In June, 1869, President Grant on a trip from New York to Boston, accepted a place in a private box of the theater which Fisk owned, and next day took, at the invitation of Fisk and Gould, one of their magnificent steamers to Fall River. After a handsome supper the host skilfully turned the conversation to the financial situation. Grant remarked that he thought there was a certain fictitiousness in the prosperity of the country, and that the bubble might as well be tapped. This suggestion "struck across us," said Mr. Gould, later, "like a wet blanket." Another wire must be pulled.
Facts and figures were now heaped together and published to prove that, should gold rise in this country about harvest time, grain, the price of which, being fixt in Liverpool, was independent of currency fluctuations, would be worth so much the more and would at once be hurried abroad; but that to secure this blessing Government must not sell any gold. Gould laid still other pipes. He visited the Presidential sphinx at Newport; others saw him at Washington. At New York Gould buttonholed him so assiduously that he was obliged to open his lips to rebuke his servant for giving Gould such ready access to him.
The President seems to have been persuaded that a rise in gold while the crops were moving would advantage the country. At any rate, orders were given early in September to sell only gold sufficient to buy bonds for the sinking fund. The conspirators redoubled their purchases. The price of gold rose till, two days before Black Friday, it stood at 140½.
Tho he kept it to himself Gould was in terror lest the Treasury floodgates should be opened to prevent a panic. Business was palsied, and the bears were importuning the Government to sell. At his wits' end he wrote Secretary Boutwell:
"Sir: There is a panic in Wall Street, engineered by a bear combination. They have withdrawn currency to such an extent that it is impossible to do ordinary business. The Erie Company requires eight hundred thousand dollars to disburse . . . much of it in Ohio, where an exciting political contest is going on, and where we have about ten thousand men employed, and the trouble is charged on the administration. . . . Can not you, consistently, increase your line of currency?"
Gould, like Mayor Bagstock, was "devilish sly, sir." In his desperation he determined to turn "bear" and, if necessary, rend in pieces Fisk himself. Saying nothing of his fears, he encouraged Fisk boldly to keep on buying, while he himself secretly began to sell. Fisk fell into the trap, and his partner, taking care in his sales to steer clear of Fisk's brokers, proceeded secretly and swiftly to unload gold and fulfil all his contracts. From this moment they acted each by and for himself, Gould operating through his firm and Fisk through an old partner of his named Belden.
On Thursday, September 23d, while his broker, Speyers is buying, Fisk coolly walks into the gold room, and, amid the wildest excitement, offers to bet any part of $50,000 that gold will rise to 200. Not a man dares take his bet.
On Black Friday the gold room is crowded two hours before the time of business. In the center excited brokers are betting, swearing, and quarreling, many of them pallid with fear of ruin, others hilarious in expectation of big commissions. In a back office across from the gold room Fisk, in shirt-sleeves, struts up and down, declaring himself the Napoleon of the street. At this time the ring was believed to hold in gold and in contracts to deliver the same, over $100,000,000.
Speyers, whom all suppose to represent Gould as well as Fisk, begins by offering 145, then 146, 147, 148, 149, but none will sell. "Put it up to 150," Fisk orders, and gold rises to that figure. At 150 a half-million is sold him by Mr. James Brown, who had quietly organized a band of merchants to meet the gamblers on their own ground. From all over the country the "shorts" are telegraphing orders to buy. Speyers is informed that if he continues to put up gold he will be shot; but he goes on offering 151, 152, 153, 154. Still none will sell. Meantime the victims of the corner are summoned to pay in cash the difference between 135, at which the gold was borrowed, and 150, at which the firm is willing to settle. Fearing lest gold go to 200, many settle at 148. At 155, amid the tremendous roar of the bull brokers bidding higher and higher, Brown again sells half a million. "160 for any part of five millions." Brown sells a million more. "161 for five millions." No bid. "162 for five millions." At first no response. Again, "162 for any part of five millions." A voice is heard, "Sold one million at 162 ... .. 163½ for five millions." "Sold five millions at 163." Crash! The market has been broken, and by Gould's sales. Everybody now begins to sell, when the news comes that the Government has telegraphed to sell four millions. Gold instantly falls to 140, then to 133. "Somebody," cried Fisk, "has run a saw right into us. We are forty miles down the Delaware and don't know where we are. Our fantom gold can't stand the weight of the real stuff."
Gould has no mind permanently to ruin his partner. He coolly suggests that Fisk has only to repudiate his contracts, and Fisk complies. His offers to buy gold he declares "off," making good only a single one of them, as to which he was so placed that he had no option. What was due him, on the other hand, he collected to the uttermost dollar. To prevent being mobbed the pair encircled their opera house with armed toughs and fled thither. There was no civil process or other molestation was likely to reach them. Presently certain of "the thieves' judges," as they were called, came to their relief by issuing injunctions estopping all transactions connected with the conspiracy which would have been disadvantageous for the conspirators.
1 From Andrews's "History of the Last Quarter Century of the United States, 1870-1895." By permission of the publishers, Charles Scribner's Sons.Copyright, 1895, 1896.