Tuesday, May 5, 2015

The Lost Speech of Peter S. Grosscup, IV: Who Shall Own America?


“Power,” as Daniel Webster pointed out nearly two centuries ago in 1820, “naturally and necessarily follows property.”  No one understood this better in the early twentieth century than Judge Peter S. Grosscup of the United States Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals.

More than that, he was getting other people to understand it, too.  His series of articles on the necessity of expanded capital ownership from 1903 to 1914 when World War I cut off discussion of everything except that were so popular that magazines carrying his writings advertised the fact in newspapers.

Not that he didn’t make enemies.  From 1909 to 1911 one magazine — possibly because Grosscup did not publish in it — hired a detective, a former Secret Service agent, to follow him around and try to dig up some dirt.  When Grosscup announced his retirement from the bench in 1911 and his plan to submit his resignation to President Taft, the magazine gleefully (and rather maliciously) declared that they had the goods on Grosscup as the result of an (illegal) break-in during which certain allegedly incriminating documents had been obtained.

Outraged, Grosscup responded immediately.  As related in the Pittsburgh Gazette Times of Thursday, September 21, 1911 (page 7, if you must know),

Grosscup Defies Spy;
Won’t Quit Under Fire
————
Federal Judge Shadowed by Writer, May Withhold His Resignation

De Yella Kid sez, "Only de fines' yella journalism."
[By Associated Press to Gazette Times.]
CHICAGO, Sept. 20.—United States Judge Peter S. Grosscup today figuratively tied a string to his forthcoming resignation from the bench by declaring that if any interest, organization or individual is now investigating his record and wants further time to cloud his 19 years’ public service by intimating he is retiring under pressure, he will not tender his resignation to President Taft on October 3, as he announced yesterday.
Following the formal announcement yesterday by Judge Grosscup that he would resign from the federal bench, he confirmed a report that he had been under surveillance for two years by some unfriendly agency, whose motive he could not give.  It developed that the man, who has directed this inquiry, is Laurence Richie.  He has done little else for two years.  He or his agents, during that period, have dogged Judge Grosscup’s every step.
So persistent was the pursuit that when the judge went abroad a year ago last spring, he was not allowed to go alone.  It developed during the day that Richie was employed by a magazine published in New York.

A few days later it was revealed that Richie had broken into the office of Marshal E. Sempsell, formerly private secretary to Grosscup, and had stolen papers relating to a bankruptcy case.  Grosscup immediately “invite[d] a far reaching investigation of his official conduct and urged the appointment of a committee of pantmen [sic] to investigate all the charges that may be brought against him by responsible persons.”  (Lewiston, Maine, Daily Sun, Friday September 22, 1911, p. 4.)

Demonstrating that people who bring vague and false charges against others out of malice fear nothing more than the truth, the so-called scandal evaporated the moment the authorities allowed Grosscup to defend himself.  (His being a public figure with access to the media didn’t hurt any, either.)  Ironically, Taft delayed Grosscup’s resignation anyway in the hope that an unrelated bankruptcy case could be settled quickly.  It wasn’t, and Grosscup retired from the bench effective October 23, 1911.

Grosscup was lucky.  He not only had the truth on his side, he had the power to be able to ensure that people heard the truth directly from him, rather than leave him at the mercy of innuendo and slander.  Most people today don’t have that because they lack ownership of capital, and thus the power, to resist injustice.  That’s another reason why we’re promoting our “Five for the Family” campaign so strongly.  Nobody should be at the mercy of malicious and vindictive gossips who seek to destroy anyone who disagrees with them, regardless of the damage they do to anyone else.

But how to become owners?  In Grosscup’s analysis, the law itself was acting against the best interests of the people by preventing them from becoming part owners of America’s vast corporate wealth:

People Have No Means of Securing an Interest in Combinations

The third fact is, that the people’s lack of ownership in the incorporated property of the country is not because the men and women who have saved something have no wish to set these savings at work for something more, nor that the workman and employee have no wish to have some proprietary part in the enterprise to which they are attached, but chiefly because, as the corporation is now organized and managed, there is no reasonably secure way to set such savings at work, or to acquire such part toward the general diffusion among the people of incorporated property, both the national government and the States thus far have been entirely indifferent. They have acted as if, having invited settlers into some fertile new region, the hands of the states and nation were at once withdrawn, leaving the land without law. It is indeed a thousand times worse than that, for such a region would be small and remote, while the region covered by the corporations of the country is bounded only by the nation’s boundaries, and lies close at every man’s door. At every turn of the year we see some part of this region of incorporated property ravaged — during the past few months deeply ravaged — but we stand still, never thinking, perhaps, that it is on account of just such ravages, and of the indifference of our national and state government, that the country’s richest property field is effectively withdrawn from popular occupation — that the whole institution of private property is suffering shocks that may eventually wreck it.

There is still another fact that must not be overlooked, and that is, that competition will never be effectually restored until the capital of the country, springing, as it does, from every quarter of the country, and from the energy and frugality of all her people, is at the call, not of those who would suppress competition, but of those who would encourage it; and that this will never be the case until the corporation, the only medium through which capital can effectively be wielded, becomes, in the eyes of the people, a trustworthy medium for the wielding of the people’s wealth and energy.

Wealth to Wall Street. . .
What, then, is the work that confronts us? Should we, for the sake of election tactics, be content to merely denounce or hawk at this industrial institution? Should we follow those so-called leaders who think that what it took the human race all its lifetime to build up can be taken down in a day and without a jar? They have had the center of the stage for a good while back and nothing practical has yet been accomplished.

. . . or the Street Where YOU Live?
Should we, on the other hand, go over to those who would leave the whole problem to time to work out — who would do nothing for fear that conditions might be disturbed? It is out of this do-nothing policy — this unrestricted license that has prevailed — that the problem has risen. But for that license the corporation scandals that confront us would not have been. Had the corporations been known trustworthy institutions the wealth of the country, instead of being poured into Wall Street, would have been expended elsewhere in the development of the country’s industries — each community depending much more largely upon itself for the means of working out its own development. And had our development proceeded on such lines, the bank failures that have been startling us for the last few days would not have occurred, for in nearly every instance such failure has been due to some overleaping personal ambition having too easy access to great money deposits. No, no. The work to be done is not to tear down, nor yet again to let alone. The work to be done is to reform — if need be, to rebuild — this intermediary between the country’s wealth and the country’s industries; to readjust it to the American instinct for fair play and for every man having a fair part in the affairs of life.

*          *          *          *
Grosscup wasn’t wrong — but he wasn’t fully right, either.  The institutional barriers preventing people from becoming owners are not necessarily specific laws (those can be changed almost at will), but a tax system that discourages widespread ownership, and a monetary system that is not open to use by all qualified people.  It’s access to money and credit that determines who owns, not a specific law.

#30#

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