The Men Who Built America

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The much-ballyhooed History Channel docudrama series, The Men Who Built America, is ambitious, visually stunning but is unfortunately airing on the wrong TV channel. It should be appearing on the Cartoon Network. This fanciful portrayal of the post-bellum entrepreneurial exploits of Vanderbilt, Rockefeller, Carnegie, Morgan, Ford, and Edison is more Dragon Ball Z versus the Justice League of America, than sound economic history. Inter-spliced by banal commentary by such worthies as tycoons Ted Turner, Donald Trump, Steve Wynn, or Jim Cramer, viewers are inundated by trite and hoary clichés about ruthless risk-takers and why our wonderful present day federal government has thankfully banished such rapacious nastiness from the face of the earth. The series’ section on Theodore Roosevelt is particularly grating. It is as if the path-breaking scholarly work of Gabriel Kolko, Ferdinand Lundberg, Murray Rothbard, Phillip H. Burch, Burton W. Folsom, or Robert Higgs never existed. TR is portrayed as the knightly trust buster battling the evil dragon J. P. Morgan (who performed a noble public service in financing the Panama Canal). Contrast that with these observations of Rothbard:

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.

2:05 pm on November 13, 2012