Morgan: American Financier by Jean Strouse Download (read online) free eBook .pdf.epub.kindle

Morgan: American Financier

History has remembered J. Pierpont Morgan as a complex and contradictory figure, part robber baron and part patron saint. Now this magisterial biography, based extensively on new material, draws a definitive, full-scale portrait of Morgan’s tumultuous life both in and out of the public eye.Morgan earned his reputation as “the Napoleon of Wall Street” by reorganizing the na


History has remembered J. Pierpont Morgan as a complex and contradictory figure, part robber baron and part patron saint. Now this magisterial biography, based extensively on new material, draws a definitive, full-scale portrait of Morgan’s tumultuous life both in and out of the public eye.Morgan earned his reputation as “the Napoleon of Wall Street” by reorganizing the nation’s railroads and creating some of its greatest industrial trusts, including General Electric and U.S. Steel. At a time when the United States had no Federal Reserve System, he appointed himself a one-man central bank. He had two wives, three yachts, four children, six houses, mistresses, and one of the finest art collections in America. In this extraordinary book, award-winning biographer Jean Strouse vividly portrays the financial colossus, the avid patron of the arts, and the entirely human character behind all the myths.

Brilliantly crafted, epic in scope, Morgan reveals a man we have never seen before, offering new insights on the culture, political struggles, and social conflicts of America’s Gilded Age.


…more


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    Jan-Maat

    Sometimes history is written by the losers.

    Strouse’s thesis is that our perception of the period between the end of the American Civil War and the beginning of the first world war in the USA has been formed by the losers – those who argued against the trusts, the cartels, the plutocrats and as a result we can struggle to assess people like Pierpont Morgan fairly.

    This book’s judgement of Pierpont Morgan is summed up on pages xiv and xv of the forward, “convinced that he was guiding the country to

    Strouse’s thesis is that our perception of the period between the end of the American Civil War and the beginning of the first world war in the USA has been formed by the losers – those who argued against the trusts, the cartels, the plutocrats and as a result we can struggle to assess people like Pierpont Morgan fairly.

    This book’s judgement of Pierpont Morgan is summed up on pages xiv and xv of the forward, “convinced that he was guiding the country toward a spectacularly prosperous future, Morgan made no distinction between his own interests and the national interest, although he was not an objective arbiter in the long-standing struggle over America’s identity but an active partisan representing people who had billions invested in the outcome” (pxiv) and ”Can central bankers effectively ‘manage’ the business cycle? In economic crisis, which tottering governments or banks ought to be bailed out, and which allowed to fail? What is the best way to control inflation? Does industrial competition naturally lead to consolidation? Are big corporations inherently bad? How can affluent societies offset economic inequality? How and when should government intervene in commercial markets?
    At the end of the twentieth century, responsibility for sorting out answers to those questions rests with the Treasury and Justice departments, the federal reserve, the SEC, the Group of Seven, the IMF, and the World Bank. At the end of the nineteenth, with predictably mixed and controversial results, Morgan acted largely on his own”
    (pxv)

    Ah, what a lot there is to say. At the beginning of the twenty-first century one might think that the results of the efforts of the designated bodies mentioned above have also been ‘ predictably mixed and controversial’, and that given the complexities involved that this is to be expected. The role of these institutions have developed out of the politics of earlier eras, and the needs that Morgan & his contemporaries’ activities highlighted.

    This argument rises implicitly through Strouse’s account of Pierpont Morgan’s life. Awkwardly for an autobiography the deliberate destruction of letters and the privacy observed by the circle around Morgan mean that despite what she has to tell us about his health, depression, marriage, and affairs he always remains at arms length from us. Equally Morgan’s thinking and responses to economic crises can only be assumed through the actions he took. The important business was all about character, which meant that long nights locked in libraries filled with the fug of Morgan’s Cuban cigars were the moments of decision.

    Strouse early on stresses how the idea of and value of ‘character’ came from his education, it was an idea to be even found in his childhood reading. My initial thought was that this was more a reflection of the requirements of the financial system of the beginning of the nineteenth century, yet his efforts only really bore fruit towards the end of the century.

    In part because organisations like banks were clearly moving away from from being family enterprises, in part because this is a middle-aged book, it was only with the death of his father, Junius Morgan, when Pierpont was already in his fifties, that he formally took over the bank, although he was already beginning to get his way when he was in his forties. Pierpont Morgan’s approach differed from his father’s in that he felt that membership and ultimately control over company boards was a natural step to protect the investments made by their customers. In this effort the character of the men, and it was at that time a question of men, appointed to run companies was the only way in which Pierpont Morgan could be certain that they would be competently managed, and during the biography we see various people bumped off boards for lacking the necessary character – including Ambrose Burnside(view spoiler).

    Since a large part of their business involved attracting in investment from Europe this naturally led to an interest in the stability and international acceptability of the US dollar as well as an interest in reducing business competition within the USA. Morgan’s experience showed that one of the major problems of free market competition is that it is bad for business. I found the comparisons with the work of Andrew Carnegie (and Strouse’s explanation of Carnegie’s methods far clearer and more succinct than I recall from Nasaw’s biography of Carnegie) and John D. Rockefeller interesting – but then again they were both attempting something quite different – to dominate a single industry, while Morgan was seeking to maintain a successful business environment for investment as a whole. The similarity was that both sets of efforts tended towards larger combinations either formally as a single company or more loosely in the forms of trusts, cartels, and overlapping board memberships and mutual ownership of stocks.

    Here I suppose we get to the issue of ‘the national interest’ for Morgan and other east coast financiers or industrialists it was self-evident this interest required the building up and promotion of US businesses and industries. Their support of a strong currency was directly opposed to the other national interest which was particularly vocal in the south and west for a weaker currency in this case because there was a literal shortage of cash. These types of debate are still with us – even without the gold standard which acted to limit both the availability of cold hard money and of credit.

    The National Interest as a thing in itself is an idea we can freely throw out the window, but as a part of the self-conception of individuals it is something worth considering. As Strouse points out, Morgan’s conception of ‘The National Interest’, amazingly and entirely unpredictably, turned out to be completely concurrent with his own self-interest (view spoiler). There is an alternative and popular strand in US thinking – of the USA as a self-forged nation of free standing, pulled up by their own boot straps, small farmers and entrepreneurs (view spoiler), but as Jennings in The Ambiguous Iroquois Empire pointed out even the basic act of colonisation was from the first an exercise in land speculation.

    Interestingly some of Morgan’s creations like Westinghouse, General Electric, and the US Steel Corporation went on to have long lives, but probably not because they had been Built to Last but more prosaically because they were ecologically dominant and crowded out any chance of a competitor growing to any size (view spoiler), this is the era in which we see the business environment still typical of today in the wealthiest – the era of a small number of very big companies which employ most people and account for most economic activity.

    There is a psychological strand to this story, we get the sense that Morgan devoted himself to business, and perhaps also to adultery, as a counterweight to his feelings of worthlessness. These were things he could devote himself to and for a time feel good about himself. The family had a long tradition of depression, which they nurtured across generations. Pierpont Morgan’s parents managed a style of parenting which was a fine balance of neglect and criticism, in turn he managed to entirely intimidate his own son, whose childhood preference for taking cover behind his mother’s skirts perhaps made him into a faithful husband to a woman described as ‘cold, roast Boston’ by Pierpont Morgan, but he wasn’t the businessman that his father and grandfather (view spoiler) had been.

    Still Morgan’s attempts to validate himself through overwork led to periodic breakdowns, as well as those of his business partners. Things improved slightly during his forties and fifties as he had more control over his business partnerships – working with bad characters as you might have noticed is injurious to your health – but he regularly seems to have spent up to half the year on leave, frequently in Europe (view spoiler), with only the telegraph and coded messages to communicate with the office.

    Like many of the supremely wealthy men of his age he turned to collecting: paintings, sculptures, rare books and manuscripts. His pursuit was essentially the same as in his business dealings – find the experts of good character and employ them to curate and manage for him. His pleasures were not all self-serving – he also sponsored a lying in hospital for expectant mothers (whose chief obstetrician was also his personal physician – medical specialisms then being somewhat less restrictive than they might be today), the conferences of the episcopalian church, supported the revitalisation of his local church (view spoiler), and served on the board of the Metropolitan Museum.

    The narrative follows Morgan strictly until his father’s death. After which it expands and the biography risks trying to chase down to many other stories – the seduction of Morgan’s youngest daughter by half of a Lesbian couple, his Librarian of mixed Dutch-Portuguese decent who was in fact a mixed race woman passing as a young white woman (view spoiler), the America’s Cup, overweight American Presidents, the sinking of the Titanic, yachting with the Kaiser, Edison encouraging Henry Ford to develop a petrol powered combustion engine when the future looked secure for the electric car, the Wright Brothers, in short the whole panoply that springs out of Ragtime.

    In this last stage I felt Strouse had overplayed her hand and filled the text with too many other stories that took us further and further away from Morgan (view spoiler). And rather like Morgan after six hundred pages I too was on the verge of nervous exhaustion, in need of seeing the Pope before popping off to Egypt to buy some antiquities, and then to Aix to avoid taking the waters but having, just a touch, of electricity to help me sleep at nights (view spoiler).

    The timing of Strouse’s biography seems apt coming out in the years after the debate on “Victorian Values” because Morgan seems to be the kind of character who in theory certain politicians would have lauded – public spirited, a philanthropist, exceptionally wealthy; yet in practice would probably have hated – a philander, a man with international perspectives (view spoiler) seemingly more at home abroad than in his native country, and whose social, moral, and religious opinions were unpredictable.
    …more

    Laura C.

    Mar 13, 2009

    rated it
    it was amazing

    Shelves:
    non-fiction

    Have you heard the one about the rich man who, when asked how much it cost to maintain his yaught, replied that if you have to ask, you can’t afford it? That was J. Pierpoint Morgan. This is a serious biography about that man, by a really smart biographer, Jean Strouse. She is a Bancroft Prize in American History and Diplomacy for another of her books, so she knows her stuff. I have to say that I read biography from a very female point of view, and that colors my opinion of the book. To Peirpoin

    …more

    Marks54

    Apr 17, 2012

    rated it
    it was amazing

    This is the best biography of a plutocrat ever. This was an important person, but a fascinating person, whose career literally shaped American business. This is better than “House of Morgan” – also a fine book- and was literally a page turner, obesity a long one!