JP Morgan, the first Federal Reserve
“A man always has two reasons for doing anything: a good reason and the real reason.” J. Pierpont Morgan.
He locked his guests in the room, took the key and went to his office. He had heard enough. The President of the United States and the country’s leading bankers now had two options: reach an agreement or die of starvation in J.P. Morgan’s study.
He plopped down in his chair, and started to play his favorite game: solitaire. He may well have been the best player in the country, after so many years practicing… Since he was an adolescent, when illness kept him bedridden for months. In the process, three of his hobbies were solidified: Solitaire, art galleries, and his admiration of Napoleon. What the diminutive French emperor had achieved with military strategy, he would achieve with his decisive influence on the economy of the world’s fastest-growing country.
He cleared his throat, noticing it was a bit irritated. He went over to the lamp and turned the lights on in his office. With a hint of a smile, he made the same theatrical gesture that Edison made years prior, in that same room, by turning on the lightbulbs in the first house with electricity… His house, of course: after all, he was his investor.
He had not forgotten the disdainful words of his father. “You’ve been fooled by a charlatan.” He dreamed of building an industry, to lay the foundations of an energy source that would compete with Rockefeller’s oil, and Carnegie’s steel. Back then he longed to emulate his father, who had amassed great fortune in Europe thanks to his knack for financing. He never got to earn his respect… This weighed down on his heart yet still drove him to attain increasingly more power. What would his father say now, seeing him lock the President of the United States in his study and force him to cut a deal with bankers on public finance?
Of course, that had happened many years prior, when he was the principal investor of Edison General Electric. After the death of his father, he had laid it all on the line with the brilliant inventor, who ultimately disappointed him. His negotiating skills (and economic prowess) were what allowed him to offset the victory of Tesla and Westinghouse in the War of Currents. He had fired Edison, and changed the company’s name. General Electric was now supplying electricity to households in the world’s most advanced country…
“Sir, the deliberation is over. Apparently they have not reached an agreement.”
He gave a gesture to thank his assistant for the information, wondering how many hours had passed, and decided to briefly savor the moment. Theodore Roosevelt had been the scourge of the big monopolies that had caused the country to grow at an unprecedented rate. Now, one of the most influential monopolists was going to save the government from bankruptcy. Again. He wondered, proudly, who would fill his shoes when he was gone. Who would play the role of middleman between the banks and the government. Who… or what institution would be created to take his place. Without realizing it, Pierpont Morgan was in fact the embryo of the Federal Reserve.
He looked around, admiring his private art collection. It was another obsession that had brought the scorn of his father. And another aspect that he would be remembered for, his ticket to immortality as a great patron.
And finally his gaze settled on the portrait atop his desk. Mimi, his first wife. It was not always on the table—only when he was feeling melancholy. Fanny had comforted him in his widowhood, given him children and made him happy. But every time he focused on Mimi’s face, it struck a deep chord for him emotionally. He needed to wallow in this vulnerability, more and more often, as he got older. Was this a sign of weakness? Perhaps… Or maybe a sign of his more human side that few people knew.
Mimi became ill with tuberculosis when their relationship was already solidified, and Pierpont did not hesitate to marry her a few days later. He spent a fortune on doctors and specialists, trying to find a cure. Not even today, being one of the most powerful men on the planet, could he have saved her. When Mimi died, four months after their wedding, his world came crashing down. Death is the ultimate enemy, and all his power was useless in the nakedness of life’s final moment. And the impotence of the last breath. Seeing her die in his arms, feeling her breath fade away, her muscles become rigid…
Some people said that looking into the eyes of J. Pierpont Morgan was like standing in front of a train hurtling full steam ahead. They could not fathom where that strength came from, that inner rage that sought to fill the painful void she had left in him. And the world was not enough…
He rose with a heavy heart, shaking off the dreary thoughts as he had done for so many years. He went to the room where his guests were still arguing, but clearly exhausted by now. He drew a manuscript from his pocket and headed for the table.
“Here’s what we’re going to do. You’re all going to put your signature at the end of the document. Then we’ll all shake hands and everyone will go home satisfied with the agreement.”
Naturally, everyone signed it. Nobody had resisted J.P. Morgan for so long. Everyone, absolutely everyone, moves out of the way when a train approaching at full bore threatens to wipe out everything in its path.
By Luis Huete and Javier García Arevalillo