Quality Opportunities to Commit Theft
After the Radical Republicans had dispensed with Andrew Johnson and erected military rule in the devastated American South, came Grant. He was “utterly naïve in all save military matters, a fact know to the political leaders who wanted Grant’s reputation under which to hide. They had put him into the White House with almost no effort at all.” The financial and political scandals of the war years would continue afterward.
Quality Opportunities to Commit Theft:
“With the war [Between the States] came what moral philosophers have said was moral decay in wholesale volume, an apparently illimitable increase in man’s cupidity. Scandals uncorked during and after the fighting showed that [Northern] soldiers had been given clothing and blankets made of shoddy [material]…boots made of paper….meat that had come from diseased cattle and hogs; they rode hags that had been doctored to make a sale to the cavalry.
Likely the moral condition of the country was lower than usual. Perhaps the moral philosophers should take into account the possibility that man’s inherent cupidity fluctuates, like a thermometer, with the number and quality of opportunities to commit theft, legal or otherwise; that the honesty of too few men is constant. This man is incorruptible to the figure of, say, $100,000. Many other men will gladly sell for two dollars the only piece of genuine influence they will ever possess, which is their vote. Still other men use lead slugs in pay-telephone boxes.
The ethics by which men conduct business appear to be no more constant than individual honesty. The decade after 1865 in the United States appears in retrospect to have been an extended payday for the vast military exploit just concluded. Somebody observed it as if [John Wilkes] Booth’s bullet had released all the chicanery and cupidity of thirty-five million people. Pastors warned that God’s hand would smite the Republic. And yet, the more numerous and grosser sort continued to admire the “smart” man.
[It] is proper to know what this adjective meant. In early New England “smart” was not an unqualified compliment. It was reserved for the peddlers of wooden nutmegs, and later applied to lightning-rod salesmen. In time some of this primitive meaning was sloughed away, although “smart” was offensive enough to cause action for libel as late as 1858. There was something a little wrong with the smart man as the Civil War came to an end.
The most notoriously smart figures of the postwar period in the United States were three characters who without too much exaggeration were also know as men of disaster. They were Daniel Drew, Jay Gould, and Jim Fisk…these three smart men were not builders of anything. Many called them wreckers. “Foul hyenas,” said an editorial writer of the time….
Drew liked to spout quotes from the Old and New Testaments. He was almost, but not quite illiterate. Even when he was rated worth several million dollars, he kept his accounts in his head; he always knew how many [Wall Street stocks] he held.
When New Orleans fell into federal hands, Fisk took off to buy cotton for a Boston syndicate, which made a mint of money quickly. [Drew] recognized in Fisk just the sort of a front man he wanted for a number of undercover operations in stocks.
The  struggle [Drew, Fisk and Gould versus Commodore Vanderbilt]…went into the history of crime and of finance as the “Erie War,”…..[and] involved the control of several railroads, and, on occasion, of at least two legislatures, to say nothing of courts and officials, its name derived from the New York and Erie Railroad company, surely as unfortunate a line as ever operated in this or any other country.”
(The Age of the Moguls, Stewart H. Holbrooke, Doubleday & Company, 1953, pp. 20-25)
Quality Opportunities To Commit Theft
Quality Opportunities to Commit Theft