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VOL. I. 






\l , / Copyright 1907, 1908 and 1909 


Entered at Stationers' Hall, London, Eng., 1909 
By Gustavus Myers 

All Rights Reserved by Gustavus Myers 

Including that of Translation into Foreign 

Languages, including the Scandinavian 





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 ob- 
tain all the facts. It is obvious that in both past and 
present times the chief beneficiaries of our social and in- 
dustrial system have found it to their interest to repre- 
sent 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 so- 
ciety 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 preeminent examples of 
thrift, enterprise and extraordinary ability. More re- 
cently, 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 ti- 
rades based upon a lack of understanding of the pro- 



pelling 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, bear- 
ing 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 arid 
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 comprehen- 
sion, they portray our multimillionaires as a phenom- 
enal group whose sudden rise to their sinister and over- 
shadowing 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 multi- 

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 in- 
famy. 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 abolished. 

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 oli- 
garchy 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 pos- 
sess, what are these virtues? If it is a superior order 
of civilization, in what does this superiority consist? 

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 civil- 
ization forces to the front, are set forth in this expo- 
sition. Still more important is the ascertainment of 
where these stupendous fortunes came from, their par- 
ticular 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 resume of conditions leading up to the 
later economic developments in the United States. 

September i, 1909. 


























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. Through- 
out 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 

Nearly all the colonies were settled by chartered com- 
panies, organized for purely commercial purposes and 
the success of which largely depended upon the emi- 
gration which they were able to promote. These cor- 
porations were vested with enormous powers and privi- 
leges which, in effect, constituted them as sovereign rulers, 
although their charters were subject to revision or amend- 
ment. 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 monop- 
oly. The impecunious noblemen or gentlemen who 
transported themselves to Virginia to recoup their dis- 



sipated fortunes or seek adventure, encountered no 
trouble in getting large grants of land especially when 
after 1614 tobacco became a fashionable article in Eng- 
land 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 emer- 
gency 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, ar- 
rested and convicted for any one of the multitude of of- 
fenses then provided for severely in law, were trans- 
ported 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 para- 
mount, this process of disposing of what was regarded 
as the scum element was adjudged necessary and justi- 
fiable. 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 prompt- 
ly 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 it- 
self, tobacco could buy anything, human, as well as inert, 
material. The labor question had been sufficiently van- 
quished, 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 Mary- 


land, 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 Gen- 
eral, 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 wool- 
en, 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 

1 0'Callaghan's "History of New Netherlands," 1:112-120. 


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 promot- 
ers. Pillage and butchery were often its auxiliaries, al- 
though in these respects it in nowise equalled its twin 
corporation, the Dutch East India Company, whose ex- 
ploitation 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 simul- 
taneously forbidding competition with any of the numer- 
ous 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 for- 
bidden 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 char- 
acter 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, im- 
migration 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 re- 
peated 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 ex- 
tensive 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 juris- 
diction 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 com- 
mand forever. The dispensation of justice was his ex- 
clusive right. He and he only was the court with sum- 
mary 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, hin> 
self, ordained those laws and they were laws which were 
always framed to coincide with his interests and person- 
ality. 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 col- 
onies extended westward to the Pacific. 

From these patroons and their lineal or collateral des- 
cendants issued many of the landed generations of fam- 
ilies 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 fab- 
ric 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 par- 
ty or policy of England, and colonial companies chartered 
by England frequently forfeited their charters. But con- 
ditions in New Netherlands remained stable under Dutch 
rule, and the accumulation of great estates was intensi- 
fied under English rule. It was in New York that, at 
that period, the foremost colonial estates and the pre- 
dominant private fortunes were mostly held. 

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

2 Documents Relating to the Colonial History of the State of 
New York, i : 89-100. 


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 merce- 
nary motive of themselves owning the land from whence 
came the furs, pelts, timber and the waters yielding the 

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 it at present Massachusetts. And what 
was the price paid for this vast estate? As the. deeds 
showed, the munificent consideration of " certain quan- 
tities 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 

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 

*Ibid., 125. 


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, know- 
ing no law in most matters except their unrestrained will. 
They beheld themselves as ingenious and memorable 
founders of a potential landed aristocracy whose posses- 
sions were more extended than that of Europe. Wilder- 
ness much of it still was, but obviously the time was com- 
ing 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 Com- 
pany was in a thriving condition. By the year 1629 it 
had more than one hundred full-rigged ships in commis- 
sion. Most of them were fitted out for war on the com- 
merce of other countries or on pirates. Fifteen thousand 
seamen and soldiers were on its pay-roll; 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 

5 Colonial. Documents, i : 41. The primary object of this com- 
pany was a monopoly of the Indian trade, not colonization. 
The " princely " manors were a combination fort and trading 
house, surrounded by moat and stockade. 


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 hav- 
ing 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 meth- 
ods were legitimatized, if not royally sanctified. 


A more potentially robust aristocracy than that which 
was forming in New Netherlands could hardly be imag- 
ined. 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 indis- 
putable ; 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 

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 aris- 

6 Colonial Documents, i : 86. 


tocracy 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 pa- 
troons 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 im- 
migrants 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 por- 
tions bordering shores or rivers, preempted. An exact- 
ing 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, 

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. 


would precipitate wages to the lowest possible scale. 
At the same time, in order to stifle every aspiring qual- 
ity 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 organization. 
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 com- 
ing with cargoes had to pay a thousand guilders for the 
burgher right. 8 As the average laborer got two shil- 
lings 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 de- 
spoiling the laboring class incited bitter hatreds and 
resentments, the effects of which were permanent. 

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

One of the Patroons. 
(From an Engraving.) 


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, trick- 
ery or favoritism. The Puritan influx into Massachu- 
setts 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 

Describing how the English tiller had been expropri- 
ated 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 coun- 
try, but is everywhere in the eye of the law a trespasser 
whenever he ventures off a public road or pathway." * 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 

Nationalization," : 122-125. 


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 plenti- 
ful. 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 threat- 
ened 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, subter- 
ranean 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 par- 
ticipated 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 mag- 
nates 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 acqui- 
sition 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 preempted 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 Eng- 
land established representative assemblies? These, with 
certain restrictions, alone had the power of law-making 
for the provinces. These representative bodies were sup- 
posed to rest upon the vote of the people, which vote, 
however, was determined by a strict property qualifica- 


What really happened was that, apparently deprived 
of direct feudal power, the landed interests had no dif- 
ficulty in retaining their law-making ascendancy by get- 


ting control of the various provincial assemblies. Bodies 
supposedly representative of the whole people were, in 
fact, composed of great landowners, of a quota of mer- 
chants 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, Lieuten- 
ant-Governor Cadwallader Golden, writing from New 
York to the Lords of Trade at London, strongly expostu- 
lated. 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," Golden continued, " being men 
of the greatest opulence in the several American counties 
where these Tracts are, have suffcient influence to be per- 
petually elected for those counties. The General Assem- 
bly, 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 land-holders in the Prov- 
inces pay, but by their influences in the Assembly are 
freed from every other public Tax on their lands." 2 
What Golden wrote of the landed class of New York 
was substantially true of all the other provinces. The 
small, powerful clique of great land-owners had cunning- 

2 Colonial Documents, vii: 654-655. 


ly taken over to themselves the functions of govern- 
ment and diverted them to their own ends. First the 
land was seized and then it was declared exempt of tax- 

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 unre- 
stricted right to trade in furs was. To get the furs ac- 
cess to the land was necessary ; and the land was monop- 
olized. 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 priv- 
ileged 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 taxa- 
tion, 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 Masachu setts Bay, New York and other 
provinces, when he was made acquainted with the wide- 
spread 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 author- 
ity, was far removed in established position from the me- 
chanic 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, par- 
ticularly, as he set forth, as many of them had been ob- 
tained 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, tne Plymouth Colony was about to surrender its 
charter, its directors apportioned their territory to them- 
selves individually. New Hampshire went by lot to 


Captain John Mason who, some years before, had ob- 
tained 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 pro- 
tracted 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 him- 
self 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 up- 
rising of the settlers, who failed to see why the land upon 
which they had spent labor did not belong to them. Bello- 
mont 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 noth- 
ing 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 goe 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 Prov- 
ince will be put to a combustion and what may be the 
course I dread to think." . . , 3 

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 contro- 
versy, 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." * 

8 Colonial Documents, iv : 673-674. 

* " A Short History of the English Colonies in America " : 402. 


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. 5 The domain descended to his grand- 
son, 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 settle- 
ment. 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. 

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 ex- 
tensive tracts. Penn's sons by his second wife, for in- 
stance, became men of great wealth. 7 The pacific and 

5 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 prom- 
inent objects of this aspiring man." Williamson's "History of 
Maine," i : 305. 

6 The Public Domain : Its History, etc. : 38. 
^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 $580,000. 


conciliatory Quaker faith operated as a check on any lo- 
cal extraordinary misuse of power. Unfortunately for 
historical accuracy and penetration, there is an obscu- 
rity 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 communications. 


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

Captain John R. N. Evans had been in command of the 
royal warship Richmond. An estate was his fervent am- 
bition. Fletcher's mandate gave him a grant of land run- 
ning 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 pic- 
turesque 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 hutt, 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. 8 

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 sin- 
gularly profitable transaction for Smith, who cleared in 
one year 500, the proceeds of whales taken there, as he 
admitted to Bellomont. 8 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,ooo. 10 Likewise Peter Schtiyler, 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, com- 

8 Colonial Documents, 17:463. 10 Ibid. 139. 

9 Ibid. : 535. 


forts and luxuries it ranked as a power of transcending 

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 communica- 
tion 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.^ But 
Fletcher was not the only corrupt official. In his inter- 
esting work on the times, 12 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 to- 
gether an estate which soon ranked as the second largest 
in New York state and as one of the greatest in the 

Livingston was the younger son of a poor exiled clergy- 
man. In currying favor with one official after another 
he was unscrupulous, dexterous and adaptable. He in- 
variably changed his politics with the change of admin- 
istration. 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 simul- 
taneously 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 penu- 
rious, he loaned money at frightfully usurious rates and 

11 Colonial Documents, iv : 528. One of Bellomont's chief com- 
plaints 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. 

""Colonial New York," 1:285-286. 


hounded his victims without a vestige of sympathy. 13 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 six- 
teen 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 un- 
known 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 discon- 
tented people. 


The seizure of these vast estates and the arbitrary ex- 
clusion of the many from the land produced a com- 
bustible situation. An instantaneous and distinct cleav- 
age 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 

13 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. 


drudging for his seventy-three cents a day and the 
blacksmith for his seventy cents, 14 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 pos- 
sessed themselves of estates worth tens of thousands of 
pounds and had preempted great stretches of the avail- 
able 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 smoulder-" 
ing, 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 observa- 
tion are remov'd to the new country (a name they give to 
Pennsylvania and the Jerseys) for, to use Mr. Graham's 

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


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 suffi- 
cient sum he could, indeed, become an independent agri- 
culturist 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 la- 
borers dependent upon the favor of the landed proprie- 
tors. As for the artisans the carpenters, masons, 
tailors, blacksmiths they either kept to the cities and 
towns where their trade principally lay, or bonded them- 
selves 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 assem- 
bly were themselves the great land owners and were put- 
ting obstacle after obstacle in his path. After great ex- 
ertions 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 Beilomont 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 Beilomont as a sincere and ardent 
reformer, but the landed men and their following abused 
him as a meddler and destructionist. Despairing of get- 
ting a self-interested assembly to act, Beilomont 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." 15 
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 be- 
lieve 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 Beilo- 
mont, " the power of our Palatines, Smith, Livingston, 
the Phillips, father and son 16 and six or seven 

15 Colonial Documents, iv : 533-554. 

16 Frederick and his son Adolphus. Frederick was the em- 
ployer 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 Phil- 
lips and continued piracy, but was caught and imprisoned in 
Newgate. Phillips spent great sums of money to save him and 


more were reduced. ... the country is ruined." 17 
Despite some occasional breaches in its intrenchments, 
the landocracy continued to rule everywhere with a high 
hand, its power, as a whole, unbroken. 


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 
^>f property, was lord of the Manor of St. George, Suf- 
folk County. The finest silks and lace covered his judi- 
cial 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 

succeeded. Burgess resumed piracy and met death from poison- 
ing 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 pirates. 

17 Colonial Docs., iv: 533-534. On November 27, 1700, Bello- 
mpnt 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 


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 appren- 
tices 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. 18 He lived 
high, drank, swore, cheated and administered justice. 

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, 19 a tutor in Carter's family, 
Carter came to his estate from his grandfather, whose 
land and other possessions were looked upon as so exten- 
sive 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 in- 
struments. 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 

of this province which I think is the most impudent villainy I 
ever heard or read of any man," iv : 780. 

18 This is the inventory given in " Abstracts of Wills," 1 : 323. 

""Journal and Letters," 1767-1774. 


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 influ- 
ence in the making of laws. He was a thorough gentle- 
man, 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 flat- 
tering depiction of one of the conspicuously rich plant- 
ers of the South. 


Land continued to be the chief source of the wealth 
of the rich until after the Revolution. The discrimina- 
tive 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 Revolu- 


tion 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 es- 
sentially 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 man- 
hood suffrage and keep the power intact in the hands of 
the rich. Had it not been for radicals such as Jeffer- 
son, Paine and others it is doubtful whether such con- 
cessions as were made to the people would have 
been made. The long struggle in various States for man- 
hood 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 ex- 
ist. Great estates no longer passed unimpaired from gen- 
eration 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 sold. 


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 de- 
cades 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,- 
ooo, 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. 20 
About half a century later it was only by persistent gath- 
erings 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. 21 By the opening 
decades of the nineteenth century few of the great estates 
in New York remained. One of the last of the patroons 

20 Sparks' " Life of Washington," Appendix, ix : 557-559. 

21 Bigelow's " Life of Franklin," iii : 470. 


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. Al- 
though it had been diminished somewhat by various ces- 
sions, 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 strangers." 22 

Long before old Van Rensselaer passed away he had 
seen the rise and growth of the trading and manufactur- 
ing 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 factors. 

22 "Colonial New York," 1:232. 


The creation of the great landed estates was accom- 
panied 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 under- 
take 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." x 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 estab- 
lished 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 sys- 
tem the merchant's place for a century and a half was a 
minor one, although far above that of the drudging lab- 
orer. Merchants resorted to sharp and frequently du- 
bious 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 prac- 
tice of the most audacious usury was an early and favor- 
ite means of acquiring the property of others. These 
others were invariably the mechanic or laborer ; the mer- 
chant 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 unsophisti- 
cated Indians into yielding up valuable furs, was loaned 

i " Lives of the Loyalists,'* : 18. 


at frightfully onerous rates. The loans unpaid, the 
lender swooped mercilessly upon the property of the un- 
fortunate 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. 2 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." 3 This eminent 
counter-man was " buried like a gentleman." At his fu- 
neral large sums were spent for wine, cookies, pipes and 
tobacco, beer, spice for burnt wine and sugar all ac- 
cording 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 care- 
fully heaped together. Without doubt, those enterprising 
pirate captains, Kidd and Burgess, and their crews, were 
good customers of these accommodating and undiscrim- 
inating 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 ex- 
change, for a long time, were wampum, peltries and 
other articles, the touch and clink of gold and silver were 
extremely precious and fascinating. Buccanneers Kidd 
and Burgess deserved the credit for introducing into New 
York much of the variegated gold and silver coin, and it 

2 "Abstracts of Wills," ii: 444-445. 

3 Ibid., 1:323-324- 


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. Wil- 
liam 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. 4 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 treach- 
erous 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, 5 

* " Abstracts of Wills," i : 108. 

5 " An Historical Account of Massachusetts Currency." See 
also Colonial Documents, iii : 242, and the Records of New Am- 


" 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 cun- 
ning trader to perpetuate the grossest frauds. Immense 
quantities of furs were shipped to Europe at a great 

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 sub- 
ject 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 In- 
dians 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 profane- 
ness and for not attending church, connived at the sys- 
tematic 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 dom- 
inant one, even breaking down the austere, almost 

sterdam. 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. 


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 commerce. 6 

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 con- 
flicts of the competing merchants, their system of bonded 

6 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 ad- 
vantage ; 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. 


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 pre- 
tensions 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 ap- 
prenticeship, 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 trans- 
portation 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 spe- 
cific instances of the bonding system a system which 
served its purpose in being highly advantageous to the 
merchants and traders. 


Toward the close of the seventeenth century the mer- 
chants 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 mer- 

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 cor- 
ruptly 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 Massachu- 
setts Province and quickly outdoe them in people and 
trade." While the people of the South took to agri- 
culture 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 adven- 
turousness 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 ori- 
gin of the means by which these fortunes were got to- 
gether 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 fish- 
eries 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. 7 

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 in- 
dustry. 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 busi- 
ness 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 qual- 
ity 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 Is- 
lands 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 

7 "A Commercial Sketch of Boston," Hunt's Merchant's Maga- 
zine, 1839, i : 125. 


because the French fisheries had glutted the market 
abroad. 8 

Along with the fisheries, considerable wealth was ex- 
tracted 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 mer- 
chant is recorded as having taken a cargo of this timber 
to Lisbon and clearing a profit of 1,600 on an expendi- 
ture 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." 9 

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 car- 
cass. 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 en- 
gaged in the venture. By degrees larger and larger 
vessels were built until they began to double Cape Horn, 

8 Colonial Documents, iv : 70O. 
id., 678. 


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 per- 
emptorily stepped in and used the power of government 
to suppress in its infancy a competition that alarmed 

Heavy export duties were now declared on every colo- 
nial 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 ex- 
tensively 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 re- 
sorted to would make an interesting tale. 

These restrictive acts brought about various momen- 
tous 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 crush- 
ing 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 ship- 
ping and did a business estimated at somewhat more than 
a million dollars. 


Thus is 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 mar- 
ket in the South. Many of the members of the Con- 
tinental 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 offi- 
cials in the Federal or State governments. The Revolu- 
tion disrupted and almost destroyed the colonial shipping, 
and trade remained stagnant. 


Not wholly so, for the hazardous venture of privateer- 
ing offered great returns. George Cabot of Boston was 
the son of an opulent shipowner. During the Revolu- 
tion, 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," 1 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 for- 
tune 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 $i,8oo,ooo. 2 

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 ab- 

!" Hunt's Merchant's Magazine," 11:516-517. 

2 Allen's " Biographical Dictionary," Edition of 1857 : 791. 


ruptly 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 car- 
goed British merchantman. Returning to shore he stud- 
ied 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/' pub- 
lished 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 dis- 
patched to every known part of the world. Seven thou- 
sand 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. 3 He died on Jan. 5, 1844, aged 84 

Asa Clapp, who at his death in 1848, at the age of 85 
years, was credited with being the richest man in Maine, * 

3 Hunt's "Lives of American Merchants ": 382. 

* Allen's "Biographical Dictionary," Edit, of 1857:227. 


began his career during the Revolution as an officer on 
a privateer. After the war he commanded various trad- 
ing 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 ignorance. 


These are instances of rich men whose original capital 
came from privateering, which was recognized as a legit- 
imate 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 for- 
tune 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 inflex- 
ible; 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 5 and who, according to the statement 
of another publication 6 left a fortune estimated at 
from three to four millions of dollars, few details like- 
wise are known. He was the son of Samuel Butler, a 
shoemaker who removed from Edgartown, Mass., to 

5 Stryker's "American Register" for 1849:241. 
"The American Almanac" for 1850:324. 


Providence about 1750 and became a merchant and ship- 
owner. Cyrus followed in his steps. When this mil- 
lionaire 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 cen- 
tury 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. 7 

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 exam- 
ples 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 

7 "An Economic and Social History of New England," n :82S. 


proud annals of his life and, if true, deservedly so. 8 
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 cen- 
tered 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 in- 
ventive ability and perseverance, at least in his creation 
of the cotton gin, brought him little more than a multi- 
tude of infringements upon his patent, refusals to pay 
him, and vexatious and expensive litigation to sustain 
his rights. 9 In despair, he turned, in 1808, to the manu- 
facture 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 Per- 
kins, 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 reflected. 

William Gray, described as " one of the most success- 
ful of American merchants/' and as one who was con- 
sidered 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 

8 Hunt's " Lives of American Merchants " : 139. 

8 Life of Eli Whitney, "Our Great Benefactors ": 567. 


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 in- 
ventory 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 accre- 
tions 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 fre- 
quently 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 appro- 
priately referred to here. There were some exceptions 
to the general condition of the large fortunes from ship- 
ping 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 be- 
tween 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 ordi- 
nary 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 ship- 
pers 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. 


Unfortunately only the most general and eulogistic ac- 
counts 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 bene- 
factors 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 in- 
terpreted, as to one or two of Astor's land transactions, 1 
passes over with a sentence the fundamental facts as to 
Astor's shipping activities, and entirely ignores the pecu- 
liar special privileges, worth millions of dollars, that 
Astor, in conjunction with other merchants, had as a free 
gift from the Government. This omission is characteris- 
tic, 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 

lM The Astor Fortune," McClure's Magazine, April, 1905. 



two foremost millionaires of the first decades of the nine- 
teenth century Stephen Girard and John Jacob Astor. 
The very names of nearly all of the other powerful mer- 
chants 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 


Because of their unexcelled success, these two were the 
targets for the bitter invective or the envy of their com- 
petitors on the one hand, and, on the other, of the lauda- 
tion 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 unso- 
phisticated 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, pre- 
serves, sweetmeats, syrups and other goods. The Chi- 
nese 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 legiti- 
mate 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 allof 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 qual- 
ities, while their admirers heaped upon them tributes of 
praise for their extraordinary genius. Both sets exag- 
gerated. 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 

Despite the lofty sentiments of the Declaration of In- 
dependence 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 com- 
mon 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 Revolu- 
tion over than in stepped the propertied interests and as- 
sumed control of government functions. They were in- 
telligent 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 transfor- 
mations in the body social. While the worker was unor- 
ganized, 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 

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 re- 
quired 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 proper- 
tied 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 Con- 
stitutions 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 har- 
mony 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 min- 
isters glorified the aggrandizing merchants as God's 
chosen men who were called upon to do His work. 2 

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 

2 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 obedi- 
ence that it was printed in pamphlet form (Beals, Homer & 
Co., Printers), and was widely distributed to press and public. 


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 rilled 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 puis- 
sant 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 laws. 

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


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 im- 
prisoned for debt in the United States and that more than 
one-half of these owed less than twenty dollars. 3 And 
such were the appalling conditions of these debtors' 
prisons that there was no distinction of sex, age or char- 
acter; all of the unfortunates were indiscriminately 
herded together. Sometimes, even in the inclement cli- 
mate 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 tech- 

3 Various writers assert that twenty dollars was the aver- 
age 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. 


nicalities a condition which has survived to the present 
time, though in a lesser degree.* 

But imprisonment for debt was not the only fate that 
befell the propertyless. According to the " Annual Re- 
port 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 i82O. 5 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 ob- 
scure 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 

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

5 The eminent merchants who sat on this committee had their 
own conclusive opinion of what produced poverty. In com- 
menting on the growth of paupers they ascribed pauperism to 
seven sources, (i) Ignorance, (2) Intemperance, (3) Pawn- 
brokers, (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 ex- 
planations 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 "char- 
itable " societies, and the spirit behind them with intense suspi- 
cion and deep execration? 


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 re- 
stricted 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 oppres- 
sively high. Of course, the poor with their cheap pos- 
sessions seldom owned anything on which they could get 
more than $25 ; consequently they were the victims of the 
most grinding legalized usury. Occasionally some legis- 
lative committee recognized, although in a dim and un- 
analytic 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 oppress- 
ive. 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 naive 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 great- 
er 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." 6 

On the other hand, the propertied class not only was 
able to raise money at a fairly low rate of interest, but, as 

Documents of the Board of Assistant Aldermen of New 
York City, 1831-32, Doc. No. 45: i. 


will appear, had the free use of the people's money, 
through the power of government, to the extent o 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 dras- 
tic 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 con- 
siderable period and who, at the same time, was a finan- 
cier 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, 7 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 

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


Money was the standard of everything. The prop- 
ertied 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." 8 

" 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 to- 
gether 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 glar- 
ingly unjust that they practically made poverty a distinct 
crime, subject to long terms of imprisonment. 

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 wom- 
an 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 

8 Report for 1821 of the " Society for the Prevention of Pau- 


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 cases. 


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, how- 
ever 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 fu- 
gitive apprentice laborers; from a survey of the Pennsyl- 
vania, New York, Massachusetts and other colonial and 
state newspapers it is clear that thousands of these ap- 
prentices had to resort to flight to escape their bondage. 
This is a specimen advertisement: 


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 un- 
known 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. 9 

9 " New York Gazette and General Advertiser," Aug. 5, 1797. 


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 prop- 
ertied 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 pref- 
erences 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 en- 
lightened 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 

The rewards offered for the apprehension of fugitive appren- 
tices 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 ex- 
pressed that he would attempt to board some ship, and all per- 
sons 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. 


quaintly entertaining, volumes, " The Merchants of Old 
New York." This strong instance shows like a flash- 
light 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 accumula- 

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 pay- 
ment 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 at- 
titude of the Government toward merchants : it was any- 
thing but unusual for a merchant to have the free use 
of Government money to the sum of four or five hundred 
thusand dollars. 10 

10 The Government reports bear out Barrett's statements, al- 
though in saying this it must be with qualifications. The ship- 
pers engaged in the East India and China trade were more 
favored, it seems, than other classes of shippers, which discrim- 
ination engendered much antagonism. " Why," wrote the Mer- 


" John Jacob Astor," says Barrett in a view of ad- 
miration, " 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 car- 
goes 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." " 

" 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 ex- 
tent 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, 

cantile Society of New York to the House Committee on Manu- 
factures 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 Mercan- 
tile Society recommended that credits on duties be reduced to 
three and six months on merchandise imported from all quar- 
ters of the globe. Reports of Committees, Second Session, Six- 
teenth Congress, 1820-21, Vol. I, Document No. 34. 

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


were perverted into highly efficient auxiliary of trad- 
ing 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 land- 
lord did. Then when the laborer fell in debt to the mid- 
dleman tradesman to jail he went. 12 


The worker denounced these discriminations as bar- 
barous and unjust. But he could do nothing. The 
propertied class, with its keen understanding of what 

12 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' imprison- 
ment acts. In response to a recommendation by President An- 
drew 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 confirma- 
tion 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. 


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 im- 
porting trades, the plantation owners and the agricul- 
tural 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 peo- 
ple 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. 


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 be- 
came blind in one eye, a loss and deformity which sub- 
jected 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 be- 
tween Bordeaux and the West Indies, he rose from 
cabin-boy to mate. Evading the French law which re- 
quired 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 there- 
upon 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 bot- 
tling and grocery business in a small store on Water 

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; un- 
doubtedly 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." * 

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 mer- 
chant 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; 

*" Kings of Fortune ":i6 The pretentious title and sub-title 
of this work, written thirty odd years ago by Walter R. Hough- 
ton, 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 hon- 
ored their calling, blessed humanity, and whose lives furnish in- 
struction for the young, entertainment for the old and valuable 
lessons for the aspirants of fortune." Could any fulsome ef- 
fusion possibly surpass this? 


(From an Engraving.) 


not the least of his profits, it was said, came from slave- 


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 plant- 
ers failed to return, evidently falling victims to the fury 
of the insurrectionists. The vessels were taken to Phil- 
adelphia, and Girard persistently advertised for the own- 
ers 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 

From this time on his profits were colossal. His ships 
circumnavigated the world many times and each voy- 
age 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 secretive.ness. and cunning i;n his purchases 


of coffee at Batavia. Be cautious and prudent, was his 
admonition. Keep to yourself the intention of the voy- 
age and the amount of specie that you have on board. 
To satisfy the curious, throw them off the scent by tel- 
ling 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 Liver- 
pool 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 in- 
tended to be invested in coffee for Stephen Girard of 

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 
more. 2 


His wealth was now overshadowingly great ; his power 
immense. He was a veritable dictator of the realms of 

- " Mr. Girard's bank was a financial success from the begin- 
ning. 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, >vork contains only the scantiest 
details of Girard's career. 


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 mis- 
fortune. " He was, it must be said," says Hough ton, 
" 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. Ap- 
peals 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. Fear- 
ing 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,- 
ooo 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 reestablishment and enlarged sway of this bank 
were greatly due to his efforts and influence; he be- 
came 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 over- 
shadowing influence as this chartered monopoly. The 
full tale of its indirect bribery of politicians and news- 
paper 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 in- 
vestigate and found that not a few of its own members 
for years had been on the payrolls of the bank. 3 

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 

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


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 revolu- 
tion, anarchy and despotism," which assuredly would 
ensue if Jackson were reflected. 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 de- 
serted 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 pay- 
ing up or supporting the bank. 4 

Girard's share in the United States Bank brought him 
millions of dollars. With its control of deposits of gov- 
ernment 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 ar- 
bitrary 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 


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. 


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 inncreased rapidly 
with the growth of population; he was a heavy stock- 
holder 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 the- 
ologic 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 ap- 
prentices each got five hundred dollars, and his old serv- 
ants 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 dol- 
lars 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. 5 


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. Dis- 
tinguished orators vied with one another in extolling his 
wonderful benefactions, 6 and the press showered enco- 
miums 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. 

5 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: 

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. 

6 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 popu- 
larity in the community in which he lived and to which he be- 
queathed 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 be- 
lieve he could have done better," etc., etc. Hunt's " Merchant's 
Magazine," 1830, i : 35. 


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 or- 
atory, 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 prop- 
erty 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 avail- 
able, 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 pres- 
entation 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 I&2C). 7 
gave this picture which forms both a contrast and a se- 
quel to the accumulations of multimillionaires, of which 
Girard was then the archtype: 


" Thousands of our laboring people travel hundreds 
of miles in quest of employment on canals at 62^2 cents 
to 87^ cents per day, paying $1.50 to $2.00 a week for 

7 "The Public Charities of Philadelphia." 


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 consti- 
tutions, with a sorry pittance, most laboriously earned, 
and take to their beds, sick and unable to work. Hun- 
dreds 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 turn-pikes, 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 re- 
dundancy 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." 



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 transporta- 
tion. Long before Vanderbilt and other of his con- 
tempories had plucked immense fortunes from steam- 
boat, railroad and street railway enterprises, the Astor, 
Goelet, and Longworth fortunes were counted in the 
millions. In the seventy years from 1800 the land- 
owners were the conspicuous fortune possessors; and, 
although fortunes of millions were extracted from vari- 
ous 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. Every- 
where in the North the tendency was toward the parti- 
tion 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 grubbling tradesmen and jland 
speculators and finally rising to the crowning position 
of multi-millionaires. 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 move- 
ment. Their tenants were in a state of unrest. On the 
Van Rensselaer, the Livingston and other of the old feu- 
dal estates they rose in revolt. They objected to the con- 
tinuing 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 enter- 
tain 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 Com- 
modities 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 Revolu- 
tion, because theirs were the rights of private property; 
and as has often been set forth, property absoli/ r \v 


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, subse- 
quent legislatures had abolished all feudal tenures, but 
these laws were neither effective nor were enforced by 
the authorities who reflected and represented the inter- 
ests 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 run- 
ning 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 man- 
aging 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 sympa- 
thetic 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, prac- 
tically forced the manorial magnates to compromise by 
selling their land in small farms, 1 which they did at 

1 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 re- 


exorbitant prices. They made large profits on the 
strength of the very movement which they had so bit- 
terly opposed. Affrighted at the omnious unrest of a 
large part of the people and hoping to stem it, the New 
York Constitutional Convention in 1846 adopted a Con- 
stitutional inhibition on all feudal tenures, an inhibition 
so drafted that no legislature could pass a law con- 
travening it. 2 

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 sur- 
vive in the face of newer conditions, for they repre- 
sented a bygone economic and social era. Their power 
was one accruing purely from the extent of their posses- 
sions 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 cul- 
ture 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 per- 
manency of value. The growth of the shipping trade 
built up the cities and attracted workers and population 

marked, were long powerful in politics, and had had their mem- 
bers on the bench. "Life of Silas Wright," 179-226; "Last 
Leaves of American History " : 16-18, etc. 

2 The debates in this convention snowed that the feudal con- 
ditions 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." 


generally. The establishment of the factory system 
in 1790 had a two- fold effect. It began to drain coun- 
try 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 migra- 
ting to the West and Southwest with their promising 
opportunities. Some country districts thinned out ; 
others remained stationary. But whether the rural cen- 
sus 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 stimula- 
tion, 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 gener- 
ation might very well succumb to a mortgage in the 


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 pro- 
portions 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 wit- 
nessing a keener pressure for occupation of the land, 
the value of this latter was certain to increase. There 
was no chance of its being otherwise. 

Up to 1825 it was a mooted question whether the 
richest landowners would arise in New York, Philadel- 
phia, Boston or Baltimore. For many years Philadel- 
phia 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, com- 
pletely 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 ship- 
ping 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 hith- 
erto 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, adroit- 
ness, and cunning or let us say, unscrupulousness 
the same severe application as the founder. Consequent- 
ly 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 organi- 
zation 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 establish- 
ments. Like other media of profit-making, the extent 
of their power and profits depended upon prevailing 
conditions and very largely upon the favoritism or pol- 
icy of Government. At any time the party controlling 
government functions might change and a radically dif- 
ferent policy in banking, tariff or other laws be put in 


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 politi- 
cal struggles carried on by the commercial interests were 
a series of incessant wars, in which every individual 
owner, firm or combination was fiercely resisting com- 
petitors 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 ardent- 
ly 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, im- 
movable. The interests of all landowners were iden- 
tical; those of the traders were varying and conflict- 
ing. 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 part- 
ner, 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 land- 
owner. 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 auspu 
cious, facile and durable means of rolling up an over- 
shadowing 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 impov- 
erish, jobless worker, with disaster facing him, must first 
perforce give up his precious few coins to t]?e 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 cen- 
ters 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 pre- 
eminently so is seen in the fact that the large shipping 
fortunes of a century ago are now generally as com- 
pletely 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 na- 
tional, and some of considerable international, impor- 

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 Chi- 
cago, Cincinnati and other cities. 3 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 

3 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. 


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 
$25o,ooo,ooo. 4 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 propor- 
tion 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 overreach- 
ing, 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 corpora- 
tions. Even the most indefatigable tax assessors find 
it such a fruitless and elusive task in attempting to dis- 
cover what personal property is held by these multi-mil- 
lionaires, that the assessment is usually a conjectural or 

*The Forum (Magazine), November, 1889. 


haphazard performance. The extent of their land hold- 
ings 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 esti- 
mated. The case of Marshall Field, a Chicago Crcesus, 
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 re- 
fused year after year to pay taxes on more than a valua- 
tion of $2,500,000 of personal property. Yet, after his 
death in 1906, an inventory of his estate filed in Jan- 
uary, 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 power- 
ful landed men, the founders of great fortunes, and in- 
quire into their methods and into the conditions under 
which they succeeded in heaping up their immense accu- 


The founder of the Astor fortune was John Jacob 
Astor, a butcher's son. He was born in Waldorf, Ger- 
many, on July 17, 1763. At the age of eighteen, accord- 
ing 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 ster- 
ling of money " * 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." 2 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 quiz- 
zing 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 fa- 

1 Pattern's " Life of John Jacob Astor " : 28 

2 " The Old Merchants of New York," i : 287. 



tiguing 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. Remarka- 
bly 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 de- 
ceive 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 mon- 


The Founder of the Colossal Astor Fortune. 

(From an Engraving.) 


umental 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. 

The great profits from the fur trade naturally led him 
into the business of being his own shipowner and ship- 
per, for he was a highly efficient organizer and well un- 
derstood 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 in- 
vesting 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 exor- 
bitant 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 en- 
abled 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 " re- 
ferred 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 car- 
ried 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. 3 
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 furs. 

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.* Had this plan succeeded, Astor would have 

3 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. 

* Astor was accused by a Government agent of betraying the 


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 South- 
west. 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 

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 com- 
pany, 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 Maiden 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 De- 
troit, 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 Mack- 
inac in company with the British troops, and the whole trans- 
action is well known at Mackinac and Detroit." U. S. Senate 
Docs., First Session, Seventeenth Congress, 1821-22, Vol. I, Doc. 
No. 60:50-51. 


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 prin- 
cipal 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 i, 

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 adven- 
turers to rise in opposition to it. 5 

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 com- 
petitor'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 Gov- 

5 Document No. 90, U. S. Senate, First Session, 22d Congress, 
ii : 30. 


ernment'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 Govern- 
ment fully recognized the baneful effects of debauching 
the Indians, and enacted strict laws with harsh penal- 
ties. Astor's company brazenly violated this law, as 
well as all other laws conflicting with its profit inter- 
ests. 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 officers. 

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 re- 
strain the sale of whisky, but they are not regarded. . . . 6 

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 main- 
tained 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." T 


A similar report was made the next winter by Thomas 
L. McKenney, Superintendent of Indian Affairs, to the 

6 Document No. 58, U. S. Senate Docs. First Session, ipth 
Congress : 7-8. 

7 Ibid. That the debauching of the Indians was long con- 
tinuing 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. 


Secretary of War. In a communication dated Feb. 14, 
1826, McKenney wrote that " the forbidden and destruc- 
tive article, whisky, is considered so essential to a lucra- 
tive 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 pro- 
ceeded to tell of the recent seizure by General Tipton, 
Indian Agent at Fort Wayne, of an outfit in transit con- 
taining a considerable supply of whisky, which was 
owned in large part, he says, by the American Fur Com- 
pany. 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." 8 

In stating this fact, McKenney was unwittingly enun- 
ciating 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, niost astute 

8 Doc. No. 58:10. 


and successful form of trade to resort to any means, 
however base, to secure profits. Let not too much ig- 
nominy be cast upon their memories ; they were but crea- 
tures of their time ; and their time was not that " golden 
age," so foolishly pictured, but a wild, tempestuous, con- 
tending 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 per- 
sons," Hughes went on: 

The capital employed in the Indian trade must be very large, 
especially that portion which is employed in the annual pur- 
chase 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-hun- 
dredth 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, 9 
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 con- 
stituted the leading, superior and exclusive groups of 
high society. Hughes continued: 

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. 10 

These official reports were supplemented by another on 
the same subject from William M. Gordon to General 

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 establish- 
ment 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, Sev- 
enteenth Congress, 1821-22, Vol. I, Document No. 60:40. 

10 Document No. go, U. S. Senate Docs., First Session, 22d 
Congress, ii : 23-24. 


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 ar- 
ticle, has been a principal, and I believe a very lucrative 
one for the last several years." 10a 

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 bar- 
gained 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 represent- 
ing 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 trans- 
portation. 11 Reporting from St. Louis, Oct. 24, 1831, in 
a communication to the Secretary of War, Thomas For- 
syth gave a description of this phase of the American 
Fur Company's dealings. He said: 

"a ibid : 54. 

11 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 $n 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., etc. 


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. 12 

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 Gov- 
ernment 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. 13 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 even- 
tually were to clothe and adorn the aristocracy of Amer- 
ica, Europe and Asia. When in the spring they came 

12 Document No. 90 : 72. 

13 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 Ameri- 
can 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. 


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. For- 
syth relates that for every dollar in merchandise that the 
Astor company exchanged for furs, the company re- 
ceived $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 mur- 
dered wantonly and in cold blood ; and then urgent alarm- 
ist 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 re- 
venge, the Indians would resort to primitive force and 
waylay, rob and murder the white agents and traders. 14 

From 1815 to 1831 more than 150 traders were robbed 
and killed by Indians. 15 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 

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

15 Doc. No. go. This is but a partial list. The full list of the 
murdered whites the Government was unable to get. 


solicitude as to whether the number was great or small. 

What did Astor pay his men for engaging in this de- 
grading 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 drunken- 
ness, 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 contract. 

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 merchan- 
dise, 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 com- 


pany 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 trad- 
ing class, this pathetic and absurdly false plea of poverty 
has incessantly been used by this class, and used success- 
fully, to get further concessions and privileges from a 
Government which reflected, and represented, its inter- 
ests. 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 Workhouse. 


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 Secre- 
tary 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." 16 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 Leaven- 
worth, 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 respon- 
sible head and beneficiary of the American Fur Company, 
was never prosecuted for the numerous violations of both 

"Document No. 90:77. 


penal and civil laws invariably committed by his di- 
rection 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. 17 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 intro- 
duced in Congress measures which Astor practically 
drafted and the purport of which was to benefit Astor 
and Astor alone. Thus was witnessed a notorious vio- 
lator of the law, invoking aid of the law to enrich him- 
self still further, a condition which need not arouse 
exceptional criticism, since the whole trading class in 
general did precisely the same thing. 

17 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 com- 
plaints of the crimes of Astor's American Fur Company were 

The author personally inspected these ledgers. The fol- 
lowing 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 compart- 
ments, 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 i, 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 Presi- 
dency against Gen. Zachary Taylor, the successful Whig candi- 
date, took about $35,000 of the Astor money from Montreal to 
Detroit, in consideration of something which is not set down." 


While at the outposts, and in the depths, of the West- 
ern 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 re- 
taliation, what was the beneficiary of this orgy of crime 
and bloodshed doing in New York? 

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 com- 
bined the style of the ascending capitalist with the fittings 
and trappings of the tradesman. It was at once resi- 
dence, 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, assid- 
uously beating the furs to keep out moths. Astor's dis- 
position 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. How- 
ever execrated he might be in the Indian territories far 
in the West, he assumed, and somewhat succeeded in be- 



ing credited with, the character of a patriotic, respect- 
able 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 turn- 
ing 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 pri- 
vate treasury and using it as personal capital in his ship- 
ping enterprises. 

As applied to the business and landowning class, law 
was notoriously a flexible, convenient, and highly adapt- 
able function. By either the tacit permission or conniv- 
ance 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 enact- 
ment or enforcement of other laws which favored its 
designs and enhanced its profits. We see Astor ruth- 
lessly brushing aside, like so many annoying encum- 
brances, 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 ex- 
ploitation of the Indians, was Astor ever prosecuted? 
To repeat, no ; nor was he disturbed even by such a triv- 
iality 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 Govern- 
ment 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 but- 
tress property, Astor and his class were untiring and 
vociferous in demanding their strict enforcement. Suc- 
cessfully 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 judi- 
cial precedent, the most rigorous laws in favor of prop- 
erty 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 pro- 
duct, was really law only when applied to the property- 
less. 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 char- 
acter 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 Goiernment 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, 1 
all of which sum represented what the shippers owed 
and did not, or could not, pay. And no criminal pro- 
ceedings were brought against any of these default- 

1 Doc. No. 13, S.'-Me Papers, Second Session, i8th Congress, 
Vol. ii. 


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 fre- 
quently 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,- 
ooo 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 mo- 
nopoly of furs in the West was made a basis for the crea- 
tion 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 al- 
lowed 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 found- 
ing 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 thou- 
sand ways by the laws. 

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


It may here be observed that Astor's methods in trade 
or in acquiring of land need not be indiscriminately con- 
demned as an exclusive mania. Nor should they be held 
up to the curiosity of posterity as a singular and per- 
nicious 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 represent- 
ative 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, 2 Government land and then with the 
wealth derived from their thefts, bought negro slaves, 
set themselves up in the glamour of a patriarchal aris- 
tocracy 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. 3 

2 " Stole on a monstrous scale." The land frauds, by which 
many of the Southern planters obtained estates in Louisiana, Mis- 
sissippi 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 Louisi- 
ana." 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 busi- 
ness 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 specu- 
lators obtained possession by fraud. " A large company," Gare- 
sche 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 14-25, also Doc. No. 213, Ibid. 

3 "America," admits Houghton, "never presented a more 
shameful spectacle than was exhibited when the courts of the 
cotton-growing regions united with the piratical in f ringers 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 


Far more flagrant, however, were the means by which 
other Southern plantation owners and business firms se- 
cured 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 In- 
dian tribes with whisky, and after swindling them of 
their land, caused the Government to remove them west- 
ward. The frauds were so extensive, and the circum- 
stances 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. 41 

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 For- 
tune " : 337. All other of Whitney's biographers relate likewise. 
4 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 
ii> 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 i, 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. Sand ford, sent by President Jackson 


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 Decem- 
ber 1 8, 1840, that with the connivance of local land agents, 
these lands, since 1835, had been sold at private sale be- 
fore they were even subject to public entry. 5 " In con- 
sequence 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 en- 
try, have been entered by evil-minded persons, who have 
falsely made, or procured others to make, the oath re- 
quired by the land offices. Honest men have been ex- 
cluded from the purchase of these lands, while the dis- 
honest and unscrupulous have been permitted to enter 
them by means of false oath and fraud." 6 

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 

to the Creek country to investigate the charges of fraud, wrote, 
on March i, 1834, to the War Department, . . . " It is but 
very recently that the Indian has been invested with an indi- 
vidual 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. no). 

The records show that the principal beneficiaries of these 
swindles were some of the most conspicuous planters, mercan- 
tile firms and politicians in the South. Frequently, they em- 
ployed dummies in their operations. 

6 Reports of House Committees, Second Session, 26th Con- 
gress, 1840-41, Report No. i. 

ft lbid., i and 2. 


on which it was extended long-time credit for customs 
payments. The few official reports available clearly in- 
dicate this. Great frauds were continuously going on in 
the importations of lead. 7 Large quantities of sugar 
were imported in the guise of molasses which, it was dis- 
covered, after being boiled a few minutes, would produce 
an almost equal weight in brown sugar. 8 Doubtless sim- 
ilar frauds were being committed in other lines of im- 
portations. Between the methods of these divisions of 
the capitalist class, and those of Astor, no basic differ- 
ence can be discerned. 

Neither was there any essential difference between As- 
tor's methods and those of the manufacturing capitalists 
of the North who remorselessly robbed Charles Good- 
year of the benefits of his discovery of vulcanized rubber 
and who drove him, after protracted litigation, into in- 
solvency, and caused him to die loaded down with worries 
and debts, a broken-down man, at the age of 6o. 9 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 merci- 
lessly robbed and knew it, while making the most hypo- 
critical professions of lofty motives. Buried deep in the 


7 Executive Documents, First Session, 23rd Congress, 1833-34, 
Doc. No. 132. 

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

" 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 in- 
fringers known in the parlance of the world, with no exaggera- 
tion of phrase as 'pirates.' The spoliation of their incessant 
guerilla upon his defenseless rights have unquestionably amounted 
to millions." 


dusty archives of the United States Senate is a petition 
whereon appear the signatures of Moore, Carlyle, the 
two Disraelis, Milman, Hallam, Southey, Thomas Camp- 
bell, 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 pro- 
tection against the indiscriminate theft of their works by 
American booksellers. Their works, they set forth, are 
not only appropriated without their consent but even con- 
trary 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." 10 

How fares this petition read in the United States Sen- 
ate on February 2, 1837? The booksellers, magazine, 
periodical and newspaper publishers have before suc- 
ceeded in defeating one copyright bill. They now be- 
stir 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 land-holding classes? 

10 Doc. No. 134, Twenty- fourth Congress, 2d Session, Vol. ii. 


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 dom- 
inant commercial classes looked down upon the writer, 
the painter, the musician, the philosopher or the sculptor. 
Regarding these a sentimentalists " as easy, legitimate and 
defenseless objects of prey, and as incidental and im- 
practical 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 encourage- 
ment, however, never attempted to put a stop to piracies 
of publication or reproduction. How sordidly commer- 
cial 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." n Could stupidity go further ? 

All of the confluent facts of the time show conclus- 
ively that every stratum of commercial society was per- 
meated with fraud, and that this fraud was accepted gen- 
erally 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 

" Doc. 129, State Papers, 1819-21, Vol. ii. 


his time and of the methods and standards of the trad- 
ing class of that time. 

Whatever in the line of business yielded profits, that 
act, whether cheating, robbing or slaughtering, was justi- 
fied 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 pur- 
suit of wealth. 

In the wilderness of the West, Astor, operating through 
his agents, could debauch, rob and slay Indians with im- 
punity. 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 re- 
sult was precisely the same as in the West, except that 
the consequences were not so overt, and the perpetra- 
tion 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 ac- 
companying Astor's progress in New York was of that 
slow and indefinite, but more lingering and agonizing, 
kind ensuing from want, destitution, disease and starva- 


Astor s supreme craft was at no time better shown than 
by the means by which he acquired possession of an im- 
mense 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 con- 
fiscated by New York State. This land, it is worth re- 
calling, 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. 12 Mary Morris was a de- 
scendant 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 prop- 
erty, and not a shadow of a doubt had ever been cast on 
their title. They had long regarded it as secure, espe- 
cially 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 

12 See Part I, Chapter II. 


of a Balzac, succeeded in buying their claim for $100,000. 
In the thirty-three years which had elapsed since con- 
fiscation, 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 ad- 
vantage of a legal technicality and a document em- 
blazoned with a seal or two. 


They appealed to the Legislature. This body, in- 
fluenced 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 him- 


dred families without being under the legal or moral 
necessity of paying them a single cent for their improve- 
ments. 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 13 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. 14 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 ap- 
plied 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. 

13 "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 Legisla- 
ture of 1827 was notoriously corrupt. 

14 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." 


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 con- 
stantly broken by the very classes to whom it was so par- 


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 Rhine- 
landers, 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 circumstances. 

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 Tam- 
many machine, found it necessary to remove him from 
the office of City Controller for malfeasance. 14a 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 ex- 
orbitant price. Spurred by public criticism the Common 
Council demanded its reconveyance. 15 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 does. 


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-indus- 
trial magnates and financiers of to-day do ; to all appear- 
ances distinctly apart from participation in politics, and 

14a MSS. Minutes of the (New York City) Common Council', 
xvi : 239-40 and 405. 
Ibid., xx : 355-356. 


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 elections. 16 

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 
bulk-heads 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 dol- 
lars. The value at that time was not great, but the 
prospective value was immense. This fact was recog- 
nized in the official reports of the day, which set forth 
how rapidly the city's population and commerce were in- 
creasing. As for city land as such, the city not only 
owned large tracts by reason of old grants and confisca- 
tions, but it constantly came into possession of more 
because of non-payment of taxes. 

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 

16 MSS. Minutes of the Common Council, xiii: 118 and 185. 


were for the purpose of assisting religious institutions. 
This, however, was but an occasional excuse. The prin- 
cipal 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 extrava- 
gantly squandered the city's money that the city was con- 
stantly 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. Short- 
ly after the passage of this grant, Trinity Church con- 
veyed 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. 17 These water grants were sub- 
sequently rilled in and became of enormous value. 

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


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 be- 
tween Peck Slip and Dover street. On May 30, 1808, 
upon a favorable report handed in by the Finance Com- 
mittee, of which the notorious John Bingham was a mem- 
ber, Astor received an extensive grant along the Hudson 
bounding the old Burr estate which had come into his 
possession. 18 In 1810 he received three more water 
grants in the vicinity of Hubert, Laight, Charlton, Ham- 
mersly 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 author- 
ities 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 

18 MSS. Minutes of the Common Council, xviii: 411-414. 


sunken lots, regulating and grading streets, etc.], exceed 
receipts by the sum of more than two millions of dol- 
lars." 10 


In the case of most of these so-called water fronts, 
there was usually a trivial rental attached. Nearly al- 
ways, 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 busi- 
ness and residential buildings many of the ancestors 
of those families which pride themselves upon their ex- 
clusive 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 Com- 
pany 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 conjunc- 
tion with other landholders, was manipulating the city 
government not less than the State and Federal Govern- 
ment. Now he gets from t*he Board of Aldermen title to 

19 Doc. No. 33, Documents of the Board of Aldermen, xxii : 26. 


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 Thir- 
teenth to Twenty-third streets is graded down and 
the earth removed is sold by the city to a con- 
tractor 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. 20 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 govern- 
ment. At his request some streets are graded and im- 
proved; 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 land- 
lords 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 

30 Proceedings of the Board of Aldermen, 1832-33, iv: 416-418. 


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 ex- 
pense 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 Com- 
mon Council are necessitated to borrow money on interest 
to meet the ordinary disbursements of the city." 21 If 
a man of very moderate means were backward in pay- 
ment of taxes, the city promptly closed him out, and if a 
tenant of any of these delinquent landlords were dis- 
possessed 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 

21 Controller's Reports for 1831 ; 7. Also Ibid, for 1841 : 28. 


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 dissem- 
bling, 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 unoc- 
cupied waste. What he was counting upon was the cer- 
tain 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 val- 
ued at from $300,000 to $400,000 each. 

Throughout those years in the first decade of the nine- 
teenth century he was constantly buying land on Man- 
hattan 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 re- 
gions 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 ap- 
pendage 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 fore- 
closure 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 $500,000." 


In this transaction we see the beginnings of that period 
of conquest on the part of the very rich using their sur- 
plus capital in effacing the less rich a period which 
really opened with Astor and which has been vastly in- 
tensified in recent times. Clinton was accounted a rich 
man in his day, but he was a pigmy in that respect com- 
pared 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 mort- 
gagers 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 res- 
idential, 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 at- 
tachments 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 prop- 
erty now covered densely with huge hotels, theaters, office 
buildings, stores and long vistas of residences and tene- 
ments 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 accommodat- 
ing. 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 de- 
scribe them, inasmuch as they were closely intertwined 
with his trade, on the one hand, and with his land acqui- 
sitions, on the other. 


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, per- 
sonally 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 them- 
selves, by grace of Government, the banking and manipu- 
lation of the people's money and the restricting or in- 
flating of money issues, were immediately vested with an 
extraordinary power. It was a sovereign power at once 
coercive and prescriptive, and a mighty instrument for 
transferring the produce of the many to a small and ex- 
clusive 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 them- 
selves 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 accom- 
modation, or harass its victims in other ways equally as 
destructive. As business was largely done in expecta- 
tions 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 land- 
holders, this power was crushingly used against compet- 
itors. 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 in- 
terest which, in periods of commercial distress, over- 
whelmed the borrowers. Nominally banks were re- 
stricted 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 fea- 
tures. The most innocent of their great privileges was 
that of playing fast and loose with the money confid- 
ingly 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 ques- 
tions. The most remarkable of their vested powers was 
that of manufacturing money. The industrial manufac- 
turer 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 ac- 
ceptance. The lone trader or landholder unsupported by 
a partnership with law could not fabricate money. But 
let trader and landholder band in a company, incor- 
porate, '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 com- 
pelled to pay exorbitant rates of interest they but appar- 
ently had to meet the demands. What these classes 
really did was to throw the whole of these extra im- 
positions upon the working class in the form of increased 
prices for necessaries and merchandise and in augmented 

But how were these State or Government authoriza- 
tions, called charters, to be obtained? Did not the Fed- 
eral Constitution prohibit States from giving the right to 
banks to issue money? Were not private money fac- 
tories specifically barred by that clause of the Consti- 
tution 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 Gov- 
ernment came into compelling effect. The onward sweep 
of the trading class was not to be balked by such a trif- 
ling obstacle as a Constitutional provision. At all times 
when the Constitution has stood in the way of com- 
mercial aims it has been abrogated, not by repeal nor 
violent overthrow, but by the effective expedient of ju- 
dicial 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 ju- 
dicial decision and precedent made it virtually law, and 
law a thousandfold more binding than any Constitutional 



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 aux- 
iliary the bodies that interpreted law. To a large ex- 
tent 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 leg- 
islature product, namely, court law. Although nowhere 
in the United States Constitution is there even the sug- 
gestion that courts shall make law, yet this past century 
and more they have been gradually building up a for- 
midable 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 dom- 
inant class, whether traders, slaveholders, or the present 

This decision of the august courts opened the way 
for the greatest orgy of corruption and the most stu- 
pendous frauds. In New York, Massachusetts, New 
Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and other States a con- 
tinuous 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 ap- 
proachable; 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 opin- 
ion or law, and in creating new laws which satisfied 
their extending plans for a ramification of profit-pro- 
ducing 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 werei 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 prole- 
tariat; for whereas the one have always campaigned 
irrespective of law and particularly by bribery, intimi- 
dation, 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 


The chartered monopoly held by the traders who con- 
trolled 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 slave- 

The States began a course of reeling out bank char- 
ters. 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 applica- 
tion 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 princi- 
ples 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 sub- 
sequent similar reform expedient. What the agitated 
masses, for the most part, of that period could not com- 
prehend 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 aggres- 
sive, 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 de- 
nounced 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 ex- 
planation 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 ap- 
parent beneficent purpose of diminishing the future pos- 
sibility 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 char- 
ter, conferring banking powers on the company. 1 

This explanation is probably shallow and deficient. 
It is much more likely that bribery was resorted to, con- 
sidering the fact that the granting of every successive 
bank charter was invariably accompanied by bribery. Si* 
years later the Mercantile Bank received a charter for 
a thirteen years 5 period a charter which, it was openly 
charged by certain members of the Assembly, was se- 
cured by bribery. These charges were substantially 
proved by the testimony before a legislative investigating 
committee. 2 In 1811 the Mechanics' Bank was chartered 
with a time limit under circumstances indicating bri- 

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." 3 This resolution was 
palpably intended to blind the public ; for, in that identi- 
cal year, the Bank of America received a charter amid 
charges of flagrant corruption. One Assemblyman de- 
clared under oath that he had been offered the sum of 
$500, " besides, a handsome present for his vote." 4 All 
of the banks, except the Manhattan, had limited chai isrs ; 

1 Hammond's " Political History of the State of New York," i : 

2 Journal of the [New York] Senate and Assembly, 180^^51 
and 399. 

3 Ibid, 1812 : 134. 

4 Ibid., 1812 : 259-260. Frequently, in those days, the givif > tf 
presents was a part of corrupt methods. 


measures for the renewal of these were practically all 
put through by bribery. 5 Thus, in 1818, the charter of 
the Merchants' Bank was renewed until 1832, and re- 
newed 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 em- 
ployed 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. 6 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 in- 
dustriously, without cessation. 


Were the bribers ever punished, their illicitly gotten 

charters declared forfeited, and themselves placed under 

* "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." Ham- 
mond, ii : 447-448. 

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


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 multi- 
millionaire 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 at- 
tached to these wealth-graspers. Their success as pos- 
sessors 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, re- 
leased 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 laws. 

It was a society essentially built upon money; conse- 
quently 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 


P ' 

than to seek, and accept, the obeisance lavished upon prop- 
erty, 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 great- 
est strength and wielded the deftest strokes became vic- 
tor 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 intead of swords. And this newer plan, 
which some have decried as degenerate, is a great ad- 
vance 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 evi- 
dence 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 bank- 
ing 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 rep- 
resentative 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 Com- 
pany; 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 suspecte^ 
had been obtained by bribery. 

There is no evidence that he, himself, did the actusji 
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 naive as- 
tonishment 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 v legis- 
latures, 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 par- 
"tially the outcome of the organization of the Manhattan 
iBank 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 con- 
tention 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 im- 
pressed by the facts as marshalled by Rutger B. Miller, 7 
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 fre- 
quently 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 com- 
prising 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 ex- 
pending 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 com- 
mittee Burr was made chairman. 

7 " 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 unavail- 
ing 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," 11:189. 



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, pledg- 
ing 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 ex- 
traordinarily valuable lease. 8 He immediately re-leased 
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. 9 As a 
Lutheran, Astor could not be a vestryman of Trinity 
Church. Anthony Lispenard, however, it may be pass- 
ingly 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 

8 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 de- 
cided in Astor's favor. 

9 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 [Mor- 
tier] 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 improve- 
ments 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. 


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 $I77.5O. 10 

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 inval- 
uable 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,- 
ooo. 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 

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


putting these notes into circulation; that when the mer- 
chant 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 banish- 
ment of metallic currency, the loss of commercial con- 
fidence, fictitious capital, increase of civil prosecutions 
and multiplication of crimes." 11 What the committee 
did not see was that by this process those in control of 
the banks had, with no expenditure, possessed them- 
selves 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 in- 
terest. 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 por- 
tion 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 de- 
manded, 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, strug- 

11 Journal of the [New York] Senate, Forty-second Session, 
1819 : 67-70. 


gling small business man alike. The laws were but 
slightly altered. "The great profits of the banks," re- 
ported a New York Senate Committee on banks and in- 
surance 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." 12 

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 reso- 
lutions read like a proletarian Declaration of Independ- 
ence, and would unquestionably have resulted in the most 
momentous agitation, had it not been that it was smoth- 
ered by its leaders, and also because the slavery issue 
long obscured purely economic questions. " Resolved," 

12 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 u 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 divi- 


ran its resolutions adopted at Military Hall, Oct. 19, 

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 enor- 
mous and unequal possessions were lords and those who re- 
ceived little or nothing were vassals. That hereditary trans- 
mission 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 exemp- 
tions, 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 on : 

As banking is now conducted, the owners of the banks re- 
ceive 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 pro- 
vided for its redemption on demand. . . . 


The mockery that went up from all that was held in- 
fluential, 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 Working- 
men'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 com- 
pared 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 treach- 
ery, of its leaders, who were content to accept from a 
Legislature controlled by the propertied interests var- 
ious 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, en- 
thusiasm 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 in- 
trinsic, 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 cow- 
ardice 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 be- 
trayed, 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 


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 tim^ 
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 mo- 
nopoly of the business of manufacturing money. In 1804 


the Legislature of New York State had passed an ex- 
traordinary law, called the restraining act. This prohib- 
ited, under severe penalties, all associations and individ- 
uals not only from issuing notes, but " from receiving 
deposits, making discounts or transacting any other busi- 
ness 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 sover- 
eign privilege of depreciating the currency at their dis- 
cretion, and were authorized to levy an annual tax upon 
the country, nearly equivalent to the interest on $200,000,- 
QOO 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 ; 
Ht one stage the city tried to have its charter revoked 
on the ground of failure to carry out its chartered func- 
tion, but the courts decided in the company's favor. 13 
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 fran- 
tically besieged the banks for their money, the bank 
officials rilled the banks with heavily armed guards and 
plug-uglies with orders to fire on the crowd in case a 
rush was attempted. 14 

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

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


In every State conditions were the same In May, 
1837, not I GSS tnan eight hundred banks in uhe 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 de- 
nomination from the alleged value of five cents 
to that of five dollars, they were issued by every busi- 
ness 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. 14a 


Now the storm broke. Everywhere was impoverish- 
ment, 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, 15 that they hurriedly got 
the Legislature to pass an act practically authorizing a 

14a Abridgement of the Debates of Congress, from 1789 to 
1856, xiii : 426-427. 

15 In the course of this work, the word Government is fre- 
quently used to signify not merely the functions of the Na- 
tional Government, but those of the totality of Government, 
State and municipal, not less than National. 


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 competen- 
cy, h?we suddenly been reduced, with their families to 
beggary." 16 New York City was rilled with the home- 
less rtnd unemployed. In the early part of 1838 one-third 
of a\l the persons in New York City who subsisted by 
manual labor, were wholly or substantially without em- 
ployment. Not less than 10,000 persons were in utter 
poverty, and had no other means of surviving the winter 
tha'.' 1 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 Beau- 
mont and De Tocqueville who, however, had no funda- 
mental 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, tnev 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 

1(5 Doc. No. 49 [New York] Senate Docs., 1838, Vol. ii. 


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. 16a 


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 juris- 
prudence 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 sys- 
tem; in other words, they enforced laws which were 
made for, and by, the American aristocracy, the trading 

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 

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


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. 17 . . . The mass 
of lawyers see in this nothing contrary to their ideas of 
justice and injustice, nor even to their democratic institu- 
tions." 18 


The system, then, frequently forced the destitute into 
theft and mendicancy. What resulted? Laws, incon- 
ceivably 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 con- 
sidered lucky if they got off with five years. The or- 
dinary sentence for burglary was the same, with varia- 
tions. 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 South- 
ern 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 

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

18 "On the Penitentiary System," etc., 184-185. 


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 Beau- 
mont 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 chivalry. 

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 confine- 
ment. 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 in- 
activity 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 

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 i844. 19 
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. Al- 
though 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 prostitution. 

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 hallalujahs, gave dainty receptions, formed as- 
sociations 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. 20 

19 Prison Association of New York, Annual Reports, 1844-46. 
It is characteristic of the origin of all of these charity associa- 
tions, 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, Ulshqeffer, and others 
were, or had been, notorious in lobbying by bribing bank charters 
through the New York Legislature. 

20 "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 contem- 
poraneous 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 prop- 
erty at the ruinous prices which ranged at that time." 1 

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 

1 " Reminiscences of John Jacob Astor," New York " Herald," 
March 31, 1848. 



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 re- 
vived, values increased. It was now that immigration 
began to pour in heavily. In 1843 s i x ty thousand im- 
migrants 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 re- 
mained 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 habi- 

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 descend- 
ants, 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 busi- 
ness, that his land was indispensable and it was taken 
on leaseholds. 

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, re- 
pairs and all other charges. When the ground lease ex- 
pired 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 de- 
manding 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, how- 
ever 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 contin- 
ually 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 af- 
fairs. 2 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 pro- 
tection and benefits of its municipal government and its great 
public improvements, has engaged the attention of the city au- 
thorities, called forth reports of committees and caused applica- 
tion 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 

2 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. 


enforcement of laws operating for its interests, or for 
the partial or entire immunity from other laws mili- 
tating 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 aggre- 
gate personal property of $30,000,000, thus escape taxation. 3 


The committee pointed out that at the taxable rate of 
i 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 


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


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, Cin- 
cinnati, 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 in- 
terests get control of Government functions ? How were 
they able to sway the popular vote and make, or evade, 

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 inces- 
santly disseminated by preachers, pamphleteers, politi- 
cians, political economists and editors. Where in Eng- 
land 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 ad- 
mixture 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, repre- 
sented 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 vul- 


gar; their opinions and aspirations were held of small 


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 cor- 
responded 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 adver- 
tisements 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 ; * 
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 

4 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 ex- 
ample. 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. 


accepted the doctrine that in the making and enforcement 
of law their concern should be for the propertied inter- 
ests. With few exceptions they were aligned with the 

So that here were many influences all of which con- 
spired 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 prop- 
ertied 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 work- 
ing class, was enthralled by the spell of property. 


Out of this prevailing idea grew many of the interpre- 
tations and partial enforcements. A legislator, magis- 
trate 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 exemp- 
tions 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 cen- 
turies all government had proceeded, perhaps not avowed- 
ly, but in reality, upon the settled and consistent principle 
that the sanctity of property was superior to considera- 


tions 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 Gov- 
ernment. 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 over- 
whelm them eventually and pass an entirely new code of 

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 Inde- 
pendence, in accordance with an act passed by the Pro- 
vincial 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 (r 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 Legis- 
lature in June, 1820 (i Laws N. J. p. 741), expressly re- 


enacted 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 me- 
chanics, as the official reports styled them), made the most 
determined efforts to have this property qualification abol- 
ished, 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 work- 
ingmen in what is slurringly misdescribed in conventional 
history as " Dorr's Rebellion," an event the real his- 
tory of which has not as yet been told. This movement 
eventually compelled the introduction in Rhode Island of 
suffrage without the property qualification. 

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 ex- 
actions 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 prima- 
ries 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 con- 
tained, 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 per- 
suaded 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. 5 

5 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 


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 in- 
terests 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 ad- 
vertisements 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 politi- 
cal 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 

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 "His- 
tory of Tammany Hall.") Similar practices were common in 
Philadelphia, Baltimore and other cities, and in country town- 


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 cam- 
paign funds from the men of large property and 
from the vested corporations or other similar inter- 
ests. Astor, for example, was always a liberal con- 
tributor, now to the Whig party and again to the Demo- 
cratic. 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 reelection by the refusal of 
funds or by supporting the opposite party. The masses 
of the people were simply pawns in these political con- 
tests, yet few of them understood that all the excite- 
ment, partisan activity and enthusiasm into which they 
threw themselves, generally had no other significance 
than to enchain them still faster to a system whose bene- 
ficiaries 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 dis- 


tance of his. With wonderment his contemporaries re- 
garded 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 rich. 

In 1847 anc * 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. 6 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 for- 
tunes 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 $i,ooo,ooo. 7 No facts are available as 
to the private fortunes in Boston and other cities. Oc- 
casionally the briefest mention would appear in the 
almanacs of the period of the death of this or that rich 

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

T " Wealth and Biography of the Wealthy Citizens of Philadel- 
phia." 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 So- 
ciety 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 mil- 
lionaires; now there are 4,000." The error of this assertion is 


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 million- 
aire, newly-coined, was italicized in the rounds of the 
press. Similarly in the case of Jacob Ridgeway, a Phil- 
adelphia millionaire, who died in the same year. 

The passing away now of a man worth a mere mil- 
lion, 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, ele- 
gantly 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 manufac- 
tures were in the social and industrial system, they, as 
yet, occupied a strikingly subordinate and inferior posi- 
tion as an agency in accumulating great fortunes. Sta- 
tistics issued in 1844 of manufactures in the United 
States showed a total gross amount of $307,196,844 in- 
vested. 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 de- 
mands of civilization made indispensable. 

The last years of this magnate were passed in an at- 
mosphere of luxury, laudation and power. On Broad- 
way, by Prince street, he built a pretentious mansion, and 
adorned it with works of art which were more costly 
than artistic. Of raedium 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 re- 
ports 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 re- 


tained 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 her." 8 


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 pro- 
cessions throughout the city resounded high and often. 
They were celebrating the French Revolution of 1848, in- 
telligence of which had just arrived; a Revolution 
brought about by the blood of the Parisian working- 
men, only to be subsequently stifled by the stratagems 

8 Parton's "Life of John Jacob Astor ": 80-8 1. 


of the bourgeoisie and turned into the corrupt despot- 
ism of Napoleon III. 

The old trader left an estate valued at about $20,000- 
ooo. The bulk of this descended to William B. Astor. 
The e?itent of wealth disclosed by the will made a pro- 
found impression. Never had so rich a man passed 
away; the public mind was not accustomed to the sight 
o:: 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 mil- 
lion 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 
Ia7ished upon Astor's memory and deeds. He thus ex- 
pressed himself in the issue of April 5, 1848 : 

We give in our columns an authentic copy of one of the great- 
est curiosities of the age the will of John Jacob Astor, dis- 
posing 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 
J^cob Astor . . . the first idea that we should have put into 
Hs 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 


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 news- 
paper opinion, although of a single day, and was smoth- 
ered by the general course of that same newspaper in 
supporting the laws and institutions demanded by the 
commercial aristocracy. 

So the arch multi-millionaire 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 expense. 9 

8 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, flee- 
ing 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, Wftliam B. Astor, 
the chief heir of John Jacob Astor's iwenty million dol- 
lars, was fifty-six years old. A till, ponderous man, 
his eyes were small, contracted, wkh a rather vacuous 
look, and his face was sluggish and unimpressionable. 
Extremely unsocial and taciturn, he never betrayed emo- 
tion and generally was destitute of feeling. He took 
delight in affecting a carelessly-dressed, slouchy appear- 
ance 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 America. 

Acquisitiveness was his most marked characteristic. 
Even before his father's death he had amassed a for- 
tune of his own by land speculations and banking con- 
nections, and he had inherited $500,0x30 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 posses- 


He lived in what was considered a fine mansion on 
Lafayette place, adjoining the Astor Library. The side- 
boards were heaped with gold plate, and polyglot serv- 



ants 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 sel- 
dom 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 1 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 

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 ten- 
ants 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 super- 
vision 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 corners. 

He was sombre and solitary, dwelt alone, mixed little with 
general society, gave little and abhorred beggars. 1 

1 Matthew Hale Smith in " Sunshine and Shadow in New 
York, 5 ' 186-187. 


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 com- 
punctions was shown in many ways, not the least in his 
open support of notoriously corrupt city and State ad- 

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. Cor- 
rupt government was welcomed by the landholding, trad- 
ing and banking class, for by it they could secure with 
greater facility the perpetual rights, franchises, privi- 
leges 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 priv- 
ileged 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 polit- 
ical 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 sys- 
tematic corruption springing entirely from the prop- 
ertied 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 ac- 
customed 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 them- 
selves ready at all times to buy laws in common coun- 
cils, 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 foun- 
dation and impetus lay in the extraction of profits. So- 


ciety, 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 cap- 
italist, 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 environ- 
ment, and there should be neither haste in indiscrim- 
inately 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 dis- 
criminated-against mass of mankind. Their very pov- 
erty 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 mean- 
est 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 every- 
where 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 spoli- 
ation, 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 in- 
vested 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 at- 
tempts of competitors to take what he had, he was for- 
tunate. 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 ex- 
ample and environment, one cannot but conclude that 
the tragedies of trie 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-snatch- 
ing, 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 strug- 
gle, which awarded supremacy to the knave and the 
trickster, went to their doom praising it as the only civi- 
lized, rational system and as unchangeable and even di- 
vinely ordained. 


If corruption was flagrant in the early decades of the 
nineteenth century, it was triply so in the middle dec- 
ades. This was the period of all periods when com- 
mon 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 intances cannot be adverted to 
here; they will be described more appropriately in sub- 
sequent 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 pos- 
session of large surplus wealth, d'erived 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 re- 
cords of the time that the New York Central Railroad 
was one of the most industrious corrupters of legis- 
latures 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. 2 

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 

- Sec Part III of this work, " The Great Railroad Fortunes." 


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 sig- 
nificant 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 them- 
selves masters of the art either of corrupting public 
bodies, or of making that property yield still greater 


In control of the New York and Harlem Railroad, 
Cornelius Vanderbilt had showed what a remarkably suc- 
cessful 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 intim- 
idated, it intimidated. But Vanderbilt was, by far, the 
abler of the two contending forces. Finally the stock- 
holders 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 preeminently displayed by such an amazing 
reign of corruption and exaction, that even a public 
cynically habituated to bribery and arbitrary methods, 
was profoundly stirred. 3 

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 col- 
lusion 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 Thir- 
teenth streets, on the Hudson River, at the ridiculous 
price of $13 per running foot.* William E. Dodge like- 
wise 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 Coun- 
cilmen 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. . . ." 5 


But when the Tweed " ring " came into complete 
power, with its unbridled policy of accommodating any- 
one who could pay bribes enough, the landowners and 

8 See Part III, Chapters iv, v, vi, etc. 

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

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


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. 6 On 
March 21, 1867, Peter Goelet obtained from the Sink- 
ing Fund Commissioners a grant of land under water 
on the East River in front of land owned by him be- 
tween Eighty-first street and Eighty-second street. The 
price asked was the insignificant one of $75 a running 
foot. 7 The officials who made this grant were the Con- 
troller, Richard B. Connolly, and the Street Commis- 
sioner, 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 run- 
ning 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 minoi 
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 

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

7 Ibid : 865. 


them. 8 The grant issued to Rhinelander in 1865, how- 
ever, 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 $5o,ooo,ooo. 9 The committee, however, 
evidently thought that the thefts amounted to $60,000,- 
ooo ; 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 fraud- 
ulent 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., 


8 Proceedings of the [New York City] Sinking Fund Com- 
mission, 1882 : 2020-2023. 

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


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 ad- 
ministration was precisely what the rich wanted, for 
they could very conveniently make arrangements with 
it to evade personal property taxation, have the assess- 
ments 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 regime continue. 
They might pose as fine moralists and profess to in- 
struct 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 assess- 
ments. 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,- 


ooo. 10 This bill was passed by the Legislature and 
signed by Tweed's puppet Governor Hoffman ; and only 
the exposure of the Tweed regime a few months later 
prevented the complete consummation of this almost un- 
paralleled steal. 

Considering the fact that the richest and most in- 
fluential 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 cer- 
tifying 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 them- 
selves 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 im- 
plicated 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 

iNew York Senate Journal, 1871:482-83. 


of State under Roosevelt. 11 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 " respectability." 12 

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 invest-- 
ment, they became the owners of immense tracts of thq 
most valuable city land. The rentals from these wers 
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 perenially 
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 

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

12 For a full account of the operations of the Tweed regime 
see the author's "History of Tammany Hall." 


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 founda- 
tion of an aristocracy which in time built palaces, in- 
vented 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 property. 


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 preponderable 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 tene- 
ments, 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 Metro- 
politan 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 occu- 
pants, and many of the sleeping rooms are simply closets, with 
out 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 epidemic. 13 

" 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 

13 Report of the Metropolitan Board of Health for 1866, Ap- 
pendix A : 38. 


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 tene- 
ments, 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 prop- 
erty idea dominated all thought and all laws, not because 
mankind was callous to suffering, wretchedness and le- 
galized murder, but because thought and law represented 
what the propertied interests demanded. If the proleta- 
rian 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 repre- 
sented 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 em- 
bodied 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 re- 
ported the Metropolitan Board of Heath, 

are frequently of the most heartless and unscrupulous character 
and make large profits by sub-letting. They leave no space unoc- 
cupied: 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 are 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 land- 
owning class considered tenements " magnificent invest- 
ments " (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 mil- 
lion dollars worth of unpromising tenement house prop- 
erty in 1890." 14 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 " mag- 

14 " America's Successful Men of Affairs " : 36. 


nificent investments?" Was it an abhorrence of tene- 
ments, 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 tene- 
ment houses, and laws were popularly demanded which 
would put a stop to them, or at least bring some mitiga- 
tion. The whole landlord class virulently combated this 
agitation and these proposed laws. What happened next ? 
Significantly enough a municipal committee was ap- 
pointed 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 im- 
proving tenement conditions, was not lost on the public, 
and shouts of derision went up. The working popula- 
tion 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 op- 
posed by the landlords; and even after these puerile 
measures had finally been passed, the landlords had re- 
sisted 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 hun- 
dred 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 invest- 
ments was stupendous. Every one knew that he, along 
with other landlords, derived great revenues from inde- 
scribably malodorous tenements, unfit for human habita- 
tion. 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 ex- 
alted capitalist ; no church disdained his gifts ; 15 far from 

15 " 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 1885 : 

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. i : I93-I94-) 


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-land- 
lords 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 pub- 
lished 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 for- 
tune that thrift, enterprise, perseverance, and ability 
would bring. 


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 inher- 
itance from various family sources, intermarriage with 
other rich families, or both, were already rich. Further- 
more, having the backing of their father's immense 
riches, they had enjoyed singularly exceptional opportun- 
ities for amassing wealth on their own account. 

In 1853 William Astor had married one of the Scher- 
merhorn 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 posses- 
sion, were largely obtained by precisely the same means 
that the Astors, Goelets, Rhinelanders and other con- 
spicuous 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 centra- 
lize 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 com- 
bined 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 news- 
papers. In reality, viewing them in their proper per- 
spective, 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 distinguish- 
ing between the enduring and the evanescent, the impor- 
tant and the trivial, rightly cares nothing for essentially 
petty matters which once were held of the highest impor- 
tance. Ed'gar 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 genera- 
tion. Yet a marriage among the very rich was invested 
by the self-styled creators and dispensers of public opin- 
ion 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 genera- 
tions when we to-day are confronted by the same perver- 
sions? 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 aston- 
ishment 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 say- 
ings were construed oracularly as those of public opinion. 
Numberless people sickened and died in the industrial 
strife and in miserable living quarters; ubiquitous cap- 
italism 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 

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 admin- 
istrations. 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, theo- 
retically 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 res- 
cue 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 im- 
pressive 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 com- 
munity has resolved itself into a committee of the whole, 
and while nominally and solemnly professing the accus- 
tomed and expected respect for Law, deprecates it, as it 
is constituted, and often makes no concealment of con- 


In penetrating into the origin and growth of the great 
fortunes, this vital fact is constantly forced upon the in- 
vestigator: 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 for- 
tune, 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 circum- 
stances 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 super- 
ficial explanations andi defenses, which really mean 
nothing more than a forced justification, it is plain that 
the true sources of these revenues were of a vastly differ- 
ent 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 exor- 
bitant 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, premed- 
itated 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 sun- 
shine, and then in stubbornly resisting any attempt to 
improve living conditions in these houses. In this re- 
spect, it cannot be too strongly pointed out, the Astors 
were in nowise different from the general run of land- 
lords. 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 re- 
flected, 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 per- 
sistently 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 dis- 
closures which dimly revealed the magnitude of these an- 
nual thefts, but which in nowise astonislTed 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 1 of Assessments and Taxes, ad- 
mitted that vast stretches of real estate owned by the 
Astors were assessed at half or less than half of their 
real value. 1 Then followed this exchange, in which the 
particular " Mr. Astor " referred to was not made clear : 




You have just said that Mr. Astor never sold? 

Once in a while he sells, yes. 

But the rule is that he does not sell? 

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

Isn't it almost a saying in this community that the 

Astors buy and never sell? 

They are not looked upon as people who dispose of real 

estate after they once get possession of it. 

Have you the power to exact from them a statement of 
rent rolls? 

1 See Testimony taken before the [New York] Senate Com- 
mittee on Cities, 1890, 111:2312, etc. 


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. 2 

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 cor- 
porations in New York was assessed at $1,650,000,000, 
they were allowed to swear it down to $294,000,000. 

Here we se,e 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 
others taxes, fall upon the workers and the results are 
seen in constantly rising rents and in higher prices for all 


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 

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


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 con- 
tinue 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 1 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 lav- 
ished upon their careers. In all the accounts that ap- 
peared 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 inj 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 ful- 
somely laudatory. This excessive praise might have de- 
feated the purpose of the authors were it not that it was 
the fashion of the times to depict and accept the multi- 
millionaires 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 cor- 
rect 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 de- 
scended 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 for- 

Having reached the present generation, we shall not 
attempt to enter into a detailed narrative of their mul- 
tifarious 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 .circum- 
stances 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 signifi- 


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? 


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


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 taxation. 

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 them- 
selves 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 inter- 
missions, 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, metamor- 
phosing themselves into reformers. Not reformers, of 
course, in the true, high sense of the word, but as ingen- 
ious 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 righteousness. 


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. 3 

3 As one of many illustrations of the ethics of the prop- 
ertied 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 Narra- 
gansett avenue near Cliffside, opposite the Pinard cottages. 

" Mr. Schermerhorn, with Mrs. Astor and ex-Commodore Ger- 
ry, 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. 


If there had been the slightest serious attempt to in- 
terfere 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 occa- 
sionally 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 ex- 
penditure 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. 

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


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 cor- 
ruption or *'* reform " administrations were in power the 
cheating of municipality and State in taxation has gone 
on with equal vigor. 4 


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 

* For further details on this point see Chapter ix, Part II. 


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 extraordi- 
nary 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 spa- 
cious ballroom and picture gallery, balls have been given, 
each costing, it is said, $100,000. In cream and gold the 
picture gallery spread's ; 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. Di- 
rectly above the center of the table are painted garlands 
of flowers and clusters of fruit. In the hub of this rep- 
resentation is Mrs. Astor's monogram in letters of gold. 
From the massive hall, with its reproductions of paint- 
ings of Marie Antoinette and other old French court 
characters, its statuary, costly vases and draperies, a 
wid'e marble stairway curves gracefully upstairs. To 
dwell upon all of the luxurious aspects of these resi- 
dences would compel an extended series of details. In 
both of the residences every room is a thing of magnifi- 



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 tene- 
ment 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 
ing three small, suffocating rooms. 

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 New- 
port. 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 cous- 
in, William Waldorf, some years since expatriated him- 
self from his native country and became a British subject. 
He bought the Cliveden estate at Taplow, Bucks, Eng- 
land, 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 gen- 
eral 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. Wil- 
liam 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 suffi- 
cient to give a clear idea of a presentation, it is not neces- 
sary to pile on too much of an accumulation. And yet, 
such has been the continued emphasis of property-smit- 
ten 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 
preeminently one of those amassed by legitimate means. 
These chapters should dispel this illusion. 


The founding and aggrandizement of other great pri- 
vate fortunes from land were accompanied by methods 
closely resembling, or identical with, those that the As- 
tors 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 $200,- 


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 Scher- 
merhorns, the Lorillards and other founders of multi- 
millionaire 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 cor- 
ruptly gave over to these men land and water grants 
before that time municipally owned grants now having 
a present incalculable value. 1 

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 cor- 
rupt funds with which the Legislature of New York 
was bribed into granting banking charters, exemptions 
and other special laws. These various factors were in- 
tertwined; 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. 

i 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. 


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 Chem- 
ical 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 power- 
ful 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 5 of great and 
just pride. In a voluminous biography giving the gen- 
ealogies 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." 2 Thus do the crimes of one gener- 
ation 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 

2 "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. 


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 sur- 
plus 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 mil- 
lionaires, 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 combi- 
nation 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 enor- 
mous sums. As population increased and the downtown 
sections were converted into business sections, the fash- 
ionables shifted their quarters from time to time, always 


pushing uptown, until the Goelet lands became a long 
sweep of ostentatious mansions. 

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 con- 
stantly. 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 per- 
haps $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 parsi- 
monious. They reduced miserliness to a supreme art. 
Likewise the third generation. Of Peter Goelet, a grand- 
son of the original Peter, many stories were current 
illustrating his close-fistedness. His passion for econ- 
omy was carried to such an abnormal stage that he re- 
fused even to engage a tailor to mend his garments. 3 
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 

3 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," i : 349- 


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 or- 
dinary 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 some- 
what the rigid parsimony of the previous generations. 
They allowed themselves a glittering effusion of lux- 
uries 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 tRat 
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 land- 
holders, partly by investments made in trade, and largely 
by fraud, the Goelets finally became not only great land- 
lords 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 sur- 
vived 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 gen- 
erally crave a " blood'ed " connection, lust for the su- 
perior 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 fol- 
lowing the example set by a large number of other Amer- 


ujan women of multi-millionaire families. It is an in- 
dulgence which, however great the superficial consequen- 
tial 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 in- 
variable 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 cor- 
porations. The Astors are directors in a large array 
of corporations, and likewise virtually all of the other 
big landlord's. 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, fac- 
tories, 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 rail- 
roads 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 

To give one of many instances: The Illinois Central 
Railroad, passing through an industrial and rich farm- 
ing country, is one of the most profitable railroads in the 
United! States. This railroad was built in the propor- 
tion 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,- 
2 II per mile, and the sums that they pocketed from 
stock waterings amounting to $8,189 a m ^ e - " The un- 
sold 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." 4 

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 

* " The Railways, the Trusts and the People " : 104. 


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 nom- 
inal 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. Har- 
riman, 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 land- 
lords hold stock, they would, if enumerated, make a for- 
midable list. 

And while on this phase, we should not overlook an- 
other 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 turpi- 
tude in morals. John Jacob Astor of the fourth gen- 
eration repeats this performance in aligning himself, as 
does Goelet, with that masterhand Harriman, against 
whom the most specific charges of colossal looting have 
been brought. 5 But it would be both idle and prejudi- 
cial in the highest degree to single out for condemnation 
a brace of capitalists for following out a line of action 

8 See Part III, " Great Fortunes From Railroads." 


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 excel- 
lent 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 commis- 
sion 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 phenom- 
enal increase of the original small fortune and its un- 
shaken 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 ob- 
tained 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 chap- 
ters, 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 Rhine- 
landers 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 nub 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 wrth busy streets and large commercial 
and office buildings. What the circumstances were that 
attended this grant are not now known. The grant con- 
sisted 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 Ober- 
wesel, 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 Scher- 
merhorn fortune were almost identical with those of the 
Astor, the Goelet and the Rhinelander fortunes. The 
founder, Peter Schermerhorn, was a ship chandler dur- 
ing the Revolution. Parts of his land and other pos- 
sessions he bought with the profits from his business; 
other portions, as has been brought out, he obtained 
from corrupt city administrations. His two sons con- 
tinued the business of ship chandlers ; one of them 
" Peter the Younger " was especially active in extend- 
ing 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 se- 
cured 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 ac- 
quired. 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 Cincinnati. 


Longworth had been born in Newark, N. J., in 1782, 
and at the age of twenty-one had migrated to Cincin- 
nati, 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 in- 
vested with cutting contempt and cruel hatred than that 
of a horse thief. The case looked black. But Long- 
worth 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 ex- 
cept 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. 6 From time to time he 
bought more land with the money made in law ; this land 

" Kings of Fortune " : 172. 


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 increas- 
ingly. 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 rap- 
idly 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 thence- 
forth 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 prompt- 
itude, and his adroit knowledge of the law, approaching 
if not reaching, that of an unscrupulous pettifogger, en- 
abled him to get the upper hand in every transaction. 
His personal habits were considered repulsive by the con- 
ventional 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 singular- 
ities 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 philos- 

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 pene- 
trating mind) that in giving a few coins to the abased 
and the wretched he was merely returning in infinites- 
imal 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 scan- 
dal 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 multi- 
millionaires. Longworth ranked next to John Jacob As- 
tor. On one occasion a beggar called at Longworth's 
office and pointed eloquently at his gaping shoes. Long- 
worth 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 m 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 1 States. The value of the land that he be- 
qeuathed has increased continuously; in the hands of his 
various descendants to-day it is many times more, val- 
uable than the huge fortune which he left. Cincinnati, 
with its population of 325,9O2, 7 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 intermar- 
ried with other rich families: and Nicholas, a namesake 
and grandson of the original, and a representative in Con- 
gress, 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 strategetically combining wealth 
with direct political power. 

The same process of reaping gigantic fortunes from 

7 Census of 1900. 


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 cities. 


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 pains- 
taking 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,- 
ooo. This estimate was made at a time when the coun- 
try 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,- 
ooo 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 
$io,5oo,ooo. 8 It appeared from this report that eighteen 
persons owned $65,000,000 of this $31*9,000,000 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 

8 Eighth Annual Report, Illinois Labor Bureau : 104-253. 


and Leiter (that is to say, adding the value of the im- 
provements 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 con- 
firmed to a surprising degree by the inventory of Field's 
executors reported to the court early in 1907. The ex- 
ecutors 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 esti- 
mated 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, trans- 
portation, utility and mining corporations. The variety 
of Field's possessions and his numerous forms of owner- 
ship were such that we shall have pertinent occasion to 
deal more relevantly with his career in subsequent parts 
of this work. 

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 Con- 
way, 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 con- 



tracts 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 mater- 
ial and semi-putrid food upon the very army and navy 
that fought for their interests. 9 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 re- 
placed. Subsequently the firm became Field, Leiter & 
Co., and, finally in 1887, Marshall Field & Co. 10 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 year. 

e 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 dur- 
ing the Spanish-American War of 1898 are sufficiently remem- 
bered. Napoleon had the same experience with French con- 
tractors, and the testimony of all wars is to the same effect. 

10 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 Letter'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 
mcn<*y 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 contem- 
porary 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 voli- 
tion, 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 i^oOjOOO. 1 Where 
the prairie land once stretched in solitude, a huge, roar- 
ing, 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 ex- 
tremes 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 million- 
aires 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 per- 
petual 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 estab- 
lished 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 ele- 
vators, 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 be- 
came the value of land. Inevitably the greatest conges- 
tion of living resulted. 

1 Census of 1900. 


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 $i,25o,ooo. 2 At this identical time large num- 
bers 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 habita- 

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 chron- 
ically 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 

2 Eighth Annual Report, Illinois Labor Bureau : 370. 


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 con- 
current 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 rev- 
enues. 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 man. 


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 Chi- 
cago business district. Marshall Field owns not less than 
twenty choice sites and buildings in this section ; not in- 
cluding 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 purposes." 


f 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 pre- 
supposed, and was built upon, the existence of the other. 
Chicago became full of slums and fetid 1 , 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 condi- 

. 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 popula- 
tion 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 con- 
ception 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. 

HIS INCOME: $500 TO $700 AN HOUR. 

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 fr< fancy so 
dictated, the revenue produced by the lab,or 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 betUr 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 concen- 
trated 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 compet- 
itors, 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 num- 
ber of cases, were inadequate even for a bare subsistence. 


Ninety-five per cent, received $12 a week or less. 1 he 
female sewing-machine operators who bent over tkir 
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 pro- 
portionately 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 in- 
cident to life in a large city, their wages were notoriously 

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 " adul- 
terated 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 re- 
sembling 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 ar- 
rangement 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 un- 
true, but because its statistical nature has not been 
officially investigated. Nevertheless, the facts are 
known; stern, inflexible facts. For true historical accu- 
racy, 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 work- 
ers at such desperately low wages as to drive large num- 
bers 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 investiga- 
tions, 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 treat- 
ment of girls and women, not a word of the injunctions 
frequently obtained restraining these stores from con- 
tinuing 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 

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 im- 
mense advertising, have the power, within certain limita- 
tions, of virtually acting as censors. The newspapers, 
whatever their pretensions, make no attempt to antag- 
onize 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 unfavora- 
ble or discreditable matter occuring in department stores, 
or affecting the interests of the proprietors of those stores, 
is allowed to get into print. Thus it is that the gen- 
eral public are studiously kept in ignorance of the abomi- 
nations incessantly going on in the large department 



Notwithstanding this community of silence, in some 
respects akin to a huge compounded system of black- 
mail, 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 to- 
gether, 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 par- 
ticular where hours were long and the pay small. 3 

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, 

3 See his work, " If Christ Came to Chicago." Much more 
specific and reliable is the report of the U. S. Industrial Com- 
mission. 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 arid, 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 en- 
vironment is highly creditable to them." Final Report of the 
Industrial Commission, 1902, xix : 927. 


in all businesses and professions, who make a similar sum 
by work of mind or hand. 4 But one of the most signifi- 
cant 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 in- 
vestigate the department stores of Chicago on the ground 
that conditions in them led to a shocking state of immo- 
rality. The statement has been repeatedly made that 
nearly one-half of the outcast girls and women of Chi- 
cago have come from the department stores. 5 

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

5 In the course of inquiries among the Chicago religious mis- 
sions in 1909, the author was everywhere informed that the 
great majority of native prostitutes were products of the depart- 
ment 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 ap- 
pended descripton 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 lo- 
cated 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:op 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 put- 
ting 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 success- 
ful, 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 en- 
gaged 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 Chi- 
cago a manager of a very representative first class department 


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 organ- 
izer. 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 evolu- 
tionary 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 com- 
mercial 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 competi- 
tive 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 

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 depart- 
ment 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 gar- 
ment trade or other industries, which labor is so openly con- 
demned by those who have been interested in anti-child labor 


sets of profits between him and the making of the goods 
the jobber's profits and the manufacturer's. 

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 thou- 
sands of his employees had to work for a wretched pit- 
tance. 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 imbe- 
cilic 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 enor- 
mous 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 dol- 
lars ; 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 aristoc- 
racy 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 con- 
secutive 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 evi- 
dence to Postmaster-General Meyer that the house of 
Marshall Field & Co. had enjoyed, and still had, the priv- 
ilege of secret discriminatory express rates in the ship- 
ment 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 enu- 
merated, 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 incalcu- 
lable sums. 6 With the money squeezed out of his le- 
gions 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 ex- 
ecutors 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 prac- 
tically 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 pop- 
ulation. 7 He owned to give a few instances $i,- 
500,000 of Baltimore and Ohio stock; $600,000 of At- 
chison, Topeka and Sante Fe; $1,860,000 of Chicago 
and Northwestern, and tens of millions more of the 
stock or bonds of about fifteen other railroads. 

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 


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

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


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,- 
ooo 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 sub- 
sequent chapters of this work. 


But if only to give at the outset a translucent ex- 
ample of Field's method's in the management of in- 
dustrial 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 corpora- 
tion 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 di- 
rectors 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 respon- 
sible. Thus the culpability was shifted, until it rested 
on the corporation, which was a bloodless thing, not a 

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 inven- 


tory 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 profita- 
ble 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 presi- 
dent of the company, and Norman B. Ream are but rep- 
resentatives of Marshall Field, whose name has never 
been identified with the property he so largely owns and 
controls." That fulsome writer, with the usual inaccura- 
cies and turgid exaggerations of " popular writers," 
omitted to say that although Field was long the control- 
ling 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 dif- 
ferent places, nearly 20,000 employees, and controlled 
85 per cent of the entire industry. 1 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 ath- 

1 " The Truth About the Trusts " : 266-267. 


letic grounds were the main features, with sundry mis- 
cellaneous accessories. This project was heralded far 
and wide as a notable achievement, a conspicuous ex- 
ample of the growing altruism of business. 


Time soon revealed the inner nature of the enter- 
prise. The " model town," as was the case with imita- 
tive 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, arfd 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 Penn- 
sylvania, 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 ex- 
tortionate rates. But where the coal companies did the 
thing boldly and crudely, the Pullman Company sur- 
rounded 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 land- 


lord 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 manni- 
kins 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 com- 
pany, 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 instrumentali- 
ties for enchaining and plundering its thousands of work- 

In the panic year of 1893 the Pullman Company re- 
duced wages one-fourth, yet the cost of rent, water, gas 
of nearly all other fundamental necessities re- 
mained 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 re- 
duction, in a large number of cases, was equivalent fo 
forcing these workers to yield up their labors for sub- 
stantially 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 com- 
pany 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 n, 
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 ex- 
pensive and far-reaching labor controversy which can 
properly be classed among the historic controversies of 
this generation." 2 The American Railway Union, com- 
posed 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 Govern- 
ment, 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 man- 
agement. 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 de- 

2 "Industrial Evolution of the United States," 313. 


struction 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. 3 The 
object was threefold: to throw the onus upon the strik- 
ers of being a lawless body; to give the newspapers an 
opportunity of inveighing with terrific effect against the 
strikers, and 1 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 extraordi- 
nary, unprecedented injunctions against the strikers. 
These injunctions even prevented the strikers from per- 
suading fellow employees to quit work. So utterly lack- 
ing any basis in law had these injunctions that the Fed- 
eral Commission reported : " It is seriously questioned, 
and with much force, whether the courts have juris- 
diction to enjoin citizens from ' persuading ' each other 
in industrial matters of common interest." But the in- 
junctions 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 them- 
selves 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 

3 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. 


pretexts were that the strikers were interfering with in- 
terstate 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 agi- 
tation caused by the summary proceedings during the 
strike, compelled President Cleveland to appoint a com- 
mission to investigate. Cleveland was a mediocre politi- 
cian 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 $i,- 
000,000 in 1867 to $36,000,000 in 1894. " Its prosper- 
ity," the Commission reported, "has enabled the com- 
pany for over twenty years to pay two per cent, quarter- 
ly 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,- 
ooo 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.* 

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. 

*" 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 con- 
tinued charging the public exorbitant rates for the use 01 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. 


Such an avalanche of riches tumbled in upon him that, 
perforce, like the Astors, the Goelets and other multi- 
millionaires, he was put constantly to the terrible ex- 
tremity of seeking new fields for investment. Luxu- 
riously 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 multimil- 
lionaires, 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 deter- 
mination and blandly assertive selfishness. His eulo- 
gists, however, have glowingly portrayed him as " gener- 
ous, philanthropic and public-spirited." 

In fact, it was a point descanted upon with extraor- 
dinary 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 pre- 
vailing business methods. 5 

5 Sweeping as this statement may impress the uninitiated, it is 
entirely within the facts. As one of many indisputable con- 
firmations 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 


Of the virtual enslavement of the worker ; of the rob- 
bing him of what he produced; of the drastic laws en- 
forced 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 ex- 
ceptions, said nothing. 

Everywhere, except in obscure quarters of despised 
workingmen's meetings, or in the writings or speeches 
of a few intellectual protestors, the dictum was pro- 
claimed 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 re- 
tainers, 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 piti- 
ful drudgery. The masters of industry, who reaped 
fabulous riches from such a system, were covered with 
slavish adulation, and were represented in flowery, gran- 
diloquent phrases as indispensable men, without whom 
the industrial system of the country could not be car- 
ried 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 implica- 
tion being that every cent of his fortune was made fairly 

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. 


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 afore- 
said 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, undefiled character. 

At another time the facts of his thefts of taxes might 
have been suppressed or toned down. But at this par- 
ticular juncture Chicago happened to have a certain 
corporation counsel who, while mildly infected with con- 
ventional 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 mil- 
lion 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 reg- 
ular 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 con- 
trolled 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 as- 
sessed 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 negli- 
ble amount in taxes. 6 

6 Eighth Biennial Report of the Illinois Bureau of Labor Sta- 


The reports of the tax committee of the Boston Ex- 
ecutive Business Association in 1891 estimated that two 
billion dollars of property in Boston escaped taxation, 
and that the public treasury was cheated out of a^out 
$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 dec- 
ades. It is estimated that in New York City, at pres- 
ent, 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 rela- 
tively poorer classes more than two-thirds." 7 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 

tistics, 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 speci- 
fied. The League called upon the Board of Review to assess J. 
Ogden Armour, one of the chiefs of the Beef Trust, on $30,840,- 
ooo 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. 

7 " The Present Distribution of Wealth in the United States": 


the bulk of the tax list has been perjured away. Thus in 
a report he made public on February 28, 1908, Con- 
troller Metz, of New York City, pointed out that the 
huge amount of $102,834,227, was due the city in un- 
collected taxes, much of which amount ran several dec- 
ades 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 land- 
owner 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 multi-millionaires 
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 Uni- 
versity of Chicago. It may be parenthetically added 
that, (to repeat), he owned, adjacent to this latter in- 
stitution, 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 dol- 
lars, 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 sys- 
tem, competition, whether between small or large con- 
cerns, 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 dis- 
quisition, 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 mag- 
nates supply themselves with present and posthumous 
fame gratuitously. Not to consider the far greater and 
incalculably more comprehensive question of their ap- 
propriating the resources of the country and the labor of 
hundreds of millions of people, 8 and centering attention 
upon this one concrete instance of frauds in taxes, the 
situation presented is an incongruous one. Money be- 
longing to the public treasury they retain by fraud ; this 
money, apparently a part of their " honestly acquired " 

8 " Hundreds of millions of people." Not only are the 85,000,- 


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 effer- 
vescent eulogist of Field, "predict that the bulk of his 
vast fortune will be devoted to purposes of public util- 
ity." But this prediction did not materialize. 

$140,000,000 TO TWO BOYS. 

Field's fortune, conservatively estimated at $100,000,- 
ooo, 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 per- 
sonal 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 bond's and stocks. These constituted a far more 
effective cumulative agency than money. They were, 
and are, inexorable mortgages on the labor of millions 

ooo people of the United States compelled to render tribute, but 
the peoples of other countries all over the globe. 


of workers, men, women and children, of all occupa- 
tions. By this simple screed, called a will, embodying 
one man's capricious indulgence, these boys, utterly in- 
competent even to grasp the magnitude of the fortune 
owned T>y them, and incapable of exercising the glim- 
merings of management, were given legal, binding 
power over a mass of people for generations. Patter- 
son says that in the Field stores and Pullman factor- 
ies fifty thousand people work for these boys. 9 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 boys. 

They delve in mines, and risk accident, disease and 
dteath, or suffer an abjectly lingering life of impover- 
ishment. 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. 10 More than 10,000 persons are killed, and 97,- 
ooo injured, every year on the railroads, so that the in- 
come enjoyed by these lads and others shall not dimin- 
ish. 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 

o" Marshall Field's Will" by Joseph Medill Patterson. Re- 
printed in pamphlet form from "Collier's Weekly." 

10 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. 


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. 

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 exploita- 
tion of employees, every person in Chicago who rides on 
the street or elevated railroads, and who uses gas, elec- 
tricity or telephones, must pay direct tribute to these 
lads. How decayed monarchial establishments are in 
these days! Kings mostly must depend upon Parlia- 
ments 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 pos- 
sessions by his strong right arm successfully, or be com- 
pelled 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 enor- 
mous possessions and vast power, while millions of fel- 
low beings are suffered to remain in destitution. 


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

Myers, Gustavus 

History of the great Ameri- 
can fortunes