Andrew Johnson: A Study in Courage

By Lloyd Paul Stryker | Go to book overview
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LVII
CREDIT MOBILIER

DECEMBER, 1867, was a month wherein the versatility of our statesmen in both Houses was peculiarly manifest. The "patriots" were deeply engrossed in their plans to subjugate the white South under negro rule. But even amid these grave responsibilities they now found time, opportunity and a strong inclination for a little relaxation,--a moral relaxation.

Out in the west the engineers and the railroad gangs were laying the Union and Central Pacific Railways. The "Iron Horse" was marching steadily across the continent. The hope of linking East and West, the winning of a vast new national domain, the vista of the path of empire,--these dreams and hopes were fascinating the imagination of the people. To some Senators and Representatives they were peculiarly fascinating! A highly respected member of Congress at this time was Oakes Ames of Massachusetts.1 He was the Union Pacific's leading spirit.2

In addition to other aids, Congress had loaned each road $27,000,000 for thirty years without interest. There was then no need for a resort to the customary practice of organizing a construction company whose stockholders, because of the unusual risk, would be tempted to invest in the hope of large returns. But Ames, seeing a chance to make extraordinary profits, formed a subsidiary company. He acquired the charter of an existing Pennsylvania corporation to which was presently awarded the contract for the construction of the Union Pacific. The name of the subsidiary was the "Credit Mobilier." For half a century it has been a synonym for infamy!3

Before making this contract, Ames and his friends divided the stock of Credit Mobilier among themselves, and then mortgaged the road up to its full value,4 and presently began dividing the

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