The 1901 Contest for Control of the Northern Pacific Railway

A previous post discussed the November 13, 1901, formation of the Northern Securities Company by J. P. Morgan and James J. Hill to be a holding company for the common stock of two competing railroads (the Great Northern and the Northern Pacific) and the subsequent successful lawsuit by the President Theodore Roosevelt Administration alleging that this combination violated the Sherman Act’s prohibition of combinations in restraint of interstate trade and commerce.

The prequel to all of that was first the battle for control of the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad that provided access to Chicago. The contestants were (a) the Great Northern/Northern Pacific Railways, which were controlled by Hill and Morgan, and (b) the Union Pacific Railroad, which was controlled by Edward H. Harriman and Jacob Schiff. Hill and Morgan won that round, in April 1901, and they put the Quincy stock into the Northern Pacific.[1]

Harriman with the backing of Schiff of the Wall Street banking firm of Kuehn Loeb in April-May 1901 then surreptitiously started to buy Northern Pacific common and preferred stock on the open market in an effort to gain control of the Northern Pacific and thereby the Quincy. Once Hill and Morgan realized what was happening, they started to buy Northern Pacific shares. This buying activity resulted in large and continued increases in the price of the stock.

Others in the stock market obviously noticed this activity and the upward jumps in price. Many started to sell Northern Pacific stock ‘short,” i.e., selling more shares than they owned at what many believed to be unsustainable high prices with the expectation they could buy the stock later at a lower price and thereby make a profit. That did not happen. The market was ‘cornered” with more shares committed to be sold than could be delivered. This forced speculators to sell other stocks to raise cash to buy Northern Pacific shares, resulting in the destabilization of the entire stock market.

This Wall Street Panic ended on May 9, 1901, when Harriman and Schiff capitulated to the victory of Hill and Morgan over Northern Pacific with an agreement for Hill and Morgan to bail out the shorts and thus restore market stability in return for Harriman and Schiff ‘s agreeing to end their effort to gain control of the Northern Pacific.

George F. Baker
George F. Baker

Larry Haeg’s book—Harriman vs. Hill—is the most comprehensive telling of this remarkable story. It reads like a novel, and his descriptions of the participants in this stock market contest make the reader feel like an actual observer of the events. I was especially fascinated by the book’s following description of George F. Baker, a financial backer of Hill and Morgan: [2]

  • Baker then was 61 years old “and the unquestioned dean of New York banking [as the] president of the First National Bank of New York [which] he has helped found in 1863 as a mere twenty-three year old and had become its president in 1877. Also, as a venture capitalist he had bought and rejuvenated several railroads, and now, among America’s half dozen wealthiest men, served on the finance committee of Morgan’s new U.S. Steel, on the board of the Northern Pacific, and on the boards of some thirty banks, railways and insurance companies.”
  • “At a word from Baker, it was later said, ‘the 20th century would halt on its tracks. Indeed, the railroad came to Baker’s door. When he built a mansion further north at Ninety-Third and Park he had his own underground railroad siding in the basement where a train could stop to attach his private car.”
  • Baker had a “four-story, double row-house mansion at 256-258 Madison Avenue between Thirty-Eighth and Thirty-Ninth.” The “dark-paneled mansion [contained] eighteenth-century tapestries, paintings of the Barbizon school, Persian rugs, cabinets glistening with jade and Japanese enamel [and a] library with its hefty, upholstered chairs.”

Haeg book

The Wall Street Journal carried a favorable review of the Haeg book by Roger Lowenstein, the author of “The End of Wall Street” and “Buffett: The Making of an American Capitalist.” The review said Haeg’s book covered “a corporate dust-up that takes us back to the beginning of the 20th century, when tycoons who traveled by private rail merrily raided each other’s empires while the world around them cringed.” The book “conveys a vivid picture of the Gilded Age in splendor and in turmoil. Champagne still flowed in Peacock Alley in the Waldorf-Astoria, but fistfights erupted on the floor of the exchange, and a young trader named Bernard Baruch skirted disaster with the help of an inside tip, then perfectly legal. There were scant rules governing stock trading, the author reminds us—no taxes, either. ‘If you won in the market, you kept it all.’”

Warren Buffett added his praise for Haeg’s book with these words. “I first read about the Northern Pacific Corner when I was ten years old. When I opened my office on January 1, 1962, I put on the wall a framed copy of the New York Times of May 10, 1901, describing the fateful prior day. Larry Haeg now tells the full story, and I enjoyed every word of it.”

Haeg set out to write this book as “a character study of Hill and the businessmen known as the ‘robber barons.’ As he advanced in his research, however, [Haeg] found the true test of their character came during what is known today as the Northern Pacific Corner, a four-day run on the railroad company’s stock that roiled Wall Street and set off the country’s first stock market panic.”

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[1] This post is based upon Larry Haeg, Harriman vs. Hill: Wall Street’s Great Railroad War (Univ. Minn. Press; Minneapolis, MN; 2013); Michael P. Malone, James J. Hill: Empire Builder of the Northwest, ch. 6 (Univ. Okla. Press; Norman OK; 1996); Albro Martin, James J. Hill & the Opening of the Northwest , ch. 17 ((MN. Historical Soc’y Press; St. Paul MN; 1976).

[2] Haeg at 79-80, 106. Baker is of particular interest for me because I wan awarded a George F. Baker Scholarship for my four years at Grinnell College in Iowa.

Federal Regulation of Railroads During U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt’s First Term (1901-1905): The Northern Securities Case

As mentioned in an earlier post, one of President Theodore Roosevelt’s major efforts to enhance federal regulation of railroads in his first term was his Administration’s commencement of an antitrust lawsuit under the Sherman Act against the Northern Securities Company, which combined the stocks of two competing railroads from the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River to Puget Sound on the Pacific Coast.

These two roads were the Great Northern Railway running from St. Paul, Minnesota to Seattle, Washington while the Northern Pacific Railway ran from St. Paul (and separately from Ashland, Wisconsin and Duluth, Minnesota) to Seattle and Tacoma, Washington and Portland, Oregon. In addition, the two of them jointly owned the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad, which connected St. Paul with Chicago. [1]

Great Northern Railway
Great Northern Railway
Northern Pacific Railway
Northern Pacific Railway

The Legal Background

The late 19th century was an era of “trusts” and of “combinations” of businesses and of capital organized and directed to control of the market by suppression of competition in the marketing of goods and services, the monopolistic tendency of which had become a matter of public concern.

To meet this problem, the U.S. in 1890 enacted “An act to protect trade and commerce against unlawful restraints and monopolies,” 26 Stat. 209, ch. 647 (1890). The statute is commonly referred to as the Sherman Act in recognition of its principal author or sponsor, Senator John Sherman, Republican of Ohio. The statute provided, in part, as follows:

  • “Every contract, combination in the form of trust or otherwise, or conspiracy, in restraint of trade or commerce among the several states . . . is hereby declared to be illegal. Every person who shall make any such contract, or engage in any such combination or conspiracy, shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor . . . .” (Section 1)
  • “Every person who shall monopolize, or attempt to monopolize, or combine or conspire with any other person or persons, to monopolize any part of the trade or commerce among the several states . . . shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor . . . . ” (Section 2)

The prescribed penalty for such misdemeanors was a fine up to $5,000 or imprisonment not exceeding one year or both. In addition, the circuit courts (n/k/a district courts) were “invested with jurisdiction to prevent and restrain violations” of the statute (Section 4), and persons injured in their business or property by any violations could sue the perpetrators for treble damages and attorneys’ fees (Section 7).

The goal of the Sherman Act was to prevent restraints of free competition in business and commercial transactions that tended to restrict production, raise prices, or otherwise control the market to the detriment of purchasers or consumers of goods and services.

The Formation of Northern Securities

On November 13, 1901 (only two months after Roosevelt became President), J. P. Morgan, who controlled 21 railroads, including the Northern Pacific, and James J. Hill of the Great Northern [2] announced the formation of the Northern Securities Company to be a holding company for the common stock of the two competing railroads, This new combination was the second largest company in the world with annual revenues of $100 million and covering commerce from Chicago to Seattle and extending to China over Mr. Hill’s shipping lines.

A New York newspaper saw the new company as another step toward universal monopoly.

The Commencement of the Lawsuit

On February 19, 1902 (only three months after the formation of the Northern Securities Company), the Roosevelt Administration announced plans to commence the antitrust case alleging that the formation and operation of Northern Securities constituted a restraint of interstate commerce in violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act. In addition to the two railroads, the U.S. planned to sue James J. Hill of the Great Northern and seven directors of the Northern Pacific, including J. P. Morgan and George F. Baker. [3]

James J. Hill
James J. Hill
J. P. Morgan
J. P. Morgan
George F. Baker
George F. Baker

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The U.S. stock market immediately registered significant declines with similar reactions in London, Paris and Berlin markets. In response, J. P. Morgan starting buying stocks in great quantities and helped to stop a panic.

The next evening Morgan and 12 other wealthy men met with Roosevelt at the White House without discussing the lawsuit, i.e., the elephant in the room. The next morning, however, the subject was broached when Morgan returned alone to the White House for a meeting with Roosevelt and the Attorney General, Philander Chase Knox. Morgan asked why the Government had not just called and asked him to correct any irregularities with the charter of Northern Securities, but Knox merely said the Government wanted to stop the company, not to fix it up. Afterwards Roosevelt said, “Mr. Morgan could not help regarding me as a big rival operator who either intended to ruin all his interests or could be induced to come to an agreement to ruin none.”

Theodore Roosevelt
Theodore Roosevelt
Philander Chased Knox
Philander Chase Knox

The Case in the Circuit Court

The bill in equity (or “complaint” in today’s terminology) thereafter was filed with the U.S. Circuit Court for the District of Minnesota.[4] The complaint charged that the Northern Securities was an illegal “combination in the form of trust or otherwise, or conspiracy, in restraint of trade or commerce among the several states” (Sherman Act § 1).

The next April 9th (1903), the Circuit Court’s four Circuit Judges unanimously upheld the validity of the Government’s complaint (United States v. Northern Securities Co., 120 Fed. 721 (Cir. Ct., Dist. Minn. 1903)) . The court in an opinion by Judge Thayer first entered the following findings of fact as established by the pleadings and evidence:

  • The Great Northern and Northern Pacific owned railroad lines from Minnesota to Puget Sound that are parallel and competing lines.
  • These two railroads in 1901 jointly acquired 98% of the capital stock of the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railway.
  • Thereafter in 1901 James J. Hill, J. P. Morgan and six other men, all of whom were defendants in the case and collectively had practical control of the two principal railroads, arranged to place a large majority of the stock of the two railroads in a holding company, Northern Securities, and that was done.
  • As a result, the control of these two railroads was put into a single person and thereby “destroyed every motive for competition” between them.
  • Those “who conceived and executed this plan . . . intended . . . to accomplish these objects.”

The court then concluded that the Congress “deliberately employed words of such general import [in section 1 of the Sherman Act] as, in its opinion, would comprehend every scheme that might be devised to accomplish that end.” In addition, the U.S. Supreme Court had held that the Act “applies to interstate carriers of freight and passengers . . .; that [the Act does] not mean in unreasonable or partial restraint of trade or commerce, but any direct restraint thereof; that an agreement between competing railroads . . . [to fix their rates is] a contract in direct restraint of commerce . . .; and [that the Act is constitutional].”

Therefore, the court entered a decree that the defendants had violated section 1 of The Sherman Act and that Northern Securities was enjoined from acquiring additional stock of the two railroads, from voting its holdings of those shares and from exercising or attempting to exercise any control or direction over the two railroads. Northern Securities, however, was permitted to rescind its acquisitions of the stock of the two railroads.

The Case in the Supreme Court

The case then went directly to the U.S. Supreme Court, [4] which on December 14, 1903, heard arguments. Attorney General Knox appeared for the Government and made what many thought was a brilliant argument without any questions from the Justices.

In March 1904, the U.S. Supreme Court, 5 to 4, affirmed the Eighth Circuit and ordered the company dismantled. (Northern Securities Co. v. United States, 193 U.S. 197 (1904).) The Court’s plurality opinion by Mr. Justice John Marshall Harlan and supported by only three of the other Justices concluded that “the evidence . . . shows a violation of the . . . [Sherman Act, which] declares illegal every combination or conspiracy in restraint of commerce among the several states . . . and forbids attempts to monopolize such commerce or any part of it.”

In so concluding, the Harlan opinion emphasized that the Court’s prior decisions had established that “every contract, combination, or conspiracy in whatever form, of whatever nature, and whoever may be parties to it, [that] directly or necessarily operates in restraint of [interstate] . . . commerce” is illegal. Those prior decisions, said the Harlan opinion, also determined that the statute is not limited to unreasonable restraints of trade; that railroads operating in interstate trade are covered by the statute; and that every contract, combination or conspiracy that would extinguish such competition is illegal. (Emphasis added.)

Mr. Justice David Josiah Brewer concurred in the judgment affirming the lower court’s conclusion of antitrust violations, but disagreed with the rationale of the Harlan opinion because of fear that it “might tend to unsettle legitimate business enterprises, stifle or retard wholesome business activities, encourage improper disregard of reasonable contracts, and invite unnecessary litigation.” Instead, said Justice Brewer, the statute only covered “contracts which were in direct restraint of trade, unreasonable, and against public policy.” (Emphasis added.)

A dissenting opinion was filed by Mr. Justice Edward Douglas White and joined by Chief Justice Melville Fuller and Justices Rufus Wheeler Peckham and Oliver Wendell Holmes. This opinion concluded that the constitutional power of the federal government over interstate commerce did not extend to cover Northern Securities Company’s acquisition of the common stock of the two railroads.

Holmes also filed a separate dissenting opinion that was joined by the other three dissenters. Holmes asserted that the antitrust statute only outlawed combinations in restraint of trade, not of competition and that he saw no evidence of an attempt to monopolize some portion of U.S. trade or commerce. He also expressed relief that “only a minority of my brethren [the four Justices who subscribed to the opinion of Mr. Justice Harlan] adopt an interpretation of the [statute] . . . which . . . would make eternal the bellum omnium contra omnes [the war of all against all], and disintegrate society so far as it could into individual atoms . . . . [Such an interpretation] would be an attempt to reorganize society . . . . I believe Congress was not entrusted by the Constitution with the power to make . . . [such a law], and I am deeply persuaded that it has not tried.”

The high court’s action was a major victory for the administration and put the business community on notice that although this was a Republican administration, it would not give business free rein to operate without regard for the public welfare.

W. C. Brown’s Reaction to the Supreme Court’s Decision 

W. C. Brown
W. C. Brown

Soon thereafter (May 24, 1904), W.C. Brown, my maternal great-great-uncle, in a speech to the Illinois Manufacturers Association that was covered by the New York Times commented on the Supreme Court’s decision. He said, “Propositions looking to the betterment of [railroad] service, having no other object, and impossible of any other result, have been misunderstood and have been fought inch by inch with a perseverance and zeal worthy a better cause.” As a result, Brown continued, it was “not impossible that the language of the majority of the Supreme Court [in the Northern Securities case] may . . . seem to reflect the clamor of the public, rather than the calm, judicial review of a great question.” [5]

Brown added that by “amendment or by judicial interpretation the question of reasonable restraint of commerce, as against any restraint whatever, must become part of the Sherman . . . [Act], and must be considered in its enforcement, or obstacles to commercial and industrial progress are likely to be interposed the gravity of which no one can foresee.” (Emphasis added.)

This commentary was preceded by Brown’s proclaiming that “[e]xcept for the birth of Christ, no event has meant so much to humanity as the U.S. Declaration of Independence;” that the recent U.S. war with Spain was “as holy, as high and unselfish in purpose as ever inspired a people;” and that the U.S. had the “satisfaction of having borne its share of the burden of carrying Christianity, civilization and education to those who sit in the darkness of ignorance and superstition.”

Brown also issued a stern warning that apparently emerged from his growing up in thinly populated Iowa and Illinois and that ignored his presumably elegant life in New York City (and earlier in Chicago). Brown said, “The most serious menace that clouds our national horizon today, ominous now and increasing in size and anger and portent, is the rapid growth of our cities . . . . No man can regard the growth of the great centers of population, with their sinister, dangerous, preponderantly influence in the politics of the State and Nation, without alarm.” He added, “The remedy for this evil and the safety of the Nation was building up, encouraging, and increasing our agricultural population.”

It should also be noted that at the time of this speech, Brown was a Vice President of the New York Central Railway, two of whose directors were defendants in the case: J. P. Morgan, a principal architect and beneficiary of the formation of the Northern Securities Company, and George F. Baker.

Subsequent Supreme Court’s Interpretations of the Sherman Act

Seven years later, in 1911, the approach to interpreting the Sherman act advocated by Justice Brewer and W. C. Brown was in fact adopted by the U.S. Supreme Court. In Standard Oil Co. v. United States, 221 U.S. 1 (1911), the Court, 8 to 1, stated that only combinations and contracts unreasonably restraining interstate or foreign commerce were illegal under the Sherman Act. Justice John Marshall Harlan, the lone dissenter in this case and the author of the Court’s opinion in Northern Securities, said the Rule of Reason was a departure from previous Sherman Act case law, which purportedly had interpreted the language of the Sherman Act to hold that all contracts restraining trade were prohibited, regardless of whether the restraint actually produced ill effects.

Thereafter the Court unanimously reaffirmed the Rule of Reason in two cases: United States v. American Tobacco Co., 221 U.S. 106 (1911) (section 2 of the Sherman Act did not ban the mere possession of a monopoly but only the unreasonable acquisition and/or maintenance of monopoly); Chicago Board of Trade v. United States, 246 U.S. 231 (1918) (agreement between rivals limiting rivalry on price after an exchange was closed was reasonable and thus legal).

Subsequent Supreme Court cases established the concept of per se violations of Section 1 of the Sherman Act. These are “agreements, conspiracies or trusts in restraint of trade” that have been found to have a “pernicious effect on competition” or “lack any redeeming virtue” and include competitors’ agreements to fix their prices or divide markets between them and concerted refusals to deal.

For other alleged violations of section 1 of the Sherman Act, the courts engage in a “rule of reason” analysis to evaluate the intent and purpose of the conduct, the facts peculiar to the business and industry, the history of the conduct and its effect on competition. If the result of this judicial analysis is the conduct unreasonably restrains trade, it is a violation of section 1.

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[1] This post is based upon Edmund Morris, Theodore Rex at 59-65, 87-95, 219, 304-05, 313-16 (Random House; New York; 2001); MIller Center, Theodore Roosevelt: Domestic Affairs; and the other sources cited below.

[2]  The James J. Hill House is a St. Paul mansion now open to the public and operated by the Minnesota Historical Society.

[3] J.P. Morgan and George F. Baker were also directors of the New York Central Railway, and I was a beneficiary of Baker’s wealth as a George F. Baker Scholar at Grinnell College, 1957-1961. Morgan’s Manhattan Library is now the Morgan Library & Museum that is open to the public.

[4] As of 1903 nine U.S. circuit courts had jurisdiction over trials of all civil suits initiated by the U. S. Government in different parts of the country, and the circuit court that covered the State of Minnesota (the Eighth Circuit) had four Circuit Judges (Henry C. Caldwell, Walter H. Sanborn, Amos M. Thayer and Willis Van Devanter). As of January 1, 1912, these courts were abolished, and the previously established U. S. district courts assumed jurisdiction over all civil and criminal cases in the federal courts.

[5] W.C. Brown, Address before the Meeting of the Illinois Manufacturers Association, Chicago, Illinois (May 23, 1904); Supreme Court Influenced, N.Y. Times (May 24, 1904).

Theodore Roosevelt’s Involvement in the U.S. Presidential Election of 1900

Theodore Roosevelt
Theodore Roosevelt

A prior post reviewed the U.S. presidential election of 1900, in which Republicans William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt were the winning candidates for President and Vice President. Now we focus on Roosevelt’s involvement in that election.

Attending the Republican Party’s National Convention

The involvement began at the Republican Party’s national convention in Philadelphia in June. Although Roosevelt repeatedly had opposed suggestions that he be the Party’s vice presidential nominee, he did attend the convention as a New York delegate-at-large. Once there, he made dramatic arrivals in the city and on the convention floor.

Roosevelt commanded the attention of the entire convention when he seconded the nomination of McKinley. In the words of his biographer, Edmund Morris, Roosevelt “moved confidently through his prepared text, speaking at a torrential speed unusual even for him, his body trembling with the force of his gestures.”[1] He said that the Republican Party in the prior election “did not promise the impossible . . . and kept our word. . . . [the U.S.] has reached a pitch of prosperity never before attained . . . . So it has been in foreign affairs [as well].” He concluded his seconding speech with these words:

  • “We stand on the threshold of a new century big with the fate of mighty nations. . . . The young giant of the West stands on a continent and clasps the crest of an ocean on either hand. Our nation, glorious in youth and strength, looks into the future with eager eyes and rejoices as a strong man to run a race. . . . We challenge the proud privilege of doing the work that Providence allots us, and we face the coming years high of heart and resolute of faith that to our people is given the right to win such honor and renown as has never yet been vouchsafed to the nations of mankind.”

On the convention’s vote on his own vice presidential nomination, Roosevelt cast the only negative vote, but immediately afterwards told party officials that he would be a loyal member of the team. He said, “I am as strong as a bull moose, and you can use me to the limit taking heed of but one thing and that is my throat.”[2]

Roosevelt confirmed his acceptance of the nomination in a lengthy letter of September 15th (two and a half months after the convention) that repeated some of the points of his seconding speech at the convention and that attacked the issues promoted by William Jennings Bryan.

Roosevelt’s letter also addressed the “serious problem” presented by “the great business combinations . . . [or] trusts.” This real problem was “immensely aggravated” by “honest but wrong-headed attacks on our whole industrial system in the effort to remove some of . . . [its] evils. . . . No good whatever is subserved by indiscriminate denunciation of corporations generally, and of all forms of industrial combination in particular.”   Instead, the “real abuses” need to be attacked first by finding out and publicizing the facts regarding “capitalization, profits and all else of importance.” Those facts would “enable us to tell whether or not certain proposed remedies would be beneficial.”

 Campaigning

As indicated in a prior post, Roosevelt conducted a real “whistle-stop” campaign from the rear of a railroad train in 1900. He covered 21,000 miles, giving 673 speeches in 24 states to an estimated three million people. These speeches defended the gold standard and McKinley’s foreign policy. He attacked Bryan for wanting to “paralyze our whole industrial life” and for appealing to “every foul and evil passion of mankind.”

Theodore Roosevelt speech 1900
Theodore Roosevelt speech 1900
Theodore Roosevelt "Whistle-Stop" Speech 1900
Theodore Roosevelt “Whistle-Stop” Speech 1900

 

The Almanac of Theodore Roosevelt’s compilation of his “Complete Speeches,” however, only has six campaign speeches, three of which are rebuttals of William Jennings Bryan.[3] The other three bear comment.

 

 

The Labor Question” Speech

Roosevelt on his campaign train from Quincy, Illinois to Chicago in September was accompanied by three railroad executives: my maternal great-great-uncle, William Carlos Brown, then General Manager of the Chicago Burlington & Quincy Railroad; Theodore P. Shonts, then the President of the Illinois & Iowa Railroad (“I&I RR”);[4] and Paul Morton, then the President of the Santa Fe Railroad (“the Santa Fe”).[5]

W. C. Brown
W. C. Brown
T.P. Shonts
T.P. Shonts
Paul Morton
Paul Morton

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have not been able to discover the substance of the conversations the four of them had on the train, but they presumably discussed the issue of federal regulation of business, especially railroads. The three railroaders presumably also were present in Chicago on Labor Day when candidate Roosevelt gave a remarkable speech, even to 21st century ears, on “The Labor Question.”[6]

The general theme of the speech was the importance of “the spirit of brotherhood in American citizenship” that is fostered by association with others not in our “own little set.” Roosevelt emphasized this from his own life in working with “mighty men of their hands” in the Northwest cattle country, with farmers and with “skilled mechanics of a high order.” He added that he had been “thrown into intimate contact with railroad men [and] . . . gradually came to the conclusion that [they] . . . were about the finest citizens there were anywhere around.” Presumably the three railroad executives with him on that trip were included in that group.

Therefore, Roosevelt argued, we “must beware of any attempt to make hatred in any form the basis of action.” He continued, “our chief troubles come from mutual misunderstanding, from failing to appreciate one another’s point of view [and] the great need is fellow feeling, sympathy, brotherhood.”

At the end of the speech, Roosevelt sketched his approach to the issues of the day. He said, “Before us loom industrial problems large in their importance and in their complexity. The last half-century has been one of extraordinary social and industrial development. . . . It is not yet possible to say what shall be the exact limit of influence allowed the State, or what limit shall be set to that right of individual initiative. . . .” Therefore, undertaking efforts to change the State’s involvement in these areas should be with caution and humility. “We can do a great deal when we undertake soberly, to do the possible. When we undertake the impossible, we too often fail to do anything at all.”

The “Free Silver, Trusts and the Philippines” Speech

On September 7th in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Roosevelt castigated Bryan’s “Free Silver” proposal as “the one and only way to insure wide-spread industrial and social ruin.”

Roosevelt also touched on the problems of industrial combinations or trusts that had been raised by Bryan. Roosevelt conceded that “trusts have produced great and serious evils. There is every reason why we should try to abate these evils and to make men of wealth, whether they act individually or collectively, bear their full share of the country’s burdens and keep as scrupulously within the bounds of equity and morality as their neighbors.” However, he added, “wild and frantic denunciation does not do them the least harm and simply postpones the day when we can make them amenable to proper laws.” Repeating his letter of acceptance of the vice presidential nomination, Roosevelt said the first thing was to learn “exactly what each corporation does and earns,” thereby enabling the formulation of “measures for attacking the . . .[ evils] with good prospects of success.”

The “Prosperity, Unity and National Honor” Speech

Roosevelt’s last major speech before the November 6th election was on October 26th at New York City’s old Madison Square Garden.

According to the New York Times, when he arrived at the Garden, “the buzzing sound of many voices became a roar of cheers and the 14,000 people . . . yelled with all their might as they waved small and large American flags. . . . For ten minutes the uproar was deafening. . . . Just as the enthusiasm had reached a climax Gov. Roosevelt spied his wife in [the audience] and bowed and smiled. For the first time his teeth were in plain sight. This little act aroused the people to renewed cheering, drowning the loudest noise which could be produced by two bands of fifty men playing ‘A Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight.’”[7]

Eventually Roosevelt spoke. He lambasted Bryan’s “Free Silver” proposal and his seeking “to sow seeds of malice and envy” in the manner of Robespierre. “No greater evil, oh, my fellow countrymen, can be done this nation of ours than to teach any group of Americans that their attitude should be one of sullen hatred and distrust of their fellows.” Such “bitter class hatreds . . . leads ultimately to class strife, . . . to the loss of liberty . . . [whose] most dangerous enemy [is] anarchy, license, mob violence in any form.”

He concluded by appealing to his fellow countrymen “to keep the conditions under which we have grown so prosperous” and to maintain “the honor of a mighty nation.”

Conclusion

After winning the 1900 election, President McKinley and Vice President Roosevelt were inaugurated on March 4, 1901. In his short inaugural address, Roosevelt said, “For weal or for woe, for good or for evil, . . . [playing “a leading part in shaping the destinies of mankind”] is true of our own mighty nation. Great privileges and great powers are ours, and heavy are the responsibilities that go with these privileges and these powers. . . . We belong to a young nation, already of giant strength, yet whose political strength is but a forecast of power that is yet to come. We stand supreme in a continent, in a hemisphere.”

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[1] Edmund Morris, The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt at 767-68 (Random House; New York; 1979).

[2] Id. at 768. In 1912 after the Republican Party re-nominated William Howard Taft as its presidential candidate, over Roosevelt’s opposition, Roosevelt organized the Progressive Party (nicknamed the Bull Moose Party) and ran as its presidential candidate. With these two parties splitting the conservative vote, the Democratic presidential candidate, Woodrow Wilson, won the election.

[3] The rebuttals of Bryan were in Detroit on September 7th and Evansville, Indiana on October 12th and in a published letter of October 15th.

[4] Shonts grew up in Centerville, Iowa, and after graduating from Illinois’ Monmouth College, worked in Iowa as a bookkeeper, then an attorney and as an executive of a construction company that built stretches of railroad track. This lead to his becoming an executive for the I&IRR. In 1905 then President Roosevelt appointed Shonts to be the Chairman of the Isthmian [Panama] Canal Commission, a position he held until March 1907, when he became President of the Interborough Rapid Transit Company, which operated  New York City’s rapid transit system.

[5] Morton was born in Michigan and grew up in Nebraska as the son of a former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture; his older brother was the founder of Morton Salt. In 1904 President Roosevelt appointed Morton as Secretary of the Navy, but in 1905 he was forced to resign after evidence surfaced that the Santa Fe under his presidency had granted illegal rebates. Morton, however, then became the President of the Equitable Life Assurance Society in New York City.

[6] This account of the Quincy-Chicago trip is based on a January 30, 1907, letter from Brown to Schonts saying “I often think of the trip from Quincy to Chicago, when . . . you and Paul [Morton] and I had the pleasure and the honor of a ride across Illinois with Theodore Roosevelt, then a candidate for Vice-President.” (Image (# 71-0572) provided courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Divisions and Theodore Roosevelt Center at Dickinson State University, www.theodorerooseveltcenter.org.) I plead for anyone who has more information about the Quincy-Chicago trip or the discussions the three railroad executives had with Roosevelt to share such information in a comment to this post.

[7] Gov. Roosevelt Speaks, N.Y. Times (Oct. 27, 1900).

William Carlos Brown: A 19th Century Railroading Success Story

My great-great-uncle, William Carlos (or W.C.) Brown, was a senior executive of the New York Central Railroad when Manhattan’s Grand Central Terminal was built in the early 20th century at 42nd Street and Park Avenue. He was one of its Vice Presidents, 1902-1906; Senior Vice President, 1906-1909; and President, 1909-1913.[1]

As we will see in this post, W.C. rose to these important positions with the New York Central from very modest beginnings. He was a 19th century railroading success story.

On July 29, 1853, W.C. and his twin brother, George Lyon, were born in Norway, New York. His father was my maternal great-great-grandfather, Rev. Charles Edwin Brown, who was recuperating in his native upstate New York from “inflammatory rheumatism” he had caught while working as a Baptist missionary in the Iowa Territory (and State after 1846). W.C.’s mother (and my maternal great-great-grandmother) was Frances Lyon Brown.[2]

Four years later (July 1857) Rev. Brown returned to Iowa to continue his missionary work in the northeastern part of that State.[3] Going with him were his wife and their four sons: Charles Perry, 17 years old; James DeGrush (my maternal great-grandfather), 11 years old;[4] and the four-year old twins, William and George.

William in 1869, at the age of 16, after being educated at home and in schools in small towns, started working as a “section hand and wooder” in Illinois for the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Louis Railroad [“the Milwaukee Road”]. During the day W.C. loaded, unloaded and piled wood that powered the seam-engines of the locomotives. At night he learned telegraphy skills from the station agent.

This was the start of Brown’s 33-year journey in the railroad industry to become a senior executive of the New York Central Railroad in New York City.

By the spring of 1870 he was a telegraph operator for the Milwaukee Road in Iowa, and the next year (1871) he was promoted to night-operator at the Road’s train dispatcher’s office in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

In 1872 W.C. left the Milwaukee Road to join the Illinois Central Railroad as train dispatcher in Iowa. Three years later, in 1875, he was hired in the same position at another Iowa town by the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Railroad.

The Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad (“the Burlington Road”) was the next stop on W.C.’s advancement in railroading for the next 18 years. From 1876 to 1880 he was a train dispatcher in Iowa, and during a blizzard he volunteered to help rescue cattle from 400 stalled cattle-cars. This demonstration of ability to act in an emergency and his other skills brought him successive promotions to chief dispatcher, trainmaster, assistant superintendent and then superintendent for the Burlington Road from 1880 to 1890.

In the 1880’s while on duty in St. Louis, W.C. pulled a switch to let a train proceed in the middle of striking switchmen holding rifles. He instantly was anointed with the nickname: “Little Man Unafraid.” This moniker was used again when in 1888 he took over as engineer to take a train out of Ottumwa, Iowa during an engineer’s strike and safely piloted the train to Chicago. Perhaps for the working men on the railroads, he was known as “the Strikebreaker.”

From 1890 to 1896, W.C. was general manager for several railroads with operations in Missouri (Hannibal & St. Joseph; Kansas City, St. Joseph & Council Bluffs; and Chicago, Burlington & Kansas City). In 1893 after learning that a band of robbers were planning to hold up a passenger train, Brown quietly replaced the passengers on that train with armed policemen in the baggage car. When the bandits stopped the train and forced the engineer and fireman to open up the baggage car, the bandits were surprised to be looking into the barrels of police rifles. The robbery was foiled, and a St. Louis newspaper said, “the lives of some innocent passengers, were undoubtedly saved. Mr. Brown thus adds another circlet to the palm and laurel which he already wears.”

In 1896 W.C. returned to the Burlington Road as general manager. This prompted an Ottumwa newspaper to say, “There are a few especial reasons for Brown’s success. He took whatever duties that were assigned to him and gave them his best effort. His methods were always clean and honest and his treatment of his subordinates and of the public has been based on the same candor and courtesy accorded his superiors in rank. The story of his life reads like a romance and in this story is the greatest incentive to youth, for hard work, intelligent effort, and clean methods, in whatever is undertaken.”

Brown remained with the Burlington until 1901 when at age 48 he joined the New York Central system as Vice President and General Manager of its Lake Shore & Michigan Southern Railroad, which ran from Buffalo along the southern shore of Lake Erie through Cleveland, Toledo, and South Bend to Chicago, and of its Lake Erie & Western Railroad, which ran from Fremont Ohio to Bloomington Illinois.

Thus, over his past 33 years, W.C. had advanced from a manual laborer handling wood for steam-engines to become the C.E.O. of two railroads affiliated with the New York Central Railroad. He did this with the modest education available in small towns on the prairie. This remarkable journey shows the amazing employment opportunities then available in railroading before the age of university business education.[5]

During this period of career advancement, W.C. married his sweetheart from Lime Springs, Mary “Ella” Hewitt, in 1874 in her parents’ home in the town, and their five children were born: Georgia Frances Brown, 1875; Charles Edwin “Eddie” Brown, 1877; Lura Belle Brown, 1880; Bertha Adelaide Brown, 1882; and Margaret Heddens Brown, 1891. Two of the children died during this period: “Eddie” Brown, 1882; and Lura Belle, 1882, while Georgia Frances was married to Dr. Frank Ellis Pierce, 1899.

Subsequent posts will look at what the New York Central looked like at the start of the 20th century, at W.C.’s career with the New York Central, his retirement, his being charged (but not prosecuted) with a federal crime, and his death.

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[1] A prior post discussed the Terminal on its centennial in 2013 with other details provided in another post.

[2] Other posts discussed Rev. Brown’s lineage in America, his initial trip to the Iowa Territory in 1842, his missionary work in that Territory (and State), 1842-1851; and his recuperation in New York State, 1851-1857.

[3] Another post was about Rev. Brown’s missionary work in Iowa, 1857-1887.

[4] An earlier post focused on my maternal great-grandparents, James DeGrush and Ella Francelia Dye Brown.

[5] Two of W.C.’s brothers also went into railroading. His twin brother, George Lyon, was a trainman for the Milwaukee Road, but died at age 18 in 1871 from injuries received while coupling railroad cars in St. Paul, Minnesota. Another brother (and my maternal great-grandfather), James DeGrush Brown, worked in railroading his entire working life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

George Edwin Brown and Jennie Olivia Johnson Brown

My maternal grandfather, George Edwin Brown, was born on May 30, 1876, in Lime Springs, Iowa. He was the son of my maternal first great-grandparents, James DeGrush Brown and Ella Francelia Dye Brown.[1]

George was employed by the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad in Ottumwa, Iowa.

Jennie & George Brown, cir. 1903
Jennie & George Brown, cir. 1903

On March 4, 1903, he married Jennie Olivia Johnson (my maternal grandmother), who was born in Ottumwa on February 28, 1881. Her parents were Sven Peter Johnson and Johanna Christina Magnusson from Sweden.

GeorgeBrownfamilyGeorge and Jennie had four children: Lloyd William Brown (my uncle) (1904-1973); Marian Frances Brown Krohnke (my mother) (1906-1992); Charles Edwin Brown (my uncle) (1913-1970); and Dorothy Mae Brown Williamson (my aunt) (1916-1996). (Photo–left to right: Lloyd, Marian, Jennie, Dorothy, George and Charles.)

George died in Ottumwa on September 29, 1931, before I was born. Jennie died in Ottumwa on December 9, 1945, when I was six years old. I have vague memories of visiting her in her home and of her warm, loving hugs.


[1] The source is Carol Willits Brown, William Brown–English Immigrant of Hatfield and Leicester, Massachusetts, and His Descendants c. 1669-1994 (Gateway Press; Baltimore, MD 1994).

James DeGrush Brown and Ella Francelia Dye Brown

James DeGrush Brown
James DeGrush Brown

James DeGrush Brown (my maternal first great-grandfather) was born on February 9, 1846, in a house near the village of Le Claire, Iowa. There his father, Rev. Charles E. Brown (my maternal second great -grandfather) was the Baptist Pastor.[1]

At the time, this was a “thinly settled” area with the nearest neighbor a half mile away to the south. “North, east and west was the boundless prairie, without human habitation in sight. Wolves howled around the house and came almost to our door nearly every night. Prairie chickens were plentiful; large flocks used to gather, and the males strut about and sound their booming notes in plain sight of, and near the house, and a fat young hen for a meal was almost as handy to get as a fowl from a domestic barn yard. Indians were occasional visitors.”

As a boy, James was “dutiful” and “obedient” with “correct and studious habits, a ready learner, and a great reader of books, with a good memory.”

Later he became a school teacher in northern Iowa for a few years, but in 1867 began a 47-year railroading career. For the first 22 of these years he was an engineer for the Milwaukee and St. Paul Railway. In 1889 he joined the “Burlington Road” (Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad) for four years as station agent in Fairfield and then Ottumwa, Iowa. His next job, starting in 1903, was as a traveling freight agent for the Indiana, Illinois and Iowa Railroad. In 1905 James was appointed general agent at St. Joseph, Missouri for the New York Central lines, which was then headed by his brother, William Carlos (W.C. or “Will”) Brown. He held this position until his retirement in 1914.

As previously mentioned, James was in the Union Army in 1862 for a few months before he was discharged due to a serious illness.

Ella Francelia Dye Brown
Ella Francelia Dye Brown

In 1874 he married Ella Francelia Dye Brown (my maternal first great-grandmother). They had four children: Vinnie Frances Brown Hommel (1875-1920); George Edwin Brown (my maternal grandfather) (1876-1931); Frances Margaret Brown (1879-1882); and Frank Logan Brown (1887-1973).

James died in Pasadena, California on February 18, 1923. Ella, on July 12, 1928, in Long Beach, California.


[1] This post is based upon Charles E. Brown, Personal Recollections 1813-1893 of Rev. Charles E. Brown with Sketches of His Wife and Children and Extracts from an Autobiography of Rev. Phillip Perry Brown 1790-1862 and The Family Record 1767-1907 (Ottumwa, IA 1907). Another source is Carol Willits Brown, William Brown–English Immigrant of Hatfield and Leicester, Massachusetts, and His Descendants c. 1669-1994 (Gateway Press; Baltimore, MD 1994).