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possession of the Erie Railway, had been dissolved. Why this application was made, or why it was granted, surpasses.comprehension. However, the next day, Judge Boardman's order having been read in court before Judge Cardozo, that magistrate. suddenly revived to a full appreciation of the views expressed by him in June in regard to judicial interference with judicial action, and at once stigmatized Judge Boardman's action as “extremely indecorous.” Neglecting, however, the happy opportunity to express an opinion as to his own conduct during the previous week, he simply stayed all proceedings nnder this new order, and applied himself to the task of hearing the case before him reargued.
This hearing lasted many days, was insufferably long, and inexpressibly dull. While it was going on, upon the 15th, Judge Nelson, in the United States court, delivered his opinion in the Whelpley suit, reversing, on certain technical grounds, the action of Judge Blatchford, and declaring that no case for the appointment of a receiver had been made out; accordingly he set aside that of Gould, and, in conclusion, sent the matter back to the State court, or, in other words, to Judge Cardozo, for decision. Thus the gentlemen of the ring, having been most fortunate in getting their case into the Federal court before Judge Blatchford, were now even more for tunate in getting it out of that court when it had come before Judge Nelson. After this, room for doubt no longer existed. Brilliant success at every point had crowned the strategy of the Erie directors. For once Vanderbilt was effectually routed and driven from the field. That he shrunk from continuing the contest against such opponents is much to his credit. It showed that he, at least, was not prepared to see how near he could come to the doors of a State prison and yet not enter them ; that he did not care to take in advance the opinion of leading counsel as to whether what he meant to do might place him in the felons' dock. Thus Erie was wholly given over to the control of the ring. No one seemed any longer to dispute their right and power to issue as much new stock as might to them seem expedient. Injunctions had failed to check them; receivers had no terrors for them. Secure in their power, they now extended their operations over sea and land, leasing rail
roads, buying steamboats, ferries, theatres, and rolling-mills, building connecting links of road, laying down additional rails, and generally proving themselves a power wherever corporations were to be influenced or legislatures were to be bought.
Christmas, the period of peace and good-will, was now approaching. The dreary arguments before Judge Cardozo had terminated on December 18th, long after the press and the public had ceased to pay any attention to them, and already rumors of a settlement were rife. Yet it was not meet that the settlement should be effected without some final striking catastrophe, some characteristic concluding tableau. Among the many actions which had incidentally sprung from these proceedings was one against Mr. Samuel Bowles, the editor of the Springfield Republican, brought by Mr. Fisk in consequence of an article which had appeared in that paper, reflecting most severely on Fisk’s proceedings and private character, — his past, his present, and his
, , probable future. On the 22d of December Mr. Bowles happened to be in New York, and, as he was standing in the office of his hotel, talking with a friend, was suddenly arrested on the warrant of Judge McCunn, hurried into a carriage, and driven to Ludlow Street Jail, where he was locked up for the night. This excellent jest afforded intense amusement, and was the cause of much wit that evening at an entertainment given by the Tammany ring to the newly elected Mayor of New York, at which entertainment Mr. James Fisk, Jr., was an honored guest. The next morning the whole press was in a state of high indignation, and Mr. Bowles had suddenly become the best advertised editor in the country. At an early hour he was of course released on bail, and with this outrage the second Erie contest was brought to a close. It seemed right and proper that proceedings which throughout had set public opinion at defiance, and in which the Stock Exchange, the courts, and the legislature had come in for equal measures of opprobrium for their disregard of private rights, should be terminated by an exhibition of petty spite, in which bench and bar, judge, sheriff, and jailer, lent themselves with base subserviency to a violation of the liberty of the citizen.
It was not until the 10th of February that Judge Cardozo
published his decision setting aside the Sutherland receivership, and establishing on a basis of authority the right to over-issue stock at pleasure. The subject was then as obsolete and forgotten as though it had never absorbed the public attention and another "settlement” had already been effected. The details of this arrangement have not yet been dragged to light through the exposures of subsequent litigation. But by careful reading between the lines, it is easy to see how a combination of overpowering influence may have been effected, and a guess might even be hazarded as to its objects and its victims. The fact that a settlement had been arrived at was intimated in the papers of the 26th of December. On the 9th of the same month a stock dividend of eighty per cent in the New York Central had been suddenly declared by Vanderbilt. Presently the legislature met. While the Erie ring seemed to have good reasons for apprehending hostile legislation, Vanderbilt, on his part, might have feared for the success of a bill which was to legalize his new stock. But hardly a voice was raised against the Erie men, and the bill of the Central was safely carried through. This curious absence of opposition did not stop here, and soon the two parties were seen united in an active alliance. Vanderbilt wanted to consolidate his roads; the Erie directors wanted to avoid the formality of annual elections. Thereupon two other bills went hastily through this honest and patriotic legislature, the one authorizing the Erie Board, which had been elected for one year, to classify itself so that one fifth only of its members should vacate office during each succeeding year, the other consolidating the Vanderbilt roads into one colossal monopoly. Public interests and private rights seem equally to have been the victims. It is impossible to say that the beautiful unity of interests which led to such results was the fulfilment of the December settlement; but it is a curious fact that the same paper which announced in one column that the consolidation and Central scrip bills had gone to the Governor for signature, should, in another, have reported the discontinuance of the Belmont and Whelpley suits by the consent of all interested.* It may be that public and private interests were
* See the New York Tribune of May 10th, 1869.
not thus balanced and traded away in a servile legislature, but it looks very much as if they were, and as if the settlement of December had made white even that of July. Meanwhile the conquerors - the men whose names had been made notorious through the whole land in all these infamous proceedings walked erect and proud of their notoriety through the streets of our great cities, and looked those whom they had defrauded in the face, and boasted of their deeds and of their contempt for law and of their immunity from punishment, and still men were found to prate of the advancing tone of public opinion in free America.
Comment would only weaken the force of this narrative. It sufficiently suggests its own moral. The facts which have been set forth cannot but have revealed to every observant eye the deep decay which has eaten into every part of our social edifice. No portion of our system was left untested, and no portion showed itself to be sound. The stock exchange revealed itself as a haunt of gamblers and a den of thieves ; the offices of our great corporations appeared as the secret chambers in which trustees plotted the spoliation of their wards; the law became a ready engine for the furtherance of wrong, and the ermine of the judge did not conceal the eagerness of the partisan; the halls of legislation were transformed into a mart in which the price of votes was higgled over, and laws, made to order, were bought and sold ; while under all, and through all, the voice of public opinion was silent or was disregarded.
It is not, however, in connection with the present that all this has its chief significance. It speaks ominously for the future. It may be that our society is only passing through a period of ugly transition, but the present evil has its root deep down in the social organization, and springs from a diseased public opinion. Failure seems to be regarded as the one unpardonable crime, success as the all-redeeming virtue, the acquisition of wealth as the single worthy aim of life. Ten years ago such revelations as these of the Erie Railway affairs would have sent a shudder through the community, and would have placed a stigma on every man who had had to do with them. Now they merely incite others to surpass them by yet bolder outrages and more corrupt combinations.
One leading feature of these developments is, from its political aspect, especially worthy of the attention of the American people. Modern society has created a class of artificial beings who bid fair soon to be the masters of their creator. It is but a very few years since the existence of a corporation controlling a few millions of dollars was regarded as a subject of grave apprehension, and now this country already contains single organizations which wield a power represented by hundreds of millions. These bodies are the creatures of single States; but in New York, in Pennsylvania, in Maryland, in New Jersey, and not in those States alone, they are already establishing despotisms which no spasmodic popular effort will be able to shake off. Ererywhere, and at all times, however, they illustrate the truth of the old maxim of the common law, that corporations have no souls. Even now the system threatens the central government. The Erie Railway represents a weak combination compared to those which day by day are consolidating under the unsuspecting eyes of the community. A very few years more and we shall see corporations as much exceeding the Erie and the New York Central in both ability and will for corruption as they will exceed those roads in wealth and in length of iron track. We shall see these great corporations spanning the continent from ocean to ocean,-single, consolidated lines, not connecting Albany with Buffalo, or Lake Erie with the Hudson, but uniting the Atlantic and the Pacific, with termini at New York and San Francisco. Already the disconnected members of these future leviathans have built up States in the wilderness, and chosen their attorneys Senators of the United States. Now their power is in its infancy ; in a very few years they will re-enact, on a larger
; theatre and on a grander scale, with every feature magnified, the scenes which were lately witnessed on the narrow stage of a single State. The public corruption is the foundation on which corporations always depend for their political power. There is a natural tendency to coalition between them and the lowest strata of political intelligence and morality ; for their agents must obey, not question. The lobby is their home, and the lobby thrives as political virtue decays. The ring is their symbol of power, and the ring is the natural enemy of political purity and independence. All this was abundantly illus