Source: Harper’s Weekly
Source type: magazine
Document type: article
Document title: “The News in Wall Street”
Author(s): Lefèvre, Edwin
Date of publication: 14 September 1901
Volume number: 45
Issue number: 2334
|Lefèvre, Edwin. “The News in Wall Street.” Harper’s Weekly 14 Sept. 1901 v45n2334: p. 913.|
|McKinley assassination (impact on economy); Wall Street.|
|Roswell P. Flower; Jay Gould; E. H. Harriman; James R. Keene; William McKinley; J. Pierpont Morgan; John D. Rockefeller; Nathan Mayer Rothschild; Jacob Schiff.|
|The author’s last name is spelled herein with an accent in accordance with the spelling in the subsequent issue of the magazine.|
The News in Wall Street
THE stupendous exhibition of strength given by Wall Street on Saturday is the
most striking commentary of the solidarity of the nation’s prosperity. The character
of the calamity which called forth the triumphant test of it was such as to
lift the dealings in the stock-market far above the plane of mere gambling.
It was not a question of the pricking of a speculative bubble which, sooner
or later, must have burst of itself in obedience to inexorable financial laws.
But Mr. McKinley’s personality had been so associated in the popular mind with
the country’s welfare that the large body of investors in our securities might
have been pardoned for those feelings of overwhelming fear which by sheer contagion
of multitudinous example do so much to cause panics.
It was obvious that the effect of Mr. McKinley’s attempted assassination on the stock-market must be of a sentimental nature. But business, as Baron Rothschild said, is sentiment. Undoubtedly, had the news of the shocking crime been received by Wall Street at, say, eleven in the morning, terrible scenes would have followed. Coming as it did, after the close of business, the strongest interests in the country were enabled to devise effective measures for checking a panic. There was, in addition, the fact that not a person in the United States but at first feared the worst. The tenor of such information as came from Buffalo on Saturday morning relieved all minds. It was sentiment, again, but it played an important part later. Business men remained business men, not fear-crazed speculators. Mr. McKinley might live. But, even if the assassin’s bullets achieved their dastardly end, why should the calamity impair our prosperity? He had builded well, had the “Advance Agent of Prosperity.” His work would endure.
Wall Street met at the Waldorf-Astoria on Friday night. The air was full of rumors. The first numbing shock of the grief at the deed itself had moderated. Men had time to think of themselves. The corridors were full of stock speculators. There were no haggard faces; if anything, they showed an odd, semi-apprehensive curiosity. The men desired news. There was, perceptibly, self-interest in their nervousness. But picturesqueness there was none, save from time to time when some new-comer confidentially told a friend that the latest reports offered no hope, and the friend told his friend, who in turn told others. You could trace the progress of the news in the crowd—trace it from face to face, as countenances ceased to show semi-apprehension and betrayed downright fear. It was, for all the world, like an autumn gust passing over a wheat-field, making its flight visible in the progressive bowing of the blades.
From an early hour on Saturday it was evident that no senseless panic need be apprehended. The Clearing House Committee met, and assurances were forthcoming that the New York banks would stand by the Street. Before the market opened it was known that Messrs. Morgan, Rockefeller, Gould, Harriman, Schiff, Keene—all the heavy artillery of the Street—were solidly arrayed on one side. There was a solid phalanx of financial wisdom, an impregnable rampart of gold. Ex-Governor Roswell P. Flower died suddenly on Friday night, May 12, 1899. On Saturday morning the Stock Exchange was filled with brokers whose faces were livid with fear—for their customers and for themselves. It came at the height of a period of overspeculation when securities, at inflated prices, were held mainly by thousands of speculators whose resources were utterly inadequate to meet such a crisis—speculators who, moreover, regarded Mr. Flower as the guiding spirit of the market. There was a crash, and lambs were shorn by the thousands. The tragedy of ruined stock gamblers was there. But on Saturday last it was different. Speculation in stocks had been at a low ebb for weeks. The commission-houses were carrying but few stocks. The danger of tight money had been averted by the prompt decision of the banks to come to the Street’s aid if necessary.
If Wall Street showed anything, outwardly, on Saturday, it was a striking dignity. There was no excitement. A stranger could not have told anything unusual had happened. There was less bustle and rushing to and fro than on any of the boom days of last spring. The Stock Exchange was not thronged. Its temporary quarters in the Produce Exchange do not admit of much space for sight-seers. Just before ten o’clock crowds of members began to cluster about the various “posts,” leaving long lanes and empty spaces. There was a strange calmness on the faces and in the demeanor of the brokers, amounting almost to indifference. The atmosphere of the place was not surcharged with apprehension, as on “Blue Thursday,” when all would sell, at any price, nor with the trembling eagerness of the day after Mr. McKinley’s re-election when all would buy, at any figure.
The tape printed the “opening” quotations. They showed moderate declines. The customers in the brokers’ offices, the bank presidents in their inner rooms, a hundred thousand people throughout the United States, breathed a sigh of relief. It might have been so much worse. Toward the end of the business day values again fell. The bank statement was not favorable, and the rumor ran that the President was dead. But there was no panic. Wall Street had passed unscathed through a great crisis. There was throughout one sustaining influence, effective as none other could have been, powerful beyond description, that of Mr. J. Pierpont Morgan. All helped: other great bankers and the public itself. But Mr. Morgan in some manner incarnated the feeling of confidence in the stability of our financial institutions, of the great industrial enterprises of the United States.