Tuesday, September 07, 2010

The Copper King and the 17th Amendment

Last week I posted my first wordless puzzler here in quite some time.

The following post provides the rest of the story:

The vernacular of history can at times be quite confusing to students, so I’m always in search of ways to help them connect to vocabulary. Sometimes I can make the best connections using simple, inexpensive objects like picture frames.

Yes, picture frames.

I have this one frame that contains a picture of my children. The frame looks as if it is gilt……a very expensive looking gold frame. However, if you turn the frame over you see it is really brown plastic resin covered with gold paint.

Scratch the gold surface a little bit and you see there are some real issues with the frame. It simply isn’t what it appears to be.

The frame illustration helps me explain the Gilded Age – that time period from 1865 to 1901 - that at first glance seemed to be a wonderful period in the United States when many people were making money hand over fist, but scratch the surface a little bit and the time period had major problems.

The Gilded Age was coined by Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner in the book, The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today. The modern industrial economy was born during the Gilded Age, cities grew, corporations were born, and transportation routes improved. During this time period technology grew in leaps and bounds, however, the average American worker and the American farmer had problems. Immigration was on the rise and cities were having problems due to the influx of people. You just can’t have growth like American was experiencing and not have some major growing pains.

…..and certain men like Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller were making enormous amounts of money, and sometimes these men weren’t always using honest tactics. It was the age of the robber barons.

William Andrew Clark was one of them.

One thing that be said of William Andrew Clark was he recognized an opportunity when it was in front of him, and he never hesitated to change his actions in midstream especially if it would make him a buck.

Clark was originally from Pennsylvania, but at the outbreak of the Civil War he decided to fight for the Confederacy. This only happened for a year before Clark deserted his post and hightailed it to Montana when gold was found there in 1862.

Instead of finding his fortune in the gold fields of Montana, Clark saw opportunities to make money working in the industry surrounding the gold miners. He drove wagons carrying supplies back and forth between Salt Lake City and Montana. These supply wagons were basically rolling stores…..some of the first of their kind.

Clark went on into banking and became involved in the railroad business. As a banker he often repossessed miners who were down on their luck.

Other businesses Clark had a finger in included smelters, electric power companies, and newpapers.

He tried his hand with the mining business for a second time when he got involved with the copper mining industry and is remembered as one of the Copper Kings of Montana along with F. Augustus Heinz.

The city of Las Vegas has Clark to thank for its early history. The town was created as way station along the rail line from Salt Lake City to Los Angeles. Clark’s brother controlled the railroad and suggested it would help his business. Clark promoted the area so a town could be built around it.

He also utilized his newspaper, the Butte Miner to leverage his career into politics, and once elected as Montana’s senator it appeared he was well on the way to Washington D.C., but he was refused entry by the Senate when it came to light Clark had paid Montana state legislators for their votes. In fact, the Clark scandal is just one of the reasons why Congress eventually passed the 17th Amendment giving citizen’s a direct vote for U.S. Senators instead of depending on state legislators to appoint Senators.

Clark did serve in the US Senate from 1901 to 1907 during a subsequent term where he was elected by the people, but even then he used the office to line his pockets. When the Panama Canal was being discussed Clark argued for a site in Nicaragua because it was actually a better location for his business concerns and would improve his bottom line.

Getting back to Mark Twain…. he wrote an essay in 1907 titled, Senator Clark of Montana where he said:

"He is as rotten a human being as can be found anywhere under the flag; he is a shame to the American nation, and no one has helped to send him to the Senate who did not know that his proper place was the penitentiary, with a ball and chain on his legs. To my mind he is the most disgusting creature that the republic has produced since Tweed's time.”

A more detailed article regarding Clark can be found here.

Recently Clark’s daughter, Huguette, has been in the news since she hasn’t been seen in several years…..hasn’t visited many of her properties in years….and there are suggestions her lawyer and other employees are taking advantage of her.

See the links here and here.

I’d call her a poor little rich girl, but she’s currently 104 years old so…..calling her a girl doesn’t seem appropriate. :)

No comments: