Coincident with the unexpected feeling of fruitlessness that came to me with the Grant Avenue house, of things achieved but not realized or appreciated, was the appearance of a cloud on the business horizon; or rather on the political horizon, since it is hard to separate the two realms. There were signs, for those who could read, of a rising popular storm. During the earliest years of the new century the political atmosphere had changed, the public had shown a tendency to grow restless; and everybody knows how important it is for financial operations, for prosperity, that the people should mind their own business. In short, our commercial-romantic pilgrimage began to meet with unexpected resistance. It was as though the nation were entering into a senseless conspiracy to kill prosperity.
In the first place, in regard to the Presidency of the United States, a cog had unwittingly been slipped. It had always been recognized—as I have said—by responsible financial personages that the impulses of the majority of Americans could not be trusted, that these—who had inherited illusions of freedom—must be governed firmly yet with delicacy; unknown to them, their Presidents must be chosen for them, precisely as Mr. Watling had been chosen for the people of our state, and the popular enthusiasm manufactured later. There were informal meetings in New York, in Washington, where candidates were discussed; not that such and such a man was settled upon,—it was a process of elimination. Usually the affair had gone smoothly. For instance, a while before, a benevolent capitalist of the middle west, an intimate of Adolf Scherer, had become obsessed with the idea that a friend of his was the safest and sanest man for the head of the nation, had convinced his fellow-capitalists of this, whereupon he had gone ahead to spend his energy and his money freely to secure the nomination and election of this gentleman.
The Republican National Committee, the Republican National Convention were allowed to squabble to their hearts’ content as to whether Smith, Jones or Brown should be nominated, but it was clearly understood that if Robinson or White were chosen there would be no corporation campaign funds. This applied also to the Democratic party, on the rare occasions when it seemed to have an opportunity of winning. Now, however, through an unpardonable blunder, there had got into the White House a President who was inclined to ignore advice, who appealed over the heads of the “advisers” to the populace; who went about tilting at the industrial structures we had so painfully wrought, and in frequent blasts of presidential messages enunciated new and heretical doctrines; who attacked the railroads, encouraged the brazen treason of labour unions, inspired an army of “muck-rakers” to fill the magazines with the wildest and most violent of language. State legislatures were emboldened to pass mischievous and restrictive laws, and much of my time began to be occupied in inducing, by various means, our courts to declare these unconstitutional. How we sighed for a business man or a lawyer in the White House! The country had gone mad, the stock-market trembled, the cry of “corporation control” resounded everywhere, and everywhere demagogues arose to inaugurate “reform campaigns,” in an abortive attempt to “clean up politics.” Down with the bosses, who were the tools of the corporations!