Edward G. Clark
Shylock: as banker

Hugh McCulloch's Day of Tramps.

In 1865 immediately after the re-election of Lincoln to the Presidency he appointed Hugh McCulloch, Secretary of the Treasury. McCulloch was an unimportant banker of Indiana brought to Washington by Mr. Chase and inherited by Mr. Lincoln from the office of Comptroller of the Currency.

From the ground we have now traversed, it is easy to see that the office of Secretary of the Treasury was then beset with extreme difficulties. Never had an outraged, war-worn people, more sadly needed a capacious head, an honest heart, and a firm hand at their fiscal helm. On every side for four years they had been hampered and plundered; and now the shameless, pitiless spoilsmen who had overborne Stevens and Spaulding, had tortured Chase out of office, and hurried Fessenden on toward his tomb demanded absolute control of the nation's coffers. In the distress of a heavily-laden, trustful soul, our martyred Lincoln turned to McCulloch. Though of no public significance, there was one thing in favor of the Indiana banker: he had been far from Wall Street, while yet he might be supposed to know its ways and how to cope with its chicanery.

McCulloch entered the President's Cabinet. But the pistol of an assassin soon took away from us our protector and friend, Abraham Lincoln. Then the man McCulloch disclosed himself. As Wilkes Booth murdered our beloved President who was all fidelity to the masses, so Hugh McCulloch betrayed that fidelity and wrung from his master's dead hand the blessings it held in store. The Western banker brought East for a shield against the gold-thugs, handed himself over to the only foes of his country left within its borders and became their cat's-paw of pillage and their besom of destruction. As Hon. William D. Kelley told the citizens of Philadelphia:

"Hugh McCulloch * * * hamstrung the whole nation. I affirm that his management of the finances, while it enriched him, and made him a great London banker, has cost the American people more than the war did."

Berkey says:

"McCulloch not only entered into the designs of the money power, but became its most subservient tool and retired with the reputation of being the first Secretary of the Treasury who had ever prostituted his high office for the purpose of enriching himself and his associates." ["Money Question," page 218.]

To recount the deeds of this modern son of the ancient Moloch is to paint one of the blackest, most distressing and maddening pictures in American history. And he made no mistake of pardonable ignorance. He knew precisely what he was doing.

"Henry C. Carey, who had a conversation with him immediately after his accession to office, says that he expressed himself then as unfavorable to contraction and quotes him as saying that he 'should gladly see gold at one-seventy-five' — meaning that he would not favor contraction for the purpose of reducing the premium on gold. 'Three months later,' says Mr. Carey, 'he was instructing his representatives abroad to give assurances that we should have resumed specie payments before the seven-thirties became due.'"  [Berkey's "Money Question," page 218.]

At the close of the Rebellion in 1865, the money-power, as we have seen, had nearly if not fully doubled the national debt. The armies of the North had disbanded and our soldiers had gone to their homes. As well as they could they had set to work and there was plenty for them to do. The armies of the South had disbanded also and the brave men in battered grey were doing their best to pick up some remnants of the old days. They had lost their cause and were suffering the consequences of defeat — a disorganized and impoverished state of society. The North wished them well and would have been glad to help them. It was the time to give every man in a re-united country the opportunity to put forth his best endeavors that his country should heal and bloom, be fruitful and prosper. To such ends, money was required — a vast circulation of ready money. And of this there was enough, though not a dollar too much, for purposes so vast and beneficent.

But the bandits who owned Hugh McCulloch had other designs than these. Before the war, with no semblance of souls — nothing but pockets — they had mobbed the opponents of slavery, and had sneered at our American Declaration of Human Rights as "a string of glittering generalities."  When the war broke out they had cringed in fear and sneaked under the Union flag that they might hold on to their gold. During the war they had combined and conspired to make their country pay twice the normal value of the food and clothes, the guns and swords, by which it protected their lives and property. And now with Hugh McCulloch for their national scoop, what was their further programme ?  It was to ruin the prosperity oe the North, which her enormous industry had built up in spite of them. It was to enter her factories, her shops, her fields and homes and to bid each and all of us "stand and deliver" in accordance with what we had. It was not to ruin the prosperity of the South; for that was gone. It was to bind her fast and tie her down for years to an incubus of penury and woe that might have been lifted and dispelled like a nightmare by the laugh of morning. It was to take from the maimed soldier of the Union so far as possible the money to buy his crutches or his wooden leg. It was to burden his wife with harder tasks and to withhold his children from school, that their little bodies might sweat for bread. It was to abet murder, to foster divorce, to multiply prostitution, and to impel suicide.

Well did the demons of Wall Street, of Lombard Street and of the new and superfluous National Banks with their "specie basis" do their work.

Their doings, even yet, have never got to the general public; for their hush-money has been bountiful and their intimidations universal. But their method was simple. It was merely to play the old game of Ricardo and "Contraction," as played by the "gentle blood" and the Jews of England, in 1820 when they juggled the property of the island away from those who had produced it. It has been estimated that more than a million men, women, and children were murdered — by starvation and otherwise — in this process of garroting the circulation of English money. When McCulloch followed the example of Ricardo, and made the people of the United States walk the plank of his craft of pirates, the result was about the same. Of many descriptions of this process, one of the most vivid has been given by Colonel Ingersoll:

"No man can imagine, all the languages of the world cannot express, what the people of the United States suffered from 1873 to 1879. Men who considered themselves millionaires found that they were beggars;  men living in palaces, supposing they had enough to give sunshine to the winter of their age, supposing they had enough to have all they loved in affluence and comfort, suddenly found that they were mendicants, with bonds, stocks, mortgages, all turned to ashes in their hands. The chimneys grew cold, the fires in the furnaces went out, the poor families were turned adrift, and the highways of the United States were crowded with tramps." [Speech on "Hard Times," by Robert G. Ingersoll.]

After the historical facts we have now been over in these pages — facts standing in themselves for arguments — few readers, certainly, can have failed to grasp by this time the chief law and the chief power of money. No one ever made it clearer by a single illustration than Professor Bonamy Price of the University of Oxford, in comparing units of money — dollars or pounds — with carts. His illustration has been touched in our "Introduction."  Carts, wagons, trucks are vehicles for transferring property from one person to another and without such vehicles the property cannot be transferred. Money is also a vehicle for transfers of property, without which such transfers are impossible. If the supply of carts equals the demands of transfer, all sorts of goods are exchanged with facility at a fair price. If the supply of money equals the demands of transfer, the result is the same. But, limit the supply of carts or of money, and the price of their use "becomes high" — while the value of everything else falls in proportion to their scarcity. Hence, nothing is more dangerous to industry and nothing is more wicked, more disorganizing and deadly to society than a scheme which abnormally contracts the volume of a people's money.  It should be set down as treason in the laws of every nation and should be punished accordingly.

In 1865 the legal tender money of the United States was in round numbers a thousand millions of dollars.[1]  The population of the North was twenty-four millions. So there was an average distribution of forty-one dollars to each person, or "per capita."  The return of the Southern States to the Union made a population of thirty-five millions and a per-capita circulation of twenty-eight dollars. In addition to this currency of direct and full legal power, there was almost as much more in amount of short-time treasury notes, certificates of indebtedness and the like, which served to a considerable extent for money in large transactions. As a consequence, business was done mostly for cash and as McCulloch himself said, the people were individually "out of debt."

In December of 1865, in his first annual report as Secretary of the Treasury, this agent of the bankers and bullionists outlined their policy for them. The legal tender acts, he said, of the preceding four years, were "war-measures."  Their character was temporary and they "ought not to remain in force a day longer than would be necessary to enable the people to prepare for a return to the "constitutional currency" — this "constitutional currency" meaning the gold-piles in the corner of the syndicate behind him. He said that the retirement of Treasury Notes should be commenced without delay and be continued until all should be retired.

At the present day it seems incredible that Congress could have been decoyed into approval of McCulloch's recommendations and could have been so blind for two years, as not to check and snub him — which had to be done at the end of that time but was done too late.  We must recollect, however, that this pander to the Money-Power was hidden behind the massive form and the immortal shade of Abraham Lincoln. That a man supposed to be a friend of Lincoln could stab his dead body by a scheme to raid his re-united country, few then imagined. In the excitement that followed his death and the first measures of re-construction with Andrew Johnson in his chair, almost nothing else received attention. As in 1861, so now again, the hard, soulless, ravenous gold-sharks, scented their prey and employed their pilot-fish. Congress meant well enough perhaps at the time but was utterly opaque to the real purpose and end of Hugh McCulloch.

His duty was plain. No banker could have failed to see it, whoever else might be sightless. It was to save the people all the interest on their debt that could be carried in "legal tenders"; to pay the principal as fast as practicable in gold and silver "coin"; and to fund the rest of the debt, from time to time, in no way to prevent an increase of circulation corresponding with increase of population and business. In accepting this sacred duty there would have been enough benefaction, enough glory for an angel. But from the gold-bugs and the banks there would have been no money in it for Hugh McCulloch himself.

During his first year in office he retired forty-three millions of dollars in "greenbacks" and more than three hundred and fifty millions in other forms of indebtedness that entered more or less into the volume of money. By July 1868 he had cut the legal-tender and non-interest-bearing part of the national debt down to four hundred and six millions, having funded nearly all the rest in long-time bonds. In 1869 our money-circulation including bank-issues was less than seven hundred millions of dollars for forty millions of people.

Six years ago, speaking as a Senator of his country, Hon. Preston B. Plumb — the president of a national bank — declared that "the contraction of the currency by five per cent of its volume means the depreciation of the property of the country three thousand millions of dollars." [March 26th, 1888 : see Congressional Record.]

Think of it; and thinking, imagine the effect of the fifty per cent contraction of Hugh McCulloch, Pra Diavolo, and their gang. Controlling by their conspiracy the people's money, all other property was sacrificed to them. From 1863 to '66, the failures in business throughout the country averaged something more than five hundred a year. The fiscal accomplishments of Hugh McCulloch raised the number, in due time, to nearly ten thousand a year. The list for 1873 was about fifty-two hundred and for 1876, ninety-one hundred.

At the end of 1867 Benjamin F. Wade — a man of "the old school" who knew something about money — wrote to a correspondent:

"To talk of specie payments or a return to specie under present circumstances is to talk like a fool. It would destroy the country as effectually as a fire and any contraction of the currency at this time is about as bad."

Stout old "Ben" Wade was a little tardy in his cry. McCulloch's ravagers had already made sure of the "fire" and had arranged perfectly to "destroy the country."

A month later the pressure of public opinion forced Congress to muzzle and chain the Secretary of the Treasury so far as to prevent him from any further retirement of legal-tender treasury notes — a special law being enacted for that purpose which went into effect on the 4th of February, 1868. Some years later, Mr. J.A. Stevens, President of the New York Chamber of Commerce, explained the matter in this way:

"The country at large had felt the pressure of the screw but had not been able to discover precisely from what quarter the pinch came, the contraction being confined to those outside forms of Treasury obligations which, though not currency in the strict acceptation of the word, were still used as such in the larger transactions of trade and.financial exchange. When in a time of general pressure the currency itself became the subject of the pruning-knife, the country not only felt the knife but saw how it was handled and refused to submit to the 'heroic treatment.' "

What McCulloch would have done in the end, had he not been choked off, there is no knowing. He might easily have plunged us into Revolution. As it was he shrouded us in misery and sent out on their dismal way, two millions of unemployed work-people. His hungry, houseless, helpless victims were called "tramps."

During the era of those "tramps," one great, kindly heart at least — one eloquent tongue — one eminent and experienced statesman — told the truth about them. It was William D. Kelley of Pennsylvania. Addressing his people he said:

"You have seen a strong man, full of life, rise in the morning as a lion shakes the dew from his mane and go forward to the battle of life, full of vigor, full of hope, full of energy, full of enterprise. * * * But an accident happens; an artery is cut. The blood does not ooze, but flows from him. The surgeon comes just in time to save his life. He staunches the wound and binds it up. But the man is another being. He lies there pallid and shrunken. His sturdy limbs will not bear his wasted body. His muscles are flaccid and his fingers have lost their skill. His energy is gone and he dreams not of enterprise.

"This is our condition to-day as a people. In 1865 and 1866 every man in America who had the skill and the will to labor could earn wages to support his family and lay something by. All industries were quick and active. Production ran on. The American people waked up each new morning to feel there were great duties before them. There were mines to be opened, forges and furnaces to be erected. * * * New houses were built. * * * Our wealth grew as it or that of any other people had never grown.

"We were moving onward when one Hugh McCulloch tapped a great artery and let nearly all the blood flow from the body politic.  Diseased, paralyzed, shrinking from day to day, what American has the energy to engage in developing a new mine ? * * * Your laborers — moody, sullen, in want — are begging the poor privilege of earning a day's food by an honest day's labor. Their homes are being stripped of everything they cherish. Go through the suburbs of your city; halt before the houses where of a Sunday afternoon you would a few years ago have found the family gathered about the melodeon or the cheap piano, singing the praises of Him who had given them their lines in these pleasant places. Ah ! the house is silent now;  the father is out of employment, the sons are in idleness, the daughters have no work;  the melodeon or piano is gone. Aye, worse than that, the most cherished mementoes though of little value measured in dollars and cents — the cheap jewelry — the trinket that the young lover toiled in over-hours that he might buy and see it grace the person of his sweetheart — the amulet he hung upon the neck of his bride — the silver cup that marked the birth or christening of their first-born — cherished by all — but they have gone to the pawnbroker or jeweler to bring them food !  Courage gone, hope gone, despair crushing him to the earth, and destroying all the pride that made the American mechanic the boast and honor of his country, how many a man to-day, longing for honest work but powerless to obtain it, creeps and crawls from town to town, foot-sore, ragged, dusty, to beg from strangers rather than from those who know him and will remember it — to be denounced as a 'tramp,' and commended to the custody of the police !"[2]

Mr. Kelley drew the sketch to the life in his pathetic address. And this handiwork of the devil was all for what ?  That his imps, the money-power, might put their price on our property — the property of honest brains and skill and labor. No words of indignation, no words of wrath are adequate to the sins of such offenders. To cloak their depravity, or to forgive it, is itself a crime. As they have scattered tortures and torments among mankind, so may tortures and torments fill their souls. With Tertullian and John Calvin let us believe in a hell !  It is needed !

Hugh McCulloch as report has it, still walks the earth — an old man of more than four score years, not worn out by remorse for deeds that have sent a million of his contemporaries to untimely graves !  History so far has mostly walled up his career. For a long time his affairs have been largely abroad with the British owners of national debts and with the descendants of money-changers unhonored in Holy Writ. It would be well that the urn to his ashes should also rise abroad. If set up at home, the whitest marble will yet turn black in the shade of the public scowl.


1 General A.J. Warner, in his "Facts About Silver," puts the exact amount at $985,000,000. At a time like the present, General Warner's little pamphlet, published by the American Bimetallic League, should be in every hand for reference. As authority for whatever it touches, there is absolutely nothing higher.

2 The Governor of one of our States — Mr. Lewelling of Kansas — was once a "tramp."  He said recently:  "I know what it is myself to tramp the streets of a city seeking work and attempting in some way to earn an honest living. In 1865 I tramped up and down the streets of Chicago trying to get work. I was hungry, penniless, and was subject to arrest but I was not a criminal. * * * The economic conditions of the present are the trouble and men are compelled to wander around in search of work, not from choice, but from necessity."  The brave Governor is right. Nine-tenths of all our "tramps" have been made such by men like Hugh McCulloch, John Sherman and Grover Cleveland. It is they, with their blatherskite-lackeys of the press, who ought to be spurned, whipped and arrested, instead of their helpless victims.