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Scammon, John Young. William B. Ogden . Chicago: Fergus Printing Company, 1882. [format: book], [genre: biography]. Permission: Newberry Library
[1857.] WILLIAM B. OGDEN is a native of Delaware County, N.Y. He was born in the town of Walton, on June 15th, 1805. He is of the well-known Ogden family of Eastern New Jersey. His grandfather was in the Revolutionary War. His father, Abraham Ogden, when eighteen years old, left Morristown, N. J., soon after the close of that war, intending to settle in the new city of Washington, the future capital of the United States. He had proceeded on his journey as far as Philadelphia, when he met a brother or relative of his friend, the late Governor Mahlon Dickerson of New Jersey, who gave him such a glowing account of the Upper Delaware country, and of the immense forests of pine timber upon the banks of that river, promising great prospective wealth from its accessibility to the Philadelphia market, that he was induced to accompany Mr. Dickerson to that then wilderness country, where he finally settled, and passed a life of active usefulness, engaged in such employments as were best suited to develop and build up the home of his adoption. He was regarded as a man of sound judgment and good business tact. He was social and domestic, yet fond of reading, and very hospitable in his disposition. His advice was sought and valued, especially by those younger than himself. His active usefulness was much impaired by a stroke of paralysis in 1820. He died in 1825.
The mother of William B. Ogden was a daughter of an officer of the Revolutionary War, James Weed of New Canaan, Fairfield County, Connecticut. Mr. Weed seems to have been very patriotic, or somewhat military in his character, for we find him, at the early age of fourteen, volunteering in the "French War," as that great conflict between Gt. Britain and France, for supremacy on this continent, was called. It began in 1754, and terminated triumphantly for our mother country in 1760. It was a fearful struggle, which aroused the feelings of all the colonists, both British and French. Its extent can easily be appreciated, when we read that "The spring of 1758 saw, on American soil, an army of 50,000 men, 22,000 British regulars and 28,000 provincials, or British American colonists, to fight France and her colonists in America.
At the termination of the Revolutionary struggle, like most of his brother officers, he was out of cash and out of business. Several of these officers, including Mr. Weed, determined to colonize and settle upon and around a "patent" of land which one of their number held upon the Delaware River. This land was a primitive forest, west of the Catskill Mountains, eighty miles (those were not railroad days) beyond the Hudson, and sixty miles beyond the then western frontier or any carriage road. It was a great undertaking; yet these brave men had the courage to seek an independent home with their families in the wilderness. In 1790-92, they took their families, upon pack-horses, to their forest homes; established a settlement in that "Sequestered Section" of the State, as it was afterward called by Governor Clinton, where, though remarkable for neither numbers nor wealth, patriotism found a home, amid dignified courtesy and genuine hospitality. The society formed and developed through the influence of these pioneers was distinguished through all the surrounding country no less for its general intelligence and intellectual cultivation, than for its moral and religious character. It was here that the parents of the subject of this sketch were married, and the earlier years of the latter were passed.
Allusion has not been made to the ancestors of Mr. Ogden from any feeling that worthy parentage can confer honor without
regard to the character of the offspring. The writer holds that such ancestry only adds to the dishonor of him who is not true to his inherited blood. But when worthy parentage is blessed and honored by corresponding qualities in the child, any biography of the latter is deficient, which does not acknowledge the indebtedness of its subject to its parent stock.
Mr. Ogden, when a lad, was large for his years. When not more than ten or twelve years old, he was very fond of athletic exercises, and the sports of robust boyhood. It was his delight to hunt, to swim, to skate, to wrestle, and to ride. These were the sports suited to his "Sequestered" home; and if they trespassed too much upon his time, it was from no indisposition to study, or want of fondness for books. He must have been very fond of these sports in his early youth, for he recollects that his father was obliged to limit his hunting and fishing excursions to two days in the week. As he grew older, the advice of his father awakened in him a consciousness of the necessity of greater application to books, and of the duty of preparing himself for the serious business of life. His father's counsels were not unheeded.
Permitted by his indulgent father to choose his future occupation, he determined to acquire a liberal education, and devote himself to the practice of law. No sooner had he made this determination, than, with the decision of character and that earnestness which have marked his subsequent career, he set to work to fit himself for his chosen profession. He had but little more than commenced his academic course, when the sudden prostration of his father's health required him, though only sixteen years of age, to return home, to take his father's place in the management of the latter's business, and the care of the family. It was with no little regret that the young Ogden bade adieu to the academic halls; but he could not hesitate between inclination and duty.
The management of his father's business exacted great activity and energy from its youthful conductor. It took him much over the country, and frequently to the large cities, and in these journeys he acquired that inclination for varied business pursuits which have rendered his subsequent life one of great activity.
Although this business required much attention, it did not absorb all his strength. He found opportunity to cultivate his mind by reading; and, being a ready observer, and his mind of a strong practical turn, he did not fail to profit by every tour he made. Travel proved to him, as it always does to persons of thought and observation, an efficient educator. It enlarged his views, expanded his thoughts, and increased his powers. At this time he had seen very little of the world. He was only twenty-one years of age, when he was induced to engage as a partner in a mercantile firm, and enlarge his operations. These were moderately successful, but did not satisfy his ambition. After spending a few years more in his native county, his unwearied exertions being rewarded by only moderate gains, he determined, in 1835, to turn his attention westward. He arrived at Chicago in June, 1835, having then recently united with friends in the purchase of real estate in this city. He and they foresaw that Chicago was to be a good town, and they purchased largely, including Wolcott's Addition, and nearly the half of Kinzie's Addition, and the block of land upon which the freight-houses of the Galena and Chicago Union Railroad now stand, on the north side of the river, which was then supposed to be the most promising business part of the town.
Before leaving his native State, at eighteen, the age at which military duty was required of young men, Mr. Ogden was duly enrolled in the militia, and elected a commissioned officer the first day of doing duty; and on the second was appointed Aid to his esteemed friend, Brig.-General Frederic P. Foote, a gallant and polished gentleman, long since deceased. Selah R. Hobbie, for many years a distinguished Assistant-Postmaster-General of the United States, and from boyhood the intimate friend of Mr. Ogden, was at that time a member of General Foote's Staff, as Brigade Inspector, with the rank of Major. Mr. Ogden succeeded Major Hobbie, as Brigade Inspector, and discharged the duties of that office for several years.
In General Jackson's time, Mr. Ogden was made Postmaster of his village (Walton), and so remained until after his removal to Chicago.
The year before coming to Chicago (1834), he was elected to the Legislature of the State of New York, especially to aid in promoting the construction of the New York and Erie Railroad, and to obtain the aid of the State for that great work, in which he felt a deep interest. He spent the winter of 1834-5 in the Assembly at Albany, and the following year the State granted the aid for which he had most ardently labored.
He selected Chicago as his place of residence, because of its prominent position at the head of Lake Michigan, or rather, because of its being the western terminus of lake navigation.
His attention had been more particularly drawn to it by his brother-in-law, Charles Butler, and his friend, Arthur Bronson of New York, both of whom had visited Chicago, in 1833, and made purchases here.
At first, Mr. Ogden's principal business in Chicago was the management of the real estate which he and his friends had purchased; but gradually, and almost accidentally in the beginning, he established a Land and Trust Agency, which he carried on in his own name from 1836 to 1843, when it had so increased that he associated with himself the late Wm. E. Jones. Since then the business has been carried on successively by Ogden, Jones & Co., Ogden, Fleetwood & Co., and Ogden, Sheldon & Co., in which last name it is still managed by his successors. The business became so large that it may be called one of the historical institutions of Chicago.
Mr. Ogden was very successful in his operations, and the house was well known, from 1835 to '36; but he became embarrassed in 1837-8, by assuming liabilities for friends, several of whom he endeavored to aid, with but partial success. He struggled on with these embarrassments for several years. Finally, in 1842-3, Mr. Ogden escaped from the last of them; and his career of pecuniary success was subsequently unclouded. After the panic of 1837, there were gloomy days throughout the whole country, and especially in the West, until 1857, as related in a subsequent portion of this sketch. In Illinois, the old internal improvement system went by the board, and the canal drew its slow length
along, until operations upon it were finally suspended, leaving the State comparatively nothing to show for the millions squandered in "internal improvements."
Mr. Ogden's operations in real estate have been immense. He has sold real estate for himself and others to an amount exceeding ten millions of dollars, requiring many thousand deeds and contracts which he had personally signed. Previous to 1857, the sales of his house equalled nearly one million of dollars per annum. In real estate improvements he made many rough places smooth, and the crooked ways straight. More than one hundred miles of streets, and hundreds of bridges at street corners, besides several other bridges, including two over the Chicago River, were made by him, at the private expense of himself and clients, and at a cost of probably hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Mr. Ogden's mind is of a very practical character. He designed and built the first floating swing-bridge over the Chicago River, on Clark Street, (he had then never seen one elsewhere). It answered well its designed purpose. He was early engaged in introducing into extensive use in the West, McCormick's reaping and mowing machines, and building up the first large factory for their manufacture. In this manufactory, during his connection with it, and at his suggestion, was built the first reaper sent to England, which, at the great London Exhibition of 1851 did so much for the credit of American practical inventive genius.
He was a contractor upon the Illinois and Michigan Canal, and his efforts to prevent its suspension, and to resuscitate and complete it, were untiring.
There is no brighter page in Mr. Ogden's history than that which records his devotion to the preservation of the public credit. The first time that we recollect to have heard him address a public meeting was in the autumn of 1837, while he held the office of mayor. Some frightened debtors, assisted by a few demagogues, had called a meeting to take measures to have the courts suspended, or some way devised by which the compulsory fulfilment of their engagements might be deferred beyond that period, so tedious to creditors, known as the "law's
delay." They sought by legislative action, or "relief laws," to virtually suspend, for a season, the collection of debts. An inflammatory and ad captandum speech had been made. The meeting, which was composed chiefly of debtors, seemed quite excited, and many were rendered almost desperate by the recital, by designing men, of their sufferings and pecuniary danger. During the excitement, the Mayor was called for. He stepped forward, and exhorted his fellow-citizens not to commit the folly of proclaiming their own dishonor. He besought those of them who were embarrassed, to bear up against adverse circumstances with the courage of men, remembering that no misfortune was so great as one's own personal dishonor. That it were better for them to conceal their misfortunes than to proclaim them; reminding them that many a fortress had saved itself by the courage of its inmates, and their determination to conceal its weakened condition, when, if its real state had been made known, its destruction would have been inevitable and immediate. "Above all things," said he, "do not tarnish the honor of our infant city."
To the credit of Chicago, be it said, this first attempt at "repudiating relief" met, from a majority of that meeting, and from our citizens, a rebuff no less pointed than deserved; and those who attempted it merited contempt.
Since then has our State needed all the exertions of its truest and most faithful citizens to repel the insidious approaches of the demon of repudiation. When Mississippi repudiated, and Illinois could not pay, and with many sister States had failed to meet her interest, there were not wanting political Catalines to raise the standard of repudiation in Illinois. The State seemed almost hopelessly in debt; and the money for this immense indebtedness, except so much as had been expended upon the canal, had been wasted, chiefly in the partial construction of disconnected pieces of railroads, which were of no value to the State or people.
The State was bankrupt, and private insolvency was rather the rule than the exception. Many were discouraged by their misfortunes, some of the hopeless were leaving the State on account of its embarrassments, and immigration was repelled by fear of
enormous taxation. Then it was that the wily demagogue sought to beguile the simple and unsuspecting, and to preach the doctrine of repudiation as a right, because "no value had been received" for the money which our public creditors had loaned us, and on account of the hopelessness and utter impossibility of our ever paying our indebtedness. Mr. Ogden then, though his party in its State Convention refused to adopt a resolution which was submitted, "repudiating repudiation," in common with the great mass of his northern fellow-citizens, did not hesitate to proclaim the inviolable nature of our public faith, and the necessity of doing our utmost to meet our obligations, and redeem the credit of our noble State.
In politics, Mr. Ogden, though not much of a partisan, has always been a democrat of the Madisonian school. He has not hesitated to oppose the nominations of his party when, in his opinion, the public interest required it. He has often been in the City Council, and frequently solicited to be a candidate for official positions. He was nominated in 1840, by the canal party, for the Legislature, and in 1852, by the Free Democracy, for Congress. This last nomination he declined. In the recent struggle, he was found with freedom's hosts, in support of the nominees of the Republican party, believing, in common with the great mass of the North, that the encroachments of slavery upon territory dedicated to freedom by the plighted faith of the nation, must be resisted; and that the "principles promulgated in the Declaration of Independence, and embodied in the Federal Constitution, are essential to the preservation of our republican institutions."
Mr. Ogden is a man of great public spirit, and in enterprise unsurpassed. To recapitulate the public undertakings which have commanded his attention, and received his countenance and support, would be to catalogue most of those in this section of the Northwest. He has been a leading man president or director, or a large stockholder in so many public bodies or corporations, that we shall not undertake to make a list of them. Among the prominent places he has occupied, we recollect the following:
chosen Mayor. He was the first and for many years the President of Rush Medical College, the first institution of that kind in Chicago. He was President of the Galena and Chicago Union Railroad Co., from its resuscitation in 1847, until its construction, in part, and earnings had raised its stock to a premium, when he resigned. He was President of the National Pacific Railroad Convention of 1850, held in Philadelphia; of the Illinois and Wisconsin Railroad Company; of the Buffalo and Mississippi Railroad Company, in Indiana, until merged in the Michigan Central; of the Chicago Branch of the State Bank of Illinois, at Chicago; and President of the Board of Sewerage Commissioners for the City of Chicago.
It was Mr. Ogden who first started the resuscitation and building of the Galena and Chicago Union Railroad. He negotiated for the purchase of the charter and assets of the Company, of the proprietors in New York, in 1847, and was the first President of the Company. He was indefatigable in his exertions to commend the enterprise to public attention, and secure its commencement and energetic construction. But for his exertions, and those of J. Y. Scammon, it could not have started when it did. It was their exertions, in the country and in Chicago, that obtained the necessary subscriptions to justify the commencement of the undertaking. Without them, it would not have moved for years.
In 1853-4, Mr. Ogden visited Europe, and was away from Chicago for about a year and a half. He was an accurate observer there, as well as elsewhere, of men and things. The institutions and great public works of Europe did not escape his attention, and some of them were carefully examined by him. It was the canals of Holland, and especially the great ship-canal at Amsterdam, that first suggested to him the practicability, as well as importance and necessity of a channel for the free flow of the waters of Lake Michigan, through the Chicago and Desplaines Rivers, into the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers, in aid of navigation in those streams; and at the same time furnishing free, direct, and unbroken steamboat navigation between the Mississippi River and all its tributaries and Chicago. He doubtless then foresaw the necessity of a deep outlet from Chicago River southward. His
letters from Europe were published in the Chicago Democratic Press at the time, and attracted attention to this great subject, which at this day excites so much interest. While in Europe, Mr. Ogden gave attention, also, to works of art, and purchased quite a number of pictures and articles of virtu, many of them the productions of American artists of merit abroad, and which not only adorned his mansion, but did credit to their producers, and were valuable contributions for the improvement and gratification of the public taste in this new world.
Mr. Ogden is a man of commanding presence, and most agreeable manners of extensive general information, and cultivated taste. We have never known a more amiable or gentlemanly man in intercourse with others. His strong practical sense and great presence of mind made him at home almost everywhere. He was rarely at a loss. Although his education had not been such as to make him a belles-lettres scholar, or an accomplished orator, he wrote well, and was always listened to with attention when he addressed an audience; and few, if any men, exerted more influence in a public body, upon any practical subject than he.
As a traveling companion, we have never seen his equal. His prudence and foresight, and his love of doing the agreeable to others, relieved his compagnons de voyage of all care. It was natural for him to love to aid others. It afforded him great satisfaction to be of service to his friends. Amidst the pressure of his enormous business, he found time to relieve the distressed and to aid the deserving; and many a family in Chicago, who are now basking in prosperity, owe their success to his kind assistance; many a poor widow and orphan have been preserved from want by his care and foresight.
Mr. Ogden is now immensely rich; yet he retains the same fondness for enterprise, the same love for building roads, and developing the country, which have characterized his previous life. He is now President of the Chicago, St. Paul & Fond du Lac Railroad Company, and of the Wisconsin and Superior Land Grant Railroad Company; and, under his auspices, Chicago will, ere long, in all probability, be brought into direct communication
with Lake Superior; and should he live long enough, we should not be surprised to see him building the Northwestern Railroad to the Pacific Ocean.
Mr. Ogden has never married. In 1837, he built a delightful residence, in the centre of a beautiful lot, thickly covered with fine native growth forest trees, and surrounded by four streets, in that part of the city called North Chicago; and there, when not absent from home, he indulges in that hospitality which is, at the same time, so cheering to his friends and so agreeable to himself. * * * * * *
[1867.] The original of the preceding sketch of the life of our late eminent townsman was written and published in 1857. In continuing it to the present date, we but recount the history of Chicago and the Northwest for the last ten years.
Impelled by his love of public improvements, and desire to develop the great West, Mr. Ogden, during the year 1857, was pushing forward with all his energy the construction of the Chicago, St. Paul and Fond du Lac Railroad, two sections of which, from Chicago to Janesville, and twenty-eight miles from Fond du Lac south, were completed and in operation when the memorable financial crisis of that year swept over this country and the commercial world, upsetting many of the strongest commercial houses, and producing general embarrassment in all the business enterprises of the land. The Fond du Lac (the original of the Chicago and Northwestern) Railroad was carrying a large floating debt, pending a sale of its mortgage bonds, and the negotiations abroad suddenly failing, in the crash the paper of the company went to protest. Upon this paper, Mr. Ogden was endorser to the extent of nearly a million and a half of dollars, and was consequently called upon to provide for the payment of this large sum. With his usual energy he set about the Herculean task. These were days of trial, requiring fortitude and good judgment. Aided by the advice and confidence of such friends as William A. Booth, President of the American Exchange Bank, Caleb O. Halsted, President of the Manhattan Company, and his counsellor, Samuel J. Tilden, of New York, he made an exhibit of his
affairs, and was allowed by the creditors of the road to continue in its control, and arrange and liquidate its paper, according to his own judgment; and through the assets of the Company, and the free use of a large portion of his private estate, he succeeded ere long in retiring all the paper of the Company upon which he was endorser. It is due to our common humanity that we should here acknowledge several acts of confidence and good-will, so noble as to deserve especial mention.
The house of which Mr. Ogden was the head at Chicago, had for many years been the agents of Samuel Russell, of Middletown, Connecticut, a wealthy retired merchant, the founder of the well-known house of Russell & Co., of Canton, India. Immediately upon learning that his friend was embarrassed, Mr. Russell wrote to Mr. Ogden's partner at Chicago, to place his entire estate in their hands, amounting to nearly a half million of dollars, at Mr. Ogden's disposal. Robert Eaton, of Swansea, in Wales, an English gentleman of wealth and cultivation, at once sent to Mr. Ogden eighty thousand dollars to use in his discretion. Our well-known citizen, Matthew Laflin, wrote from Saratoga, where he was sojourning, and tendered, from himself and friends, a hundred thousand dollars; and Colonel E. D. Taylor, long an enterprising citizen of Chicago, repeatedly tendered like substantial aid. Although this princely liberality was not accepted, we can readily understand how gratifying it must have been to Mr. Ogden, and how such exhibitions of confidence and esteem at such a time cheered and encouraged him in his trying and difficult position. The responsibility which he had assumed for the road was not prompted, mainly or solely, by the prospect of private gain. Others had a larger pecuniary interest in the road than he, and others in Chicago had as large an indirect interest as he in the extension of the road, and the development of the country, and of the city of his adoption. Undaunted by the reverses which had overtaken him, and confidently forecasting the future in a large mould, he did not hesitate, before he had retired all the paper of the road upon which he was endorser, to push the railway toward completion. In the summer of 1859, he undertook the construction of sixty miles of the road from Janesville
northward, to connect the two sections of the line already in operation, and this was accomplished in the then unprecedented time of fifty-eight working days. The failure of the road, in 1857, involved its sale and re-organization, after which it took the name of the Chicago and Northwestern Railway, and, under this title, Mr. Ogden and his friends continued to push on the line toward Lake Superior, competing for the trade of the Northwest. The old Galena road was seeking for the same trade, and each company was projecting competing lines through territory already supplied with facilities for transportation. He thought this policy injurious to both interests, and that neither the trade and commerce of Chicago, nor the great region lying beyond the points then reached by the roads, were being developed and benefited in a degree at all commensurate with the capital likely to be expended. He thought that by a concentration of interests, mutually beneficial to the stockholders, it would be possible for Chicago, through these roads, and to their profit, to speedily put herself in communication, by rail, with Lake Superior to the North, St. Paul and Minnesota to the Northwest, and the Missouri River, with the boundless region and resources to the West. Moved by these considerations, in the winter of 1864, Mr. Ogden projected the purchase of the Galena Railroad; and this being accomplished by himself and a few friends, the two rival interests were consolidated at the next annual election. The Directors of the Galena Company having, after the retirement of Messrs. Ogden and Scammon, very foolishly and cowardly, some years previously, abandoned to the Illinois Central their line from Freeport to Galena, and thus parted with the great Northwestern terminal artery of their road, the word "Galena" was dropped at the consolidation as a future misnomer, and thenceforward that line took the name of its younger and more enterprising rival. The wisdom of this movement has been more than vindicated by results already accomplished.
At an early day, Mr. Ogden was interested in securing railroad connections for our city with the East at first by the Michigan Central, and subsequently by the Michigan Southern road. On the organization of the Fort Wayne and Chicago Company, in
1853, he became a Director, and ever after, we believe, continued his active interest in that enterprise. The line to Pittsburg then embraced three distinct companies, all weak and all engaged, with limited means and credit, in the work of construction. He regarded a grand trunk line, under one management, from Chicago to Pittsburg, as essential to a valuable business connection with the latter city, as well as with Philadelphia. The roads were subsequently united, but, wanting the strength of a completed line, the enterprise was forced to succumb to the pressure of the times, and in 1859, steps were taken for the appointment of Receivers and a Sequestrator was appointed in Pennsylvania, and a Receiver in Ohio. A want of harmony in the several States seemed likely to end in ruinous litigation, and in defeating the project for a grand trunk line, or at least suspending it indefinitely. This would have been a great misfortune to Chicago; would have involved large losses on the line, not to individuals only, but to counties which had subscribed largely to the stock. The danger was so imminent that a general meeting of stock and bondholders, as well as creditors, was convened at Pittsburg. We have been informed by gentlemen, who were present on that occasion, that the sagacity and discretion of Mr. Ogden were never more strikingly illustrated than on this occasion. He had such a clear perception of what was certain to follow division and strife on the one hand, and of the favorable results sure to be attained by harmony and cooperation on the other, and he spoke with such earnestness and power that he succeeded, to the surprise of his friends, in reconciling the conflicting parties. The plan which he urged with so much force, provided for preserving existing preferences and priorities, sacrificed no interest, but created a new or reorganized company, composed of holders of bonds, stockholders, and creditors, all sharing equally in the future control and management of the road. The adoption of it involved the appointment of a Receiver for the whole line, pending the proceedings which were necessary to carry out the project. The Receivership was at once tendered to Mr. Ogden, at a salary of $25,000 per annum, with entire unanimity. This he was forced to decline, as he was already overburdened with his private affairs, and his
health seriously impaired. It was found difficult, if not impossible, to unite upon any other name, and after again and again declining, he yielded to the solicitation of some of his personal friends, whose fortunes were largely involved, and accepted the position, although declining the large compensation proposed, as not warranted by the circumstances of the road. This action secured the reorganization on the plan proposed, and the completion of the line and today it is one of the longest, most successful, and important roads in the country, with a daily connection between Chicago and New York and Philadelphia, without change of cars.
We have reverted to Mr. Ogden's early interest in a railroad to the Pacific. When the Company was organized under the Act of Congress, incorporating the Union Pacific Railroad Company, Mr. Ogden was chosen its first President. His accumulated business cares, however, induced him, subsequently, to retire from this position, although advising and cooperating in the construction of the road, and having an active interest in all that concerns it. He had an abiding faith that, ere many years should pass, a second road would be constructed to the Pacific, on what is known as the Northern route, or the Northern Pacific road.
His practical mind and enterprising spirit have led him into great and varied undertakings. In 1856, he became interested in a large lumbering establishment on the Peshtigo River, in Northern Wisconsin. To this estate he has been adding, from time to time, until the company which he organized, and of which he became principal owner, now has nearly two hundred thousand acres of pine lands, on which are extensive mills; a thriving village of several hundred inhabitants; a fine harbor, constructed on Green Bay, at the mouth of the Peshtigo River; and the company manufactures for the Chicago market some 40,000,000 feet of lumber annually.
In 1860, he purchased at Brady's Bend, on the Alleghany River, in Pennsylvania, an estate of 5000 acres, on which were extensive mines of iron and coal, rolling-mills and furnaces, and a village of some fifteen hundred inhabitants. Here, with some friends, who subsequently joined him, he organized the Brady's
Bend Iron Company, with a capital of $2,000,000, which employs some six hundred men, and makes two hundred tons of rails daily.
His business causing him, of late years, to spend much of his time in New York, he purchased a handsome villa, in the spring of 1866, in Westchester County, at Fordham Heights, adjoining the High Bridge. To this he has made some additions, so that he now has a farm of a hundred and ten acres, with a frontage of near half-a-mile on the Harlem River. It is known as Boscobel. He has recently enlarged and improved his old homestead at Chicago, where he still retains his residence, and at both of these establishments he continues to dispense that large-hearted hospitality for which his name has become almost a synonym.
Nearly every public institution in Chicago, including the Rush Medical College, the Theological Seminary of the Northwest, the Historical Society, the Academy of Sciences, the Astronomical Society, and the University of Chicago, are greatly indebted to him for timely aid. He is President of the Board of Trustees of the latter institution, and his presence at all meetings of the Board is welcomed by every friend of the University with great satisfaction.
We have previously alluded to Mr. Ogden's political life. Since the former sketch was written, he has mainly eschewed politics, and concentrated his energies upon internal improvements his central idea being the growth and development of the great Northwest. Nevertheless, in 1860-1, he consented to accept from the Republican party a seat in the State Senate, where, though laboring under great anxiety on account of the disturbed condition of the country, and feeling under great apprehension as to the result of the threatened rebellion, he rendered, good service to his constituents and the public in seeking in all things to promote the welfare of his adopted State, and increase the facilities for making Chicago, what it is destined to be, the great interior city of America.
He is a man of noble mould. We claim not that he is faultless, or free from the imperfections and failings of our common humanity; but as a man, a brother, a citizen, a public-spirited,
charitable, benevolent, and capable man, we acknowledge no superior. No other name in the Northwest calls up so many acknowledgments of public indebtedness for general benefits resulting from individual energy, enterprise, and ability, as that of William B. Ogden.
Former generations have commemorated the deeds of the worthy in monuments of bronze and marble. It is the glory of the nineteenth century, that general utility and the elevation and amelioration of the condition of all classes are its primary objects. In this century, men are to be measured and praised or censured by their works.
The public improvements of the Northwest, radiating from the home of his adoption, are noble monuments, commemorating in their usefulness both the character and enterprise of the subject of this memoir.
[1882.] In continuing the sketch of the biography of William B. Ogden, it is proper to say that so much of it as was written in 1857 or 1867 is republished with only slight alterations. We have preferred to reproduce the first two decades substantially as written, because they present the facts as seen from those periods. If some of the details appear trivial in the light of today, we must consider that the acts of men are great and important, not from their absolute, but their relative magnitude. In 1835, Chicago was a very muddy, straggling village, of about 1500 inhabitants. In 1837, when the first mayor was elected, it had only about 3500; and in 1847, when the first successful railroad enterprise, west of Lake Michigan, that of the Galena & Chicago Union Railroad, was earnestly and energetically entered upon, the population of this City was less than 17,000, and its assessed valuation did not amount to $6,000,000. There was no man in Chicago who could conveniently or was disposed to subscribe for more than $5000 in the stock of the Railroad Company, and the enterprise not only required faith and energy, but the soliciting of subscriptions from every person who could take even one share of its stock. The Galena Company had, in its early
day, 1800 stockholders of one share each, all of its stock having been subscribed for as a public duty, and not as an investment.
In adding a third decade hereto, we have occasion to record both his marriage and his death. The first event was celebrated at Elmira, New York, on the 9th of February, 1875. The latter occurred at Boscobel, in Westchester County, New York, August 3d, 1877. Every man's life has three periods. Childhood, manhood, and old age succeed each other in the great march of life. We have sketched Mr. Ogden as a youth, and as an active, energetic business man a cynosure in his new home in the West, building up and developing the future great Capital of the World. We here use no words of exaggeration, or indulge in flights of the imagination, or wild prophecies. We have lived our three score and ten years, forty-seven of them in Chicago, where we arrived in 1835, on the old steamer Pennsylvania, with William B. Ogden and the rest of the real-estate gentlemen who had been at Green Bay, to attend the first U. S. land sale, in what is now Wisconsin, but was then a part of the Territory of Michigan. Chicago was then a village of 1500 inhabitants, though claiming many more. It now has well nigh 600,000, and is more likely to have more than 1,000,000 in 1890, than less than that number. Whoever will look upon the map of this Continent, and see the position of Chicago relatively to the physical conformation of North America; its lake, river, and other water systems; its distribution of mountain and plain; of arable and waste land, can not fail to find the State of Illinois the great Central National State of North America, and Chicago its Commercial Capital.
It was William B. Ogden that was the first mayor of Chicago, and unquestionably not only its first citizen but the leading man of what has so long been known as the Northwest, but what is now the great granary of the country, and is to be in the future the great Central Region of North America.
We have never been reconciled to Mr. Ogden's leaving Chicago. It was here that he made the home of his most useful and efficient manhood, and imperishably engraved in its history, the evidences of his genius and creative force.
His record as a master-moving power among men necessarily
ceased its growth when he turned his eyes Eastward. His Star of Empire was in that growing, boundless West, which he did so much to develop, and upon the iron ways planned by him, upon which so many of the hardy immigrants from the old world find their way to new homes and abundance, under the aegis of Republican Institutions.
Rarely more than a generation of active, useful, pushing work is allotted to any man. At sixty years, forty years of manhood have been counted behind us, and we must now begin to rest from our labors.
That Mr. Ogden should, in his later years, have purchased a beautiful and enchanting villa on the sunny banks of the Hudson, amidst flowers and fruit, and make it his residence and the home of his married life, was most natural. His whole life had been incessantly active, and of late years, his railroad and other financial connections compelled him to have an office in New York City, and to spend much time there. He had married as his wife, Miss Mary Anna Arnot, daughter of Judge John Arnot, of Elmira, New York, a man as distinguished for push and business energy and ability in his section of the world as Mr. Ogden in Chicago. His wife partook largely of the business tact, judgment, and capabilities of her father, and nothing could be more compatible with the tastes and conditions of the new household than the residence At Boscobel, in the immediate vicinity of the financial centre of the country.
Mr. Ogden may have well felt loath to return to the West after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. With his other numerous buildings, every vestige of his Chicago home, which, when erected in 1837, was the finest in Chicago, and ever after, until its destruction, distinguished for its hospitality, both to residents and visitants from abroad, had disappeared. As soon as he could set his affairs, demanding his personal attention in the West, in order and promising activity, he married his wife, and thenceforth became only a citizen of New York. But his interests in Chicago and the Northwest remained, and though a new generation had succeeded or were replacing the early settlers, his memory remains in the history of his acts.
He was always a liberal, public-spirited gentleman. In all those great qualities of humanity, in which the positions of men are always determined by their sympathies with human brotherhood and progressive humanity, his heart was always with the people, who are many, rather than with the favored few. His hand and his purse were open to aid his kind. While his active business engagements required the entire use of his current money, he was ever ready with name and means to aid every enterprise or institution demanded for the general good or advancement of the community. He administered upon his estate, in this way, to a generous extent, while living, and never lagged behind any of his associates in such enterprises. When the Chicago Historical Society was about erecting its fine edifice, which was destroyed in the Great Fire, the two gentlemen in the north division of the City, where the building was to be built, who would have been naturally expected to contribute more liberally than others toward defraying the expense of its erection, were Walter L. Newberry and William B. Ogden, whose residences were in the immediate neighborhood of the building. They were both old citizens of Chicago, and had largely made their wealth by the rise of Chicago real estate. They were fellow-passengers with the writer from the Green Bay Land Sale in 1835, and he has known them well ever since, and they were his associates in the foundation and maintenance of the Chicago Historical Society. Mr. Newberry had been elected President of the Society, on the occurring of a vacancy, in the expectancy, as he had evinced great interest in the location of the building in his own neighborhood, that he would contribute largely if not wholly to defray the cost of the building. He would not have been chosen but for this expectancy. Both of these gentlemen made contributions, as did other gentlemen. Mr. Ogden's was not only liberal, but he offered to add $5000 to it, and as much more as Mr. Newberry would, even to the entire cost of the building.
Mr. Ogden, as stated in the previous part of this paper, was with the Free-Soilers in 1848, and though it is true, as intimated in a recent publication by Mr. Henry H. Hurlbut, that he was not a stockholder in the "Underground Railroad," or engaged in
running the same, nor a member of the original Abolition or old Liberty Party, the insinuation in that publication that "The Ogdens in particular stood aloof from the unpopular" Anti-Slavery movement is entirely unauthorized by the facts. They and all their associates, so far as the writer recollects, and he knew them intimately, were always Anti-Slavery men, but, like many others, they thought that they could better serve the cause of freedom by exerting their influence within their respective parties until the period should be ripe for a successful effort to win victory in a new organization. The insinuation that it was financial success that caused any of these gentlemen to recognize or assist in the benevolent work of aiding in freeing the oppressed slave, is unworthy of a place in the "Chicago Antiquities."
No man in Chicago has assisted poor and unfortunate persons, of all colors, in business and otherwise, more than W. B. Ogden.
From the writer's standpoint, he was too early rather than too late in abandoning the political party of his youth for a new organization in 1848. He was an active leader in the Free-Soil canvass of that year, supporting VanBuren and Adams, and being himself one of the Senatorial Candidates for Electors of President.
The writer has not sought to eulogize Mr. Ogden. He has not always agreed with him in politics or in other matters, and if he did nut recognize his faults, failings, or imperfections, he would lack in honest candor. He adopts, in writing biographical sketches, the candor so forcibly expressed by Hildreth in his History of the United States of America, from the Discovery of the Continent to the Organization of Government under the Federal Constitution. Mr. Hildreth says:
Mr. Ogden not only administered upon his estate in part as he went along, but in his Final Testament, fair-haired, modest charity was not forgotten. The eighth clause of his will, in providing for the distribution of the income of his estate, reads as follows:
When the first part of this paper was written, and mention was made of the great services of Mr. Ogden as the Pioneer-Railroad man of the Northwest from Chicago, railroads were built as public enterprises, and not as money-making speculations. They were regarded as great highways constructed by the people, either at the expense of the Government or by means of private capital, to accommodate the public, and not for the especial benefit of the stockholders. The Galena and Chicago Union Railroad was the pioneer of all that immense railroad system which radiates west, north, and south from Chicago, and upon the success of that enterprise, as a precedent, depended, in the opinion of its projectors and first managers, the early extension of other and more distant lines. To raise the money to start the Road required great effort, and Mr. Ogden and the writer of this sketch, though by no means the only persons who, from patriotic motives or considerations of the general good of the community, took an active interest in promoting that enterprise were its special advocates, and among the largest, and before the stock rose to par, the largest stockholders in this Road after its resuscitation. A commencement had been made in 1837, but the panic of that year suspended the work before a single mile of it had been completed, or fairly underway.
In the winter of 1847, a convention was held at Rockford, the half-way house between Chicago and Galena, to favor the work. There was a large meeting, attended by persons from Galena to Chicago. Thomas Drummond, then residing at Galena, presided over the assembly. The late William H. Brown, always a director and subsequently a president of the Galena Company and of the Chicago Historical Society; with Benjamin W. Raymond, our ever public-spirited citizen, and more than once mayor of the City, and a director of the road till it merged in the Northwestern, and who still remains among us to witness and rejoice with others over the success of his faithful public efforts, was among the active men there. Isaac N. Arnold, so long and favorably known in the politics of Illinois, and as a representative in the late War Congress of the United States, and long a leader at the Chicago Bar, now President of the Chicago Historical Society, and devoting the calm of mature years to literary work with Gen. Hart L. Stewart, one of Chicago's oldest citizens, whose whole life has been spent in building public works west of Lake Erie in Michigan, upon the Illinois and Michigan Canal and elsewhere and in the public councils of the State or official positions under the Government rode in the same carriage with the writer, and were active participants in the work of the convention, as was Thomas D. Robertson, of Rockford, for many years a director of the Road.
We were two days on our journey each way, spending the night at Elgin, then a little hamlet, now a thriving city of 13,000 inhabitants. The landlord there told us he was against railroads. They were bad things for farmers and hotel-keepers, but good for "big fellows at the ends of the road." He "intended to make money while the road was building, and then sell out and go beyond them." He declared that Elgin would cease to be a place of business as soon as the railroad went beyond it.
The meeting was harmonious and quite unanimous in its action; the only exception being a tavern-keeper at Marengo, who, fearing that his business would be injured by the road, appeared with his friends in the convention and denounced rail-roads as "undemocratic aristocratic institutions that would ride
rough-shod over the people and grind them to powder." "The only roads," said he, "that the people want are good common or plank-roads, upon which everybody can travel."
In the fall of 1847, Mr. Ogden and the writer traveled the entire distance from Chicago to Galena together, stopping at all the principal intermediate places, making speeches for the Road, and going into the highways to compel men to come in and help the enterprise, even if they could not take more than a single share of stock. Many farmers and other persons, be it said to their credit, did come forward and subscribe, though they had to borrow the first instalment of two dollars and fifty cents on a share, and get trusted "till after harvest" for the same. Mr. Ogden was in his element in such enterprises. His go-a-headativeness here gave full play to his imagination, and filled not only himself, but his hearers with high hopes and generous courage. When it is remembered that it cost five bushels of wheat, and often from four days' to a week's journey to Chicago, with a load of grain, to get the first instalment of a single or few shares of stock, none can doubt the public interest in the enterprise.
At Galena, business men and bankers were fearful of the effect of the Railroad upon their town. Among its chief advocates there were Judge Drummond, C. M. Hempstead, Elihu B. Washburne, and Thos. Hoyne. Galena had long been a very prosperous town at the head of navigation on Fever River, and the great lead-mining centre and mercantile distributor for Northwest Illinois and Southwest Wisconsin, and the country north in the mines.
The great obstacles we met there were two; one the local effect upon the town, and the other the fear that before the Road should be completed, the enterprise would break down, the small stockholders sacrificed, and the Road pass into the hands of the large capitalists. We had to meet these objections by the promise to respect and protect the local interests of Galena, to whose capital we were much indebted in starting the work, and a pledge that until the stock rose to par, and was saleable at that price, we would never allow the work to proceed faster than its ready means would justify without endangering the capital invested.
This promise was faithfully kept so long as these two persons
remained in the directory. It has been said in justification of the abandoning of the west end of the line to the Illinois Central Railroad, that Galena was doomed, and a different course could not have saved it. The writer dissents from this proposition, and believes that if the pledges Mr. Ogden and he made at Galena had been faithfully, energetically, and courageously carried out, Galena would have been greatly benefited, and its importance and business permanently advanced. But whether this opinion be correct or not, Galena was a pioneer in the work, and the Company had no right to sell her birthright to the Illinois Central Company. It would not have been done had the two most active directors, who were among the largest subscribers to the stock, when the Company was reorganized in the writer's office, at the southeast corner of Lake and Clark Streets, in the old Saloon Building in the City of Chicago, in 1847, remained in their positions in its management.
In a paper read before the Chicago Historical Society, by Mr. Arnold, its President, December 20, 1881, on the occasion of the presentation, by Mrs. Ogden, of a portrait of her late husband, it is said "the officers of the Road, after he [Mr. Ogden] had been compelled to retire, had received a public dinner (I think at Elgin) in which they drank toasts to each other and everybody except Mr. Ogden. The omission of his name, the man who everyone knew had built the Road, only made him the more prominent."
If such an occasion took place, the occasion must have been more marked by the absence of the original and most efficient projectors of the Road than their presence. There were officers in the Road that were engaged in speculating along its line, as was confessed some years later, when one of them was made a scapegoat.
Public allusion having been thus made to these personal troubles in the Board of Directors, it becomes proper to explain the same somewhat, as in doing so a trait in Mr. Ogden's character and conduct presents him in very bold and advantageous relief, when compared with that of some of his associates.
Chicago at that time was a comparatively small and very
ambitious city. It had three divisions, occasioned by the River and its North and South Branches, which run almost at right angles with the main river, leaving east of them the North and South Divisions, and west of them the West Division, extending the whole length of the City. Such divisions always create local jealousies, and the selfish interests excited are often difficult to manage or control. Mr. Ogden resided on the north side of the River, as did four other directors, Walter L. Newberry, Thomas Dyer, and John B. Turner. Two, Thomas Drummond and Charles S. Hempstead, lived in Galena, and one, Thomas D. Robertson, in Rockford, while the six others, Benjamin W. Raymond, George Smith, Charles Walker, James H. Collins, and J. Young Scammon lived in the South Division, which was then, as now, the principal business and commercial portion of the town.
Mr. Ogden being especially identified with the North-Side could not exercise as much influence in obtaining subscriptions to stock in the business portion of the town as some of the South-Side directors, as he was accused, by those who never suppose other than solely selfish motives can influence action, of "wanting to build a railroad that would never pay, to help him sell his lots." The gentleman on the North-Side naturally desired the road to cross the North Branch, and locate its depots or stations in the North Division; while the West-Siders could see no necessity of expending money to cross the River, because the West Side was the largest division of the City, and the nearest to the country.
In the railroad work, either because Ogden and Scammon had more time to devote to it, or for some other reason, they became the specially active representatives of the Road on their respective sides of the River. The out-of-town directors could rarely attend its meetings, or only when very important questions demanded their presence.
These two men gave very much of their time to the enterprise; Mr. Ogden receiving a small salary in stock, and the writer no compensation, except for legal services when required by the Board. Ogden and Scammon traveled over the country together; visited Albany and Boston in the interests of the Road in company
with the late Erastus Corning, then President of the New York Central Railroad and the controlling spirit in the Michigan Central, the only road then in operation west of Lake Erie. They hoped to interest the Boston gentlemen who were stockholders in and engaged in extending the Michigan Central to aid in building the Galena. They called upon the Michigan Central Directors, and especially upon Wm. F. Weld, an iron merchant in Boston, who had then the reputation of being "the Railroad King." They were very kindly received and entertained by John B. Forbes, then a director of the Michigan Central, and a wealthy East India merchant, and since long identified with the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Road, and one of its principal stockholders.
Mr. Weld said to us: "Gentlemen, I do not remember any enterprise of this kind we Boston people have taken hold of upon statistics. You must go home, raise what money you can, expend it upon your Road, and when it breaks down, as it surely or in all probability will, come and give it to us, and we will take hold of it and complete it, as we are completing the Michigan Central." A resolution was then formed, though not publicly expressed, that the Galena should not break down. We came home, sought and obtained subscriptions to the stock of the Road upon the pledge that the stock should never be endangered until it rose to par, and the holders had an opportunity of selling their shares at that price. This pledge was kept.
An opportunity occurred, as we were commencing the work, of buying the old strap rail which was being removed from the Rochester and Canandaigua Road to be replaced with T iron, together with two little second-hand passenger cars and two like engines, for $150,000, on a credit of five years, if the writer recollects correctly, provided two of the directors would indorse the bonds. This would require each of the thirteen directors to make himself responsible for a little over one-sixth part of that sum as guarantee of the Galena Company. There was one director who said "he never endorsed other people's paper," and declined to do so, though he was subsequently made president and claimed credit for building the Road, with what propriety and how justly, in comparison with the endorsers, let others
judge. All the others made the requisite endorsement, with the understanding that we were to stick together and reelect the old board until these bonds should be paid.
We went ahead with the Road and had got out West nine or ten miles, across the wet prairie, to the Sand Ridge, where the teams from the country met us, and transferred their loads to the cars, making the Road pay as soon as the first section was completed. We were so encouraged that we thought there ought to be no doubt about raising money to push the work. Mr. Ogden, as president, had boldly made some contracts with McCagg, Reed & Co., and others, for ties and lumber, based upon expectations of raising money in New York or at the East.
A committee, consisting perhaps of Messrs. Ogden and Raymond, went East for that purpose. They returned unsuccessful. A meeting of the directors was called. It looked blue. To go ahead would endanger the stock. To stop entirely would be a fulfilment of the Railroad King's prophecy. Mr. Ogden was embarrassed. He knew that many of the public had no faith in the Railroad, and believed it to be, on his part, an undertaking to aid him in selling his town lots, they saying that he could well afford to lose his stock if it would help him to sell his land. Most of the other directors were fearful. Mr. Raymond was hopeful, and Walker, Collins, and Scammon courageous. The latter said he believed arrangements could be made to defer or extend the contracts, and to bridge over the time till the instalments on the stock that would be paid after the harvest should be realized, when the work on the Road could proceed slowly, yet successfully. Mr. Dyer, who then owned the Lake House, in the North Division, and was very anxious that the work should go on and the Road extended to the Lake, so as to benefit his property, lost faith. The writer called him "a doubting Thomas." He replied, "if Mr. Scammon has so much faith in the Road, I move that a committee of five be appointed, with full power to do anything which they deem expedient in regard to the Road, and that Mr. Scammon be chairman of that committee, and be authorized to appoint his associates." This was agreed to, and a committee, consisting of Mr. Scammon, James H. Collins, Charles Walker,
Thomas Dyer, and Mr. Raymond, appointed to have charge of the subject. This committee gave the writer carte-blanche. He immediately applied to George Smith, the only banker in the place who could make such a loan, $20,000 for six months, for to enable him to go on with the Road. Mr. Smith declined, though a director of the Road and desirous of seeing it completed. He was asked why; if he had not the money. He replied, "Yes, but I do not wish to lose it. I have no confidence in the Road." Mr. S. rejoined, "Don't you think I can build the Road to Elgin with the $363,000 stock subscriptions we have of farmers, which are good, and sure to be paid?" He answered, "Yes, but you are not the president of the Road." Mr. Scammon rejoined, "Don't you think Mr. Ogden can?" Mr. Smith said, "He can, but he won't," adding, "Mr. Scammon, I will lend you the money." The writer replied, "Make out your note, and let me have it." He did so, and the money was taken and placed in the treasury of the Company, no other person in the Road, except those connected with the loan, knowing from whence it came, except the treasurer, the late Frank Howe. This, with arrangements that were made for extending contracts, enabled the Road to meet its engagements, and prevented any suspension of work thereon. The Road was pushed and completed to Elgin. It did not cost much money in those days to build a flat railroad on mostly level land. Yet to obtain the small amount necessary required, at that time, more courage and perseverance than is now requisite to build a road across the Continent. The careful economy exercised in the building of this forty miles was nevertheless very conspicuous. We had money enough only to build the track with very few accessories. It was a single straight line hardly more. Station-houses, sidings, turn-outs, and turning-tables had to be, for the most part, deferred to the future.
An incident occurs to the writer which may be worth recalling. Upon the completion of the Road to Elgin, a general invitation was given for an excursion over the forty miles between Chicago and that place. Among the party was an Irish engineer, who had published, in Dublin, a work on Railroad Engineering, which he
had with him in bright red binding. On alighting from the cars in Chicago, on our return, the writer asked him what he thought of our Road. He replied: "If it is the engineering you're asking about, I don't think anything of it. We would spend more, in the old country, upon the engineering of a single mile, than you have spent upon your entire Road."
In the meantime, rivalries between the west and north sides of the river had sprung up, and some of the North-Side directors became suspicious that Mr. Ogden did not want to extend the Road across the North Branch into the North Division, because his greater interest was on the West-Side. The temporary depot was then there. Some of the directors proposed to the writer to accept the presidency of the Road. Upon this being declined, it was proposed to make him treasurer and financial agent. This was also declined, for the reason that it would too much interfere with professional work, which the writer was unwilling to give up.
Meanwhile, certain officers of the Road had been busy misrepresenting Mr. Ogden's actions and intentions to Mr. Scammon and Mr. Scammon's to Mr. Ogden, until the latter was led to believe that there was a conspiracy to turn him out of the presidency and elect the writer in his stead. A counter movement was therefore undertaken by Mr. Ogden and the few who were in his confidence. This movement was not discovered until a few days before the election. Nine of the directors were very much surprised to learn it, and all of these nine sided with the writer. What combinations had been made, and how many proxies were held by the parties in this movement, were unknown.
We started for Elgin, where the meeting was to be held. Mr. Ogden's party, with Mr. Arnold as their attorney, went in one car, the other Chicago directors in another. On the way out, the writer said to the directors who were in the car with him, that he had been thinking over the matter, and had come to the conclusion that inasmuch as we did not know how strong the other party were, and what they intended ultimately to do, the better way would be to propose to them that the writer would decline a reflection, upon condition that all the other directors should be reflected without opposition; and he said he would name, as his
successor, Mr. Knowlton of Freeport. That the other party would be obliged to accept this, or lose Mr. Knowlton's and the other Freeport votes, which would certainly defeat them. That we could not afford to have an open quarrel, which might hurt our credit and embarrass the progress of the Road. The directors with the writer replied, if Mr. Scammon is willing to make this proposition they thought it would succeed, but no one could ask it of him. He replied, that he was more interested in the completion and success of the Road than in any personal question. That he had worked solely in the interest of the Road as a public improvement demanded by the country, and had no selfish axes to grind, and he would make that proposition, and trust to time for his justification. It was made, much to the surprise of the other party, and after some hesitation or consideration, as it "broke their slate," it was accepted. Mr. Ogden was reflected president; but no sooner was Mr. Scammon out of the directory than all the batteries of the conspirators were turned against Mr. Ogden, and his place was made so uncomfortable that at the end of the year he left the Road.
Immediately after the election, the nine directors called the conspirators to account; and there was a confession that the writer had been grossly misrepresented and improperly treated, and a promise made that a proper explanation should be made. It was never done. But William B. Ogden acted otherwise. When he learned the facts, and that we had both been made the victims of ambitious and designing men, who wished to get rid of the writer, because he had nipped in the bud their first attempt at speculation in the location of the Road, and prevented its repetition, and because they knew that they were watched, and so long as he was in the Board, such movements were likely to be detected and defeated, came directly to the writer, and, on learning what statements these parties had made to the latter relative to Mr. Ogden, at once frankly acknowledged that in his action he had been misled and imposed upon by those he trusted, and that the writer's conduct, to which he had taken so grave exception, that he felt justified in self-defence to enter into combination to defeat his reelection, was entirely in the path of right
and duty, if the writer believed the representations made to him, as he was bound to do under the circumstances.
The writer does not believe that any sane man in this world can be so translated as to be uninfluenced by the love of self and the world, however much he may be receptive of higher motives. There are three universal loves which all persons have, and without which they would not be human. A regard to one's own interest is as indispensable to rationality and freedom of action as the higher affections. In a good man it is subordinate to the love of the Lord and the neighbor, but it is not wanting. Whoever supposes he is wholly disinterested has slight knowledge of himself. In keeping the commandments there is great reward, and while they should be obeyed as Divine commands, and upon rational grounds, no one, in the writer's opinion, ever would keep them if disobedience did not inevitably bring, sooner or later, its own dire consequences. We often imagine we are entirely disinterested, and we are not conscious for the time that it is not so, but let there be no reward in doing good, how soon would our heavenly affections vanish? All government in church or state is, or should be, for the public good for all of us yet when we love our country, and seek to serve it, it is not necessary that we should forget that we are a part of it.
Mr. Ogden was a great, ambitious man; fond of acquiring wealth and power, and of availing himself of all their advantages. He was a public-spirited citizen, a man of large mold, who found delight in public enterprises, especially those which developed that part of the country where he had made his home. But he could not forget that everything which benefited Chicago, or built up the great West, benefited him. Why should he? He was noble and patriotic, kind and charitable, and ever desirous of being just. He never claimed sainthood, or to be above the usual motives that influence respectable and high-minded, conscientious men. We do not claim it for him. We present his picture as a youth as a man and exhibit his deeds to posterity. It is a record that will remain so long as historical archives are preserved in the Garden City.
Scammon, John Young. William B. Ogden . Chicago: Fergus Printing Company, 1882. [format: book], [genre: biography]. Permission: Newberry Library
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