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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 14

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This is the grave of J.P. Morgan.

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The Gilded Age capitalist’s Gilded Age capitalist, J.P. Morgan was born to a wealthy Hartford family in 1837. He became a banker in London in 1857. He came back to the US in 1858 and started working in his father’s banking firm in 1860, buying his way out of the Civil War with the surrogate. He started his own firm with a partner in 1871.

Morgan became the Gilded Age’s leading financier. He had so much money that he bailed out the United States Treasury during the Panic of 1893 by selling gold directly to the government in exchange for a 30-year bond issue. Doing this undermined Cleveland’s hopes for reelection in 1896 and helped lead to the Democrats nominating William Jennings Bryan, a man not seen as in Wall Street’s pocket. Morgan did the same thing in the Panic of 1907, with Theodore Roosevelt providing legal immunity to Morgan for the antitrust deal he felt it would take to accomplish. In 1900, Morgan worked with Charles Schwab and Andrew Mellon to buy out Andrew Carnegie’s steel company. They successfully did so and created U.S. Steel, one of the largest monopolies of the Gilded Age. He bought up entire region’s worth of railroads and the coal mines to feed them, as well as the homes of the nation. He bought up insurance firms,

All because his daddy set him up in business. America, truly a meritocracy, then and now.

Morgan mostly stayed out of labor conflicts directly, unlike his contemporaries like Carnegie, Henry Clay Frick, and George Pullman. Instead, he focused on profiteering, having surrogates take care of labor. For example, it was Morgan’s interests that owned the Pennsylvania anthracite coal mines during the famous 1902 strike, when the coal situation became so desperate that Roosevelt intervened to mediate, not crush the strike. Morgan’s close association George Baer was the head of this side of the business, famously saying, “These men don’t suffer. Why, hell, half of them don’t even speak English.”

This was the worldview of Morgan and his associates. If Morgan personally stayed in the background in labor disputes, he consistently acted in the interests of big bankers, often directly to the detriment of labor. Plus, his monopolies were so out of control that it was his Northern Securities Company that Roosevelt targeted for violating anti-trust law, giving him an unearned reputation as a “trust-buster.” In fact, Roosevelt was generally fine with monopoly and Taft used anti-trust legislation a lot more often against monopoly capitalism. But Morgan had been so aggressive that he crossed Roosevelt’s line.

The House of Morgan since 1913, J.P. Morgan is buried in Cedar Hill Cemetery, Hartford, Connecticut.

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  • Bill Murray

    were you able to at least fart in his general direction, if not defecate on his grave?

    • DrDick

      My thought as well.

    • Peter VE

      I was about to suggest that the photo needs a trickle of moisture down the monument.

  • jim, some guy in iowa

    is that a tombstone or a building?

    • It’s a big ol’ memorial with headstones surrounding it.

  • Dilan Esper

    Morgan had a very interesting role in the Panics of 1893 and 1907. Essentially, his bank was so powerful and so large that it could effectively act as a central bank and increase the money supply.

    We now have the federal reserve to play that role (a much better system). But Morgan, at the very least, had a very different view of the role of stimulus as opposed to modern wealthy conservatives.

    • The momentum to create Federal Reserve came right out of having to beg a private citizen for money.

      • Dilan Esper

        Yep.

      • jim, some guy in iowa

        was just reading Morgan jr’s bio on Wiki- he arranged it so that he was *the* purchasing agent, at a 1% commission, for the British government’s needs during the first world war. *that’s* nice work, if you can get it

  • The Temporary Name
    • Dilan Esper

      Wasn’t she part of the Gong Show panel the day that the infamous “popsicle twins” performed?

      • The Temporary Name
        • Origami Isopod

          The entire Wikipedia page is giving me misty watercolor memories. The Gong Show was worth 100 modern-day “reality” shows.

          • BiloSagdiyev

            I hadn’t thought about it in a while…wow… another thing from my childhood that helped me turn out twisted.

            I don’t suppose young Ted Cruz was allowed to watch.

          • Brad Nailer

            Worth wading through the crap.

          • rea

            The Gong Show was worth 100 modern-day “reality” shows.

            And nobody from the Gong Show ever ran for president.

    • Todd

      Her name is Morgan, but it ain’t J.P..

      • Origami Isopod

        You may have known me plenty long, but you sure did get my ‘nitials wrong…

  • ChrisS

    All because his daddy set him up in business. America, truly a meritocracy, then and now.

    Some kids learn how to sell drugs from their fathers, or beat their loved ones, and some learn how negotiate interest rates.

    For all the “self-made” success stories, there’s usually a large wad of cash that got them started and not everyone has access to that kind of capital. GoPro? Fantastic idea and has revolutionized the filming industry. The founder got the idea while taking a global surfing sabbatical after failing in his first start-ups. The seed money was invested by his parents:

    Woodman and his future wife Jill financed the business by selling shell necklaces they bought in Bali (for $1.90) from their car along the California coast (for $60). His mother loaned him $35,000 and let him borrow her sewing machine, which he used to sew camera straps while experimenting with early designs. His dad loaned him an additional $200,000, which Woodman immediately paid back out of company sales.

    • Dilan Esper

      To take Hollywood, an industry that I am more familiar with: I remember Bill Maher telling a not-really-a-joke on Politically Incorrect back in the day, where he talked about having actors and actresses whose parents were in the industry on his show. He said they would always say “it just got me in the door”, and he’d say “yeah, but getting in the door is 90 percent of making it in Hollywood!”.

      It’s actually the case that a lot of these people are talented. From what I can tell, J.P. Morgan was (he was amoral, but talented). Bill Gates, to take a modern example, definitely is talented. But here’s the key– not any more talented than thousands of other people who didn’t get the opportunities that he did because they didn’t have a connected relative.

      Connections are just an extremely key part of capitalism. And this is why I usually sound a dissenting note regarding people talking about the decisions of upper middle class and upper class people to advantage their own children. Sure, it’s inevitable. Sure, there’s probably not much that can be done about it. But no, it really is bad for society, because this is the way that inequality gets perpetuated in a capitalist system. Somewhere, in an inner city or a poor rural area, someone is being born with just as much talent as someone born to connected parents in Beverly Hills. But the connections will allow the kid in Beverly Hills to exploit that talent, unless he or she is a total screw-up. The kid in the inner city or the poor rural area never stands a chance.

      • CP

        CrunchyFrog pointed out in yesterday’s Jeb Bush thread that “Rove did have a number of strengths, but like most successful businesspeople he also had incredible luck in terms of timing, but failed to realize that fact.”

        And that, I think, is the mindset of a ton of our conservative businesspeople in a nutshell. It’s not that they DON’T succeed with hard work and genuine talent; plenty of them do. It’s that the work and talent are only one part of a bigger picture, and it’s a much smaller part than they’re willing to admit. Dumb luck is another part of it. Connections are another part of it. Birth is another part of it (connected to the former two). The hard work and talent of OTHER people in the company is another part of it. Etc. But when they’ve succeeded, they often find it convenient to remember only the first part and forget everything else. (Why wouldn’t they? They’re surrounded by sycophants fawning over their accomplishments and asking “how did you DO it? What would YOU say to young people who want to be like you? What’s your SECRET?”)

        Or, as I read a long time ago on the Internets from someone I don’t remember, every conservative is convinced that he’s the only person who’s ever done a day’s hard work in his life.

        • I know I’ve used that line a bunch but someone else may very well have used it before me.

          • CP

            I may very well have gotten it from you.

            To use ANOTHER Internet quote whose user I don’t remember: “The well read person’s mind supplies facts, but not footnotes.”

        • RobertL

          Born on 3rd base but think they’ve hit a triple.

      • SIS1

        Connections are critical in all human enterprises, and nepotism was there at the birth of civilization, so moving beyond capitalism wouldn’t actually solve this issue.

        But you are right, people tend to discount the importance of luck (and being born with rich/connected parents is luck) in success.

        • postmodulator

          I used to be acquainted with a dot-com millionaire. He would mention how the most irritating thing to him about his fellow dot-com millionaires was that almost all of them saw the part where they worked really hard (which they did. Startup culture back then meant working thirty, forty hours in a row) and none of them saw the part where they were also lucky — i.e., they didn’t understand that Silicon Valley was full of people who had worked just as hard and weren’t millionaires.

          After about a year, his solution was to go out and get a job again, because he just didn’t like his fellow newly-minted members of the leisure class, so it was that or sit home during all the hours when people our age are at work.

        • rjayp

          spread the wealth. spread the nepotism. everybody deserves skin in the game.

      • postmodulator

        It really is genuinely shocking just how much of Young Hollywood is the second — or third, sometimes! — generation in the entertainment industry.

    • AMK

      Most of Silicon Valley is like that (to say nothing of Wall Street, but it’s not like Wall Street tries hard to pretend otherwise). These aren’t rags to riches stories; they’re riches to super-riches stories. How many Silicon Valley boldface names didn’t come from families that were at least upper middle class, if not much wealthier? I’d be surprised if people could find a single one.

      • postmodulator

        Well, the guy I mentioned above grew up on welfare, but as I said, he was a bit more cognizant of the role of luck.

      • Amanda in the South Bay

        Zuckerberg is fairly typical in terms of an upper middle class upbringing-which is why I often joke that dropping out of an Ivy League school may very well be more advantageous than a CS degree from Chico State.

        Jack Dorsey of Twitter is definitely an exception from what I can tell-his background is not upper middle class (though he is obviously very wealthy now).

        Steve Jobs came from Loomis Approved middle class parents, but I’m not sure we should compare 1970s Silicon Valley to today so much.

        • Phil Perspective

          Zuckerberg is fairly typical in terms of an upper middle class upbringing-which is why I often joke that dropping out of an Ivy League school may very well be more advantageous than a CS degree from Chico State.

          People forget that Bill Gates came from a really well off family. His dad was one of the most famous lawyers in Seattle, I believe.

    • ColBatGuano

      Some kids learn how to sell drugs from their fathers, or beat their loved ones, and some learn how negotiate interest rates.

      He just had fancier bootstraps than the other poor unfortunates of his day.

    • Hogan

      “I came to this town with nothing but a dime in my pocket, and now I’m a multimillionaire.”

      “Wow. What did you do with the dime?”

      “I called Dad and had him wire me $10,000.”

  • Brett

    I got to hand it to Morgan, though. He could have just been some spoiled rich brat living off of daddy’s money, but he organized a gigantic financial empire over the course of his life.

    IIRC He almost rode on the Titanic on its maiden voyage, but ended up not going because of health problems .

  • guthrie

    That font looks familiar, I can’t think why though.

  • mch

    To introduce a more middling version of white privilege here. Until recently, I had just vague notions that my family, on all sides, was very WASP and went back to Pilgrims and Puritans and early Virginians and such. (The vagueness of my notions in itself a product of white privilege.) But for the last couple of years I’ve been tracking down family history — a very middling WASP heritage (but one that leaves a pretty full trail of evidence, if you persist in your research), and what strikes me is this.

    Even the most middling WASP classes, at their most struggling times, benefitted from their position in society. Morgans et al. aside. Take my mother’s great great grandmother. My mother knew this woman had been born a Brewster (yeah, one of those), but that was about it. I have learned that “this woman” was widowed in NYC in 1841 with several children still to raise, including a son who was later killed at Fredericksburg — the son who was supporting her, one of his widowed sister’s, and that sister’s young child. How many widows get a William Dodge to request information from the regiment’s commander about a young man’s death in battle (and get a three-page written response)? I don’t know why Dodge wrote for information about this young man’s death. Dodge was a supporter of CW widows/mothers deprived of sons who supported them, but I don’t think that was the connection here. I suspect that the young man had been clerking with Dodge, but there may have been church connections or, even more likely, abolitionist connections, as well. Anyway, after her son’s death, the widow struggled (or rather, continued to struggle), taking in boarders and sewing, but she wasn’t living in the popular notion of a “tenement.” Her daughter and that daughter’s daughter similarly struggled, as widows and “dressmakers.” (The last of them my mother’s grandmother, who helped raise her.) Not to take away anything from all these women (or their husbands) FOR A SECOND in their struggles and sacrifices. They were amazing women, and I think of them a lot these days with gratitude, as I am on the verge of becoming a grandmother. But they had advantages — in their own educations, in their aspirations for their children (which were not unrealistic, given a little luck), and in their confident, underlying sense of place in the world.

    Just some thoughts. Did I mention I am soon to be a grandmother? I want a better world — a better world for all — for bebe.

    • LeeEsq

      There was an actual native White Protestsnt working class that lived in New York City slums. They just didn’t get remarked on a lot because they weren’t colorful enough.

      • mch

        From what I can tell (having learned a lot about NYC neighborhoods in the 1800’s and early 1900’s), these folks kept evading slums, moving north from Frankllin (1830’s) then Trinity Place (1840’s till 1855) to the Village, then the northward along the east side (not too far from Sixth Ave.), ending up finally in the Bronx by the 1890’s and early 1900’s. My grandfather, raised in poverty, had to quit school at the end of 8th grade to support himself and his mother (well, he had the benefit of getting as far as 8th grade) but eventually thrived thanks to Cooper Union (a degree in electrical engineering). What interests me about the class I gather my mother’s side in NYC came from was the way they were constantly negotiating between a comfortable middle, even promise of upper middle, class status, an aspiration that got thwarted repeatedly by widowhood, and the alternative was poverty — though never the grueling poverty (however much they tasted of it) of less advantaged people, which they avoided by a combination of their own grit and others’ helpful ministrations. (Including the ministrations of extended family, who moved as a pack together from neighborhood to neighborhood).

        No lack of color, though! Fredericksburg is color of one kind. Of another, the Brewster connection, which my early researches indicated were bogus till I learned that ours is a technically illegitimate line! (See the Brewsters of the Oblong in the 1740’s — not the Brewsters who gave their name to Brewster in Southeast….) The (nee) Brewster widow I spoke of above had a daughter (my ancestor) whose Baltimore-born husband was murdered by “ruffians” (code then for Irish low-lifes) in today’s East Harlem in 1884 — he’d been out drinking with them at 10:00 in the morning when he was supposedly on his way to work on Maiden Lane…. He, btw, had volunteered in 1862 for the Union when he was in his early 40’s and served as a surgeon’s assistant. His alcoholism (so the coroner on his liver) was probably the reason for his economic decline after the war (and after his move from Baltimore just before the war, with his brother, who was much more successful and became the executor of Edward Robinson’s will and the manager of Hetty Robinson Greene’s trust from her father, which mark of success probably killed him in the end…). As I say, no lack of color! And I had NO idea of almost any of this!

        Yes, unexamined middles, whether in slums or constantly barely avoiding them.

      • CP

        I always wondered about that. By the end of the nineteenth century and onwards, you don’t hear much about the WASP working class anymore – in the rural South and West, sure, but in the urban North, not so much. The white working class narratives you hear the most about up there are all Irish and Italians and Poles and Greeks and Jews – “ethnic whites” as they used to call them. Obviously there would’ve had to be a WASP working class throughout all that and to this day, but they don’t seem to be as well remembered.

        • LeeEsq

          The term WASP did not even exist before the 1960s. It was coined to describe the old and rapidly diminishing in power Protestant Establishment in the United States. We use it nowadays to refer to any white American of Anglo/Scottish/Dutch Protestant origins but it originally only meant the upper crust types like the Vanderbilts or Morgans.

          The Anglo-Protestant working class was outnumbered in the North East by ethnic whites towards the end of the 19th century. Brooklyn had a White Protestant majority before it was annexed into New York City. Most of this White Protestant majority were not rich or even middle class by the standards of the late 19th century. They were disappearing in the narrative during the 19th century. The descendants of the ethnic white working class made sure that their ancestors were perceived as the white working class during the late 19th and early 20th centuries in the popular imagination.

          • mch

            If the term WASP wasn’t around till my teenage years of the 1960’s, the sense of threat to an Anglo-Dutch Protestant establishment was much older in NYC. My mother (b. 1918) gleaned from her grandmother (b. 1853) a sense of apartness from (more recent) immigrants. For instance, my mother’s “Nanny” had pierced ears but forbade that her granddaughters’ ears be pierced (Nanny was a formidable woman) — my mother speculated (without approval, even though she adored her Nanny) because pierced ears had become associated with Eastern European immigrants. (My mother may have speculated incorrectly, but I doubt it on this point.) But Nanny, who was widowed once and was deserted in her second marriage, and who supported four children by “dressmaking,” was no bigot, either. For instance, her first husband was the son of a Jewish father — musicians both, though Nanny’s first husband made his living selling sewing machines. Something about that middling class in the cauldron of nineteenth century middling NYC was, well, interesting. Certainly not uncolorful.

        • chris9059

          Except of course for Archie Bunker. I always thought it was interesting that Norman lear chose to make his protagonist a wasp and then cast the very New York Irishman Carroll O’Connor in the role.

  • Brad Nailer

    “. . . buying his way out of the Civil War with the surrogate.” At least in those days, draft evaders had to put up something of value–money–to escape military service. These days, when Uncle calls you just have to say, “Nah, I don’t feel like it,” and off you go, being sure of course to thank the soldiers returning home from our stupid wars for their service.

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