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omdam #i 11 Patrimoine ! aa1958 648.874 873220 ON THE CHARACTER OF STEPHEN GIRARD, THE BANKER ZAE MISAPPRO
PRIATION OF HIS MUNIFICENT CHARITABLE BEQUESTS CHARACTER
OF THE AMERICAN REPUBLICANS. 1945 utan primer* ** To Thomas Brothers's Sons. ** 1 MVDBAR Borsa de trots op tot z'n Philadelphia, May 25, 1838. sięYou remember when you were little boys, seeing an ill-favoured old man, with only one eye, in an old gig, drawn by an old grey horse, pass by our door two or three times every day. The boys, you know, used to halloo after him, and in derision call him “ Old Uncle Steve ;" that man was Stephen Girard, the great banker, and now the subject of these remarks, who amassed, nobody exactly knows how, ten millions of dollars, the greater part of which he has left for the support of orphans.
His life has been written by one of his clerks, whose father was the cashier of his bank.
The writer endeavours to make the character of the creature as little objectionable as possible, and says, in his preface, that he has occasionally softened or suppressed the truth. If he had told the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, (notwithstanding his will) it would have been found that such a lump of iniquity had never before been moulded into the human shape. But the mouths of the "authorities” were watering at the luscious picking that they saw before them; and they, grateful souls! made it the interest of the newspaper-press to speak well of their benefactor : by this means thousands were got together to mourn!! at his funeral. At that time the truth would have been unpopular; and popularity is with us always the first and the only thing to be considered. How often we hear men of the first standing in society agree that a measure is right, just, and founded in truth; but, say they, it is unpopular, and therefore must not be advocated! Similar opinions, beyond all doubt, guided the writer of this Life of Girard. I could tell strange and most unnatural stories about the miser, were I to make use of verbal reports, a thing that you will observe I never make a point of doing; but, on the contrary, always give you chapter and verse: so that, if there be any errors, they belong to others and not to me. I shall therefore, in this case, be satisfied with the information afforded me by the biographer, who has been obliged to admit that all was not as it should be : he knew that to attempt to hide the whole of the sins of the miser, would be as ridiculous as it would be to attempt to cover the sun with a blanket. So he admitted a little of that which we all before knew. This bio
graphy is a strange medley, as everything must be that comes from the
pen of a man that dares not please God for fear of offending mam
The book itself would scarcely be worth noticing, were it not held up to the people of the United States as the production of a man of extraordinary talent, and were not the subject of it represented as a bright example, by which the youth of the country ought to direct their steps in their progress through life. This “exemplary, this illustrious individual !" left an enormous sum of money behind him, which he principally bequeathed to “ charitable purposes.” Notwithstanding this circumstance, however, which, after all, was only giving that which he could not take away, I will prove to you that a more despicable character never existed; and having a truly fatherly affection for you, I call upon you, my dear sons, to shun the example of such a man, as you would shun Satan himself, who, if he were in person to come here, and put money into the pockets of the idolizers of the miser they would, with all the warmth that their cold souls possess, publicly worship him also, and call upon the youth of their country to listen to their exhortations. We are told by the idolizers, that Philadelphia is, in a high degree, indebted to this grinding, avaricious, miserable, old creature, for what he has left behind : and
What has he left behind ?
First starved in this, then damnd in that to come.” Yet they tell us, further, that the great globe itself, and all that it inherits," will eventually be benefited by this “gripus, the meanest of mankind," who made, if ever man did make, yellow dirt the passion of his life.”
I will take from his life a few unfavourable extracts, after reading of which you will not be able to see the possibility of even an American writer being talented enough to finally make this wretched miser and base character into a demi-god and a "ministering angel.” The writer tells us that “sympathy, feeling, friendship, pity, love, and commiseration, were emotions that never ruffled the equanimity of Girard's mind Friends, relations, old companions, confidental agents, or the general family of mankind, might sicken and die around him, and he would not part with a particle of his gold to relieve and save one among them, but stood unmoved, like the eternal statue of Death, with the waves of human misery beating at his feet. Misery and Want might groan in their humble cells, and the big tear of woe blind the eye-but he heard and saw them not when his gold was asked. Pity might plead, but Ambition had left no sense open to her prayers : his pity, his charity,
his benevolence, were all to descend to posterity, in order that the act which relieved their want and succoured their woe might at the same time consecrate him to fame. When he gave in his life-time, it was to public institutions, who enrolled his name in letters of gold in the imperishable catalogue of their benefactors.
* I am still inclined to doubt whether Stephen Girard ever felt the force of the feeling, or properly conceived the relation, which the word friend expresses. The whole course of his life refutes the hypothesis of his being accessible to such an emotion. Total destitution of sympathy, feeling, and refinement, was peculiar to the organization of Mr. Girard.
It was evident to me that he placed no more estimate upon men than upon so many machines or instruments by which to acquire money; to appeal to his feelings or his sympathies was absolute folly. Great numbers thought they had in Mr. Girard a sincere friend; but Mr. Girard knew no more of what formed friendship between men than he did of what constituted friendship between one bale of merchandize and another. firard was ambitious of riches, and every
other consideration faded away before his eyes into indistinct air.
Having nothing of the amiable feelings in his composition, he never consulted the feelings of others, or reckoned how much he shocked their sensibility, so that he gained their money or saved himself from an expenditure. Every step he made in his life was a sort of pitched battle to conquer property, and, so that he gained the victory, he cared very little who were killed or wounded.
It has been alleged, against his sense of gratitude as well as charity, that he did not bequeath something to the man who drove his chair; and who, on more that one occasion, saved his life. It would, indeed, have exhibited a most wonderful anomaly of character had Girard ever been noted for gratitude, a sense of service rendered. He, no doubt, included all the benefits his coachman could possibly do him in the amount of his monthly wages.
It is not easy to vindicate an expedient to which he resorted for profit. He, at one period of his eventful life, sold salt by the bushel, and, conceiving that his measure of half-bushel was too large, he determined to regulate or re-adjust it himself: for this purpose he took a half-gallon liquid measure, and, repairing to the wharf, he deposited the requisite number of gallons into his half-bushel ; and then, drawing a chalk-line round the water-mark, he found it was too large by an inch, or more, when he went to a neighbouring cooper's shop, and, borrowing a saw for the purpose, reduced the measure of his halfbushel, accordingly, to what he conceived it ought to be. This fact
gave rise to the saying that Mr. Girard was a just man, but it was according to his own measure of justice.'
It was evidently to this feature of his character that he was largely indebted for his immense and rapid accumulation of wealth. In all his various attitudes and qualifications of character, he appeared in none more extraordinary than in his address and tact as a quack-lawyer. Few men would defeat or circumvent Girard in a lawsuit; and, of the great number in which he was a party during his lifetime, he was seldom known to be vanquished; and took a peculiar pride in boasting himself the victor.
It was, no doubt, this feeling that influenced him on one occasion, when prosecuted for the back interest on funded debt of the United States, by certain subscribers to the national bank stock, that he pleaded the statute of limitation, and by this means coerced a
dict in his favour for a small amount, contrary to the principles of equity and justice, which caused even the court and the bar, except his own attorney, to feel a conscious suffusion of shame.
His rigour in making conditions with his labourers too often brought him into petty legal conflict *** Sometimes he has been unable to procure mowers to cut his grass on the low terms that he exacted, when he would suffer it to stand and go to waste, or turn it into pasture; for when he had once taken his stand he never yielded.
On one occasion, a merchant had purchased a large quantity of hemp of Girard, and sent a black man to superintend the weighing and loading of it. Girard was busy himself in putting it upon the scales, but, a great part of it being damaged, the negro-man watched him closely, and, whenever Girard threw on a bad bundle, the negro would carefully throw it off; but this Girard would not submit to, and would proceed to replace it, whilst the negro, in his turn, would as quickly fling it off; until, losing his patience, he commenced cursing the
negro, and declared he should not touch the hemp, at the risk of chastisement. But Sambo, nothing intimidated, continued to look
fter his master's interest, and telling Girard that if he ventured to touch him, he would knock his other eye out; Girard became pacified, and, seeing the determined purpose of the man not to suffer his employer to be wronged, he became reconciled to the negro, saying, 'Well, I believe you be one very honest fellow, but you no be one great judge of hemp.
On another occasion, when building a large ship, he arrived at the ship-yard before any of the workmen; it was just after day-break, and not a living soul could be seen stirring but this anxious and indefatigable man : he waited with the utmost impatience. At
length, just as the sun peered his golden head above the horizon, the ship carpenters appeared, shaking off the drowsy mantle of the night, and, seizing their tools, were about to proceed to work; but Girard, enraged by their tardiness, broke out into the most virulent abuse of the men, until, at last, the workmen, no longer able to bear the torrent of his invective, gathered up their tools and departed,--declaring they never would work for a man who wanted to make them slaves, and who treated them as negroes.
It was his practice to compel all who worked on his plantation to attend to their labour, when so required by him, on the sabbath-day, which by Mr. Girard was held in no higher respect than any other day of the week. But, it seems, one of his workmen, being a pious and conscientions man, remonstrated in mild terms upon what he ventured to term a sacrilegious request, upon which the temper of Girard, became highly excited, and venting à volley of execration upon the poor labourer, he instantly discharged him from his employment."
Such is the character of Girard as painted by his biographer, Mr. Simpson; and, in every respect, a more odious and horrid one it is hardly possible to conceive. He does not appear to have had a single redeeming quality except industry, and that was employed solely in the accumulation of wealth, chiefly by dishonest means, and in oppressing his fellow-creatures. If every man's hand was not against him, his hand was against every man. In one word, his biographer has represented him in the preceding extracts, which are taken literally from his Life, as a man whose conduct ought to be avoided and detested, instead of being held up as an example to be followed and to be admired. But, observe, my
inconsistencies are not only put forth, but immoderately applauded, among a people who worship wealth, and merely talk about religion, morality, and patriotism. In the preceding extracts the biographer has described Girard as a man whose character and conduct were incompatible, totally irreconciliable, with anything like virtue or generous feeling. In one and the same book, written by one and the same author, this paragon of vice, this monster of iniquity, is characterized as a being possessing the attributes of a demi-god, worthy of the applause and admiration of mankind to the end of the world. Read, I pray you, the following extracts—literal extracts—from Mr. Simpson's book, and judge whether or not I am right.
" In the person of Stephen Girard we design to trace the life of a republican citizen, who, by the active vigour of his genius, and his own unassisted exertions, attained by honest means to the possession of millions. When even the name of the United States may be forgotten, and humble and sedate Pennsylvania may be merged in some great and magnificent appellation-when, in all possibility, our country may be