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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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