod over every obstacle
in his path. His every movement bred fear; his veriest word could bring
ruin to any one who dared cross his purposes. The war of 1812 brought
disaster to many a merchant, but Girard harvested fortune from the
depths of misfortune. "He was, it must be said," says Houghton, "hard
and illiberal in his bargains, and remorseless in exacting the last cent
due him." And after he opened the Girard Bank: "Finding that the
salaries which had been paid by the government were higher than those
paid elsewhere, he cut them down to the rate given by the other banks.
The watchman had always received from the old bank the gift of an
overcoat at Christmas, but Girard put a stop to this. He gave no
gratuities to any of his employees, but confined them to the
compensation for which they had bargained; yet he contrived to get out
of them service more devoted than was received by other men who paid
higher wages and made presents. Appeals to him for aid were unanswered.
No poor man ever came full-handed from his presence. He turned a deaf
ear to the entreaties of failing merchants to help them on their feet
again. He was neither generous nor charitable. When his faithful cashier
died, after long years spent in his service, he manifested the most
hardened indifference to the bereavement of the family of that
gentleman, and left them to struggle along as best they could."

Further, Houghton unconsciously proceeds to bring out several incidents
which show the exorbitant profits Girard made from his various business
activities. In the spring of 1813, one of his ships was captured by a
British cruiser at the mouth of the Delaware. Fearing that his prize
would be recaptured by an American war ship if he sent her into port,
the English Admiral notified Girard that he would ransom the ship for
$180,000 in coin. Girard paid the money; and, even after paying that
sum, the cargo of silks, nankeens and teas yielded him a profit of half
a million dollars. His very acts of apparent public spirit were means by
which he scooped in large profits. Several times, when the rate of
exchange was so high as to be injurious to general business, he drew
upon Baring Bros. for sums of money to be transferred to the United
States. This was hailed as a public benefaction. But what did Girard do?
He disposed of the money to the Bank of the United States and charged
ten per cent. for the service.


The reëstablishment and enlarged sway of this bank were greatly due to
his efforts and influence; he became its largest stockholder and one of
its directors. No business institution in the first three decades of the
nineteenth century exercised such a sinister and overshadowing influence
as this chartered monopoly. The full tale of its indirect bribery of
politicians and newspaper editors, in order to perpetuate its great
privileges and keep a hold upon public opinion, has never been set
forth. But sufficient facts were brought out when, after years of
partizan agitation, Congress was forced to investigate and found that
not a few of its own members for years had been on the payrolls of the

In order to get its charter renewed from time to time and retain its
extraordinary special privileges, the United States Bank systematically
debauched politics and such of the press as was venal; and when a
critical time came, as it did in 1832-34, when the mass of the people
sided with President Jackson in his aim to overthrow the bank, it
instructed the whole press at its command to raise the cry of "the
fearful consequences of revolution, anarchy and despotism," which
assuredly would ensue if Jackson were reëlected. To give one instance of
how for years it had manipulated the press: The "Courier and Enquirer"
was a powerful New York newspaper. Its owners, Webb and Noah, suddenly
deserted Jackson and began to denounce him. The reason was, as revealed
by a Congressional investigation, that they had borrowed $50,000 from
the United States Bank which lost no time in giving them the alternative
of paying up or supporting the bank.[64]

Girard's share in the United States Bank brought him millions of
dollars. With its control of deposits of government funds and by the
provisions of its charter, this bank swayed the whole money marts of the
United States and could manipulate them at will. It could advance or
depress prices as it chose. Many times, Girard with his fellow directors
was severely denounced for the arbitrary power he wielded. But--and let
the fact be noted--the denunciation came largely from the owners of the
State banks who sought to supplant the United States Bank. The struggle
was really one between two sets of capitalistic interests.

Shipping and banking were the chief sources of Girard's wealth, with
side investments in real estate and other forms of property. He owned
large tracts of land in Philadelphia, the value of which increased
rapidly with the growth of population; he was a heavy stockholder in
river navigation companies and near the end of his life he subscribed
$200,000 toward the construction of the Danville & Pottsville Railroad.


He was at this time a solitary, crusty old man living in a four-story
house on Water street, pursued by the contumely of every one, even of
those who flattered him for mercenary purposes. Children he had none,
and his wife was long since dead. His great wealth brought him no
comfort; the environment with which he surrounded himself was mean and
sordid; many of his clerks lived in better style. There, in his dingy
habitation, this lone, weazened veteran of commerce immersed himself in
the works of Voltaire, Diderot, Paine and Rousseau, of whom he was a
profound admirer and after whom some of his best ships were named.

This grim miser had, after all, the one great redeeming quality of being
true to himself. He made no pretense to religion and had an abhorrence
of hypocrisy. Cant was not in his nature. Out into the world he went, a
ferocious shark, cold-eyed for prey, but he never cloaked his motives
beneath a calculating exterior of piety or benevolence. Thousands upon
thousands he had deceived, for business was business, but himself he
never deceived. His bitter scoffs at what he termed theologic
absurdities and superstitions and his terrific rebuffs to ministers who
appealed to him for money, undoubtedly called forth a considerable
share of the odium which was hurled upon him. He defied the anathemas of
organized churchdom; he took hold of the commercial world and shook it
harshly and emerged laden with spoils. To the last, his volcanic spirit
flashed forth, even when, eighty years old, he lay with an ear cut off,
his face bruised and his sight entirely destroyed, the result of being
felled by a wagon.

In all his eighty-one years charity had no place in his heart. But
after, on Dec. 26, 1831, he lay stone dead and his will was opened, what
a surprise there was! His relatives all received bequests; his very
apprentices each got five hundred dollars, and his old servants
annuities. Hospitals, orphan societies and other charitable associations
all benefited. Five hundred thousand dollars went to the City of
Philadelphia for certain civic improvements; three hundred thousand
dollars for the canals of Pennsylvania; a portion of his valuable estate
in Louisiana to New Orleans for the improvement of that city. The
remainder of the estate, about six millions, was left to trustees for
the creation and endowment of a College for Orphans, which was promptly
named after him.

A chorus of astonishment and laudation went up. Was there ever such
magnificence of public spirit? Did ever so lofty a soul live who was so
misunderstood? Here and there a protesting voice was feebly heard that
Girard's wealth came from the community and that it was only justice
that it should revert to the community; that his methods had resulted in
widows and orphans and that his money should be applied to the support
of those orphans. These protests were frowned upon as the mouthings of
cranks or the ravings of impotent envy. Applause was lavished upon
Girard; his very clothes were preserved as immemorial mementoes.[65]


All of the benefactions of the other rich men of the period waned into
insignificance compared to those of Girard. His competitors and compeers
had given to charity, but none on so great a scale as Girard.
Distinguished orators vied with one another in extolling his wonderful
benefactions,[66] and the press showered encomiums upon him as that of
the greatest benefactor of the age. To them this honestly seemed so, for
they were trained by the standards of the trading class, by the
sophistries of political economists and by the spirit of the age, to
concentrate their attention upon the powerful and successful only, while
disregarding the condition of the masses of the people.

The pastimes of a king or the foibles of some noted politician or rich
man were things of magnitude and were much expatiated upon, while the
common man, singly or in mass, was of absolutely no importance. The
finely turned rhetoric of the orators, pleasing as it was to that
generation, is, judged by modern standards, well nigh meaningless and
worthless. In that highflown oratory, with its carefully studied
exordiums, periods and perorations can be clearly discerned the
reverence given to power as embodied by possession of property. But
nowhere do we see any explanation, or even an attempt at explanation, of
the basic means by which this property was acquired or of its effect
upon the masses of the people. Woefully lacking in facts are the
productions of the time as to how the great body of the workers lived
and what they did. Facts as to the rich are fairly available, although
not abundant, but facts regarding the rest of the population are
pitifully few. The patient seeker for truth--the mind which is not
content with the presentation of one side--finds, with some impatience,
that only a few writers thought it worth while to give even scant
attention to the condition of the working class. One of these few was
Matthew Carey, an orthodox political economist, who, in a pamphlet
issued in 1829[67], gave this picture which forms both a contrast and a
sequel to the accumulations of multimillionaires, of which Girard was
then the archetype:


     "Thousands of our laboring people travel hundreds of miles in
     quest of employment on canals at 62-1/2 cents to 87-1/2 cents per
     day, paying $1.50 to $2.00 a week for board, leaving families
     behind depending upon them for support. They labor frequently in
     marshy grounds, where they inhale pestiferous miasmata, which
     destroy their health, often irrevocably. They return to their poor
     families broken hearted, and with ruined constitutions, with a
     sorry pittance, most laboriously earned, and take to their beds,
     sick and unable to work. Hundreds are swept off annually, many of
     them leaving numerous and helpless families. Notwithstanding their
     wretched fate, their places are quickly supplied by others,
     although death stares them in the face. Hundreds are most
     laboriously employed on turnpikes, working from morning to night
     at from half a dollar to three-quarters a day, exposed to the
     broiling sun in summer and all the inclemency of our severe
     winters. There is always a redundancy of wood-pilers in our
     cities, whose wages are so low that their utmost efforts do not
     enable them to earn more than from thirty-five to fifty cents per
     day.... Finally there is no employment whatever, how disagreeable
     or loathsome, or deleterious soever it may be, or however reduced
     the wages, that does not find persons willing to follow it rather
     than beg or steal."


[61] "Kings of Fortune":16--The pretentious title and sub-title of this
work, written thirty odd years ago by Walter R. Houghton, A.M., gives an
idea of the fantastic exaltation indulged in of the careers of men of
great wealth. Hearken to the full title: "Kings of Fortune--or the
Triumphs and Achievements of Noble, Self-made men.--Whose brilliant
careers have honored their calling, blessed humanity, and whose lives
furnish instruction for the young, entertainment for the old and
valuable lessons for the aspirants of fortune." Could any fulsome
effusion possibly surpass this?

[62] "Mr. Girard's bank was a financial success from the beginning. A
few months after it opened for business its capital was increased to one
million three hundred thousand dollars. One of the incidents which
helped, at the outstart, to inspire the public with confidence in the
stability of the new institution was the fact that the trustees who
liquidated the affairs of the old Bank of the United States opened an
account in Girard's Bank, and deposited in its vaults some millions of
dollars in specie belonging to the old bank."--"The History of the
Girard National Bank of Philadelphia," by Josiah Granville Leach, LL.B.,
1902. This eulogistic work contains only the scantiest details of
Girard's career.

[63] The First Session of the Twenty-second Congress, 1831, iv,
containing reports from Nos. 460 to 463.

[64] Ibid.

An investigating committee appointed by the Pennsylvania Legislature in
1840, reported that during a series of years the Bank of the United
States (or United States Bank, as it was more often referred to) had
corruptly expended $130,000 in Pennsylvania for a re-charter.--Pa. House
Journal, 1842, Vol. II, Appendix, 172-531.

[65] In providing for the establishment of Girard College, Girard stated
in his will: "I enjoin and require that no ecclesiastic, missionary, or
minister of any sect whatsoever, shall ever hold or exercise any station
or duty whatsoever in the said college; nor shall any such person be
admitted for any purpose, or as a visitor within the premises
appropriated to the purposes of said college."--The Will of the Late
Stephen Girard, Esq., 1848:22-23.

An attempt was made by his relatives in France to break his will, one of
the grounds being that the provisions of his will were in conflict with
the Christian religion which was a part of the common law of
Pennsylvania. The attempt failed.

[66] For example, an address by Edward Everett, at the Odeon, before the
Mercantile Library Association in Boston, September 13, 1838: "Few
persons, I believe, enjoyed less personal popularity in the community in
which he lived and to which he bequeathed his personal fortune.... A
citizen and a patriot he lived in his modest dwelling and plain garb;
appropriating to his last personal wants the smallest pittance from his
princely income; living to the last in the dark and narrow street in
which he made his fortune; and when he died bequeathed it for the
education of orphan children. For the public I do not believe he could
have done better," etc., etc.--Hunt's "Merchant's Magazine," 1830, 1:35.

[67] "The Public Charities of Philadelphia."



The Last of the Patroons.
(From an Engraving.)]



In point of succession and importance the next great fortunes came from
ownership of land in the cities. They far preceded fortunes from
established industries or from the control of modern methods of
transportation. Long before Vanderbilt and other of his contemporaries
had plucked immense fortunes from steamboat, railroad and street railway
enterprises, the Astor, Goelet, and Longworth fortunes were counted in
the millions. In the seventy years from 1800 the landowners were the
conspicuous fortune possessors; and, although fortunes of millions were
extracted from various other lines of business, the land fortunes were

At the dawn of the nineteenth century and until about 1850, survivals of
the old patroon estates were to be met with. But these gradually
disintegrated. Everywhere in the North the tendency was toward the
partition of the land into small farms, while in the South the condition
was the reverse. The main fact which stood out was that the rich men of
the country were no longer those who owned vast tracts of rural land.
That powerful kind of landowner had well-nigh vanished.


For more than two centuries the manorial lords had been conspicuous
functionaries. Shorn of much power by the alterations of the Revolution
they still retained a part of their state and estate. But changing laws
and economic conditions drove them down and down in the scale until the
very names of many of them were gradually lost sight of. As they
descended in the swirl, other classes of rich men jutted into strong
view. Chief among these nascent classes were the landowners of the
cities, at first grabbling tradesmen and land speculators and finally
rising to the crowning position of multimillionaires. Originally, as we
have seen, the manorial magnate himself made the laws and decreed
justice; but in two centuries great changes had taken place. He now had
to fight for his very existence.

Thus, to give one example, the manorial men in New York were confronted
in 1839 by a portentous movement. Their tenants were in a state of
unrest. On the Van Rensselaer, the Livingston and other of the old
feudal estates they rose in revolt. They objected to the continuing
system which gave the lords of these manors much the same rights over
them as a lord in England exercised over his tenants. Under the leases
that the manorial lords compelled their tenants to sign, there were
oppressive anachronisms. If he desired to entertain a stranger in his
house for twenty-four hours, the tenant was required to get permission
in writing. He was forced to obligate himself not to trade in any
Commodities except the produce of the manor. He could not get his flour
ground anywhere else than at the mill of the manor without violating his
lease and facing ejectment, nor could he buy anything at any place
except at the store of the manorial magnate. These were the rights
reserved to the manorial lords after the Revolution, because theirs were
the rights of private property; and as has often been set forth,
property absolutely dominated the laws and greatly nullified the spirit
of a movement made successful by the blood and lives of the masses in
the Revolutionary Army. Tardily, subsequent legislatures had abolished
all feudal tenures, but these laws were neither effective nor were
enforced by the authorities who reflected and represented the interests
of the proprietors of the manors.

On their part the manorial men believed that self-interest, pride and
adherence to ancient traditions called for the perpetuation of their
arbitrary power of running their domains as they pleased. They refused
to acknowledge that law had any right to interfere in the managing of
what they considered their private affairs. Eager to avail themselves of
the police power of the law in dispossessing any fractious or
impecunious tenant and in suppressing protest meetings, they, at the
same time, denounced law as tyrannical when it sought to inject more
modern and humane conditions in the managing of their estates. They
stubbornly insisted upon a tenantry, and as obstinately contested any
forfeiture of what they deemed their property rights.


A long series of reprisals and an intense agitation developed. The
Anti-Renters mustered such sympathetic political strength and threw the
whole state into such a vortex of radical discussion, that the
politicians of the day, fearing the effects of such a movement,
practically forced the manorial magnates to compromise by selling their
land in small farms,[68] which they did at exorbitant prices. They made
large profits on the strength of the very movement which they had so
bitterly opposed. Affrighted at the ominous unrest of a large part of
the people and hoping to stem it, the New York Constitutional Convention
in 1846 adopted a Constitutional inhibition on all feudal tenures, an
inhibition so drafted that no legislature could pass a law contravening

So, in this final struggle, passed away the last vestiges of the sway of
the all-powerful patroons of old. They had become archaic. It was
impossible for them to survive in the face of newer conditions, for they
represented a bygone economic and social era. Their power was one
accruing purely from the extent of their possessions and discriminative
laws. When these were wrenched from their grasp, their importance as
wielders of wealth and influence ceased. They might still boast of their
lineage, their aristocratic enclosure and culture and their social
altitude, but these were about the only remnants of consolation left.

The time was unpropitious for the continuation of great wealth based
upon rural or small-town land. Many influences conspired to make this
land a variable property, while these same influences, or a part of
them, fixed upon city land an enhancing and graduating permanency of
value. The growth of the shipping trade built up the cities and
attracted workers and population generally. The establishment of the
factory system in 1790 had a two-fold effect. It began to drain country
sections of many of the younger generations and it immediately enlarged
the trading activities of the cities. Another and much more considerable
part of the farming population in the East was constantly migrating to
the West and Southwest with their promising opportunities. Some country
districts thinned out; others remained stationary. But whether the rural
census increased or not, there were other factors which sent up or down
the value of farming lands. The building of a canal would augment the
value of land in section and cause stimulation, and depress conditions
in another section not so favored. Even this stimulation, however, was
often transient. With each fresh settlement of the West and with the
construction of each pioneer railroad, new and complex factors turned up
which generally had a depreciating effect upon Eastern lands. A country
estate worth a large sum in one generation might very well succumb to a
mortgage in the next.


But fortunes based upon land in the cities were indued with a
mathematical certainty and a perpetuity. City real estate was not
subject to the extreme fluctuating processes which so disordered the
value of rural land. All of the tendencies and currents of the times
favored the building up of an aristocracy based upon ownership of city
property. Compared to their present colossal proportions the cities were
then mere villages. There was a nucleus of perhaps a mile or two of
houses, beyond which were fields and orchards, meadows and wastes. These
could be bought for an insignificant sum. With the progressing growth
of commerce and population, with immigration continually going on, every
year witnessing a keener pressure for occupation of the land, the value
of this latter was certain to increase. There was no chance of its being

Up to 1825 it was a mooted question whether the richest landowners would
arise in New York, Philadelphia, Boston or Baltimore. For many years
Philadelphia had been far in the lead in extent of commerce. But the
opening of the Erie Canal at once settled this question. At a bound New
York attained the rank of the foremost commercial city in the United
States, completely outstripping its competitors. While the trade of
these fell off precipitately, the population and trade of New York City
nearly doubled in a single decade. The value of land began to increase
stupendously. The swamps, rocky wastes and flats and the land under
water of a few years before became prolific sources of fortunes. Land
which had been worth a paltry sum ten or twenty years before sprang to a
considerable value and, in course of time, with the same causes in a
more intense ratio of operation, was vested with a value of hundreds of
millions of dollars. This being so, it was not surprising that the
richest landowners should appear first in New York City and should be
able to maintain their supremacy.

The wealth of the landowners soon completely eclipsed that of the
shippers. Enormous as were the profits of the shipping business, they
were immediate only. In the contest for wealth it was inevitable that
the shippers should fall behind. Their business was one of peculiar
uncertainties. The hazards of the sea, the fluctuations and vicissitudes
of trade, the severe competition of the times, exposed their traffic to
many mutations. Many of the rich shipowners well understood this; the
surplus wealth derived from commerce on the seas they invested in land,
banks, factories, turnpikes, insurance companies, railroads and in some
instances, lotteries. Those shipping millionaires who clung exclusively
to the sea fell in the scale of the rich class, especially as the time
came when foreign shipping largely supplanted the trade hitherto carried
in American cutters. Other shippers who applied their surplus capital to
investments in other forms of trade and ownership advanced rapidly in


Between land ownership and other forms, however, there was a great
difference. Trade was then extremely individualistic; the artificial
controlling power called the corporation was in its earliest infantile
condition. The heirs of the owner of sixty line of sail might not
possess the same astuteness, the same knowledge, adroitness, and
cunning--or let us say, unscrupulousness--the same severe application as
the founder. Consequently the business would decay or fall into the
hands of others shrewder or more fortunate. As to factories the
condition was somewhat the same; and, after the organization of labor
unions the possibility of strikes was an ever-present danger to the
constant flow of profits. Banks were by no means fixed, unchangeable
establishments. Like other media of profit-making, the extent of their
power and profits depended upon prevailing conditions and very largely
upon the favoritism or policy of Government. At any time the party
controlling government functions might change and a radically different
policy in banking, tariff or other laws be put in force.

These changing laws did not, it is true, vitally benefit the masses of
the people, for one set or other of the propertied interests almost
invariably benefited. The laws enacted were usually in response to a
demand made by contending propertied interests. The trade and political
struggles carried on by the commercial interests were a series of
incessant wars, in which every individual owner, firm or combination was
fiercely resisting competitors or striving for their overthrow.


But the landowner occupied a superior position which neither political
conditions nor the flux of changing circumstances could materially
assail. He was ardently individualistic also in that he demanded, and
was accorded, the unimpaired right to get land in any way that he
legally could, hold a monopoly of as much of it as he pleased, and
dispose of it as he willed. In the very act of asserting this
individualism he called upon Society, through its machinery of
Government, for the enactment of particular laws, to guarantee him the
sole possession of his land and uphold his claims and rights by force if
necessary. These were all the basic laws that he needed and these laws
did not change. From generation to generation they remained fixed,
immovable. The interests of all landowners were identical; those of the
traders were varying and conflicting. For long periods the landowner
could expect the continuance of existing fundamental laws regarding the
ownership of land, while the shipper, the factory owner, the banker did
not know what different set of laws might be enacted at any time.

Furthermore, the landowner had an efficient and never-failing
auxiliary. He yoked society as a partner, but it was a partnership in
which the revenue went exclusively to the landowner. The principal
factor he depended upon was the work of collective humans in adding
greater and greater values to his land. Broadly speaking, his share
consisted in merely looking on; he had nothing to do except hold on to
his land. His sons, grandsons, his descendants down to remotest
posterity need do even less; they could leisurely hold on to their
inheritance, enlarge it, hire the necessary ability of superintendence
and vast and ever vaster riches would be theirs. Society worked
feverishly for the landowner. Every street laid and graded by the city;
every park plotted and every other public improvement; every child born
and every influx of immigrants; every factory, warehouse and dwelling
that went up;--all these and more agencies contributed toward the
abnormal swelling of his fortune.


Under such a system land was the one great auspicious, facile and
durable means of rolling up an overshadowing fortune. Its exclusive
possession struck at the very root of human necessity. At a pinch people
can do without trade or money, but land they must have, even if only to
lie down on and starve. The impoverish, jobless worker, with disaster
facing him, must first perforce give up his precious few coins to the
landlord and take chances on food and the remainder. Especially is land
in demand in a complicated industrial system which causes much of the
population to gravitate to centers where industries and trade are
concentrated and congest there.

A more formidable system for the foundation and amplification of lasting
fortunes has not existed. It is automatically self-perpetuating. And
that it is preëminently so is seen in the fact that the large shipping
fortunes of a century ago are now generally as completely forgotten as
the methods then used are obsolete. But the land has remained land; and
the fortunes then incubated have grown into mighty powers of great
national, and some of considerable international, importance.

It was by favor of these propitious conditions that many of the great
fortunes, based upon land, were founded. According to the successive
census returns of the United States, by far the greater part of the
wealth of the country as regards real estate was, and is, concentrated
in the North Atlantic Division and the North Central Division, the one
taking in such cities as New York, Philadelphia, and Boston, the other
Chicago, Cincinnati and other cities.[70] It is in the large cities that
the great land fortunes are to be found. The greatest of these fortunes
are the Astor, Goelet and Rhinelander estates in the East and, in the
West, the Longworth and Field estates are notable examples. To deal with
all the conspicuous fortunes based upon land would necessitate an
interminable narrative. Suffice it for the purposes of this work to take
up a few of the superlatively great fortunes as representatives of those
based upon land.


The foremost of all American fortunes derived from land is the Astor
fortune. Its present bulk, embracing all the collateral family branches,
is estimated by some authorities at about $300,000,000. This, it is
generally believed, is an underestimate. As long ago as 1889, when the
population of New York City was much less than now, Thomas G. Shearman,
a keen student of land conditions, placed the collective wealth of the
Astors at $250,000,000.[71] The stupendous magnitude of this fortune
alone may at once be seen in its relation to the condition of the masses
of the people. An analysis of the United States census of 1900, compiled
by Lucien Sanial, shows that while the total wealth of the country was
estimated at about $95,000,000,000, the proletarian class, composed
chiefly of wage workers and a small proportion of those in professional
classes, and numbering 20,393,137 persons, owned only about
$4,000,000,000. It is by such a contrast, bringing out how one family
alone, the Astors, own more than many millions of workers, that we begin
to get an idea of the overreaching, colossal power of a single fortune.
The Goelet fortune is likewise vast; it is variously estimated at from
$200,000,000 to $225,000,000, although what its exact proportions are is
a matter of some obscurity.

In the case of these great fortunes it is well nigh impossible to get an
accurate idea of just how much they reach. All of them are based
primarily upon ownership of land, but they also include many other forms
such as shares in banks, coal and other mines, railroads, city
transportation systems, gas plants, industrial corporations. Even the
most indefatigable tax assessors find it such a fruitless and elusive
task in attempting to discover what personal property is held by these
multimillionaires, that the assessment is usually a conjectural or
haphazard performance. The extent of their land holdings is known; these
cannot be hid in a safe deposit vault. But their other varieties of
property are carefully concealed from public and official knowledge.
Since this is so, it is entirely probable that the fortunes of these
families are considerably greater than is commonly estimated. The case
of Marshall Field, a Chicago Croesus, who left a fortune valued at
about $100,000,000, is a strong illustration. This man owned $30,000,000
worth of real estate in Chicago alone. There was no telling, however,
what his whole estate amounted to, for he refused year after year to pay
taxes on more than a valuation of $2,500,000 of personal property. Yet,
after his death in 1906, an inventory of his estate filed in January,
1907, disclosed a clear taxable personal property of $49,977,270. He was
far richer than he would have it appear.

Let us investigate the careers of some of these powerful landed men, the
founders of great fortunes, and inquire into their methods and into the
conditions under which they succeeded in heaping up their immense


[68] In 1847 and 1849 the Anti-Renters demonstrated a voting strength in
New York State of about 5,000. Livingston's title to his estate being
called into question, a suit was brought. The court decision favored
him. The Livingstons, it may be again remarked, were long powerful in
politics, and had had their members on the bench.--"Life of Silas
Wright," 179-226; "Last Leaves of American History":16-18, etc.

[69] The debates in this convention showed that the feudal conditions
described in this chapter prevailed down to 1846.--New York
Constitution; Debates in Convention, 1846; 1052-1056. This is an extract
from the official convention report: "Mr. Jordan [a delegate] said that
it was from such things that relief was asked: which although the moral
sense of the community will not admit to be enforced, are still actually
in existence."

[70] Of a total of $39,544,333,000, representing wealth in real estate
and improvements, the census of 1890 attributed $13,905,274,364 to the
North Atlantic Division and a trifle more than $15,000,000,000 to the
North Central Division.

[71] The Forum (Magazine), November, 1889.



The founder of the Astor fortune was John Jacob Astor, a butcher's son.
He was born in Waldorf, Germany, on July 17, 1763. At the age of
eighteen, according to traditional accounts, he went to London, where a
brother, George Peter, was in the business of selling musical
instruments. Two years later with "one good suit of Sunday clothes,
seven flutes and five pounds sterling of money"[72] he emigrated to
America. Landing at Baltimore he proceeded to New York City.

Here he became an apprentice to George Dieterich, a baker at No. 351
Pearl street, for whom he peddled cakes, as was the custom. Walter
Barrett insists that this was Astor's first occupation in New York.
Later, Astor went into business for himself. "For a long time," says
Barrett, "he peddled [fur] skins, and bought them where he could; and
bartered cheap jewelry, etc., from the pack he carried on his back."[73]
Another story is that he got a job beating furs for $2 a week and board
in the store of Robert Bowne, a New York merchant; that while in this
place he showed great zest in quizzing the trappers who came in to sell
furs, and that in this fashion he gained considerable knowledge of the
fur animals. The story proceeds that as Bowne grew older he entrusted to
Astor the task of making long and fatiguing journeys to the Indian
tribes in the Adirondacks and Canada and bargaining with them for furs.


Astor got together enough money to start in the fur business for himself
in 1786 in a small store on Water street. It is not unreasonable to
suppose that at this time he, in common with all the fur dealers of the
time, participated in the current methods of defrauding the Indians. It
is certain that he contrived to get their most valuable furs for a jug
of rum or for a few toys or notions. Returning from these strokes of
trade, he would ship large quantities of the furs to London where they
were sold at great profit.

His marriage to Sarah Todd, a cousin of Henry Brevoort, brought him a
good wife, who had the shining quality of being economical, and an
accession of some means and considerable family connections. Remarkably
close-fisted, he weighed over every penny. As fast as his means
increased he used them in extending his business. By 1794 he was
somewhat of an expansive merchant. Scores of trappers and agents ravaged
the wilderness at his command. Periodically he shipped large quantities
of furs to Europe. His modest, even niggardly, ways of living in rooms
over his store were not calculated to create the impression that he was
a rich man. It was his invariable practice habitually to deceive others
as to his possessions and plans. But when, in 1800, he removed to No.
223 Broadway, at the corner of Vesey street, then a fashionable
neighborhood, he was rated, perforce, as a man of no inconsiderable
means. He was, in fact, as nearly as can be gathered, worth at this time
a quarter of a million dollars--a monumental fortune at a period when
a man who had $50,000 was thought rich; when a good house could be
rented for $350 a year and when $750 or $800 would fully defray the
annual expenses of the average well-living family.

[Illustration: JOHN JACOB ASTOR.
The Founder of the Colossal Astor Fortune.
(From an Engraving.)]

The great profits from the fur trade naturally led him into the business
of being his own shipowner and shipper, for he was a highly efficient
organizer and well understood the needlessness of middlemen. A beaver
skin bought for one dollar from the Indian or white trappers in Western
New York could be sold in London for six dollars and a quarter. On all
other furs there were the same large profits. But, in addition to these,
Astor saw that his profits could be still further increased by investing
the money that he received from the sale of his furs in England, in
English goods and importing them to the United States. By this process,
the profit from a single beaver skin could be made to reach ten dollars.
At that time the United States depended upon British manufactures for
many articles, especially certain grades of woolen goods and cutlery.
These were sold at exorbitant profit to the American people. This trade
Astor carried on in his own ships.


It is of the greatest importance to ascertain Astor's methods in his fur
trade, for it was fundamentally from this trade that he reaped the
enormous sums that enabled him to become a large landowner. What these
methods were in his earlier years is obscure. Nothing definite is
embodied in any documentary evidence. Not so, however, regarding the
methods of the greatest and most successful of his fur gathering
enterprises, the American Fur Company. The "popular writer" referred to
before says that the circumstances of Astor's fur and shipping
activities are well known. On the contrary, they are distinctly not well
known nor have they ever been set forth. None of Astor's biographers
have brought them out, if, indeed, they knew of them. And yet these
facts are of the most absolute significance in that they reveal the
whole foundation of the colossal fortune of the Astor family.

The pursuit and slaughter of fur animals were carried on with such
indefatigable vigor in the East that in time that territory became
virtually exhausted. It became imperative to push out into the fairly
virgin regions of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers and of the Rocky
Mountains. The Northwest Company, a corporation running under British
auspices, was then scouring the wilds west and northwest of the Great
Lakes. Its yearly shipments of furs were enormous.[74] Astor realized
the inconceivably vaster profits which would be his in extending his
scope to the domains of the far West, so prolific in opportunities for

In 1808 he incorporated the American Fur Company. Although this was a
corporation, he was, in fact, the Company. He personally supplied its
initial capital of $500,000 and dictated every phase of its policy. His
first ambitious design was to found the settlement of Astoria in Oregon,
but the war of 1812 frustrated plans well under way, and the expedition
that he sent out there had to depart.[75] Had this plan succeeded, Astor
would have been, as he rightly boasted, the richest man in the world;
and the present wealth of his descendants instead of being $450,000,000
would be manifold more.


Thwarted in his project to get a monopoly of the incalculable riches of
furs in the extreme Northwest, he concentrated his efforts on that vast
region extending along the Missouri River, far north to the Great Lakes,
west to the Rocky Mountains and into the Southwest. It was a region
abounding in immense numbers of fur animals and, at that time, was
inhabited by the Indian tribes, with here and there a settlement of
whites. By means of Government favoritism and the unconcealed exercise
of both fraud and force, he obtained a complete monopoly, as complete
and arbitrary as ever feudal baron held over seignorial estates.
Nominally, the United States Government ruled this great sweep of
territory and made the laws and professed to execute them. In reality,
Astor's company was a law unto itself. That it employed both force and
fraud and entirely ignored all laws enacted by Congress, is as clear as
daylight from the Government reports of that period.

The American Fur Company maintained three principal posts or depots of
receiving and distribution--one at St. Louis, one at Detroit, the third
at Mackinac. In response to an order from Lewis Cass, Secretary of War,
to send in complete reports of the fur trade, Joshua Pilcher reported
from St. Louis, December 1, 1831:

     About this time [1823] the American Fur Company had turned their
     attention to the Missouri trade, and, as might have been expected,
     soon put an end to all opposition. Backed, as it was, by any
     amount of capital, and with skillful agents to conduct its affairs
     at _every point_, it succeeded by the year 1827, in monopolizing
     the trade of the Indians on the Missouri, and I have but little
     doubt will continue to do so for years to come, as it would be
     rather a hazardous business for small adventurers to rise in
     opposition to it.[76]

In that wild country where the Government, at best, had an insufficient
force of troops, and where the agents of the company went heavily armed,
it was distinctly recognized, and accepted as a fact, that no possible
competitor's men, or individual trader, dare intrude. To do it was to
invite the severest reprisals, not stopping short of outright murder.
The American Fur Company overawed and dominated everything; it defied
the Government's representatives and acknowledged no authority superior
to itself and no law other than what its own interests demanded. The
exploitation that ensued was one of the most deliberate, cruel and
appalling that has ever taken place in any country.


If there was any one serious crime at that time it was the supplying of
the Indians with whisky. The Government fully recognized the baneful
effects of debauching the Indians, and enacted strict laws with harsh
penalties. Astor's company brazenly violated this law, as well as all
other laws conflicting with its profit interests. It smuggled in
prodigious quantities of rum. The trader's ancient trick of getting the
Indians drunk and then swindling them of their furs and land was carried
on by Astor on an unprecedented scale. To say that Astor knew nothing of
what his agents were doing is a palliation not worthy of consideration;
he was a man who knew and attended to even the pettiest details of his
varied business. Moreover, the liquor was despatched by his orders
direct by ship to New Orleans and from thence up the Mississippi to St.
Louis and to other frontier points. The horrible effects of this traffic
and the consequent spoliation were set forth by a number of Government

Col. J. Snelling, commanding the garrison at Detroit, sent an indignant
protest to James Barbour, Secretary of War, under date of August 23,
1825. "He who has the most whisky, generally carries off the most furs,"
wrote Col. Snelling, and then continued:

     The neighborhood of the trading houses where whisky is sold,
     presents a disgusting scene of drunkenness, debauchery and
     misery; it is the fruitful source of all our difficulties, and of
     nearly all the murders committed in the Indian country.... For the
     accommodation of my family I have taken a house three miles from
     town, and in passing to and from it, I have daily opportunities of
     seeing the road strewed with the bodies of men, women and
     children, in the last stages of brutal intoxication. It is true
     there are laws in this territory to restrain the sale of whisky,
     but they are not regarded....[77]

Col. Snelling added that during that year there had been delivered by
contract to an agent of the North American Fur Company, at Mackinac (he
meant the American Fur Company which, as we have seen, had one of its
principal headquarters at that post and maintained a monopoly there),
3,300 gallons of whisky and 2,500 gallons of high wines. This latter
liquor was preferred by the agents, he pointed out, as it could be
"increased at pleasure." Col. Snelling went on: "I will venture to add
that an inquiry into the manner in which the Indian trade is conducted,
especially by the North American Fur Company, is a matter of no small
importance to the tranquillity of the borders."[78]


A similar report was made the next winter by Thomas L. McKenney,
Superintendent of Indian Affairs, to the Secretary of War. In a
communication dated Feb. 14, 1826, McKenney wrote that "the forbidden
and destructive article, whisky, is considered so essential to a
lucrative commerce, as not only to still those feelings [of repugnance]
but lead the traders to brave the most imminent hazards, and evade, by
various methods the threatened penalties of law." The superintendent
proceeded to tell of the recent seizure by General Tipton, Indian Agent
at Fort Wayne, of an outfit in transit containing a considerable supply
of whisky, which was owned in large part, he says, by the American Fur
Company. He then continued: "The trader with the whisky, it must be
admitted, is certain of getting the most furs.... There are many
honorable and high-minded citizens in this trade, but expediency
overcomes their objections and reconciles them for the sake of the
profits of the trade."[79]

In stating this fact, McKenney was unwittingly enunciating a profound
truth, the force of which mankind is only now beginning to realize, that
the pursuit of profit will transform natures inherently capable of much
good into sordid, cruel beasts of prey, and accustom them to committing
actions so despicable, so inhuman, that they would be terrified were it
not that the world is under the sway of the profit system and not merely
excuses and condones, but justifies and throws a glamour about, the
unutterable degradations and crimes which the profit system calls forth.

Living in a more advanced time, in an environment adjusted to bring out
the best, instead of the worst, Astor and his henchmen might have been
men of supreme goodness and gentleness. As it was, they lived at a
period when it was considered the highest, most astute and successful
form of trade to resort to any means, however base, to secure profits.
Let not too much ignominy be cast upon their memories; they were but
creatures of their time; and their time was not that "golden age," so
foolishly pictured, but a wild, tempestuous, contending struggle in
which every man was at the throat of his fellowman, and in a vortex
which statesmen, college professors, editors, political economists, all
praised and sanctified as "progressive civilization."

Like all other propertied interests, Astor's company regarded the law as
a thing to be rigorously invoked against the poor, the helpless and
defenseless, but as not to be considered when it stood in the way of the
claims, designs and pretensions of property. Superintendent McKenney
reported that all laws in the Indian country were inoperative--so much
dead matter. Andrew S. Hughes, reporting from St. Louis, Oct. 31, 1831,
to Lewis Cass, Secretary of War, wrote:

     .... The traders that occupy the largest and most important space
     in the Indian country are the agents and engagees of the American
     Fur Trade Company. They entertain, as I know to be the fact, no
     sort of respect for our citizens, agents, officers or the
     Government, or its laws or general policy.

After describing the "baneful influence of these persons," Hughes went

     The capital employed in the Indian trade must be very large,
     especially that portion which is employed in the annual purchase
     of whisky and alcohol into the Indian country for the purpose of
     trade with the Indians. It is not believed that the superintendent
     is ever applied to for a permit for the one-hundredth gallon that
     is taken into the Indian country. The whisky is sold to the
     Indians in the face of the [Government] agents. Indians are made
     drunk, and, of course, behave badly....


Not only, however, were the Indians made drunk with the express purpose
of befuddling and swindling them,[80] but in the very commission of this
act, an enormous profit was made on the sale of the whisky. Those who
may be inclined to recoil with horror at the historic contemplation of
this atrocity, will do well to remember that this was simply one
manifestation of the ethics of the trading class--the same class which
formed and ruled government, made and interpreted laws, and constituted
the leading, superior and exclusive groups of high society. Hughes

     I am informed that there is but little doubt, but a clear gain of
     more than fifty thousand dollars has been made this year on the
     sale of whisky to the Indians on the river Missouri; the _prices
     are from $25 to $50 a gallon_. Major Morgan, United States sutler
     at Cantonment Leavenworth, says that thousands of gallons of
     alcohol has passed that post during the present year, destined for
     the Indian country.[81]

These official reports were supplemented by another on the same subject
from William M. Gordon to General William Clark, at that time
Superintendent of Indian Affairs. In his report, Gordon, writing from
St. Louis, pointed out that, "whisky, though not an authorized article,
has been a principal, and I believe a very lucrative one for the last
several years."[82]

What a climax of trading methods, first to debauch the Indians
systematically in order to swindle them, and then make a large revenue
on the rum that enabled the company to do it! Undoubtedly it was by
these means that Astor became possessed of large tracts of land in
Wisconsin and elsewhere in the West. But the methods thus far enumerated
were but the precursors of others. When the Indians were made maudlin
drunk and bargained with for their furs were they paid in money? By no
means. The American Fur Company had another trick in reserve. Astor
employed the cunning expedient of exchanging merchandise for furs. Large
quantities of goods, especially woolens, made by underpaid adult and
child labor in England and America, and representing the sweat and
suffering of the labor of the workers, were regularly shipped by him to
the West. For these goods the Indians were charged one-half again or
more what each article cost after paying all expenses of
transportation.[83] Reporting from St. Louis, Oct. 24, 1831, in a
communication to the Secretary of War, Thomas Forsyth gave a description
of this phase of the American Fur Company's dealings. He said:

     In the autumn of every year [when the hunting season began] the
     trader carefully avoids giving credit to the Indians on many
     costly articles such as silver works, wampum, scarlet cloth, fine
     bridles, etc., etc., as also a few woolens, such as blankets,
     strouds, etc., unless it be to an Indian whom he knows will pay
     all his debts. In that case he will allow the Indian, on credit,
     everything he wishes.

     Traders always prefer giving credit on gunpowder, flints, lead,
     knives, tomahawks, hoes, domestic cottons, etc.; which they do _at
     the rate of 300 or 400 per cent_, and if one-fourth of the price
     of these articles be paid, he is amply remunerated.[84]

Nor were these the final injustices and infamies heaped upon the
untutored aborigines. It was not enough that they should be pillaged of
their possessions; that the rights guaranteed them by the solemn
treaties of Government should be blown aside like so much waste paper by
the armed force of the American Fur Company; that whole tribes should be
demoralized with rum and then defrauded; that shoddy merchandise, for
which generally no market could be found elsewhere, should be imposed
upon them at such incredibly high prices, that they were bound to be
beggared.[85] These methods were not enough. Never were human beings so
frightfully exploited as these ignorant, unsophisticated savages of the
West. Through the long winters they roamed the forests and the prairies,
and assiduously hunted for furs which eventually were to clothe and
adorn the aristocracy of America, Europe and Asia. When in the spring
they came in with their spoil, they were, with masterly cunning,
artfully made intoxicated and then robbed. Not merely robbed in being
charged ruinous prices for merchandise, but robbed additionally in the
weight of their furs. Forsyth relates that for every dollar in
merchandise that the Astor company exchanged for furs, the company
received $1.25 or $1.50 in fur values, undoubtedly by the trader's low
trick of short weighing.


In law the Indian was supposed to have certain rights, but Astor's
company not only ignored but flouted them. Now when the Indians
complained, what happened? Did the Government protect them? The
Government, and especially the courts, were quick and generous in
affording the greatest protection and the widest latitude to Astor's
company. But when the Indians resented the robberies and injustices to
which they were subjected beyond bearing, they were murdered. They were
murdered wantonly and in cold blood; and then urgent alarmist
representations would be sent to Washington that the Indians were in a
rebellious state, whereupon troops would be punitively hurried forth to
put them down in slaughter. In turn, goaded by an intense spirit of
revenge, the Indians would resort to primitive force and waylay, rob and
murder the white agents and traders.[86]

From 1815 to 1831 more than 150 traders were robbed and killed by
Indians.[87] Many of these were Astor's men. But how many Indians were
killed by the whites has never been known, nor apparently was there any
solicitude as to whether the number was great or small.

What did Astor pay his men for engaging in this degrading and dangerous
business? Is it not a terrifying commentary on the lengths to which men
are forced to go in quest of a livelihood, and the benumbing effects on
their sensibilities, that Astor should find a host of men ready to
seduce the Indians into a state of drunkenness, cheat and rob them, and
all this only to get robbed and perhaps murdered in turn? For ten or
eleven months in the year Astor's subaltern men toiled arduously through
forest and plain, risking sickness, the dangers of the wilderness and
sudden death. They did not rob because it benefited them; it was what
they were paid to do; and it was likewise expected of them that they
should look upon the imminent chances of death as a part of their

For all this what was their pay? It was the trifling sum of $130 for the
ten or eleven months. But this was not paid in money. The poor wretches
who gave up their labor, and often their health and lives, for Astor
were themselves robbed, or their heirs, if they had any. Payment was
nearly always made in merchandise, which was sold at exorbitant prices.
Everything that they needed they had to buy at Astor's stores; by the
time that they had bought a year's supplies they not only had nothing
coming to them, but they were often actually in debt to Astor.

But Astor--how did he fare? His profits from the fur trade of the West
were truly stupendous for that period. He, himself, might plead to the
Government that the company was in a decaying state of poverty. These
pleas deceived no one. It was characteristic of his habitual deceit that
he should petition the Government for a duty on foreign furs on the
ground that the company was being competed with in the American markets
by the British fur companies. At this very time Astor held a virtual
monopoly of fur trading in the United States. One need not be surprised
at the grounds of such a plea. Throughout the whole history of the
trading class, this pathetic and absurdly false plea of poverty has
incessantly been used by this class, and used successfully, to get
further concessions and privileges from a Government which reflected,
and represented, its interests. Curiously, enough, however, if a
mendicant used the same plea in begging a mite of alms on the streets,
the law has invariably regarded him as a vagrant to be committed to the


At about the identical time that John Jacob Astor was persistently
complaining that the company was making no money, his own son and
partner, William B. Astor, was writing from New York on Nov. 25, 1831,
to the Secretary of War, that the company had a capital of about
$1,000,000 and that, "You may, however, estimate our annual returns at
half a million dollars."[88] Not less than $500,000 annual revenues on a
capital of $1,000,000! These were inconceivably large returns for the
time; Thomas J. Dougherty, Indian Agent at Camp Leavenworth, estimated
that from 1815 to 1830 the fur trade on the Missouri and its waters had
yielded returns amounting to $3,330,000 with a clear profit of
$1,650,000. This was unquestionably a considerable underestimate.

It is hardly necessary to say that Astor, as the responsible head and
beneficiary of the American Fur Company, was never prosecuted for the
numerous violations of both penal and civil laws invariably committed
by his direction and for his benefit. With the millions that rolled in,
he was able to command the services of not only the foremost lawyers in
warding off the penalties of law, but in having as his paid retainers
some of the most noted and powerful politicians of the day.[89] Senator
Benton, of Missouri, a leading light in the Democratic party, was not
only his legal representative in the West and fought his cases for him,
but as United States Senator introduced in Congress measures which Astor
practically drafted and the purport of which was to benefit Astor and
Astor alone. Thus was witnessed a notorious violator of the law,
invoking aid of the law to enrich himself still further,--a condition
which need not arouse exceptional criticism, since the whole trading
class in general did precisely the same thing.


[72] Parton's "Life of John Jacob Astor":28.

[73] "The Old Merchants of New York," 1:287.

[74] The extent of its operations and the rapid slaughter of fur animals
may be gathered by a record of one year's work. In 1793 this company
enriched itself by 106,000 beaver skins, 2,100 bear skins, 1,500 fox
skins, 400 kit fox, 16,000 muskrat, 32,000 martin, 1,800 mink, 6,000
lynx, 6,000 wolverine, 1,600 fisher, 100 raccoon, 1,200 dressed deer,
700 elk, 550 buffalo robes, etc.

[75] Astor was accused by a Government agent of betraying the American
cause at the outbreak of this war. In addition to the American Fur
Company, Astor had other fur companies, one of which was the Southwest
Company. Under date of June 18, 1818, Matthew Irwin, U. S. factor or
agent at Green Bay, Wis., wrote to Thomas L. McKenney, U. S.
Superintendent of Indian Affairs: "It appears that the Government has
been under an impression [that] the Southwest Company, of which Mr. John
Jacob Astor is the head, is strictly an American company, and in
consequence, some privileges in relation to trade have been granted to
that company." Irwin went on to tell how Astor had obtained an order
from Gallatin, U. S. Secretary of the Treasury, allowing him, Astor, to
land furs at Mackinac from the British post at St. Joseph's. Astor's
agent in this transaction was a British subject. "On his way to St.
Joseph's," Irwin continued, "he [Astor's British agent] communicated to
the British at Malden that war had been or would be declared. The
British made corresponding arrangements and landed on the Island of
Mackinac with regulars, Canadians and Indians before the commanding
officer there had notice that war would be declared. The same course was
about to be pursued at Detroit, before the arrival of troops with Gen.
Hull, who, having been on the march there, frustrated it." Irwin
declared that Astor's purpose was to save his furs from capture by the
British, and concluded: "Mr. Astor's agent brought the furs to Mackinac
_in company with the British troops_, and the whole transaction is well
known at Mackinac and Detroit."--U. S. Senate Docs., First Session,
Seventeenth Congress, 1821-22, Vol. I, Doc. No. 60:50-51.

[76] Document No. 90, U. S. Senate, First Session, 22nd Congress, ii:30.

[77] Document No. 58, U. S. Senate Docs. First Session, 19th

[78] Ibid. That the debauching of the Indians was long continuing was
fully evidenced by the numerous communications sent in by Government
representatives. The following is an extract from a letter written on
October 6, 1821, by the U. S. Indian Agent at Green Bay to the
Superintendent of Indian Affairs (or Indian Trade): "Mr. Kinzie, son to
the sub Indian Agent at Chicago, _and agent for the American Fur
Company_, has been detected in selling large quantities of whisky to the
Indians at and near Milwaukee of Lake Michigan."--Senate Docs., First
Session, Seventeenth Congress, 1821-22, Vol. I, Doc. No. 60:54.

[79] Doc. No. 58:10.

[80] Of this fact there can be no doubt. Writing on February 27, 1822,
to Senator Henry Johnson, chairman of the U. S. Senate Committee on
Indian Affairs, Superintendent McKenney said: ".... The Indians, it is
admitted, are good judges of the articles in which they deal, and,
generally when they are permitted to be sober, they can detect attempts
to practise fraud upon them. The traders knowing this (however, few of
the Indians are permitted to trade without a previous preparation in the
way of liquor,) would not be so apt to demand exorbitant prices.... This
may be illustrated by the fact, as reported to this office by Matthew
Irwin, that previous to the establishment of the Green Bay factory
[agency] as much as one dollar and fifty cents had been demanded by the
traders of the Indians, and received, for a brass thimble, and eighteen
dollars for one pound of tobacco!"--U. S. Senate Docs., First Session,
Seventeenth Congress, 1821-22, Vol. I, Document No. 60:40.

[81] Document No. 90, U. S. Senate Docs., First Session, 22nd Congress,

[82] Ibid:54.

[83] For a white 3 point blanket which cost $4.00 they were charged $10;
for a beaver trap costing $2.50, the charge was $8; for a rifle costing
$11 they had to pay $30; a brass kettle which Astor could buy at 48
cents a pound, he charged the Indians $30 for; powder cost him 20 cents
a pound; he sold it for $4 a pound; he bought tobacco for 10 cents a
pound and sold it at the rate of five small twists for $6, etc., etc.,

[84] Document No. 90:72.

[85] Many of the tribes, the Government reports show, not only yielded
up to Astor's company the whole of their furs, but were deeply in debt
to the company. In 1829 the Winnebagoes, Sacs and Foxes owed Farnham &
Davenport, agents for the American Fur Company among those tribes,
$40,000; by 1831 the debts had risen to $50,000 or $60,000. The Pawnees
owed fully as much, and the Cherokees, Chickasaws, Sioux and other
tribes were heavily in debt.--Doc. No. 90:72.

[86] Forsyth admits that in practically all of these murders the whites
were to blame.--Doc. No. 90:76.

[87] Doc. No. 90.--This is but a partial list. The full list of the
murdered whites the Government was unable to get.

[88] Document No. 90:77.

[89] Some of the original ledgers of the American Fur Company were put
on exhibition at Anderson's auction rooms in New York city in March,
1909. One entry showed that $35,000 had been paid to Lewis Cass for
services not stated. Doubtless, Astor had the best of reasons for not
explaining that payment; Cass was, or had been, the Governor of Michigan
Territory, and he became the identical Secretary of War to whom so many
complaints of the crimes of Astor's American Fur Company were made.

The author personally inspected these ledgers. The following are some
extracts from a news account in the New York "Times," issue of March 7,
1909, of the exhibition of the ledgers:

"They cover the business of the Northern Department from 1817 to 1835,
and consist of six folio volumes of about 1,000 pages each, in two stout
traveling cases, fitted with compartments, lock and key. It is said that
these books were missing for nearly seventy-five years, and recently
escaped destruction by the merest accident.

"The first entry is April 1, 1817. There are two columns, one for
British and the other for American money. An entry, May 3, 1817, shows
that Lewis Cass, then Governor of Michigan Territory and afterward
Democratic candidate for the Presidency against Gen. Zachary Taylor, the
successful Whig candidate, took about $35,000 of the Astor money from
Montreal to Detroit, in consideration of something which is not set



While at the outposts, and in the depths, of the Western wilderness an
armed host was working and cheating for Astor, and, in turn, being
cheated by their employer; while, for Astor's gain, they were violating
all laws, debauching, demoralizing and beggaring entire tribes of
Indians, slaying and often being themselves slain in retaliation, what
was the beneficiary of this orgy of crime and bloodshed doing in New

For a long time he lived at No. 223 Broadway in a large double house,
flanked by an imposing open piazza supported by pillars and arches. In
this house he combined the style of the ascending capitalist with the
fittings and trappings of the tradesman. It was at once residence,
office and salesroom. On the ground floor was his store, loaded with
furs; and here one of his sons and his chief heir, William B. could be
seen, as a lad, assiduously beating the furs to keep out moths. Astor's
disposition was phlegmatic and his habits were extremely simple and
methodical. He had dinner regularly at three o'clock, after which he
would limit himself to three games of checkers and a glass of beer. Most
of his long day was taken up with close attention to his many business
interests of which no detail escaped him. However execrated he might be
in the Indian territories far in the West, he assumed, and somewhat
succeeded in being credited with, the character of a patriotic,
respectable and astute man of business in New York.


During (taking a wide survey) the same series of years that he was
directing gross violations of explicit laws in the fur-producing
regions--laws upon the observance of which depended the very safety of
the life of men, women and children, white and red, and which laws were
vested with an importance corresponding with the baneful and bloody
results of their infraction--Astor was turning other laws to his
distinct advantage in the East. Pillaging in the West the rightful and
legal domain, and the possessions, of a dozen Indian tribes, he, in the
East, was causing public money to be turned over to his private treasury
and using it as personal capital in his shipping enterprises.

As applied to the business and landowning class, law was notoriously a
flexible, convenient, and highly adaptable function. By either the tacit
permission or connivance of Government, this class was virtually, in
most instances, its own law-regulator. It could consistently, and
without being seriously interfered with, violate such laws as suited its
interests, while calling for the enactment or enforcement of other laws
which favored its designs and enhanced its profits. We see Astor
ruthlessly brushing aside, like so many annoying encumbrances, even
those very laws which were commonly held indispensable to a modicum of
fair treatment of the Indians and to the preservation of human life.
These laws happened to conflict with the amassing of profits; and always
in a civilization ruled by the trading class, laws which do this are
either unceremoniously trampled upon, evaded or repealed.

For all the long-continued violations of law in the West, and for the
horrors which resulted from his exploitation of the Indians, was Astor
ever prosecuted? To repeat, no; nor was he disturbed even by such a
triviality as a formal summons. Yet, to realize the full enormity of
acts for which he was responsible, and the complete measure of immunity
that he enjoyed, it is necessary to recall that at the time the
Government had already begun to assume the role of looking upon the
Indians as its wards, and thus of theoretically extending to them the
shield of its especial protection. If Government allowed a people whom
it pleased to signify as its wards to be debauched, plundered and slain,
what kind of treatment could be expected for the working class as to
which there was not even the fiction of Government concern, not to
mention wardship?


But when it came to laws which, in the remotest degree, could be used or
manipulated to swell profits or to buttress property, Astor and his
class were untiring and vociferous in demanding their strict
enforcement. Successfully ignoring or circumventing laws objectionable
to them, they, at the same time, insisted upon the passage and exact
construction and severe enforcement of laws which were adjusted to their
interests. Law breakers, on the one hand, they were law makers on the
other. They caused to be put in statute, and intensified by judicial
precedent, the most rigorous laws in favor of property rights. They
virtually had the extraordinary power of choosing what laws they should
observe and what they should not. This choice was invariably at the
expense of the working class. Law, that much-sanctified product, was
really law only when applied to the propertyless. It confronted the poor
at every step, was executed with summary promptitude and filled the
prisons with them. Poverty had no choice in saying what laws it should
obey and what it should not. It, perforce, had to obey or go to prison;
either one or the other, for the laws were expressly drafted to bear
heavily upon it.

It is illustrative, in the highest degree, of the character of
Government ruled by commercial interests, that Astor was allowed to
pillage and plunder, cheat, rob and (by proxy) slaughter in the West,
while, in the East, that same Government extended to him, as well as to
other shippers, the free use of money which came from the taxation of
the whole people--a taxation always weighted upon the shoulders of the
worker. In turn, this favored class, either consciously or
unconsciously, voluntarily or involuntarily, cheated the Government of
nearly half of the sums advanced. From the foundation of the Government
up to 1837, there were nine distinct commercial crises which brought
about terrible hardships to the wage workers. Did the Government step in
and assist them? At no time. But during all those years the Government
was busy in letting the shippers dig into the public funds and in being
extremely generous to them when they failed to pay up. From 1789 to 1823
the Government lost more than $250,000,000 in duties,[90] all of which
sum represented what the shippers owed and did not, or could not, pay.
And no criminal proceedings were brought against any of these

This, however, was not all that the Government did for the favored,
pampered class that it represented. Laws were severe against labor-union
strikes, which were frequently judicially adjudged conspiracies.
Theoretically, law inhibited monopoly, but monopolies existed, because
law ceases to be effective law when it is not enforced; and the
propertied interests took care that it was not enforced. Their own class
was powerful in every branch of Government. Furthermore, they had the
money to buy political subserviency and legal dexterity. The $35,000
that Astor paid to Cass, the very official who, as Secretary of War, had
jurisdiction over the Indian tribes and over the Indian trade, and the
sums that Astor paid to Benton, were, it may well be supposed, only the
merest parts of the total sums that he disbursed to officials and
politicians, high and low.


Astor profited richly from his monopolies. His monopoly of furs in the
West was made a basis for the creation of other monopolies. China was a
voracious and highly profitable market for furs. In exchange for the
cargoes of these that he sent there, his ships would be loaded with teas
and silks. These products he sold at exorbitant prices in New York. His
profits from a single voyage sometimes reached $70,000; the average
profits from a single voyage were $30,000. During the War of 1812-15 tea
rose to double its usual price. Astor was invariably lucky in that his
ships escaped capture. At one period he was about the only merchant who
had a cargo of tea in the market. He exacted, and was allowed to exact,
his own price.

Meanwhile, Astor was setting about making himself the richest and
largest landowner in the country. His were not the most extensive land
possessions in point of extent but in regard to value. He aimed at being
a great city, not a great rural, landlord. It was estimated that his
trade in furs and associated commerce brought him a clear annual revenue
of about two million dollars. This estimate was palpably inadequate. Not
only did he reap enormous profits from the fur trade, but also from
banking privileges in which he was a conspicuous factor.

It was on one of his visits to London, so the recital goes, that he
first became possessed of the idea of founding an extraordinarily rich
landed family. He admired, it is told, the great landed estates of the
British nobility, and observed the prejudice against the caste of the
trader and the corresponding exalted position of the landowner. Whether
this story is true or not, it is evident that he was impressed with the
increasing power and the stability of a fortune founded upon land, and
how it radiated a certain splendid prestige. The very definition of the
word landlord--lord of the soil--signified the awe-compelling and
authoritative position of him who owned land--a definition heightened
and enforced in a thousand ways by the laws.

The speculative and solid possibilities of New York City real estate
held out dazzling opportunities gratifying his acquisitiveness for
wealth and power--the wealth that fed his avarice, and the power flowing
from the dominion of riches.


It may here be observed that Astor's methods in trade or in acquiring of
land need not be indiscriminately condemned as an exclusive mania. Nor
should they be held up to the curiosity of posterity as a singular and
pernicious exhibition, detached from his time and generation, and
independent of them. Again and again the facts disclose that men such as
he were merely the representative crests of prevailing commercial and
political life. Substantially the whole propertied class obtained its
wealth by methods which, if not the same, had a strong relationship. His
methods differed nowise from those of many cotton planters of the South
who stole, on a monstrous scale,[91] Government land and then with the
wealth derived from their thefts, bought negro slaves, set themselves up
in the glamour of a patriarchal aristocracy and paraded a florid display
of chivalry and honor. And it was this same grandiose class that
plundered Whitney of the fruits of his invention of the cotton-gin and
shamelessly defrauded him.[92]

Far more flagrant, however, were the means by which other Southern
plantation owners and business firms secured landed estates in Alabama,
Georgia and in other States. Their methods in expropriating the
reservations of such Indian tribes as the Creeks and Chickasaws were not
less fraudulent than those that Astor used elsewhere. They too, those
fine Southern aristocrats, debauched Indian tribes with whisky, and
after swindling them of their land, caused the Government to remove them
westward. The frauds were so extensive, and the circumstances so
repellant, that President Andrew Jackson, in 1833, ordered an
investigation. From the records of this investigation,--four hundred and
twenty-five solid pages of official correspondence--more than enough
details can be obtained.[93]


In Wisconsin the most valuable Government lands, containing rich
deposits of lead and other mineral ore, were being boldly appropriated
by force and fraud. The House Committee on Public Lands reported on
December 18, 1840, that with the connivance of local land agents, these
lands, since 1835, had been sold at private sale before they were even
subject to public entry.[94] "In consequence of which," the Committee
stated, "many tracts of land known to be rich and valuable mineral lands
for many years, and known to be such at the time of the entry, have been
entered by evil-minded persons, who have falsely made, or procured
others to make, the oath required by the land offices. Honest men have
been excluded from the purchase of these lands, while the dishonest and
unscrupulous have been permitted to enter them by means of false oath
and fraud."[95]

These are but the merest glimpses of the widespread frauds in seizing
land, whether agricultural, timber or mineral. What of the mercantile
importers, the same class that the Government so greatly favored in
allowing it long periods in which to pay its customs duties? It was
defrauding the Government on the very importations on which it was
extended long-time credit for customs payments. The few official reports
available clearly indicate this. Great frauds were continuously going on
in the importations of lead.[96] Large quantities of sugar were imported
in the guise of molasses which, it was discovered, after being boiled a
few minutes, would produce an almost equal weight in brown sugar.[97]
Doubtless similar frauds were being committed in other lines of
importations. Between the methods of these divisions of the capitalist
class, and those of Astor, no basic difference can be discerned.

Neither was there any essential difference between Astor's methods and
those of the manufacturing capitalists of the North who remorselessly
robbed Charles Goodyear of the benefits of his discovery of vulcanized
rubber and who drove him, after protracted litigation, into insolvency,
and caused him to die loaded down with worries and debts, a broken-down
man, at the age of 60.[98] As for that pretentious body of gentry who
professed to spread enlightenment and who set themselves high and
solemnly on a pinnacle as dispensers of knowledge and molders of public
opinion--the book, periodical and newspaper publishers--their methods at
bottom were as fraudulent as any that Astor ever used. They mercilessly
robbed and knew it, while making the most hypocritical professions of
lofty motives. Buried deep in the dusty archives of the United States
Senate is a petition whereon appear the signatures of Moore, Carlyle,
the two Disraelis, Milman, Hallam, Southey, Thomas Campbell, Sir Charles
Lyell, Bulwer Lytton, Samuel Rogers, Maria Edgeworth, Harriet Martineau
and other British literary luminaries, great or small. In this petition
these authors, some of them representing the highest and finest in
literary, philosophical, historical, and scientific thought and
expression, implore Congress to afford them protection against the
indiscriminate theft of their works by American booksellers. Their
works, they set forth, are not only appropriated without their consent
but even contrary to their expressed desire. And there is no redress.
Their productions are mutilated and altered, yet their names are
retained. They instance the pathetic case of Sir Walter Scott. His works
have been published and sold from Maine to the Gulf of Mexico, yet not a
cent has he received. "An equitable remuneration," they set forth,
"might have saved his life, and would, at least have relieved his
closing years from the burdens of debts and destructive toils."[99]

How fares this petition read in the United States Senate on February 2,
1837? The booksellers, magazine, periodical and newspaper publishers
have before succeeded in defeating one copyright bill. They now bestir
themselves again; the United States Senate consigns the petition to the
archives; and the piracy goes on as industriously as ever.


What else could be expected from a Congress which represented the
commercial and landholding classes? No prodding was needed to cause it
to give the fullest protection to possessions in commerce, land and
negro slaves; these were concrete property. But thought was not
capitalized; it was not a manufactured product like iron or soap.
Nothing can express the pitying contempt or the lofty air of
patronization with which the dominant commercial classes looked down
upon the writer, the painter, the musician, the philosopher or the
sculptor. Regarding these "sentimentalists" as easy, legitimate and
defenseless objects of prey, and as incidental and impractical
hangers-on in a world where trade was all in all, the commercial classes
at all times affected a certain air of encouragement of the fine arts,
which encouragement, however, never attempted to put a stop to piracies
of publication or reproduction. How sordidly commercial that era was, to
what extremes its standards went, and how some of the basest forms of
theft were carried on and practically legalized, may be seen by the fate
of Peter Cardelli's petition to Congress. Cardelli was a Roman sculptor,
residing in the United States for a time. He prays Congress in 1820 to
pass an act protecting him from commercial pirates who make casts and
copies of his work and who profit at his expense. The Senate Committee
on Judiciary, to whom the petition is referred, rejects the plea. On
what ground? Because he "has not discovered any new invention on which
he can claim the right."[100] Could stupidity go further?

All of the confluent facts of the time show conclusively that every
stratum of commercial society was permeated with fraud, and that this
fraud was accepted generally as a routine fixture of the business of
gathering property or profits. Astor, therefore, was not an isolated
phenomenon, but a typically successful representative of his time and
of the methods and standards of the trading class of that time.

Whatever in the line of business yielded profits, that act, whether
cheating, robbing or slaughtering, was justified by some sophistry or
other. Astor did not debauch, spoliate, and incite slaughter because he
took pleasure in doing them. Perhaps--to extend charitable judgment--he
would have preferred to avoid them. But they were all part of the
formulated necessities of business which largely decreed that the
exercise of humane and ethical considerations was incompatible with the
zealous pursuit of wealth.

In the wilderness of the West, Astor, operating through his agents,
could debauch, rob and slay Indians with impunity. As he was virtually
the governing body there, without fear of being hindered, he thus could
act in the most high-handed, arbitrary and forcible ways. In the East,
however, where law, or the forms of law, prevailed, he had to have
recourse to methods which bore no open trace of the brutal and
sanguinary. He had to become the insidious and devious schemer, acting
through sharp lawyers instead of by an armed force. Hence in his Eastern
operations he made deception a science and used every instrument of
cunning at his command. The result was precisely the same as in the
West, except that the consequences were not so overt, and the
perpetration could not be so easily distinguished. In the West, death
marched step by step with Astor's accumulating fortune; so did it in the
East, but it was not open and bloody as in the fur country. The
mortality thus accompanying Astor's progress in New York was of that
slow and indefinite, but more lingering and agonizing, kind ensuing from
want, destitution, disease and starvation.

Astor's supreme craft was at no time better shown than by the means by
which he acquired possession of an immense estate in Putnam County, New
York. During the Revolution, a tract consisting of 51,012 acres held by
Roger Morris and Mary his wife, Tories, had been confiscated by New York
State. This land, it is worth recalling, was part of the estate of
Adolphus Phillips, the son of Frederick who, as has been set forth,
financed and protected the pirate Captain Samuel Burgess in his
buccaneer expeditions, and whose share of the Burgess' booty was
extremely large.[101] Mary Morris was a descendant of Adolph Phillips
and came into that part of the property by inheritance. The Morris
estate comprised nearly one-third of Putnam County. After confiscation,
the State sold the area in parts to various farmers. By 1809 seven
hundred families were settled on the property, and not a shadow of a
doubt had ever been cast on their title. They had long regarded it as
secure, especially as it was guaranteed by the State.


In 1809 a browsing lawyer informed Astor that those seven hundred
families had no legal title whatever; that the State had had no legal
right to confiscate the Morris property, inasmuch as the Morrises held a
life lease only, and no State could ever confiscate a life lease. The
property, Astor was informed, was really owned by the children of the
Morris couple, to whom it was to revert after the lease of their parents
was extinguished. Legally, he was told, they were as much the owners as
ever. Astor satisfied himself that this point would hold in the courts.
Then he assiduously hunted up the heirs, and by a series of strategic
maneuvers worthy of the pen of a Balzac, succeeded in buying their
claim for $100,000.

In the thirty-three years which had elapsed since confiscation, the land
had been greatly improved. Suddenly came a notification to these
unsuspecting farmers that not they, but Astor, owned the land. All the
improvements that they had made, all the accumulated standing products
of the thirty-three years' labor of the occupants, he claimed as his, by
virtue of the fact that, in law, they were trespassers. Dumfounded, they
called upon him to prove his claim. Whereupon his lawyers, men saturated
with the terminology and intricacies of legal lore, came forward and
gravely explained that the law said so and so and was such and such and
that the law was incontestible in support of Astor's claim. The
hard-working farmers listened with mystification and consternation. They
could not make out how land which they or their fathers had paid for,
and which they had tilled and improved, could belong to an absentee who
had never turned a spade on it, had never seen it, all simply because he
had the advantage of a legal technicality and a document emblazoned with
a seal or two.


They appealed to the Legislature. This body, influenced by the public
uproar over the transaction, refused to recognize Astor's title. The
whole State was aroused to a pitch of indignation. Astor's claim was
generally regarded as an audacious piece of injustice and robbery. He
contended that he was not subject to the provision of the statute
directing sales of confiscated estates which provided that tenants could
not be dispossessed without being paid for improvements. In fine, he
claimed the right to evict the entire seven hundred families without
being under the legal or moral necessity of paying them a single cent
for their improvements. In the state of public temper, the officials of
the State of New York decided to fight his claim. Astor offered to sell
his claim to the State for $667,000. But such was the public outburst at
the effrontery of a man who had bought what was virtually an extinct
claim for $100,000, and then attempting to hold up the State for more
than six times that sum, that the Legislature dared not consent.

The contention went to the courts and there dragged along for many
years. Astor, however, won his point; it was decided that he had a valid
title. Finally in 1827 the Legislature allowed itself[102] to
compromise, although public opinion was as bitter as ever. The State
gave Astor $500,000 in five per cent stock, specially issued, in
surrender of his claim.[103] Thus were the whole people taxed to buy, at
an exorbitant price, the claim of a man who had got it by artifice and
whose estate eventually applied the interest and principal of that stock
to buying land in New York City. Thus also can a considerable part of
the Astor fortune be traced to Adolphus Phillips, son of Frederick, the
partner, protector and chief spoil-sharer of Captain Burgess, sea
pirate, and whose estate, the Phillips manor, had been obtained by
bribing Fletcher, the royal governor.

But while Astor gradually appropriated vast tracts of land in
Wisconsin, Missouri, Iowa and other parts of the West, and levied his
toll on one-third of Putnam County, it was in New York City that he
concentrated the great bulk of his real estate speculations. To buy
steadily on the scale that he did required a constant revenue. This
revenue, as we have seen, came from his fur trading methods and
activities and the profits and privileges of his shipping. But these
factors do not explain his entire agencies in becoming a paramount
landocrat. One of these was the banking privilege--a privilege so
ordained by law that it was one of the most powerful and insidious
suctions for sapping the wealth created by the toil of the producers,
and for enriching its owners at a most appalling sacrifice to the
working and agricultural classes. And above all, Astor in common with
his class, made the most valuable asset of Law, whether exploiting the
violation, or the enforcement, of it.

If we are to accept the superficial, perfunctory accounts of Astor's
real estate investments in New York City, then he will appear in the
usual eulogistic light of a law-loving, sagacious man engaged in a
legitimate enterprise. The truth, however, lies deeper than that--a
truth which has been either undiscerned or glossed over by those
conventional writers who, with a panderer's instinct, give a
wealth-worshipping era the thing it wants to read, not what it ought to
know. Although apparently innocent and in accord with the laws and
customs of the times, Astor's real estate transactions were inseparably
connected with consecutive evasions, trickeries, frauds and violations
of law. Extraordinarily favorable as the law was to the propertied
classes, even that law was constantly broken by the very classes to whom
it was so partial.

Simultaneously, while reaping large revenues from his fur trade among
the Indians in both the East and West, Astor was employing a different
kind of fraud in using the powers of city and State government in New
York in obtaining, for practically nothing, enormously valuable grants
of land and other rights and privileges which added to the sum total of
his growing wealth.


In this procedure he was but doing what a number of other contemporaries
such as Peter Goelet, the Rhinelanders, the Lorillards, the
Schermerhorns and other men who then began to found powerful landed
families, were doing at the same time. The methods by which these men
secured large areas of land, now worth huge sums, were unquestionably
fraudulent, although the definite facts are not as wholly available as
are, for instance, those which related to Fletcher's granting vast
estates for bribes in the seventeenth century, or the bribery which
corrupted the various New York legislatures beginning in the year 1805.
Nevertheless, considering the character of the governing politicians,
and the scandals that ensued from the granting and sales of New York
City land a century or more ago, it is reasonably certain that corrupt
means were used. The student of the times cannot escape from this
conclusion, particularly as it is borne out by many confirming

New York City, at one time, owned a very large area of land which was
fraudulently granted or sold to private individuals. Considerable of
this granting or selling was done during the years when the corrupt
Benjamin Romaine was City Controller. Romaine was so badly involved in a
series of scandals arising from the grants and corrupt sales of city
land, that in 1806 the Common Council, controlled by his own party, the
Tammany machine, found it necessary to remove him from the office of
City Controller for malfeasance.[104] The specific charge was that he
had fraudulently obtained valuable city land in the heart of the city
without paying for it. Something had to be done to still public
criticism, and Romaine was sacrificed. But, in fact, he was far from
being the only venal official concerned in the current frauds. These
frauds continued no matter which party or what set of officials were in
power. Several years after Romaine was removed, John Bingham, a powerful
member of the Aldermanic Committee on Finance, which passed upon and
approved these various land grants, was charged by public investigators
with having caused the city to sell to his brother-in-law land which he
later influenced the city administration to buy back at an exorbitant
price. Spurred by public criticism the Common Council demanded its
reconveyance.[105] It is more than evident--it is indisputable--from the
records and the public scandals, that the successive city
administrations were corruptly conducted. The conservative newspaper
comments alone of the period indicate this clearly, if nothing else


Neither Astor nor Goelet were directly active members of the changing
political cliques which controlled the affairs of the city. It is likely
that they bore somewhat the same relation to these cliques that the
politico-industrial magnates and financiers of to-day do; to all
appearances distinctly apart from participation in politics, and yet by
means of money, having a strong or commanding influence in the
background. But the Rhinelander brothers, William and Frederick, were
integral members of the political machine in power. Thus we find that in
1803, William Rhinelander was elected Assessor for the Fifth Ward (a
highly important and sumptuary office at that time), while both he and
Frederick were, at the same time, appointed inspectors of

The action of the city officials in disposing of city land to
themselves, to political accomplices and to favorites (who, it is
probable, although not a matter of proof, paid bribes) took two forms.
One was the granting of land under water, the other the granting of city
real estate. At that time the configuration of Manhattan Island was such
that it was marked by ponds, streams and marshes, while the marginal
lines of the Hudson River and the East River extended much further
inland than now. When an individual got what was called a water grant,
it meant land under shallow water, where he had the right to build
bulkheads and wharves and to fill in and make solid ground. Out of these
water grants was created property now worth hundreds upon hundreds of
millions of dollars. The value at that time was not great, but the
prospective value was immense. This fact was recognized in the official
reports of the day, which set forth how rapidly the city's population
and commerce were increasing. As for city land as such, the city not
only owned large tracts by reason of old grants and confiscations, but
it constantly came into possession of more because of non-payment of

The excuses by which the city officials covered their short-sighted or
fraudulent grants of the water rights and the city land were various.
One was that the gifts were for the purpose of assisting religious
institutions. This, however, was but an occasional excuse. The principal
excuse which was persisted in for forty years was that the city needed
revenue. This was a fact. The succeeding city administrations so
corruptly and extravagantly squandered the city's money that the city
was constantly in debt. Perhaps this debt was created for the very
purpose of having a plausible ground for disposing of city land. So it
was freely charged at that time.


Let us see how the religious motive worked. On June 10, 1794, the city
gave to Trinity Church a water grant covering all that land from
Washington street to the North River between Chambers and Reade streets.
The annual rent was one shilling per running foot after the expiration
of forty-two years from June 10, 1794. Thus, for forty-two years, no
rent was charged. Shortly after the passage of this grant, Trinity
Church conveyed it to William Rhinelander, and also all that ground
between Jay and Harrison streets, from Greenwich street to the North
River. By a subsequent arrangement with Trinity Church and the city, all
of this land as well as certain other Trinity land became William
Rhinelander's property; and then, by agreement of the Common Council on
May 29, 1797, and confirmation of Nov. 16, 1807, he was given all rights
to the land water between high and low water mark, bounding his
property, for an absurdly low rental.[107] These water grants were
subsequently filled in and became of enormous value.

Astor was as energetic as Rhinelander in getting grants from the city
officials. In 1806 he obtained two of large extent on the East Side--on
Mangin street between Stanton and Houston streets, and on South street
between Peck Slip and Dover street. On May 30, 1808, upon a favorable
report handed in by the Finance Committee, of which the notorious John
Bingham was a member, Astor received an extensive grant along the Hudson
bounding the old Burr estate which had come into his possession.[108] In
1810 he received three more water grants in the vicinity of Hubert,
Laight, Charlton, Hammersly and Clarkson streets, and on April 28, 1828,
three at Tenth avenue, Twelfth, Thirteenth, Fourteenth and Fifteenth
streets. These were some of the grants that he received. But they do not
include the land in the heart of the city that he was constantly buying
from private owners or getting by the evident fraudulent connivance of
the city officials.

Having obtained the water grants and other land by fraud, what did the
grantees next proceed to do? They had them filled in, not at their own
expense, but largely at the expense of the municipality. Sunken lots
were filled in, sewers placed, and streets opened, regulated and graded
at but the merest minimum of expense to these landlords. By fraudulent
collusion with the city authorities they foisted much of the expense
upon the taxpayers. How much money the city lost by this process in the
early decades of the nineteenth century was never known. But in 1855
Controller Flagg submitted to the Common Council an itemized statement
for the five years from 1850 in which he referred to "the startling fact
that the city's payments, in a range of five years [for filling in
sunken lots, regulating and grading streets, etc.], exceed receipts by
the sum of more than two millions of dollars."[109]


In the case of most of these so-called water fronts, there was usually a
trivial rental attached. Nearly always, however, this was commuted upon
payment of a small designated sum, and a full and clear title was then
given by the city. In this rush to get water-grants--grants many of
which are now solid land filled with business and residential
buildings--many of the ancestors of those families which pride
themselves upon their exclusive air participated. The Lorillards, the
Goelets, William F. Havemeyer, Cornelius Vanderbilt, W. H. Webb, W. H.
Kissam, Robert Lenox, Schermerhorn, James Roosevelt, William E. Dodge,
Jr.--all of these and many others--not omitting Astor's American Fur
Company--at various times down to, and including the period of, the
monumentally corrupt Tweed "ring," got grants from corrupt city
administrations. Some of these water rights, that is to say, such
fragmentary parts of them as pertained to wharves and bulkheads, New
York City, in recent years, has had to buy back at exorbitant prices.
From the organization of the Dock Department down to 1906 inclusive, New
York City had expended $70,000,000 for the purchase of bulkhead and
wharf property and for construction.

During all the years from 1800 on, Astor, in conjunction with other
landholders, was manipulating the city government not less than the
State and Federal Government. Now he gets from the Board of Aldermen
title to a portion of this or that old country road on Manhattan which
the city closes up; again and again he gets rights of land under water.
He constantly solicits the Board of Aldermen for this or that right or
privilege and nearly always succeeds. No property or sum is too small
for his grasp. In 1832, when Eighth avenue, from Thirteenth to
Twenty-third streets is graded down and the earth removed is sold by the
city to a contractor for $3,049.44, Astor, Stephen D. Beekman and Jacob
Taylor petition that each get a part of the money for earth removed from
in front of their lots. This is considered such a petty attempt at
defrauding, that the Aldermen call it an "unreasonable petition" and
refuse to accede.[110] In 1834 the Aldermen allow him a part of the old
Hurlgate road, and Rhinelander a part of the Southampton road. Not a
year passes but that he does not get some new right or privilege from
the city government. At his request some streets are graded and
improved; the improvement of such other streets as is not to his
interest to have improved is delayed. Here sewers are placed; then they
are refused. Every function of city administration was incessantly used
by him. The cumulative effect of this class use of government was to
give him and others a constant succession of grants and privileges that
now have a prodigious value.

But it should be noted that those who thus benefited, singularly enjoyed
the advantages of laws and practices. For city land that they bought
they were allowed to pay on easy terms; not infrequently the city had to
bring action for final payment. But the tenants of these landlords had
to pay rent on the day that it fell due, or within a few days of the
time; they could not be in arrears more than three days without having
to face dispossess proceedings. Nor was this all the difference. On
land which they corruptly obtained from the city and which, to a large
extent, they fraudulently caused to be filled in, regulated, graded or
otherwise improved at the expense of the whole community, the landlords
refused to pay taxes promptly, just as they refused to pay them on land
that they had bought privately. What was the result? "Some of our
wealthiest citizens," reported the Controller in 1831, "are in the habit
of postponing the payment of taxes for six months and more, and the
Common Council are necessitated to borrow money on interest to meet the
ordinary disbursements of the city."[111] If a man of very moderate
means were backward in payment of taxes, the city promptly closed him
out, and if a tenant of any of these delinquent landlords were
dispossessed for non-payment of rent, the city it was which undertook
the process of eviction. The rich landlord, however, could do as he
pleased, since all government represented his interests and those of his
class. Instead of the punishment for non-payment of taxes being visited
upon him, it was imposed upon the whole community in the form of
interest-bearing bonds.


The money that Astor secured by robbing the Indians and exploiting the
workers by means of monopolies, he thus put largely into land. In 1810,
a story runs, he offers to sell a Wall Street lot for $8,000. The price
is so low that a buyer promptly appears. "Yes, you are astonished,"
Astor says. "But see what I intend to do with that eight thousand
dollars. That Wall Street lot, it is true, will be worth twelve thousand
dollars in a few years. But I shall take that eight thousand dollars
and buy eighty lots above Canal street and by the time your one lot is
worth twelve thousand dollars, my eighty lots will be worth eighty
thousand dollars." So goes one of the fine stories told to illustrate
his foresight, and to prove that his fortune came exclusively from that
faculty and from his industry.

This version bears all the impress of being undoubtedly a fraud. Astor
was remarkably secretive and dissembling, and never revealed his plans
to anyone. That he bought the lots is true enough, but his attributed
loquacity is mythical and is the invention of some gushing eulogist. At
that time he was buying for $200 or $300 each many lots on lower
Broadway, then, for the most part, an unoccupied waste. What he was
counting upon was the certain growth of the city and the vastly
increasing values not that he would give his land, but which would
accrue from the labor of an enlarged population. These lots are now
occupied by crowded business buildings and are valued at from $300,000
to $400,000 each.

Throughout those years in the first decade of the nineteenth century he
was constantly buying land on Manhattan Island. Practically all of it
was bought, not with the idea of using it, but of holding it and
allowing future populations to make it a thousand times more valuable.
An exception was his country estate of thirteen acres at Hurlgate
(Hellgate) in the vicinity of Sixtieth street and the East River. It was
curious to look back at the fact that less than a century ago the upper
regions of Manhattan Island were filled with country estates--regions
now densely occupied by huge tenement houses and some private dwellings.
In those days, not less than in these, a country seat was considered a
necessary appendage to the possessions of a rich man. Astor bought that
Hurlgate estate as a country seat; but as such it was long since
discontinued although the land comprising it has never left the hold of
the Astor family.

What were the intrinsic circumstances of the means by which he bought
land, now worth hundreds of millions of dollars? For once, we get a
gleam of the truth, but a gleam only, in the "popular writer's" account
when he says: "John Jacob Astor's record is constantly crossed by
embarrassed families, prodigal sons, mortgages and foreclosure sales.
Many of the victims of his foresight were those highest in church and
state. He thus acquired for $75,000 one-half of Governor George
Clinton's splendid Greenwich country place [in the old Greenwich village
on the west side of Manhattan Island].... After the Governor's death, he
kept persistently at the heirs, lent them money and acquired additional
slices of the family property.... Nearly two-thirds of the Clinton farm
is now held by Astor's descendants, and is covered by scores of business
buildings, from which is derived an annual income estimated at


In this transaction we see the beginnings of that period of conquest on
the part of the very rich using their surplus capital in effacing the
less rich--a period which really opened with Astor and which has been
vastly intensified in recent times. Clinton was accounted a rich man in
his day, but he was a pigmy in that respect compared to Astor. With his
incessant inflow of surplus wealth, Astor was in a position where on the
instant he could take advantage of the difficulties of less rich men and
take over to himself their property. A large amount of Astor's money was
invested in mortgages. In times of periodic financial and industrial
distress, the mortgagers were driven to extremities and could no longer
keep up their payments. These were the times that Astor waited for, and
it was in such times that he stepped in and possessed himself, at
comparatively small expense, of large additional tracts of land.

It was this way that he became the owner of what was then the Cosine
farm, extending on Broadway from Fifty-third to Fifty-seventh streets
and westward to the Hudson River. This property, which he got for
$23,000 by foreclosing a mortgage, is now in the very heart of the city,
filled with many business, and every variety of residential, buildings,
and is rated as worth $6,000,000. By much the same means he acquired
ownership of the Eden farm in the same vicinity, coursing along Broadway
north from Forty-second street and slanting over to the Hudson River.
This farm lay under pledges for debt and attachments for loans. Suddenly
Astor turned up with a third interest in an outstanding mortgage,
foreclosed, and for a total payment of $25,000 obtained a sweep of
property now covered densely with huge hotels, theaters, office
buildings, stores and long vistas of residences and tenements--a
property worth at the very least $25,000,000. Any one with sufficient
security in land who sought to borrow money would find Astor extremely
accommodating. But woe betide the hapless borrower, whoever he was, if
he failed in his obligations to the extent of even a fraction of the
requirements covered by law! Neither personal friendship, religious
considerations nor the slightest feelings of sympathy availed.

But where law was insufficient or non-existent, new laws were created
either to aggrandize the powers of landlordship, or to seize hold of
land or enchance its value, or to get extraordinary special privileges
in the form of banking charters. And here it is necessary to digress
from the narrative of Astor's land transactions and advert to his
banking activities, for it was by reason of these subordinately, as well
as by his greater trade revenues, that he was enabled so successfully to
pursue his career of wealth-gathering. The circumstances as to the
origin of certain powerful banks in which he and other landholders and
traders were large stockholders, the methods and powers of those banks,
and their effect upon the great body of the people, are component parts
of the analytic account of his operations. Not a single one of Astor's
biographers has mentioned his banking connections. Yet it is of the
greatest importance to describe them, inasmuch as they were closely
intertwined with his trade, on the one hand, and with his land
acquisitions, on the other.


[90] Doc. No. 13, State Papers, Second Session, 18th Congress, Vol. ii.

[91] "Stole on a monstrous scale." The land frauds, by which many of the
Southern planters obtained estates in Louisiana, Mississippi and other
States were a national scandal. Benjamin F. Linton, United States
Attorney for Western Louisiana, reported to President Andrew Jackson on
August 27, 1835, that in seizing possession of Government land in that
region "the most shameful frauds, impositions and perjuries had been
committed in Louisiana." Sent to investigate, V. M. Garesche, an agent
of the Government Land Office, complained that he could get no one to
testify. "Is it surprising," he wrote to the Secretary of the Treasury,
"when you consider that those engaged in this business belong to every
class of society from the member of the Legislature (if I am informed
correctly) down to the quarter quarter-section settler!" Up to that time
the Government held title to immense tracts of land in the South and had
thrown it open to settlers. Few of these were able to get it, however.
Southern plantation men and Northern capitalists and speculators
obtained possession by fraud. "A large company," Garesche reported, "was
formed in New York for the purpose, and have an agent who is continually
scouring the country." The final report was a whitewashing one; hence,
none of the frauds was sent to jail.--Doc. No. 168, Twenty-fourth
Congress, 2d Session, ii:4-25, also Doc. No. 213, Ibid.

[92] "America," admits Houghton, "never presented a more shameful
spectacle than was exhibited when the courts of the cotton-growing
regions united with the piratical infringers of Whitney's rights in
robbing their greatest benefactor.... In spite of the far-reaching
benefits of his invention, he had not realized one dollar above his
expenses. He had given millions upon millions of dollars to the
cotton-growing states, he had opened the way for the establishment of
the vast cotton-spinning interests of his own country and Europe, and
yet, after fourteen years of hard labor, he was a poor man, the victim
of wealthy, powerful, and, in his case, a dishonest class."--"Kings of
Fortune":337. All other of Whitney's biographers relate likewise.

[93] See Senate Documents, First Session, 24th Congress, 1835, Vol. vi,
Doc. No. 425. A few extracts from the great mass of correspondence will
lucidly show the nature of the fraudulent methods. Writing from
Columbus, Georgia, on July 15, 1833, Col. John Milton informed the War
Department ... "Many of them [the Indians] are almost starved, and
suffer immensely for the things necessary to the support of life, and
are sinking in moral degradation. They have been much corrupted by white
men who live among them, who induce them to sell to as many different
individuals as they can, and then cheat them out of the proceeds."...
(p. 81.) Luther Blake wrote to the War Department from Fort Mitchell,
Alabama, on September 11, 1833 ... "Many, from motives of speculation,
have bought Indian reserves fraudulently in this way--take their bonds
for trifles, pay them ten or twenty dollars in something they do not
want, and take their receipts for five times the amount." (p. 86). On
February 1, 1834, J. H. Howard, of Pole-Cat Springs, Creek Nation, sent
a communication, by request, to President Jackson in which he said, ...
"From my own observation, I am induced to believe that a number of
reservations have been paid for at some nominal price, and the principal
consideration has been whisky and homespun" ... (p. 104). Gen. J. W. A.
Sandford, sent by President Jackson to the Creek country to investigate
the charges of fraud, wrote, on March 1, 1834, to the War Department,
... "It is but very recently that the Indian has been invested with an
individual interest in land, and the great majority of them appear
neither to appreciate its possession, nor to economize the money for
which it is sold; the consequence is, that the white man rarely suffers
an opportunity to pass by without swindling him out of both".... (p.

The records show that the principal beneficiaries of these swindles were
some of the most conspicuous planters, mercantile firms and politicians
in the South. Frequently, they employed dummies in their operations.

[94] Reports of House Committees, Second Session, 26th Congress,
1840-41, Report No. 1.

[95] Ibid., 1 and 2.

[96] Executive Documents, First Session, 23rd Congress, 1833-34, Doc.
No. 132.

[97] Senate Documents, First Session, 22nd Congress, 1831-33, Vol. iii,
Doc. No. 139.

[98] "No inventor," reported the United States Commissioner of Patents
in 1858, "probably has ever been so harassed, so trampled upon, so
plundered by that sordid and licentious class of infringers known in the
parlance of the world, with no exaggeration of phrase as 'pirates.' The
spoliation of their incessant guerilla upon his defenseless rights have
unquestionably amounted to millions."

[99] Doc. No. 134, Twenty-fourth Congress, 2d Session, Vol. ii.

[100] Doc. 129, State Papers, 1819-21, Vol. ii.

[101] See Part I, Chapter II.

[102] "Allowed itself." The various New York legislatures from the end
of the eighteenth century on were hotbeds of corruption. Time after time
members were bribed to pass bills granting charters for corporations or
other special privileges. (See the numerous specific instances cited in
the author's "History of Tammany Hall," and subsequently in this work.)
The Legislature of 1827 was notoriously corrupt.

[103] Journal of the [New York] Senate, 1815:216--Journal of the [New
York] Assembly, 1818:261; Journal of the Assembly, 1819. Also "A
Statement and Exposition of The Title of John Jacob Astor to the Lands
Purchased by him from the surviving children of Roger Morris and Mary,
his Wife"; New York, 1827.

[104] MSS. Minutes of the (New York City) Common Council, xvi:239-40 and

[105] Ibid., xx: 355-356.

[106] MSS. Minutes of the Common Council, xiii: 118 and 185.

[107] MSS. Minutes of the Common Council, xvii: 141-144. See also Annual
Report of Controller for 1849, Appendix A.

[108] MSS. Minutes of the Common Council, xviii: 411-414.

[109] Doc. No. 33, Documents of the Board of Aldermen, xxii:26.

[110] Proceedings of the Board of Aldermen, 1832-33, iv: 416-418.

[111] Controller's Reports for 1831:7. Also Ibid. for 1841:28.



Astor flourished at that precise time when the traders and landowners,
flushed with revenues, reached out for the creation and control of the
highly important business of professionally dealing in money, and of
dictating, personally and directly, what the supply of the people's
money should be.

This signalized the next step in the aggrandizement of individual
fortunes. The few who could center in themselves, by grace of
Government, the banking and manipulation of the people's money and the
restricting or inflating of money issues, were immediately vested with
an extraordinary power. It was a sovereign power at once coercive and
proscriptive, and a mighty instrument for transferring the produce of
the many to a small and exclusive coterie. Not merely over the labor of
the whole working class did this gripping process extend, but it was
severely felt by that large part of the landowning and trading class
which was excluded from holding the same privileges. The banker became
the master of the master. In that fierce, pervading competitive strife,
the banks were the final exploiters. Sparsely organized and wholly
unprotected, the worker was in the complete power of the trader,
manufacturer and landowner; in turn, such of these divisions of the
propertied class as were not themselves sharers in the ownership of
banks were at the mercy of the banking institutions.

At any time upon some pretext or other, the banks could arbitrarily
refuse the latter class credit or accommodation, or harass its victims
in other ways equally as destructive. As business was largely done in
expectations of payment, in other words, credit, as it is now, this was
a serious, often a desperate, blow to the lagging or embarrassed
brothers in trade. Banks were virtually empowered by law to ruin or
enrich any individual or set of individuals. As the banks were then
founded and owned by men who were themselves traders or landholders,
this power was crushingly used against competitors. Armed with the
strong power of law, the banks overawed the mercantile world, thrived on
the industry, misfortune or ruin of others, and swayed politics and
elections. The bank men loaned money to themselves at an absurdly low
rate of interest. But for loans of money to all others they demanded a
high rate of interest which, in periods of commercial distress,
overwhelmed the borrowers. Nominally banks were restricted to a certain
standard rate of interest; but by various subterfuges they easily evaded
these provisions and exacted usurious rates.


These, however, were far from being the worst features. The most
innocent of their great privileges was that of playing fast and loose
with the money confidingly entrusted to their care by a swarm of
depositors who either worked for it, or for the matter of that, often
stole it; bankers, like pawnbrokers, ask no questions. The most
remarkable of their vested powers was that of manufacturing money. The
industrial manufacturer could not make goods unless he had the plant,
the raw material and the labor. But the banker, somewhat like the
fabled alchemists, could transmute airy nothing into bank-note money,
and then, by law, force its acceptance. The lone trader or landholder
unsupported by a partnership with law could not fabricate money. But let
trader and landholder band in a company, incorporate, then persuade,
wheedle or bribe a certain entity called a legislature to grant them a
certain bit of paper styled a charter, and lo! they were instantly
transformed into money manufacturers.


The simple mandate of law was sufficient authorization for them to prey
upon the whole world outside of their charmed circle. With this scrap of
paper they could go forth on the highways of commerce and over the farms
and drag in, by the devious, absorbent processes of the banking system,
a great part of the wealth created by the actual producers. As it was
with taxation, so was it with the burdens of this system; they fell
largely upon the worker, whether in the shop or on the farm. When the
business man and the landowner were compelled to pay exorbitant rates of
interest they but apparently had to meet the demands. What these classes
really did was to throw the whole of these extra impositions upon the
working class in the form of increased prices for necessaries and
merchandise and in augmented rents.

But how were these State or Government authorizations, called charters,
to be obtained? Did not the Federal Constitution prohibit States from
giving the right to banks to issue money? Were not private money
factories specifically barred by that clause of the Constitution which
declared that no State "shall coin money, emit bills of credit, or make
anything but gold or silver a tender in payment of debts?"

Here, again, the power of class domination of Government came into
compelling effect. The onward sweep of the trading class was not to be
balked by such a trifling obstacle as a Constitutional provision. At all
times when the Constitution has stood in the way of commercial aims it
has been abrogated, not by repeal nor violent overthrow, but by the
effective expedient of judicial interpretation. The trading class
demanded State created banks with power of issuing money; and, as the
courts have invariably in the long run responded to the interests and
decrees of the dominant class, a decision was quickly forthcoming in
this case to the effect that "bills of credit" were not meant to cover
banknotes. This was a new and surprising construction; but judicial
decision and precedent made it virtually law, and law a thousandfold
more binding than any Constitutional insertion.


The trading class had already learned the importance of the principle
that while it was essential to control law-making bodies, it was
imperative to have as their auxiliary the bodies that interpreted law.
To a large extent the United States since then has lived not under
legislative-made law, but under a purely separate and extraneous form of
law which has superseded the legislature product, namely, court law.
Although nowhere in the United States Constitution is there even the
suggestion that courts shall make law, yet this past century and more
they have been gradually building up a formidable code of
interpretations which substantially ranks as the most commanding kind of
law. And these interpretations have, on the whole, consistently
followed, and kept pace with, the changing interests of the dominant
class, whether traders, slaveholders, or the present trusts.

This decision of the august courts opened the way for the greatest orgy
of corruption and the most stupendous frauds. In New York,
Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and other States a
continuous rush to get bank charters ensued. Most of the legislatures
were composed of men who, while perhaps, not innately corrupt, were
easily seduced by the corrupt temptations held out by the traders. There
was a deep-seated hostility, in many parts of the country, on the part
of the middling tradesmen--the shopkeepers and the petty merchants--to
any laws calculated to increase the power and the privileges of the
superior traders and the landowners. Among the masses of workers, most
of whom were, however, disfranchised, any attempt to vest the rich with
new privileges, was received with the bitterest resentment. But the
legislatures were approachable; some members who were put there by the
rich families needed only the word as to how they should vote, while
others, representing both urban and rural communities, were swayed by
bribes. By one means or another the traders and landholders forced the
various legislatures into doing what was wanted.

Omitting the records of other States, a few salient facts as to what
took place in New York State will suffice to give a clear idea of some
of the methods of the trading class in pressing forward their conquests,
in hurling aside every impediment, whether public opinion or law, and in
creating new laws which satisfied their extending plans for a
ramification of profit-producing interests. If forethought, an
unswerving aim and singleness of execution mean anything, then there
was something sternly impressive in the way in which this rising
capitalist class went forward to snatch what it sought, and what it
believed to be indispensable to its plans. There was no hesitation, nor
were there any scruples as to niceties of methods; the end in view was
all that counted; so long as that was attained, the means used were
considered paltry side-issues. And, indeed, herein lies the great
distinction of action between the world-old propertied classes and the
contending proletariat; for whereas the one have always campaigned
irrespective of law and particularly by bribery, intimidation,
repression and force, the working class has had to confine its movement
strictly to the narrow range of laws which were expressly prepared
against it and the slightest violation of which has called forth the
summary vengeance of a society ruled actually, if not theoretically, by
the very propertied classes which set at defiance all law.


The chartered monopoly held by the traders who controlled the United
States Bank was not accepted passively by others of the commercial
class, who themselves wanted financial engines of the same character.
The doctrine of State's rights served the purpose of these excluded
capitalists as well as it did that of the slaveholders.

The States began a course of reeling out bank charters. By 1799 New York
City had one bank, the Bank of New York; this admixed the terrorism of
trade and politics so overtly that presently an opposition application
for a charter was made. This solitary bank was run by some of the old
landowning families who fully understood the danger involved in the
triumph of the democratic ideas represented by Jefferson; a danger far
overestimated, however, since win as democratic principles did, the
propertied class continued its victorious march, for the simple reason
that property was able to divert manhood suffrage to its own account,
and to aggrandize itself still further on the ruins of every subsequent
similar reform expedient. What the agitated masses, for the most part,
of that period could not comprehend was that they who hold the
possession of the economic resources will indubitably sway the politics
of a country, until such time as the proletariat, no longer divided but
thoroughly conscious, organized, and aggressive, will avail itself of
its majority vote to transfer the powers of government to itself. The
Bank of New York injected itself virulently into politics and fought the
spread of democratic ideas with sordid but effective weapons. If a
merchant dared support what it denounced as heretical doctrines, the
bank at once black-listed him by rejecting his notes when he needed cash

It was now that Aaron Burr, that adroit leader of the opposition party,
stepped in. Seconded or instigated by certain traders, he set out to get
one of those useful and invaluable bank charters for his backers. The
explanation of how he accomplished the act is thus given: Taking
advantage of the epidemic of yellow fever then desolating New York City,
he, with much preliminary of philanthropic motives, introduced a bill
for the apparent beneficent purpose of diminishing the future
possibility of the disease by incorporating a company, called the
Manhattan Company, to supply pure, wholesome water. Supposing that the
charter granted nothing more than this, the explanation goes on, the
Legislature passed the bill, and was most painfully surprised and
shocked when the fact came out that the measure had been so deftly
drawn, that it, in fact, granted an unlimited charter, conferring
banking powers on the company.[112]

This explanation is probably shallow and deficient. It is much more
likely that bribery was resorted to, considering the fact that the
granting of every successive bank charter was invariably accompanied by
bribery. Six years later the Mercantile Bank received a charter for a
thirteen years' period--a charter which, it was openly charged by
certain members of the Assembly, was secured by bribery. These charges
were substantially proved by the testimony before a legislative
investigating committee.[113] In 1811 the Mechanics' Bank was chartered
with a time limit under circumstances indicating bribery.

Indeed, so often was bribing done and so pronounced were charges of
corruption at frequent sessions of the Legislature, that in 1812, the
Assembly, in an heroic spasm of impressive virtue, passed a resolution
compelling each member to pledge himself that he had neither taken, nor
would take, "any reward or profit, direct or indirect, for any vote on
any measure."[114] This resolution was palpably intended to blind the
public; for, in that identical year, the Bank of America received a
charter amid charges of flagrant corruption. One Assemblyman declared
under oath that he had been offered the sum of $500, "besides, a
handsome present for his vote."[115] All of the banks, except the
Manhattan, had limited charters; measures for the renewal of these were
practically all put through by bribery.[116] Thus, in 1818, the charter
of the Merchants' Bank was renewed until 1832, and renewed after that.
The chartering of the Chemical Bank (that staid and most eminently
respectable and solid New York institution of to-day) was accomplished
by bribery. The Chemical Bank was an outgrowth of the Chemical
Manufacturing Company, the plant and business of which were bought
expressly as an excuse to get a banking auxiliary. The Goelet brothers
were among the founders of this bank. In fact, many of the great landed
fortunes were inseparably associated with the frauds of the banking
system; money from land was used to bribe legislatures, and money made
from the banks was employed in buying more land. The promoters of the
Chemical Bank set aside a considerable sum of money and $50,000 in stock
for the bribery fund.[117] No sooner had it received its charter than it
began to turn out reams of paper money, based upon no value, which paper
was paid as wages to its employees as well as circulated generally. So
year after year the bribery went on industriously, without cessation.


Were the bribers ever punished, their illicitly gotten charters declared
forfeited, and themselves placed under the ban of virtuous society?
Far, very far, from it! The men who did the bribing were of the very
pinnacle of social power, elegance and position, or quickly leaped to
that height by reason of their wealth. They were among the foremost
landholders and traders of the day. By these and a wide radius of
similar means, they amassed wealth or greatly increased wealth already
accumulated. The ancestors of some of the most conspicuous
multimillionaire families of the present were deeply involved in the
perpetration of all of those continuous frauds and crimes--Peter Goelet
and his sons, Peter P. and Robert, for instance, and Jacob Lorillard,
who, for many years, was president of the Mechanics' Bank. No stigma
attached to these wealth-graspers. Their success as possessors of riches
at once, by the automatic processes of a society which enthroned wealth,
elevated them to be commanding personages in trade, politics, orthodoxy
and the highest social spheres. The cropped convict, released from
prison, was followed everywhere by the jeers and branding of a society
which gloated over his downfall and which forever reminded him of his
infamy. But the men who waded on to wealth through the muck of base
practices and by means of crimes a millionfold more insidious and
dangerous than the offense of the convict, were not only honored as
leading citizens, but they became the extolled and unquestioned
dictators of that supreme trading society which made modes, customs and

It was a society essentially built upon money; consequently he who was
dexterous enough to get possession of the spoils, experienced no
difficulty in establishing his place among the elect and anointed. His
frauds were forgotten or ignored; only the fact that he was a rich man
was remembered. And yet, what is more natural than to seek, and accept,
the obeisance lavished upon property, in a scheme of society where
property is crowned as the ruling power? In the rude centuries
previously mankind exalted physical prowess; he who had the greatest
strength and wielded the deftest strokes became victor of the judicial
combat and gathered in laurels and property. But now we have arrived at
the time when the cunning of mind supplants the cunning of muscle;
bribery takes the place of brawn; the contestants fight with statutes
instead of swords. And this newer plan, which some have decried as
degenerate, is a great advance over the old, for thereby has brute force
been legally abandoned in personal quarrels at least, and that cunning
of mind which has held sway, is the first evidence of the reign of mind,
which from a low order, will universally develop noble and supereminent
qualities charged with the good, and that alone, of the human race.


With this preliminary sketch, we can now proceed to a consideration of
how Astor profited from the banking system. We see that constantly the
bold spirits of the trading class, with a part of the money made or
plundered in some direction or other, were bribing representative bodies
to give them exceptional rights and privileges which, in turn, were made
the fertile basis for further spoliation. Astor was a stockholder in at
least four banks, the charters of which had been obtained or renewed by
trickery and fraud, or both. He owned 1,000 shares of the capital stock
of the Manhattan Company; 1,000 of the Merchant's Bank; 500 of the Bank
of America; 1,604 of the Mechanic's Bank. He also owned at one time
considerable stock in the National Bank, the charter of which, it was
strongly suspected had been obtained by bribery.

There is no evidence that he, himself, did the actual bribing or was in
any way concerned in it. In all of the legislative investigations
following charges of bribery, the invariable practice was to throw the
blame upon the wicked lobbyists, while professing the most naïve
astonishment that any imputations should be cast upon any of the members
of the honorable Legislature. As for the bribers behind the scenes,
their names seldom or never were brought out or divulged. In brief,
these investigations were all of that rose-water order, generally termed
"whitewashing." But whether Astor personally bribed or not, he at any
rate consciously profited from the results of bribery; and, moreover, it
is not probable that his methods in the East were different, except in
form, from the debauching and exploitation that he made a system of in
the fur regions. It is not outside the realm of reasonable conjecture to
suppose that he either helped to debauch, or connived at the corruption
of legislatures, just as in another way he debauched Indian tribes.

Furthermore his relations with Burr in one notorious transaction, are
sufficient to justify the conclusion that he held the closest business
relations with that political adventurer who lived next door to him at
No. 221 Broadway. This transaction was one which was partially the
outcome of the organization of the Manhattan Bank and was a source of
millions of dollars of profit to Astor and to his descendants.

A century or more ago Trinity Church owned three times the extent of
even the vast real estate that it now holds. A considerable part of this
was the gift of that royal governor Fletcher, who, as has been set
forth, was such a master-hand at taking bribes. There long existed a
contention upon the part of New York State, a contention embodied in
numerous official records, that the land held for centuries by Trinity
Church was usurped; that Trinity's title was invalid and that the real
title vested in the people of the city of New York. In 1854-55 the Land
Commissioners of New York State, deeply impressed by the facts as
marshalled by Rutger B. Miller,[118] recommended that the State bring
suit. But with the filing of Trinity's reply, mysterious influences
intervened and the matter was dropped. These influences are frequently
referred to in aldermanic documents.

To go back, however: In 1767 Trinity Church leased to Abraham Mortier,
for ninety-nine years, at a total annual rental of $269 a year, a
stretch of land comprising 465 lots in what is now the vicinity bounded
by Greenwich, Spring and Hudson streets. Mortier used it as a country
place until 1797 when the New York Legislature, upon the initiative of
Burr, developed a consuming curiosity as to how Trinity Church was
expending its income. This was a very ticklish question with the pious
vestrymen of Trinity, as it was generally suspected that they were
commingling business and piety in a way that might, if known, cause them
some trouble. The law, at that time, restricted the annual income of
Trinity Church from its property to $12,000 a year. A committee of
investigation was appointed; of this committee Burr was made chairman.


Burr never really made any investigation. Why? The reason soon came out,
when Burr turned up with a transfer of the Mortier lease to himself. He
at once obtained from the Manhattan Bank a $38,000 loan, pledging the
lease as security. When his duel with Hamilton forced Burr to flee the
country, Astor promptly came along and took the lease off his hands.
Astor, it was said, paid him $32,000 for it, subject to the Manhattan
Bank's mortgage. At any rate, Astor now held this extraordinarily
valuable lease.[119] He immediately released it in lots; and as the city
fast grew, covering the whole stretch with population and buildings, the
lease was a source of great revenue to him and to his heirs.[120] As a
Lutheran, Astor could not be a vestryman of Trinity Church. Anthony
Lispenard, however, it may be passingly noted, was a vestryman, and, as
such, mixed piety and business so well, that his heirs became possessed
of millions of dollars by the mere fact that in 1779, when a vestryman,
he got a lease, for eighty-three years of eighty-one Trinity lots
adjacent to the Astor leased land, at a total annual rental of

It was by the aid of the banking system that the trading class was
greatly enabled to manipulate the existing and potential resources of
the country and to extend invaluable favors to themselves. In this
system Astor was a chief participant. For many years the banks,
especially in New York State, were empowered by law to issue paper money
to the extent of three times the amount of their capital. The actual
specie was seized hold of by the shippers, and either hoarded, or
exported in quantities to Asia or Europe which, of course, would not
handle paper money. By 1819 the banks in New York had issued
$12,500,000, and the total amount of specie to redeem this fiat stuff
amounted to only $2,000,000. These banknotes were nothing more or less
than irresponsible promises to pay. What became of them?


What, indeed, became of them? They were imposed upon the working class
as payment for labor. Although these banknotes were subject to constant
depreciation, the worker had to accept them as though they were full
value. But when the worker went to buy provisions or pay rent, he was
compelled to pay one-third, and often one-half, as much as the value
represented by those banknotes. Sometimes, in crises, he could not get
them cashed at all; they became pitiful souvenirs in his hands. This
fact was faintly recognized by a New York Senate Committee when it
reported in 1819 that every artifice in the wit of man had been devised
to find ways of putting these notes into circulation; that when the
merchant got this depreciated paper, he "saddled it upon the departments
of productive labor." "The farmer and the mechanic alike," went on the
report, "have been invited to make loans and have fallen victims to the
avarice of the banker. The result has been the banishment of metallic
currency, the loss of commercial confidence, fictitious capital,
increase of civil prosecutions and multiplication of crimes."[122] What
the committee did not see was that by this process those in control of
the banks had, with no expenditure, possessed themselves of a
considerable part of the resources of the country and had made the
worker yield up twice and three times as much of the produce of his
labor as he had to give before the system was started.

The large amount of paper money, without any basis of value whatever,
was put out at a heavy rate of interest. When the merchant paid his
interest, he charged it up as extra cost on his wares; and when the
worker came to buy these same wares which he or some fellow-worker had
made, he was charged a high price which included three things all thrown
upon him: rent, interest and profit. The banks indirectly sucked in a
large portion of these three factors. And so thoroughly did the banks
control legislation that they were not content with the power of issuing
spurious paper money; they demanded, and got through, an act exempting
bank stock from taxation.

Thus year after year this system went on, beggaring great numbers of
people, enriching the owners of the banks and virtually giving them a
life and death power over the worker, the farmer and the floundering,
struggling small business man alike. The laws were but slightly
altered. "The great profits of the banks," reported a New York Senate
Committee on banks and insurance in 1834, "arise from their issues. It
is this privilege which enables them, in fact, to coin money, to
substitute their evidences of debt for a metallic currency and to loan
more than their actual capitals. A bank of $100,000 capital is permitted
to loan $250,000; and thus receive an interest on twice and a half the
amount actually invested."[123]


It cannot be said that all of the workingmen were apathetic, or that
some did not see through the fraud of the system. They had good reason
for the deepest indignation and exasperation. The terrible injustices
piled upon them from every quarter--the low wages that they were forced
to accept, often in depreciated or worthless banknotes, the continually
increasing exactions of the landlords, the high prices squeezed out of
them by monopolies, the arbitrary discriminations of law--these were not
without their effect. The Workingmen's Party, formed in 1829 in New York
City, was the first and most ominous of these proletarian uprisings. Its
resolutions read like a proletarian Declaration of Independence, and
would unquestionably have resulted in the most momentous agitation, had
it not been that it was smothered by its leaders, and also because the
slavery issue long obscured purely economic questions. "Resolved," ran
its resolutions adopted at Military Hall, Oct. 19, 1829,

     in the opinion of this meeting, that the first appropriation of
     the soil of the State to private and exclusive possession was
     eminently and barbarously unjust. That it was substantially feudal
     in its character, inasmuch as those who received enormous and
     unequal possessions were _lords_ and those who received little or
     nothing were _vassals_. That hereditary transmission of wealth on
     the one hand and poverty on the other, has brought down to the
     present generation all the evils of the feudal system, and that,
     in our opinion, is the prime source of all our calamities.

After declaring that the Workingmen's Party would oppose all exclusive
privileges, monopolies and exemptions, the resolutions proceeded:

     We consider it an exclusive privilege for one portion of the
     community to have the _means of education in colleges_, while
     another is restricted to common schools, or, perhaps, by extreme
     poverty, even deprived of the limited education to be acquired in
     those establishments. Our voice, therefore, shall be raised in
     favor of a system of education which shall be equally open to
     _all_, as in a real republic, it should be.

Finally the resolutions told what the Workingmen's Party thought of the
bankers and the banking system. The bankers were denounced as "the
greatest knaves, impostors and paupers of the age." The resolutions went

     As banking is now conducted, the owners of the banks receive
     annually of the people of the State not less than two millions of
     dollars in their paper money (and it might as well be pewter
     money) for which there is and can be nothing provided for its
     redemption on demand....

The mockery that went up from all that was held influential, respectable
and stable when these resolutions were printed, was echoed far and wide.
They were looked upon first as a joke, and then, when the Workingmen's
Party began to reveal its earnestness and strength, as an insolent
challenge to constituted authority, to wealth and superiority, and as a
menace to society.


The "Courier and Enquirer," owned by Webb and Noah, in the pay of the
United States Bank, burst out into savage invective. It held the
Workingmen's Party up to opprobrium as an infidel crowd, hostile to the
morals and the institutions of society, and to the rights of property.
Nevertheless the Workingmen's Party proceeded with an enthusiastic,
almost ecstatic, campaign and polled 6,000 votes, a very considerable
number compared to the whole number of voters at the time.

By 1831, however, it had gone out of existence. The reason was that it
allowed itself to be betrayed by the supineness, incompetence, and as
some said, the treachery, of its leaders, who were content to accept
from a Legislature controlled by the propertied interests various
mollifying sops which slightly altered certain laws, but which in no
great degree redounded to the benefit of the working class. For a few
bits of counterfeit, this splendid proletarian uprising, glowing with
energy, enthusiasm and hope, allowed itself to be snuffed out of

What a tragedy was there! And how futile and tragic must inevitably be
the fate of any similar movement which depends not upon itself, not upon
its own intrinsic, collective strength and wisdom, but upon the say-so
of leaders who come forward to assume leadership. Representing only
their own timidity of thought and cowardice of action, they often end by
betraying the cause placed confidingly in their charge. That class which
for these immemorial generations has done the world's work, and as long
has been plundered and oppressed and betrayed, thus had occasion to
learn anew the bitter lesson taught by the wreckage of the past, that it
is from itself that the emancipation must come; that it is itself which
must essentially think, act and strike; that its forces, long torn
asunder and dispersed, must be marshalled in invulnerable compactness
and iron discipline; and so that its hosts may not again be routed by
strategy, no man or set of men should be entrusted with the irrevocable
power of executing its decrees, for too often has the courage, boldness
and strength of the many been shackled or destroyed by the compromising
weakness of the leaders.


Passing over the Equal Rights movement in 1834, which was a diluted
revival of the Workingmen's Party, and which, also, was turned into
sterility by the treachery of its leaders, we arrive at the panic of
1837, the time when Astor, profiting from misfortune on every side,
vastly increased his wealth.

The panic of 1837 was one of those periodic financial and industrial
convulsions resulting from the chaos of capitalist administration. No
sooner had it commenced, than the banks refused to pay out any money,
other than their worthless notes. For thirty-three years they had not
only enjoyed immense privileges, but they had used the powers of
Government to insure themselves a monopoly of the business of
manufacturing money. In 1804 the Legislature of New York State had
passed an extraordinary law, called the restraining act. This
prohibited, under severe penalties, all associations and individuals not
only from issuing notes, but "from receiving deposits, making discounts
or transacting any other business which incorporated banks may or do
transact." Thus the law not only legitimatized the manufacture of
worthless money, but guaranteed a few banks a monopoly of that
manufacture. Another restraining act was passed in 1818. The banks were
invested with the sovereign privilege of depreciating the currency at
their discretion, and were authorized to levy an annual tax upon the
country, nearly equivalent to the interest on $200,000,000 of deposits
and circulation. On top of these acts, the Legislature passed various
acts compelling the public authorities in New York City to deposit
public money with the Manhattan Company. This company, although, as we
have seen, expressly chartered to supply pure water to the city of New
York, utterly failed to do so; at one stage the city tried to have its
charter revoked on the ground of failure to carry out its chartered
function, but the courts decided in the company's favor.[124]

At the outbreak of the panic of 1837, the New York banks held more than
$5,500,000 of public money. When called upon to pay only about a million
of that sum, or the premium on it, they refused. But far worse was the
experience of the general public. When they frantically besieged the
banks for their money, the bank officials filled the banks with heavily
armed guards and plug-uglies with orders to fire on the crowd in case a
rush was attempted.[125]

In every State conditions were the same. In May, 1837, not less than
eight hundred banks in the United States suspended payment, refusing a
single dollar to the Government whose deposits of $30,000,000 they held,
and to the people in general who held $120,000,000 of their notes. No
specie whatever was in circulation. The country was deluged with small
notes, colloquially termed shinplasters. Of every form and every
denomination from the alleged value of five cents to that of five
dollars, they were issued by every business individual or corporation
for the purpose of paying them off as wages to their employees. The
worker was forced to take them for his labor or starve. Moreover, the
shinplasters were so badly printed that it was not hard to counterfeit
them. The counterfeiting of them quickly became a regular business;
immense quantities of the stuff were issued. The worker never knew
whether the bills paid him for his work were genuine or counterfeit,
although essentially there was not any great difference in basic value
between the two.[126]


Now the storm broke. Everywhere was impoverishment, ruination and
beggary. Every bank official in New York City was subject to arrest for
the most serious frauds and other crimes, but the authorities took no
action. On the contrary, so complete was the dominance of the banks over
Government,[127] that they hurriedly got the Legislature to pass an act
practically authorizing a suspension of specie payments. The
consequences were appalling. "Thousands of manufacturing, mercantile,
and other useful establishments in the United States," reported a New
York Senate Committee, "have been broken down or paralyzed by the
existing crisis.... In all our great cities numerous individuals, who,
by a long course of regular business, had acquired a competency, have
suddenly been reduced, with their families to beggary."[128] New York
City was filled with the homeless and unemployed. In the early part of
1838 one-third of all the persons in New York City who subsisted by
manual labor, were wholly or substantially without employment. Not less
than 10,000 persons were in utter poverty, and had no other means of
surviving the winter than those afforded by the charity of neighbors.
The almshouses and other public and charitable institutions overflowed
with inmates, and 10,000 sufferers were still uncared for.

The prevailing system, as was pointed out even by the conventional and
futile reports of legislative committees, was one inevitably calculated
to fill the country with beggars, vagrants and criminals. This important
fact was recognized, although in a remote way, by De Beaumont and De
Tocqueville who, however, had no fundamental understanding of the deep
causes, nor even of the meaning of the facts which they so accurately
gathered. In their elaborate work on the penitentiary system in the
United States, published in 1833, they set forth that it was their
conclusion that in the four States, New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut
and Pennsylvania, the prison system of which they had fully
investigated, almost all of those convicted for crimes from 1800 to 1830
were convicted for offenses against property. In these four States,
collectively, with a population amounting to one-third of that of the
Union, not less than 91.29 out of every 100 convictions were for crimes
against property, while only 8.66 of every 100 were for crimes against
persons, and 4.05 of every 100 were for crimes against morals. In New
York State singly, 93.56 of every 100 convictions were for crimes
against property and 6.26 for crimes against persons.[129]


Thus we see from these figures filled with such tragic eloquence, the
economic impulse working at bottom, and the property system corrupting
every form of society. But here a vast difference is to be noted. Just
as in England the aristocracy for centuries had made the laws and had
enforced the doctrine that it was they who should wield the police power
of the State, so in the United States, to which the English system of
jurisprudence had been transplanted, the propertied interests,
constituting the aristocracy, made and executed the laws. De Beaumont
and De Tocqueville passingly observed that while the magistrates in the
United States were plebeian, yet they followed out the old English
system; in other words, they enforced laws which were made for, and by,
the American aristocracy, the trading classes.

The views, aims and interests of these classes were so thoroughly
intrenched in law that the fact did not escape the keen notice of these
foreign investigators. "The Americans, descendants of the English," they
wrote, "have provided in every respect for the rich and hardly at all
for the poor.... In the same country where the complainant is put in
prison, the thief remains at liberty, if he can find bail. Murder is the
only crime whose authors are not protected[130].... The mass of lawyers
see in this nothing contrary to their ideas of justice and injustice,
nor even to their democratic institutions."[131]


The system, then, frequently forced the destitute into theft and
mendicancy. What resulted? Laws, inconceivably harsh and brutal, enacted
by, and in behalf of, property rights were enforced with a rigor which
seems unbelievable were it not that the fact is verified by the records
of thousands of cases. Those convicted for robbery usually received a
life sentence; they were considered lucky if they got off with five
years. The ordinary sentence for burglary was the same, with variations.
Forgery and grand larceny were punishable with long terms, ranging from
five to seven years. These were the laws in practically all of the
States with slight differences. But they applied to whites only. The
negro slave criminal had a superior standing in law, for the simple
reason that while the whites were "free" labor, negroes were property,
and, of course, it did not pay to send slaves to prison. In Maryland and
in most Southern States, where the slaveholders were both makers and
executors of law, the slaves need have no fear of prison. "The slaves,
as we have seen before, are not subject to the Penal Code of the
whites; they are hardly ever sent to prison. Slaves who commit grave
crimes are hung; those who commit heinous crimes not punishable with
death are sold out of the State. In selling him care is taken that his
character and former life are not known, _because it would lessen his
price_." Thus wrote De Beaumont and De Tocqueville; and in so writing
they handed down a fine insight into the methods of that Southern
propertied class which assumed so exalted an opinion of its honor and

But the sentencing of the criminal was merely the beginning of a weird
life of horror. It was customary at that period to immure prisoners in
solitary confinement. There, in their small and reeking cells, filled
with damps and pestilential odors, they were confined day after day,
year after year, condemned to perpetual inactivity and silence. If they
presumed to speak, they were brutally lashed with the whip. They were
not allowed to write letters, nor to communicate with any member of
their family. But the law condescended to allow a minister to visit them
periodically in order to awaken their religious thoughts and preach to
them how bad a thing it was to steal! Many were driven stark mad or died
of disease; others dashed their brains out; while others, when finally
released, went out into the world filled with an overpowering hatred of
Society, and all its institutions, and a long-cherished thirst for
vengeance against it for having thus so cruelly misused them.

Such were the laws made by the propertied classes. But they were not
all. When a convict was released, the law allowed only three dollars to
be given him to start anew with. "To starve or to steal is too often the
only alternative," wrote John W. Edmonds, president of the New York
board of prison inspectors in 1844.[132] If the released convict did
steal he was nearly always sent back to prison for life.

Equally severe in their way were the laws applying to mendicants and
vagrants. Six months or a year in the penitentiary or workhouse was the
usual sentence. After the panic of 1837, crime, mendicancy, vagrancy and
prostitution tremendously increased, as they always do increase after
two events: war, which, when over, turns into civil life a large number
of men who cannot get work; and panics which chaotically uproot
industrial conditions and bring about widespread destitution. Although
undeniably great frauds had been committed by the banking class, not a
single one of that class went to jail. But large numbers of persons
convicted of crimes against property, and great batches of vagrants were
dispatched there, and also many girls and women who had been hurled by
the iron force of circumstances into the horrible business of

These were some of the conditions in those years. Let it not, however,
be supposed that the traders, bankers and landowners were impervious to
their own brand of sensibilities. They dressed fastidiously, went to
church, uttered hallelujahs, gave dainty receptions, formed associations
to dole out alms and--kept up prices and rents. Notwithstanding the
general distress, rents in New York City were greater than were paid in
any other city or village upon the globe.[133]


[112] Hammond's "Political History of the State of New York," 1:129-130.

[113] Journal of the [New York] Senate and Assembly, 1803:351 and 399.

[114] Ibid., 1812:134.

[115] Ibid., 1812:259-260. Frequently, in those days, the giving of
presents was a part of corrupt methods.

[116] "The members [of the Legislature] themselves sometimes
participated in the benefits growing out of charters created by their
own votes; ... if ten banks were chartered at one session, twenty must
be chartered the next, and thirty the next. The cormorants could never
be gorged. If at one session you bought off a pack of greedy lobby
agents ... they returned with increased numbers and more voracious
appetite."--Hammond, ii:447-448.

[117] Journal of the [New York] Senate, 1824:1317-1350. See also Chap.
VIII, Part II of this work.

[118] "Letter and Authentic Documentary Evidence in Relation to the
Trinity Church Property," etc., Albany, 1855. Hoffman, the best
authority on the subject, says in his work published forty-five years
ago: "Very extensive searches have proved unavailing to enable me to
trace the sources of the title to much of this upper portion of Trinity
Church property."--"State and Rights of the Corporation of New York,"

[119] In all of the official communications of Trinity Church up to 1867
this lease is referred to as the "Burr or Astor Lease."--"The
Communication of the Rector, Church Wardens and Vestrymen of Trinity
Church in the city of New York in reply to a resolution of the House,
passed March 4, 1854"; Document No. 130, Assembly Docs. 1854. Also
Document No. 45, Senate Docs. 1856. Upon returning from exile Burr tried
to break his lease to Astor, but the lease was so astutely drawn that
the courts decided in Astor's favor.

[120] In his descriptive work on New York City of a half century ago,
Matthew Hale Smith, in "Sunshine and Shadow in New York" (pp. 121-122),
tells this story: "The Morley [Mortier] lease was to run until 1867.
Persons who took the leases supposed that they took them for the full
term of the Trinity lease. [John Jacob] Astor was too far-sighted and
too shrewd for that. Every lease expired in 1864, leaving him [William
B. Astor, the founder's heir] the reversion for three years, putting him
in possession of all the buildings, and all of the improvements made on
the lots, and giving him the right of renewal." Smith's account is
faulty. Most of the leases expired in 1866. The value of the reversions
was very large.

[121] Docs. No. 130 [New York] Assembly Docs., 1854:22-23.

[122] Journal of the [New York] Senate, Forty-second Session,

[123] Doc. No. 108, [New York] Senate Documents, 1834, Vol. ii. The
committee stated that banks in the State outside of New York City, after
paying all expenses, divided 11 per cent. among the stockholders in 1833
and had on hand as surplus capital 16 per cent. on their capital. New
York City banks paid larger dividends.

[124] People of the State of New York vs. Manhattan Co.--Doc. No. 62,
Documents of the Board of Assistant Aldermen, 1832-33, Vol. ii.

[125] Doc. No. 68 [New York] Senate Docs., 1838, Vol. ii.

[126] Abridgement of the Debates of Congress, from 1789 to 1856,

[127] In the course of this work, the word Government is frequently used
to signify not merely the functions of the National Government, but
those of the totality of Government, State and municipal, not less than

[128] Doc. No. 49 [New York] Senate Docs., 1838, Vol. ii.

[129] "On the Penitentiary System in the United States," etc., by G. De
Beaumont and A. De Tocqueville, Appendix 17, Statistical Notes: 244-245.

[130] A complete error. Walling, for more than thirty years
Superintendent of Police of New York City, says in his "Memoirs" that he
never knew an instance of a rich murderer who was hanged or otherwise
executed. And have we all not noted likewise?

[131] "On the Penitentiary System," etc., 184-185.

[132] Prison Association of New York, Annual Reports, 1844-46. It is
characteristic of the origin of all of these charity associations, that
many of the founders of this prison association were some of the very
men who had profited by bribery and theft. Horace Greeley was actuated
by pure humanitarian motives, but such incorporators as Prosper Wetmore,
Ulshoeffer, and others were, or had been, notorious in lobbying by
bribing bank charters through the New York Legislature.

[133] "The New Yorker," Feb. 17, 1838.



It was at this identical time, in the panic of 1837, that Astor was
phenominally active in profiting from despair. "He added immensely to
his riches," wrote a contemporaneous narrator, "by purchases of State
stocks, bonds and mortgages in the financial crisis of 1836-37. He was a
willing purchaser of mortgages from needy holders at less than their
face; and when they became due, he foreclosed on them, and purchased the
mortgaged property at the ruinous prices which ranged at that

If his seven per cent was not paid at the exact time, he inflexibly made
use of every provision of the law and foreclosed mortgages. The courts
quickly responded. To lot after lot, property after property, he took
full title. The anguish of families, the sorrow and suffering of the
community, the blank despair and ruination which drove many to beggary
and prostitution, others to suicide, all had no other effect upon him
than to make him more eagerly energetic in availing himself of the
misfortunes and the tragedies of others.

Now was observable the operation of the centripetal principle which
applied to every recurring panic, namely, that panics are but the easy
means by which the very rich are enabled to get possession of more and
more of the general produce and property. The ranks of petty landowners
were much thinned out by the panic of 1837 and the number of independent
business men was greatly reduced; a considerable part of both classes
were forced down into the army of wageworkers.


Within a few years after the panic of 1837 Astor's wealth multiplied to
an enormous extent. Business revived, values increased. It was now that
immigration began to pour in heavily. In 1843 sixty thousand immigrants
entered the port of New York. Four years later the number was 129,000 a
year. Soon it rose to 300,000 a year; and from that time on kept on ever
increasing. A large portion of these immigrants remained in New York
City. Land was in demand as never before; fast and faster the city grew.
Vacant lots of a few years before became congested with packed humanity;
landlordism and slums flourished side by side, the one as a development
of the other. The outlying farm, rocky and swamp lands of the New York
City of 1812, with its 100,000 population became the thickly-settled
metropolis of 1840, with 317,712 inhabitants and the well-nigh
half-million population of 1850. Hard as the laborer might work, he was
generally impoverished for the reason that successively rents were
raised, and he had to yield up more and more of his labor for the simple
privilege of occupying an ugly and cramped habitation.

Once having fastened his hold upon the land, Astor never sold it. From
the first, he adopted the plan, since religiously followed, for the most
part, by his descendants, of leasing the land for a given number of
years, usually twenty-one. Large tracts of land in the heart of the
city he let lie unimproved for years while the city fast grew up all
around them and enormously increased their value. He often refused to
build, although there was intense pressure for land and buildings. His
policy was to wait until the time when those whom necessity drove to use
his land should come to him as supplicants and accept his own terms. For
a considerable time no one cared to take his land on lease at his
onerous terms. But, finally, such was the growth of population and
business, that his land was indispensable and it was taken on

Astor's exactions for leaseholds were extraordinarily burdensome. But he
would make no concessions. The lessee was required to erect his dwelling
or business place at his own expense; and during the period of the
twenty-one years of the lease, he not only had to pay rent in the form
of giving over to Astor five or six per cent of the value of the land,
but was responsible for all taxes, repairs and all other charges. When
the ground lease expired the buildings became Astor's absolute property.
The middleman landlord, speculative lessee or trading tenant who leased
Astor's land and put up tenements or buildings, necessarily had to
recoup himself for the high tribute that he had to pay to Astor. He did
this either by charging the worker exorbitant rents or demanding
excessive profits for his wares; in both of which cases the producers
had finally to foot the bill.


The whole machinery of the law Astor, in common with all other
landlords, used ruthlessly in enforcing his rights as landlord or as
lessor or lessee. Not a single instance has come down of any act of
leniency on Astor's part in extending the time of tenants in arrears.
Whether sickness was in the tenant's family or not, however dire its
situation might be, out it was summarily thrown into the streets, with
its belongings, if it failed in the slightest in its obligations.

While he was availing himself of the rigors of the law to oust tenants
in arrears, he was constantly violating the law in evading assessments.
But this practice was not by any means peculiar to Astor. Practically
the whole propertied class did it, not merely once, but so continually
that year after year official reports adverted to the fact. An
Aldermanic report on taxation in 1846 showed that thirty million dollars
worth of assessable property escaped taxation every year, and that no
bona fide efforts were made by the officials to remedy that state of
affairs.[135] The state of morality among the propertied classes--those
classes which demanded such harsh laws for the punishment of vagrants
and poor criminals--is clearly revealed by this report made by a
committee of the New York Board of Aldermen in 1847:

     For several years past the evasion of taxation on the part of
     those engaged in the business of the city, and enjoying the
     protection and benefits of its municipal government and its great
     public improvements, has engaged the attention of the city
     authorities, called forth reports of committees and caused
     application to the Legislature for relief, but the demands of
     justice and the dictates of sound policy have hitherto been
     entirely unheeded.

Necessarily they were unheeded, for the very obvious reason that it was
this same class which controlled the administration of government. This
class distorted the powers of government by calling either for the
drastic enforcement of laws operating for its interests, or for the
partial or entire immunity from other laws militating against its
interests and profit. The report thus continued:

     Our rich merchants and heavy capitalists ... find excuses to
     remove their families to nearby points and thus escape all
     taxation whatever, except for the premises that they occupy. _More
     than 2,000 firms engaged in business_ in New York, whose capital
     is invested and used in New York, and with an aggregate personal
     property of $30,000,000, thus escape taxation.[136]


The committee pointed out that at the taxable rate of 1 per cent the
city was, in that way, being cheated out of the sum of $225,000 or
$300,000 a year. These two thousand firms who every year defrauded the
city were the eminently respectable and influential merchants of the
city; most of them were devout church members; many were directors or
members of charitable societies to relieve the poor; and all of them,
with vast pretensions of superior character and ability, joined in
opposing any movement of the working classes for better conditions and
in denouncing those movements as hostile to the security of property and
as dangerous to the welfare of society. Each of these two thousand firms
year after year defrauded the city out of an average of $150 annually in
that one item, not to mention other frauds. Yet not once was the law
invoked against them. The taxation that they shirked fell upon the
working class in addition to all of those other myriad forms of indirect
taxation which the workers finally had to bear. Yet, as we have noted
before, if a poor man or woman stole property of the value of $25 or
more, conviction carried with it a long term in prison for grand
larceny. In every city--in Boston, Philadelphia, Cincinnati, Baltimore,
New Orleans and in every other place--the same, or nearly the same,
conditions prevailed. The rich evaded taxation; and if in the process it
was necessary to perjure themselves, they committed perjury with
alacrity. Astor was far from being an exception. He was but an
illustrious type of the whole of his class.

But, how, in a Government theoretically democratic and resting on
popular suffrage, did the propertied interests get control of Government
functions? How were they able to sway the popular vote and make, or
evade, laws?

By various influences and methods. In the first place, the old English
ideas of the superiority of aristocracy had a profound effect upon
American thought, customs and laws. For centuries these ideas had been
incessantly disseminated by preachers, pamphleteers, politicians,
political economists and editors. Where in England the concept applied
mainly to rank by birth, in America it was adapted to the native
aristocracy, the traders and landowners. In England it was an admixture
of rank and property; in America, where no titles of nobility existed,
it became exclusively a token of the propertied class. The people were
assiduously taught in many open and subtle ways to look up to the
inviolability of property, just as in the old days they had been taught
to look humbly up to the majesty of the king. Propertied men, it was
preached and admonished, represented the worth, stability, virtue and
intelligence of the community. They were the solid, substantial men.
What importance was to be attached to the propertyless? They, forsooth,
were regarded as irresponsible and vulgar; their opinions and
aspirations were held of small account.


The churches professed to preach to all; yet they depended largely upon
men of property for contributions; and moreover the clergy, at least the
influential of them, were propertied men themselves. The preachings of
the colleges and the doctrines of the political economists corresponded
precisely to the views the trading interests at different periods wanted
taught. Many of the colleges were founded with funds contributed or
bequeathed by traders. The newspapers were supported by the
advertisements of the propertied class. The various legislative bodies
were mainly, and the judicial benches wholly, recruited from the ranks
of the lawyer class; these lawyers either had, or sought to have, the
rich as clients;[137] few attorneys are overzealous for poor men's
cases. Still further, the lawyers were deeply impregnated, not with the
conception of law as it might be, but as it had been handed down through
the centuries. Encrusted creatures of precedent and self-interest, they
thoroughly accepted the doctrine that in the making and enforcement of
law their concern should be for the propertied interests. With few
exceptions they were aligned with the propertied.

So that here were many influences all of which conspired to spread on
every hand, and drill deep in the minds of all classes, often even of
those who suffered so keenly by prevalent conditions, the idea that the
propertied men were the substantial element. Consequently with this idea
continuously driven into every stratum of society, it was not surprising
that it should be embodied in thoughts, customs, laws and tendencies.
Nor was it to be wondered at that when occasionally a proletarian
uprising enunciated radical principles, these principles should seem to
be abnormally ultra-revolutionary. All society, for the most part,
except a fragment of the working class, was enthralled by the spell of


Out of this prevailing idea grew many of the interpretations and partial
enforcements. A legislator, magistrate or judge might be the very
opposite of venal, and yet be irresistibly impelled by the force of
training and association to take the current view of the unassailable
rights and superiority of property. It would be biassed, in fact,
ridiculous to say that the privileges and exemptions enjoyed by the rich
were altogether the outcome of corruption by bribes. There is a much
more subtle and far more effective and dangerous form of corruption.
This is corruption of the mind. For innumerable centuries all government
had proceeded, perhaps not avowedly, but in reality, upon the settled
and consistent principle that the sanctity of property was superior to
considerations of human life, and that a man of property could not very
well be a criminal and a peril to the community. Under various disguises
church, college, newspaper, politician, judge, all were expositors of
this principle.

The people were drugged with laudations of property. But these teachings
were supplemented by other methods which added to their effectiveness.
We have seen how after the Revolution the propertied classes withheld
suffrage from those who lacked property. They feared that property would
no longer be able to dominate Government. Gradually they were forced to
yield to the popular demand and allow manhood suffrage. This seemed to
them a new and affrighting force; if votes were to determine the
personnel and policy of Government, then the propertyless, being in the
majority, would overwhelm them eventually and pass an entirely new code
of laws.

In one State after another, the propertied class were driven, after a
prolonged struggle, to grant citizens a vote, whether they had property
or not. In New York State unqualified manhood suffrage was adopted in
1822, but in other States it was more difficult to bring about this
revolutionary change. The fundamental suffrage law of New Jersey, for
instance, remained, for more than sixty years after the adoption of the
Declaration of Independence, in accordance with an act passed by the
Provincial Congress of New Jersey on July 2, 1776, two days before the
adoption of the Declaration of Independence, or according to some
authorities, on the very day of its adoption. Among other requirements
this act (1 Laws, N. J. p. 4.) decreed that the voter must be "worth £50
proclamation money, clear estate within the colony." The fourth section
of an act passed by the New Jersey Legislature in June, 1820 (1 Laws
N. J. p. 741), expressly reenacted this same property qualification. By
about the year 1840, however, nearly all the States had adopted manhood
suffrage, so far as it applied to whites. The severest and most dramatic
conflict took place in Rhode Island. In 1762 an act had been passed
declaring that the possession of £40 was necessary to become qualified
as a voter. This law continued in force in Rhode Island for more than
eighty years. In the years 1811, 1819, 1824, 1829, 1832 and 1834 the
workingmen (or the mechanics, as the official reports styled them), made
the most determined efforts to have this property qualification
abolished, but the propertied classes, holding the legislative power,
declined to make any change. Under such a law it was easy for one-third
of the total number of resident male adults to have the exclusive
decisions in elections; the largest vote ever polled in Rhode Island,
was in the Presidential election of 1840, when 8,662 votes were cast, in
a total adult male population of permanent resident citizens of about
24,000. The result of this hostility of the propertied classes was a
rising in 1840 of the workingmen in what is slurringly misdescribed in
conventional history as "Dorr's Rebellion,"--an event the real history
of which has not as yet been told. This movement eventually compelled
the introduction in Rhode Island of suffrage without the property

How did the propertied classes meet this extension of suffrage
throughout the United States?


A systematic corruption of the voters was now begun. The policy of
bribing certain legislators to vote for bank, railroad, insurance
company and other charters was extended to reach down into ward
politics, and to corrupt the voters at the springs of power. With a
part of the money made in the frauds of trade or from exactions for
land, the propertied interests, operating at first by personal entry
into politics and then through the petty politicians of the day, packed
caucuses and primaries and bought votes at the polls. This was equally
true of both city and rural communities. In many of the rural sections
the morals of the people were exceedingly low, despite their
church-going habits. The cities contained, as they always do contain, a
certain quota of men, products of the industrial system, men of the
slums and alleyways, so far gone in destitution or liquor that they no
longer had manhood or principle. Along came the election funds of the
traders, landholders and bankers to corrupt these men still further by
the buying of their votes and the inciting of them to commit the crime
of repeating at the polls. Exalted society and the slums began to work
together; the money of the one purchased the votes of the other. Year
after year this corruption fund increased until in the fall of 1837 the
money raised in New York City by the bankers alone amounted to $60,000.
Although this sum was meager compared to the enormous corruption funds
which were employed in subsequent years, it was a sum which, at that
time, could do great execution. Ignorant immigrants were persuaded by
offerings of money to vote this way or that and to repeat their votes.
Presently the time came when batches of convicts were brought from the
prisons to do repeating, and overawe the polls in many precincts.[138]

As for that class of voters who could not be bribed and who voted
according to their conceptions of the issues involved, they were
influenced in many ways:--by the partisan arguments of newspapers and of
political speech-makers. These agencies of influencing the body politic
were indirectly controlled by the propertied interests in one form or
another. A virtual censorship was exercised by wealth; if a newspaper
dared advocate any issue not approved by the vested interests, it at
once felt the resentment of that class in the withdrawal of
advertisements and of those privileges which banks could use or abuse
with such ruinous effect.


Finally, both of the powerful political parties were under the
domination of wealth; not, to be sure, openly so, but insidiously.
Differences of issue there assuredly were, but these issues did not in
any way affect the basic structure of society, or threaten the overthrow
of any of the fundamental privileges held by the rich. The political
campaigns, except that later contest which decided the eventual fate of
chattel slavery, were, in actuality, sham battles. Never were the masses
so enthusiastic since the campaign of 1800 when Jefferson was elected,
as they were in 1832 when they sided with President Jackson in his fight
against the United States Bank. They considered this contest as one
between the people, on the one side, and, on the other, the monied
aristocracy of the country. The United States Bank was effaced; but the
State banks promptly took over that share of the exploitative process so
long carried on by the United States Bank and the people, as has already
been explained, were no better off than they were before. One set of
ruling capitalists had been put down only to make way for another.

Both parties received the greater part of their campaign funds from the
men of large property and from the vested corporations or other similar
interests. Astor, for example, was always a liberal contributor, now to
the Whig party and again to the Democratic. In return, the politicians
elected by those parties to the legislature, the courts or to
administrative offices usually considered themselves under obligations
to that element which financed its campaigns and which had the power of
defeating their reëlection by the refusal of funds or by supporting the
opposite party. The masses of the people were simply pawns in these
political contests, yet few of them understood that all the excitement,
partisan activity and enthusiasm into which they threw themselves,
generally had no other significance than to enchain them still faster to
a system whose beneficiaries were continuously getting more and more
rights and privileges for themselves at the expense of the people, and
whose wealth was consequently increasing by precipitate bounds.


Astor was now the richest man in America. In 1847 his fortune was
estimated at fully $20,000,000. In all the length and breadth of the
United States there was no man whose fortune was within even
approachable distance of his. With wonderment his contemporaries
regarded its magnitude. How great it ranked at that period may be seen
by a contrast with the wealth of other men who were considered very

In 1847 and 1852 a pamphlet listing the number of rich men in New York
was published under the direction of Moses Yale Beach, publisher of the
"New York Sun." The contents of this pamphlet were vouched for as
strictly accurate.[139] The pamphlet showed that there were at that time
perhaps twenty-five men in New York City who were ranked as
millionaires. The most prominent of these were Peter Cooper with an
accredited fortune of $1,000,000; the Goelets, $2,000,000; the
Lorillards, $1,000,000; Moses Taylor, $1,000,000; A. T. Stewart,
$2,000,000; Cornelius Vanderbilt, $1,500,000, and William B. Crosby,
$1,500,000. There were a few fortunes of $500,000 each, and several
hundred ranging from $100,000 to $300,000. The average fortunes graded
from $100,000 to $200,000. A similar pamphlet published in Philadelphia
showed that that city contained a bevy of nine millionaires, only two of
whose individual fortunes exceeded $1,000,000.[140] No facts are
available as to the private fortunes in Boston and other cities.
Occasionally the briefest mention would appear in the almanacs of the
period of the death of this or that rich man. There is a record of the
death of Alexander Milne, of New Orleans, in 1838 and of his bequest of
$200,000 to charitable institutions, and of the death of M. Kohne, of
Charleston, S. C., in the same year with the sole fact that he left
$730,000 in charitable bequests. In 1841 there appeared a line that
Nicholas Girod, of New Orleans, died leaving $400,000 to "various
objects," and a scant notice of the death of William Bartlett, of
Newburyport, Mass., coupled with the fact that he left $200,000 to
Andover Seminary. It is entirely probable that none of these men were
millionaires; otherwise the fact would have been brought out
conspicuously. Thus, when Pierre Lorillard, a New York snuff maker,
banker, and landholder, died in 1843, his fortune of $1,000,000 or so,
was considered so unusual that the word millionaire, newly-coined, was
italicized in the rounds of the press. Similarly in the case of Jacob
Ridgeway, a Philadelphia millionaire, who died in the same year.

The passing away now of a man worth a mere million, calls forth but a
trifling, passing notice. Yet when Henry Brevoort died in New York City
in 1848, his demise was accounted an event in the annals of the day. His
property was estimated at a valuation of about $1,000,000, the chief
source of which came from the ownership of eleven acres of land in the
heart of the city. Originally his ancestors cultivated a truck farm and
ran a dairy on this land, and daily in the season carried vegetables,
butter and milk to market. Brevoort, the newspaper biography read, was a
"man of fine taste in painting, literature and intellectual pursuits of
every kind. He owned a large property in the fashionable part of the
city, where he erected a splendid house, elegantly adorned and furnished
in the Italian style; for he was quite a connoisseur in the arts."

It can be at once seen in what transcendent degree Astor's wealth
towered far above that of every other rich man in the United States.


His fortune was the colossus of the times; an object of awe to all
wealth-strivers. Necessary as manufactures were in the social and
industrial system, they, as yet, occupied a strikingly subordinate and
inferior position as an agency in accumulating great fortunes.
Statistics issued in 1844 of manufactures in the United States showed a
total gross amount of $307,196,844 invested. Astor's wealth, then, was
one-fifteenth of the whole amount invested throughout the territory of
the United States in cotton and wool, leather, flax and iron, glass,
sugar, furniture, hats, silks, ships, paper, soap, candles, wagons--in
every kind of goods which the demands of civilization made

The last years of this magnate were passed in an atmosphere of luxury,
laudation and power. On Broadway, by Prince street, he built a
pretentious mansion, and adorned it with works of art which were more
costly than artistic. Of medium height, he was still quite stout, but
his once full, heavy face and his deep set eyes began to sag from the
encroachments of extreme advanced age. He could be seen every weekday
poring over business reports at his office on Prince street--a
one-story, fireproof brick building, the windows of which were guarded
by heavy iron bars. The closing weeks of his life were passed at his
country seat at Eighty-eighth street and the East River. Infirm and
debilitated, so weak and worn that he was forced to get his nourishment
like an infant at a woman's breast, and to have exercise administered by
being tossed in a blanket, he yet retained his faculty of vigilantly
scrutinizing every arrear on the part of tenants, and he compelled his
agent to render daily accounts. Parton relates this story:

     One morning this gentleman [the agent] chanced to enter his room
     while he was enjoying his blanket exercise. The old man cried out
     from the middle of his blanket:

     "Has Mrs. ---- paid that rent yet?"

     "No," replied the agent.

     "Well, but she must pay it," said the poor old man.

     "Mr. Astor," rejoined the agent, "she can't pay it now; she has
     had misfortunes, and we must give her time."

     "No, no," said Astor; "I tell you she can pay it and she will pay
     it. You don't go the right way to work with her."

     The agent took leave, and mentioned the anxiety of the old
     gentleman with regard to this unpaid rent to his son, who counted
     out the requisite sum, and told the agent to give it to the old
     man, as if he had received it from the tenant.

     "There," exclaimed Mr. Astor when he received the money. "I told
     you that she would pay it if you went the right way to work with


So, to the last breath, squeezing arrears out of tenants; his mind
focused upon those sordid methods which had long since become a religion
to him; contemplating the long list of his possessions with a radiant
exaltation; so Astor passed away. He died on March 29, 1848, aged
eighty-four years, four months; and almost as he died, the jubilant
shouts of the enthusiastic workingmen's processions throughout the city
resounded high and often. They were celebrating the French Revolution of
1848, intelligence of which had just arrived;--a Revolution brought
about by the blood of the Parisian workingmen, only to be subsequently
stifled by the stratagems of the bourgeoisie and turned into the
corrupt despotism of Napoleon III.

The old trader left an estate valued at about $20,000,000. The bulk of
this descended to William B. Astor. The extent of wealth disclosed by
the will made a profound impression. Never had so rich a man passed
away; the public mind was not accustomed to the sight of millions of
dollars being owned by one man. One New York newspaper, the "Journal,"
after stating that Astor's personal estate amounted to seven or nine
million dollars, and his real estate to perhaps more, observed: "Either
sum is quite out of our small comprehension; and we presume that with
most men, the idea of one million is about as large an item as that of
any number of millions." An entirely different and exceptional view was
taken by James Gordon Bennett, owner and editor of the New York
"Herald;" Bennett's comments were the one distinct contrast to the mass
of flowery praise lavished upon Astor's memory and deeds. He thus
expressed himself in the issue of April 5, 1848:

     We give in our columns an authentic copy of one of the greatest
     curiosities of the age--the will of John Jacob Astor, disposing of
     property amounting to about twenty million dollars, among his
     various descendants of the first, second, third, and fourth
     degrees.... If we had been an associate of John Jacob Astor ...
     the first idea that we should have put into his head would have
     been that _one-half of his immense property--ten millions at
     least--belonged to the people of the city of New York_. During the
     last fifty years of the life of John Jacob Astor, his property has
     been augmented and increased in value by the aggregate
     intelligence, industry, enterprise and commerce of New York, fully
     to the amount of one-half its value. The farms and lots of ground
     which he bought forty, twenty and ten and five years ago, have all
     increased in value entirely by the industry of the citizens of New
     York. Of course, it is plain as that two and two make four, that
     the half of his immense estate, in its actual value, has accrued
     to him by the industry of the community.


The analyst might well be tempted to smile at the puerility of this
logic. If Astor was entitled to one-half of the value created by the
collective industry of the community, why was he not entitled to all?
Why make the artificial division of one-half? Either he had the right to
all or to none. But this editorial, for all its defects of reasoning,
was an unusual expression of newspaper opinion, although of a single
day, and was smothered by the general course of that same newspaper in
supporting the laws and institutions demanded by the commercial

So the arch multimillionaire passed away, the wonder and the emulation
of the age. His friends, of whom he had a few, deeply mourned him, and
his bereaved family suffered a deep loss, for, it is related, he was a
kind and indulgent husband and father. He left a legacy of $400,000 for
the establishment of the Astor Library; for this and this alone his
memory has been preserved as that of a philanthropist. The announcement
of this legacy was hailed with extravagant joy; yet such is the value of
meretricious glory and the ideals of present society, that none has
remarked that the proceeds of one year's pillage of the Indians were
more than sufficient to found this much-praised benevolence. Thus does
society blind itself to the origin of the fortunes, a fraction of which
goes to gratify it with gifts. The whole is taken from the collective
labor of the people, and then a part is returned in the form of
institutional presents which are in reality bits of charity bestowed
upon the very people from whose exploitation the money has come. Astor,
no doubt, thought that, in providing for a public library, he was doing
a service to mankind; and he must be judged, not according to the
precepts and demands of the scarcely heard working class of his day with
its altruistic aspirations, nor of more advanced present ideas, but by
the standards of his own class, that commercial aristocracy which
arrogated to itself superiority of aims and infallibility of methods.

He died the richest man of his day. But vast fortunes could not be
heaped up by him and his contemporaries without having their
corresponding effect upon the mass of the people. What was this effect?
At about the time that he died there was in New York City one pauper to
every one hundred and twenty-five inhabitants and one person in every
eighty-three of the population had to be supported at the public


[134] "Reminiscences of John Jacob Astor," New York "Herald," March 31,

[135] Doc. No. 24, Proceedings of the [New York City] Board of Assistant
Aldermen, xxix. The Merchant's Bank, for instance, was assessed in 1833
at $6,000; it had cost that sum twenty years before and in 1833 was
worth three times as much.

[136] Proceedings of the [New York City] Board of Assistant Aldermen,
xxix, Doc. No. 18.

[137] Many eminent lawyers, elected or appointed to high official or
judicial office, were financially interested in corporations, and very
often profited in dubious ways. The case of Roger B. Taney, who, from
1836, was for many years, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the
United States, is a conspicuous example. After he was appointed United
States Secretary of the Treasury in 1833, the United States Senate
passed a resolution inquiring of him whether he were not a stockholder
in the Union Bank of Maryland, in which bank he had ordered public funds
deposited. He admitted that he was, but asserted that he had obtained
the stock before he had selected that bank as a depository of public
funds. (See Senate Docs., First Session, 23rd Congress, Vol. iii, Doc.
No. 238.) It was Taney, who as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the
United States, handed down the decision, in the Dred Scott case, that
negro slaves, under the United States Constitution, were not eligible to
citizenship and were without civil rights.

[138] These frauds at the polls went on, not only in every State but
even in such newly-organized Territories as New Mexico. Many facts were
brought out by contestants before committees of Congress. (See
"Contested Elections," 1834 to 1865, Second Session, 38th Congress,
1864-65, Vol. v, Doc. No. 57.) In the case of Monroe vs. Jackson, in
1848, James Monroe claimed that his opponent was illegally elected by
the votes of convicts and other non-voters brought over from Blackwell's
Island. The majority of the House Elections Committee reported favoring
Monroe's being seated. Aldermanic documents tell likewise of the same
state of affairs in New York. (See the author's "History of Tammany
Hall.") Similar practices were common in Philadelphia, Baltimore and
other cities, and in country townships.

[139] "The Wealth and Biography of the Wealthy Citizens of the City of
New York." By Moses Yale Beach.

[140] "Wealth and Biography of the Wealthy Citizens of Philadelphia." By
a Member of the Philadelphia Bar, 1845.

The misconception which often exists even among those who profess the
deepest scholarship and the most certainty of opinion as to the
development of men of great wealth was instanced by a misstatement of
Dr. Felix Adler, leader of the New York Society for Ethical Culture. In
an address on "Anti-Democratic Tendencies in American Life" delivered
some years ago, Dr. Adler asserted: "Before the Civil War there were
three millionaires; now there are 4,000." The error of this assertion is

[141] Parton's "Life of John Jacob Astor":80-81.

[142] Proceedings of the Board of Assistant Aldermen, xxix, Doc. No. 24.
This poverty was the consequence, not of any one phase of the existing
system, nor of the growth of any one fortune, but resulted from the
whole industrial system. The chief form of the exploitation of the
worker was that of his capacity as a producer; other forms completed the
process. A considerable number of the paupers were immigrants, who,
fleeing from exploitation at home, were kept in poverty in America, "the
land of boundless resources." The statement often made that there were
no tramps in the United States before the Civil War is wholly incorrect.



At the time of his father's death, William B. Astor, the chief heir of
John Jacob Astor's twenty million dollars, was fifty-six years old. A
tall, ponderous man, his eyes were small, contracted, with a rather
vacuous look, and his face was sluggish and unimpressionable. Extremely
unsocial and taciturn, he never betrayed emotion and generally was
destitute of feeling. He took delight in affecting a carelessly-dressed,
slouchy appearance as though deliberately notifying all concerned that
one with such wealth as he was privileged to ignore the formulas of
punctilious society. In this slovenly, stoop-shouldered man with his
cold, abstracted air no one would have detected the richest man in

Acquisitiveness was his most marked characteristic. Even before his
father's death he had amassed a fortune of his own by land speculations
and banking connections, and he had inherited $500,000 from his uncle
Henry, a butcher on the Bowery. It was said in 1846 that he possessed an
individual fortune of $5,000,000. During the last years of his father he
had been president of the American Fur Co., and he otherwise knew every
detail of his father's multifarious interests and possessions.


He lived in what was considered a fine mansion on Lafayette place,
adjoining the Astor Library. The sideboards were heaped with gold plate,
and polyglot servants in livery stood obediently by at all times to
respond to his merest nod. But he cared little for this show, except in
that it surrounded him with an atmosphere of power. His frugality did
not arise from wise self-control, but from his parsimonious habits. He
scanned and revised the smallest item of expense. Wine he seldom
touched, and the average merchant spent more for his wardrobe than he
did. At a time when the rich despised walking and rode in carriages
drawn by fast horses, he walked to and from his business errands. This
severe economy he not only practiced in his own house, but he carried it
into every detail of his business. Arising early in the morning, he
attended to his private correspondence before breakfast. This meal was
served punctually at 9 o'clock. Then he would stride to his office on
Prince street. A contemporary writer says of him:

     He knew every inch of real estate that stood in his name, every
     bond, contract and lease. He knew what was due when leases
     expired, and attended personally to the matter. No tenants could
     expend a dollar, or put in a pane of glass without his personal
     inspection. His father sold him the Astor House [an hotel] for the
     sum of one dollar. The lessees were not allowed to spend one cent
     on the building, without his supervision and consent, unless they
     paid for it themselves.

     In the upper part of New York hundreds of lots can be seen
     enclosed by dilapidated fences, disfigured by rocks and waste
     material, or occupied as [truck] gardens. They are eligibly
     located, many of them surrounded by a fashionable population....
     Mr. Astor owned most of these corner lots but kept the corners for
     a rise. He would neither sell nor improve them.... He knew that no
     parties can improve the center of a block without benefiting the

     He was sombre and solitary, dwelt alone, mixed little with general
     society, gave little and abhorred beggars.[143]

It was a common saying of him "when he paid out a cent he wanted a cent
in return;" and as to his abject meannesses we forbear relating the many
stories of him. He pursued, in every respect, his father's methods in
using the powers of city government to obtain valuable water grants for
substantially nothing, and in employing his surplus wealth for further
purchases of land and in investments in other profitable channels. No
scruples of any kind did he allow to interfere with his constant aim of
increasing his fortune. His indifference to compunctions was shown in
many ways, not the least in his open support of notoriously corrupt city
and State administrations.

This corruption was by no means one existing despite him and his class,
and one that was therefore accepted grudgingly as an irremediable evil.
Far from it. Corrupt government was welcomed by the landholding, trading
and banking class, for by it they could secure with greater facility the
perpetual rights, franchises, privileges and the exemptions which were
adapted to their expanding aims and riches. By means of it they were not
only enabled to pile up greater and greater wealth, but to set
themselves up in law as a conspicuously privileged body, distinct from
the mass of the people.


Publicly they might pretend a proper and ostentatious horror of
corruption. Secretly, however, they quickly dispensed with what were to
them idle dronings of political cant. As capitalists they ascribed their
success to a rigid application and practicality; and being practical
they went about purchasing laws by the most short-cut and economical
method. They had the money; the office-holders had the votes and
governmental power; consequently the one bought the other. It was a
systematic corruption springing entirely from the propertied classes;
they demanded it, were responsible for it and kept it up. It worked like
an endless chain; the land, charters, franchises and privileges
corruptly obtained in one set of years yielded vast wealth, part of
which was used in succeeding years in getting more law-created sources
of wealth. If professional politicians had long since got into the habit
of expecting to be bought, it was because the landholders, traders and
bankers had accustomed them to the lucrative business of getting bribes
in return for extraordinary laws.

Since the men of wealth, or embryo capitalists who by hook or crook
raised the funds to bribe, were themselves ready at all times to buy
laws in common councils, legislatures and in Congress, it naturally
followed that each of them was fully as eager to participate in the
immense profits accruing from charters, franchises or special grants
obtained by others of their own class. They never questioned the means
by which these laws were put through. They did not care. The mere fact
that a franchise was put through by bribery was a trite, immaterial
circumstance. The sole, penetrating question was whether it were a
profitable project. If it were, no man of wealth hesitated in investing
his money in its stock and in sharing its revenue. It could not be
expected that he would feel moral objections, even the most attenuated,
for the chances were that while he might not have been a party to the
corrupt obtaining of this or that particular franchise, yet he was
involved in the grants of other special endowments. Moreover, money
making was not built on morality; its whole foundation and impetus lay
in the extraction of profits. Society, it is true, professed to move on
lofty moral planes, but this was a colossal pretension and nothing less.


Society--and this is a truth which held equally strong of succeeding
decades--was incongruously inverted. In saying this, the fact should not
be ignored that the capitalist, as applied to the man who ran a factory
or other enterprise, was an indigenous factor in that period, even
although the money or inventions by which he was able to do this, were
often obtained by fraud. Every needed qualification must be made for the
time and the environment, and there should be neither haste in
indiscriminately condemning nor in judging by the standards or maturity
of later generations.

Yet, viewing society as a whole and measuring the results by the
standards and ideas then prevailing, it was undoubtedly true that those
who did the world's real services were the lowly, despoiled and much
discriminated-against mass of mankind. Their very poverty was a crime,
for after they were plundered and expropriated, either by the ruling
classes of their own country or of the United States, the laws regarded
them as semi-criminals, or, at best, as excrescences to whom short
shrift was to be given. They made the clothes, the shoes, hats, shirts,
underwear, tools, and all the other necessities that mankind required;
they tilled the ground and produced its food. Curiously enough, those
who did these indispensable things were condemned by the encompassing
system to live in the poorest and meanest habitations and in the most
precarious uncertainty. When sick, disabled or superannuated they were
cast aside by the capitalist class as so much discarded material to eke
out a prolonged misery of existence, to be thrown in penal institutions
or to starve. Substantially everywhere in the United States, vagrancy
laws were in force which decreed that an able-bodied man out of work and
homeless must be adjudged a vagrant and imprisoned in the workhouse or
penetentiary. The very law-making institutions that gave to a privileged
few the right to expropriate the property of the many, drastically
plunged the many down still further after this process of spoliation,
like a man who is waylaid and robbed and then arrested and imprisoned
because he has been robbed.

On the other hand, the class which had the money, no matter how that
money was gotten, irrespective of how much fraud or sacrifice of life
attended its amassing, stood out with a luminous distinctness. It
arrogated to itself all that was superior, and it exacted, and was
invested with, a lordly deference. It lived in the finest mansions and
laved in luxuries. Surrounded with an indescribably pretentious air of
importance, it radiated tone, command and prestige.

But, such was the destructive, intestinal character of competitive
warfare, that even this class was continually in the throes of
convulsive struggles. Each had to fight, not merely to get the wealth of
others, but to keep what he already possessed. If he could but frustrate
the attempts of competitors to take what he had, he was fortunate. As he
preyed upon the laborer, so did the rest of his class seek to prey upon
him. If he were less able, less cunning, or more scrupulous than they,
his ruination was certain. It was a system in which all methods were
gauged not by the best but by the worst. Thus it was that many
capitalists, at heart good men, kindly disposed and innately opposed to
duplicity and fraud, were compelled to adopt the methods of their more
successful but thoroughly unprincipled competitors. And, indeed,
realizing the impregnating nature of example and environment, one cannot
but conclude that the tragedies of the capitalist class represented so
many victims of the competitive system, the same as those among the
wageworkers, although in a very different way. Yet in this bewildering
jumble of fortune-snatching, an extraordinary circumstance failed to
impress itself upon the class which took over to itself the claim to
superior intelligence and virtue. The workers, for the most part,
instinctively, morally and intellectually, knew that this system was
wrong, a horror and a nightmare. But even the capitalist victims of the
competitive struggle, which awarded supremacy to the knave and the
trickster, went to their doom praising it as the only civilized,
rational system and as unchangeable and even divinely ordained.


If corruption was flagrant in the early decades of the nineteenth
century, it was triply so in the middle decades. This was the period of
all periods when common councils all over the country were being bribed
to give franchises for various public utility systems, and legislatures
and Congress for charters, land, money, and laws for a great number of
railroad and other projects. The numerous specific instances cannot be
adverted to here; they will be described more appropriately in
subsequent parts of this work. For the present, let this general and
sweeping observation suffice.

The important point which here obtrudes itself is that in every case,
without an exception, the wealth amassed by fraud was used in turn to
put through more frauds, and that the net accumulation of these
successive frauds is seen in the great private fortunes of to-day. We
have seen how the original Astor fortune was largely derived by the use
of both force and fraud among the Indians, and by the exercise of
cunning and corruption in the East. John Jacob Astor's immense wealth
descends mostly to William B. Astor. In turn, one of the third
generation, John Jacob Astor, Jr., representing his father, William B.
Astor, uses a portion of this wealth in becoming a large stockholder in
the New York Central Railroad, and in corrupting the New York
Legislature still further to give enormously valuable grants and special
laws with incalculably valuable exemptions to that railroad. John Jacob
Astor, Jr., never built a railroad in his life; he knew nothing about
railroads; but by virtue of the possession of large surplus wealth,
derived mainly from rents, he was enabled to buy enough of the stock to
make him rank as a large stockholder. And, then, he with the other
stockholders, bribed the Legislature for the passage of more laws which
enormously increased the value of their stock.

It is altogether clear from the investigations and records of the time
that the New York Central Railroad was one of the most industrious
corrupters of legislatures in the country, although this is not saying
much in dealing with a period when every State Legislature, none
excepted, was making gifts of public property and of laws in return for
bribes, and when Congress, as was proved in official investigations, was
prodigal in doing likewise.[144]

In the fourteen years up to 1867, the New York Central Railroad
had spent upward of a half million dollars in buying laws at Albany and
in "protecting its stockholders against injurious legislation." As one
of the largest stockholders in the road John Jacob Astor, Jr., certainly
must have been one of the masked parties to this continuous saturnalia
of corruption. But the corruption, bad as it was, that took place before
1867, was rather insignificant compared to the eruption in the years
1868 and 1869. And here is to be noted a significant episode which fully
reveals how the capitalist class is ever willing to turn over the
managing of its property to men of its own class who have proved
themselves masters of the art either of corrupting public bodies, or of
making that property yield still greater profits.


In control of the New York and Harlem Railroad, Cornelius Vanderbilt had
showed what a remarkably successful magnate he was in deluging
legislatures and common councils with bribe money and in getting corrupt
gifts of franchises and laws worth many hundreds of millions of dollars.
For a while the New York Central fought him; it bribed where he bribed;
when he intimidated, it intimidated. But Vanderbilt was, by far, the
abler of the two contending forces. Finally the stockholders decided
that he was the man to run their system; and on Nov. 12, 1867, John
Jacob Astor, Jr., Edward Cunard, John Steward and others, representing
more than thirteen million dollars of stock, turned the New York Central
over to Vanderbilt's management on the ground, as their letter set
forth, that the change would result in larger dividends to the
stockholders and (this bit of cant was gratuitously thrown in) "greatly
promote the interests of the public." In closing, they wrote to
Vanderbilt of "your great and acknowledged abilities." No sooner had
Vanderbilt been put in control than these abilities were preëminently
displayed by such an amazing reign of corruption and exaction, that even
a public cynically habituated to bribery and arbitrary methods, was
profoundly stirred.[145]

It was in these identical years that the Astors, the Goelets, the
Rhinelanders and many other landholders and merchants were getting more
water grants by collusion with the various corrupt city administrations.
On June 14, 1850, William B. Astor gets a grant of land under water for
the block between Twelfth and Thirteenth streets, on the Hudson River,
at the ridiculous price of $13 per running foot.[146] William E. Dodge
likewise gets a grant on the Hudson River. Public opinion severely
condemned this practical giving away of city property, and a special
committee of the Board of Councilmen was moved to report on May 15,
1854, that "the practice of selling city property, except where it is in
evidence that it cannot be put to public use, is an error in finance
that has prevailed too frequently; indeed the experience of about eleven
years has demonstrated that sales of property usually take place about
the time it is likely to be needed for public uses, or on the eve of a
rise in value. Every pier, bulkhead and slip should have continued to be
the property of the city...."[147]


But when the Tweed "ring" came into complete power, with its unbridled
policy of accommodating anyone who could pay bribes enough, the
landowners and merchants rushed to get water grants among other special
privileges. On Dec. 27, 1865, William C. Rhinelander was presented with
a grant of land under water from Ninety-first to Ninety-fourth street,
East River.[148] On March 21, 1867, Peter Goelet obtained from the
Sinking Fund Commissioners a grant of land under water on the East River
in front of land owned by him between Eighty-first street and
Eighty-second street. The price asked was the insignificant one of $75 a
running foot.[149] The officials who made this grant were the
Controller, Richard B. Connolly, and the Street Commissioner, George W.
McLean, both of whom were arch accomplices of William M. Tweed and were
deeply involved in the gigantic thefts of the Tweed ring. The same band
of officials gave to Mrs. Laura A. Delano, a daughter of William B.
Astor, a grant from Fifty-fifth to Fifty-seventh street, Hudson River,
at $200 per running foot, and on May 21, 1867, a grant to John Jacob
Astor, Jr., of lands under water between Forty-ninth and Fifty-first
streets, Hudson River, for the trivial sum of $75 per running foot. Many
other grants were given at the same time. The public, used as it was to
corrupt government, could not stomach this granting of valuable city
property for virtually nothing. The severe criticism which resulted
caused the city officials to bend before the storm, especially as they
did not care to imperil their other much greater thefts for the sake of
these minor ones. Many of the grants were never finally issued; and
after the Tweed "ring" was expelled from power, the Commissioners of the
Sinking Fund on Feb. 28, 1882, were compelled by public agitation to
rescind most of them.[150] The grant issued to Rhinelander in 1865,
however, was one of those which was never rescinded.

During its control of the city administration from 1868 to 1871 alone,
the Tweed "ring" stole directly from the city and county of New York a
sum estimated from $45,000,000 to $200,000,000. Henry F. Taintor, the
auditor employed by Andrew H. Green to investigate Controller Connolly's
books, testified before the special Aldermanic Committee in 1877, that
he had estimated the frauds during those three and a half years at from
$45,000,000 to $50,000,000.[151] The committee, however, evidently
thought that the thefts amounted to $60,000,000; for it asked Tweed
during the investigation whether they did not approximate that sum, to
which question he gave no definite reply. But Mr. Taintor's estimate, as
he himself admitted, was far from complete even for the three and a half
years. Matthew J. O'Rourke, who was responsible for the disclosures, and
who made a remarkably careful study of the "ring's" operations, gave it
as his opinion that from 1869 to 1871 the "ring" stole about $75,000,000
and that he thought the total stealings from about 1865 to 1871,
counting vast issues of fraudulent bonds, amounted to $200,000,000.


Every intelligent person knew in 1871 that Tweed, Connolly and their
associates were colossal thieves. Yet in that year a committee of New
York's leading and richest citizens, composed of John Jacob Astor, Jr.,
Moses Taylor, Marshall O. Roberts, E. D. Brown, George K. Sistare and
Edward Schell, were induced to make an examination of the controller's
books and hand in a most eulogistic report, commending Connolly for his
honesty and his faithfulness to duty. Why did they do this? Because
obviously they were in underhand alliance with those political bandits,
and received from them special privileges and exemptions amounting in
value to hundreds of millions of dollars. We have seen how Connolly made
gifts of the city's property to this class of leading citizens.
Moreover, a corrupt administration was precisely what the rich wanted,
for they could very conveniently make arrangements with it to evade
personal property taxation, have the assessments on their real estate
reduced to an inconsiderable sum, and secure public franchises and
rights of all kinds.

There cannot be the slightest doubt that the rich, as a class, were
eager to have the Tweed régime continue. They might pose as fine
moralists and profess to instruct the poor in religion and politics, but
this attitude was a fraud; they deliberately instigated, supported, and
benefited by, all of the great strokes of thievery that Tweed and
Connolly put through. Thus to mention one of many instances, the
foremost financial and business men of the day were associated as
directors with Tweed in the Viaduct Railroad. This was a project to
build a railroad on or above the ground _on any New York City street_.
One provision of the bill granting this unprecedentedly comprehensive
franchise compelled the city to take $5,000,000 of stock; another
exempted the company property from taxes or assessments. Other
subsidiary bills allowed for the benefit of the railroad the widening
and grading of streets which meant a "job" costing from $50,000,000 to
$60,000,000.[152] This bill was passed by the Legislature and signed by
Tweed's puppet Governor Hoffman; and only the exposure of the Tweed
régime a few months later prevented the complete consummation of this
almost unparalleled steal.

Considering the fact that the richest and most influential and
respectable men were direct allies of the Tweed clique, it was not
surprising that men such as John Jacob Astor, Jr., Moses Taylor, Edward
Schell and company were willing enough to sign a testimonial certifying
to Controller Connolly's honesty. The Tweed "ring" supposed that a
testimonial signed by these men would make a great impression upon the
public. Yet, stripping away the halo which society threw about them
simply because they had wealth, these rich citizens themselves were to
be placed in even a lower category than Tweed, on the principle that the
greater the pretension, the worst in its effect upon society is the
criminal act. The Astors cheated the city out of enormous sums in real
estate and personal property taxation; Moses Taylor likewise did so, as
was clearly brought out by a Senate Investigating Committee in 1890;
Roberts had been implicated in great swindles during the Civil War; and
as for Edward Schell, he, by collusion with corrupt officials, compelled
the city to pay exorbitant sums for real estate owned by him and which
the city needed for public purposes. And further it should be pointed
out that Tweed, Connolly and Sweeny were but vulgar political thieves
who retained only a small part of their thefts. Tweed died in prison
quite poor; even the very extensive area of real estate that he bought
with stolen money vanished, one part of it going in lieu of counsel fees
to one of his lawyers, Elihu Root, United States Secretary of State
under Roosevelt.[153] Connolly fled abroad with $6,000,000 of loot and
died there, while Sweeny settled with the city for an insignificant sum.
The men who really profited directly or indirectly by the gigantic
thefts of money and the franchise, tax-exemption, and other measures put
through the legislature or common council were men of wealth in the
background, who thereby immensely increased their riches and whose
descendants now possess towering fortunes and bear names of the highest

The original money of the landholders came from trade; and then by a
combination of cunning, bribery, and a moiety of what was considered
legitimate investment, they became the owners of immense tracts of the
most valuable city land. The rentals from these were so great that
continuously more and more surplus wealth was heaped up. This surplus
wealth, in slight part, went to bribe representative bodies for special
laws giving them a variety of exclusive property, and another part was
used in buying stock in various enterprises the history of which reeked
with corruption.

From being mere landholders whose possessions were confined mainly to
city land, they became part owners of railroad, telegraph, express and
other lines reaching throughout the country. So did their holdings and
wealth-producing interests expand by a cumulative and ever-widening
process. The prisons were perennially filled with convicts, nearly all
of whom had committed some crime against property, and for so doing were
put in chains behind heavy bars, guarded by rifles and great stone
walls. But the men who robbed the community of its land and its
railroads (most of which latter were built with _public_ land and money)
and who defrauded it in a thousand ways, were, if not morally
exculpated, at least not molested, and were permitted to retain their
plunder, which, to them, was the all-important thing. This plunder, in
turn, became the basis for the foundation of an aristocracy which in
time built palaces, invented impressive pedigrees and crests and
coats-of-arms, intermarried with European titles, and either owned or
influenced newspapers and journals which taught the public how it should
think and how it should act. It is one thing to commit crimes against
property, and a vastly different thing to commit crimes _in behalf_ of
property. Such is the edict of a system inspired by the sway of


But the sources of the large rentals that flowed into the exchequers of
the landlords--what were they? Where did these rents, the volume of
which was so great that the surplus part of them went into other forms
of investments, come from? Who paid them and how did the tenants of
these mammoth landlords live?

A considerable portion came from business buildings and private
residences on much of the very land which New York City once owned and
which was corruptly squirmed out of municipal ownership. For the large
rentals which they were forced to pay, the business men recouped
themselves by marking up the prices of all necessities. Another, and a
very preponderate part, came from tenement houses. Many of these were
also built on land filched from the city. And such habitations! Never
before was anything seen like them. The reports of the Metropolitan
Board of Health for 1866, 1867 and succeeding years revealed the fact
that miles upon miles of city streets were covered with densely
populated tenements, where human beings were packed in vile rooms, many
of which were dark and unventilated and which were pestilential with
disease and overflowed with deaths. In its first report, following its
organization, the Metropolitan Board of Health pointed out:

     The first, and at all times the most prolific cause of disease,
     was found to be the very insalubrious condition of most of the
     tenement houses in the cities of New York and Brooklyn. These
     houses are generally built without any reference to the health and
     comfort of the occupants, but simply with a view to economy and
     profit to the owner. They are almost invariably overcrowded, and
     ill-ventilated to such a degree as to render the air within them
     constantly impure and offensive.

Here follows a mass of nauseating details which for the sake of not
overshocking the reader we shall omit. The report continued:

     The halls and stairways are usually filthy and dark, and the walls
     and banisters foul and damp, while the floors were not
     infrequently used ... [for purposes of nature] ... for lack of
     other provisions. The dwelling rooms are usually very inadequate
     in size for the accommodation of their occupants, and many of the
     sleeping rooms are simply closets, without light or ventilation
     save by means of a single door.... Such is the character of a vast
     number of tenement houses, especially in the lower part of the
     city and along the eastern and western border. Disease especially
     in the form of fevers of a typhoid character are constantly
     present in these dwellings and every now and then become an

"Some of the tenements," added the report, "are owned by persons of the
highest character, but they fail to appreciate the responsibility
resting on them." This sentence makes it clear that landlords could
own, and enormously profit from, pig-sty human habitations which killed
off a large number of the unfortunate tenants, and yet these landlords
could retain, in nowise diminished, the lustre of being men "of the
highest character." Fully one-third of the deaths in New York and
Brooklyn resulted from zymotic diseases contracted in these tenements,
yet not even a whisper was heard, not the remotest suggestion that the
men of wealth who thus deliberately profited from disease and death,
were criminally culpable, although faint and timorous opinions were
advanced that they might be morally responsible.


Human life was nothing; the supremacy of the property idea dominated all
thought and all laws, not because mankind was callous to suffering,
wretchedness and legalized murder, but because thought and law
represented what the propertied interests demanded. If the proletarian
white population had been legal slaves, as the negroes in the South had
been, much consideration would have been bestowed upon their gullets and
domiciles, for then they would have been property; and who ever knew the
owner of property to destroy the article which represented money? But
being "free" men and women and children, the proletarians were simply so
many bundles of flesh whose sickness and death meant pecuniary loss to
no property-holder. Therefore casualities to them were a matter of no
great concern to a society that was taught to venerate the sacredness of
property as embodied in brick and stone walls, clothes, machines, and
furniture, which same, if inert, had the all-important virile quality of
having a cash value, which the worker had not.

But these landlords "of the highest character" not only owned, and
regularly collected rents from, tenement houses which filled the
cemeteries, but they also resorted to the profitable business of leasing
certain tenements to middlemen who guaranteed them by lease a definite
and never-failing annual rental. Once having done this, the landlords
did not care what the middlemen did--how much rent they exacted, or in
what condition they allowed the tenements. "The middlemen," further
reported the Metropolitan Board of Health,

     are frequently of the most heartless and unscrupulous character
     and make large profits by sub-letting. They leave no space
     unoccupied: they rent sheds, basements and even cellars to
     families and lodgers; they divide rooms by partitions, and then
     place a whole family in a single room, to be used for living,
     cooking, and sleeping purposes. In the Fourth, Sixth, Seventh,
     Tenth, and Fourteenth Wards may be found large, old fashioned
     dwellings originally constructed for one family, subdivided and
     sublet to such an extent that even the former sub-cellars are
     occupied by two or more families. There is a cellar population of
     not less than 20,000 in New York City.

Here, again, shines forth with blinding brightness that superior
morality of the propertied classes. There is no record of a single
landlord who refused to pocket the great gains from the ownership of
tenement houses. Great, in fact, excessive gains they were, for the
landowning class considered tenements "magnificent investments" (how
edifying a phrase!) and all except one held on to them. That one was
William Waldorf Astor of the present generation, who, we are told, "sold
a million dollars worth of unpromising tenement house property in
1890."[156] What fantasy of action was it that caused William Waldorf
Astor to so depart from the accepted formulas of his class as to give up
these "magnificent investments?" Was it an abhorrence of tenements, or
a growing fastidiousness as to the methods? It is to be observed that up
to that time he and his family had tenaciously kept the revenues from
their tenements; evidently then, the source of the money was not a
troubling factor. And in selling those tenements he must have known that
his profits on the transaction would be charged by the buyers against
the future tenants and that even more overcrowding would result. What,
then, was the reason?

About the year 1887 there developed an agitation in New York City
against the horrible conditions in tenement houses, and laws were
popularly demanded which would put a stop to them, or at least bring
some mitigation. The whole landlord class virulently combated this
agitation and these proposed laws. What happened next? Significantly
enough a municipal committee was appointed by the mayor to make an
inquiry into tenement conditions; and this committee was composed of
property owners. William Waldorf Astor was a conspicuous member of the
committee. The mockery of a man whose family owned miles of tenements
being chosen for a committee, the province of which was to find ways of
improving tenement conditions, was not lost on the public, and shouts of
derision went up. The working population was skeptical, and with reason,
of the good faith of this committee. Every act, beginning with the mild
and ineffective one of 1867, designed to remedy the appalling conditions
in tenement houses, had been stubbornly opposed by the landlords; and
even after these puerile measures had finally been passed, the landlords
had resisted their enforcement. Whether it was because of the bitter
criticisms levelled at him, or because he saw that it would be a good
time to dispose of his tenements as a money-making matter before further
laws were passed, is not clearly known. At any rate William Waldorf
Astor sold large batches of tenements.


To return, however, to William B. Astor. He was the owner, it was
reckoned in 1875, of more than seven hundred buildings and houses, not
to mention the many tracts of unimproved land that he held. His income
from these properties and from his many varied lines of investments was
stupendous. Every one knew that he, along with other landlords, derived
great revenues from indescribably malodorous tenements, unfit for human
habitation. Yet little can be discerned in the organs of public opinion,
or in the sermons or speeches of the day, which showed other than the
greatest deference for him and his kind. He was looked up to as a
foremost and highly exalted capitalist; no church disdained his
gifts;[157] far from it, these were eagerly solicited, and accepted
gratefully, and even with servility. None questioned the sources of his
wealth, certainly not one of those of his own class, all of whom more or
less used the same means and who extolled them as proper, both
traditionally and legally, and as in accordance with the "natural laws"
of society. No condemnation was visited on Astor or his fellow-landlords
for profiting from such ghastly harvests of disease and death. When
William B. Astor died in 1875, at the age of eighty-three, in his sombre
brownstone mansion at Thirty-fifth street and Fifth avenue, his funeral
was an event among the local aristocracy; the newspapers published the
most extravagant panegyrics and the estimated $100,000,000 which he left
was held up to all the country as an illuminating and imperishable
example of the fortune that thrift, enterprise, perseverance, and
ability would bring.


[143] Matthew Hale Smith in "Sunshine and Shadow in New York," 186-187.

[144] See Part III of this work, "The Great Railroad Fortunes".

[145] See Part III, Chapters iv, v, vi, etc.

[146] Proceedings of the [New York City] Commissioners of the Sinking
Fund, 1844-1865:213.

[147] Doc. No. 46, Documents of the [New York City] Board of Aldermen,
xxi, Part II.

[148] Proceedings of the [New York City] Commissioners of the Sinking
Fund, 1844-1865:734.

[149] Ibid:865.

[150] Proceedings of the [New York City] Sinking Fund Commission,

[151] Documents of the [New York City] Board of Aldermen, 1877, Part II.
No. 8.

[152] New York Senate Journal, 1871:482-83.

[153] See Exhibits Doc. No. 8, Documents of the [New York City] Board of
Aldermen, 1877.

[154] For a full account of the operations of the Tweed régime see the
author's "History of Tammany Hall."

[155] Report of the Metropolitan Board of Health for 1866, Appendix

[156] "America's Successful Men of Affairs":36.

[157] "No church disdained his gifts." The morals and methods of the
church, as exemplified by Trinity Church, were, judged by standards,
much worse than those of Astor or of his fellow-landlords or
capitalists. These latter did not make a profession of hypocrisy, at any
rate. The condition of the tenements owned by Trinity Church was as
shocking as could be found anywhere in New York City. We subjoin the
testimony given by George C. Booth of the Society for the Improvement of
the Condition of the Poor before a Senate Investigating Committee in

     Senator Plunkett: Ask him if there is not a great deal of church
     influence [in politics].

     The Witness: Yes, sir, there is Trinity Church.

     Q.: Which is the good, and which is the bad?

     A.: I think Trinity is the bad.

     Q.: Do the Trinity people own a great deal of tenement property?

     A.: Yes, sir.

     Q.: Do they comply with the law as other people do?

     A.: No, sir; that is accounted for in one way--the property is
     very old and rickety, and perhaps even rotten, so that some
     allowance must be made on that account.

(Investigation of the Departments of the City of New York, by Special
Committee of the [New York] Senate, 1885, 1:193-194.)



The impressive fortune that William B. Astor left was mainly bequeathed
in about equal parts to his sons John Jacob II. and William. These
scions, by inheritance from various family sources, intermarriage with
other rich families, or both, were already rich. Furthermore, having the
backing of their father's immense riches, they had enjoyed singularly
exceptional opportunities for amassing wealth on their own account.

In 1853 William Astor had married one of the Schermerhorn family. The
Schermerhorns were powerful New York City landholders; and if not quite
on the same pinnacle in point of wealth as the Astors, were at any rate
very rich. The immensely valuable areas of land then held by the
Schermerhorns, and still in their possession, were largely obtained by
precisely the same means that the Astors, Goelets, Rhinelanders and
other conspicuous land families had used.


The settled policy, from the start, of the rich men, and very greatly of
rich women, was to marry within their class. The result obviously was to
increase and centralize still greater wealth in the circumscribed
ownership of a few families. In estimating, therefore, the collective
wealth of the Astors, as in fact of nearly all of the great fortunes,
the measure should not be merely the possessions of one family, but
should embrace the combined wealth of interrelated rich families.

The wedding of William Astor (as was that of his son John Jacob Astor
thirty-eight years later to a daughter of one of the richest landholding
families in Philadelphia) was an event of the day if one judges by the
commotion excited among what was represented as the superior class, and
the amount of attention given by the newspapers. In reality, viewing
them in their proper perspective, these marriages of the rich were
infinitesimal affairs, which would scarcely deserve a mention, were it
not for the effect that they had in centralizing wealth and for the
clear picture that they give of the ideas of the times. Posterity, which
is the true arbiter in distinguishing between the enduring and the
evanescent, the important and the trivial, rightly cares nothing for
essentially petty matters which once were held of the highest
importance. Edgar Allan Poe, wearing his life out in extreme poverty,
William Lloyd Garrison, thundering against chattel slavery from a Boston
garret, Robert Dale Owen spending his years in altruistic
endeavors--these men were contemporaries of the Astors of the second
generation. Yet a marriage among the very rich was invested by the
self-styled creators and dispensers of public opinion with far more
importance than the giving out of the world of the most splendid
products of genius or the enunciation of principles of the profoundest
significance to humanity. Yet why slur the practices of past generations
when we to-day are confronted by the same perversions? In the month of
February, 1908, for instance, several millions of men in the United
States were out of work; in destitution, because something or other
stood between them and their getting work; and consequently they and
their wives and children had to face starvation. This condition might
have been enough to shock even the most callous mind, certainly enough
to have impressed the community. But what happened? The superficial
historian of the future, who depends upon the newspapers and who gauges
his facts accordingly, will conclude that there was little or no misery
or abject want; that the people were interested in petty happenings of
no ultimate value whatsoever; that an Oriental dance and pantomime given
in New York by "society" women, led by Mrs. Waldorf Astor, where a rich
young woman reaped astonishment and admiration by coiling a live boa
constrictor around her neck, was one of the great events of the day,
because the newspapers devoted two columns to it, whereas scarcely any
mention was made of armies of men being out of work.


As it was in 1908 so was it in the decades when the capitalists of one
kind or another were first piling up wealth; they were the weighty class
of the day; their slightest doings were chronicled, and their flimsiest
sayings were construed oracularly as those of public opinion. Numberless
people sickened and died in the industrial strife and in miserable
living quarters; ubiquitous capitalism was a battle-field strewn with
countless corpses; but none of the professed expositors of morality,
religion or politics gave heed to the wounded or the dead, or to the
conditions which produced these hideous and perpetual slaughters of men,
women and children. But to the victors, no matter what their methods
were, or how much desolation and death they left in their path, the
richest material rewards were awarded; wealth, luxury, station and
power; and the Law, the majestic, exalted Law, upheld these victors in
their possessions by force of courts, police, sheriffs, and by rifles
loaded with bullets if necessary.

Thus, to recapitulate, the Astors debauched, swindled and murdered the
Indians; they defrauded the city of land and of taxes; they assisted in
corrupting legislatures; they profited from the ownership of blocks of
death-laden tenement houses; they certified to thieving administrations.
Once having wrested into their possession the results of all of these
and more fraudulent methods in the form of millions of dollars in
property, what was their strongest ally? The Law. Yes, the Law,
theoretically so impartial and so reverently indued with awe--and with
force. From fraud and force the Astor fortune came, and by force, in the
shape of law, it was fortified in their control. If a starving man had
gone into any one of the Astor houses and stolen even as much as a
silver spoon, the Law would have come to the rescue of outraged property
by sentencing him to prison. Or if, in case of a riot, the Astor
property was damaged, the Law also would have stepped in and compelled
the county to idemnify. This Law, this extraordinary code of print which
governs us, has been and is nothing more or less, it is evident, than so
many statutes to guarantee the retention of the proceeds of fraud and
theft, if the piracy were committed in a sufficiently large and
impressive way. The indisputable proof is that every single fortune
which has been obtained by fraud, is still privately held and is greater
than ever; the Law zealously and jealously guards it. So has the Law
practically worked; and if the thing is to be judged by its practical
results, then the Law has been an instigator of every form of crime, and
a bulwark of that which it instigated. Seeing that this is so, it is
not so hard to understand that puzzling problem of why so large a
portion of the community has resolved itself into a committee of the
whole, and while nominally and solemnly professing the accustomed and
expected respect for Law, deprecates it, as it is constituted, and often
makes no concealment of contempt.


In penetrating into the origin and growth of the great fortunes, this
vital fact is constantly forced upon the investigator: that Law has been
the most valuable asset possessed by the capitalist class. Without it,
this class would have been as helpless as a babe. What would the
medieval baron have been without armed force? But note how sinuously
conditions have changed. The capitalist class, far shrewder than the
feudalistic rulers, dispenses with personally equipped armed force. It
becomes superfluous. All that is necessary to do is to make the laws,
and so guide things that the officials who enforce the laws are
responsive to the interests of the propertied classes. Back of the laws
are police forces and sheriffs and militia all kept at the expense of
city, county and State--at public expense. Clearly, then, having control
of the laws and of the officials, the propertied classes have the full
benefit of armed forces the expense of which, however, they do not have
to defray. It has unfolded itself as a vast improvement over the crude
feudal system.

In complete control of the laws, the great propertied classes have been
able either to profit by the enforcement, or by the violation, of them.
This is nowhere more strikingly shown than in the growth of the Astor
fortune, although all of the other great fortunes reveal the same, or
nearly identical, factors. With the millions made by a career of crime
the original Astors buy land; they get more land by fraud; the Law
throws its shield about the property so obtained. They cheat the city
out of enormous sums in taxation; the Law does not molest them. On the
contrary it allows them to build palaces and to keep on absorbing up
more forms of property. In 1875 William Astor builds a railroad in
Florida; and as a gift of appreciation, so it is told, the Florida
Legislature presents him with 80,000 acres of land. It is wholly
probable, if the underlying circumstances were known, that it would be
found that an influence more material than a simple burst of gratitude
prompted this gift. Where did the money come from with which this
railroad was built? And what was the source of other immense funds which
were invested in railroads, banks, industrial enterprises, in buying
more land and in mortgages--in many forms of ownership?

The unsophisticated acceptor of current sophistries or the apologist
might reply that all this money came from legitimate business
transactions, the natural increase in the value of land, and thus on.
But waiving these superficial explanations and defenses, which really
mean nothing more than a forced justification, it is plain that the true
sources of these revenues were of a vastly different nature. The
millions in rents which flowed in to the Astor's treasury every year
came literally from the sweat, labor, misery and murder of a host of
men, women, and children who were never chronicled, and who went to
their death in eternal obscurity.


It was they who finally had to bear the cost of exorbitant rents; it was
their work, the products which they created, which were the bases of
the whole structure. And in speaking of murder, it is not deliberate,
premeditated murder which is meant, in the sense covered by statute, but
that much more insidious kind ensuing from grinding exploitation; in
herding human beings into habitations unfit even for animals which need
air and sunshine, and then in stubbornly resisting any attempt to
improve living conditions in these houses. In this respect, it cannot be
too strongly pointed out, the Astors were in nowise different from the
general run of landlords. Is it not murder when, compelled by want,
people are forced to fester in squalid, germ-filled tenements, where the
sunlight never enters and where disease finds a prolific breeding-place?
Untold thousands went to their deaths in these unspeakable places. Yet,
so far as the Law was concerned, the rents collected by the Astors, as
well as by other landlords, were honestly made. The whole institution of
Law saw nothing out of the way in these conditions, and very
significantly so, because, to repeat over and over again, Law did not
represent the ethics or ideals of advanced humanity; it exactly
reflected, as a pool reflects the sky, the demands and self-interest of
the growing propertied classes. And if here and there a law was passed
(which did not often happen) contrary to the expressed opposition of
property, it was either so emasculated as to be harmless or it was not

The direct sacrifice of human life, however, was merely one substratum
of the Astor fortune. It is very likely, if the truth were fully known,
that the stupendous sums in total that the Astors cheated in taxation,
would have been more than enough to have constructed a whole group of
railroads, or to have bought up whole sections of the outlying parts of
the city, or to have built dozens of palaces. Incessantly they derived
immense rentals from their constantly expanding estate, and just as
persistently they perjured themselves, and defrauded the city, State and
Nation of taxes. It was not often that the facts were disclosed;
obviously the city or State officials, with whom the rich acted in
collusion, tried their best to conceal them.


Occasionally, however, some fragments of facts were brought out by a
legislative investigating committee. Thus, in 1890, a State Senate
Committee, in probing into the affairs of the tax department, touched
upon disclosures which dimly revealed the magnitude of these annual
thefts, but which in nowise astonished any well-informed person, because
every one knew that these frauds existed. Questioned closely by William
M. Ivins, counsel for the committee, Michael Coleman, president of the
Board of Assessments and Taxes, admitted that vast stretches of real
estate owned by the Astors were assessed at half or less than half of
their real value.[158] Then followed this exchange, in which the
particular "Mr. Astor" referred to was not made clear:

     Q.: You have just said that Mr. Astor never sold?

     A.: Once in a while he sells, yes.

     Q.: But the rule is that he does not sell?

     A.: Well, hardly ever; he has sold, of course.

     Q.: Isn't it almost a saying in this community that the Astors buy
     and never sell?

     A.: They are not looked upon as people who dispose of real estate
     after they once get possession of it.

     Q.: Have you the power to exact from them a statement of their
     rent rolls?

     A.: No.

     Q.: Don't you think that ... if you are going to levy a tax
     properly and fully ... you ought to be vested with that power to
     learn what the returns and revenues of that property are?

     A.: No, sir; it's none of our business.[159]

This fraudulent evasion of taxation was anything but confined to the
Astor family. It was practiced by the entire large propertied interests,
not only in swindling New York City of taxes on real estate, but also
those on personal property. Coleman admitted that while the total
valuation of the personal property of all the corporations in New York
was assessed at $1,650,000,000, they were allowed to swear it down to

Here we see again at work that fertile agency which has assisted in
impoverishing the masses. Rentals are exacted from them, which represent
on the average the fourth part of their wages. These rentals are based
upon the full assessment of the houses that they live in. In turn, the
landlords defraud the city of one-half of this assessment. In order to
make up for this continuous deprivation of taxes, the city proceeds time
and time again to increase taxes and put out interest-bearing bond
issues. These increased taxes, as in the case of all other taxes, fall
upon the workers and the results are seen in constantly rising rents and
in higher prices for all necessities.


Was any criminal action ever instituted against these rich defrauders?
None of which there is any record.

Not a publicist, editor, preacher was there who did not know either
generally or specifically of these great frauds in taxation. Some of
them might protest in a half-hearted, insincere or meaningless way. But
the propertied classes did not mind wordy criticism so long as it was
not backed by political action. In other words, they could afford to
tolerate, even be amused by, gusty denunciation if neither the laws were
changed, nor the particular enforcement or non-enforcement which they
demanded. The essential thing with them was to continue conditions by
which they could keep on defrauding.

Virtually all that was considered best in society--the men and women who
lived in the finest mansions, who patronized art and the opera, who set
themselves up as paramount in breeding, manners, taste and fashions--all
of these were either parties to this continuous process of fraud or
benefited by it. The same is true of this class to-day; for the frauds
in taxation are of greater magnitude than ever before. It was not
astonishing, therefore, when John Jacob Astor II died in 1890, and
William Astor in 1892, that enconiums should be lavished upon their
careers. In all the accounts that appeared of them, not a word was there
of the real facts; of the corrupt grasping of city land; of the
debauching of legislatures and the manipulation of railroads; of their
blocks of tenements in which disease and death had reaped so rich a
harvest, or of their gigantic frauds in cheating the city of taxes. Not
a word of all of these.

Without an exception the various biographies were fulsomely laudatory.
This excessive praise might have defeated the purpose of the authors
were it not that it was the fashion of the times to depict and accept
the multimillionaires as marvels of ability, almost superhuman. This was
the stuff fed out to the people; it was not to be wondered at that a
period came when the popular mind reacted and sought the opposite
extreme in which it laved in the most violent denunciations of the very
men whom it had long been taught to revere. That period, too, passed to
be succeeded by another in which a more correct judgment will be formed
of the magnates, and in which they will appear not as exceptional
criminals, but as products of their times and environment, and in their
true relation to both of these factors.

The fortune left by John Jacob Astor II in 1890 amounted to about
$150,000,000. The bulk of this descended to his son William Waldorf
Astor. The $75,000,000 fortune left by William Astor in 1892 was
bequeathed to his son John Jacob Astor. These cousins to-day hold the
greatest part of the collective Astor fortune.

Having reached the present generation, we shall not attempt to enter
into a detailed narrative of their multifarious interests, embracing
land, railroads, industries, insurance and a vast variety of other forms
of wealth. The purpose of this work is to point out the circumstances
underlying the origin and growth of the great private fortunes; in the
case of the Astors this has been done sufficiently, perhaps overdone,
although many facts have been intentionally left out of these chapters
which might very properly have been included. But there are a few
remaining facts without which the story would not be complete, and
lacking which it might lose some significance.


Now a British Subject, Self-Expatriated. He Derives
an Enormous Income from His American Estate.]

We have seen how at William B. Astor's death in 1876 the Astor fortune
amounted to at least $100,000,000, probably much more. Within sixteen
years, by 1892, it had more than doubled in the hands of his two sons.
How was it possible to have added the extraordinary sum of $125,000,000
in less than a decade and a half? Individual ability did not
accomplish it; it is ludicrous to say that it could have done so. The
methods by which much of this increase was gathered in have already been
set forth. A large part came from the rise in the value of land, which
value arose not from the slightest act of the Astors, but from the
growth of the population and the labor of the whole body of workers.
This value was created by the producers, but far from owning or even
sharing in it, they were compelled to pay heavier and heavier tribute in
the form of rent for the very values which they had created. Had the
Astors or other landlords gone into a perpetual trance these values
would have been created just the same. Then, not content with
appropriating values which others created, the landlord class defrauded
the city of even the fractional part of these values, in the form of

Up to the present generation the Astors had never set themselves out as
"reformers" in politics. They had plundered right and left, but withal
had made no great pretenses. The fortune held by the Astors, so the
facts indubitably show, represents a succession of piracies and
exploitation. Very curious, therefore, it is to note that the Astors of
the present generation have avowed themselves most solicitous reformers
and have been members of pretentious, self-constituted committees
composed of the "best citizens," the object of which has been to purge
New York City of Tammany corruption. Leaving aside the Astors, and
considering the attitude of the propertied class as a whole, this posing
of the so-called better element as reformers has been, and is, one of
the most singular characteristics of American politics, and its most
colossal sham. Although continuously, with rare intermissions, the
landholders and the railroad and industrial magnates have been either
corrupting public officials or availing themselves of the benefits of
corrupt politics, many of them, not in New York alone, but in every
American city, have been, at the same time, metamorphosing themselves
into reformers. Not reformers, of course, in the true, high sense of the
word, but as ingenious counterfeits. With the most ardent professions of
civic purity and of horror at the prevailing corruption they have come
forward on occasions, clothed in a fine and pompous garb of


The very men who cheated cities, states and nation out of enormous sums
in taxation; who bribed, through their retainers, legislatures, common
councils and executive and administrative officials; who corruptly put
judges on the bench; who made Government simply an auxiliary to their
designs; who exacted heavy tribute from the people in a thousand ways;
who forced their employees to work for precarious wages and who bitterly
fought every movement for the betterment of the working classes--these
were the men who have made up these so-called "reform" committees,
precisely as to-day they constitute them.[160]

If there had been the slightest serious attempt to interfere with their
vested privileges, corruptly obtained and corruptly enhanced, and with
the vast amount of increment and graft that these privileges bought
them, they would have instantly raised the cry of revolutionary
confiscation. But they were very willing to put an end to the petty
graft which the politicians collected from saloons, brothels, peddlers,
and the small merchants, and thereby present themselves as respectable
and public-spirited citizens, appalled at the existing corruption. The
newspapers supported them in this attitude, and occasionally a
sufficient number of the voters would sustain their appeals and elect
candidates that they presented. The only real difference was that under
an openly corrupt machine they had to pay in bribes for franchises, laws
and immunity from laws, while under the "reform" administrations, which
represented, and toadied to, them, they often obtained all these and
more without the expenditure of a cent. It has often been much more
economical for them to have "reform" in power; and it is a well known
truism that the business-class reform administrations which are
popularly assumed to be honest, will go to greater lengths in selling
out the rights of the people than the most corrupt political machine,
for the reason that their administrations are not generally suspected of
corruption and therefore are not closely watched. Moreover, corruption
by bribes is not always the most effective kind. There is a much more
sinister form. It is that which flows from conscious class use of a
responsive government for insidious ends. Practically all of the
American "reform" movements have come within this scope.

This is no place for a dissertation on these pseudo reform movements; it
is a subject deserving a special treatment by itself. But it is well to
advert to them briefly here since it is necessary to give constant
insights into the methods of the propertied class. Whether corruption or
"reform" administrations were in power the cheating of municipality and
State in taxation has gone on with equal vigor.[161]


The collective Astor fortune, as we have said, amounts to $450,000,000.
This, however, is merely an estimate based largely upon their real
estate possessions. No one but the Astors themselves know what are their
holdings in bonds and stocks of every description. It is safe to venture
the opinion that their fortune far exceeds $450,000,000. Their surplus
wealth piles up so fast that a large part of it is incessantly being
invested in buying more land. Originally owning land in the lower part
of Manhattan, they then bought land in Yorkville, then added to their
possessions in Harlem, and later in the Bronx, in which part of New York
City they now own immense areas. Their estate is growing larger and
larger all the time.

In rents in New York City alone it is computed that the Astors collect
twenty-five or thirty million dollars a year. The "Astor Estates" are
managed by a central office, the agent in charge of which is said to get
a salary of $50,000 a year. All the business details are attended to
entirely by this agent and his force of subordinates. Of these annual
rents a part is distributed among the various members of the Astor
family according to the degree of their interest; the remainder is used
to buy more land.

The Astor mansions rank among the most pretentious in the United States
and in Europe. The New York City residence long occupied by Mrs. William
Astor at Fifth avenue and Sixty-fifth street is one of extraordinary
luxury and grandeur. Adjoining and connected with it is the equally
sumptuous mansion of John Jacob Astor. In these residences, or rather
palaces, splendor is piled upon splendor. In Mrs. William Astor's
spacious ball-room and picture gallery, balls have been given, each
costing, it is said, $100,000. In cream and gold the picture gallery
spreads; the walls are profuse with costly paintings, and at one end is
a gallery in wrought iron where musicians give out melody on festive
occasions. The dining rooms of these houses are of an immensity.
Embellished in old oak incrusted with gold, their walls are covered with
antique tapestries set in huge oak framework with margins thick with
gold. Upon the diners a luxurious ceiling looks down, a blaze of color
upon black oak set off by masses of gold borders. Directly above the
center of the table are painted garlands of flowers and clusters of
fruit. In the hub of this representation is Mrs. Astor's monogram in
letters of gold. From the massive hall, with its reproductions of
paintings of Marie Antoinette and other old French court characters, its
statuary, costly vases and draperies, a wide marble stairway curves
gracefully upstairs. To dwell upon all of the luxurious aspects of these
residences would compel an extended series of details. In both of the
residences every room is a thing of magnificence.


From these palaces it is but a step, as it were, to gaunt neighborhoods
where great parts of the population are crowded in the most inhuman way
into wretched tenement houses. It is an undeniable fact that more than
fifty blocks on Manhattan Island--each of which blocks is not much
larger than the space covered by the Astor mansions--have each a teeming
population of from 3,000 to 4,000 persons. In each of several blocks
6,000 persons are congested. In 1855, when conditions were thought bad
enough, 417,476 inhabitants were crowded into the section south of
Fourteenth street; but in 1907 this district contained fully 750,000
population. Forty years ago the lower sections only of Manhattan were
overcrowded, but now the density of congestion has spread to all parts
of Manhattan, and to parts of the Bronx and Brooklyn. On an area of two
hundred acres in certain parts of New York City not less than 200,000
people exist. It is not uncommon to find eighteen men, women, and
children, driven to it by necessity, sleeping in three small,
suffocating rooms.

Occupied by the Late Mrs. William Astor and by John Jacob Astor.]

But the New York City residences of the Astors are only a mere portion
of their many palaces. They have impressive mansions, costing great
sums, at Newport. At Ferncliffe-on-the-Hudson John Jacob Astor has an
estate of two thousand acres. This country palace, built in chaste
Italian architecture, is fitted with every convenience and luxury. John
Jacob Astor's cousin, William Waldorf, some years since expatriated
himself from his native country and became a British subject. He bought
the Cliveden estate at Taplow, Bucks, England, the old seat of the Duke
of Westminster, the richest landlord in England. Thenceforth William
Waldorf scorned his native land, and has never even taken the trouble
to look at the property in New York which yields him so vast a revenue.
This absentee landlord, for whom it is estimated not less than 100,000
men, women and children directly toil, in the form of paying him rent,
has surrounded himself in England with a lofty feudal exclusiveness.
Sweeping aside the privilege that the general public had long enjoyed of
access to the Cliveden grounds, he issued strict orders forbidding
trespassing, and along the roads he built high walls surmounted with
broken glass. His son and heir, Waldorf Astor, has avowed that he also
will remain a British subject. William Waldorf Astor, it should be said,
is somewhat of a creator of public opinion; he owns a newspaper and a
magazine in London.

       *       *       *       *       *

The origin and successive development of the Astor fortune have been
laid bare in these chapters; not wholly so, by any means, for a mass of
additional facts have been left out. Where certain fundamental facts are
sufficient to give a clear idea of a presentation, it is not necessary
to pile on too much of an accumulation. And yet, such has been the
continued emphasis of property-smitten writers upon the thrift, honesty,
ability and sagacity of the men who built up the great fortunes, that
the impression generally prevails that the Astor fortune is preëminently
one of those amassed by legitimate means. These chapters should dispel
this illusion.


[158] See Testimony taken before the [New York] Senate Committee on
Cities, 1890, iii:2312, etc.

[159] Testimony taken before the [New York] Senate Committee on Cities,
1890, iii: 2314-2315.

[160] As one of many illustrations of the ethics of the propertied
class, the appended newspaper dispatch from Newport, R. I., on Jan. 2,
1903, brings out some significant facts:

"William C. Schermerhorn, whose death is announced in New York, and who
was a cousin of Mrs. William Astor, was one of Newport's pioneer summer
residents. He was one of New York's millionaires, and his Newport villa
is situated on Narragansett avenue near Cliffside, opposite the Pinard

"Mr. Schermerhorn, with Mrs. Astor and ex-Commodore Gerry, of the New
York Yacht Club, in order to avoid the inheritance tax of New York, and
to take advantage of Newport's low tax-rate, obtained in January last
through their counsel, Colonel Samuel R. Honey, a decree declaring their
citizenship in Rhode Island. Since that time Mr. Schermerhorn's
residence has been in this state. In last year's tax-list he was
assessed for $150,000.

"Mr. Schermerhorn was a member of both the fashionable clubs on Bellevue
avenue, the Newport Casino and the Newport Reading-Room."

[161] For further details on this point see Chapter ix, Part II.



The founding and aggrandizement of other great private fortunes from
land were accompanied by methods closely resembling, or identical with,
those that the Astors employed.

Next to the Astors' estate the Goelet landed possessions are perhaps the
largest urban estates in the United States in value. The landed property
of the Goelet family on Manhattan Island alone is estimated at fully


The founder of the Goelet fortune was Peter Goelet, an ironmonger during
and succeeding the Revolution. His grandfather, Jacobus Goelet, was, as
a boy and young man, brought up by Frederick Phillips, with whose career
as a promoter and backer of pirates and piracies, and as a briber of
royal officials under British rule, we have dealt in previous chapters.
Of Peter Goelet's business methods and personality no account is extant.
But as to his methods in obtaining land, there exists little obscurity.
In the course of this work it has already been shown in specific detail
how Peter Goelet in conjunction with John Jacob Astor, the Rhinelander
brothers, the Schermerhorns, the Lorillards and other founders of
multimillionaire dynasties, fraudulently secured great tracts of land,
during the early and middle parts of the last century, in either what
was then, or what is now, in the heart of New York City. It is entirely
needless to iterate the narrative of how the city officials corruptly
gave over to these men land and water grants before that time
municipally owned--grants now having a present incalculable value.[162]

As was the case with John Jacob Astor, the fortune of the Goelets was
derived from a mixture of commerce, banking and ownership of land.
Profits from trade went toward buying more land, and in providing part
of corrupt funds with which the Legislature of New York was bribed into
granting banking charters, exemptions and other special laws. These
various factors were intertwined; the profits from one line of property
were used in buying up other forms and thus on, reversely and
comminglingly. Peter had two sons; Peter P., and Robert R. Goelet. These
two sons, with an eye for the advantageous, married daughters of Thomas
Buchanan, a rich Scotch merchant of New York City, and for a time a
director of the United States Bank. The result was that when their
father died, they not only inherited a large business and a very
considerable stretch of real estate, but, by means of their money and
marriage, were powerful dignitaries in the directing of some of the
richest and most despotic banks. Peter P. Goelet was for several years
one of the directors of the Bank of New York, and both brothers
benefited by the corrupt control of the United States Bank, and were
principals among the founders of the Chemical Bank.

These brothers had set out with an iron determination to build up the
largest fortune they could, and they allowed no obstacles to hinder
them. When fraud was necessary they, like the bulk of their class,
unhesitatingly used it. In getting their charter for the notorious
Chemical Bank, they bribed members of the Legislature with the same
phlegmatic serenity that they would put through an ordinary business
transaction. This bank, as we have brought out previously, was chartered
after a sufficient number of members of the Legislature had been bribed
with $50,000 in stock and a large sum of money. Yet now that this bank
is one of the richest and most powerful institutions in the United
States, and especially as the criminal nature of its origin is unknown
except to the historic delver, the Goelets mention the connection of
their ancestors with it as a matter of great and just pride. In a
voluminous biography giving the genealogies of the rich families of New
York--material which was supplied and perhaps written by the families
themselves--this boast occurs in the chapter devoted to the Goelets:
"They were also numbered among the founders of that famous New York
financial institution, the Chemical Bank."[163] Thus do the crimes of
one generation become transformed into the glories of another! The stock
of the Chemical Bank, quoted at a fabulous sum, so to speak, is still
held by a small, compact group in which the Goelets are conspicuous.

From the frauds of this bank the Goelets reaped large profits which
systematically were invested in New York City real estate. And
progressively their rentals from this land increased. Their policy was
much the same as that of the Astors--constantly increasing their land
possessions. This they could easily do for two reasons. One was that
almost consecutively they, along with other landholders, corrupted city
governments to give them successive grants, and the other was their
enormous surplus revenue which kept piling up.


When William B. Astor inherited in 1846 the greater part of his father's
fortune, the Goelet brothers had attained what was then the exalted rank
of being millionaires, although their fortune was only a fraction of
that of Astor. The great impetus to the sudden increase of their fortune
came in the period 1850-1870, through a tract of land which they owned
in what had formerly been the outskirts of the city. This land was once
a farm and extended from about what is now Union Square to Forty-seventh
street and Fifth avenue. It embraced a long section of Broadway--a
section now covered with huge hotels, business buildings, stores and
theaters. It also includes blocks upon blocks filled with residences and
aristocratic mansions. At first the fringe of New York City, then part
of its suburbs, this tract lay in a region which from 1850 on began to
take on great values, and which was in great demand for the homes of the
rich. By 1879 it was a central part of the city and brought high
rentals. The same combination of economic influences and pressure which
so vastly increased the value of the Astors' land, operated to turn this
quondam farm into city lots worth enormous sums. As population increased
and the downtown sections were converted into business sections, the
fashionables shifted their quarters from time to time, always pushing
uptown, until the Goelet lands became a long sweep of ostentatious

In imitation of the Astors the Goelets steadily adhered, as they have
since, to the policy of seldom or never selling any of their land. On
the other hand, they bought constantly. On one occasion they bought
eighty lots in the block from Fifth to Sixth avenues, Forty-second to
Forty-third streets. The price they paid was $600 a lot. These lots have
a present aggregate value of perhaps $15,000,000 or more, although they
are assessed at much less.


The second generation of the Goelets--counting from the founder of the
fortune--were incorrigibly parsimonious. They reduced miserliness to a
supreme art. Likewise the third generation. Of Peter Goelet, a grandson
of the original Peter, many stories were current illustrating his
close-fistedness. His passion for economy was carried to such an
abnormal stage that he refused even to engage a tailor to mend his
garments.[164] He was unmarried, and generally attended to his own
wants. On several occasions he was found in his office at the Chemical
Bank industriously absorbed in sewing his coat. For stationery he used
blank backs of letters and envelopes which he carefully and
systematically saved and put away. His house at Nineteenth street,
corner of Broadway, was a curiosity shop. In the basement he had a
forge, and there were tools of all kinds over which he labored, while
upstairs he had a law library of 10,000 volumes, for it was a fixed,
cynical determination of his never to pay a lawyer for advice that he
could himself get for the reading.

Yet this miser, who denied himself many of the ordinary comforts and
conveniences of life, and who would argue and haggle for hours over a
trivial sum, allowed himself one expensive indulgence--expensive for
him, at least. He was a lover of fancy fowls and of animals. Storks,
pheasants and peacocks could be seen in the grounds about his house, and
also numbers of guinea pigs. In his stable he kept a cow to supply him
with fresh milk; he often milked it himself.

This eccentric was very melancholy and, apart from his queer collection
of pets, cared for nothing except land and houses. Chancing in upon him
one could see him intently pouring over a list of his properties. He
never tired of doing this, and was petulantly impatient when houses
enough were not added to his inventory.

He died in 1879 aged seventy-nine years; and within a few months, his
brother Robert, who was as much of an eccentric and miser in his way,
passed away in his seventieth year.


The fortunes of the brothers descended to Robert's two sons, Robert,
born in 1841, and Ogden, born in 1846. These wielders of a fortune so
great that they could not keep track of it, so fast did it grow,
abandoned somewhat the rigid parsimony of the previous generations. They
allowed themselves a glittering effusion of luxuries which were
popularly considered extravagances but which were in nowise so, inasmuch
as the cost of them did not represent a tithe of merely the interest on
the principal. In that day, although but thirty years since, when none
but the dazzlingly rich could afford to keep a sumptuous steam yacht in
commission the year round, Robert Goelet had a costly yacht, 300 feet
long, equipped with all the splendors and comforts which up to that time
had been devised for ocean craft. Between them, he and his brother Ogden
possessed a fortune of at least $150,000,000. The basic structure of
this was New York City land, but a considerable part was in railroad
stocks and bonds, and miscellaneous aggregations of other securities to
the purchase of which the surplus revenue had gone. Thus, like the
Astors and other rich landholders, partly by investments made in trade,
and largely by fraud, the Goelets finally became not only great
landlords but sharers in the centralized ownership of the country's
transportation systems and industries.

When Ogden Goelet died he left a fortune of at least $80,000,000,
reckoning all of the complex forms of his property, and his brother,
Robert, dying in 1899, left a fortune of about the same amount. Two
children survived each of the brothers. Then was witnessed that
characteristic so symptomatic of the American money aristocracy. A
surfeit of money brings power, but it does not carry with it a
recognized position among a titled aristocracy. The next step is
marriage with title. The titled descendants of the predatory barons of
the feudal ages having, generation after generation, squandered and
mortgaged the estates gotten centuries ago by force and robbery, stand
in need of funds. On the other hand, the feminine possessors of American
millions, aided and abetted doubtless by the men of the family, who
generally crave a "blooded" connection, lust for the superior social
status insured by a title. The arrangement becomes easy. In marrying the
Duke of Roxburghe in 1903, May Goelet, the daughter of Ogden, was but
following the example set by a large number of other American women of
multimillionaire families. It is an indulgence which, however great the
superficial consequential money cost may be, is, in reality,
inexpensive. As fast as millions are dissipated they are far more than
replaced in these private coffers by the collective labor of the
American people through the tributary media of rent, interest and
profit. In the last ten years the value of the Goelet land holdings has
enormously increased, until now it is almost too conservative an
estimate to place the collective fortune at $200,000,000.

This large fortune, as is that of the Astors and of other extensive
landlords, is not, as has been pointed out, purely one of land
possessions. Far from it. The invariable rule, it might be said, has
been to utilize the surplus revenues in the form of rents, in buying up
controlling power in a great number and variety of corporations. The
Astors are directors in a large array of corporations, and likewise
virtually all of the other big landlords. The rent-racked people of the
City of New York, where rents are higher proportionately than in any
other city, have sweated and labored and fiercely struggled, as have the
people of other cities, only to deliver up a great share of their
earnings to the lords of the soil, merely for a foothold. In turn these
rents have incessantly gone toward buying up railroads, factories,
utility plants and always more and more land.


But the singular continuity does not end here. Land acquired by
political or commercial fraud has been made the lever for the commission
of other frauds. The railroads now controlled by a few men, among whom
the large landowners are conspicuous, were surveyed and built to a
great extent by public funds, not private money. As time passes a
gradual transformation takes place. Little by little, scarcely known to
the people, laws are altered; the States and the Government,
representing the interests of the vested class, surrender the people's
rights, often even the empty forms of those rights, and great railroad
systems pass into the hands of a small cabal of multimillionaires.

To give one of many instances: The Illinois Central Railroad, passing
through an industrial and rich farming country, is one of the most
profitable railroads in the United States. This railroad was built in
the proportion of twelve parts to one by public funds, raised by
taxation of the people of that State, and by prodigal gifts of public
land grants. The balance represents the investments of private
individuals. The cost of the road as reported by the company in 1873 was
$48,331 a mile. Of this amount all that private individuals contributed
was $4,930 a mile above their receipts; these latter were sums which the
private owners gathered in from selling the land given to them by the
State, amounting to $35,211 per mile, and the sums that they pocketed
from stock waterings amounting to $8,189 a mile. "The unsold land
grant," says Professor Frank Parsons, "amounted to 344,368 acres, worth
probably over $5,000,000, so that those to whom the securities of the
company were issued, had obtained the road at a bonus of nearly
$2,000,000 above all they paid in."[165]

By this manipulation, private individuals not only got this immensely
valuable railroad for practically nothing, but they received, or rather
the laws (which they caused to be made) awarded them, a present of
nearly four millions for their dexterity in plundering the railroad
from the people. What set of men do we find now in control of this
railroad, doing with it as they please? Although the State of Illinois
formally retains a nominal say in its management, yet it is really owned
and ruled by eight men, among whom are John Jacob Astor, and Robert
Walton Goelet, associated with E. H. Harriman, Cornelius Vanderbilt and
four others. John Jacob Astor is one of the directors of the Western
Union Telegraph monopoly, with its annual receipts of $29,000,000 and
its net profits of $8,000,000 yearly; and as for the many other
corporations in which he and his family, the Goelets and the other
commanding landlords hold stock, they would, if enumerated, make a
formidable list.

And while on this phase, we should not overlook another salient fact
which thrusts itself out for notice. We have seen how John Jacob Astor
of the third generation very eagerly in 1867 invited Cornelius
Vanderbilt to take over the management of the New York Central Railroad,
after Vanderbilt had proved himself not less an able executive than an
indefatigable and effective briber and corrupter. So long as Vanderbilt
produced the profits, Astor and his fellow-directors did not care what
means he used, however criminal in law and whatever their turpitude in
morals. John Jacob Astor of the fourth generation repeats this
performance in aligning himself, as does Goelet, with that master-hand
Harriman, against whom the most specific charges of colossal looting
have been brought.[166] But it would be both idle and prejudicial in the
highest degree to single out for condemnation a brace of capitalists for
following out a line of action so strikingly characteristic of the
entire capitalist class--a class which, in the pursuit of profits,
dismisses nicety of ethics and morals, and which ordains its own laws.


The wealth of the Rhinelander family is commonly placed at about
$100,000,000. But this, there is excellent reason to believe, is an
absurdly low approximation. Nearly a century and a half ago William and
Frederick Rhinelander kept a bakeshop on William street, New York City,
and during the Revolution operated a sugar factory. They also built
ships and did a large commission business. It is usually set forth, in
the plenitude of eulogistic biographies, that their thrift and ability
were the foundation of the family's immense fortune. Little research is
necessary to shatter this error. That they conducted their business in
the accepted methods of the day and exercised great astuteness and
frugality, is true enough, but so did a host of other merchants whose
descendants are even now living in poverty. Some other explanation must
be found to account for the phenomenal increase of the original small
fortune and its unshaken retention.

This explanation is found partly in the fraudulent means by which,
decade after decade, they secured land and water grants from venal city
administrations, and in the singularly dubious arrangement by which they
obtained an extremely large landed property, now having a value of tens
upon tens of millions, from Trinity Church. Since the full and itemized
details of these transactions have been elaborated upon in previous
chapters, it is hardly necessary to repeat them. It will be recalled
that, as important personages in Tammany Hall, the dominant political
party in New York City, the Rhinelanders used the powers of city
government to get grant after grant for virtually nothing. From Trinity
Church they got a ninety-nine year lease of a large tract in what is now
the very hub of the business section of New York City--which tract they
subsequently bought in fee simple. Another large tract of New York City
real estate came into their possession through the marriage of William
C. Rhinelander, of the third generation, to a daughter of John Rutgers.
This Rutgers was a lineal descendant of Anthony Rutgers, who, in 1731,
obtained from the royal Governor Cosby the gift of what was then called
the "Fresh Water Pond and Swamp"--a stretch of seventy acres of little
value at the time, but which is now covered with busy streets and large
commercial and office buildings. What the circumstances were that
attended this grant are not now known. The grant consisted of what are
now many blocks along Broadway north of Lispenard street. It is not
merely business sections which the Rhinelander family owns, however;
they derive stupendous rentals from a vast number of tenement houses.

The Rhinelanders, also, employ their great surplus revenues in
constantly buying more land. With true aristocratic aspirations, they
have not been satisfied with mere plebeian American mansions, gorgeous
palaces though they be; they set out to find a European palace with
warranted royal associations, and found one in the famous castle of
Schonberg, on the Rhine, near Oberwesel, which they bought and where
they have ensconced themselves. How great the wealth of this family is
may be judged from the fact that one of the Rhinelanders--William--left
an estate valued at $50,000,000 at his death in December, 1907.


The factors entering into the building up of the Schermerhorn fortune
were almost identical with those of the Astor, the Goelet and the
Rhinelander fortunes. The founder, Peter Schermerhorn, was a ship
chandler during the Revolution. Parts of his land and other possessions
he bought with the profits from his business; other portions, as has
been brought out, he obtained from corrupt city administrations. His two
sons continued the business of ship chandlers; one of them--"Peter the
Younger"--was especially active in extending his real estate
possessions, both by corrupt favors of the city officials and by
purchase. One tract of land, extending from Third avenue to the East
River and from Sixty-fourth to Seventy-fifth street, which he secured in
the early part of the nineteenth century, became worth a colossal
fortune in itself. It is now covered with stores, buildings and densely
populated tenement houses. "Peter the Younger" quickly gravitated into
the profitable and fashionable business of the day--the banking
business, with its succession of frauds, many of which have been
described in the preceding chapters. He was a director of the Bank of
New York from 1814 until his death in 1852.

It seems quite superfluous to enlarge further upon the origin of the
great landed fortunes of New York City; the typical examples given
doubtless serve as expositions of how, in various and similar ways,
others were acquired. We shall advert to some of the great fortunes in
the West based wholly or largely upon city real estate.

While the Astors, the Goelets, the Rhinelanders and others, or rather
the entire number of inhabitants, were transmuting their land into vast
and increasing wealth expressed in terms of hundreds of millions in
money, Nicholas Longworth was aggrandizing himself likewise in


Longworth had been born in Newark, N. J., in 1782, and at the age of
twenty-one had migrated to Cincinnati, then a mere outpost, with a
population of eight hundred sundry adventurers. There he studied law and
was admitted to practice. The story of how Longworth became a landowner
is given by Houghton as follows: His first client was a man accused of
horse stealing. In those frontier days, a horse represented one of the
most valuable forms of property; and, as under a system wherein human
life was inconsequential compared to the preservation of property, the
penalty for stealing a horse was usually death. No term of reproach was
more invested with cutting contempt and cruel hatred than that of a
horse thief. The case looked black. But Longworth somehow contrived to
get the accused off with acquittal. The man--so the story further
runs--had no money to pay Longworth's fee and no property except two
second-hand copper stills. These also were high in the appraisement of
property values, for they could be used to make whisky, and whisky could
be in turn used to debauch the Indian tribes and swindle them of furs
and land. These stills Longworth took and traded them off to Joel
Williams, a tavern-keeper who was setting up a distillery. In exchange,
Longworth received thirty-three acres of what was then considered
unpromising land in the town.[167] From time to time he bought more land
with the money made in law; this land lay on what were then the
outskirts of the place. Some of the lots cost him but ten dollars each.

As immigration swarmed West and Cincinnati grew, his land consequently
took on enhanced value. By 1830 the population was 24,831; twenty years
later it had reached 118,761, and in 1860, 171,293 inhabitants. For a
Western city this was a very considerable population for the period. The
growth of the city kept on increasingly. His land lay in the very center
of the expanding city, in the busiest part of the business section and
in the best portion of the residential districts. Indeed, so rapidly did
its value grow soon after he got it, that it was no longer necessary for
him to practice law or in any wise crook to others. In 1819 he gave up
law, and thenceforth gave his entire attention to managing his property.
An extensive vineyard, which he laid out in Ohio, added to his wealth.
Here he cultivated the Catawba grape and produced about 150,000 bottles
a year.

All available accounts agree in describing him as merciless. He
foreclosed mortgages with pitiless promptitude, and his adroit knowledge
of the law, approaching if not reaching, that of an unscrupulous
pettifogger, enabled him to get the upper hand in every transaction. His
personal habits were considered repulsive by the conventional and
fastidious. "He was dry and caustic in his remarks," says Houghton, "and
very rarely spared the object of his satire. He was plain and careless
in his dress, looking more a beggar than a millionaire."


There were certain other conventional respects in which he was woefully
deficient, and he had certain singularities which severely taxed the
comprehension of routine minds. None who had the appearance of
respectable charity seekers could get anything else from him than
contemptuous rebuffs. For respectability in any form he had no use; he
scouted and scoffed at it and pulverized it with biting and grinding
sarcasm. But once any man or woman passed over the line of
respectability into the besmeared realm of sheer disrepute, and that
person would find Longworth not only accessible but genuinely
sympathetic. The drunkard, the thief, the prostitute, the veriest wrecks
of humanity could always tell their stories to him and get relief. This
was his grim way of striking back at a commercial society whose lies and
shams and hypocrisies he hated; he knew them all; he had practiced them
himself. There is good reason to believe that alongside of his one
personality, that of a rapacious miser, there lived another personality,
that of a philosopher.

Certainly he was a very unique type of millionaire, much akin to Stephen
Girard. He had a clear notion (for he was endowed with a highly
analytical and penetrating mind) that in giving a few coins to the
abased and the wretched he was merely returning in infinitesimal
proportion what the prevailing system, of which he was so conspicuous an
exemplar, took from the whole people for the benefit of a few; and that
this system was unceasingly turning out more and more wretches.

Long after Longworth had become a multimillionaire he took a savage,
perhaps a malicious, delight in doing things which shocked all current
conceptions of how a millionaire should act. To understand the intense
scandal caused by what were considered his vagaries, it is only
necessary to bear in mind the ultra-lofty position of a multimillionaire
at a period when a man worth $250,000 was thought very rich. There were
only a few millionaires in the United States, and still fewer
multimillionaires. Longworth ranked next to John Jacob Astor. On one
occasion a beggar called at Longworth's office and pointed eloquently at
his gaping shoes. Longworth kicked off one of his own untied shoes and
told the beggar to try it on. It fitted. Its mate followed. Then after
the beggar left, Longworth sent a boy to the nearest shoe store, with
instructions to get a pair of shoes, but in no circumstances to pay more
than a dollar and a half.

This remarkable man lived to the age of eighty-one; when he died in 1863
in a splendid mansion which he had built in the heart of his vineyard,
his estate was valued at $15,000,000. He was the largest landowner in
Cincinnati, and one of the largest in the cities of the United States.
The value of the land that he bequeathed has increased continuously; in
the hands of his various descendants to-day it is many times more
valuable than the huge fortune which he left. Cincinnati, with its
population of 325,902,[168] pays incessant tribute in the form of a vast
rent roll to the scions of the man whose main occupation was to hold on
to the land he had got for almost nothing. Unlike the founder of the
fortune the present Longworth generation never strays from the set
formulas of respectability; it has intermarried with other rich
families: and Nicholas, a namesake and grandson of the original, and a
representative in Congress, married in circumstances of great and lavish
pomp a daughter of President Roosevelt, thus linking a large fortune,
based upon vested interests, with the ruling executive of the day and
strategically combining wealth with direct political power.

The same process of reaping gigantic fortunes from land went on in
every large city. In Chicago, with its phenomenally speedy growth of
population and its vast array of workers, immense fortunes were amassed
within an astonishingly short period. Here the growth of large private
fortunes was marked by much greater celerity than in the East, although
these fortunes are not as large as those based upon land in the Eastern


The largest landowners that developed in Chicago were Marshall Field and
Levi Z. Leiter. In 1895 the Illinois Labor Bureau, in that year
happening to be under the direction of able and conscientious officials,
made a painstaking investigation of land values in Chicago. It was
estimated that the 266 acres of land, constituting what was owned by
individuals and private corporations in one section alone--the South
Side,--were worth $319,000,000. This estimate was made at a time when
the country was slowly recovering, as the set phrase goes, from the
panic of 1892-94, and when land values were not in a state of inflation
or rise. The amount of $319,000,000 was calculated as being solely the
value of the land, not counting improvements, which were valued at as
much more. The principal landowner in this one section, not to mention
other sections of that immense city, was Marshall Field, with
$11,000,000 worth of land; the next was Leiter, who owned in that
section land valued at $10,500,000.[169] It appeared from this report
that eighteen persons owned $65,000,000 of this $319,000,000 worth of
land, and that eighty-eight persons owned $136,000,000 worth--or
one-half of the entire business center of Chicago. Doubling the sums
credited to Field and Leiter (that is to say, adding the value of the
improvements to the value of the land), this brought Field's real estate
in that one section to a value of $22,000,000, and Leiter's to nearly
the same. This estimate was confirmed to a surprising degree by the
inventory of Field's executors reported to the court early in 1907. The
executors of Field's will placed the value of his real estate in Chicago
at $30,000,000. This estimate did not include $8,000,000 worth of land
which the executors reported that he owned in New York City, nor the
millions of dollars of his land possessions elsewhere.


Field left a fortune of about $100,000,000 (as estimated by the
executors) which he bequeathed principally to two grandsons, both of
which heirs were in boyhood. The factors constituting this fortune are
various. At least $55,000,000 of it was represented at the time that the
executors made their inventory, by a multitude of bonds and stocks in a
wide range of diverse industrial, transportation, utility and mining
corporations. The variety of Field's possessions and his numerous forms
of ownership were such that we shall have pertinent occasion to deal
more relevantly with his career in subsequent parts of this work.

[Illustration: MARSHALL FIELD.]

The careers of Field, Leiter and several other Chicago multimillionaires
ran in somewhat parallel grooves. Field was the son of a farmer. He was
born in Conway, Mass., in 1835. When twenty-one he went to Chicago and
worked in a wholesale dry goods house. In 1860 he was made a partner.
During the Civil War this firm, as did the entire commercial world,
proceeded to hold up the nation for exorbitant prices in its contracts
at a time of distress. The Government and the public were forced to pay
the highest sums for the poorest material. It was established that
Government officials were in collusion with the contractors. This
extortion formed one of the saddest and most sordid chapters of the
Civil War (as it does of all wars,) but conventional history is silent
on the subject, and one is compelled to look elsewhere for the facts of
how the commercial houses imposed at high prices shoddy material and
semi-putrid food upon the very army and navy that fought for their
interests.[170] In the words of one of Field's laudatory biographers,
"the firm coined money"--a phrase which for the volumes of significant
meaning embodied in it, is an epitome of the whole profit system.

Some of the personnel of the firm changed several times: in 1865 Field,
Leiter and Potter Palmer (who had also become a multimillionaire)
associated under the firm name of Field, Leiter & Palmer. The great fire
of 1871 destroyed the firm's buildings, but they were replaced.
Subsequently the firm became Field, Leiter & Co., and, finally in 1887,
Marshall Field & Co.[171] The firm conducted both a wholesale and retail
business on what is called in commercial slang "a cash basis:" that is,
it sold goods on immediate payment and not on credit. The volume of its
business rose to enormous proportions. In 1884 it reached an aggregate
of $30,000,000 a year; in 1901 it was estimated at fully $50,000,000 a


[162] Some of this land and these water grants and piers were obtained
by Peter Goelet during the corrupt administration of City Controller
Romaine. Goelet, it seems, was allowed to pay in installments. Thus, an
entry, on January 26, 1807, in the municipal records, reads: "On
receiving the report of the Street Commissioner, Ordered that warrants
issue to Messrs. Anderson and Allen for the three installments due to
them from Mr. Goelet for the Whitehall and Exchange Piers."--MSS.
Minutes of the [New York City] Common Council, 1807, xvi:286.

[163] "Prominent Families of New York":231. Another notable example of
this glorifying was Nicholas Biddle, long president of the United States
Bank. Yet the court records show that, after a career of bribery, he
stole $400,000 of that bank's funds.

[164] At this very time his wealth, judged by the standard of the times,
was prodigious. "His wealth is vast--not less than five or six
millions," wrote Barrett in 1862--"The Old Merchants of New York City,"

[165] "The Railways, the Trusts and the People":104.

[166] See Part III, "Great Fortunes From Railroads."

[167] "Kings of Fortune":172.

[168] Census of 1900.

[169] Eighth Annual Report, Illinois Labor Bureau:104-253.

[170] In those parts of this work relating to great fortunes from
railroads and from industries, this phase of commercial life is
specifically dealt with. The enormities brazenly committed during the
Spanish-American War of 1898 are sufficiently remembered. Napoleon had
the same experience with French contractors, and the testimony of all
wars is to the same effect.

[171] So valuable was a partnership in this firm that a writer says that
Field paid Leiter "an unknown number of millions" when he bought out
Leiter's interest.



In close similarity to the start of the Astors and many other founders
of great land fortunes, commerce was the original means by which
Marshall Field obtained the money which he invested in land.
Consecutively came a ramification of other revenue-producing properties.
Once in motion, the process worked in the same admixed, interconnected
way as it did in the amassing of contemporary large fortunes. It may be
literally compared to hundreds of golden streams flowing from as many
sources to one central point. From land, business, railroads, street
railways, public utility and industrial corporations--from these and
many other channels, prodigious profits kept, and still keep, pouring in
ceaselessly. In turn, these formed ever newer and widening distributing
radii of investments. The process, by its own resistless volition,
became one of continuous compound progression.


Long before the business of the firm of Marshall Field & Co. had
reached the annual total of $50,000,000, Field, Leiter and their
associates had begun buying land in Chicago. Little capital was
needed for the purpose: The material growth of Chicago explains
sufficiently how a few dollars put in land fifty or sixty years ago
became in time an automatically-increasing fund of millions. A century
or so ago the log cabin of John Kinzie was the only habitation on a
site now occupied by a swarming, conglomerate, rushing population of
1,700,000.[172] Where the prairie land once stretched in solitude, a
huge, roaring, choking city now stands, black with factories, the
habitat of nearly two millions of human beings, living in a whirlpool of
excitement and tumult, presenting extremes of wealth and poverty, the
many existing in dire straits, the few rolling in sovereign luxury. A
saying prevails in Chicago that the city now holds more millionaires
than it did voters in 1840.

Land, in the infancy of the city, was cheap; few settlers there were,
and the future could not be foreseen. In 1830 one-quarter of an acre
could be bought for $20; a few bits of silver, or any currency
whatsoever, would secure to the buyer a deed carrying with it a title
forever, with a perpetual right of exclusive ownership and a perpetual
hold upon all succeeding generations. The more population grew, the
greater the value their labor gave the land; and the keener their need,
the more difficult it became for them to get land.

Within ten years--by about the beginning of the year 1840--the price of
a quarter of an acre in the center of the city had risen to $1,500. A
decade later the established value was $17,500, and in 1860, $28,000.
Chicago was growing with great rapidity; a network of railroads
converged there; mammoth factories, mills, grain elevators, packing
houses:--a vast variety of manufacturing and mercantile concerns set up
in business, and brought thither swarms of workingmen and their
families, led on by the need of food and the prospects of work. The
greater the influx of workers, the more augmented became the value of
land. Inevitably the greatest congestion of living resulted.

By 1870 the price of a quarter of an acre in the heart of the city
bounded to $120,000, and by 1880, to $130,000.


During the next decade--a decade full of bitter distress to the working
population of the United States, and marked by widespread suffering--the
price shot up to $900,000. By 1894--a panic year, in which millions of
men were out of work and in a state of appalling destitution--a quarter
of an acre reached the gigantic value of $1,250,000.[173] At this
identical time large numbers of the working class, which had so largely
created this value, were begging vainly for work, and were being evicted
by the tens of thousands in Chicago because they could not pay rent for
their miserable, cramped habitations.

By exchanging a few hundred, or a few thousand dollars, in Chicago's
extreme youth, for a scrap of paper called a deed, the buyer of this
land found himself after the lapse of years, a millionaire. It did not
matter where or how he obtained the purchase money: whether he swindled,
or stole, or inherited it, or made it honestly;--so long as it was not
counterfeit, the law was observed. After he got the land he was under no
necessity of doing anything more than hold on to it, which same he could
do equally well, whether in Chicago or buried in the depths of
Kamschatka. If he chose, he could get chronically drunk; he could
gamble, or drone in laziness; he could do anything but work.
Nevertheless, the land and all its values which others created, were his
forever, to enjoy and dispose of as suited his individual pleasure.

This was, and is still, the system. Thoroughly riveted in law, it was
regarded as a rational, beneficent and everlasting fixture of civilized
life--by the beneficiaries. And as these latter happened to be, by
virtue of their possessions, among the real rulers of government, their
conceptions and interests were embodied in law, thought and custom as
the edict of civilization. The whole concurrent institutions of society,
which were but the echo of property interests, pronounced the system
wise and just, and, as a reigning force, do still so proclaim it. In
such a state there was nothing abnormal in any man monopolizing land and
exclusively appropriating its revenues. On the contrary, it was
considered a superior stroke of business, a splendid example of
astuteness. Marshall Field was looked upon as a very sagacious business


Field bought much land when it was of comparatively inconsequential
value, and held on to it with a tenacious grip. In the last years of his
life, his revenues from his real estate were uninterruptedly enormous.

"Downtown real estate in Chicago," wrote "a popular writer" in a
typically effusive biographical account of Field, published in 1901, "is
about as valuable, foot for foot, as that in the best locations in New
York City. From $8,000 to $15,000 a front foot are not uncommon figures
for property north of Congress street, in the Chicago business district.
Marshall Field owns not less than twenty choice sites and buildings in
this section; not including those used for his drygoods business. In the
vicinity of the Chicago University buildings he owns square block after
block of valuable land. Yet farther south he owns hundreds of acres of
land in the Calumet region--land invaluable for manufacturing

This extension and centralization of land ownership were accompanied by
precisely the same results as were witnessed in other cities, although
these results were the sequence of the whole social and industrial
system, and not solely of any one phase. Poverty grew in exact
proportion to the growth of large fortunes; the one presupposed, and was
built upon, the existence of the other. Chicago became full of slums and
fetid, overcrowded districts; and if the density and congestion of
population are not as great as in New York, Boston and Cincinnati, it is
only because of more favorable geographical conditions.

Field's fortune was heaped up in about the last twenty years of his
life. The celerity of its progress arose from the prolific variety and
nature of his possessions. To form even an approximate idea of how fast
wealth came in to him, it is necessary to picture millions of men, women
and children toiling day after day, year in and year out, getting a
little less than two parts of the value of what they produced, while
almost nine portions either went to him entirely or in part. But this
was not all. Add to these millions of workers the rest of the population
of the United States who had to buy from, or in some other way pay
tribute to, the many corporations in which Field held stock, and you get
some adequate conception of the innumerable influxions of gold which
poured into Field's coffers every minute, every second of the day,
whether he were awake or asleep; whether sick or well, whether traveling
or sitting stock still.


This one man had the legal power of taking over to himself, as his
inalienable property, his to enjoy, hoard, squander, bury, or throw in
the ocean, if his fancy so dictated, the revenue produced by the labor
of millions of beings as human as he, with the same born capacity for
eating, drinking, breathing, sleeping and dying. Many of his workers had
a better digestive apparatus which had to put up with inferior food,
and, at times, no food at all. He could eat no more than three meals a
day, but his daily income was enough to have afforded him ten thousand
sumptuous daily meals, with exquisite "trimmings," while periods came
when those who drudged for him were fortunate to have any meals at all.
Few of his workers received as much as $2 a day; Field's income was
estimated to be at the rate of about $500 to $700 an hour.

First--and of prime importance--was his wholesale and retail drygoods
business. This was, and is, a line of business in which frantic
competition survived long after the manufacturing field had passed over
into concentrated trust control. To keep apace with competitors and make
high profits, it was imperative not only to resort to shifts, expedients
and policies followed by competitors, but to improve upon, and surpass,
those methods if possible. Field at all times proved that it was
possible. No competing firm would pay a certain rate of wages but what
Field instantly outgeneraled it by cutting his workers' wages to a point
enabling him to make his goods as cheap or cheaper.


In his wholesale and retail stores he employed not less than ten
thousand men, women and children. He compelled them to work for wages
which, in a large number of cases, were inadequate even for a bare
subsistence. Ninety-five per cent. received $12 a week or less. The
female sewing-machine operators who bent over their tasks the long day,
making the clothes sold in the Field stores, were paid the miserable
wages of $6.75 a week. Makers of socks and stockings were paid from
$4.57 to $4.75 a week. The working hours consisted variously of from
fifty-nine to fifty-nine and a half a week. Field also manufactured his
own furniture as well as many other articles. Furniture workers were
paid: Machine workers, $11.02, and upholsterers $12.47 a week. All of
Field's wage workers were paid by the hour; should they fall sick, or
work become slack, their pay was proportionately reduced.

The wretchedness in which many of these workers lived, and in which they
still live (for the same conditions obtain), was pitiful in the extreme.
Even in a small town where rent is not so high, these paltry wages would
have been insufficient for an existence of partial decency. But in
Chicago, with its forbidding rents, the increasing cost of all
necessaries, and all of the other expenses incident to life in a large
city, their wages were notoriously scanty.

Large numbers of them were driven to herding in foul tenements or evil
dwellings, the inducements of which was the rent, a little lighter than
could be had elsewhere. Every cent economized meant much. If an
investigator (as often happened) had observed them, and had followed
them to their wretched homes after their day's work, he would have
noted, or learned of, these conditions: Their food was circumscribed and
coarse--the very cheapest forms of meat, and usually stale bread. Butter
was a superfluous luxury. The morning meal was made up of a chunk of
bread washed down with "coffee"--adulterated stuff with just a faint
odor of real coffee. At noon, bread and an onion, or a bit of herring,
or a slice of cheap cheese composed their dinner, with perhaps a dash of
dessert in the shape of sweetened substance, artificially colored, sold
as "cake." For supper, cheap pork, or a soup bone, garnished
occasionally in the season by stale vegetables, and accompanied by a
concoction resembling tea. Few of these workers ever had more than one
suit of clothes, or more than one dress. They could not afford
amusements, and were too fatigued to read or converse. At night bunches
of them bunked together--sometimes eight or ten in a single room; by
this arrangement the rent of each was proportionately reduced.

It is now we come to a sinister result of these methods of exploiting
the wage-working girls and women. The subject is one that cannot be
approached with other than considerable hesitancy, not because the facts
are untrue, but because its statistical nature has not been officially
investigated. Nevertheless, the facts are known; stern, inflexible
facts. For true historical accuracy, as well as for purposes of
humanity, they must be given; that delicacy would be false, misleading
and palliative which would refrain from tearing away the veil and from
exposing the putridity beneath.

Field was repeatedly charged with employing his workers at such
desperately low wages as to drive large numbers of girls and women, by
the terrifying force of poverty, into the alternative of prostitution.
How large the number has been, or precisely what the economic or
psychologic factors have been, we have no means of knowing. It is worth
noting that many official investigations, futile though their results,
have probed into many other phases of capitalist fraud. But the
department stores over the country have been a singular exception.

Why this partiality? Because the public is never allowed to get
agitated over the methods and practices of the department stores. Hence
the politicians are neither forced, for the sake of appearance, to
investigate, nor can they make political capital from a thing over which
the people are not aroused. Not a line of the horrors taking place in
the large department stores is ever reported in the newspapers, not a
mention of the treatment of girls and women, not a word of the
injunctions frequently obtained restraining these stores from continuing
to sell this or that brand of spurious goods in imitation of those of
some complaining capitalist, or of the seizures by Health Boards of
adulterated drugs or foods.

Wherefore this silence? Because, unsophisticated reader, these same
department stores are the largest and steadiest advertisers. The
newspapers, which solemnly set themselves up as moral, ethical, and
political instructors to the public, sell all the space desired to
advertise goods many of which are fraudulent in nature or weight. Not a
line objectionable to these department stores ever gets into newspaper
print; on the contrary, the owners of these stores, by the bludgeon of
their immense advertising, have the power, within certain limitations,
of virtually acting as censors. The newspapers, whatever their
pretensions, make no attempt to antagonize the powers from whom so large
a portion of their revenue comes. It is a standing rule in newspaper
offices in the cities, that not a specific mention of any unfavorable or
discreditable matter occurring in department stores, or affecting the
interests of the proprietors of those stores, is allowed to get into
print. Thus it is that the general public are studiously kept in
ignorance of the abominations incessantly going on in the large
department stores.


Notwithstanding this community of silence, in some respects akin to a
huge compounded system of blackmail, it is generally known that
department stores are often breeding stations of prostitution by reason
of two factors--extremely low wages and environment. There can be no
disputing the fact that these two working together, and perhaps
superinduced by other compelling influences, do bring about a condition
the upshot of which is prostitution. Such supine reports as those of the
Consumers' League, an organization of well-disposed dilletantes, and of
superficial purposes, give no insight into the real estate of affairs.
In his rather sensational and vitriolic raking of Chicago, W. T. Stead
strongly deals with the effects of department store conditions in
filling the ranks of prostitutes. He quotes Dora Claflin, the
proprietress of a brothel, as saying that such houses as hers obtained
their inmates from the stores, those in particular where hours were long
and the pay small.[174]

Mockery of mockeries that in this era of civilization, so-called, a
system should prevail that yields far greater returns from selling the
body than from honest industry!

It has been estimated that the number of young women who receive $2,500
in one year by the sale of their persons is larger than the number of
women of all ages, in all businesses and professions, who make a
similar sum by work of mind or hand.[175] But one of the most
significant recognitions of the responsibility of department stores for
the prevalence of prostitution, was the act of a member of the Illinois
legislature, a few years ago, in introducing a resolution (which failed
to pass) to investigate the department stores of Chicago on the ground
that conditions in them led to a shocking state of immorality. The
statement has been repeatedly made that nearly one-half of the outcast
girls and women of Chicago have come from the department stores.[176]

It was not only by these methods that the firm of Marshall Field & Co.
was so phenomenally successful in making money. In the background were
other methods which belong to a different category. Whatever Field's
practices--and they were venal and unscrupulous to a great degree, as
will be shown--he was an astute organizer. He understood how to
manipulate and use other men, and how to centralize business, and cut
out the waste and junket of mercantile operations. In the evolutionary
scheme of business he played his important part and a very necessary
part it was, for which he must be given full credit. His methods, base
as they were, were in no respect different from those of the rest of the
commercial world, as a whole. The only difference was that he was more
conspicuous and more successful.


At a time when all business was run on the chaotic and desultory lines
characteristic of the purely competitive age, he had the foresight and
shrewdness to perceive that the storekeeper who depended upon the jobber
and the manufacturer for his goods was largely at the mercy of those
elements. Even if he were not, there were two sets of profits between
him and the making of the goods--the jobber's profits and the

Years before this vital fact was impressed upon the minds of the
floundering retailers, Field understood, and acted upon, it. He became
his own manufacturer and jobber. Thus he was complacently able to supply
his department store with many goods at cost, and pocket the profits
that otherwise would have gone to jobber and manufacturer. In, however,
the very act of making three sets of profits, while many other stores
made only one set, Field paid his employees at the retail store rate;
that is to say, he paid no more in wages than the store which had to buy
often from the jobber, who in turn, purchased from the manufacturer.
With this salient fact in mind, one begins to get a clear insight into
some of the reasons why Field made such enormous profits, and an
understanding of the consequent contrast of his firm doing a business of
$50,000,000 a year while thousands of his employees had to work for a
wretched pittance. He could have afforded to have paid them many times
more than they were getting and still would have made large profits. But
this would have been an imbecilic violation of that established canon of
business: Pay your employees as little as you can, and sell your goods
for the highest price you can get.

Field was one of the biggest dry goods manufacturers in the world. He
owned, says a writer, scores of enormous factories in England, Ireland
and Scotland. "The provinces of France," this eulogist goes on, "are
dotted with his mills. The clatter of the Marshall Field looms is heard
in Spain, Italy, Germany, Austria and Russia. Nor is the Orient
neglected by this master of fabrics. Plodding Chinese and the skilled
Japs are numbered by the thousands on the payroll of the Chicago
merchant and manufacturer. On the other side of the equator are vast
woolen mills in Australia, and the chain extends to South America, with
factories in Brazil and in other of our neighboring republics."

In all of these factories the labor of men, women and children was
harshly exploited; in nearly all of them the workers were in an
unorganized state, and therefore deprived of every vestige of
self-protection. Boys and girls of tenderest age were mercilessly ground
into dollars; their young life's blood dyed deep the fabrics which
brought Field riches. In this dehumanizing business Field was only doing
what the entire commercial aristocracy the world over was doing.

How extraordinarily profitable the business of Marshall Field & Co. was
(and is), may be seen in the fact that its shares (it became an
incorporated stock company) were worth $1,000 each. At his death
Marshall Field owned 3,400 of these shares, which the executors of his
estate valued at $3,400,000. That the exploitation of labor, the sale of
sweatshop and adulterated goods, and many other forms of oppression or
fraud were a consecutive and integral part of his business methods is
undeniable. But other factors, distinctly under the ban of the law,
afford an additional explanation of how he was able to undersell petty
competitors, situated even at a distance. What all of these factors were
is not a matter of public knowledge. At least one of them came to light
when, on December 4, 1907, D. R. Anthony, a representative in Congress
from Kansas, supplied evidence to Postmaster-General Meyer that the
house of Marshall Field & Co. had enjoyed, and still had, the privilege
of secret discriminatory express rates in the shipment of goods. This
charge, if sustained, was a clear violation of the law; but these
violations by the great propertied interests were common, and entailed,
at the worst, no other penalty than a nominal fine.

From such sources came the money with which he became a large
landowner. Also, from the sources enumerated, came the money with
which he and his associates debauched politics, and bribed common
councils and legislatures to present them with public franchises
for street and elevated railways, gas, telephone and electric light
projects--franchises intrinsically worth incalculable sums.[177] With
the money squeezed out of his legions of poverty-stricken employees and
out of his rent-racked tenants he became an industrial monarch. The
inventory of his estates filed in court by his executors revealed that
he owned stocks and bonds in about one hundred and fifty corporations.
This itemized list showed that he owned many millions of bonds and
stocks in railroads with the construction and operation of which he had
nothing to do. The history of practically all of them reeks with thefts
of public and private money; corruption of common councils, of
legislatures, Congress and of administrative officials; land grabbing,
fraud, illegal transactions, violence, and oppression not only of their
immediate workers, but of the entire population.[178] He owned--to give
a few instances--$1,500,000 of Baltimore and Ohio stock; $600,000 of
Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe; $1,860,000 of Chicago and Northwestern,
and tens of millions more of the stock or bonds of about fifteen other

He also owned an immense assortment of the stocks of a large number of
trusts. The affairs of these trusts have been shown in court, at some
time or other, as overflowing with fraud, the most glaring oppressions,
and violations of law. He had $450,000 in stock of the Corn Products
Company (the Glucose Trust); $370,000 of the stock of the notorious
Harvester Trust, which charges the farmer $75 for a machine that perhaps
costs $16 in all to make and market, and which holds a great part of the
farming population bound hand and foot; $350,000 of Biscuit Trust stock;
$200,000 of American Tin Can Company (Tin Can Trust) stock; and large
amounts of stock in other trusts. All of these stocks and bonds Field
owned outright; he made it a rule never to buy a share of stock on
margin or for speculative purposes. All told, he owned more than
$55,000,000 in stocks and bonds.

A very considerable part of these were securities of Chicago surface and
elevated railway, gas, electric light and telephone companies. In the
corruption attending the securing of the franchises of these
corporations he was a direct principal. The narrative of this part of
his fortune, however, more pertinently belongs to subsequent chapters of
this work.


[172] Census of 1900.

[173] Eighth Annual Report, Illinois Labor Bureau:370.

[174] See his work, "If Christ Came to Chicago." Much more specific and
reliable is the report of the U. S. Industrial Commission. After giving
the low wages paid to women in the different cities, it says: "It is
manifest from the figures given that the amount of earnings in many
cases is less than the actual cost of the necessities of life. The
existence of such a state of affairs must inevitably lead in many cases
to the adoption of a life of immorality and, in fact, there is no doubt
that the low rate of wages paid to women is one of the most frequent
causes of prostitution. The fact that the great mass of working women
maintain their virtue in spite of low wages and dangerous environment is
highly creditable to them."--Final Report of the Industrial Commission,
1902, xix:927.

[175] See an article on this point by the Rev. F. M. Goodchild in the
"Arena" Magazine for March, 1896.

[176] In the course of inquiries among the Chicago religious missions in
1909, the author was everywhere informed that the great majority of
native prostitutes were products of the department stores. Some of the
conditions in these department stores, and how their owners have fought
every effort to better these conditions, have been revealed in many
official reports. The appended description is from the Annual Report of
the Factory Inspectors of Illinois, 1903-04, pp. ix and x:

"In this regard, and worthy of mention, reference might be made to the
large dry goods houses and department stores located in Chicago and
other cities, in which places it has been customary to employ a great
number of children under the age of sixteen as messenger boys, bundle
wrappers, or as cash boys or cash girls, wagon boys, etc. In previous
years these children were required to come to work early in the morning
and remain until late at night, or as long as the establishment was open
for business, which frequently required the youngsters to remain
anywhere from 8:00 to 9:00 o'clock in the morning until 10:00 and 11:00
p.m., their weak and immature bodies tired and worn out under the strain
of the customary holiday rush. In the putting a stop to this practice of
employing small children ten and thirteen hours per day, the department
found it necessary to institute frequent prosecutions. While our efforts
were successful, we met with serious opposition, and in some cases
almost continuous litigation, some 300 arrests being necessary to bring
about the desired results, which finally secured the eight hour day and
a good night's rest for the small army of toilers engaged in the candy
and paper box manufacturing establishments and department stores.

"In conducting these investigations and crusades the inspectors met with
some surprises in the way of unique excuses. In Chicago a manager of a
very representative first class department store, one of the largest of
its kind, gave as his reason for not obeying the law, that they had
never been interfered with before. Another, that the children preferred
to be in the store rather than at home. The unnaturalness of this latter
excuse can be readily realized by anyone who has stepped into a large
department store during the holiday season, when the clerks are tired
and cross and little consideration is shown to the cash boy or cash girl
who, because he or she may be tired or physically frail, might be a
little tardy in running an errand or wrapping a bundle. This character
of work for long hours is deleterious to a child, as are the employments
in many branches of the garment trade or other industries, which labor
is so openly condemned by those who have been interested in anti-child
labor movements."

[177] For detailed particulars see that part of this work comprising
"Great Fortunes from Public Franchises."

[178] The acts here summarized are narrated specifically in Part III,
"Great Fortunes from Railroads."



But if only to give at the outset a translucent example of Field's
method's in the management of industrial corporations, it is well to
advert here to the operations of one of his many properties--the Pullman
Company, otherwise called the "Palace Car Trust." This is a necessary
part of the exposition in order to bring out more of the methods by
which Field was enabled to fling together his vast fortune.

The artificial creation of the law called the corporation was so devised
that it was comparatively easy for the men who controlled it to evade
personal, moral, and often legal, responsibility for their acts.
Governed as the corporation was by a body of directors, those acts
became collective and not individual; if one of the directors were
assailed he could plausibly take refuge in the claim that he was merely
one of a number of controllers; that he could not be held specifically
responsible. Thus the culpability was shifted, until it rested on the
corporation, which was a bloodless thing, not a person.


In the case of the Pullman Co., however, much of the moral
responsibility could be directly placed upon Field, inasmuch as he,
although under cover, was virtually the dictator of that corporation.
According to the inventory of the executors of his will, he owned 8,000
shares of Pullman stock, valued at $800,000. It was asserted (in 1901)
that Field was the largest owner of Pullman stock. "In the popular
mind," wrote a puffer, probably inspired by Field himself, "George M.
Pullman has ever been deemed the dominant factor in that vast and
profitable enterprise." This belief was declared an error, and the
writer went on: "Field is, and for years has been, in almost absolute
control. Pullman was little more than a figurehead. Such men as Robert
T. Lincoln, the president of the company, and Norman B. Ream are but
representatives of Marshall Field, whose name has never been identified
with the property he so largely owns and controls." That fulsome writer,
with the usual inaccuracies and turgid exaggerations of "popular
writers," omitted to say that although Field was long the controlling
figure in the management of the Pullman works, yet other powerful
American multimillionaires, such as the Vanderbilts, had also become
large stockholders.

The Pullman Company, Moody states, employed in 1904, in all departments
of its various factories at different places, nearly 20,000 employees,
and controlled 85 per cent of the entire industry.[179] As at least a
part of the methods of the company have been the subject of official
investigation, certain facts are available.

To give a brief survey, the Pullman Company was organized in 1867 to
build sleeping cars of a feasible type officially patented by Pullman.
In 1880 it bought five hundred acres of land near Chicago. Upon three
hundred of these it built its plant, and proceeded, with much show and
advertisement of benevolence, to build what is called a model town for
the benefit of its workers. Brick tenements, churches, a library, and
athletic grounds were the main features, with sundry miscellaneous
accessories. This project was heralded far and wide as a notable
achievement, a conspicuous example of the growing altruism of business.


Time soon revealed the inner nature of the enterprise. The "model town,"
as was the case with imitative towns, proved to be a cunning device with
two barbs. It militated to hold the workers to their jobs in a state of
quasi serfdom, and it gave the company additional avenues of exploiting
its workers beyond the ordinary and usual limits of wages and profits.
In reality, it was one of the forerunners of an incoming feudalistic
sway, without the advantages to the wage worker that the lowly possessed
under medieval feudalism. It was also an apparent polished improvement,
but nothing more, over the processes at the coal mines in Pennsylvania,
Illinois and other States where the miners were paid the most meager
wages, and were compelled to return those wages to the coal companies
and bear an incubus of debt besides, by being forced to buy all of their
goods and merchandise at company stores at extortionate rates. But where
the coal companies did the thing boldly and crudely, the Pullman Company
surrounded the exploitation with deceptive embellishments.

The mechanism, although indirect, was simple. While, for instance, the
cost of gas to the Pullman Company was only thirty-three cents a
thousand feet, every worker living in the town of Pullman had to pay at
the rate of $2.25 a thousand feet. If he desired to retain his job he
could not avoid payment; the company owned the exclusive supply of gas
and was the exclusive landlord. The company had him in a clamp from
which he could not well escape. The workers were housed in ugly little
pens, called cottages, built in tight rows, each having five rooms and
"conveniences." For each of these cottages $18 rent a month was charged.
The city of Chicago, the officials of which were but the mannikins or
hirelings of the industrial magnates, generously supplied the Pullman
Company with water at four cents a thousand gallons. For this same water
the company charged its employees ten cents a thousand gallons, or about
seventy-one cents a month. By this plan the company, in addition,
obtained its water supply for practically nothing. Even for having
shutters on the houses the workers were taxed fifty cents a month. These
are some specimens of the company's many devious instrumentalities for
enchaining and plundering its thousands of workers.

In the panic year of 1893 the Pullman Company reduced wages one-fourth,
yet the cost of rent, water, gas--of nearly all other fundamental
necessities--remained the same. As the average yearly pay of at least
4,497 of the company's wage workers was little more than $600--or, to be
exact, $613.86--this reduction, in a large number of cases, was
equivalent to forcing these workers to yield up their labors for
substantially nothing. Numerous witnesses testified before the special
commission appointed later by President Cleveland, that at times their
bi-weekly checks ran variously from four cents to one dollar. The
company could not produce evidence to disprove this. These sums
represented the company's indebtedness to them for their labor, after
the company had deducted rent and other charges. Such manifold robberies
aroused the bitterest resentment among the company's employees, since
especially it was a matter of authentic knowledge, disclosed by the
company's own reports, that the Pullman factories were making enormous
profits. At this time, the Pullman workers were $70,000 in arrears to
the company for rent alone.


Finally plucking up courage--for it required a high degree of moral
bravery to subject themselves and their families to the further want
inevitably ensuing from a strike--the workers of the Pullman Company
demanded a restoration of the old scale of wages. An arrogant refusal
led to the declaration of a strike on May 11, 1894. This strike, and the
greater strike following, were termed by Carroll D. Wright, for a time
United States Commissioner of Labor, as "probably the most expensive and
far-reaching labor controversy which can properly be classed among the
historic controversies of this generation."[180] The American Railway
Union, composed of the various grades of workers on a large number of
railroads, declared a general sympathetic strike under the delegated
leadership of Eugene V. Debs.

The strike would perhaps have been successful had it not been that the
entire powers of the National Government, and those of most of the
States affected, were used roughshod to crush this mighty labor
uprising. The whole newspaper press, with rare exceptions, spread the
most glaring falsehoods about the strike and its management. Debs was
personally and venomously assailed in vituperation that has had little
equal. To put the strikers in the attitude of sowing violence, the
railroad corporations deliberately instigated the burning or
destruction of their own cars (they were cheap, worn-out freight cars),
and everywhere had thugs and roughs as its emissaries to preach, and
provoke, violence.[181] The object was threefold: to throw the onus upon
the strikers of being a lawless body; to give the newspapers an
opportunity of inveighing with terrific effect against the strikers, and
to call upon the Government for armed troops to shoot down, overawe, or
in other ways thwart, the strikers.

Government was, in reality, directed by the railroad and other
corporations. United States judges, at the behest of the railroad
companies (which had caused them to be appointed to the Bench), issued
extraordinary, unprecedented injunctions against the strikers. These
injunctions even prevented the strikers from persuading fellow employees
to quit work. So utterly lacking any basis in law had these injunctions
that the Federal Commission reported: "It is seriously questioned, and
with much force, whether the courts have jurisdiction to enjoin citizens
from 'persuading' each other in industrial matters of common interest."
But the injunctions were enforced. Debs and his comrades were convicted
of contempt of court and, without jury trial, imprisoned at a critical
juncture of the strike. And what was their offense? Nothing more than
seeking to induce other workers to take up the cause of their striking
fellow-workers. The judges constituted themselves as prosecuting
attorney, judge and jury. Never had such high-handed judicial usurpation
been witnessed. As a concluding stroke, President Cleveland ordered a
detachment of the United States army to Chicago. The pretexts were that
the strikers were interfering with interstate commerce and with the
carrying of mails.


That the company's profits were great at the identical time the workers
were curtailed to a starvation basis, there can be no doubt. The general
indignation and agitation caused by the summary proceedings during the
strike, compelled President Cleveland to appoint a commission to
investigate. Cleveland was a mediocre politician who, by a series of
fortuitous circumstances, had risen from ward politics to the
Presidency. After using the concentrated power of the Federal Government
to break the strike, he then decided to "investigate" its merits. It was
the shift and ruse of a typical politician.

The Special Commission, while not selected of men who could in the
remotest degree be accused of partiality toward the workers, brought out
a volume of significant facts, and handed in a report marked by
considerable and unexpected fairness. The report showed that the Pullman
Company's capital had been increased from $1,000,000 in 1867 to
$36,000,000 in 1894. "Its prosperity," the Commission reported, "has
enabled the company for over twenty years to pay two per cent. quarterly
dividends." But this eight per cent. annual dividend was not all. In
certain years the dividends had ranged from nine and one half, to
twelve, per cent. In addition, the Commission further reported, the
company had laid by a reserve fund in the form of a surplus of
$25,000,000 of profits which had not been divided. For the year ending
July 31, 1893, the declared dividends were $2,520,000; the wages
$7,223,719.51. During the next year, when wages were cut one-fourth, the
stockholders divided an even greater amount in profits: $2,880,000.
Wages went to 4,471,701.39.[182]

If Field's revenue was so proportionately large from this one
property--the Pullman works--it is evident that his total revenue from
the large array of properties which he owned, or in which he held bonds
or stock, was very great.

It is probable that in the latter years of his life his annual net
income was, at the very least, $5,000,000. This is an extremely
conservative estimate. More likely it reached $10,000,000 a year.
Computing the sum upon which the average of his workers had to live (to
make a very liberal allowance) at $800 a year, this sum of $5,000,000
flowing in to him every year, without in the slightest trenching upon
his principal, was equal to the entire amount that 6,250 of his
employees earned by the skill of their brains and hands, and upon which
they had to support themselves and their families.

Here, then, was one individual who appropriated to his use as much as
six thousand; men and more who laboriously performed service to the
community. For that $5,000,000 a year Field had nothing to do in return
except to worry over the personal or business uses to which his surplus
revenues should be put; like a true industrial monarch he relieved
himself of superfluous cares by hiring the ability to supervise and
manage his properties for him.

Such an avalanche of riches tumbled in upon him that, perforce, like the
Astors, the Goelets and other multimillionaires, he was put constantly
to the terrible extremity of seeking new fields for investment.
Luxuriously live, as he did, it would have required a superior inventive
capacity to have dissipated his full income. But, judging his life by
that of some other multimillionaires, he lived modestly. Of medium
height and spare figure, he was of rather unobtrusive appearance. In his
last years his hair and mustache were white. His eyes were gray and
cold; his expression one of determination and blandly assertive
selfishness. His eulogists, however, have glowingly portrayed him as
"generous, philanthropic and public-spirited."


In fact, it was a point descanted upon with extraordinary emphasis
during Field's lifetime and following his demise that, (to use the stock
phrase which with wearying ceaselessness went the rounds of the press),
he was "a business man of the best type." From this exceptional
commentary it can be seen what was the current and rooted opinion of the
character of business men in general. Field's rigorous exploitation of
his tens of thousands of workers in his stores, in his Pullman
factories, and elsewhere, was not a hermetically sealed secret; but this
exploitation, no matter to what extremes to which it was carried, was an
ordinary routine of prevailing business methods.[183]

Of the virtual enslavement of the worker; of the robbing him of what he
produced; of the drastic laws enforced against him; of the debasement of
men, women and children--of all of these facts the organs of public
expression, the politicians and the clergy, with few exceptions, said

Everywhere, except in obscure quarters of despised workingmen's
meetings, or in the writings or speeches of a few intellectual
protestors, the dictum was proclaimed and instilled that conditions were
just and good. In a thousand disingenuous ways, backed by nimble
sophistry, the whole ruling class, with its clouds of retainers, turned
out either an increasing flood of praise of these conditions, or masses
of misinforming matter which tended to reconcile or blind the victim to
his pitiful drudgery. The masters of industry, who reaped fabulous
riches from such a system, were covered with slavish adulation, and were
represented in flowery, grandiloquent phrases as indispensable men,
without whom the industrial system of the country could not be carried
on. Nay, even more: while being plundered and ever anew plundered of the
fruits of their labor, the workers were told, (as they are increasingly
being told), that they should honor the magnates and be thankful to them
for providing work.


Marshall Field, as we have said, was heralded far and wide as an
unusually honest business man, the implication being that every cent of
his fortune was made fairly and squarely. Those fawners to wealth, and
they were many, who persisted in acclaiming his business methods as
proper and honorable, were grievously at a loss for an explanation when
his will was probated, and it was found that even under the existing
laws, favorable as they were to wealth, he had been nothing more than a
common perjurer and a cheat. It was too true, alas! This man "of strict
probity" had to be catalogued with the rest of his class.

For many years he had insisted on paying taxes on personal property on a
valuation of not more than $2,500,000; and the pious old shopkeeper had
repeatedly threatened, in case the board of assessors should raise his
assessment, that he would forthwith bundle off his domicile from
Chicago, and reside in a place where assessors refrain from too much
curiosity as to one's belongings. But lo! when the schedule of his
property was filed in court, it was disclosed that for many years he had
owned at least $17,500,000 of taxable personal property subject to the
laws of the State of Illinois. Thus was another idol cruelly shattered;
for the aforesaid fawners had never tired of exulting elaborately upon
the theme of Field's success, and how it was due to his absolute
integrity and pure, undented character.

At another time the facts of his thefts of taxes might have been
suppressed or toned down. But at this particular juncture Chicago
happened to have a certain corporation counsel who, while mildly
infected with conventional views, was not a truckler to wealth. Suit was
brought in behalf of the city for recovery of $1,730,000 back taxes. So
clear was the case that the trustees of Field's estate decided to
compromise. On March 2, 1908, they delivered to John R. Thompson,
treasurer of Cook County, a check for one million dollars. If the
compound interest for the whole series of years during which Field
cheated in taxation were added to the $1,730,000, it would probably be
found that the total amount of his frauds had reached fully three
million dollars.

The chorus of astonishment that ascended when these facts were divulged
was an edifying display. He who did not know that the entire propertied
class made a regular profession of perjury and fraud in order to cheat
the public treasury out of taxes, was either deliciously innocent or
singularly uninformed. Year after year a host of municipal and State
officials throughout the United States issued reports showing this
widespread condition. Yet aside from their verbose complainings, which
served political purpose in giving an air of official vigilance, the
authorities did nothing.


As a matter of fact, the evasion of taxes by the Pullman Company had
been a public scandal for many years. John P. Altgeld, Governor of
Illinois in 1893-95, frequently referred to it in his speeches and
public papers. Field, then, not only personally cheated the public
treasury out of millions, but also the corporations which he controlled
did likewise. The propertied class everywhere did the same. The
unusually thorough report of the Illinois Labor Bureau of 1894
demonstrated how the most valuable land and buildings in Chicago were
assessed at the merest fraction of their true value--the costliest
commercial buildings at about one-tenth, and the richest residences at
about one-fourteenth, of their actual value. As for personal property it
contributed a negligible amount in taxes.[184]

The reports of the tax committee of the Boston Executive Business
Association in 1891 estimated that two billion dollars of property in
Boston escaped taxation, and that the public treasury was cheated out of
about $17,000,000 in taxes every year. As for New York City, we have
seen how the Astors, the Schermerhorns, the Goelets--the whole aggregate
of the propertied class--systematically defrauded in taxes for many
decades. It is estimated that in New York City, at present, not less
than five billion dollars of property, real and personal, entirely
escapes taxation. This estimate is a conservative one.

Spahr, after an exhaustive investigation in the United States concluded
more than a decade ago that, "the wealthy class pay less than one-tenth
of the indirect taxes, the well-to-do less than one-quarter, and the
relatively poorer classes more than two-thirds."[185] What Spahr omitted
was this highly important qualification: When the rich do pay. Tenants
of the property owners must pay their rent on time or suffer eviction,
but the capitalists are allowed to take their own leisurely time in
paying such portion of their taxes as remains after the bulk of the tax
list has been perjured away. Thus in a report he made public on February
28, 1908, Controller Metz, of New York City, pointed out that the huge
amount of $102,834,227, was due the city in uncollected taxes, much of
which amount ran several decades back. Of this sum $29,816,513 was owed
on real estate, on which the taxes were a direct lien.

The beauties of law as made and enforced by the property interests, are
herein illustriously exemplified. A poor tenant can be instantly
dispossessed, whether sick or in destitution, for non-payment of rent;
the landowner is allowed by officials who represent, and defer to him
and his class, to owe large amounts in taxes for long periods, and not a
move is taken to dispossess him.

And now by the most natural gradation, we come to those much bepraised
acts of our multimillionaires--the seignorial donating of millions to
"charitable" or "public-spirited" purposes.

Like the Astors, the Schermerhorns, the Rhinelanders and a galaxy of
others, Field diffused large sums; he, like them, was overwhelmed with
panegyrics. Millions Field gave toward the founding and sustaining of
the Field Columbian Museum in Chicago, and to the University of Chicago.
It may be parenthetically added that, (to repeat), he owned, adjacent to
this latter institution, many blocks of land the increased value of
which, after the establishment of the University, more than recouped him
for his gifts. This might have been either accidental or it might have
been cold calculation; judging from Field's consistent methods, it was
probably not chance.

So composite, however, is the human character, so crossed and seamed by
conflicting influences, that at no time is it easy to draw any absolute
line between motives. Merely because he exploited his employees
mercilessly, and cheated the public treasury out of millions of dollars,
it does not necessarily follow that Field was utterly deficient in
redeeming traits. As business is conducted, it is well known that many
successful men (financially), who practice the most cruel and oppressive
methods, are, outside the realm of strict business transactions,
expansively generous and kind. In business they are beasts of prey,
because under the private property system, competition, whether between
small or large concerns, is reduced to a cutthroat struggle, and those
who are in the contest must abide by its desperate rules. They must let
no sympathy or tenderness interpose in their business dealings, else
they are lost.

But without entering into a further philosophical disquisition, this
fact must be noted: The amounts that Field gave for "philanthropy" were
about identical with the sums out of which he defrauded Chicago in the
one item of taxes alone. Probed into, it is seen that a great part of
the sums that multimillionaires have given, represent but a tithe of the
sums cheated by them in taxes. William C. Schermerhorn donates $300,000
to Columbia University; the aggregate amount that he defrauded in taxes
was much more. Thus do our magnates supply themselves with present and
posthumous fame gratuitously. Not to consider the far greater and
incalculably more comprehensive question of their appropriating the
resources of the country and the labor of hundreds of millions of
people,[186] and centering attention upon this one concrete instance of
frauds in taxes, the situation presented is an incongruous one. Money
belonging to the public treasury they retain by fraud; this money,
apparently a part of their "honestly acquired" fortune, is given in
some form of philanthropy; and then by some curious oversetting of even
conventional standards, they reap blessings and glory for giving what
are really stolen funds.

"Those who enjoy his confidence," wrote an effervescent eulogist of
Field, "predict that the bulk of his vast fortune will be devoted to
purposes of public utility." But this prediction did not materialize.

$140,000,000 TO TWO BOYS.

Field's fortune, conservatively estimated at $100,000,000, yet, in fact,
reaching about $140,000,000, was largely bequeathed to his two
grandsons, Marshall Field III., and Henry Field. Marshall Field, as did
many other multimillionaires of his period, welded his fortune into a
compact and vested institution. It ceased to be a personal attribute,
and became a thing, an inert mass of money, a corporate entity. This he
did by creating, by the terms of his will, a trust of his fortune for
the two boys. The provisions of the will set forth that $72,000,000 was
to set aside in trust for Marshall III., until the year 1954. At the
expiration of that period it, together with its accumulation, was to be
turned over to him. To the other grandson, Henry, $48,000,000 was
bequeathed under the same conditions.

These sums are not in money, although at all times Field had a snug sum
of cash stowed away; when he died he had about $4,500,000 in banks. The
fortune that he left was principally in the form of real estate and
bonds and stocks. These constituted a far more effective cumulative
agency than money. They were, and are, inexorable mortgages on the labor
of millions of workers, men, women and children, of all occupations. By
this simple screed, called a will, embodying one man's capricious
indulgence, these boys, utterly incompetent even to grasp the magnitude
of the fortune owned by them, and incapable of exercising the
glimmerings of management, were given legal, binding power over a mass
of people for generations. Patterson says that in the Field stores and
Pullman factories fifty thousand people work for these boys.[187] But
these are the direct employees; as we have seen, Field owned bonds and
stock in more than one hundred and fifty industrial, railroad, mining
and other corporations. The workers of all these toil for the Field

They delve in mines, and risk accident, disease and death, or suffer an
abjectly lingering life of impoverishment. Thousands of coal miners are
killed every year, and many thousands more are injured, in order that
two boys and others of their class may draw huge profits.[188] More than
10,000 persons are killed, and 97,000 injured, every year on the
railroads, so that the income enjoyed by these lads and others shall not
diminish. Nearly all of these casualties are due to economizing in
expense, working employees to an extreme fatiguing limit, and refusing
to provide proper safety appliances. Millions more workers drudge in
rolling mills, railroad shops and factories; they wear out their lives
on farms, in packing houses and stores. For what? Why, foolish
questioner, for the rudiments of an existence; do you not know that
the world's dispossessed must pay heavily for the privilege of living?
As these lads hold, either wholly or partly, the titles to all this
inherited property; in plain words, to a formidable part of the
machinery of business, the millions of workers must sweat and bend the
back, and pile up a ceaseless flow of riches for them.

The Boys Who Inherited $140,000,000.]

Marshall Field III., still in knickerbockers, receives $60,000 a week;
his brother Henry, $40,000 a week. The sum in both cases automatically
increases as the interest on the principal compounds. What do many of
the workers who supply this revenue get? Patterson gives this authentic
list of wages:

Pullman Company blacksmiths, $16.43 a week; boiler-makers, $17;
carpenters, $12.38; machinists, $16.65; painters, $13.60, and laborers,
$9.90 a week. As for the lower wages paid to the workers in the Field
stores, we have already given them. And apart from the exploitation of
employees, every person in Chicago who rides on the street or elevated
railroads, and who uses gas, electricity or telephones, must pay direct
tribute to these lads. How decayed monarchial establishments are in
these days! Kings mostly must depend upon Parliaments for their civil
lists of expenditure; but Capitalism does not have to ask leave of
anybody; it appropriates what it wants.

This is the status of the Field fortune now. Let the Field striplings
bless their destiny that they live in no medieval age, when each baron
had to defend his possessions by his strong right arm successfully, or
be compelled to relinquish. This age is one when Little Lord Fauntleroys
can own armies of profit producers, without being distracted from their
toys. Whatever defense is needed is supplied by society, with its
governments and its judges, its superserviceable band of lawyers, and
its armed forces. Two delicate children are upheld in enormous
possessions and vast power, while millions of fellow beings are suffered
to remain in destitution.


[179] "The Truth About the Trusts":266-267.

[180] "Industrial Evolution of the United States," 313.

[181] Parsons, "The Railways, the Trusts and the People":196. Also,
Report of Chicago Chief of Police for 1894. This was a customary
practice of railroad, industrial and mining capitalists. Further facts
are brought out in other parts of this work.

[182] "Report on the Chicago Strike of June and July, 1894," by the
United States Strike Commissioners, 1895.--Throughout all subsequent
years, and at present, the Pullman Company has continued charging the
public exorbitant rates for the use of its cars. Numerous bills have
been introduced in various legislatures to compel the company to reduce
its rates. The company has squelched these measures. Its consistent
policy is well known of paying its porters and conductors such poor
wages that the 15,000,000 passengers who ride in Pullman cars every year
are virtually obliged to make up the deficiency by tips.

[183] Sweeping as this statement may impress the uninitiated, it is
entirely within the facts. As one of many indisputable confirmations it
is only necessary to refer to the extended debate over child labor in
the United States Senate on January 23, 28, and 29, 1907, in which it
was conclusively shown that more than half a million children under
fifteen years of age were employed in factories, mines and sweatshops.
It was also brought out how the owners of these properties bitterly
resisted the passage or enforcement of restrictive laws.

[184] Eighth Biennial Report of the Illinois Bureau of Labor Statistics,
1894. The report, made public in August, 1909, of the Illinois Tax
Reform League's investigation of the Chicago Board of Review's
assessments, showed that these frauds in evading taxation not only
continue, but on a much greater scale than ever before. The Illinois Tax
Reform League asserted, among other statements, that Edward Morris, head
of a large packing company, was not assessed on personal property,
whereas he owned $43,000,000 worth of securities, which the League
specified. The League called upon the Board of Review to assess J. Ogden
Armour, one of the chiefs of the Beef Trust, on $30,840,000 of personal
property. Armour was being yearly assessed on only $200,000 of personal
property. These are two of the many instances given in the report in
question. It is estimated (in 1909), that back taxes on at least a
billion dollars of assessable corporate capital stock, are due the city
from a multitude of individuals and corporations.

[185] "The Present Distribution of Wealth in the United States":143.

[186] "Hundreds of millions of people." Not only are the 85,000,000
people of the United States compelled to render tribute, but the peoples
of other countries all over the globe.

[187] "Marshall Field's Will" by Joseph Medill Patterson. Reprinted in
pamphlet form from "Collier's Weekly."

[188] The number of men killed per 100,000 employed has increased from
267 a year in 1895 to about 355 at present. (See report of J. A. Holmes,
chief of the technological branch of the United States Geological
Survey.) The chief reason for this slaughter is because it is more
profitable to hire cheap, inexperienced men, and not surround the work
with proper safeguards.


(The index for Volumes I, II, and III will be found in Vol. III.)

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