William D. (William Darrah) Kelley.

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IN the rotunda of our Capitol hangs a striking picture. Above the
spectator stands a dome admired even after seeing the grace and
grandeur of St. Paul's and St. Peter's, while around are paintings,
often crude, yet made sacred by great scenes and personages of our
national history. Any work of art assigned such a place should dis-
play unusual genius. The picture in our view, although not destined
to immortality, is a production, somewhat hasty, of a gentleman of
promise. The canvas is immense. The colors are brilliant. The
scene is imposing. You have, on a scale grand and impressive, trees,
rocks, gorges, precipices, waterfalls, mountains. Congress, inspired by
a sudden love of art, voted to suspend conspicuously in our Capitol a
canyon of the Yellowstone.

w e have become familiar with that river. It has been flowing for
some years before the public eye. Dashing torrents, boiling springs,
towering peaks, spouting streams, colored crags, with mists and rain-
bows here a bear and there an indian have so endeared and en-
hanced its wild region, that Congress, as has been rumored, not
satisfied with the picture in the rotunda, may preserve the original as
a treasure in the shape of a national park.

Assisted by letters, and lectures, and essays, and paintings, and
advertisements, fancy sees the country of the Yellowstone crossed by
a mighty Railway, having one terminus on Lake Superior and the other
on the Pacific Ocean. Possibly even Mt. Hood, glittering with eternal


snows, and looking down grandly and patronizingly, might be drawn
by an excited eye within the horizon. The coming locomotive
screams, and trains of cars, yet to be, rush through the valleys and
wind along the precipices and hang on the tops of mountains. Farms
and villages, rising before the imagination, line the way and give ani-
mation to the scene. On the shores of an unrivaled harbor, formed by
the waters of Puget Sound, towers in airy vision a city superior to
San Francisco, the rival of New York, Queen of our western coast,
attracting the trade of Japan and China, and distributing over our
country the rich and splendid wealth of the oriental world.

Surely here are scenes and prospects to excite the minds of a young
and enterprising people. A Railway beginning at the inland seas of
the north, passing through the marvels of the Yellowstone, terminating
in a golden metropolis, and bringing near two oceans, is a work of im-
portance and magnitude. So we have been informed. Nor can the
proposition be doubted. It has been demonstrated to Europe and
America by advertisement, by editorial, by epistle, by engraving, by
picture. Statesmen have asserted it. Lecturers have illustrated it.
Even clergymen have affirmed it. Never has such an army of talkers
and writers been drilled and paid to settle any truth. Genius and
money are exhausted. Neither snows nor savages shall defeat the
stupendous project.

The scheme, it will be observed, does not propose to afford exist-
ing means of transportation for existing wealth to an existing city. It
would create the means. It would create the wealth. It would create
the city. It first obtains from the United States grants for a wilder-
ness equal in size, it is said, to the whole of New England ; it issues
bonds on the security of untilled plains and boundless forests ; it com-
mences a work of gigantic construction ; it connects itself with banks
in the great commercial centres of Europe and America ; it contracts
enormous debts ; it enters into competition with the General Govern-
ment in the sale of lands ; it endeavors to control the currents of im-
migration sweeping from the old world to the new. In short, it aims
at once to found and to people an Empire.

Nor is this all. There is already in present operation a continuous
line of Railway ; towards the Pacific end enriched by the most generous
gifts from Congress, and established by the most reckless expenditures ;
at this moment connecting San Francisco and New York ; traversing
the fertile fields and rich gold regions of California ; at the Atlantic
terminus owned by one of the strongest corporations, and under the
patronage of one of the wealthiest individuals in the country ; while yet


the profits of the whole southwestern portion from the Missouri to
the Golden Gate are thus far uncertain, the stock hopelessly depreci-
ated, and the bonds low in the market.

But more still. There is also a stupendous Railway Connection, un-
der a management vigorous, and ambitious beyond precedent, com-
mencing in our great commercial metropolis ; passing through the
richest regions of Pennsylvania and Ohio ; with one branch to Cincin-
nati, and one to Chicago ; buying and leasing all possible tributary
roads ; and projecting a new and gigantic southern highway across
Texas to the Pacific. It has already a line of ocean steamers to Eu-
rope, and controls or contemplates one to Asia. This overpowering
corporation is reputed to own one hundred and sixteen millions of
property. Its stockholders have within a year advanced it more than
one-fourth that amount. Its projected improvements and extensions
are estimated at a sum too startling to put into figures.

And while against such mighty rivals for the Pacific trade a north-
western communication is attempted from Lake Superior to Puget
Sound through a wilderness, we must remember that there are other
parts of our country comparatively near our own markets, abounding
in mineral and agricultural resources, and lying undeveloped for want
of Railways. Old Virginia is crying out for Railways. Even Illinois
pleads for more Railways. The whole South is demanding Railways.
The wealth that could be rendered available in the populated portions
of our country by Railways is incalculable.

Now certainly the business of Railways is to carry. They are
organized, incorporated, and intended to transport values. In Amer-
ica, however, their sphere has been indefinitely enlarged. They
would populate the wilderness, invite immigration, construct har-
bors, navigate oceans, sell lands, speculate in iron-beds, and coal-fields,
and oil-wells, nominate candidates, influence elections, use legislatures,
govern Congress, seize, hold, and direct the operations of society
and of government.

There is something grand in all this. The. Railway King is a true
monarch. He has his dependents, his revenues, his court, his palace
everything but throne, crown, sceptre, and pedigree. Nor is he
unknown to the royal stock of Europe. The glitter of his power and
of his pocket has sometimes dazzled both the old world and the new.
He often goes abroad in a species of state, amid the smiles of his
fellow kings and emperors, while after all, his republican countrymen
at home are in some way paying for his luxuries and splendors.

Now that with all these magnificent plans of extension and


improvement and riches and power, the people at large should be
dazzled, is not wonderful. The enterprise is so boundless, so brilliant,
so fascinating ! In every community there are persons of small means
rvho want large returns, and are always ready for a tempting bait.
This class too often includes those who are at once credulous, and
dependent the young, the aged, the ignorant. If the trap is only
glittering, they are easily snared. But that shrewd men of business,
vith solid opportunities of investment, should put their money into
gigantic phantoms is amazing. Where have the funds come from
tfhich so long inflated and floated this great northern bubble ? We
sadly fear, indeed, that widows and orphans have contributed their
pennies. Laborers have risked their hard earnings. Lawyers,
doctors, professors, especially clergymen, have been drawn into the
/enture. Even the hard-fisted farmer has been persuaded to turn
lis butter and eggs into mortgage bonds, while abroad flourishing
European tourists, who slept complacently on plethoric letters of
:redit, have waked in the morning to find themselves dunned and
snubbed by shop-keepers, landlords, and servants whose pestering
subserviency had been the day before despised.

With a mighty enterprise, appealing to the fancy, and the pocket,
managed by an eminent financier having a national reputation and
deserving the national gratitude sincerely honest, and wildly infatu-
ated and moving an enormous machinery of commercial and politi-
:al influence, delusion among unsuspecting people was inevitable.
But merchants, bankers, brokers, have been caught. Their deposits
used for the purposes of the airy enterprise have been immense.
Indeed, two continents have been helping sail our balloons.

Nearly all the financial countries of Europe have contributed to our
American fever, and sometimes themselves burned with its delirious
flames. They have loaned to us where they would not lend to each
other. After repeated robberies they have almost begged to be robbed
again. Often they seem to have reversed the old proverb about fire
and fingers. They have obligingly turned their gold into our iron, and
converted their securities into rolling stock, and considerately covered
our Republic with highways for us and our posterity. Nay ! they have
even invested in our telegraphic lightning. Of course this proceeded
from a pure generosity. There was no thought of large profits in the
reckless transactions. Europe has resembled a rich old fellow amid
his piles of money-bags, taking pleasure in giving some gay young
rake his spare cash, and laughing at the rogue while he enjoyed it.


Thus all the world together have been for years chasing some of the
hugest delusions which ever burst in ruin over a nation.

We must remember, however, that the lack of confidence resulting
in a catastrophe which has maddened Wall street, disturbed the coun-
.try, and indirectly affected all commercial nations, had its origin in
causes even more remote than those indicated.

Our spirit of speculation began in the midst of our civil war, and
our rush of extravagance with its close. While patriots were fighting,
contractors were plundering. Fraud followed our Flag almost into the
blaze of battles. Villains preyed on heroes. Not only the food and
clothing and arms of our soldiers were means of amassing fortunes,
but there were doubtless men who traded in the cofrms and graves of
patriots making profit out of death itself. What was gained by
cowardly rascality was squandered in ostentatious folly. Thus ever in
war is the glory of victory stained by extortion and robbery.

Especially in our great commercial metropolis was a species of
barbaric display and crime carried to the most extreme extravagance.
The Erie venture at once comic and tragic ludicrous, grotesque
and terrible began in fraud, flourished on robbery, ended in murder. 1
Justice was bought and sold in our streets. What ever equaled that
systematic villainy which held by the throat the City and the State of
New York, and supported by its plunderings men who with their
ruffians and retainers kept a species of baronial state like that of some
old feudal lord whose business was raid and battle ? A debt of more
than a hundred millions was piled upon our treasury, and the edifice
to be erected and adorned, stands a yet unfinished monitor of our
wrongs. The money taken from New York alone would make her
piers and docks superior to those of Liverpool, and her harbor un-
rivaled in the world, rescuing from the waves wide magnificent ave-
nues, surpassing London's on the Thames, and which could be lined
with stately stores and shaded with noble trees for twenty miles along
the North and East rivers.

Nor were the developments in our national legislature last winter
specially fitted to promote public confidence. We would draw a cur-
tain over the sad history, and drop a tear on some graves. It is not
our province here to pass judgment on any member of Congress, liv-
ing or dead, who ever drew a dollar on Credit Mobilier bonds. This
much we venture. The investigations of the Committee, and the ex-
planations of the accused certainly gave a shock to the faith of the
American people in the purity and the manliness of statesmen who had
been their trusted guides and leaders. Nor have they yet recovered


_,from the blow. The frauds of New York, and the revelations of

"Washington have done their part in undermining the structure of a

false system of credit whose wrecks are now scattered over our country.

' And the elements themselves have been engaged in working their

.portion of the ruin. Fire and wind conspired together. First is

scourged a. young city, the type of our American enterprise, lying on

3 a lake, penetrated by a river, with every provision of water modern

skill could devise ; and then an old city, which imagined itself fortified

3 against the flames by all attainable expedients possible to the wealth

and wisdom of mature age. In Chicago, in Boston, in Baltimore, and

, other places of our country, large and small, within two years, five

j hundred millions of property have been converted into smoke,

ashes and ruins wrecking individuals, embarrassing banks, breaking

down insurance companies, and disturbing the course of trade in all

; sections of our Republic.

These are some of the events which, working together during years,
have at last burst forth into the recent commercial earthquake whose
convulsions, so widely felt, are yet heard in ominous rumblings beneath
the surface of society.

There is a deeper cause we have hesitated to approach. Railway
Kings are not wholly to blame. They have enough to bear without
any unjust censures on majesty. Festering in our country is a national
malady not to be cured by assaulting monopolies, or tinkering banks.
Our Tweeds and our Fisks have not made all our trouble. They are
only the plague-spots of a disease seated in our moral nature. With
boundless confidence in the general character of our people, and the
splendid future of our Republic, we yet know that our conscience as a
nation has become blunted. Croaking is detestable to young America.
Our emblem is not a raven but the eagle. Still it is just where faith
in our stars is a power and a joy that we can dare to be honest, and to
be manly.

We will appeal to facts every sensible citizen admits. Our ways
of business are corrupt. A decline in honor is nearly universal. Let
us begin with our great commercial centre, where adventurers from
every part of our country and our world crowd to seek their fortunes,
and where is found, therefore, concentrated and intensified, all that is
best and worst in American life. Here merchants and bankers are
necessarily the prevailing classes, and in no place on earth are they
exposed to such temptations and perils.

A man owns a large house on the avenue, and occupies a princely
store. The costs of living are enormous. If he invests nothing in pic-


tures, statues, silks, jewelry, equipages, dinners, club-houses, yachts,
racers, tours, and watering-places, and keeps within the circle of ad-
mitted comforts and conveniences, his pecuniary burdens are not
inconsiderable. If he dashes into luxuries and ostentations, sooner or
later, he is doomed. Competition is intense, merciless, murderous.
Sharks charitably prefer other fish. Traders and brokers too often
devour each other. They are goaded to frightful and unnatural exer-
tions. All conceivable means are contrived to extend business.
Clerks, runners, puffs, advertisements, rivalries, keep the whole estab-
lishment in a fever. It sometimes resembles a boiler hissing over
white heat. When ordinary appliances fail, and trade languishes
and ruin lowers, the merchant unites to his own the recklessness of
the broker, and resorts to a speculation on Wall street. Here are
many graves of worth and credit. Failure and dishonor follow despe-
rate ventures, and the whole standard of morals is lowered, and the
public conscience injured. The contagion of a bad example affects
every boy in the store, and every man on the street, and spreads
through all departments of trade, and all ramifications of society.

The temptation of the Banker is even more subtle and dangerous.
He is in business not solely for himself. He guards a treasure made
sacred by the rights of others. Often the living of the widow and
the orphan is lying in his vaults. Helpless infancy and halting age
are alike leaning on his honor. His bad faith may carry ruin into a
hundred homes. Not only can he rob the poor, but wreck the most
prosperous banking, manufacturing, and commercial enterprises. If
he turn knave, the pulses of many a heart, and the wheels of many an
establishment, may stand still. Would we could write his responsibil-
ity on his soul ! He stands connected with all the avocations of busi-
ness, the interests of society, the t operations of government, and is a
trustee of the reputation of his country. For him to touch a dollar
entrusted by others, and use it even in speculation, is inevitable dis-
aster. Indeed, he should be held accountable by the severest pains
and penalties of the law for the administration of his office. If
nothing else, visions of cells and striped jackets should hold back his
fingers. Yet within a few years how many of our trustees of money
have commenced with improper ventures in the use of funds they
intended to replace, and ended with the pistol, the rope, and the
river, spreading horror through the community, and impairing faith in
human nature ! Or if they have dared to continue a dishonored ex~
istence, the impunity of their crimes through the weakness of juries and
the connivance of judges, has been more tainting than suicide itself.


But after all, the modern Monopolist stands on the top of the
mountain of temptation. Towering over all the rest is the Railway
King. Heaven help him not to tumble from the clouds over pre-
cipices into the chasms roaring beneath to receive him! His ex-
ample moulds, directly and indirectly, thousands of dependents. If
he rob, they will steal and pilfer. Little fishes are just as rapacious
as whales, and in their proportion swallow as much. If the monarch
be a plunderer, the subjects will follow the ways of the court, and the
example of the crown. He controls a railway which is the only great
thoroughfare for a state, or even a nation. His monopoly is his
empire. A rival road would interfere with his royal privilege. A mu-
nicipality stands in his way ; a jury is to be gained over; a judge is to
be secured ; a legislature is to be influenced. His path is plain, his
agent is ready, his inducements are overwhelming, he himself need
not to be known in a transaction, which one moment will finish in a
nook of his library, or a recess of his office. Nothing more brief or
simple, or concealed. A check to bearer is sufficient. We have no
hesitation in saying that a name written to buy men does more to de-
base him who compels an unwilling pen to an unworthy purpose, and
to corrupt all around him, destroy credit, f kill faith, poison society,
injure the country, prejudice religion than we can ever estimate in
time, or in eternity.

It is often in these hidden and noiseless deeds we have the seeds
of our panics. What is done secretly will appear openly. The
closet will become the housetop. You cannot keep down the stream
in the dark places of the earth. Your effort will make it a flood.
He who would stop the river must expect the deluge.

One law is unchangeable as Heaven. Corruptions make cowards,
and cowards make panics. We can now interpret what we should
have understood before. While the storm is on the world, we admire
its power, and tremble before its majesty, but when the violence is
expended, and the air is calm, and the sky clear, we can study the
causes and principles of the agitation.

Let us honestly admit the truth, and manfully apply the remedy.
The peril in our American life is dishonesty. This produces the lack
of confidence which is the root of panics. Slavery involved us in
the flames of a civil war. Better it should have burned us to ashes
than we should survive to perish hereafter in corruptions. The urn
is less offensive than the putrescence of the grave. Our very exist-
ence is at stake. American life presents an anomalous spectacle.
We are socially pure and commercially depraved. Men who are up-


right in their neighborhood, and admirable in their homes, will, hab-
itually and knowingly, and systematically, do wrong in their business.
Nay ! even churches, to draw crowds, and rent pews, and raise rev-
enues, will resort, not only to sensationalism in choir and pulpit, but
make earth blush and heaven weep over tricks which are degrading,
demoralizing, and insulting to all manliness and religion.

Nor is the malady confined only to men in distinguished position.
It affects all classes of our Republic. The tainted streams on the
summit percolate the entire mountain.

Of all the sins of humanity Bribery is perhaps the meanest. Most
other crimes are possible to a single transgressor. Here there must
be two parties to the guilt the man who gives and the man who
takes. Both are debased. There may be daring in robbery, and
courage in murder. The peculiarity of Bribery is its cowardice. It
sneaks, it cringes, it hides, it winds, it twists, it wriggles, it skulks. It
is not a lion roaring, and rushing on its prey, but a serpent lurking in
the grass to infuse its poison before crushing with its coils. A man
who abuses his office, warps his judgment, and twists his conscience
for a bribe, sells his soul by his act, and ever after lives expecting a
higher bidder for himself; and he is like nitro-glycerine, dangerous to
his purchaser.

Now it is a painful and mortifying fact, that nearly everything in
our country has, in some way, directly or indirectly, been controlled
by bribes. Mechanics, overseers, builders, contractors, architects,
have been bribed. Clerks, merchants, bankers, have been bribed.
Constables, policemen, collectors, inspectors, weighers, measurers,
gaugers, postmasters, have been bribed. Lawyers, doctors, chemists,
analysts, surgeons, witnesses, have been bribed. Judges, juries, legis-
lators, governors have been bribed. We have sometimes feared that
it would be difficult to place a stone, or a timber, or a lock, or a screw,
or a nail in your house, that has not somewhere on its passage felt
the stain of a bribe. It is doubtful whether the food which supports
our lives, or the coffins which will convey us to our graves, can wholly
escape contamination. The consequence is, disturbed faith in each
other, and sometimes a distrust of our country and our humanity,
with a fear like a shadow, that on all modern European and American
societies is but the old doom of ancient Babylon and Rome. One
faith alone saves from despair. That is sufficient, but not here to be

Certain is it that panics and the other evils we have named, are
but eruptions of disease on the surface of the body politic. Our



nation from our civil war has been preparing for our recent commer-
cial disasters. The timbers of the edifice of our public credit had
been secretly decaying long before the weakened structure was
threatened with its crash. Many underlying sands must be washed
away to make the mountain fall.

Our best illustration of the whole subject is found in a ruin long
slowly preparing, but fearfully precipitated by the dishonored bills
of a single great financier. Just here, our argument and our appeal
will be to men of business.

One of your number, after a few years of prosperous accumulation
retires from Broadway, or from Wall Street, yet in his manly vigor, to
expend his remaining activities in the cultivation of the earth. He
buys a farm. The soil is rich, and the timber excellent, while iron
and coal abound in a mountain near its centre. On either side is a
noble river commanding the markets of the country. The owner,
excited by visions of glittering wealth, and splendid improvement,
begins to build roads between the streams bordering his land.
Every thing is done by him on a liberal scale. His highways are
level, hard, wide, convenient, admirable. He invests largely in
horses and wagons. When his funds begin to fail, he inspires his neigh-
bors with his own enthusiasm, and by appealing now to their fancies,
and again to their pockets, contrives to obtain more than they can


Online LibraryWilliam D. (William Darrah) KelleyOur late panic → online text (page 1 of 2)