PICTURES IN THE STOCK GALLERY

[NOTE.—This chapter, though largely devoted to "Oil," is to be construed as reaching any other "Kite" that the stock gambler flies—any other scheme which his unprincipled ideas of right and wrong will permit him to work to his own gain and others' loss. The oil mania was only a more popular or attractive vice of the stock-boards, which is reproduced, in spirit and motive, almost every month of the year.]

At my entrance upon this discussion, I must deplore the indiscriminate terms of condemnation employed by many well-meaning persons in regard to stock operations. The business of the stock-broker is just as legitimate and necessary as that of a dealer in clothes, groceries, or hardware; and a man may be as pure-minded and holy a Christian at the Board of Brokers as in a prayer-meeting. The broker is, in the sight of God, as much entitled to his commissions as any hard-working mechanic is entitled to his day's wages. Any man has as much right to make money by the going up of stocks as by the going up of sugar, rice, or tea. The inevitable board-book that the operator carries in his hand may be as pure as the clothing merchant's ledger. It is the work of the brokers to facilitate business; to make transfer of investment; to watch and report the tides of business; to assist the merchant in lawful enterprises.

Because there are men in this department of business, sharp, deceitful, and totally iniquitous, you have no right to denounce the entire class. Importers, shoe-dealers, lumbermen, do not want to be held responsible for the moral deficits of their comrades in business. Neither have you a right to excoriate those who are conscientiously operating through the channels spoken of. If they take a risk, so do all business men. The merchant who buys silk at five dollars per yard takes his chances; he expects it to go up to six dollars; it may fall to four dollars. If a man, by straightforward operations in stocks, meets with disaster and fails, he deserves sympathy just as much as he who sold spices or calicoes, and through some miscalculation is struck down bankrupt.

We have no right to impose restrictions upon this class of men that we impose upon no other. What right have you to denounce the operation "buyer—ten days" or "buyer—twenty days," when you take a house, "buyer—three hundred and sixty-five days?" Perhaps the entire payment is to be made at the end of a year, when you do not know but that, by that time, you will be penniless. Give all men their due, if you would hold beneficent influence over them. Do not be too rough in pulling out the weeds, lest you uproot also the marigolds and verbenas. In the Board of Brokers there are some of the most conscientious, upright Christian men of our cities—men who would scorn a lie, or a subterfuge. Indeed, there are men in these boards who might, in some respects, teach a lesson of morality to other commercial circles.

I will not deny that there are special temptations connected with this business even when carried on legitimately. So there are dangers to the engineer on a railroad. He does not know what night he may dash into the coal-train. But engines must be run, and stocks must be sold. A nervous, excitable man ought to be very slow to undertake either the engine or the Stock Exchange.

A clever young man, of twenty-five years of age, bought ten shares in the Pennsylvania Central Railroad. The stock went up five dollars per share, and he made fifty dollars by the operation. His mother, knowing his temperament, said to him, "I wish you had lost it." But, encouraged, he entered another operation, and took ten shares in another railroad and made two hundred dollars. By this time he was ready for the wildest scheme. He lost, in three years, forty thousand dollars, ruined his health, and broke his wife's heart. Her father supports them chiefly now. The unfortunate has a shingle up, in a small court, among low operators. Such a man as this is unfit for this commercial sphere. He would have been unfit for a pilot, unfit for military command, unfit for any place that demands steady nerve, cool brain, and well-balanced temperament.

But, while there is a legitimate sphere for the broker and operator, there are transactions every day undertaken in our cities that can only be characterized as superb outrage and villany; and there are members of Christian churches who have been guilty of speculations that, in the last day, will blanch their cheek, and thunder them down to everlasting companionship with the lowest gamblers that ever pitched pennies for a drink.

It is not necessary that I should draw the difficult line between honorable and dishonorable speculation. God has drawn it through every man's conscience. The broker guilty of "cornering" as well knows that he is sinning against God and man, as though the flame of Mount Sinai singed his eyebrows. He hears that a brother broker has sold "short," and immediately goes about with a wise look, saying: "Erie is going down—Erie is going down; prepare for it." Immediately the people begin to sell; he buys up the stock; monopolizes the whole affair; drags down the man who sold short; makes largely, pockets the gain, and thanks the Lord for great prosperity in business. You call it "cornering." I call it gambling, theft, highway robbery, villany accursed.

It is astonishing how some men, who are kind in their families, useful in the church, charitable to the poor, are utterly transformed of the devil as soon as they enter the Stock Exchange. A respectable member of one of the churches of the city went into a broker's office and said: "Get me one hundred shares of Reading, and carry it; I will leave a margin of five hundred dollars." Instead of going up, according to anticipation, the stock fell. Every few days the operator called to ask the broker what success. The stock still declined. The operator was so terribly excited that the broker asked him what was the matter. He replied: "To tell you the truth, I borrowed that five hundred dollars that I lost, and, in anticipation of what I was sure I was going to get by the operation, I made a very large subscription to the Missionary Society."

The nation has become so accustomed to frauds that no astonishment is excited thereby. The public conscience has for many years been utterly debauched by what were called fancy stocks, morus multicaulis, Western city enterprises, and New England developments.

If a man find on his farm something as large as the head of a pin, that, in a strong sunlight, sparkles a little, a gold company is formed; books are opened; working capital declared; a select number go in on the "ground floor;" and the estates of widows and orphans are swept into the vortex. Very little discredit is connected with any such transaction, if it is only on a large scale. We cannot bear small and insignificant dishonesties, but take off our hats and bow almost to the ground in the presence of the man who has made one hundred thousand dollars by one swindle. A woman was arrested in the streets of one of our cities for selling molasses candy on Sunday. She was tried, condemned, and imprisoned. Coming out of prison, she went into the same business and sold molasses candy on Sunday. Again she was arrested, condemned, and imprisoned. On coming out—showing the total depravity of a woman's heart—she again went into the same business, and sold molasses candy on Sunday. Whereupon the police, the mayor and the public sentiment of the city rose up and declared that, though the heavens fell, no woman should be allowed to sell molasses candy on Sunday. Yet the law puts its hands behind its back, and walks up and down in the presence of a thousand abominations and dares not whisper.

There are scores of men to-day on the streets, whose costly family wardrobes, whose rosewood furniture, whose splendid turn-outs, whose stately mansions, are made out of the distresses of sewing-women, whose money they gathered up in a stock swindle. There is human sweat in the golden tankards. There is human blood in the crimson plush. There are the bones of unrequited toil in the pearly keys of the piano. There is the curse of an incensed God hovering over all their magnificence. Some night the man will not be able to rest. He will rise up in bewilderment and look about him, crying: "Who is there?" Those whom he has wronged will thrust their skinny arms under the tapestry, and touch his brow, and feel for his heart, and blow their sepulchral breath into his face, crying: "Come to judgment!"

For the warning of young men, I shall specify but two of the world's most gigantic swindles—one English, and the other American. In England, in the early part of the last century, reports were circulated of the fabulous wealth of South America. A company was formed, with a stock of what would be equal to thirty millions of our dollars. The government guaranteed to the company the control of all the trade to the South Sea, and the company was to assume the entire debt of England, then amounting to one hundred and forty millions of dollars. Magnificent project! The English nation talked and dreamed of nothing but Peruvian gold and Mexican silver, the national debt liquidated, and Eldorados numberless and illimitable! When five million pounds of new stock was offered at three hundred pounds per share, it was all snatched up with avidity. Thirty million dollars of the stock was subscribed for, when there were but five millions offered. South Sea went up, until in the midsummer month the stock stood at one thousand per cent. The whole nation was intoxicated. Around about this scheme, as might have been expected, others just as wild arose. A company was formed with ten million dollars of capital for importing walnut trees from Virginia. A company for developing a wheel to go by perpetual motion, with a capital of four million dollars. A company for developing a new kind of soap. A company for insuring against losses by servants, with fifteen million dollars capital. One scheme was entitled: "A company for carrying on an undertaking of great advantage, but nobody to know what it is—capital two million five hundred thousand dollars, in shares of five hundred each. Further information to be given in a month."

The books were opened at nine o'clock in the morning. Before night a thousand shares were taken, and two thousand pounds paid in. So successful was the day's work, that that night the projector of the enterprise went out of the business, and forever vanished from the public. But it was not a perfect loss. The subscribers had their ornamented certificates of stock to comfort them. Hunt's Merchant's Magazine, speaking of those times, says "that from morning until evening 'Change Alley was filled to overflowing with one dense mass of living beings composed of the most incongruous materials, and, in all things save the mad pursuit in which they were employed, the very opposite in habits and conditions."

What was the end of this chapter of English enterprise? Suddenly the ruin came. Down went the whole nation—members of Parliament, tradesmen, physicians, clergymen, lawyers, royal ladies, and poor needle-women—in one stupendous calamity. The whole earth, and all the ages, heard that bubble burst.

But I am not through. Our young men shall hear more startling things. We surpass England in having higher mountains, deeper rivers, greater cataracts, and larger armies. Yea, we have surpassed it in magnitude of swindles. I wish to unfold before the young men of the country, and before those in whose hands may now be the price of blood, the wide-spread, ghastly, and almost infinitely greater wickedness of the gamblers in oil stock. Now, the obtaining of lands, the transporting of machinery, and the forming of companies for the production of oil, is just as honorable as any organization for the obtaining of coal, iron, copper, or zinc. God poured out before this nation a river of oil, and intended us to gather it up, transport it, and use it; and there were companies formed that have withstood all commercial changes, and continued, year after year, in the prosecution of an honorable business. I have just as much respect for the man who has made fifty thousand dollars by oil as I have for him who has made it by spices.

Out of twelve hundred petroleum companies, how many do you suppose were honestly formed and rightfully conducted? Do you say six hundred? You make large demands upon one's credulity; but let us be generous, and suppose that six hundred companies bought land, issued honest circulars, sent out machinery, and plunged into the earth for the rightful development of resources. To form the other six hundred companies, only three or four things were necessary: First, an attractive circular, regardless of expense. It must have all the colors and hues of earth, and sea, and heaven. Let the letters flame with all the beauty of gold, and jasper, and amethyst. It must state the date of incorporation, and the fact that "all subscribers shall get the benefit of the original undertaking. While it does not make so much pretension as some other companies, it must be distinctly announced that this is a safe and permanent investment." The circular must state that "there are a goodly number of flowing wells, and others which the company are happy to say have a very good smell of oil." "The books will be open only five days, as there are only a few shares yet to be taken." Connected with this circular is an elaborate map, drawn by the artist of the company. Never mind the geography of the country. Our map must have a creek running through it, so crooked as to traverse as much of the land as possible, and make it all water-front. "Ah!" said one man to his artist, "you make only one creek."—"Well," said the artist, "if you want three creeks you can have them at very little expense. There—you have them now—three creeks!"

Then the circular must have good names attached to it. How to get them? The president and directors must be prominent men. If celebrated for piety, all the better. The estimable man approached says: "I know nothing about this company."—"Well," says the committee waiting on him, "we will give you five hundred dollars' worth of shares." Immediately the estimable man begins to "know about it," and accepts the position of president. Three or four directors are obtained in the same way. Now the thing is easy. After this you can get anybody. Ordinary Christians and sinners feel it a joy to be in such celebrated society.

Another thing important is that the company purchase three or four vials of oil to stand in the window—some in the crude state, the rest clarified. Genuine specimens from Venango County.

Another important thing: there must be a large working capital, for the company do not mean to be idle. They have derricks already building; and there will be large monthly dividends. Let it be known that there were companies in some cities who, claiming to have a capital of four hundred thousand dollars, yet had that capital exhausted when they had sunk one well costing five thousand dollars. But never mind. The thing must be right, for some of the directors are eminent for respectability. You say it is certainly important that there be some land out of which the oil is to be obtained. Oh! no. Why be troubled with any land at all? It is an expense for nothing. You have the circular, and the glowing map, with the creeks and three vials of oil in the window, and a flaming advertisement in the newspapers. Now let the books be opened! Better if you can have a half-dozen offices in one room; then the agent can accommodate you with anything you desire. If you want to take a "flyer" in this and a "flyer" in that, you shall have it.

Coming in from the country are farmers, dairymen, day-laborers. Great chances now for speedy emoluments. Pour in the hard-earned treasures. Sure enough, a dividend of one per cent. per month! Forthwith, another multitude are convinced of the safety of the investment. The second month another dividend. The third month another. Whence do these dividends come? From the product of the wells? Oh! no. It is your own money they are paying you back. How generous of this company to give you five dollars back, when you might have lost it all!

But the dividends stop. What is the matter? Instead of the advertisement which covered a whole column of the newspapers, there comes a modest little notice that "a special meeting of the stockholders will be held for the purpose of transacting business of importance." Perhaps it may be to assess the stockholders for the purpose of keeping the little land they have, if they have any. Or it may be for the election of a new group of officers, for the present incumbents do not want to be always before the public. They are modest men. They believe in rotation of office. They cannot consent any longer to serve. Where have they gone to? They are busy putting up a princely mansion at Long Branch, Germantown, or Chelsea. They have served their day and generation, and have gone to their flocks and herds. Where is the Church of God, that she allows in her membership such gigantic abominations? Were the thirty pieces of silver that Judas received denounced as unfit, and shall the Church of God have nothing to say about this price of blood? Is sin to be excused because it is as high as heaven, or deep as hell? The man who allows his name to be used as president or director in connection with an enterprise that he knows is to result in the sale of twenty thousand shares of an undeveloped nothing—God will tear off the cloak of his hypocrisy, and in the last day show him to all the universe—a brazen-faced gambler. His house will be accursed. God's anathemas will flash in the chandelier, and rattle in the swift hoofs of his silver-bitted grays; and the day of fire will see him willing to leap into a burning oil-well to hide himself from the face of the Lamb. The hundred thousand dollars gotten in unrighteousness will not be enough to build a barricade against the advance of the divine judgments.

Think of the elder in a church who, from the oil regions, sends an exciting telegram, so that one man buys a large amount of stock at twelve, on Wednesday. The next day it is put on the stock-board at six. The enterprising man, who sold it at twelve, goes out to buy one of the grandest estates within ten miles of the city. The man who bought it goes into the dust; and the secret gets out that the exciting telegram sent by the elder arose, not from any oil actually discovered, but because in boring they had found a magnificent odor of oil.

If he who steals a dollar from a money-drawer is a thief, then he who by dishonesty gets five hundred thousand dollars is five hundred thousand times more a thief. And so the last day will declare him.

Did not the law right the injured man? No! The poor who were wronged would not undertake a suit against a company that could bring fifty thousand dollars to the enlightenment of judge, jury, and lawyer; while, on the other hand, the affluent who had been gouged would not go to the courts for justice. Why! how would it sound, if it got out, that Mr. So and So, one of the first merchants on Wall, or Third, or State street, had got swindled? They will keep it still.

The guilty range to-day undisturbed through society, and will continue to do so until the Lord God shall bring them to an unerring settlement, and proclaim to an astonished universe how many lies they told about the land, about the derricks, about the yield, about the dividends. What shall such an one say, when God shall, in the great day of account, hold up before him the circular, and the map, and the newspaper advertisement? Speechless!

Before that day shall come I warn you—Disgorge! you infamous stock gamblers! Gather together so many of your company as have any honesty left, and join in the following circular:—"We the undersigned, do hereby repent of our villainies, and beg pardon of the public for all the wrongs that we have done them; and hereby ask the widows and orphans whom we have made penniless to come next Saturday, between ten and three o'clock, and receive back what we stole from them. We hereby confess that the wells spoken of in our circular never yielded any oil; and that the creeks running through our ornamented map were an entire fiction; and that the elder who piously rolled up his eyes and said it was a safe investment, was not as devout as he looked to be. Signed by the subscribers at their office, in the year of our Lord 1871."

Then your conscience will be clear, and you can die in peace. But I have no faith in such a reformation. When the devil gets such a fair hold of a man he hardly ever lets go.

To the young I turn and utter a word of warning. While you are determined to be acute business men, resolve at the very threshold that you will have nothing to do with stock-gambling. This country can richly afford to lose the eight hundred millions of dollars swindled out of honest people, if our young men, by it, will be warned for all the future. Think you such enterprises are forever passed away? No! they begin already to clamor for public attention and patronage. There are now hundreds of printing-presses busy in making pamphlets and circulars for schemes as hollow and nefarious as those I have mentioned. There are silver-mining companies, founded upon nobody knows what—to accomplish what, nobody cares. There will be other Canada gold companies; there will be other copper-mining companies; there will be more mutual consumers' coal companies, who, not satisfied with the price of ordinary coal-dealers, will resolve themselves into consumers' associations, where the thing consumed is not the coal, but themselves—the companies that were to be immaculate, setting the whole community to playing the game of "Who's got the money?"

Stand off from all doubtful enterprises! Resolve that if, in a lawful way, you cannot earn a living, then you will die an honest man, and be buried in an honest sepulchre.

There are two or three reasons why you should have nothing to do with such operations. Mentioning the lowest motive first, it will desolate you financially. I asked a man of large observation and undoubted integrity, how many of the professed stock-gamblers made a permanent fortune. He answered, "Not one! not one of those who made this their only business." For a little while you may plunge in a round of seeming prosperity; but your money is put into a bag with holes. You cannot successfully bury a dishonest dollar. You may put it down into the very heart of the earth; you may heave rocks upon the top of it; on top of the rocks you may put banks and all moneyed institutions, but that dishonest dollar beneath will begin to heave and toss and upturn itself, and keep on until it comes to the resurrection of damnation.

Then this stock-gambling life is wretchedly unhappy. It makes the nerves shake, and the brain hot, and the heart sad, and the life disquieted.

A man in Philadelphia, who seems to be an exception to the rule—that such men do not permanently prosper—who has well on towards a million of dollars, and is nearly seventy years of age, may be seen, every day, going in and out, eaten up of stocks, torn in an inquisition of stocks, rode by a nightmare of stocks; and, with the earnestness of a drowning man, he rushes into a broker's shop, crying out: "Did you get me those shares?" In such an anxious, exciting life there are griefs, disappointments, anguish, but there is no happiness.

Worse than all, it destroys the soul. The day must come when the worthless scrip will fall out of the clutches of the stock-gambler. Satan will play upon him the "cornering" game which, down on Wall street, he played upon a fellow-operator. Now he would be glad to exchange all his interest in Venango County for one share in the Christian's prospect of heaven. Hopeless, he falls back in his last sickness. His delirium is filled with senseless talk about "percentages" and "commissions" and "buyer, sixty days," and "stocks up," and "stocks down." He thinks that the physician who feels his pulse is trying to steal his "board book." He starts up at midnight, saying: "One thousand shares of Reading at 116-1/2. Take it!" Falls back dead. No more dividends…. Swindled out of heaven. STOCKS DOWN!