HISTORY OF THE GREAT AMERICAN FORTUNESCHAPTER V
THE VANDERBILT FORTUNE INCREASES MANIFOLD
Vanderbilts ambition was to become the richest man in America. With three railroads in his possession he now aggressively set out to grasp a fourth the Erie Railroad. This was another of the railroads built largely with public money. The State of New York had contributed $3,000,000, and other valuable donations had been given.
At the very inception of the railroad corruption began.1 The tradesmen, landowners and bankers who composed the company bribed the Legislature to relinquish the States claim, and then looted the railroad with such consummate thoroughness that in order to avert its bankruptcy they were obliged to borrow funds from Daniel Drew. This man was an imposing financial personage in his day. Illiterate, unscrupulous, picturesque in his very iniquities, he had once been a drover, and had gone into the steamboat business with Vanderbilt. He had scraped in wealth partly from that line of traffic, and in part from a succession of buccaneering operations. His loan remaining unpaid, Drew indemnified himself by taking over, in 1857, by foreclosure, the control of the Erie Railroad.
For the next nine years Drew manipulated the stock at will, sending the price up or down as suited his gambling schemes. The railroad degenerated until travel upon it became a menace ; one disaster followed another. Drew imperturbably continued his manipulation of the stock market, careless of the condition of the road. At no time was he put to the inconvenience of even being questioned by the public authorities. On the contrary, the more millions he made the greater grew his prestige and power, the higher his standing in the community. Ruling society, influenced solely by money standards, saluted him as a successful man who had his millions, and made no fastidious inquiries as to how he got them. He was a potent man ; his villainies passed as great astuteness, his devious cunning as marvelous sagacity.
GOULD OVERREACHES VANDERBILT.
Vanderbilt resolved to wrest the Erie Railroad out of Drews hands. By secretly buying its stock he was in a position in 1866 to carry out his designs. He threw Drew and his directors out, but subsequently realizing Drews usefulness, reinstated him upon condition that he be fully pliable to the Vanderbilt interests. Thereupon Drew brought in as fellow directors two young men, then obscure but of whom the world was to hear much James Fisk, Jr., and Jay Gould. The narrative of how these three men formed a coalition against Vanderbilt ; how they betrayed and then outgeneraled him at every turn ; proved themselves of a superior cunning ; sold him large quantities of spurious stock ; excelled him in corruption ; defrauded more than $50,000,000, and succeeded Gould, at any rate in keeping most of the plunder this will be found in detail where it more properly belongs in the chapter of the Gould fortune describing that part of Goulds career connected with the Erie Railroad.
Baffled in his frantic contest to keep hold of that railroad a hold that he would have turned into many millions of dollars of immediate loot by fraudulently watering the stock, and then bribing the Legislature to legalize it as Gould did Vanderbilt at once set in motion a fraudulent plan of his own by which he extorted about $44,000,000 in plunder, the greater portion of which went to swell his fortune.
The year 1868 proved a particularly busy one for Vanderbilt. He was engaged in a desperately devious struggle with Gould. In vain did his agents and lobbyists pour out stacks of money to buy legislative votes enough to defeat the bill legalizing Goulds fraudulent issue of stock. Members of the Legislature impassively took money from both parties. Gould personally appeared at Albany with a satchel containing $500,000 in greenbacks which were rapidly distributed. One Senator, as was disclosed by an investigating committee, accepted $75,000 from Vanderbilt and then $100,000 from Gould, kept both sums, and voted with the dominant Gould forces. It was only by means of the numerous civil and criminal writs issued by Vanderbilt judges that the old man contrived to force Gould and his accomplices into paying for the stock fraudulently unloaded upon him. The best terms that he could get was an unsatisfactory settlement which still left him to bear a loss of about two millions. The veteran trickster had never before been overreached ; all his life, except on one occasion,2 he had been the successful sharper ; but he was no match for the more agile and equally sly, corrupt and resourceful Gould. It took some time for Vanderbilt to realize this ; and it was only after several costly experiences with Gould, that he could bring himself to admit that he could not hope to outdo Gould.
A NEW CONSOLIDATION PLANNED.
However, Vanderbilt quickly and multitudinously recouped himself for the losses encountered in his Erie assault. Why not, he argued, combine the New York Central and the Hudson River companies into one corporation, and on the strength of it issue a vast amount of additional stock ?
The time was ripe for a new mortgage on the labor of that generation and of the generations to follow. Population was wondrously increasing, and with it trade. For years the New York Central had been paying a dividend of eight per cent. But this was only part of the profits. A law had been passed in 1850 authorizing the Legislature to step in whenever the dividends rose above ten per cent. on the railroads actual cost, and to declare what should be done with the surplus. This law was nothing more or less than a blind to conciliate the people of the State, and let them believe that they would get some returns for the large outlay of public funds advanced to the New York Central. No returns ever came. Vanderbilt, and the different groups before him, in control of the road had easily evaded it, just as in every direction the whole capitalist class pushed aside law whenever law conflicted with its aims and interests. It was the propertyless only for whom the execution of law was intended. Profits from the New York Central were far more than eight per cent.; by perjury and frauds the directors retained sums that should have gone to the State. Every year they prepared a false account of their revenues and expenditures which they submitted to the State officials ; they pretended that they annually spent millions of dollars in construction work on the road work, in reality, never done.3 The money was pocketed by them under this device a device that has since become a favorite of many railroad and public utility corporations.
Unenforced as it was, this law was nevertheless an obstacle in the way of Vanderbilts plans. Likewise was another, a statute prohibiting both the New York Central Railroad and the Hudson River Railroad from increasing their stock. To understand why this latter law was passed it is necessary to remember that the middle class the factory owners, jobbers, retail tradesmen and employing farmers were everywhere seeking by the power of law to prevent the too great development of corporations. These, they apprehended, and with reason, would ultimately engulf them and their fortunes and importance. They knew that each new output of watered stock meant either that the prevailing high freight rates would remain unchanged or would be increased ; and while all the charges had to be borne finally by the working class, the middle class sought to have an unrestricted market on its own terms.
ALARM OF THE TRADING CLASSES.
It was the opposition of the various groups of this class that Vanderbilt expected and provided against. He was fully aware that the moment he revealed his plan of consolidation boards of trade everywhere would rise in their wrath, denounce him, call together mass meetings, insist upon railroad competition and send pretentious, fire breathing delegates to the State Capitol. Let them thunder, said Vanderbilt placidly. While they were exploding in eruptions of talk he would concentrate at Albany a mass of silent arguments in the form of money and get the necessary legislative votes, which was all he cared about.
Then ensued one of the many comedies familiar to observers of legislative proceedings. It was amusing to the sophositicated to see delegations indignantly betake themselves to Albany, submit voluminous briefs which legislators never read, and with immense gravity argue away for hours to committees which had already been bought. The era was that of the Tweed regime, when the public funds of New York City and State were being looted on a huge scale by the politicians in power, and far more so by the less vulgar but more crafty business classes who spurred Tweed and his confederates on to fresh schemes of spoliation.
Laws were sold at Albany to the highest bidder. It was impossible, Tweed testified after his downfall, to do anything there without paying for it ; money had to be raised for the passing of bills.4 Decades before this, legislators had been so thoroughly taught by the landowners and bankers how to exchange their votes for cash that now, not only at Albany and Washington, but everywhere in the United States, both legislative and administrative officials haggled in real astute business style for the highest price that they could get.
One noted lobbyist stated in 1868 that for a favorable report on a certain bill before the New York Senate, $5,000 apiece was paid to four members of the committee having it in charge. On the passage of the bill, a further $5,000 apiece with contingent expenses was added. In another instance, where but a solitary vote was needed to put a bill through, three Republicans put their figures up to $25,000 each ; one of them was bought. About thirty Republicans and Democrats in the New York Legislature organized themselves into a clique (long styled the Black Horse Cavalry ), under the leadership of an energetic lobbyist, with a mutual pledge to vote as directed.5 Any corporation, however extensive and comprehensive the privileges it asked to quote from The History of Tammany Hall and however much oppression it sought to impose upon the people in the line of unjust grants, extortionate rates or monopoly, could convince the Legislature of the righteousness of its request upon ` producing the proper sum.
A LEGALIZED THEFT OF $44,000,000.
One act after another was slipped through the Legislature by Vanderbilt in 1868 and 1869. On May 20, 1869, Vanderbilt secured, by one bill alone, the right to consolidate railroads, a free grant of franchises, and other rights worth hundreds of millions of dollars, and the right to water stock and bonds to an enormous extent.
The printing presses were worked overtime in issuing more than $44,000,000 of watered stock. The capital stock of the two roads was thus doubled. Pretending that the railroads embraced in the consolidation had a great surplus on hand, Vanderbilt, instead of distributing this alleged surplus, apportioned the watered stock among the stockholders as a premium. The story of the surplus was, of course, only a pretense. Each holder of a $180 share received a certificate for $180 that is to say, $80 in plunder for every $100 share that he held.6 Thus, reported the Hepburn Committee (the popular name for the New York State Assembly investigating committee of 1879), as calculated by this expert, $53,507,060 were wrongfully added to the capital stock of these roads. Of this sum $44,000,000 was issued in 1869 ; the remainder in previous years. The only answer made by the roads was that the legislature authorized it, the committee went on. It is proper to remark that the people are quite as much indebted to the venality of the men elected to represent them in the Legislature as to the rapacity of the railroad managers for this state of affairs.7
Despite the fact that the report of the committee recorded that the transaction was piracy, the euphemistic wording of the committees statement was characteristic of the reverence shown to the rich and influential, and the sparing of their feelings by the avoidance of harsh language. Wrongfully added would have been quickly changed into such inconsiderate terms as theft and robbery had the case been even a trivial one of some ordinary citizen lacking wealth and power. The facts would have immediately been presented to the proper officials for criminal prosecution.
But not a suggestion was forthcoming of haling Vanderbilt to the criminal bar ; had it been made, nothing except a farce would have resulted, for the reason that the criminal machinery, while extraordinarily active in hurrying petty lawbreakers to prison, was a part of the political mechanism financed by the big criminals and subservient to them.
The $44,000,000, says Simon Sterne, a noted lawyer who, as counsel for various commercial organizations, unravelled the whole matter before the Hepburn Committee, in 1879, represented no more labor than it took to print the script. It was notorious, he adds, that the cost of the consolidated railroads was less than $44,000,000,8 In increasing the stock to $86,000,000 Vanderbilt and his confederates therefore stole the difference between the cost and the maximum of the stock issue. So great were the profits, both open and concealed, of the consolidated railroads that notwithstanding, as Charles Francis Adams computed, $50,000 of absolute water had been poured out for each mile of road between New York and Buffalo, the market price of the stock at once shot up in 1869 from $75 a share to $120 and then to $200.
And what was Vanderbilts share of the $44,000,000 ? His inveterate panegyrist, Croffut, in smoothly defending the transaction gives this illuminating depiction of the joyous event : One night, at midnight, he (Cornelius Vanderbilt) carried away from the office of Horace F. Clark, his son-in-law, $6,000,000 in greenbacks as a part of his share of the profits, and he had $20,000,000 more in new stock.9
By this coup Vanderbilt about doubled his previous wealth. Scarcely had the mercantile interests recovered from their utter bewilderment at being routed than Vanderbilt, flushed with triumph, swept more railroads into his inventory of possessions.
His process of acquisition was now working with almost automatic ease. First, as we have narrated, he extorted millions of dollars in blackmail. With these millions he bought, or rather manipulated into his control, one railroad after another, amid an onslaught of bribery and glaring violations of the laws. Each new million that he seized was an additional resource by which he could bribe and manipulate ; progressively his power advanced ; and it became ridiculously easier to get possession of more and more property. His very name became a terror to those of lesser capital, and the mere threat of pitting his enormous wealth against competitors whom he sought to destroy was generally a sufficient warrant for their surrender. After his consummation of the $44,000,000 theft in 1869 there was little withstanding of him. By the most favorable account that of Croffut his own allotment of the plunder amounted to $26,000,000. This sum, immense, and in fact of almost inconceivable power in that day, was enough of itself, independent of Vanderbilts other wealth, to force through almost any plan involving a seizing of competing property.
HE SCOOPS UP MORE RAILROADS.
Vanderbilt did not wait long. The ink on the $44,000,000 had barely dried, before he used part of the proceeds to buy a controlling irterest in the Lake Shore Railroad, a competing line. Then rapidly, by the same methods, he took hold of the Canada Southern and Michigan Central.
The commercial interests looked on dumfounded. Under their very eyes a process of centralization was going on, of which they but dimly, stupidly, grasped the purport. That competition which they had so long shouted for as the only sensible, true and moral system, and which they had sought to buttress by enacting law after law, was being irreverently ground to pieces.
Out of their own ranks were rising men, trained in their own methods, who were amplifying and intensifying those methods to shatter the class from which they had sprung. The different grades of the propertied class, from the merchant with his fortune of $250,000 to the retail tradesman, felt very comfortable in being able to look down with a conscious superiority upon the working class from whom their money was wrung. Scoffing at equality, they delighted in setting themselves up as a class infinitely above the toilers of the shop and factory ; let him who disputes this consult the phrases that went the rounds phrases, some of which are still current as, for instance, the preaching that the moderately well-to-do class is the solid, substantial element of any country.
Now when this mercantile class saw itself being far overtopped and outclassed in the only measurement to which it attached any value that of property by men with vast riches and power, it began to feel its relegation. Although its ideal was money, and although it set up the acquisition of wealth as the all-stimulating incentive and goal of human effort, it viewed sullenly and enviously the development of an established magnate class which could look haughtily and dictatorially down upon it even as it constantly looked down upon the working class. The factory owner and the shopkeeper had for decades commanded the passage of summary legislation by which they were enabled to fleece the worker and render him incapable of resistance. To keep the worker in subjection and in their power they considered a justifiable proceeding. But when they saw the railroad magnates applying those same methods to themselves, by first wiping out competition, and then by enforcing edicts regardless of their interests, they burst out in furious rage.
VANDERBILT AND HIS CRITICS.
They denounced Vanderbilt as a bandit whose methods were a menace to the community. To the onlooker this campaign of virulent assault was extremely suggestive. If there was any one line of business in which fraud was not rampant, the many official reports and court proceedings of the time do not show it.
This widespread fraud was not occasional ; it was persistent. In one of the earlier chapters, the prevalence, more than a century ago, of the practise of fraudulent substitution of drugs and foods was adverted to. In the middle of the nineteenth century it was far more extensive. In submitting, on June 2, 1848, a mass of expert evidence on the adulteration of drugs, to the House of Representatives, the House Select Committee on the Importation of Drugs pointed out :
For a long series of years this base traffic has been constantly increasing, until it has become frightfully enormous. It would be presumed, from the immense quantities, and the great variety of inferior drugs that pass our custom houses, and particularly the custom-house at New York, in the course of a single year, that this country had become the great mart and receptacle of all of the refuse merchandise of that description, not only from the European warehouses, but from the whole Eastern market.9a
In presenting a formidable array of expert testimony, and in giving a list of cases of persons having died from eating foods and drugs adulterated with poisonous substances, the House Committee on Epidemic Diseases, of the Forty-Sixth Congress, reported on February 4 1881 :
That they have investigated, as far as they could . . . the injurious and poisonous compounds used in the preparation of food substances, and in the manufacture of wearing apparel and other articles, and find from the evidence submitted to them that the adulteration of articles used in the every day diet of vast numbers of people has grown, and is now practised, to such an extent as to seriously endanger the public health, and to call loudly for some sort of legislative correction. Drugs, liquors, articles of clothing, wall paper and many other things are subjected to the same dangerous process.10
The House Committee on Commerce, reporting the next year, on March 4, stated that the evidence regarding the adulterations of food indicates that they are largely of the nature of frauds upon the consumer and injure both the health and morals of the people. The committee declared that the practise of fraudulent substitutions had become universal.11
These few significant extracts, from a mass of official reports, show that the commercial frauds were continuous, and began long before Commodore Vanderbilts time, and have prevailed up to the present.
Everywhere was fraud ; even the little storekeepers, with their smug pretensions to homely honesty, were profiting by some of the vilest, basest forms of fraud, such as robbing the poor by the light-weight and short-weight trick,12 or (far worse) by selling skim milk, or poisonous drugs or adulterated food or shoddy material. These practises were so prevalent, that the exceptions were rarities indeed.
If any administration had dared seriously to stop these forms of theft the trading classes would have resisted and struck back in political action. Yet these were the men these traders who vociferously come forth with their homiletic trades against Vanderbilts criminal transactions, demanding that the power of him and his kind be curbed.
It was not at all singular that they put their protests on moral grounds. In a form of society where each man is compelled to fight every other man in a wild, demoralizing struggle for self-preservation, self-interest naturally usurps the supreme functions, and this self-interest becomes transposed, by a comprehensible process, into moralities. That which is profitable is perverted into a moral code ; the laws passed, the customs introduced and persisted in, and the weight of the dominant classes all conspire to put the stamp of morality on practices arising from the lowest and most sordid aims. Thus did the trading class make a moral profession of its methods of exploitation ; it congratulated and sanctified itself on its purity of life and its saving stability.
From this class a class interpenetrated in every direction with commercial frauds was largely empanelled the men who sat on those grand juries and petit juries solemnly passing verdict on the poor wretches of criminals whom environment or poverty had driven into crime. They were the arbiters of justice, but it was a justice that was never allowed to act against themselves. Examine all the penal codes of the period ; note the laws proscribing long sentences in prison for thefts of property ; the larceny of even a suit of clothes was severely punishable, and begging for alms was a misdemeanor. Then contrast these asperities of law with the entire absence of adequate protection for the buyer of merchandise. Following the old dictum of Roman jurisprudence, Let the buyer beware, the factory owner could at will oppress his workers, and compel them, for the scantiest wages, to make for his profit goods unfit for consumption. These articles the retailer sold without scruple over his counter ; when the buyer was cheated or overcharged, as happened with great frequency, he had practically no redress in law. If the merchant were robbed of even ever so little he could retaliate by sending the guilty one to prison. But the merchant himself could invidiously and continuously rob the customer without fear of any law. All of this was converted into a code of moralities ; and any bold spirit who exposed its cant and sham was denounced as an agitator and as an enemy of law and order.13
Vanderbilt did better than expose it ; he improved upon, and enlarged, it and made it a thing of magnitude ; he and others of his quality discarded petty larceny and ascended into a sphere of superlative grand larceny. They knew with a cynical perception that society, with all its pompous pretensions to morality, had evolved a rule which worked with almost mathematical certainty. This rule was the paradoxical, but nevertheless true, one that the greater the theft the less corresponding danger there was of punishment.
THE WISDOM OF GRAND LARCENY.
Now it was that one could see with greater clearness than ever before, how the mercenary ideal of the ruling class was working out to its inevitable conclusion. Society had made money its god and property its yardstick ; even in its administration of justice, theoretically supposed to be equal, it had made justice an expensive luxury available, in actual practice, to the rich only. The defrauder of large sums could, if prosecuted, use a part of that plunder, easily engage a corps of shrewd, experienced lawyers, get evidence manufactured, fight out the case on technicalities, drag it along for years, call in political and social influence, and almost invariably escape in the end.
But beyond this power of money to make a mockery of justice was a still greater, though more subtle, factor, which was ever an invaluable aid to the great thief. Every section of the trading class was permeated with a profound admiration, often tangibly expressed, for the craft that got away with an impressive pile of loot. The contempt felt for the pickpocket was the antithesis of the general mercantile admiring view of the man who stole in grand style, especially when he was one of their own class. In speaking of the piratical operations of this or that magnate, it was common to hear many business men interject, even while denouncing him, Well, I wish I were as smart as he. These same men, when serving on juries, were harsh in their verdicts on poor criminals, and unctuously flattered themselves with being, and were represented as, the upholders and conservers of law and moral conduct.
Departing from the main facts as this philosophical digression may seem, it is essential for a number of reasons. One of these is the continual necessity for keeping in mind a clear, balanced perspective. Another lies in the need of presenting aright the conditions in which Vanderbilt and magnates of his type were produced. Their methods at basis were not a growth independent of those of the business world and isolated from them. They were simply a development, and not merely one of standards as applied to morals, but of the mechanism of the social and industrial organization itself. Finally it is advisable to give flashlight glimpses into the modes and views of the time, inasmuch as it was in Vanderbilts day that the great struggle between the old principle of competition, as upheld by the small capitalists, and the superseding one of consolidation, as incarnated in him and others, took on vigorous headway.
HE CONTINUES THE BUYING OF LAWS.
Protest as it did against Vanderbilts merging of railroads, the midldle class found itself quite helpless. In rapid succession he put through one combination after another, and caused theft after theft to be legalized, utterly disdainful of criticism or opposition. In State after State he bought the repeal of old laws, or the passage of new laws, until he was vested with authority to connect various railroads that he had secured between Buffalo and Chicago, into one line with nearly 1,300 miles of road. The commercial classes were scared at the sight of such a great stretch of railroad then considered an immense line in the hands of one man, audacious, all conquering, with power to enforce tribute at will. Again, Vanderbilt patronized the printing presses, and many more millions of stock, all fictitious capital, were added to the already flooded capital of the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railroad Company. Of the total of $62,000,000 of capital stock in 1871, fully one-half was based upon nothing but the certainty of making it valuable as a dividend payer by the exaction of high freight and passenger rates. A little later, the amount was run up to $73,000,000, and this was increased subsequently.
Vanderbilt now had a complete railroad system from New York to Chicago, with extensive offshoots. It is at this point that we have to deal with a singular commendation of his methods thrust forward glibly from that day to this. True, his eulogists admitted then, as they admit now, Vanderbilt was not overscrupulous in getting property that he wanted. But consider, they urge, the improvements he brought about on the railroads that came into his possession ; the renovation of the roadbed, the institution of new locomotives and cars, the tearing down of the old, worn-out stations. This has been the praise showered upon him and his methods.
Inquiry, however, reveals that this appealing picture, like all others of its sort, has been ingeniously distorted. The fact was, in the first place, that these improvements were not made out of regard to public convenience, but for two radically different reasons. The first consideration was that if the dividends were to be paid on the huge amount of fabricated stock, the road, of necessity, had to be put into a condition of fair efficiency to meet or surpass the competing facilities of other railroads running to Chicago. Second, the number of damage claims for accident or loss of life arising largely from improper appliances and insufficient safeguards, was so great that it was held cheaper in the long run to spend millions for improvements.
PUBLIC FUNDS FOR PRIVATE USE.
Instead of paying for these improvements with even a few millions of the proceeds of the watered stock, Vanderbilt (and all other railroad magnates in like cases did the same) forced the public treasury to defray a large part of the cost. A good illustration of his methods was his improvement of his passenger terminus in New York City. The entrance of the New York Central and the Harlem Railroads is by way of Park (formerly Fourth) avenue. This franchise, as we have seen, was obtained by bribery in 1832. But it was a qualified franchise. It reserved certain nominal restrictions in behalf of the people by inserting the right of the city to order the removal of the tracks at any time that they became an obstruction. These terms were objectionable to Vanderbilt ; a perpetual franchise could be capitalized for far more than a limited or qualified one. A perpetual franchise was what he wanted.
The opportunity came in 1872. From the building of the railroad, the tracks had been on the surface of Fourth avenue. Dozens of dangerous crossings had resulted in much injury to life and many deaths. The public demand that the tracks be depressed below the level of the street had been resisted.
Instead of longer ignoring this demand, Vanderbilt now planned to make use of it ; he saw how he could utilize it not only to foist a great part of the expense upon the city, but to get a perpetual franchise. Thus, upon the strength of the popular cry for reform, he would extort advantages calculated to save him millions and at the same time extend his privileges. It was but another illustration of the principle in capitalist society to which we have referred before (and which there will be copious occasion to mention again and again) that after energetically contesting even those petty reforms for which the people have contended, the ruling classes have ever deftly turned about when they could no longer withstand the popular demands, and have made those very reforms the basis for more spoliation and for a further intrenchment of their power.14
The first step was to get the New York City Common Council to pass, with an assumption of indignation, an ordinance requiring Vanderbilt to make the desired improvements, and committing the city to bear one-half the expense and giving him a perpetual franchise. This was in Tweeds time when the Common Council was composed largely of the most corrupt ward heelers, and when Tweeds puppet, Hall, was Mayor. Public opposition to this grab was so great as to frighten the politicians ; at any rate, whatever his reasons, Mayor Hall vetoed the ordinance.
Thereupon, in 1872, Vanderbilt went to the Legislature that Legislature whose members he had so often bought like so many cattle. This particular Legislature, however, was elected in 1871, following the revelations of the Tweed ring frauds. It was regarded as a model reform body. As has already been remarked in this work, the pseudo reform officials or bodies elected by the American people in the vain hope of overthrowing corruption, will often go to greater lengths in the disposition of the peoples rights and interests than the most hardened politicians, because they are not suspected of being corrupt, and their measures have the appearance of being enacted for the public good. The Tweed clique had been broken up, but the capitalists who had assiduously bribed its members and profited so hugely from its political acts, were untouched and in greater power than ever before. The source of all this corruption had not been struck at in the slightest. Tweed, the politician, was sacrificed and went to prison and died there ; the capitalists who had corrupted representative bodies everywhere in the United States, before and during his time, were safe and respected, and in a position to continue their work of corruption. Tweed made the classic, unforgivable blunder of going into politics as a business, instead of into commercialism. The very capitalists who had profited so greatly by his corruption, were the first to express horror at his acts.
From the reform Legislature of 1872 Vanderbilt secured all that he sought. The act was so dexterously worded that while not nominally giving a perpetual franchise, it practically revoked the qualified parts of the charter of 1832. It also compassionately relieved him of the necessity of having to pay out about $4,000,000, in replacing the dangerous roadway, by imposing that cost upon New York City. Once these improvements were made, Vanderbilt bonded them as though they had been made with private money.
REFORM AS IT WORKS OUT.
But these were not his only gifts from the reform Legislature. The Harlem Railroad owned, as we have seen, the Fourth avenue surface line of horse cars. Although until this time it extended to Seventy-ninth street only, this line was then the second most profitable in New York City. In 1864, for instance, it carried nearly six million passengers, and its gross earnings were $735,000. It did not pay, nor was required to pay, a single cent in taxation. By 1872 the citys population had grown to 950,000. Vanderbilt concluded that the time was fruitful to gather in a few more miles of the public streets.
The Legislature was acquiescent. Chapter 325 of the Laws of 1872 allowed him to extend the line from Seventy-ninth street to as far north as Madison avenue should thereafter be opened. But see, said the Legislature in effect, how mindful of the public interests we have been. We have imposed a tax of five per cent. on all gross receipts above Seventy-ninth street. When, however, the time came to collect, Vanderbilt innocently pretended that he had no means of knowing whether the fares were taken in on that section of the line, free of taxation, below Seventy-ninth street, or on the taxed portion above it. Behind that fraudulent subterfuge the city officials have never been inclined to go, nor have they made any effort. As a consequence the only revenue that the city has since received from that line has been a meager few thousand dollars a year.
At the very time that he was watering stock, sliding through legislatures corrupt grants of perpetual franchises, and swindling cities and States out of huge sums in taxes,15 Vanderbilt was forcing the drivers and conductors on the Fourth avenue surface line to work an average of fifteen hours out of twenty-four, and reducing their daily wages from $2.25 to $2.
Vanderbilt made the pretense that it was necessary to economize ; and, as was the invariable rule of the capitalists, the entire burden of the economizing process was thrown upon the already overloaded workers. This subtraction of twenty-five cents a day entailed upon the drivers and conductors and their families many severe deprivations ; working for such low wages every cent obviously counted in the management of household affairs. But the methods of the capitalist class in deliberately pyramiding its profits upon the sufferings of the working class were evidenced in this case (as they had been, and since have been, in countless other instances) by the announcement in the Wall Street reports that this reduction in wages was followed by an instant rise in the price of the stock of the Fourth avenue surface line. The lower the wages, the greater the dividends.
The further history of the Fourth avenue surface line cannot here be pursued in detail. Suffice to say that the Vanderbilts, in 1894, leased this line for 999 years to the Metropolitan Street Railway Company, controlled by those eminent financiers, William C. Whitney and others, whose monumental briberies, thefts and piracies have frequently been uncovered in official investigations. For almost a thousand years, unless a radical change of conditions comes, the Vanderbilts will draw a princely revenue from the ownership of this franchise alone.
It is not necessary to enter into a narrative of all the laws that Vanderbilt bribed Legislature after Legislature, and Common Council after Common Council, into passing laws giving him for nothing immensely valuable grants of land, shore rights and rights to land under water, more authorizations to make further consolidations and to issue more watered stock. Nor is it necessary to deal with the numerous bills he considered adverse to his interests, that he caused to be smothered in legislative committees by bribery.
VANDERBILTS CHIEF OF STAFF.
His chief instrument during all those years was a general utility lawyer, Chauncey M. Depew, whose specialty was to hoodwink the public by grandiloquent exhibitions of mellifluent spread-eagle oratory, while bringing the proper arguments to bear upon legislators and other public officials.16 Every one who could in any way be used, or whose influence required subsidizing, was, in the phrase of the day, taken care of. Great sums of money were distributed outright in bribes in the legislatures by lobbyists in Vanderbilts pay. Supplementing this, an even more insidious system of bribery was carried on. Free passes for railroad travel were lavishly distributed ; no politician was ever refused ; newspaper and magazine editors, writers and reporters were always supplied with free transportation for the asking, thus insuring to a great measure their good will, and putting them under obligations not to criticise or expose plundering schemes or individuals. All railroad companies used this form, as well as other forms, of bribery.
It was mainly by means of the free pass system that Depew, acting for the Vanderbilts, secured not only a general immunity from newspaper criticism, but continued to have himself and them portrayed in luridly favorable lights. Depending upon the newspapers for its sources of information, the public was constantly deceived and blinded, either by the suppression of certain news, or by its being tampered with and grossly colored. This Depew continued as the wriggling tool of the Vanderbilt family for nearly half a century. Astonishing as it may seem, he managed to pass among the uninformed as a notable man ; he was continuously eulogized ; at one time he was boomed for the nomination for President of the United States, and in 1905 when the Vanderbilt family decided to have a direct representative in the United States Senate, they ordered the New York State Legislature, which they practically owned, to elect him to that body. It was while he was a United States Senator that the investigations, in 1905, of a committee of the New York Legislature into the affairs of certain life insurance companies revealed that Depew had long since been an advisory party to the gigantic swindles and briberies carried on by Hyde, the founder and head of the Equitable Life Assurance Society.
The career of Depew is of no interest to posterity, excepting in so far as it shows anew how the magnates were able to use intermediaries to do their underground work for them, and to put those intermediaries into the highest official positions in the country. This fact alone was responsible for their elevation to such bodies as the United States Senate, the Presidents Cabinet and the courts. Their long service as lobbyists or as retainers was the surest passport to high political or judicial position ; their express duty was to vote or decide as their masters interest bid them. So it was (as it is now) that men who had bribed right and left, and who had put their cunning or brains at the complete disposal of the magnates, filled Congress and the courts. These were, to a large extent, the officials by whose votes or decisions all measures of value to the working class were defeated ; and reversely, by whose actions all or nearly all bills demanded by the money interests, were passed and sustained.
Here we are again forced to notice the truism thrusting itself forward so often and conspicuously ; that law was essentially made by the great criminals of society, and that, thus far it has been a frightful instrument, based upon force, for legalizing theft on a large scale. By law the great criminals absolve themselves and at the same time declare drastic punishment for the petty criminals. The property obtained by theft is converted into a sacred vested institution ; the men who commit the theft or their hirelings sit in high places, and pass laws surrounding the proceeds of that theft with impregnable fortifications of statutes ; should any poor devil, goaded on by the exasperations of poverty, venture to help himself to even the tiniest part of that property, the severest penalty, enacted by those same plunderers, is mercilessly visited upon him.
After having bribed legislatures to legalize his enormous issue of watered stock, what was Vanderbilts next move ? The usual fraudulent one of securing exemption from taxation. He and other railroad owners sneaked through law after law by which many of their issues of stock were made non-taxable.
So now old shaggy Vanderbilt loomed up the richest magnate in the United States. His ambition was consummated ; what mattered it to him that his fortune was begot in blackmail and extortion, bribery and theft ? Now that he had his hundred millions he had the means to demand adulation and the semblance of respect, if not respect itself. The commercial world admired, even while it opposed, him ; in his methods it saw at bottom the abler application and extension of its own, and while it felt aggrieved at its own declining importance and power, it rendered homage in the awed, reverential manner in which it viewed his huge fortune.
Over and over again, even to the point of wearisome repetition, must it be shown, both for the sake of true historical understanding and in justice to the founders of the great fortunes, that all mercantile society was permeated with fraud and subsisted by fraud. But the prevalence of this fraud did not argue its practitioners to be inherently evil. They were victims of a system inexorably certain to arouse despicable qualities. The memorable difference between the two classes was that the workers, as the sufferers, were keenly alive to the abominations of the system, while the capitalists not only insisted upon the right to benefit from its continuance, but harshly sought to repress every attempt of the workers to agitate for its modification or overthrow.
REPRESSION BY STARVATION.
These repressive tactics took on a variety of forms, some of which are not ordinarily included in the definitions of repression.
The usual method was that of subsidizing press and pulpit in certain subtle ways. By these means facts weere concealed or distorted, a prejudicial state of public opinion created, and plausible grounds given for hostile interference by the State. But a far more powerful engine of repression was the coercion exercised by employers in forcing their workers to remain submissive on instant peril of losing their jobs. While, at that time, manufacturers, jobbers and shopkeepers throughout the country were rising in angry protest against the accumulation of plundering power in the hands of such men as Vanderbilt, Gould and Huntington, they were themselves exploiting and bribing on a widespread scale. Their great pose was that of a thorough commercial respectability ; it was in this garb that they piously went to legislatures and demanded investigations into the rascally methods of the railroad magnates. The facts, said they, should be made public, so as to base on them appropriate legislation which would curtail the power of such autocrats. Contrasted with the baseness and hypocrisy of the trading class, Vanderbilts qualities of brutal candor and selfishness shine out as brilliant virtues.17
These same manufacturers objected in the most indignant manner, as they similarly do now, to any legislative investigations of their own methods. Eager to have the practices of Vanderbilt and Gould probed into, they were acrimoniously opposed to even criticism of their factory system. For this extreme sensitiveness there was the amplest reason. The cruelties of the factory system transcended belief. In, for instance, the State of Massachusetts, vaunting itself for its progressiveness, enlightenment and culture, the textile factories were a horror beyond description. The Convention of the Boston Eight Hour League, in 1872, did not overstate when it declared of the factory system that it employs tens of thousands of women and children eleven and twelve hours a day ; owns or controls in its own selfish interest the pulpit and the press ; prevents the operative classes from making themselves felt in behalf of less hours, through remorseless exercise of the power of discharge ; and is rearing a population of children and youth of sickly appearance and scanty or utterly neglected schooling....
As the factory system was in Massachusetts, so it was elsewhere. Any employee venturing to agitate for better conditions was instantly discharged ; spies were at all times busy among the workers ; and if a labor union were formed, the factory owners would obtain sneak emissaries into it, with orders to report on every move and disrupt the union if possible. The factory capitalists in Massachusetts, New York, Illinois and every other manufacturing State were determined to keep up their system unchanged, because it was profitable to work children eleven and a half hours a day in a temperature that in summer often reached 108 degrees and in an atmosphere certain to breed immorality ; 18 it was profitable to compel adult men and women having families to work for an average of ninety cents a day ; it was profitable to avoid spending money in equipping their factories with life-saving apparatus. Hence these factory owners, forming the aristocracy of trade, savagely fought every move or law that might expose or alter those conditions ; the annals of legislative proceedings are full of evidences of bribery.
Having no illusions, and being a severely practical man, Vanderbilt well knew the pretensions of this trading class ; with many a cynical remark, aptly epitomizing the point, he often made sport of their assumptions. He knew (and none knew better) that they had dived deep in bribery and fraud ; they were the fine gentlemen, he well recalled, who had generally obtained patents by fraud ; who had so often bribed members of Congress to vote for a high tariff ; the same, too, who had bribed legislatures for charters, water rights, exemptions from taxation, the right to work employees as long as, and under whatever conditions, they wanted to. This manufacturing aristocracy professed to look down upon Vanderbilt socially as a coarse sharper ; and in New York a certain ruling social element, the native aristocracy, composed of old families whose wealth, originating in fraud, had become respectable by age, took no pains to conceal their opinion of him as a parvenu, and drew about their sacred persons an amusing circle of exclusiveness into the rare precincts of which he might not enter.
Vanderbilt now proceeded to buy social and religious grace as he had bought laws. The purchase of absolution has ever been a convenient and cheap method of obtaining societys condonation of theft. In medieval centuries it took a religious form ; it has become transposed to a social traffic in these superior days. Let a man steal in colossal ways and then surrender a small part of it in charitable, religious and educational donations ; he at once ceases being a thief and straightway becomes a noble benefactor. Vanderbilt now shed his life-long irreverence, and gave to Deems, a minister of the Presbyterian Church, as a gift, the Church of the Strangers on Mercer street, and he donated $1,000,000 for the founding of the Vanderbilt University at Nashville, Tenn. The press, the church and the educational world thereupon hailed him as a marvel of saintly charity and liberality.
THE SERMONIZING OF THE BEST CLASSES.
One section of the social organization declined to accept the views of the class above it. This was the working class. Superimposed upon the working class, draining the life blood of the workers to provide them with wealth, luxuries and power, were those upper strata of society known as the best classes. These best classes, with a monstrous presumption, airily proclaimed their superiority and incessantly harped upon the need of elevating and regenerating the masses.
And who, it may be curiously asked, were the classes self destined or self selected to do this regenerating ? The commercial and financial element, with its peculiar morals so adjusted to its interests, that it saw nothing wrong in the conditions by which it reaped its wealth conditions that made slaves of the workers, threw them into degradation and poverty, drove multitudes of girls and women into prostitution, and made the industrial field an immense concourse of tears, agony and carnage. Hanging on to this supreme class of wealth, fawning to it, licking its very feet, were the parasites and advocates of the press, law, politics, the pulpit, and, with a few exceptions, of the professional occupations. These were the instructors who were to teach the working class what morals were ; these were the eminences under whose guidance the working class was to be uplifted !
Let us turn from this sickening picture of sordid arrogance and ignorance so historically true of all aristocracies based upon money, from the remotest time to this present day, and contemplate how the organized part of the working class regarded the morals of its superiors.
While the commercial class, on the one hand, was determined on beating down the working class at every point, it was, on the other, unceasingly warring among itself. In business dealings there was no such recognized thing as friendship. To get the better of the other was held the quintessence of mercantile shrewdness. A flinthard, brute spirit enveloped all business transactions. The business man who lost his fortune was generally looked upon without emotion or pity, and condemned as an incapable. For self interest, business men began to combine in corporations, but these were based purely upon mercenary aims. Not a microscopic trace was visible of that spirit of fellow kindness, sympathy, collective concern and brotherhood already far developed among the organized part of the working class.
As the supereminent magnate of his day, Vanderbilt was invested with extraordinary publicity ; he was extensively interviewed and quoted ; his wars upon rival capitalists were matters of engrossing public concern ; his slightest illness was breathlessly followed by commercialdom and its outcome awaited. Hosts of men, women and children perished every year of disease contracted in factories, mines and slums ; but Vanderbilts least ailment was given a transcending importance, while the scourging sweep of death among the lowly and helpless was utterly ignored.
Precisely as mercantile society bestowed no attention upon the crushed and slain, except to advance roughshod over their stricken bodies while throwing out a pittance in charity here and there, so Vanderbilt embodied in himself the qualities that capitalist society in mass practiced and glorified. It was strong men, says Croffut, whom he liked and sympathized with, not weak ones ; the self-reliant, not the helpless. He felt that the solicitor of charity was always a lazy or drunken person, trying to live by plundering the sober and industrious. This malign distrust of fellow beings, this acrid cynicism of motives, this extraordinary imputation of evil designs on the part of the penniless, was characteristic of the capitalist class as a whole. Itself practicing the lowest and most ignoble methods, governed by the basest motives, plundering in every direction, it viewed every member of its own class with suspicion and rapacity. Then it turned about, and with immense airs of superiority, attributed all of its own vices and crimes to the impoverished masses which its own system had created, whether in America or elsewhere.
The apologist may hasten forward with the explanation that the commercial class was not to be judged by Vanderbilts methods and qualities. In truth, however, Vanderbilt was not more inhuman than many of the contemporary shining lights of the business world.
HONESTY AND INDUSTRY ANALYZED.
If there is any one fortune commonly praised as having been acquired by honesty and industry, it is the Borden millions, made from cotton factories. At the time Vanderbilt was blackmailing, the founder of this fortune, Colonel Borden, was running cotton mills in Fall River. His factory operatives worked from five oclock in the morning to seven in the evening, with but two half hours of intermission, one for breakfast, the other for dinner. The workday of these men, women and children was thus thirteen hours ; their wages were wretchedly low, their life was one of actual slavery. Insufficient nourishment, overwork, and the unsanitary and disgusting conditions in the mills, prematurely aged and debilitated them, and were a constant source of disease, killing off considerable numbers, especially the children.
In 1850, the operatives asked Borden for better wages and shorter hours. This was his reply : I saw that mill built stone by stone ; I saw the pickers, the carding engines, the spinning mules and the looms put into it, one after the other, and I would see every machine and stone crumble and fall to the floor again before I would accede to your wishes. Borden would not have been amiss had he added that every stone in that mill was cemented with human blood. His operatives went on a strike, stayed out ten months, suffered frightful hardships, and then were forced back to their tasks by hunger. Borden was inflexible, and so were all the other cotton mill owners.19 It was not until 1874, after many further bitterly-contested strikes, that the Masachusetts Legislature was prevailed upon to pass a ten-hour law, twenty-four years after the British Parliament had passed such an enactment.
The commercial class, high and low, was impregnated with deceit and dissimulation, cynicism, selfishness and cruelty. What were the aspirations of the working class which it was to uplift ? The contrast stood out with stark distinctness. While business men were frantically sapping the labor and life out of their workers, and then tricking and cheating one another to seize the proceeds of that exploitation, the labor unions were teaching the nobility of brotherly co÷peration Cultivate friendship among the great brotherhood of toil, was the advice of Uriah Stevens, master workman of the Knights of Labor, at the annual meeting of that organization on January 12, 1871. And he went on :
And while the toiler is thus engaged in creating the worlds value, how fares his own interest and well-being ? We answer, Badly, for he has too little time, and his faculties become too much blunted by unremitting labor to analyze his condition or devise and perfect financial schemes or reformatory measures. The hours of labor are too long, and should be shortened. I recommend a universal movement to cease work at five oclock Saturday afternoon, as a beginning. There should be a greater participation in the profits of labor by the industrious and intelligent laborer. In the present arrangements of labor and capital, the condition of the employee is simply that of wage slavery capital dictating, labor submitting ; capital superior, labor inferior.
This is an artificial and man-created condition, not Gods arrangement and order ; for it degrades man and ennobles mere pelf. It demeans those who live by useful labor, and, in proportion, exalts all those who eschew labor and live (no matter by what pretence or respectable cheatfor cheat it is) without productive work.
LABORS PRINCIPLES IGNORED.
Such principles as these evoked so little attention that it is impossible to find them recorded in most of the newspapers of the time ; and if mentioned it was merely as the object of venomous attacks. In varying degrees, now in outright abuse and again in sneering and ridicule, the working class was held up as an ignorant, discontented, violent aggregation, led by dangerous agitators, and arrogantly seeking to upset all business by seeking to dictate to employers what wages and hours of labor should be.
And, after all, little it mattered to the capitalists what the workers thought or said, so long as the machinery of government was not in their hands. At about the very time Master Workman Stevens was voicing the unrest of the laboring masses, and at the identical time when the panic of 1873 saw several millions of men workless, thrown upon soup kitchens and other forms of charity, and battered wantonly by policemens clubs when they attempted to hold mass meetings of protest, an Iowa writer, D.C. Cloud, was issuing a work which showed concretely how thoroughly Government was owned by the commercial and financial classes. This work, obscurely published and now scarcely known except to the patient delver, is nevertheless one of the few serious books on prevailing conditions written at that time, and is in marked contrast to the reams of printed nonsense then circulated. Although Cloud was tinged greatly with the middle class point of view, and did not see that all successful business was based upon deceit and fraud, yet so far as his lights carried him, he wrote trenchantly and fearlessly, embodying series after series of facts exposing the existing system. He observed :
. . . A measure without any merit save to advance the interest of a patentee, or contractor, or railroad company, will become a law, while measures of interest to the whole people are suffered to slumber, and die at the close of the session from sheer neglect. It is known to Congressmen that these lobbyists are paid to influence legislation by the parties interested, and that dishonest and corrupt means are resorted to for the accomplishment of the object they have undertaken. ... Not one interest in the country nor all other interests combined are as powerful as the railroad interest. . . . With a network of roads throughout the country ; with a large capital at command ; with an organization perfect in all its parts, controlled by a few leading spirits like Scott, Vanderbilt, Jay Gould, Tracy and a dozen others, the whole strength and wealth of this corporate power can be put into operation at any moment, and Congressmen are bought and sold by it like any article of merchandise.20
1 Report of the New York and Erie Railroad Company, New York State Assembly Document No. 50, 1842.
2 In 1837 when he had advanced funds to a contractor carrying the mails between Washington and Richmond, and had taken security which proved to be worthless.
3 See Report of New York Special Assembly Committee on Railroads, 1879, iv: 3,894.
4 Statement of William M. Tweed before a Special Investigating Committee of the New York Board of Aldermen. Documents of the Board of Aldermen, 1877, Part II. Document No. 8:15-16.
5 Documents of the Board of Aldermen, 1877, Part II, No. 8:212-213.
6 Report of Assembly Committee on Railroads, testimony of Alexander Robertson, an expert accountant, 1879, i:994-999.
7 Ibid., i:21.
8 Life of Simon Sterne, by John Foord, 1903:179-181.
9 The Vanderbilts:103. Croffut in a footnote tells this anecdote When the Commodores portrait first appeared on the bonds of the Central, a holder of some called one day and said : Commodore, glad to see your face on them bonds. Its worth ten per cent. It gives everybody confidence. The Commodore smiled grimly, the only recognition he ever made of a compliment. Cause, explained the visitor, `when we see that fine, noble brow, it reminds us that youll never let anybody else steal anything.
9a Reports of Committees, First Session, Thirtieth Congress, 1847-48, Vol. iii, Report No. 664:3The committee reported that opium was adulterated with licorice paste and bitter vegetable extract ; calomel, with chalk and sulphate of barytes ; quinine, with silicine, chalk and sulphate of barytes ; castor, with dried blood, gum and ammonia ; gum assafœtida with inferior gums, chalk and clay, etc., etc. (pp. 10 and 11).
10 House Reports, Third Session, Forty-sixth Congress, 1880-81, Vol. i, Report No. 199:I. The committee drafted a bill for the prevention of these frauds ; the capitalists concerned smothered it.
11 House Reports, First Session, Forty-seventh Congress, 1881-82, Vol. ii, Report No. 634:1-5.
12 These forms of cheating exist at present to a greater extent than ever before. It is estimated that manufacturers and shopkeepers cheat the people of the United States out of $200,000,000 a year by the light-weight and short-weight frauds. In 1907 the New York State Sealer of Weights and Measures asserted that, in that State alone, $20,000,000 was robbed from the consumers annually by these methods. Recent investigations by the Bureau of Standards of the United States Department of Commerce and Labor have shown that immense numbers of crooked scales are in use. It has been conclusively established by the investigations of Federal, State and municipal inspectors of weights and measures that there is hardly an article put up in bottled or canned form that is not short of the weight for which it is sold, nor is there scarcely a retail dealer who does not swindle his customers by the light-weight fraud. There are manufacturers who make a specific business of turning out fraudulent scales, and who freely advertise the cheating merits of these scales.
13 A few progressive jurists in the International Prison Congress are attempting to secure the recognition in law of the principle that society, as a supreme necessity, is obligated to protect its members from being made the victims of the cunning and unscrupulous. They have received no encouragement, and will receive none, from a trading class profiting from the very methods which it is sought to place under the inhibition of criminal law.
14 Commodore Vanderbilts descendants, the present Vanderbilts, have been using the public outcry for a reform of conditions on the West Side of New York City, precisely as the original Vanderbilt utilized that for the improvement of Fourth avenue. The Hudson River division of the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad has hitherto extended downtown on the surface of Tenth and Eleventh Avenues and other thoroughfares. Large numbers of people have been killed and injured. For decades there has been a public demand that these dangerous conditions be remedied or removed. The Vanderbilts have as long resisted the demand ; the immense numbers of casualties had no effect upon them. When the public demand became too strong to be ignored longer, they set about to exploit it in order to get a comprehensive franchise with incalculable new privileges.
15 Not alone he. In a tabulated report made public on February 1, 1872, the New York Council of Political Reform charged that in the single item of surface railways, New York City for a long period had been swindled annually out of at least a million dollars. This was an underestimate. All other sections of the capitalist class swindled likewise in taxes.
16 Roscoe Conkling, a noted Republican politician, said of him : Chauncey Depew ? Oh, you mean the man that Vanderbilt sends to Albany every winter to say `haw and `gee to his cattle up there.
17 No observation could be truer. As a class, the manufacturers were flourishing on stolen inventions. There might be exceptions, but they were very rare. Year after year, decade after decade, the reports of the various Commissioners of Patents pointed out the indiscriminate theft of inventions by the capitalists. In previous chapters we have referred to the plundering of Whitney and Goodyear. But they were only two of a vast number of inventors similarly defrauded.
In speaking of the helplessness of inventors, J. Holt, Commissioner of Patents, wrote in his Annual Report for 1857 : The insolence and unscrupulousness of capital, subsidizing and leading on its minions in the work of pirating some valuable invention held by powerless hands, can scarcely by conceived by those not familiar with the records of such cases as I have referred to. Inventors, however gifted in other respects, are known to be confiding and thriftless ; and being generally without wealth, and always without knowledge of the chicaneries of law, they too often prove but children in those rude conflicts which they are called on to endure with the stalwart fraud and cunning of the world. (U.S. Senate Documents, First Session, Thirty-fifth Congress, 1857-58, viii : 9-10). In his Annual Report for 1858, Commissioner Holt described how inventors were at the mercy of professional perjurers whom the capitalists hired to give evidence.
The bribing of Patent office officials was a common occurrence. The attention of Congress, reported Commissioner of Patents Charles Mason in 1854, is invited to the importance of providing some adequate means of preventing attempts to obtain patents by improper means. Several cases of attempted bribery had occurred within the year, stated Commissioner Mason. (Executive Documents, First Session, Thirty-third Congress, 1853-54, Vol vii, Part I: 19-20.) Every successive Commissioner of Patents called upon Congress to pass laws for the prevention of fraud, and for the better protection of the inventor, but Congress, influenced by the manufacturers, was deaf to these appeals.
18 Certain to breed immorality. See report of Carrol D. Wright, Massachusetts Bureau of Statistics of Labor, 1881. A cotton mill operative testified : Young girls from fourteen and upward learn more wickedness in one year than they would in five out of a mill. See also the numerous recent reports of the National Child Labor Committee.
19 The heroism of the cotton operatives was extraordinary. Slaves themselves, they battled to exterminate negro slavery. The spinners union, says McNeill, was almost dead during the [Civil] war, as most of its members had gone to shoulder the musket and to fight . . . to strike the shackles from the negro. A large number were slain in battle.The Labor Movement:216-217.
20 Monopolies and the People : 155-156.