Speaking Of Business

PrintPrintEmailEmailAll the perplexities, confusions, and distresses in America arise… from downright ignorance of the nature of coin, credit, and circulation.—John Adams, letter to Thomas Jefferson, August 25, 1787


Nothing but money is sweeter than honey. —Benjamin Franklin, Poor Richard’s Almanac, 1735

The creditors are a superstitious sect, great observers of set days and times.—Benjamin Franklin, Poor Richard’s Almanac, 1737 [For all his advice about money, records of the Bank of North America in Philadelphia show that Franklin was overdrawn at least three times a week.]

A national debt, if it is not excessive, will be to us a national blessing.—Alexander Hamilton, letter to Robert Morris, April 30, 1781 [One of the reasons the Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan supported a tax cut in testimony before the Senate Budget Committee on January 25 of this year was, he said, that he feared that continuing surpluses might actually erase the “national blessing.” If this happened, he worried, the government might involve itself in private enterprise by investing its newfound wealth in stocks and bonds. Hamilton also understood why eliminating the national debt (much larger in proportion to governmental revenues in his time than in ours) was so difficult: “To extinguish a debt which exists and to avoid contracting more are ideas almost always favored by public feeling and opinion; but to pay taxes for the one or the other purpose, which are the only means of avoiding the evil, is always more or less unpopular.”]

The selfish spirit of commerce knows no country, and feels no passion or principle but that of gain.—Thomas Jefferson, letter to Larkin Smith, 1809

Every monopoly and all exclusive privileges are granted at the expense of the public, which ought to receive a fair equivalent.—Andrew Jackson, vetoing the bill to renew the charter of the Bank of the United States, 1832 [The battle over whether to continue the bank pitted the populist Westerner against the privileged Easterners who ran the bank for the benefit of their own moneyed class—or at least Jackson managed to cast the issue in that way, and his veto propelled him to re-election.]

No nation was ever ruined by trade.—Benjamin Franklin, Thoughts on Commercial Subjects [A saying that could have been emblazoned upon the shields of those who battled for NAFTA.]

Gentlemen: You have undertaken to cheat me. I will not sue you, for the law takes too long. I will ruin you.—Cornelius Vanderbilt, letter, 1854 [Vanderbilt, called the Commodore because he established himself in shipping before turning his attention to railroads, did not speak the same language as Thoreau, below. This letter was addressed to his associates Charles Morgan and Cornelius Garrison, who had planned to undermine a Vanderbilt transit company in order to replace it with one of their own.]

Through want of enterprise and faith men are where they are, buying and selling, and spending their lives like serfs.—Henry David Thoreau, “Baker Farm,” in Waiden , 1854 [The thought is reminiscent of Wordsworth’s line, “Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers,” in The World Is Too Much With Us , 1807.]

The dealers in money have always, since the days of Moses, been the dangerous class.—Peter Cooper, c. 1875 [Cooper, whose many business accomplishments included building the first steam locomotive in America and introducing the Bessemer blast furnace in this country, is remembered best for founding the Cooper Union school in New York City. He used to say that his life fell into three parts: 30 years to get started, 30 years to gain a fortune, and 30 years to dispose of it wisely.]

The almighty dollar, that great object of universal devotion throughout our land…—Washington Irving, “The Creole Village,” in The New Yorker , November 12, 1836

Corporations will do what individuals would not dare do.—Peter C. Brooks, remark to Edward Everett, July 15, 1845 [Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., describes Brooks in The Age of Jackson as the wealthiest man in Boston. Everett, a one-time president of Harvard who held a multiplicity of political posts—U.S. representative, U.S. senator, governor, ambassador, Secretary of State—also was famous as a public speaker. He delivered what was intended as the principal address at the dedication, on November 19, 1863, of the cemetery on the Gettysburg battlefield and graciously admitted to the day’s other speaker, Abraham Lincoln, that “I should be glad if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion, in two hours, as you did in two minutes.” See also Henry Demarest Lloyd (page 108) and Ambrose Bierce (page 109).]

Credit is the vital air of the system of modern commerce.—Daniel Webster, speech in the U.S. Senate, March 18,1834 [Webster was speaking in support of the Bank of the United States.]