Tuesday, June 26, 2012

When Cortelyou Broke Loose

April 6, 1907, The Saturday Evening Post, Volume 179, No. 40, pages 18-20

When Cortelyou Broke Loose

POSTMASTER-GENERAL CORTELYOU spoke about twenty consecutive words at a Cabinet meeting the other day.

"Good gracious!" said the President; "such loquaciousness on your part is positively brutal, Cortelyou."

The Senator's Secretary

IT REALLY was a shame to do a thing like that to so earnest a young man as George B. Cortelyou, Secretary of the Treasury.

Before he knew the short cuts about the building the high financiers of New York, whose friend he had always been, handed him a fine, ready-made panic, neatly done up in a package, guaranteed to last for three days, and sat back to see what he would do with it. To be sure, the high financiers intended the panic as a gift for President Roosevelt also; but, in the natural course, they gave it to Cortelyou knowing he would pass it along to his chief.

Take it home to yourself. Suppose you had been leading a peaceful, not to say bucolic, life as Postmaster-General, deciding on rural free-delivery routes and signing commissions for postmasters; and suppose, again, you had been transferred to the Treasury department to handle the finances of the Government. Wouldn't it jolt you if, when you expeceted to have some months or weeks to familiarize yourself with the workings of the Treasury, in that seclusion that is obtained through the liberality of the Nation in the matter of negro messengers and doorkeepers, who are also good barbers and cooks and butlers, a Wall Street flurry of great proportions was arranged and pulled off, and you were asked four hundred times a minute, by wire and telephone and by every other known and unknown method of inquisition: "What is the Treasury going to do about it?"

It wasn't clubby of those Wall Street fellows. The mere fact they are so sore about the President and his railroad policies they jump every time they see a Washington date-line in the papers is not a sufficient excuse for maltreating Mr. Cortelyou like that. It was positively inhuman. Everybody knew the opposition papers would head up anything Mr. Cortelyou did with the cheerful line for outside consumption: "Cortelyou Rushes to the Aid of Wall Street Gamblers," and Cortelyou knew it better than anybody. Cortelyou also knew he would have to rush. There was no getting around that. It has come to be a fixed principle of our financial government to rush every time Wall Street squeals, and Wall Street was squealing this time so passionately it sounded like the killing-room of a Chicago packing-house when they are workmg overtime to get rid of a consignment of Iowa Chester Whites.

Up Against It

It made no difference that the people who do not do business in Wall Street were going along serenely, doing their work and eating their meals, and saying "Good! Wish it was worse!" each time a slump in stocks was recorded. It made no difference that the whole affair was so palpably a bogy, arranged for the especial benefit of the President. Cortelyou had to do something. He didn't know what to do. He wore himself to a frazzle chasing back and forth between his office and the White House. He went into consultation with the Cabinet on that famous afternoon when Secretary Loeb made his first mot. Six members of the Cabinet foregathered at the White House. "Special Cabinet meeting!" yelled the sleuths who guard the outer doors of the President's office, on the watch for news, "Special Cabinet meeting to take action on the panic!"

"Not so," cautioned Loeb. "It is not a Cabinet meeting. It is merely a meeting of the Cabinet."

Ha! and again, ha! But it was no joke to Cortelyou. He must do something. Finally, he put out a statement. He would release so-and-so and do so-and-so, and it was all very financial. Then the sleuths galloped across to his ofiice. "What does this mean, Mr. Secretary?" they asked.

"What does what mean?" sparred Cortelyou.

"Just exactly what relief will be found in the measures you propose here?"

Oh, dear! Oh, dear! No doubt the explanation clarified. Still, it sounded something like this: If you divide the remainder by the quotient and release twenty-five millions, then the interest bearing two per cents. will be retired and there will be nothing left but the coupons for the other seventy-two millions, which are very tasty when served with mayonnaise dressing. There was a hunted, even a haunted, look in Cortelyou's eyes. Why the dickens hadn't old MacLennan, who wrote the statement, made it a bit less technical? Is it always necessary to go rambling around in this patter of money when MacLennan might have set it out in words of one syllable? Help!

"Gentlemen," to the sleuths, “you must excuse me now. Here is the statement. It speaks for itself. Of course, you do not wish me to assume you do not understand it. Good-afternoon."

And he went into the private oflice and locked the door.

Sporting the Oak

That was an accomplishment, too, for until the advent of Cortelyou there had been no door to lock. The portal to the sanctuary of the Secretary of the Treasury has always been a swinging door, covered with green baize, and there have been certain people who could push through without hold-up by the messenger who stands there.

A day or two after Mr. Cortelyou became Secretary, Assistant Secretary Edwards, a breezy young chap from the West who was made one of the assistants by the President on recommendation of Secretary Shaw, came in to have a conference with his chief.

He started to push through the swinging door. "Cain't go in there, sah," said the messenger. "Mr.Cortelyou is engaged, sah."

"I guess I can go in,” Edwards replied. "It is the rule around here that the assistant secretaries can go in, and in I go."

Secretary Cortelyou appeared to be surprised. "What is it?" he asked.

"Why, Mr. Secretary," said Edwards, “one of the messengers out here tried to hold me up. Said you were busy."

“But I am busy."

"Oh, I know, I know. But, you understand, Mr. Secretary there are certain persons who have had free access to this office at all times."

“Certain persons who have had access at an time?” inquired Mr.Cortelyou.

"Why, yes; persons like the assistant secretaries and heads of divisions. I'll fix up a list of them for you and bring it down in the morning."

"Ah," said Mr. Cortelyou "I see."

And the next moming when Assistant Secretary Edwards came down with his typewritten list, he found the swinging door, covered with green baize, had been removed and a big oak door substituted, and that the door was locked.

Call Again, Pierpont

The panic the railroad financiers put on the Wall Street stage for an exciting run of three days did not interest the President, even casually. He knew how bogus it was. When J . Pierpont Morgan glided gracefully into town and went up to the White House the President: was polite enough and listened attentively, but every time that Napoleon of Finance tried to get something definite he was calmly referred to the messages and speeches of the President on the subject at hand, which was the course of the Administration toward the railroads. It was Mr. Morgan's opinion the President should put out a statement saying he is friendly to the railroads, but the President remarked it was not his day for making statements, and Morgan sailed for Europe without getting a peep from the White House.

Nor did he get invitations to the railroad presidents he wanted the President to call to Washington for conference. The President took the ground, at that time, that he would be glad to see the railroad presidents if they chose to come, but he is busy, and the spring walking is fine, and the green is getting on the trees in Rock Creek Park, and copies of his message and speeches can be obtained, there being no change in his attitude. Whereupon, the railroad presidents waxed indignant and said they would never, never go to Washington, which was foolish in them, for they will have to go some time and it might as well be over with as pottering along. It is a mighty sure thing the President will not go to the railroad presidents, which fact will undoubtedly percolate in time.

The panic was arranged for the especial benefit of the President. It did not feaze him, although the time-honored custom of helping Wall Street out was observed There is an opinion around about the White House that if Wall Street steps on its own toes the yells should come from Wall Street, and not from people whose toes are unbroken and unbruised. And there is no intention of modifying a program that has been fully explained.

Nearly all the statesmen have left the city and when Senator Foraker's excursion into the mysteries of the shooting up of Brownsville by the negro soldiers of the Twenty-fifth Infantry has been completed they will all be gone. The earliest away were Tillman and LaFollette. These patriots are lyceum stars. They have engagements until Congress meets next fall. On the night Congress closed Senator Tillman hopped across to Baltimore and told how he loves the negro in the abstract but has a few fleeting prejudices in the concrete. LaFollette whirlwinds out West and adds to the zest of his nightly appearances on the platform by attacking the Senators of the State in which he speaks.

Whenever things were dull in the Senate and Tillman needed a few more contracts he got up and lashed himself into a fury. He waded out into a river of blood and swam around until he was tired. Then the papers carried some of the speech, and in the next mail there were other offers from lyceum and camp-meeting and summer-school managers to come and be an exhibit.

"Aye!" Said LaFollette

LaFollette knows a few tricks himself. The only way to keep him out of the limelight is to tum it off. When the rate bill was being voted on LaFollette left the Senate chamber hurriedly. He remained out until the vote was taken. Then he came in and walked around to the centre aisle and posed for the benefit of the galleries."Mr. President!" he said.

"Mr. LaFollette," called the clerk.

There was a pause. When everything was quiet LaFolette threw a lot of elocution into his "Aye," and everybody had seen and heard. It would have been quite conventional to remain in the room and vote when the F's came in the roll call.

Champ Clark and General Grosvenor go out and hold fiery joint debates while the awestruck seekers after culture at the summer schools sit and shiver deliciously and wonder when the fighting will begin. Jonathan Prentiss Dolliver makes the eagle scream from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and Charles B. Landis waggles his silver tongue at so much per waggle during the entire vacation. It is profitable too.

Secretary Taft's brothers are still camping on his trail and urging him to be a candidate for President. When Henry is not here from New York Charles is here from Cincinnati. They demand the family name shall be thus honored, and William, the Secretary, is a fond and loving brother. So far as ambition is concerned, Secretary Taft, a great man, is content to do the work at and with but little thought for the future. That idea doesn't impress Charles and Henry. They have a Taft asset in their big brother and they are putting on pressure that will eventually bring Taft smack into the race. Just where he will get off is another question, for unless he can get Ohio he will not cut much of a figure before the National Convention. Standing against the door that leads to the Ohio delegates is the grim figure of Joseph Benson Foraker. If Taft gets those delegates he will be all mussed up in the proceeding.

Fairbanks is out in the field, Shaw is banking in New York, Uncle Joe Cannon has been junketing on the summer seas, and President Roosevelt is getting hoarse saying he meant what he said when he put out his statement on election night in 1904 and declared he will not run again. There will be a lot of summer politics this year, and when Congress meets again in the fall the whirligig will be spinning so fast it will not be discernible to the naked eye.

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