12 DECEMBER 1885, Page 8


THERE is a solid reason for the interest taken in Europe in the fortunes of the Vanderbilt family, a reason unconnected with the rise and fall of American Railway stocks. It is of the first importance to all politicians to understand clearly the attitude of free Democracies towards property ; and while the Democracy of New York is one of the freest in the world, the Vanderbilts are probably the most offensive kind of millionaires that the world is likely to see. William, the late head of the family, was a man of little education, and no tastes beyond fast trotters and cards ; he ruled an entire system of Railways so completely that the prosperity of New York often

depended upon his action ; and he made enemies in business by the thousand at a time. When once on the war-path, he was merciless, and would ruin other millionaires or Syndicates, or thousands of ordinary investors, with perfect equanimity. He has repeatedly, for example—unless all stories are false—sold

shares in Railways which it was necessary to acquire at ruinously low rates, and then, when the consequent panic had sufficiently depressed them, bought up the whole, then run up the price again—partly, it mast be owned, by sound manage- ment—and so made a tenth or twelfth fortune out of the spoils of thousands. He thought that a business campaign, and so did his rivals ; but though he never transgressed the unwritten laws of his trade, his conduct, apart from its moral side, was certainly not conducive to popu- larity. Moreover, he openly defied, and indeed on one occa- sion publicly damned the general public, which in America is considered a moral wrong—it might, of course, be as often a right as a wrong—and he occasionally flaunted his wealth in a manner a Roman noble could not have exceeded. He gave an entertainment, it is said, one day last year at which his guests ate off gold laid upon fine lace, the wines cost thousands, and flowers were brought from the Southern States at an expense of £4,000. An English millionaire might do that, too ; but Mr. Vanderbilt did it solely to exhibit his means ; was accused of giving each journalist among his guests a thousand- dollar note tied up in his napkin, in order that his magnificence might be reported in detail, and certainly was reported in a style never before seen, the most popular papers of New York devoting many pages to eulogiums on the display. Mr. Van- derbilt, moreover, as a rule—though he broke it twice, once for an institution in Kentucky, and once for General Grant—gave away nothing, was in no way even apparently a public benefactor, and never sought popularity either by manner or by deeds. He was, in fact, the most notorious of money-makers, and so successful, that he is believed to have left behind him fifty millions sterling, and will probably be found to have left thirty-five, most of it invested at an average of 5,5 per cent. Nevertheless, the democracy of New York, which, according to the Tory theory, ought to have tried unceasingly to despoil him, never threatened his wealth, made no attack upon his person, and upon the whole considered him a credit to Republican institutions, and a living proof—which he was—of the magni- tude of American transactions. His father's will, which was contrary to public feeling, he " making an eldest son" of his second child, was upheld by a jury ; and if the deceased millionaire has followed the same course, and again made an eldest son in order that he may again double the monstrous wealth of the family, that will be sustained also. The-re is absolutely no evidence that this democracy, at all events, dislikes great aggregations of wealth, or that it will avail itself of its sovereignty to pillage any one, even though his accumulations should rise to a point at which he might become potentially a danger to the community. That such wealth might accrue to an individual in America is now certain. It is a common belief that a thrifty family always in the end produces a ruinous spendthrift ; but it rests on imperfect evidence. The Rothschilds have not pro- duced one. The Hohenzollerns have not produced one. There are Dutch families which have gone on accumulating for genera- tions in spite of the law of equal division, and Indian families, —e.g., the Maharajas of Bard wan, who are only subjects, —have added to the family treasure for eight generations. Accumulation may become a family tradition, like another, and the new Vanderbilt has reached the point at which mere accumulation produces colossal fortunes. Let him spend on himself £100,000 a year, surely a fair allowance, and supposing him to inherit thirty-five millions at 5 per cent., he will in thirty years, without calculating compound interest, be worth £87,000,000, or calculating it, more than £100,000,000 sterling. There is no limit, be it remem- bered, to the power of investment in a country which every ten years wants a new five thousand miles of railway, and makes those railways when well managed yield 10 per cent. Such a pecuniary power in one man's hand would be a danger to the State, for he might practically monopolise means of communication, buy a small State, purchase all shares in all city waterworks, or repeatedly and visibly " corner " the currency—i.e., hide away for a time all surplus gold. He could in a week raise the rate of discount from 5 to 10 per cent., and make a profit on the operation. Even then, we question if Democracy would interfere. It has borne the regrating of wheat (vide the history of Chicago passim) the monopoly of medicines like quinine, and the monopoly of water, and it would bear a great deal before it destroyed its own hope of getting rich by a visible blow at property. It could not in New York put on a pro- gressive Income-tax, beginning, say, at £100,000 a year, for that is prohibited by the Constitution ; and though it could compel division at death, it will be slow to abolish its own cherished liberty of bequest. The single risk a mammoth millionaire would run would be that of being pronounced insane against evidence, on account of a troublesome whim, and every millionaire in England runs that risk on every day of his life.