Funny how the wikipedia entry of Jay Gould skips over the Civil War, which is when he made his sudden fortune. Gould made genius moves on the stock market and went from a small-time, self-made speculator, to the ninth richest man in U.S. history. He jousted for control of the railroads and telegraph lines of America.
You may wonder how Gould made this meteoric rise to the top of the financial world, but his method was never hidden.
According to The Life of Jay Gould, How He Made His Millions by Murat Halstead and J. Frank Beale Jr.,(Edgewood Publishing Co., 1892):
“Mr. Gould profited largely by his speculation in railway stocks and gold during the war of the rebellion. The keen-sighted intelligent men in “the Street” at that time nearly all made money, and Mr. Gould was at least a millionaire when the Confederacy fell. During the war of the rebellion, Gould’s firm did a large business in railway securities, and also made a great deal of money speculating in gold, and he was able to turn almost every success or defeat of the Union army to profitable account.” The book adds that everyone knew he had inside sources of knowledge, although these sources have never been revealed.
The War Department controlled information regarding the war. Reports from the front came direct to the War Department in cipher, and then the information was massaged before being disseminated to the daily newspapers. Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton was in a position to reap vast sums off the war, provided he had a partner on Wall Street who could put his advance knowledge to good use, and it’s no doubt he found that man in Jay Gould, because Gould became one of the richest speculators on Wall Street within a few years. It’s no wonder this cabal wanted the war to last a few years and not end too quickly. Stanton told Lincoln the war needed to drag on in order for the South to psychologically accept the end of slavery. End it too fast, he said, and the South would insist on keeping their slaves. But it’s far more likely Stanton was involved in war profiteering. The history books portray Stanton as a folk-saint almost on the level of Lincoln, but a careful reading of the diaries of his fellow Cabinet members prove he was really one of the most duplicitous liars in Washington.
But there was another spoke on this wheel of corruption and that is Thomas T. Eckert, Stanton’s assistant and the chief of the telegraph lines at the War Department.
The night of the assassination Lincoln stopped by that office and asked Stanton to accompany him to Ford’s Theater. Stanton rudely declined the invitation, citing he had too much work to do and would be busy into the night. Then Lincoln requested Major Eckert to accompany him, citing Eckert’s imposing physique, but Eckert also strangely declined citing he was working late as well.
Yet both men went home at their usual hour and did not work late that night as they claimed they had to. They both were preparing for bed when they heard news of an attack on Secretary of State Seward.
Stanton became the MacBeth of this drama, however, and was dead within a few years, by which time he was disgraced and out-of-power in Washington. He may have had plenty of money when he died, but he was haunted by the ghost of Mary Surratt.
General Eckert departed public service after the war to work for Gould and quickly become head of Western Union. Everyone always remarked on how close the two were. Gould became so rich, he went up against the British banks and tried to capture a monopoly on gold, an attempt that failed, and he was later swindled out of millions by a man posing as a British Lord in what may have been a British Secret Service operation seeking vengeance. One of Gould’s techniques for hostile corporate takeovers was to flood the market with counterfeit stock, and then buy up the company’s real stock for quarters on the dollar once it crashed. He once claimed he could hire half the country to fight against the other half, so he knew the value of war.
It’s well-known that commercial telegraph lines in Washington suspiciously went dead for two hours immediately after Lincoln’s assassination. Most people assumed at the time the lines had been cut by Confederate spooks, something that would take days to detect and repair, but suddenly the lines came back online without any repairs at all, which should have been a clue the break was an inside job. There was no investigation. Some think that break was designed to allow Booth to escape so he wouldn’t tell what he knew.
I’m more inclined to believe the break was so Gould had the necessary time to make some massive short-sales on Wall Street before the news of Lincoln’s assassination could hit the papers in New York.
Mark Twain considered Gould: “The mightiest disaster that has ever befallen the country.”