John Pierpont Morgan was born and raised in Hartford, Connecticut. He died in his sleep in Rome, Italy in 1913 at the age of 75.
Morgan was a lifelong dedicated Episcopalian. His maternal grandfather was a priest known for his fiery sermons, and the young Morgan enjoyed his time in church, especially singing the hymns. He found great solace in St. George’s Episcopal Church in New York after his first wife died, and then met his second wife there.
I couldn’t find any quotes from Morgan about his devotion to God and church, but it is clear that it was a central part of his life. He was often spotted by the clergy sitting in church in the middle of the week worshiping and signing hymns to himself. Through his lead position in the vestry at St. George’s he was directly involved in the affairs of the church, and much of his philanthropic work was through that organization.
Obviously his enormous success as a businessman greatly overshadowed his religious devotion, something which was a much quieter part of his life. But the fact that it is not central to how many remember the tycoon does not mean that it was not a central part of his identity.
J. P. Morgan was greatly involved in the partisan politics of his time. The first president who earned his significant financial weight was Republican Rutherford B. Hayes. Morgan said about the election simply, “Defeat means inflation.” Morgan would continue to invest in presidential candidates who he thought would govern sympathetically to big business and financial institutions, and to fight populism.
But Morgan’s real role in the politics of the United States came less in his support or opposition to political movements. Instead, his great wealth, power, and drive granted him the position to single-handedly control the finances of the entire country. Morgan acted as Congress, President, and Central Bank all wrapped into one head-strong package.
In 1877, when Congress failed to adopt a military budget, Morgan stepped in. He gave $2.5 million to the military payroll, all of which was eventually paid back by the government, angering some Congressmen who grumbled that they had never approved the loan. In 1894, when the country was in danger of defaulting on its loans, Morgan demanded a meeting with President Grover Cleveland who eventually accepted his solution to the crisis, one which would benefit him and his corporations. And then finally in 1907, when Theodore Roosevelt–who was no fan of big business or J. P. Morgan–was confronted with the collapse of several banking trusts, he saw no alternative but to involve the financial magnate. Morgan forced the presidents of the larger and more successful trusts to bail out the smaller, weaker ones–saving the country from financial disaster.
It was Morgan that helped define what are today’s modern corporations–giant conglomerations of many different business entities, publicly owned and centrally controlled. He was a true corporatist, a champion of unregulated business and banking. In his opinion, the country didn’t need a central bank–he was the central bank. It wasn’t until after his retirement that the Federal Reserve was created to do exactly what Morgan had been doing. There’s no doubt that today Morgan would be a Republican and an advocate for self-regulation in the financial industry. Maybe if we had a J. P. Morgan during the financial crisis on 2008, we’d all have been saved some financial heartbreak. Let us know what you think of Morgan’s influence in the comments.