by Murray N. Rothbard
This first appeared in World Market Perspective (1984) and later as a monograph published by the Center for libertarian Studies (1995). Afterword By Justin Raimondo.
Businessmen or manufacturers can either be genuine free enterprisers or statists; they can either make their way on the free market or seek special government favors and privileges. They choose according to their individual preferences and values. But bankers are inherently inclined toward statism.
Commercial bankers, engaged as they are in unsound fractional reserve credit, are, in the free market, always teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. Hence they are always reaching for government aid and bailout.
Investment bankers do much of their business underwriting government bonds, in the United States and abroad. Therefore, they have a vested interest in promoting deficits and in forcing taxpayers to redeem government debt. Both sets of bankers, then, tend to be tied in with government policy, and try to influence and control government actions in domestic and foreign affairs.
In the early years of the 19th century, the organized capital market in the United States was largely confined to government bonds (then called “stocks”), along with canal companies and banks themselves. Whatever investment banking existed was therefore concentrated in government debt. From the Civil War until the 1890s, there were virtually no manufacturing corporations; manufacturing and other businesses were partnerships and had not yet reached the size where they needed to adopt the corporate form. The only exception was railroads, the biggest industry in the U.S. The first investment banks, therefore, were concentrated in railroad securities and government bonds.
The first major investment-banking house in the United States was a creature of government privilege. Jay Cooke, an Ohio-born business promoter living in Philadelphia, and his brother Henry, editor of the leading Republican newspaper in Ohio, were close friends of Ohio U.S. Senator Salmon P. Chase. When the new Lincoln Administration took over in 1861, the Cookes lobbied hard to secure Chase the appointment of Secretary of the Treasury. That lobbying, plus the then enormous sum of $100,000 that Jay Cooke poured into Chase’s political coffers, induced Chase to return the favor by granting Cooke, newly set up as an investment banker, an enormously lucrative monopoly in underwriting the entire federal debt.
Cooke and Chase then managed to use the virtual Republican monopoly in Congress during the war to transform the American commercial banking system from a relatively free market to a National Banking System centralized by the federal government under Wall Street control. A crucial aspect of that system was that national banks could only expand credit in proportion to the federal bonds they owned – bonds which they were forced to buy from Jay Cooke.
Jay Cooke & Co. proved enormously influential in the post-war Republican administrations, which continued their monopoly in under-writing government bonds. The House of Cooke met its well-deserved fate by going bankrupt in the Panic of 1874, a failure helped along by its great rival, the then Philadelphia-based Drexel, Morgan & Co.
After 1873, Drexel, Morgan and its dominant figure J.P. Morgan became by far the leading investment firm in the U.S. If Cooke had been a “Republican” bank, Morgan, while prudently well connected in both parties, was chiefly influential among the Democrats. The other great financial interest powerful in the Democratic Party was the mighty European investment-banking house of the Rothschilds, whose agent, August Belmont, was treasurer of the national Democratic party for many years.
The enormous influence of the Morgans on the Democratic administrations of Grover Cleveland (1884–88, 1892–96) may be seen by simply glancing at their leading personnel. Grover Cleveland himself spent virtually all his life in the Morgan ambit. He grew up in Buffalo as a railroad lawyer, one of his major clients being the Morgan-dominated New York Central Railroad. In between administrations, he became a partner of the powerful New York City law firm of Bangs, Stetson, Tracey, and MacVeagh. This firm, by the late 1880s, had become the chief legal firm of the House of Morgan, largely because senior partner Charles B. Tracey was J.P. Morgan’s brother-in-law. After Tracey died in 1887, Francis Lynde Stetson, an old and close friend of Cleveland’s, became the firm’s dominant partner, as well as the personal attorney for J.P. Morgan. (This is now the Wall St. firm of Davis, Polk, and Wardwell.)
Grover Cleveland’s cabinets were honeycombed with Morgan men, with an occasional bow to other bankers. Considering those officials most concerned with foreign policy, his first Secretary of State, Thomas F. Bayard, was a close ally and disciple of August Belmont; indeed, Belmont’s son, Perry, had lived with and worked for Bayard in Congress as his top aide. The dominant Secretary of State in the second Cleveland Administration was the powerful Richard Olney, a leading lawyer for Boston financial interests, who have always been tied in with the Morgans, and in particular was on the Board of the Morgan-run Boston and Maine Railroad, and would later help Morgan organize the General Electric Company.
The War and Navy departments under Cleveland were equally banker-dominated. Boston Brahmin Secretary of War William C. Endicott had married into the wealthy Peabody family. Endicott’s wife’s uncle, George Peabody, had established a banking firm which included J.P. Morgan’s father as a senior partner; and a Peabody had been best man at J.P.’s wedding. Secretary of the Navy was leading New York City financier William C. Whitney, a close friend and top political advisor of Cleveland’s. Whitney was closely allied with the Morgans in running the New York Central Railroad.
Secretary of War in the second Cleveland Administration was an old friend and aide of Cleveland’s, Daniel S. Lamont, previously an employee and protégé of William C. Whitney. Finally, the second Secretary of the Navy was an Alabama Congressman, Hilary A. Herbert, an attorney for and very close friend of Mayer Lehman, a founding partner of the New York mercantile firm of Lehman Brothers, soon to move heavily into investment banking. Indeed, Mayer’s son, Herbert, later to be Governor of New York during the New Deal, was named after Hilary Herbert.
The great turning point of American foreign policy came in the early 1890s, during the second Cleveland Administration. It was then that the U.S. turned sharply and permanently from a foreign policy of peace and non-intervention to an aggressive program of economic and political expansion abroad. At the heart of the new policy were America’s leading bankers, eager to use the country’s growing economic strength to subsidize and force-feed export markets and investment outlets that they would finance, as well as to guarantee Third World government bonds. The major focus of aggressive expansion in the 1890s was Latin America, and the principal Enemy to be dislodged was Great Britain, which had dominated foreign investments in that vast region.
In a notable series of articles in 1894, Bankers’ Magazine set the agenda for the remainder of the decade. Its conclusion: if “we could wrest the South American markets from Germany and England and permanently hold them, this would be indeed a conquest worth perhaps a heavy sacrifice.”
Long-time Morgan associate Richard Olney heeded the call, as Secretary of State from 1895 to 1897, setting the U.S. on the road to Empire. After leaving the State Department, he publicly summarized the policy he had pursued. The old isolationism heralded by George Washington’s Farewell Address is over, he thundered. The time has now arrived, Olney declared, when “it behooves us to accept the commanding position… among the Power of the earth.” And, “the present crying need of our commercial interests,” he added, “is more markets and larger markets” for American products, especially in Latin America.
Good as their word, Cleveland and Olney proceeded belligerently to use U.S. might to push Great Britain out of its markets and footholds in Latin America. In 1894, the United States Navy illegally used force to break the blockade of Rio de Janeiro by a British-backed rebellion aiming to restore the Brazilian monarchy. To insure that the rebellion was broken, the U.S. Navy stationed war-ships in Rio harbor for several months.
During the same period, the U.S. government faced a complicated situation in Nicaragua, where it was planning to guarantee the bonds of the American Maritime Canal Company, to build a canal across the country. The new regime of General Zelaya was threatening to revoke this canal concession; at the same time, an independent reservation, of Mosquito Indians, protected for decades by Great Britain, sat athwart the eastern end of the proposed canal. In a series of deft maneuvers, using the Navy and landing the Marines, the U.S. managed to bring Zelaya to heel and to oust the British and take over the Mosquito territory.
In Santo Domingo (now the Dominican Republic) France was the recipient of the American big stick. In the Santo Domingo Improvement Company, in 1893, a consortium of New York bankers purchased the entire debt of Santo Domingo from a Dutch company, receiving the right to collect all Dominican customs revenues in payment of the debt. The French became edgy the following year when a French citizen was murdered in that country, and the French government threatened to use force to obtain reparations. Its target for reparations was the Dominican customs revenue, at which point the U.S. sent a warship to the area to intimidate the French.
But the most alarming crisis of this period took place in 1895–96, when the U.S. was at a hair’s breadth from actual war with Great Britain over a territorial dispute between Venezuela and British Guiana. This boundary dispute had been raging for forty years, but Venezuela shrewdly attracted American interest by granting concessions to Americans in gold fields in the disputed area.
Apparently, Cleveland had had enough of the “British threat,” and he moved quickly toward war. His close friend Don Dickinson, head of the Michigan Democratic Party, delivered a bellicose speech in May 1895 as a surrogate for the President. Wars are inevitable, Dickinson declared, for they arise out of commercial competition between nations. The United States faces the danger of numerous conflicts, and clearly the enemy was Great Britain. After reviewing the history of the alleged British threat, Dickinson thundered that “we need and must have open markets throughout the world to maintain and increase our prosperity.”
In July, Secretary of State Olney sent the British an insulting and tub-thumping note, declaring that “the United States is practically sovereign on this continent, and its fiat is law upon the subjects to which it confines its interposition.” President Cleveland, angry at the British rejection of the note, delivered a virtual war message to Congress in December, but Britain, newly occupied in problems with the Boers in South Africa, decided to yield and agree to a compromise boundary settlement. Insultingly, the Venezuelans received not a single seat on the agreed-upon arbitration commission.
In effect, the British, occupied elsewhere, had ceded dominance to the United States in Latin America. It was time for the U.S. to find more enemies to challenge.
The next, and greatest, Latin American intervention was of course in Cuba, where a Republican Administration entered the war goaded by its jingo wing closely allied to the Morgan interests, led by young Assistant Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt and by his powerful Boston Brahmin mentor, Senator Henry Cabot Lodge. But American intervention in Cuba had begun in the Cleveland-Olney regime.
In February 1895, a rebellion for Cuban independence broke out against Spain. The original U.S. response was to try to end the threat of revolutionary war to American property interests by siding with Spanish rule modified by autonomy to the Cubans to pacify their desires for independence. Here was the harbinger of U.S. foreign policy ever since: to try to maneuver in Third World countries to sponsor “third force” or “moderate” interests which do not really exist. The great proponent of this policy was the millionaire sugar grower in Cuba, Edwin F. Atkins, a close friend of fellow-Bostonian Richard Olney, and a partner of J.P. Morgan and Company.
By the fall of 1895, Olney concluded that Spain could not win, and that, in view of the “large and important commerce between the two countries” and the “large amounts of American capital” in Cuba, the U.S. should execute a 180-degree shift and back the rebels, even unto recognizing Cuban independence. The fact that such recognition would certainly lead to war with Spain did not seem worth noting. The road to war with Spain had begun, a road that would reach its logical conclusion three years later.
Ardently backing the pro-war course was Edwin F. Atkins, and August Belmont, on behalf of the Rothschild banking interests. The House’ of Rothschild, which had been long-time financiers to Spain, refused to extend any further credit to Spain, and instead under-wrote Cuban Revolutionary bond issues, and even assumed full obligation for the unsubscribed balance.
During the conquest of Cuba in the Spanish-American War, the United States also took the occasion to expand its power greatly in Asia, seizing first the port of Manila and then all of the Philippines, after which it spent several years crushing the revolutionary forces of the Philippine independence movement.
An Aggressive Asian Policy
The late 1890s also saw a new turn in the United States’ attitude toward the Far East. Expanding rapidly into the Pacific in pursuit of economic and financial gain, the U.S. government saw that Russia, Germany, and France had been carving up increasing territorial and economic concessions in the near corpse of the Chinese imperial dynasty. Coming late in the imperial game of Asia, and not willing to risk large-scale expenditure of troops, the U.S., led by Olney and continued by the Republicans, decided to link up with Great Britain. The two countries would then use the Japanese to provide the shock troops that would roll back Russia and Germany and parcel out imperial benefits to both of her faraway allies, in a division of spoils known euphemistically as the “Open Door.” With Britain leaving the field free to the U.S. in Latin America, the U.S. could afford to link arms in friendly fashion with Britain in the Far East.
A major impetus toward a more aggressive policy in Asia was provided by the lure of railroad concessions. Lobbying heavily for railroad concessions was the American China Development Company, organized in 1895, and consisting of a consortium of the top financial interests in the U.S., including James Stillman of the then Rockefeller-controlled National City Bank; Charles Coster, railroad expert of J.P. Morgan and Co.; Jacob Schiff, head of the New York investment bank of Kuhn, Loeb and Co.; and Edward H. Harriman, railroad magnate. Olney and the State Department pressed China hard for concessions to the ACDC for a Peking-Hankow Railway and for a railway across Manchuria, but in both cases the American syndicate was blocked. Russia pressured China successfully to grant that country the right to build a Manchurian railway; and a Belgian syndicate, backed by France and Russia, won the Peking-Hankow concession from China.
It was time for sterner measures. The attorney for the ACDC set up the Committee on American Interests in China, which soon transformed itself into the American Asiatic Association, dedicated to a more aggressive American policy on behalf of economic interests in China. After helping the European powers suppress the nationalist Boxer Rebellion in China in 1900, the U.S. also helped push Russian troops out of Manchuria. Finally, in 1904, President Theodore Roosevelt egged Japan on to attack Russia, and Japan succeeded in driving Russia out of Manchuria and ending Russia’s economic concessions. Roosevelt readily acceded to Japan’s resulting dominance in Korea and Manchuria, hoping that Japan would also protect American economic interests in the area.
Theodore Roosevelt had been a Morgan man from the beginning of his career. His father and uncle were both Wall Street bankers, both of them closely associated with various Morgan-dominated railroads. Roosevelt’s first cousin and major financial adviser, W. Emlen Roosevelt, was on the board of several New York banks, including the Astor National Bank, the president of which was George F. Baker, close friend and ally of J.P. Morgan and head of Morgan’s flagship commercial bank, the First National Bank of New York.’ At Harvard, furthermore, young Theodore married Alice Lee, daughter of George Cabot Lee, and related to the top Boston Brahmin families. Kinsman Henry Cabot Lodge soon became T.R.’s long-time political mentor.
Throughout the 19th century, the Republicans had been mainly a high-tariff, inflationist party, while the Democrats had been the party of free trade and hard money, i.e., the gold standard. In 1896, however, the radical inflationist forces headed by William Jennings Bryan captured the Democratic presidential nomination, and so the Morgans, previously dominant in the Democratic Party, sent a message to the Republican nominee, William McKinley, through Henry Cabot Lodge. Lodge stated that the Morgan interests would back McKinley provided that the Republicans would support the gold standard. The deal was struck.
William McKinley reflected the dominance of the Republican Party by the Rockefeller/Standard Oil interests. Standard Oil was originally headquartered at Rockefeller’s home in Cleveland, and the oil magnate had long had a commanding influence in Ohio Republican politics. In the early 1890s, Marcus Hanna, industrialist and high school chum of John D. Rockefeller, banded together with Rockefeller and other financiers to save McKinley from bankruptcy, and Hanna became McKinley’s top political adviser and chairman of the Republican National Committee. As a consolation prize to the Morgan interests for McKinley’s capture of the Republican nomination, Morgan man Garret A. Hobart, director of various Morgan companies, including the Liberty National Bank of New York City, became Vice-President.
The death of Hobart in 1899 left a “Morgan vacancy” in the Vice-Presidential spot, as McKinley walked into the nomination. McKinley and Hanna were both hostile to Roosevelt, considering him “erratic” and a “Madman,” but after several Morgan men turned down the nomination, and after the intensive lobbying of Morgan partner George W. Perkins, Teddy Roosevelt at last received the Vice-Presidential nomination. It is not surprising that virtually Teddy’s first act after the election of 1900 was to throw a lavish dinner in honor of J.P. Morgan.
Teddy Roosevelt and the “Lone Nut”
The sudden appearance of one of the “lone nuts” so common in American political history led to the assassination of McKinley, and suddenly Morgan man Theodore Roosevelt was President. John Hay, expansionist Secretary of State whom Roosevelt inherited from McKinley, had the good fortune of having his daughter marry the son of William C. Whitney of the great Morgan-connected family. TR’s next Secretary of State and former Secretary of War was his old friend Elihu Root, personal attorney for J.P. Morgan. Root appointed as his Assistant Secretary a close friend of TR’s, Robert Bacon, a Morgan partner, and in due course Bacon became TR’s Secretary of State. TR’s first appointed Secretary of the Navy was Paul Morton, vice-president of the Morgan-controlled Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad, and his Assistant Secretary was Herbert L. Satterlee, who had the distinction of being J.P. Morgan’s son-in-law.
Theodore Roosevelt’s greatest direct boost to the Morgan interests is little known. It is well known that Roosevelt engineered a phony revolution in Columbia in 1903, creating the new state of Panama and handing the Canal Zone to the United States. What has not been fully disclosed is who benefited from the $40 million that the U.S. government paid, as part of the Panama settlement, to the owners of the old bankrupt Panama Canal Company, a French company which had previously been granted a Colombian concession to dig a Panama canal.
The Panama Canal Company’s lobbyist, Morgan-connected New York attorney William Nelson Cromwell, literally sat in the White House directing the “revolution” and organizing the final settlement. We now know that, in 1900, the shares of the old French Panama Canal Company were purchased by an American financial syndicate, headed by J.P. Morgan & Co., and put together by Morgan’s top attorney, Francis Lynde Stetson. The syndicate also included members of the Rockefeller, Seligman, and Kuhn, Loeb financial groups, as well as Perkins and Saterlee.
The syndicate did well from the Panama revolution, purchasing the shares at two-thirds of par and selling them, after the revolution, for double the price. One member of the syndicate was especially fortunate: Teddy Roosevelt’s brother-in-law, Douglas E. Robinson, a director of Morgan’s Astor National Bank. For William Cromwell was named the fiscal agent of the new Republic of Panama, and Cromwell promptly put $6 million of the $10 million payoff the U.S. made to the Panamanian revolutionaries into New York City mortgages via the real estate firm of the same Douglas E. Robinson.
After the turn of the century, a savage economic and political war developed between the Morgan interests on the one hand, and the allied Harriman-Kuhn, Loeb-Rockefeller interests on the other. Harriman and Kuhn, Loeb grabbed control of the Union Pacific Railroad and the two titanic forces battled to a draw for control of the Northern Pacific. Also, at about the same time, a long-lasting and world-wide financial and political “oil war” broke out between Standard Oil, previously a monopolist in both the crude and export markets outside of the U.S., and the burgeoning British Royal Dutch Shell–Rothschild combine.
And since the Morgans and Rothschilds were longtime allies, it is certainly sensible to conclude – though there are no hard facts to prove it – that Teddy Roosevelt launched his savage anti-trust assault to break Standard Oil as a Morgan contribution to the worldwide struggle. Furthermore, Mellon-owned Gulf Oil was allied to the Shell combine, and this might well explain the fact that former Morgan-and-Mellon lawyer Philander Knox, TR’s Attorney-General, was happy to file the suit against Standard Oil.
Roosevelt’s successor, William Howard Taft, being an Ohio Republican, was allied to the Rockefeller camp, and so he proceeded to take vengeance on the Morgans by filing anti-trust suits to break up the two leading Morgan trusts, International Harvester and United States Steel. It was now all-out war, and so the Morgans in 1912 deliberately created a new party, the Progressive Party, headed by former Morgan partner, George W. Perkins. The successful aim of the Progressive Party was to bring Theodore Roosevelt out of retirement to run for President, in order to break Taft, and to elect, for the first time in a generation, a Democratic President. The new party was liquidated soon after.
Supporters of Roosevelt were studded with financiers in the Morgan ambit, including Judge Elbert Gary, chairman of the board of U.S. Steel; Medill McCormick of the International Harvester family, and Willard Straight, Morgan’s partner. In the same year, Straight and his heiress wife, Dorothy Whitney, founded the weekly magazine of opinion, The New Republic, symbolizing the growing alliance for war and statism between the Morgans and various of the more moderate (i.e., non-Marxist) progressive and socialist intellectuals.
Morgan, Wilson and War
The Morgan-Progressive Party ploy deliberately insured the election of Woodrow Wilson as a Democratic President. Wilson himself, until almost the time of running for President, was for several years on the board of the Morgan-controlled Mutual Life Insurance Company. He was also surrounded by Morgan men. His son-in-law, William Gibbs McAdoo, who became Wilson’s Secretary of the Treasury, was a failing businessman in New York City when he was bailed out and befriended by J.P. Morgan and his associates. The Morgans then set McAdoo up as president of New York’s Hudson and Manhattan Railroad until his appointment in the Wilson Administration. McAdoo was to spend the rest of his financial and political life securely in the Morgan ambit.
The main sponsor of Wilson’s run for the Presidency was George W. Harvey, head of Morgan-controlled Harper & Brothers publishers; other major backers included Wall Street financier and Morgan associate Thomas Fortune Ryan, and Wilson’s college classmate and Morgan ally, Cyrus H. McCormick, head of International Harvester.
Another close friend and leading political adviser of Wilson was New York City banker George Foster Peabody, son of the Boston Brahmin and a Morgan banker. A particularly fascinating figure in Wilson’s fateful foreign policy was “Colonel” Edward Mandell House, of the wealthy House family of Texas, which was deeply involved in landowning, trade, banking, and railroads. House himself was head for several years of the Trinity and Brazos Valley Railway, financed by the House family in collaboration with Morgan-associated Boston financial interests, particularly of the Old Colony Trust Company. The mysterious House, though never graced with an official government post, is generally acknowledged to have been Wilson’s all-powerful foreign policy adviser and aide for virtually his entire two terms.
By 1914, the Morgan empire was in increasingly shaky financial shape. The Morgans had long been committed to railroads, and after the turn of the century the highly subsidized and regulated railroads entered their permanent decline. The Morgans had also not been active enough in the new capital market for industrial securities, which had begun in the 1890s, allowing Kuhn-Loeb to beat them in the race for industrial finance. To make matters worse, the $400 million Morgan-run New Haven Railroad went bankrupt in 1914.
At the moment of great financial danger for the Morgans, the advent of World War I came as a godsend. Long connected to British, including Rothschild, financial interests, the Morgans leaped into the fray, quickly securing the appointment, for J.P. Morgan & Co., of fiscal agent for the warring British and French governments, and monopoly underwriter for their war bonds in the United States. J.P. Morgan also became the fiscal agent for the Bank of England, the powerful English central bank. Not only that: the Morgans were heavily involved in financing American munitions and other firms exporting war material to Britain and France. J.P. Morgan & Co., moreover, became the central authority organizing and channeling war purchases for the two Allied nations.
The United States had been in a sharp recession during 1913 and 1914; unemployment was high, and many factories were operating at only 60% of capacity. In November 1914, Andrew Carnegie, closely allied with the Morgans ever since his Carnegie Steel Corporation had merged into the formation of United States Steel, wrote to President Wilson lamenting business conditions but happily expecting a great change for the better from Allied purchases of U.S. exports.
Sure enough, war material exports zoomed. Iron and steel exports quintupled from 1914 to 1917, and the average profit rate of iron and steel firms rose from 7.4% to 28.7% from 1915 until 1917. Explosives exports to the Allies rose over ten-fold during 1915 alone. Overall, from 1915 to 1917, the export department of J.P. Morgan and Co. negotiated more than $3 billion of contracts to Britain and France. By early 1915, Secretary McAdoo was writing to Wilson hailing the “great prosperity” being brought by war exports to the Allies, and a prominent business writer wrote the following year that “War, for Europe, is meaning devastation and death; for America a bumper crop of new millionaires and a hectic hastening of prosperity revival.”
Deep in Allied bonds and export of munitions, the Morgans were doing extraordinarily well; and their great rivals, Kuhn-Loeb, being pro-German, were necessarily left out of the Allied wartime bonanza. But there was one hitch: it became imperative that the Allies win the war. It is not surprising, therefore, that from the beginning of the great conflict, J.P. Morgan and his associates did everything they possibly could to push the supposedly neutral United States into the war on the side of England and France. As Morgan himself put it: “We agreed that we should do all that was lawfully in our power to help the Allies win the war as soon as possible.”
Accordingly, Henry P. Davison, Morgan partner, set up the Aerial Coast Patrol in 1915, to get the public in the mood to search the skies for German planes. Bernard M. Baruch, long-time associate of the extremely wealthy copper magnates, the Guggenheim family, financed the Businessmen’s Training Camp, at Plattsburgh, New York, designed to push for universal military training and preparations for war. Also participating in financing the camp were Morgan partner Willard Straight, and former Morgan partner Robert Bacon. In addition to J.P. Morgan himself, a raft of Morgan-affiliated political leaders whooped it up for immediate entry of the U.S. into the war on the side of the Allies: including Henry Cabot Lodge, Elihu Root, and Theodore Roosevelt.
In addition, the National Security League was founded in December, 1914, to call for American entry into the war against Germany. The NSL issued warnings against a German invasion of the U.S., once England was defeated, and it called all advocates of peace and non-intervention, “pro-German,” “dangerous aliens,” “traitors,” and “spies.”
The NSL also advocated universal military training, conscription, and the U.S. buildup of the largest navy in the world. Prominent in the organization of the National Security League were Frederic R. Coudert, Wall Street attorney for the British, French, and Russian governments; Simon and Daniel Guggenheim; T. Coleman DuPont, of the munitions, family; and a host of prominent Morgan-oriented financiers; including former Morgan partner Robert Bacon; Henry Clay Prick of Carnegie Steel; Judge Gary of U.S. Steel; George W. Perkins, Morgan partner, who has been termed “the secretary of state” for the Morgan interests; former President Theodore Roosevelt; and J.P. Morgan himself.
A particularly interesting founding associate of NSL was a man who has dominated American foreign policy during the 20th century: Henry L. Stimson, Secretary of War under William H. Taft and Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Secretary of State under Herbert Hoover. Stimson, a Wall Street lawyer in the Morgan ambit, was a protégé of Morgan’s personal attorney Elihu Root, and two of his cousins were partners in the Morgan-dominated Wall Street utility stock market and banking firm of Bonbright & Co.
While the Morgans and other financial interests were beating the drums for war, even more influential in pushing the only partially reluctant Wilson into the war were his foreign policy Svengali, Colonel House, and House’s protégé, Walter Hines Page, who was appointed Ambassador to Great Britain. Page’s salary in this prestigious influential post was handsomely subsidized through Colonel House by copper magnate Cleveland H. Dodge, a prominent adviser to Wilson, who benefited greatly from munitions sales to the Allies.
Colonel House liked to pose as an abject instrument of President Wilson’s wishes. But before and after U.S. entry into the war, House shamelessly manipulated Wilson, in secret and traitorous collaboration with the British, to push the President first into entering the war and then into following British wishes instead of setting an independent American course.
Thus, in 1916, House wrote to his friend Frank L. Polk, Counselor to the State Department and later counselor to J.P. Morgan, that “the President must be guided” not to be independent of British desires. Advising British Prime Minister Arthur Balfour on how best to handle Wilson, House counselled Balfour to exaggerate British difficulties in order to get more American aid, and warned him never to mention a negotiated peace. Furthermore, Balfour leaked to Colonel House the details of various secret Allied treaties that they both knew the naïve Wilson would not accept, and they both agreed to keep the treaties from the President.
Similarly, soon after the U.S. entered the war, the British sent to the U.S. as personal liaison between the Prime Minister and the White House the young chief of British military intelligence, Sir William Wiseman. House and Wiseman quickly entered a close collaboration, with House coaching the Englishman on the best way of dealing with the President, such as “tell him only what he wants to hear,” never argue with him, and discover and exploit his weaknesses.
In turn, Britain’s top intelligence agent manipulated House, constantly showering him with flattery, and established a close friendship with the Colonel, getting an apartment in the same building in New York City, and travelling together abroad. Collaborating with House in his plan to manipulate Wilson into pro-British policies was William Phillips, an Assistant Secretary of State who had married into the Astor family.
Collaborating with House in supplying Wiseman with illegal information and working with the British agent against Wilson were two important American officials. One was Walter Lippman, a young socialist who had been named by Morgan partner Willard Straight as one of the three editors of his New Republic, a magazine which, needless to say, led ‘the parade of progressive and socialist intellectuals in favor of entering the war on the side of the Allies.
Lippmann soon vaulted into important roles in the war effort: assistant to the Secretary of War; then secretary of the secret group of historians called The Inquiry, established under Colonel House in late 1917 to plan the peace settlement at the end of the war. Lippmann later left The Inquiry to go overseas for American military intelligence.
Another important collaborator with Wiseman was businessman and scholar George Louis Beer, who was in charge of African and Asian colonial matters for The Inquiry. Wiseman secretly showed British documents on African colonies to Beer, who in turn leaked Inquiry reports to British intelligence.
The plans of Colonel House and his biased young historians of The Inquiry were put into effect at the peace settlement at Versailles. Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Russia were cruelly dismembered, thus insuring that Germany and Russia, once recovered from the devastation of the war, would bend their energies toward getting their territories back. In that way, conditions were virtually set for World War II.
Not only that: the Allies at Versailles took advantage of the temporary power vacuum in Eastern Europe to create new independent states that would function as client states of Britain and France, be part of the Morgan-Rothschild financial network, and help keep Germany and Russia down permanently. It was an impossible task for these new small nations, a task made more difficult by the fact that the young historians managed to rewrite the map of Europe at Versailles to make the Poles, the Czechs, and the Serbs dominant over all the other minority nationalities forcibly incorporated into the new countries. These subjugated peoples – the Germans, Ukrainians, Slovaks, Croats, Slovenes, etc – thus became built-in allies for the revanchist dreams of Germany and Russia.
American entry into World War I in April 1917 prevented negotiated peace between the warring powers, and drove the Allies forward into a peace of unconditional surrender and dismemberment, a peace which, as we have seen, set the stage for World War II. American entry thus cost countless lives on both sides, chaos and disruption throughout central and eastern Europe at war’s end, and the consequent rise of Bolshevism, fascism, and Nazism to power in Europe. In this way, Woodrow Wilson’s decision to enter the war may have been the single most fateful action of the 20th century, causing untold and unending misery and destruction. But Morgan profits were expanded and assured.
The Fortuitous Fed
The massive U.S. loans to the Allies, and the subsequent American entry into the war, could not have been financed by the relatively hard-money, gold standard system that existed before 1914. Fortuitously, an institution was established at the end of 1913 that made the loans and war finance possible: the Federal Reserve System. By centralizing reserves, by providing a government-privileged lender of last resort to the banks, the Fed enabled the banking system to inflate money and credit, finance loans to the Allies, and float massive deficits once the U.S. entered the war. In addition, the seemingly odd Fed policy of creating an acceptance market out of thin air by standing ready to purchase acceptance at a subsidized rate, enabled the Fed to rediscount acceptance on munitions exports.
The Federal Reserve was the outgrowth of five years of planning, amending, and compromising among various politicians and concerned financial groups, led by the major financial interests, including the Morgans, the Rockefellers, and the Kuhn, Loebs, along with their assorted economists and technicians.
Particularly notable among the Rockefeller interests were Senator Nelson W. Aldrich (R.-R.I.), father-in-law of John D. Rockefeller, Jr., and Frank A. Vanderlip, vice president of Rockefeller’s National City Bank of New York. From the Kuhn, Loebs came the prominent Paul Moritz Warburg, of the German investment-banking firm of M.M. Warburg and Company. Warburg emigrated to the United States in 1902 to become a senior partner at Kuhn, Loeb & Co., after which he spent most of his time agitating for a central bank in the United States.
Also igniting the drive for a Federal Reserve System was Jacob H. Schiff, powerful head of Kuhn, Loeb to whom Warburg was related by marriage. Seconding and sponsoring Warburg in academia was the prominent Columbia University economist Edwin R.A. Seligman, of the investment-banking family of J. & W. Seligman and Company; Seligman was the brother of Warburg’s brother-in-law.
The Morgans were prominently represented in the planning and agitation for a Central Bank by Henry P. Davison, Morgan partner; Charles D. Norton, president of Morgan’s First National Bank of New York; A. Barton Hepburn, head of Morgan’s Chase National Bank; and Victor Morawetz, attorney and banker in the Morgan ranks and chairman of the executive committee of the Morgan-controlled Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad.
While the establishment of the Federal Reserve System in late 1913 was the result of a coalition of Morgan, Rockefeller, and Kuhn, Loeb interests, there is no question which financial group controlled the personnel and the policies of the Fed once it was established. (While influential in framing policies of the Fed, Federal Reserve Board member Warburg was disqualified from leadership because of his pro-German views.) The first Federal Reserve Board, appointed by President Wilson in 1914, included Warburg; one Rockefeller man, Frederic A. Delano, uncle of Franklin D. Roosevelt, and president of the Rockefeller-controlled Wabash Railway; and an Alabama banker, who had both Morgan and Rockefeller connections.
Overshadowing these three were three definite Morgan men, and a university economist, Professor Adolph C. Miller of Berkeley, whose wife’s family had Morgan connections. The three definite Morgan men were Secretary of the Treasury McAdoo; Comptroller of the Currency John Skelton Williams, a Virginia banker and long-time McAdoo aide on Morgan railroads; and Assistant Secretary of the Treasury Charles S. Hamlin, a Boston attorney who had married into a wealthy Albany family long connected with the Morgan-dominated New York Central Railroad.
But more important than the composition of the Federal Reserve Board was the man who became the first Governor of the New York Federal Reserve Bank and who single-handedly dominated Fed policy from its inception until his death in 1928. This man was Benjamin Strong, who had spent virtually his entire business and personal life in the circle of top associates of J.P. Morgan. A secretary of several trust companies (banks doing trust business) in New York City, Strong became neighbor and close friend of three top Morgan partners, Henry P. Davison, Dwight Morrow, and Thomas W. Lamont. Davison, in particular, became his mentor, and brought him into Morgan’s Bankers Trust company, where he soon succeeded Lamont as vice-president, and then finally became president. When Strong was offered the post of Governor of the New York Fed, it was Davison who persuaded him to take the job.
Strong was an enthusiast for American entry into the war, and it was his mentor Davison who had engineered the coup of getting Morgan named as sole underwriter and purchasing agent for Britain and France. Strong worked quickly to formalize collaboration with the Bank of England, collaboration which would continue in force throughout the 1920s. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York became foreign agent for the Bank of England, and vice versa.
The main collaboration throughout the 1920s, much of it kept secret from the Federal Reserve Board in Washington, was between Strong and the man who soon became Governor of the Bank of England, Montagu Collet Norman. Norman and Strong were not only fast friends, but had important investment-banking ties, Norman’s uncle having been a partner of the great English banking firm of Baring Brothers, and his grandfather a partner in the international banking house of Brown Shipley & Co., the London branch of the Wall Street banking firm of Brown Brothers. Before coming to the Bank of England, Norman himself had worked at the Wall Street office of Brown Brothers, and then returned to London to become a partner of Brown Shipley.
The major fruit of the Norman-Strong collaboration was Strong’s being pressured to inflate money and credit in the U.S. throughout the 1920s, in order to keep England from losing gold to the U.S. from its inflationary policies. Britain’s predicament came from its insistence on going back to the gold standard after the war at the highly overvalued pre-war par for the pound, and then insisting on inflating rather than deflating to make its exports competitively priced in the world market. Hence, Britain needed to induce other countries, particularly the U.S., to inflate along with it. The Strong-Norman-Morgan connection did the job, setting the stage for the great financial collapse of 1929–1931.
As World War I drew to a close, influential Britons and Americans decided that intimate post-war collaboration between the two countries required more than just close cooperation between the central banks. Also needed were permanent organizations to promote joint Anglo-American policies to dominate the postwar world.
Justin Raimondo, author of An Enemy of the State: the Life of Murray N. Rothbard and other books, is editor of Antiwar.com.
Copyright © 2005 Ludwig von Mises Institute
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