The Progressive Years: The Spirit and Achievement of American Reform

The Progressive Years: The Spirit and Achievement of American Reform

The Progressive Years: The Spirit and Achievement of American Reform

The Progressive Years: The Spirit and Achievement of American Reform

Excerpt

Lincoln Steffens once told a story about America. In the 1890's, as so often before, a nation which had been running too fast had tripped and toppled on its face. Steelmakers banked their furnaces, corporate managers closed their doors, and ragged lines of the hungry and jobless roamed the disordered streets. But before even the initial panic--prelude to depression--had run its course, enterprising men could be found busily doctoring the old system, propping it to its feet, needling it into motion again. The Evening Post regularly sent Steffens to Wall Street to report the plans of the more "bullish" bankers and industrialists for the reorganization of business. The most bullish of all the bankers was J. Pierpont Morgan, and he was also the most powerful. He had been heard to declare that for the long pull "the bull side is the winning side in America. The United States is a bull country." Morgan's presence was fearsome. Not even his partners went near him unless sent for; and then, heart in mouth, they darted in like office boys. Steffens, a cub reporter, had never spoken to him. One day the Morgan firm issued a notice about some bonds, a statement so turgid and complicated that neither Steffens nor his editor could understand it. Picking up the notice and readying himself for an explosion, Steffens walked into Morgan's office and up to his desk.

"Mr. Morgan," he said, brave and afraid at once, "what does this statement mean?"

"Mean!" roared Morgan, his eyes glaring. "Mean! It means what it says. I wrote it myself, and it says what I mean."

"It doesn't say anything--straight," retorted the young journalist, so scared that he blazed right back at the great man.

Morgan clutched at his chair, and Steffens expected him to leap. "Oh come now, Mr. Morgan," said Steffens. "You may know a lot about figures and finance, but I'm a reporter, and I know as much as you do about English. And that statement isn't English. . . ."

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