The Memoirs Of Frederick T. Gates


Compelled at length to break their silence, the terrified secretaries had not the moral courage to rectify their conduct. When commanded to send back the check, they could find words to reply only that they had already spent all the money. It was used up; it was gone beyond recall. This, of course, as should have been foreseen, only added to Congregational wrath, humiliation and chagrin.

Most of the hard words uttered against Mr. Rockefeller were no doubt sincere, but there were some which did not bear precisely the odor of sanctity. A celebrated New York pastor, well-known throughout the country and a man of great ability, delivered publicly in stately phrases his penetrating and righteous judgment against accepting Mr. Rockefeller’s tainted money. Yet it was not so very long before that this very man had visited me in person in Mr. Rockefeller’s private office to solicit funds for a special cause for which he stood before the country as champion. Many thousands of Mr. Rockefeller’s money had been turned over to him in person for his cause.

A leading Congregational pastor of New England, formerly a Baptist, a classmate of mine and an old acquaintance and friend of Mr. Rockefeller, felt constrained to join in the hue and cry. I remembered a letter of his to his friend, Mr. Rockefeller, pleading for a favorite cause quite out of the proper scope of general charity.

An aggravated case was that of an eminent Presbyterian divine, the head of an important interdenominational alliance. He had annually written Mr. Rockefeller for its support over his own signature, and with his own hand had endorsed the checks that had always been sent to him personally. He was a friend of Colonel S. C. T. Dodd, himself a Presbyterian, one of the best of men, who had given its legal organization to the Standard Oil Trust and had always since been its solicitor. Only just before the controversy the eminent divine, with his treasurer, had visited Colonel Dodd at 26 Broadway to get through him an introduction to Mr. Rockefeller whom they wished to solicit in person.


After this man had appeared among Mr. Rockefeller’s public maligners, he had nothing better to reply to Colonel Dodd’s immediate and sharp arraignment than that he had never asked or received any money from Mr. Rockefeller, and that he had only intended to introduce his treasurer and let him do the talking. Colonel Dodd was shown his annual letters of appeal. They bore his signature and the answering checks all bore his autograph endorsement.

As the storm continued from day to day, I looked with increasing impatience for the secretaries to come out and tell the truth. But at last my patience gave way. I took the matter to Dr. Bradford. I told him that I intended to make a complete public exposure of the facts for the Associated Press. He begged for time to write to Boston. I agreed to wait two or three days for the result. Within the allotted time the New York dailies in diminished headlines stated that “it was understood in Boston that the Rockefeller gift had been solicited.”

Even this feeble and belated acknowledgement had potency enough to bring sudden calm to the elements, so exactly had the whirlwind been pivoted on the “surprise.” All the excited orators, letter writers, and editors subsided at once into the silence of chagrin.

While the tempest was at its height I wrote to Mr. Rockefeller defending Dr. Gladden, and asserting that he and most of his followers, however misguided, were sincere and honest men, pointing out that silence under attack had always been regarded by the public as evidence of guilt and often rightly; that no company, however great, could afford to defy the public opinion of the nation, even when that opinion was misinformed and mistaken; and that such storms as these might be expected with increasing violence, unless the Standard Oil Company ceased to imitate the ostrich.

I wrote with considerable warmth, and Mr. Rockefeller replied with corresponding coolness. But at the close of the letter he asked me to see Mr. Archbold, at that time the head of the trust. I did, and it transpired at that interview that Mr. Rockefeller had sent my letter to Mr. Archbold with one from himself, in which he had frankly yielded the whole question. In a few days Mr. J. I. C. Clarke, a well-known newspaperman, was openly installed in the Standard Company’s office as publicity agent and the great corporation has never returned to its former policy.

Some months later, at the meeting of the triennial National Conference of Congregational Churches, a languid public attention was briefly turned back to the tainted money controversy. Dr. Gladden, president of the council, publicly reviewed with great power, eloquence, and passion the whole question, mainly attacking the conduct of the secretaries. But the council refused to be excited. Resolutions both for and against accepting questionable money were alike laid on the table and, to use the descriptive word of Dr. Gladden, the whole issue was “dodged.” Even the attempt to rebuke the secretaries for soliciting Mr. Rockefeller was side-stepped.

As for Mr. Rockefeller personally, there was not a member of the council but felt in his heart a secret sympathy for the innocent victim of his own largeminded generosity. Dr. Gladden himself withdrew his aspersion of Mr. Rockefeller’s motives: “Mr. Rockefeller had not thrust his offering on the Board ... If this fact had been clearly stated at the outset the attitude of many minds would have been different.”