Morgan to Offer His Own Measure

Ambrose Bierce

San Francisco Examiner/February 22, 1896


WASHINGTON. February 21. After the adjournment of the Senate Committee on Pacific Railroads today I had a conversation with Senator Morgan. He asked me to assure the people of California that he is maturing a plan for their relief, which he hopes will satisfy all their reasonable demands and just expectations.

This I understand to foreshadow a minority report and a bill in place of the Frye bill, which, with trifling modification, will almost certainly be favorably reported by the majority.

Nor have I much doubt that the Frye bill would pass both houses were it not for the Republican managers’ wholesome fear of losing the Pacific states in the presidential election. That may not prove an absolute deterrent, but the best service that can be done to California by Californians is to impress Speaker Reed and his assistant men of destiny with the imminence and dread of that penalty.

Whatever may be the fate of a Pacific Railroads bill introduced by Senator Morgan, the people of California may confidently assume that it will embody the honest convictions of the clearest intellect and most righteous heart in the Fifty-fourth Congress. His assurance that he is evolving a plan is ground of hope. With such a message from such a man despair would be a blunder and a crime.

The purpose of the adjournment of Mr. Huntington’s examination before the Senate Pacific Railroads Committee is to permit the witness to enrich his mind by reading. He protested that he did not care to read, but Senator Morgan succeeded in convincing him that he did, and that the report of the Pacific Railroads Commission of 1887 was what would most improve his mind.

Through “The Examiner” Mr. Huntington expressed sovereign contempt for that report, declaring repeatedly that the commission had not known “what it was talking about,” and characterizing its conclusions as “tales picked up at the street corners,” and “words in the air.” He averred his indifference to the report, and said that in giving his own testimony before the commission he had not considered that the matter gone into were “any of its business.” Asked if he were altogether indifferent to public opinion, he said he was, so long as one man thought well of him—that man he named as C. P. Huntington.

Senator Morgan promptly reminded him that he ought to be very happy, then, considering how very well of him that gentleman thought. Mr. Huntington confessed that he was happy (though he did not look it), and the incident closed by his agreeing to read the report upon which he is to be questioned. It is to be hoped that he will not only read it, but return the book in which it is contained. But two sets of these volumes are known to be extant. At one time there were many, but from time to time they have disappeared as mysteriously as the account books of the famous Contract and Finance Company. Most men having a knowledge of the matter believe, or profess to believe, that they have been “removed” by some persons having an interest in their removal; others prefer the cheerful view that they have “walked out” of the various libraries of their own motion in obedience to an instinct of self-destruction which they could not master.

The first hour of Mr. Huntington’s examination this morning was consumed in vain attempts to make him say (even within five millions of dollars) how much stock of the Contract and Finance Company he owned. The witness’ memory had not retained a trace of all that. But all along he had been quite clear that he never at any time owned more than about a half-million dollars’ worth of the shares of the Central Pacific, and that much he owns yet.

Turning to the report of the commission, Senator Morgan pointed out the testimony of Governor Stanford that $54,000,000 of that stock had been divided equally among himself, Crocker, Hopkins and Huntington. At this the witness was a trifle confused. His explanation was that, although the late Governor Stanford was a truthful man, he did not know very much of such matters. He must have been misinformed. Mr. Huntington finally admitted that some such amount of stock was voted to the four persons by themselves, but be thought it was not delivered. It was sold and the money delivered.

The matter of the disappearance of the Contract and Finance Company books was gone into again. It is a dull day when that does not come up. Not much new was elicited. Mr. Huntington manifested a fresh sorrow that the books could not be had out of the “dark abyss of time” for his vindication, and explained his light esteem of Dan Yost, John Miller and others whose testimony in the days that are no more seemed to implicate the late Mark Hopkins in the destruction of the books. Mr. W. B. Brown, though, he thinks “a pretty good man.”

The Judgment of the Commission of 1887, that the entire cost of the Central Pacific road, as built and equipped, did not exceed $36,000,000, the witness considered an idle expression of an unfounded belief, although it was based on the sworn testimony of many railroad men, engineers and others, including the men who built it. The witness’ “guess” was that it could not have cost less than $80,000,000. What it will have cost by next Friday will depend on Mr. Huntington’s controversial needs at that time.

Something developed to-day that has hitherto been overlooked, namely, that the construction of the road cost not only all that the Directors of the road had to give themselves as Directors of the construction company, but $6,000,000 more. Mr. Huntington and his associates not only cleaned themselves out, but took their own notes for what was not in sight. This six million dollars’ worth of promissory notes was afterward paid in 1871 by land grant bonds taken (by themselves from themselves) at an agreed value of 86 per cent of their face value. They were sold for a good deal more than that—how much more heaven did not put into Mr. Huntington’s heart to say.

The cost of the Central Pacific road, to the company’s unfortunate outside shareholders and to the country, is to-day not, as it was yesterday, $116,400,000, but $122,400,000. How much it will be by the time that Senator Morgan shall have got done stimulating the slothful memory “that would fain forget” one hardly ventures to conjecture.




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