Upton Sinclair: The Profits of Religion

Book Four - The Church of the Slaves

The Octopus

Dr. Lyman Abbott published this letter! In his editorial comment thereon he said that he did not know which of two biblical injunctions to follow: "Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest thou be thought like unto him"; or "Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own conceit." I replied by pointing out a third text which the Reverend Doctor had possibly overlooked: "He that calleth his neighbor a fool shall be in danger of hell-fire." But the Reverend Doctor took refuge in his dignity, and I bided my time and waited for that revenge which comes sooner or later to us muck-rakers. In this case it came speedily, The story is such a perfect illustration of the functions of religion as oil to the machinery of graft that I ask the reader's permission to recite it at length.

For a couple of decades the political and financial life of New England has been dominated by a gigantic aggregation of capital, the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad. It is a "Morgan" concern; its popular name, "The New Haven," stands for all the railroads of six states, nearly all the trolley-lines and steamship-lines, and a group of the most powerful banks of Boston and New York. It is controlled by a little group of insiders, who followed the custom of railroad-wrecking familiar to students of American industrial life; buying up new lines, capitalizing them at fabulous sums, and unloading them on the investing public; paying dividends out of capital, "passing" dividends as a means of stock manipulation, accumulating surpluses and cutting "melons" for the insiders, while at the same time crushing labor unions, squeezing wages, and permitting rolling-stock and equipment to go to wreck.

All these facts were perfectly well known in Wall Street, and could not have escaped the knowledge of any magazine editor dealing with current events. In eight years the "New Haven" had increased its capitalization 1,501 percent, and what that meant, any office boy in "the Street" could have told. What attitude should a magazine editor take to the matter?

At that time there were still two or three free magazines in America. One of them was Hampton's and the story of its wrecking by the New Haven criminals will some day serve in school text- books as the classic illustration of that financial piracy which brought on the American social revolution. Ben Hampton had bought the old derelict "Broadway Magazine," with 12,000 subscribers, and in four years, by the simple process of straight truth- telling, had built up for it a circulation of 440,000. In two years more he would have had a million; but in May, 1911, he announced a series of articles dealing with the New Haven management.

The articles, written by Charles Edward Russell, were so exact that they read today like the reports of the Interstate Commerce Commission, dated three years later. A representative of the New Haven called upon the editor of Hampton's with a proof of the first article - obtained from the printer by bribery - and was invited to specify the statements to which he took exception" in the presence of witnesses he went over the article line by line, and specified two minor errors, which were at once corrected. At the end of the conference he announced that if the article were published, Hampton's Magazine would be "on the rocks in 90 days."

Which threat was carried out to the letter. First came a campaign among the advertisers of the magazine, which lost an income of thousands of dollars a month, almost over night. And then came a campaign among the banks - the magazine could not get credit. Anyone familiar with the publishing business will understand that a magazine which is growing rapidly has to have advances to meet each month's business. Hampton undertook to raise the money by selling stock; whereupon a spy was introduced into his office as bookkeeper, his list of subscribers was stolen, and a campaign was begun to destroy their confidence.

It happened that I was in Hampton's office in the summer of 1911, when the crisis came. Money had to be had to pay for a huge new edition; and upon a property worth two millions of dollars, with endorsements worth as much again, it was impossible to borrow $30,000 in the city of New York. Bankers, personal friends of the publisher, stated quite openly that word had gone out that any one who loaned money to him would be "broken." I myself sent telegrams to everyone I knew who might by any chance be able to help; but there was no help, and Hampton retired without a dollar to his name, and the magazine was sold under the hammer to a concern which immediately wrecked it and discontinued publication.

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