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#142 Teddy Roosevelt and J.P. Morgan
August 30th, 2020 | E142

What I learned from reading The Hour of Fate: Theodore Roosevelt, J.P. Morgan, and the Battle to Transform American Capitalism by Susan Berfield. 


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[0:17] Morgan was the most influential of these businessmen. He wasn’t the richest but that didn’t matter; he was commanding in a way none could match. 

[0:38] Morgan had an aristocrat’s disdain for public sentiment and the conviction that his actions were to the country’s advantage, no explanations necessary. 

[0:50] Roosevelt thought big business was not only inevitable but essential. He also believed it had to be accountable to the public, and Roosevelt considered himself the public. 

[1:04] Each [Morgan and Roosevelt] presumed he could use his authority to determine the nation’s course. Each expected deference from the other along the way.

[2:18] “I’m afraid of Mr. Roosevelt because I don’t know what he’ll do,” Morgan said. “He’s afraid of me because he does know what I’ll do,” Roosevelt replied. 

[5:24] Morgan had trusted his father to set him on the right path and steer his career, even when his father was overbearing, Morgan never mounted a challenge. The creator of the biggest companies the world had ever known was very much the creation of paternal influence. 

[9:58] Morgan said he could do a year’s work in nine months, but not twelve. His impatience could be withering. 

[10:17] Roosevelt adopted his father’s motto, “Get action.” 

[10:35] Roosevelt never sat when he could stand. When provoked, he would thrust, and when he hit, he hit hard

[11:11] Theodore loved to row in the hottest sun, over the roughest water, in the smallest boat

[12:09] When they attacked Roosevelt, he would fire back with all the venom imaginable. “He was the most indiscreet guy I ever met.” 

[16:36] When one of the gentlemen complained later about Morgan’s interference in their roads, Morgan snapped: “Your roads? Your roads belong to my clients.” 

[19:26] John D. Rockefeller said his company was efficient. Critics said it was untouchable. 

[23:04] James J. Hill had built the Great Northern with deliberate thrift and brutal efficiency. His railroad would become among the most profitable in the Northwest. He didn’t need Morgan the way other railroad executives did. 

[25:52] “A soft, easy life is not worth living, it impairs the fiber of brain and heart and muscle. We must dare to be great.”, Roosevelt said

[29:18] Harriman secretly bought up shares in Northern Pacific. This was revenge. Hill and Morgan had effective control over the Northern Pacific, but they didn’t own a majority of the shares. Morgan had never found it necessary to own a company outright in order to exert influence. 

[35:02] The president had asked his attorney general to prosecute Northern Securities for violating the Sherman Act. Roosevelt should have warned him, Morgan grumbled. They could have worked out a deal in private. Presidents didn’t keep secrets from the captains of industry, and the House of Morgan had never before been surprised by the White House. 

[37:29] After Morgan left, Roosevelt marveled at the financier’s imprudence. “That is the most illuminating illustration of the Wall Street point of view. Mr. Morgan could not help regarding me as a big rival operator, who either intended to ruin all his interests or else could be induced to come to an agreement to ruin none.” 

[39:06] Roosevelt understood how panic could outrun reality

[47:00] People will love Roosevelt for the enemies he has made. 

[50:21] Morgan repeated the advice he had received from his father long ago: “There may be times when things are dark and cloudy in America, when uncertainty will cause some to distrust and others to think there is too much production, too much building of railroads, and too much development in other enterprises. In such times, and at all times, remember that the growth of that vast country will take care of all.” 

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