In 1865, after the Union victory in the Civil War, Grant was called upon to make a triumphal tour — a chore as distasteful to him as entertaining Mrs. Lincoln at City Point during the conflict. The entourage slowly puffed its way over the rails of New England, stopping at every hamlet. The addresses of welcome at either the town hall or the railroad station were annoying to such a retiring nature as that of Grant. At one town where the people wanted to hear as well as see Grant, General Horace Porter met his fate. The throng at the station gathered about the rear platform of Grant's car and clamored for a speech. The Union hero turned to his resourceful aide, plucked him by the sleeve, and pushed him forward to the edge of the platform, exclaiming, "You can talk better than I. Go ahead and make a speech; otherwise we shall never get away from this place." Porter stood for a moment nonplused. His breath failed him, and his collar suddenly became too high and too tight. "What I said I don't remember," so he used to tell the story. "I knew I had to say something, so I just started and I just kept on. The crowd seemed pleased, then they applauded, and when I had finished they started cheering. I managed to get behind the Chief, open the door, and slip back into the car; then I closed the door and held it so that he had to stay outside and take the applause." After the success of this first speech, Grant insisted that Porter should answer all the long-winded addresses of welcome.
Porter had been with Grant for over a year when this new talent was discovered. For seven more years, the youthful Brevet General remained with U. S. Grant, in the latter's positions p262 as General of the Army of the United States, Acting Secretary of War, and President. As the years slipped by, the aide polished his speech delivery and set the stage for his later development into an after-dinner speaker rivaling Chauncey Depew. Also this talent was the springboard which catapulted Horace Porter into the arena of national and international politics.
From his early military experience in the Civil War, Porter branched into business with the Pullman Palace Car Company, and thence into the ambassadorship in France. In his threefold career he moved from one field to the next on the thread of his ability to talk, to be personable, and to be one of the necessary satellites of great men. The account of his life shows the struggle of one man to rise above the position of satellite to that of a star in his own right. Could he be accounted a success in his venture? Did he reach the independence he so much desired, or was he even at the end a friend and confidant to the great, but not quite of their stature? In addition to this major struggle there is the picture of a man educated in the military life, born and reared to scrupulous honesty, living and working while surrounded by the forces of the "Robber Baron" era.
The Porter family, of good Scotch-Irish ancestry, emigrated to America in the person of Robert Porter in 1720. In Norristown he acquired tracts of land, and there his son Andrew was born in 1743. This grandfather of Horace, more scholar than farmer, opened a school in Norristown. A short time later his good friend David Rittenhouse advised him to move to Philadelphia to continue his pedagogical work. Sometime later the Revolutionary War took him away from home, where he left five motherless children.
His gallantry in action won him a place on Washington's staff, where, possibly due to his mathematical ability, he became superintendent of the munitions manufacture. After the war he was Surveyor-General of Pennsylvania and because of advanced age declined two appointments from President James p263 Madison — one for an Army brigadier-generalcy in the War of 1812, and another as Secretary of War in 1813. In 1777 this Revolutionary warrior married for the second time and it was the sixth child of this union, born in 1788 and named David Rittenhouse, who was the father of Horace Porter.
David Rittenhouse Porter lived a stirring career — one in which he took advantage of the growth of his native state to study its mineral resources, and to build a pig‑iron mill at Huntingdon. His unusual ability as a speaker, along with his advocacy of a public school system, as well as the constructing of canals and railroads brought him into political focus. During his two terms as Governor, from 1839 to 1845, he kept up the fight for railroads and suggested that a line from Pittsburgh to the Mississippi Valley was necessary for proper development of the State. His honesty dictated the payment of the State's public debt when most others were repudiating them. His opposition to capital punishment brought him the nickname of "Pardon" Porter.
David Rittenhouse's seventh child and sixth son by his wife, Josephine McDermott, inherited the qualities of his father in full measure. His brother William, who was at that time reading the Odes of Horace, accounted for the classical name of his baby brother, born April 15, 1837, at Huntingdon. Horace's first years were spent at the Executive Mansion at Harrisburg where the influence of politics showed itself in the four-year‑old boy naming his dog "Veto" because of the oft‑expressed use of the word by his father.
A silent youngster, who had been slow to learn to talk, Horace spent much of his time down at his father's iron furnace in Harrisburg. There he exhibited his inherited interest in minerals and iron smelting. In that atmosphere, there was no necessity to be a laughing, carefree youngster, as there were no other boys to play with.
After leaving the Governor's chair, David Porter continued to live in Harrisburg, so that Horace's excursions to the iron furnaces were not curbed. As he grew older and entered his p264 'teens he studied the machinery, not only to find out how it worked but also to discover, if he could, ways of bettering it. When he was twelve, the serious youth "invented a gauge to indicate the supply of water in the tanks that fed the steam-boilers." During the same period, an old emigrant cobbler taught Horace how to resole shoes. Though the wealthy family required no such energy from among its own, Horace resoled their shoes and even made a pair for his sister. However crude his work might be the father and mother encouraged this practical streak in their son.
The ex‑Governor's interest in railroads continued and oftentimes the hero of Texas, General Sam Houston, was at their home. The two men organized a construction company to build a railroad from Texas to the Pacific but the project had to be abandoned at the onset of the Civil War. From these visits which Horace looked forward to, and from the tales overheard about fighting in Texas, he perhaps added to his desire to be a soldier.
Other than the practical side of his education the son learned from his mother a profound regard for books and their contents. From her he gathered much of William Tell by heart, and read Tales from Shakespeare. This reading and memory work superseded fairy tales. At the same time the Governor insisted that his children should learn foreign languages, and they were taught French — an unheard of educational advantage in the 1840's. Music too was a natural supplement to this education, and Horace learned to play the flute so that he was at least carrying out with youthful ardor, the "mad" scene, as he called it, in Lucia.
Preparatory schooling began in 1850 at Lawrenceville when Horace was thirteen. There the youth, thrown into the companionship of other boys, showed himself as easily acclimated as he had been around the iron furnaces. He could make the other boys laugh with his jokes, and at the same time could laugh readily himself. The headmaster, Dr. Samuel Hamill, p265 found young Porter to be one of his best pupils. He was a natural organizer in school and administered such undertakings as the boat company and a military group. The former job took him to Philadelphia to buy a boat, and the latter put him out on an improvised drill ground in front of a company of his classmates as they maneuvered with wooden rifles on their shoulders. It was at this time that Horace first voiced his strong desire to attend the Military Academy. His headmaster wrote of this to the Secretary of War, Jefferson Davis, in the following words: "He is well formed and of fine appearance, healthy and energetic, standing at the head of his class in Latin, French, and Mathematics. His talents are of a superior order. If his life is spared, he is destined to be a man of commanding influence and to make his mark in whatever sphere Providence may place him."
Governor Porter applied to President Pierce for an "at‑large" appointment, but the President insisted that he maintained his list only for sons of Mexican War veterans. In 1854, accordingly, young Porter matriculated at Lawrence Scientific School at Harvard, saying little about his discouragement. After his midwinter examinations there, he took advantage of the short vacation to journey to Washington. He had not told his father of his plans and consequently had insufficient funds. One night was spent on a park bench, but the next day he got into the office of the Congressman from the Harrisburg district, Mr. Nerr Middlesworth. That gentleman was tried of appointing boys to West Point because they "never wanted to stick." Porter's account of his strong desire to go to West Point and the evidence of his scholastic record reassured the Representative. Horace Porter passed the preliminary examinations that spring and reported to the Academy as a cadet on July 1, 1855.
Jefferson Davis had extended the West Point course the year before to five years from its customary length of four. His purpose was to add courses in English study, military law, moral science, history of philosophy and logic. Horace Porter's class was therefore the second and became the last one to spend p266 five years at the Academy. Porter continued his accustomed diligence in his studies during the five years, graduating third in academic rating among a class of 41 members. Life was fairly normal in the Academy and like other collegiate institutions, the hazing was physical and at times rough. The cadets slept on the ground in tents in the summer encampment, oftentimes removing only their shoes and socks. While a Plebe, Porter determined not to be caught in the predicament often common to Plebes of finding themselves rudely jerked by their trouser legs out into the mud of the company street in the night. One night, suspecting such devilment, he carefully removed his trousers but kept his shoes on. Then, lying awake waiting for the expected hazing, Porter heard the tent flaps carefully drawn back and a person reaching for his trouser legs. He drew back his hobnailed shoes and let fly. The intruder left in a hurry. The next morning one of the upper kinsmen showed for breakfast with the marks of nails on his face. Nothing was said to the Plebe, and thereafter his physical hazing was negligible.
Prior to the election in 1856, the Northern cadets were quartered in the East Wing of barracks, the Southerners in the West and South Wings. Porter himself broke with his father over the election, and went in sentiment with the new Republican party. During the next few years frequent fights broke out among the cadets, and Porter was often a "second," though never a principal. He had little difficulty in his relations with the Southerners, perhaps because of his aristocratic upbringing. Some of his companions were Wesley Merritt, George Custer, and Emory Upton, Fighting Joe Wheeler, Ramseur and Semmes.a His abilities brought him the promotion from color guard to the coveted position as cadet adjutant — the embellished leader who stands out in front of the long line of cadets and in stentorian voice moves them around the parade ground.
When a Russian general arrived one July day, the cadets were ordered out on parade in full marching equipment, with their winter overcoats carefully rolled. The cadets, in their urge to subvert such an unpopular order, ingeniously rolled p267 pieces of cloth around straw, and pushed them into the pack in place of the overcoat. The Russian's enthusiasm for the cadet review caused the Commandant, Lieutenant Colonel John F. Reynoldsº — later the hero of Gettysburg, to wish to impress the visitor further. The order was given to unroll packs and march back to barracks in their overcoats. Before giving the order, Adjutant Porter tried in every way known to a school boy to tell his superior that he should not give such an order. Finally, there was no recourse. Porter marched out to the center of the parade ground, gave the order, and then shrinkingly watched his command marching back to barracks in every type of covering. Though the West Point officers fumed, the Russian general continued his enthusiastic comments on the cadets' excellence.
Cadet Porter also had occasion to meet the Prince of Wales, Albert Edward, and was detailed to escort him on the round of cadet activities. The young Prince was happy when the ceremonies were concluded, and asked the Adjutant if they couldn't get out and have a quiet game of billiards. Porter obliged and found the taciturn visitor a talkative and interesting personality. They next met when one was King of England; the other, Ambassador to France.
Another side of Cadet Porter deserves mention. Apparently the wit and organizer of West Point, he produced and wrote the verse for the Dialectic Society which even today stages several productions annually. Usually these presentations are satirical and caricature the officers and life at West Point. Cadet Porter wrote a long doggerel poem filled with puns, and play‑on‑words, with caricatures to sum up the four-year course at the Academy. In 1866, he had it published anonymously. Farley in his book on West Point in the Early Sixties, quoted the poem in full. It began:
"West Point life, I said, should be the subject of this strain;
Thinking on the matter long, I strained my brain in vain.
. . . You probably are •six feet high; some officer you dread
Arrests you at the break of day for lying long in bed."
p268 It continued in dull procession to bring out the whole life of a cadet in repetitive wordings. Strangely enough, Porter never forgot this method of speaking and writing, and even in the twentieth century he occasionally ventured such Victorian collegiate phrase-making. During his entire life the sometimes mechanical Porter kept a notebook of stories, jokes and bons mots.
West Point cadet adjutants are usually picked for their excellent posture and their acceptable features. Porter was no exception and a contemporary noted that "he was tall and slender, with graceful, distinguished bearing." The description became jumbled as Porter was catalogued with "dark, thick hair, broad forehead, fair skin, determined chin, rather full, sensitive lips, slightly puckered." The cadets marked him as a ladies' man, and Mary Custis Lee, daughter of Colonel Robert E. Lee, said he was "the best waltzer in the corps." Clara Louise Kellogg, another cadet girl, and later an internationally famous singer, spoke glowingly of the pleasant, charming red‑sashed adjutant. During his last summer as a cadet, Horace Porter fell in love at first sight with Sophie MacHarg, a slim, brown-eyed girl from Albany. Just after graduation they became engaged and three years later were married.
Porter was graduated on July 1, 1860, and was retained at West Point for three months as an artillery instructor. Commissioned in the Ordnance Department, he was transferred to Watervliet Arsenal at West Troy, New York. Life was pleasant because he was only a few miles from his beloved, and being a bachelor was invited to "a party every few nights." In late January, 1861, he wrote a letter home which showed a good balance in those stirring times. He said: "The state of affairs is truly alarming and I fear we may soon see the worst. True, the South had every reason to complain since her protecting clause in the Constitution had been violated" and Northern fanatics had waged "continual war against her institutions." Nevertheless Porter could see no justification of secession and other unpatriotic acts of the South. He noted further, "that some manufactures p269 near here commenced making arms and putting up munitions for some of the seceding states, but the state of New York declared it treason and prevented it."
After the fall of Fort Sumter, General Wool, learning that ordinary communications were endangered by an uprising in Baltimore, sent confidential dispatches to Washington by Lieutenant Porter, attired in mufti. The subordinate saw himself "clothed with the importance of an envoy extraordinary and veiled in the mystery of a Russian diplomat." From New York he embarked on a small vessel with a part of the Seventh Regiment, compressed, as he said, like a sardine, and made to suffer the horrors of seasickness. From Fortress Monroe, the ship cautiously moved up the Potomac, its two borrowed howitzers manned by gun crews trained by Porter. When they docked in Washington they were met by Lincoln and his Secretary of State, William H. Seward. The President shook each man by the hand and congratulated them on their aid to the Union. Though little impressed by Lincoln on this occasion, Porter during longer periods of association three years later saw him as a great man. The Ordnance Lieutenant returned to Troy for a summer's work before leaving for fighting service.
In the fall of 1861, Lieutenant Porter was sent at his request to active service on the expedition against Hilton Head, near Port Royal, South Carolina. The purpose of the Union was to obtain suitable harbors along the southern coast to be used for the blockading fleets and as bases for expeditions to be sent into the interior. In charge of a battery of artillery, Porter distinguished himself and was subsequently complimented for his activity in his first brush with the enemy by General H. G. Wright. Later, in the reduction of Fort Pulaski, which guarded Savannah, Georgia, he was in active charge of the artillery. In the spring of 1862 Porter ingeniously brought about the capture of the Fort. In a letter he wrote as follows:
"One of the regiments was assigned to duty on Tybee Island, and participated promptly in the siege operations, was the p270 46th New York, composed entirely of Germans. There was the savor of German cooking in their mess, the sound of German songs in their camp; all the commands were given in German at drill, and the various calls, such as reveille and tattoo, were the same as those used in the German army. We were at this time very anxious to get some information about the construction of the interior arrangements for the defense of the fort, and one morning a strapping fellow in the regiment, who looked as if he might have been a lineal descendant of a member of Frederick the Great's Potsdam Guards, became enthusiastic in the belief that if there was any son of Germany in the fort the playing of the strains of the Vaterland within hearing of the enemy would bring him promptly into camp. The plan was put into execution, and, sure enough, one dark night a German came floating over on a log from Cockspur to Tybee Island."
The deserter, in return for a glass of beer and some good German cooking, was only too willing to talk and from him Porter had fantastically little difficulty in extracting the desired information. By this simple ruse, the subsequent reduction of Fort Pulaski was then carried out by the "back door" with a consequently lessened loss of life.
Having been brevetted a Captain, "for gallant and meritorious services at the siege of Pulaski," Porter was transferred to the army of General George B. McClellan. Not too modestly he wrote to his family of his new appointment. McClellan had asked for "the most competent officer of the (Ordnance) corps." Detailed to the Army of Virginia as Chief of Ordnance, Porter continued effusively: "You see this is the greatest position a young man has ever held in this country, and I am very much gratified, but I will have an immense amount of work."
Upon reporting to his new duty, the Brevet Captain was chagrined to find that the reorganization of McClellan's and Burnside's armies had subordinated him to another officer. Though he voiced no disappointment officially he informed his p271 father: "I was perfectly satisfied to be thrown out of a position by accident, since I had the satisfaction of knowing I had been chosen for it through merit. The oldest and generally the most inefficient officers fall in at the top of the list and become chief. McClellan is so terribly afraid of hurting anyone's feelings that he lets affairs go on in this way for fear of offending some old fogy by promoting a younger one over him."
It would have been odd indeed if Porter had not at this time looked upon himself with some satisfaction. There was no doubt that he was a very able officer, and for one so young he had had most unusual and gratifying opportunities to demonstrate his ability. He had a quick and facile brain, quick to detect weaknesses in organization, whatever the job might be. What's more he was a man of initiative and action. He never failed promptly to take advantage of such apparent weakness, wherever it might be found.
While with McClellan's command, Captain Porter received word that General H. G. Wright had been appointed to command the Department of the Ohio. In the late fall of 1862 he sent Porter an invitation to become Chief of Ordnance on his staff. After several months' duty in Cincinnati, the young officer again asked for active duty and was assigned as Ordnance officer on the staff of General William S. Rosecrans, at Murfreesboro, in command of the Army of the Cumberland. Battle followed battle until the culmination at Chickamauga in September 1863. There, near Chattanooga, where Leonidas Polk was fighting for the Confederacy, Captain Porter took up his manifold duties of providing guns and ammunition to the Union Army of the Cumberland.
Years later, Charles A. Dana, Assistant Secretary of War in Lincoln's Cabinet, had this to say of Porter's bravery in a part of the battle where he voluntarily took charge.
". . . I had not slept much for two nights, and . . . went to sleep. I was awakened by the most infernal noise I ever heard . . . I saw our lines break and melt away like leaves before the p272 wind. Then the headquarters around me disappeared. The graybacks came through with a rush, and soon the musket balls and the cannon shot began to reach the place where we stood. The whole right of the army had apparently been routed . . . I came upon General Porter — Captain Porter he was then — and Captain Drouillard, an aide-de‑camp infantry officer attached to General Rosecrans's staff, halting fugitives. They would halt a few of them, get them into some sort of a line, and make a beginning of order among them, and then there would come a few rounds of cannon shot through the treetops over their heads and the men would break and run. I saw Porter and Drouillard plant themselves in front of a body of these stampeding men and command them to halt. One man charged with his bayonet, menacing Porter; but Porter held his ground, and the man gave in."
Horace Porter's daughter said that his conduct on this occasion was spoken of as "conspicuous gallantry." In 1902, through the intercession of Elihu Root, Secretary of War, Porter was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his services at Chickamauga — a medal, incidentally, which he redesigned the following year.
In a letter written November 5, 1863, from Chattanooga, Tennessee, General Grant said of Porter in a notice to Halleck, the Commanding General: "Captain Horace Porter . . . is represented by all officers who know him as one of the most meritorious and valuable young officers in the service. So far I have heard from general officers there is a universal desire to see him promoted to the rank of brigadier-general and retained here. I feel no hesitation in joining in the recommendation, and ask that he may be assigned for duty with me."
Grant's request was tabled by Edwin C. Stanton, Secretary of War in Lincoln's Cabinet. It was a year later, after Porter had been on duty in the Ordnance Department in Washington, that Grant's wish was acceded to. Service with the great Union General properly belongs to a war account of Porter. He was always at the side of Grant, talking with him, sleeping in a p273 near‑by tent, carrying dispatches to Sheridan on horseback. Once he journeyed to Atlanta to detail the Chief's plans to Sherman because the information could not be entrusted to the usual messenger service. In his book: Campaigning with Grant, Porter accounted for much of his subsequent war service. At City Point headquarters, Porter as one of the aides could pull himself up to the table where sat Lincoln, Grant, Admiral Porter and others. According to Sandburg, Lincoln was enjoying the quips and banter between the Army and Navy officers at a luncheon on Admiral David D. Porter's flagship, Malvern. Porter was lending his horse that day to the River Queen's Captain Barnes and spoke out that this favor was "usually accorded with some reluctance to naval officers when they came ashore; for these men of the ocean at times try to board the animal on starboard side, and often rolled in the saddle as if there was a heavy sea on." Horace Porter then recounted the tale of a naval hero who had borrowed a horse not long before. "When the officer could not succeeded in making him shorten sail by hauling in on the reins, he took out his jack-knife and dug it in the animal's flanks, swearing that if he could not bring the craft to in any other way he would scuttle it."
Later, at Five Forks battle in April, 1865, Porter plunged back to his Chief's headquarters with the news that the Federal Troops had won. Porter shouted the news from the saddle, and even though Grant was his usual imperturbable self, Porter jumped down in his excitement and began pounding the General on the back.
Of course all his work during these war years was not dramatic. There were days when hour after hour had to be spent in confining paper work — maps to be studied, reports to be read, reports to write. But here again Porter showed his ability. Through his personality ran a broad band of orderliness and neatness. Confusion of any sort was inherently distasteful to him, and he really seemed to enjoy this handling of necessary detail. Through all the hectic days of the war he kept his diary, p274 and at Appomattox in the room of surrender, he took down every word that Lee, Grant and the others spoke along with valuable historic data concerning the position of persons and furniture in the room. Porter, then a Brevet Brigadier General, lent a pencil to Lee for alteration of the terms of surrender. It was his only souvenir of the war.
After the war and after the triumphal tour was completed Porter settled down in Washington as aide to General U. S. Grant. During a period when President Andrew Johnson and Secretary of War Stanton were at odds, Grant was acting Secretary of War, and Porter was his assistant. Also Porter entered into the family life which he had entirely missed since his marriage in 1863 to his West Point sweetheart, Sophie MacHarg.
In 1867, Porter wrote to his wife to bring their new‑born Horace, Jr., to Washington. He had found a large brown front house at 20th and G Streets. Its three stories were secured for forty dollars rent per month. The war had ruined the business of his father-in‑law, an Albany banker, and Governor Porter had lost much of his fortune. The Horace Porters were entirely dependent upon his salary in a circle of wealth and they economized by joining with Colonel Orville E. Babcock of Grant's staff in running a dual household. Oftentimes, the two officers were away on inspection trips into the South where the military districts were attempting to keep some order in chaos. At one time, General Porter was sent to the Pacific Coast on an inspection trip. During these journeys, he wrote to Grant what he saw and enclosed newspaper clippings of the feelings of the South and West. Late in Johnson's administration, when Porter was Assistant Secretary of War to Grant, he found that there was much about the job which he did not like. Perhaps this taste of administrative life in the War Department in a period of hectic national life determined him years later to turn down the post as a Cabinet officer under President William McKinley.
When U. S. Grant became President of the United States p275 on March 4, 1869, Colonel Porter was transferred to the position as executive secretary, though still retained on Army rolls. Grant operated his inner circle like an Army staff so that there was really no change in Porter's status — merely more duties and more functions to attend. The President heartily disliked the fuss of social life, and just as he had previously delegated the speaking assignments to his aide, he now delegated the social as well as administrative work. Porter was a member of the family life of the White House, acting as protocol in the social life of the President. As Secretary his duties were the usual ones of negotiating the list of office callers so that all was smoothly run. General Charles King, a well-known Army writer, said that Porter was a joy to his chief because he could "with sepulchral gravity (say) the most side-splitting things."
Mrs. Sophie Porter entered into the Presidential circle with ease. Sir Henry Howard of the British Legation declared that she was the prettiest young woman in Washington. "I never saw anyone wear such big white tulle skirts, and how she kept them so fresh was a mystery, for she generally came to parties on foot." During the summer the White House group vacationed in Long Branch, New Jersey, where they entered into the social life. Later Porter purchased a summer home at Elberon near by.
During Grant's first administration Porter came into contact with the business of government. Three of these transactions are important in the shaping of his life. First through his brother, William, of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, and a delegate to the Court of Alabama Claims, Porter followed that international arbitration as a daily witness. He saw the diplomats of Great Britain and the United States as they settled amicably the responsibility of neutral Britain for fitting out the privateer Alabama for the Confederate Government when they knew that it would be used to prey upon Union shipping. The Court of Claims furnished to Porter an interesting comparison with his former warrior-like method of settling differences.
The second affair was one of the worst government scandals p276 in our history. While Grant with his executive Secretary, Horace Porter, was traveling about the country, they visited in New York City with Abel Rathbone Corbin, who had married Grant's sister. Through Corbin, Jay Gould and James Fisk were introduced into the family circle. On June 15, 1869, Fisk entertained Grant on his Bristol Line plush and gold steamboat. The conspirators, according to Allan Nevins, "attempted to learn the Treasury's gold policy, and argued that it was important to keep gold high in order to facilitate sales of American grain in Europe." Other meetings were arranged with Grant, and on one occasion when the others had left the room, the financier asked Porter, "Do you ever purchase or sell gold stocks?" At Porter's negative, Gould said: "You had better let me get you some gold; gold is going to rise before long, and suppose I purchase some for you." Porter replied that he had neither the inclination nor the means of purchasing gold; "and if I had, I am an officer of the Government, and cannot enter into anything that looks like speculation."
Josephson in The Robber Barons stated: "A purchase of $1,500,000 in gold was opened in the name of the subtreasurer (Daniel) Butterfield, without payment on his part; an attempt to confer a similar service was apparently made for General Horace Porter . . ." Meanwhile the "Goldbugs" continued to drive the price of gold higher and higher as they cornered the metal in the New York exchange, where gold was dealt in as a speculative commodity.
Later, in Washington, Pennsylvania, Porter, upon opening the President's mail came upon a package forwarded from Corbin's. There was a slip of paper, unaddressed and unsealed, containing the statement that $500,000 in gold had been purchased at the current rate and placed to Porter's credit. It was signed by Jay Gould.
Porter immediately demanded that no purchase be made for him, and said that he had never authorized such a purchase. The affair dragged on while the market went crazily upward. More messengers came and went to the vacation spot at Washington, p277 until suspicions were thoroughly aroused. Grant then looked into the matter and told the Secretary of the Treasury, Boutwell, that if gold continued to rise, the government would sell. And sell the government did, bringing about the "Black Friday" incident of September 24, 1869, in which pandemonium broke loose in the New York gold room as scores were ruined.
Horace Porter came out of this brush with the moneyed interests with his honesty secure. Perhaps Gould thought Porter could be "bought" because it was known that in the Northern Pacific Railroad financing in 1869, "the favorable reviews of a Philadelphia and Washington newspaper were arranged for $4,666; while the private secretary of President Grant, General Horace Porter, offered his friendly offices," according to Josephson, "with alacrity."
The tide of invective against the White House military clique, intensified by the "Black Friday" incident, increased to a crescendo over the New York Custom House affair. A clerk on Grant's wartime staff had secured the usual letter of recommendation from Grant and had gone to New York "with the intention of bidding for the contract under which labor was supplied for the New York custom-house." The former clerk, using Porter's name in his conversation, soon caused it to be noised around New York that Grant's Secretary, General Porter, was "controlling jobs" in the custom house. The new collector in New York, Thomas Murphy, was asked by Porter not to pay any attention "to applicants who professed to have White House backing." Still the rumors continued. Murphy added fuel with the intimation that he failed to have a hand in the dispensing of patronage and mentioned Grant's former staff clerk as a case in point. During the Congressional session, 1870‑71, the matter was investigated. Though Porter came out with a clean shirt he nevertheless became the scapegoat.
The case dragged through another investigation in the next session of Congress, and Horace Greeley made political capital of it in his New York Tribune. Porter had had his day in court p278 and showed unassailably that as an upright man he had taken care "that the White House record should be demonstrably above reproach." Though the investigation resulted in complete vindication of Grant and Porter on the charge of wrongdoing, it was not the best material for Grant's political campaign. Horace Porter remained out of the newspapers as much as possible during the campaign of 1872, and as soon as Grant was re‑elected, reluctantly tendered his resignation from the Army and from the position as Secretary to the President. Porter's loyalty to Grant and his affection for him was one of the great enthusiasms of his life, and rather than subject his chief to unnecessary criticism he turned in his resignation. It was a characteristic touch.
For nine years he had followed the star of Ulysses Grant. Now he struck out on his own. He had learned the subtle art of holding his tongue and letting "the other fellow do the talking" — a favorite expression for the remainder of his life. As he reviewed his Washington life, he found that he had been "thrown with all sorts and kinds of men. It was a hard school, but a good one."
Fortunately for Porter, through the favor of placing Robert Todd Lincoln on Grant's staff, he was in return, through that individual's auspices, offered a position as vice-president of the Pullman Palace Car Company of Chicago. The original officer was that of New York representative with a five-year contract at $10,000 a year. This solved the problem of family upkeep which his army pay could not meet. Since his father's death in 1867, he had supported his mother and sister as well as an increasing family of his own. His plan for the future, as it developed early in his business career, was "to build up a certain fortune, and meanwhile and thereafter to cultivate other interests and follow other pursuits."
For years he had worked in the shadows of another's personality. It had been good and satisfying work, but through business Porter hoped to demonstrate to the world that he could be a public figure in his own right. The ruthless financial wars in p279 the hectic period from 1870 to 1890 engulfed him though his heart was not in them; he was always looking beyond. He was a bitter fighter when ideal was at stake, but he was too kindly to enjoy crushing another individual merely to attain financial power.
From the year 1873 when he established the New York office of the Pullman Company, there were twenty-four years of business effort to follow. His direction of its affairs was such that in the early part of 1877 Pullman sent him abroad to "carry the torch of progress . . . to those backward regions." If indeed that was Pullman's idea he must have had of a shock when Porter's correspondence on the difficulties he was encountering started rolling in to the Chicago offices! Some of the English directors raised objections to the mirrors in the cars, which by showing the landscape in reverse motion, made people car‑sick. Porter wrote: "The slowness of everybody in this country grates upon my nerves; but as one can't go at them butt end first, he has to exercise increased patience and be prepared either to stand and take it or run." His patience held out, for he drew up a contract with English railroad men which continued for eighteen years to return profits to Pullman.
Italy was a tougher nut to crack. There "the small amount of first and second class travel was done almost entirely by tourists, who traveled in short stages by daylight in order to enjoy the scenery." Eventually, however, the Government, whose officials Porter describes as "treacherous, unscrupulous, and unjust," ordered a few Pullman sleepers to run from Turin to Brindisi, Rome, Naples, and Reggio. "The train to which the first of these was attached caught fire; steel cars had not been invented, and the sleeper burned with the rest. Whereupon the Italian Government brought a suit for damages against Pullman because his sleeping‑car had caught fire on an Italian train! He paid little attention to this extraordinary claim, and stopped all negotiations for the delivery of the other sleepers." That ended the Italian episode.
p280 In France he had no more luck than in Italy, and in trying to put through his plans for inaugurating a through Pullman service between Calais and Brindisi encountered a wall of prejudice which finally persuaded him to give up his scheme. He stated that all their stations and tracks were "arranged for shunting their trains by means of small turn-tables suited only to their small cars."
Although this trip to Europe was for Porter a time of work and responsibility, he enjoyed himself too. In England he met Lord Leven and Melville and at Abbotsford, a nephew of Sir Walter Scott showed him over the historic old house and invited him to dinner. At Court he was presented to Queen Victoria. It was there too that he met her daughter-in‑law, the Princess of Wales, and the Duchess of Edinburgh, later of Coburg, the only daughter of the Tsar. In Vienna he had glimpses of the Empress, whom he declared to be "one of the most beautiful women he had ever seen and the finest horsewoman."
Other than the famed people of Europe, its art museums interested him. Also, since architecture was one of his hobbies, he visited every noted building or church that was accessible. His daughter said he left for home "with a fixed idea that he wanted to return again to the Old World," particularly to Paris which he cherished above the rest.
Horace Porter returned to New York to find the Sixth Avenue Elevated Lines under construction. Under Pullman, the non‑resident president of the construction company, Porter found that his position as chairman of the finance and construction committee called for very active direction. In this enterprise, Porter displayed common sense and showed a gift for "pouring oil on troubled waters" which later made him a successful diplomat. He wrote to Pullman that the board meetings were usually "stormy," the men themselves "conservative one day and radical the next." It was he who extracted compromise after compromise out of all this bedlam, and at last in June, 1878, the road was opened. Within a short time, he p281 proudly reported "the largest railway business in the world, running 441 trains a day each way."
The inventive talents of his youth remained with him through the pressure of business, and later, of political life, through they were given little room for germination. While with the Pullman Company, to prevent the prevailing practice of re‑using tickets on the elevated lines, he invented a ticket chopper. This cutting device was still in use forty years later and familiar to millions of New Yorkers.
By this time Porter's ambition was ignited. He was recognized as one of the country's eminent railroad men. Others of that caliber were moving from one successful enterprise to another. Why not he? And so he became involved in the construction of the West Shore Railroad,b running up the west bank of the Hudson River from Weehawken, a town opposite New York City, to Buffalo. This was an enterprise in which Pullman and his friends were interested and when the company was formed, under the name of the New York, West Shore, and Buffalo Railroad Company, Porter was elected President. With hindsight, it seems strange that Porter with his business acumen and common sense should have been so enthusiastic in his endorsement of the idea, inasmuch as Vanderbilt's New York Central on the eastern side of the river was already well-established. Incidentally, he could not have looked forward with much relish to clashes with Vanderbilt, particularly since there was already considerable antagonism between the two, due to the aggressive acts of the Wagner Car Company, a subsidiary of the New York Central. Frequent litigation had sprung up between Vanderbilt and the Pullman Company.
Porter's daughter in her biography explained how the new West Shore Railroad was badly needed because of the "public-be‑damned" attitude of the New York Central, whose "service was inferior." Certainly the prospect of the new road appealed to the investing public. The first $15,000,000 issue of bonds, p282 Porter wrote to Pullman, was "the greatest success of the season." Another $20,000,000 bond issue was the work of the North River Construction Company which was to build the West Shore, and of the New York, Ontario and Western Railroad, which was to use the new road from Cornwall to Weehawken. This total was thought sufficient to build the railroad.
The West Shore cost $58,000,000, due to vastly increased construction costs, according to Elsie Porter Mende. When the first trains were run on January 1, 1884, there were no resources except revenue from operation to meet the interest charges. The state of the market was bad, and the company was unable to meet all the January interest on its bonds. In stepped Vanderbilt, who was anxious to control both sides of the Hudson, and efforts to get the West Shore bondholders to agree to saving measures were fruitless. There was not sufficient money to pay the employees. The crash came in June, 1884, and the West Shore went into receivership.
Josephson in The Robber Barons termed the West Shore project as a "blackmailing expedition . . . of rakish promoters." Pullman, it was well known, was behind the projected road, and it was thought that the Pennsylvania Railroad was thus aiding in cutting down the power of Vanderbilt's New York Central. While the West Shore Railroad was operating the New York World printed a front page story on the manipulations of the promoters of the Western Shore under the title, "Was it a swindle?" The subheading was "Another Credit Mobilier under the name of the North River Construction Company."
Several months after the crash, Horace Porter wrote to J. H. Cornell, a stockholder in the North River Construction Company, recounting the excessive cost of building the road. He stated: "When the railway, whose stock was largely held by the Construction Company, began operations, stagnation in traffic and a desperate railroad war, which has looked like a war of extermination by the New York Central Company, have kept the earnings very light on the road and reduced its p283 securities to a very low price . . . Though not an officer or director of the Construction Company I took a large amount of the Construction stock and hold it still."
The New York World saw the story of the West Shore in a different light. The remarkable disappearance "of $60,000,000 in speculative manipulations" was apparently headed by a triumvirate of a Mr. Charles Woerishoffer, "a celebrated plunger," General Edward F. Winslow, and General Horace Porter. After they had gained control of the Ontario and Western Railroad, they organized both the West Shore Railroad and the North River Construction Company, the latter an "inside" concern. True enough, the World continued, the last two companies were consolidated but there was an interlocking directorate. "Porter was actually President of the West Shore Railroad Company, although he omitted to sign as such . . . being evidently embarrassed because he had to sign on the other side for the North River Company." The newspaper quoted the actual cost of the railroad as less than thirty million dollars, and said: "It is therefore apparent that the Construction Company intended to obtain $40,000,000 of bonds for $30,000,000 of expenditures . . ."
The collapse of the West Shore Railroad cost its stockholders huge sums. D. O. Mills, father-in‑law of the Tribune editor, lost from three to four million dollars. The Herald added: "Many persons who dined with General Porter during that time recall now with sorrow the quiet and confidential suggestion that Construction stock was 'the best thing to go for.' "
Horace Porter was badly hurt by this West Shore receivership, his first great failure. His daughter wrote, "He felt the blow to his prestige, and his pride was hurt to the quick. I shall never forget his appearance. A very small child, I was terrified to see him so completely crushed." The wiping out of nearly all his own fortune in the West Shore debacle troubled him least. What he dwelt on was the loss incurred by the men who had invested in the stock of the road "because they believed in him."
p284 In 1905, the New York Herald, summing up Porter's career, stated:
"When the (West Shore) road was sold he had ceased to be President but he still retained his interest in it and profited by the coup executed by the late Calvin S. Brice and General Samuel Thomas when they invited Jay Gould on a trip of inspection over The Nickel Plate. The Nickel Plate has been described as nothing but 'two streaks of rust and the right of way,' but the visit of Gould was sufficient and the Vanderbilts paid, and paid well, for the competing line from Weehawken to the West."
One blow to Porter was not enough. Ferdinand Ward, a magician in Wall Street, had inveigled Ulysses Grant into a brokerage business, and lured hundreds of investors into fantastic enterprises. Upon his decamping, the business was found to be in ruins. Horace Porter, knowing the sensitivity of Grant's inner self, worried about Grant's troubles almost more than his own. It irked him and because of his own monetary losses he was unable to help his old Chief financially. Those were black days and out of them came a Porter phrase, "Abandon the path of ambition when it becomes too narrow for two to walk abreast." His fondness for the motto "Live and let live" also dated from this time.
Whether Porter was, like Grant, pulled into business enterprises by smooth-tongued manipulators, or whether he went into them with his eyes open, it is difficult to know. Surely Grant had his own standard in which his personal honesty must stand for a business loss; this must have been impressed upon Porter and perhaps the Chief spoke about it to his former aide on more than one occasion. At any rate, the West Shore project was the last shadowy one in which Porter engaged.
From this time, so his daughter said, he renewed his desire to build up sufficient personal fortune so that he could enter public life. For the next seven years strict economy was practiced in the household. The Porters were living with their three children, two sons and a daughter, in an apartment at p285 10 West 30th Street in New York City. Mrs. Porter was an engaging personality who moved easily through the social world in which her husband's business affairs took them. She was "rather small and slight, with lovely fair skin which she never exposed to the sun."
General Grant was living in New York City at 3 East 66th Street off Central Park. There regularly each Sunday, Porter took his daughter, but apparently not Mrs. Porter, for reminiscing with his former commander.
The care that Porter took with the finances extended also to his own clothing. He always bought the best but it had to last for a good many years. His daughter said that it was difficult to get him to spend any money on himself, but he was forever helping widows and children of former comrades and it was hard for him to turn a deaf ear to the pleadings of an old soldier. He would say when his family expostulated: "That man has been through the war, and war is Hell. You don't know what you'd be like if you had been through Hell." Later, in Paris, the cook was the one who kept the figures on expenses. "She presented her book to Father every Saturday afternoon . . . In the same way he kept track of all other household expenditures."
Porter was devoted to his children and after the death of his son Horace, in 18990, there were gray hairs over his temples and he aged ten years. Young Porter had been voted the handsomest and most popular man in his class at Princeton and General Porter had expected him to become a capable man of affairs. Porter's affection for his daughter extended to indulging her every wish. Deep as he was in business and politics, a severely hard worker, he never failed to take an interest in her child games. He seldom turned aside with an impatient answer to his daughter's questions, and between them there was a close bond of companionship and understanding, particularly as the years rolled on and Elsie grew into womanhood. One of his enthusiasms which he instilled in her was his love of languages. "How are we to comprehend other nations," he said to her, "if we can't speak their p286 languages or read their literatures? To know another fellow's language should make you understand how he feels."
Of his innermost feelings and convictions Porter spoke seldom. "Preaching," moreover, was so distasteful to him he never gave his children anything that could be called religious or moral instruction — or, if he did, they never recognized it as that. He preferred to rely on deeds more than words. He placed great emphasis on the necessity for moderation in all things, and upon duty as the supreme reality. Even after they moved to a larger and more luxurious home at 277 Madison Avenue, Porter made no change in his mode of life. "He was a light eater and still lighter drinker, and he never smoked." These three things, "his kindness, his moderation, his moral courage" are the qualities his daughter emphasized again and again.
During these years in New York City, Porter's determined effort was to confine himself only to the necessary routine matters of the Pullman Company and to avoid entanglement in any enterprises which might draw heavily on his time. The extra hours thus at his disposal he devoted to the writing of magazine articles and to the delivery of addresses and speeches, and through numerous appearances in public became very popular as a speaker. He was an arresting figure on the platform, straight and dignified of bearing, with black hair, genial eyes, and withal a general appearance of meticulous grooming. In fact, Chauncey Depew in his autobiography said nothing of his business dealings with Porter while he was counsel for the New York Central, but stated: "A banquet was always a success if it could have among its speakers William M. Evarts, Joseph H. Choate . . . General Horace Porter, or Robert Ingersoll." Clara Louise Kellogg, the distinguished American singer who had visited West Point when Porter was a cadet, found it difficult upon meeting him years later "to recognize in the dignified General the ardent young cadet of West Point days."
As a lecturer, Porter was alert on his feet and had the knack of putting himself in touch with his audience. His full lips p287 which had lost their school‑boy pucker were used to enunciate clearly his low‑pitched words. "Apt stories, bits of wit and wisdom, and original turns of thought characteristically American in their humor" were interspersed throughout his talks. He had a fund of such anecdotes carefully written in a notebook kept solely for this purpose and could produce a story to illustrate any point, an ability which he probably acquired in imitation of Lincoln. In a newspaper interview at Richfield Springs, New York, where Porter vacationed but never bathed in or drank the waters, he evaded political talk by airing his views on speaking. He said he felt sorry for speakers who eat before arriving at the banquet because of nervous indigestion. Porter never found his appetite impaired nor his digestion interfered with when he knew he was to speak. To the reporter he claimed that he never made notes and made no studied preparation beforehand. In his speeches the General loved to make a play‑on‑words with such expressions as: The northeaster "manifested a preference for the doctrine of damnation without representation"; ". . . he founded a government based on a common poverty and called it a commonwealth"; "when he found a witch suffering in the New England winter, he brought her into the fire." Porter said in another speech he had helped to make man downright as a soldier, but as a diplomat he tried the harder path of making him upright. At a Navy League dinner in 1913, Porter compared treaties to sausage by remarking that "the more you know about how they are made, the less you are apt to like them." He was quick in repartee, so much so that as the years rolled on he became a favorite after-dinner speaker at the Union League Club, the Lotos Club, the Lambs and other famous New York groups, where he rivaled Chauncey Depew as a top‑flight speech maker.
Some of his magazine articles during those years were on railroad problems, but chiefly his subject matter was based upon the war years; the source, his own vivid memories and his carefully kept memoirs. Lincoln, whom Porter was fortunate p288 enough to see at close range on many occasions, was the subject of some of these articles, but his great loyalty was to the man he knew best, Grant. Though he had lived close to Grant in a headquarters' tent, shared his railroad car on the triumphal tour, and met him both officially and socially while in the White House, he had only words of praise for him.
In the summer of 1884, he and Badeau (Military Secretary on Grant's staff and for a short time stationed at the White House) spent evening after evening along with Grant's son, checking the memoirs which Grant was writing at white heat. Grant's death was only a year distant, and his health was failing rapidly. Tortured with pain, anxious to pay off his debts incurred by the losses in his business, he spent his days bent over the writing desk, literally scribbling for his life.
This was not to be the only "labor of love" Porter made for Grant. Upon the latter's death on July 25, 1885, a plan was evolved to erect a suitable monument to his memory. This was the first such monument to be planned in this country and though enthusiasm for the idea at the outset was high and some funds were collected, six years later only $155,000 of the $500,000 deemed necessary was in hand. A temporary red brick vault had been built, but blueprints for the contemplated memorial were the only tangible evidence of progress that the country had. Actual work was awaiting the necessary half million dollars, but this was not forthcoming. The deadlock had to be broken and Porter took the job.
His approach to the problem was novel. His idea was a "drive" to collect money. In February, 1892, he accepted the Presidency of the Grant Memorial Association. The cornerstone was to be laid within sixty days, on April 27. And the money had to be well in hand by that date to make it a meaningful ceremony. General Porter organized 2487 men into 215 groups to canvass the city. That was the core of his scheme. Grant's wish had been to be buried in New York City. Upon him had rested the great responsibility of saving the p289 Union. "He brought us peace." Now it was the responsibility of the citizens of New York, and theirs alone, to give him the peace that he had given them. Porter's heart was in his job. Sparks flying from the intense heat of his own enthusiasm ignited all over the city and at the ceremonial exercises on April 27, Porter could count subscriptions of $202,000, many of them individual dollar bills. On Memorial Day, he was able to report that his goal of $350,000 had been reached.
Still the former aide was not satisfied. He felt that Grant's character was not properly understood by the people at large. Malicious and unjust attacks, though few in number, still persisted. Therefore he proposed to write a book drawn from his years of association with Grant during the war. Though the material was to be of a military nature, the central theme was to be a character analysis at close range. He wanted to make clear "the workings of his mind, the secret of his power and his greatness," and to show "the simplicity and lack of ostentation which made his character one of such extraordinary contrasts." The manuscript was prepared while the tomb was under construction and first appeared in serial form in the Century Magazine during the year preceding the dedication of the tomb, April 27, 1897.
To his daughter it was a mystery how he found time to write the book. He was constantly dining out; there had come to be a great demand for him as an after-dinner speaker; he was at the office all day. That his authorship was able and competent was attested by the frequent use of his material by Carl Sandburg in his War Years. In spite of Porter's consummate interest in transmitting to others his own fondness for Grant, he found time to attend to his daily affairs with the Pullman Company. During the Pullman Strike of 1894, Porter was called to Chicago "to do something to influence the men." Needless to say, Porter's excellent speaking ability, as well as his courage, made him a good representative for the management when difficulties were in the physical combat stage.
A year or so later it was decided to discontinue the New p290 York office of the Pullman Company, although it was not until the spring of '96, when Porter was completing his memoirs of Grant, that he resigned from the company — shortly after this to become chairman of the board of directors of the recently reorganized St. Louis and San Francisco Railroad. This position he held only a short time, however, for he was now to follow "other pursuits."
A month after Porter had spoken at the cornerstone ceremonies of Grant Monument in 1892, he was interviewed by the newspapers on Harrison and Blaine as political candidates. This marked the beginning of his entrance into political life. On that day, the New York Herald said that "Porter would be chosen as the spokesman to present Harrison's name to the Convention . . . General Porter is a Harrison delegate." The report found the General most wary in his answers and stated that his manner as he talked was "extremely nervous and he did not seem pleased to discuss the situation." In June, Porter refused the National Chairmanship of the Republican National Committee with the words that "a man to fill such a place should be prepared to give up everything else . . ." During that same summer, Porter was first listed as a mayoralty candidate in New York City. Though he was not put forward, the mention came up again two years later. By mid‑year of 1895, he had abandoned Harrison for the new presidential candidate, Governor William McKinley of Ohio. The following year brought further notice to Porter, as Illinois favored him for the vice presidential nomination, and the McKinley leaders favored him also. Porter's great desire to maintain the gold standard occasioned a cartoon depicting him as a "gold brick" being offered the vice presidency.
The main issue during the 1896 presidential campaign between Bryan and McKinley, as the reader will recall, was "free silver" versus the "gold standard." "Sound money" was at stake and it was impossible for Porter not to join McKinley's forces even though he had not been selected as a running mate. The Ohio Governor he had known since Civil War days, and p291 he believed in him implicitly. Bryan's money principles, on the other hand, were anathema to Porter, and he enjoyed repeating another of his phrases. "Like ghosts; everybody fears them but nobody believes in them." From 1893 to 1897 he was President of the Republican stronghold, the Union League Club in New York. Here as well as on many another platform he fought McKinley's cause. The Republican campaign chest was low and the man who in such a short time had raised the fund for Grant's tomb was the obvious man for the job. His feat on this occasion was even greater than before, for in ten weeks he was able to turn over to Mark Hanna $3,000,000. The campaign from the start had been directed toward a great climax, a parade of 100,000 business men carrying the torch for "sound money." By the time Porter's New York fund committee had finished its fiery canvassing, the enthusiasm of business men, large and small, was heated to the boiling point, and on October 31, New Yorkers were treated to the unusual spectacle of a monumental parade from Worth Street to Fifth Avenue at Fortieth. Hour after hour, from early in the morning until 8 o'clock in the evening, columns of business groups marched by the reviewing stand at Madison Square. Porter as marshal had again demonstrated his ability at organization. The Herald called it the "greatest civic procession known in the history of the world." Porter was ecstatic about the parade and commented proudly on the headquarters at Fortieth Street and Fifth Avenue being in touch with all parts of the parade by telephone and telegraph. He had figured the timing of the parade based on "sixteen men to a line, four paces apart," moving at the regular marching rate. As a master of detail, he had the "horses shod with rubber and the streets sanded" so that his aides could gallop up and down to keep the parade moving on schedule.
Two weeks after the election of McKinley it was natural that the person who had so consistently fired the citizens of New York with the stamp of his personality and his own enthusiasm should journey West for a call upon Hanna and p292 McKinley. The Herald reported that the meeting with Hanna "did not mean that either Major McKinley or Mr. Hanna wants General Porter in the Cabinet as Secretary of War, though both entertain a very kindly feeling toward him." The article closed: "Porter's selection will be resented by Platt" (New York's machine-running politician) as there was warfare between Platt and Union League factions. The two Republican figures had always been opponents. Platt now sought the Treasury Secretaryship; Porter, that of War. No President could select two men from the same State without political repercussions, and certainly would not want political opponents in his cabinet. By January, 1897, the Platt machine was lined up against the Union League, McKinley League and all the groups who were for Porter. Prior to that lining up of forces, the Herald had suggested that Porter be given the French Embassy. The General had written to his friend, A. A. Woodhull on December 30, 1896: ". . . The Governor has had very full and frank talks with me about all his preparations for the future, Cabinet, etc. I told him at the outset that nothing could induce me to camp in Washington and undertake the African slavery of running a Department of the Government; that I was trying to get rest in these days rather than confining work. He is all adrift as to a Secretary of War, but he will no doubt be able to get a good man before the 4th of March. As you say it is more important than ever that there should be a proper head to the Military Department of the Government, particularly if we should have more domestic insurrections or a foreign war."
Two days before inauguration, the New York Herald reported: "Mr. Platt is sure General Horace Porter will not be in the Cabinet. That gentleman also considers himself out of the race. Knowing that his appointment would be objectionable to the machine, and being anxious for harmony in the party, he would much prefer to have Major McKinley agree upon some other New Yorker who would be satisfactory to all elements."
p293 The history of the Porter family with respect to the War Secretaryship is interesting. Horace's grandfather, Andrew, had declined the position when offered it by President Madison in 1813; Horace's uncle, James Madison Porter, was nominated for the position by President Tyler but the Senate rejected him. Certainly, such a super-patriot as Porter would not have declined the proffered post, but again his loyalty to his new chief caused him to give in to the Plattites. Perhaps, McKinley in their post-election meeting had offered the Ambassadorship to France and that post appealed to the sixty-year‑old business man who loved fine things, spoke French fluently, and desired a respite in the European city he loved. On March 16, the President announced Porter's appointment to that position. Simultaneously, John Hay was sent to the corresponding post in Britain.
Porter at the behest of Mark Hanna was called as Marshal of McKinley's inaugural parade in Washington on March 4. The New York Tribune said that the ceremonies "for magnitude, color, intensity of interest, and dramatic effectiveness (were) the most imposing and successful that ever ushered a new administration into place and power."
On May 5, Porter sailed with his family for his new position in France. There was no American Embassy in Paris; the Ambassador was expected to rent his home at his own expense, with the consequent result that the American Embassy was "as itinerant as a houseboat." Porter explained: "When a city cabman is asked by a stranger where the American Embassy is, the reply often given is, 'On wheels. Year before last it was on such a street, last year on another street, this year I don't know where.' " Porter felt the disgrace keenly, inasmuch as he was most anxious to evoke from the French Government and its people the respect to which he felt his country was entitled, a respect which had not always been forthcoming in the years preceding. However, this housing difficulty was soon solved in the rental of a home "hardly second to any of the p294 favored nations' embassies" — though the cost exactly equaled his salary.
Freed from the irksome task of embassy hunting, Porter was able to focus his time on the necessary systematizing of the embassy staff and on acquainting himself with the intricate problems facing him in his avowed purpose of laying "the foundations of a better understanding between France and the United States than had existed for many years." Although bowing to established precedent and long miles of hampering red‑tape was not easy for Porter, he made a determined effort throughout his eight-year tenure to follow the existing Protocol in every respect. No stone that could be moved in cementing friendlier relations between the two countries was left unturned. Instead of speaking English at his formal presentation to President Faure, as required by the American State Department, Porter spoke in French, thereby doing more in an hour to elicit confidence and respect than he might have done in months. During the Cuban crisis the following year, his work was of such a caliber that in a memorandum years later, M. Hanotaux, Minister of Foreign Affairs from 1894 to 1898, said of General Porter: ". . . no one contributed more than he . . . to maintaining and strengthening cordial relations between France and the United States." And again, "I always remember with real feeling the qualities of mind, sound judgment, and friendly good sense which were shown throughout by the admirable and loyal ambassador, General Porter."
The French people had a large ownership in Spanish bonds. In the event of extended hostilities between Spain and the United States, they were due to lose heavily, and they were naturally anxious that hostilities should cease quickly. It was fertile ground for the unscrupulous portion of the French press — incidentally, the English, American and German press too — which every day printed new stories to the effect that Americans were being molested on the streets of Paris, that there were violent scenes in the shops on the Rue de la Paix, and finally, that France was furnishing arms to Spain. None of this was true. The French Government announced its neutrality p295 at the outbreak of hostilities. The people on the whole seconded their attitude, if anything with considerable "sympathy and cordiality" toward the United States. Nevertheless, excitement was rampant, and Porter's difficulties in trying to bring about a peace treaty mounted. To quiet the tumult, he predicted that the war would end in three weeks. As the war continued, press comments sharpened. Finally he asked the State Department in Washington for four or five thousand dollars to employ "some skilful writers . . . to obtain useful facts, prepare solid arguments, represent our side of the case, interview tradesmen and others, and arrange to get their articles published wherever opportunity occurs in a manner to reach the thinking public."
By no means all at people of the United States were convinced that the government was right in extending its "protection" to Cuba and the Philippines at the end of the struggle with Spain. Porter had no such compunctions. In a letter to McKinley on November 14, 1899, he expressed his views on imperialism thus:
". . . I often wish that some of our non‑expansionist citizens at home could once take a look at the Philippine question from a stand-point farther off, one which is nearer the true focal distance. It is said that a Wall Street operator can speculate better when far enough away to be out of the immediate influence of the hourly fluctuations than when hanging over the 'ticker', and one can take a less circumscribed view sometimes of public questions when on the other side of an intervening ocean. I have frequently heard a number of public men in Europe express the opinion that we did in the three months what the great powers of Europe had sought in vain to do for over a hundred years, in having secured a chain of island posts in the Pacific . . . near enough to protect our interests in the Orient. So that while some of our citizens of 'mental malformation' are bemoaning our unlucky fate, the most experienced statesmen here envy our transcendent achievements and see clearly the future benefits."
p296 Porter like most other ambassadors was in difficulty several times. On one occasion he denied the French report that he had received information on the peace negotiations between Spain and the United States. On another, he refuted Henri Rochefort's charge that he had said, "England had financed the Dreyfus syndicate." Later the French claimed that Porter's Naval Attaché, Lieutenant (later Admiral) William S. Simsc had left the country with the secret plans for an artillery gun. Porter of course denied the entire story.
During Porter's term of service as Ambassador, tremors of the earthquake to come were beginning to shake the calm serenity of the nineteenth century. During the Boxer Rebellion of 1900, Hay, Secretary of State since August 7, 1898, was anxious to maintain the "Open Door," and upon Porter fell the task of convincing the French Government that such a policy was to their advantage.
The summer of 1900 was the busiest period of Porter's whole ambassadorship. Not only were negotiations over the Boxer Rebellion still pending, but it was also the year of the Paris Universal Exposition. There were delays in Washington over the question of whether the United States should or should not be represented. Finally it was decided affirmatively and a Commissioner General sent over — a man, however, who spoke no French!d This might have been no drawback if he and his fellow Commissioners had shown any proclivity for the usual diplomatic procedures. The exposition officials complained about the off‑hand methods of the American Committee; the latter about the exasperating red tape. Porter was called upon time and again to smooth the ruffled feathers.
During his first years in Europe, Porter's name was constantly mentioned in connection with a new appointment as Secretary of War. When Elihu Root was sled for the position, Porter was mentioned in 1900 for the vice presidency. The Ambassador declined to talk of such selections and toured Europe both to show his nonchalance in the matter and to see the life in Russia, Turkey and elsewhere.
p297 In the following year, McKinley was assassinated. Roosevelt took his place and this letter written after the mid‑term elections in 1902 showed Porter's enthusiasm for his new chief:
Dear Mr. President:
Now that we know definitely the result of the election, I cannot forego the pleasure of sending you a word of cordial congratulation. The off year between presidential elections has always been so doubtful that I had at one time great apprehension about the House of Representatives. My first encouragement was when you made your thoroughly admirable series of speeches in the East, dispelled the existing apathy, and took a bold stand in favor of the rights of the people. Then came the coal strike, which recalled the Homestead Strike in the second Harrison campaign, which really cost our party the loss of the election. At that time there was no leader who had enough grasp and vigor and who possessed to a sufficient degree the confidence of all classes to end the strike.
Soon after the election, the difficulties between Russia and Japan began to manifest themselves. In spite of Russia's signature to the "Open Door" policy, she was trying as early as February, 1902, to "secure extensive concessions in Manchuria." Japan felt that her "sphere of influence" was being encroached upon, and France, because of her alliance with Russia, was anxious that hostilities be avoided. The conflict, in crippling Russia, would weaken France. Hay was re‑emphasizing the principle of the integrity of China, and as his representative, Porter was asked to broach to the French Government the possibility of the neutral nations using their offices with Russia and Japan to induce them to respect China's neutrality "and in all practicable ways her administrative entity."
During the long negotiations preceding the final outbreak of the Russo-Japanese War in 1904, and in the midst of all the usual duties incumbent upon the Ambassador, another worry had been gradually taking first place in Porter's mine. His wife's health had been poor for several years. She had p298 been unable to attend to the social functions she enjoyed so much. During the winter of 1902‑1903, she grew much weaker, and on April 6 the end came. General Winslow, Porter's West Shore partner, was also at her bedside. He spoke of her as a gracious hostess who always "made a visitor feel at home." Her death took all the zest out of life for the Ambassador. Immediately he wrote to the President of resigning but acceded to Roosevelt's request that he remain through his administration.
Porter's ambassadorial achievements came to an end in 1905. Before returning to America, however, he completed one more piece of work — a research project begun in June, 1899. The body of John Paul Jones had long lain unclaimed and untended in a small forgotten Paris cemetery. No one knew where the grave was; documentary evidence was not readily available. Porter, entirely on his own initiative and at his own expense, threw himself into this painstaking search with the same ardor that had actuated his drive for the money for Grant's tomb. At last, though, he had the satisfaction of seeing that proper deference and honor were accorded to America's "first and most fascinating naval hero." A distinguished audience attended the ceremonies of transference in the Church of the Most Holy Trinity in Paris. President Roosevelt sent a squadron of four battleships as escort for the body. When Congress later voted $135,000 for the building of a memorial at the Naval Academy, $35,000 of the total was intended to reimburse Porter for his expenditures. He refused, and asked that the amount be added to the appropriation for the building of the crypt.
When General Porter sailed for the United States in July, 1905, he left many friends behind him. The French Government had bestowed upon him the Grand Cross of the Legion of Honor for conspicuous service — the first American to be thus decorated. But the parting from old friends was not all sadness, for Porter was going home. Only once during his eight years of ambassadorship had he returned to the United States. That was in 1902, when he was selected as the orator p299 of the day at the Centennial celebration of the United States Military Academy. On that occasion, the Honorable Elihu Root, who followed General Porter, began: "Every soldier here would more readily charge a battery than I undertake to follow the eloquence, humor and pathos of Horace Porter." While on this vacation, Horace Porter was reported as the lion of Newport society. He spoke often in New York City and the Herald headlined the account of one dinner with "Porter and Twain flash their wits." After Porter had said of Twain that in Europe the men would "rather have a photograph of one of his jokes than a negative of any other man," Mark Twain referred to Porter in these words: "I have more respect for him than even the tax assessors of Tarrytown . . . If they had General Porter there they would tax him on his personal appearance. The next time, if I don't have the opportunity to vote for Theodore Roosevelt for President, I hope to have the chance to vote for Horace Porter."
On the day of his return to France in 1902, Porter was interviewed along with Elihu Root and General Leonard Wood, who were sailing on the same ship. Horace Porter was in "optimistic, eulogistic mood; proud of America and her achievements, and proud of his traveling companions, particularly of Secretary Root." The New York Herald continued, quoting Porter on Root: "He is the Carnot of this administration; the organizer of victory."
After completing the search for John Paul Jones' body and seeing its safely returned to America, Porter returned to his former New York club life. He recovered his former spirit when his old cronies asked him to talk at the Lotos Club, the Union League, or Lambs. Early in the fall of 1905 he was mentioned again as the perennial mayoralty candidate, but his mind was turned to business and to public life of a different nature. In December a syndicate composed of Alfred and Reginald Vanderbilt, Charles T. Cook (father-in‑law of Clarence Porter — the General's only living son), Harry Payne Whitney, Ogden Mills, Laurence Sexton, and Horace Porter bought •160 p300 acres of land in the East Chester section of the Bronx for real estate development. The Herald placed the section near the intersection of the Bronx and Pelham Parkways, and remarked that "these men compose probably the wealthiest syndicate ever formed to deal in New York estate."
After working hours, there were always dinners at which Porter was usually a speaker. He talked easily and his wit, if anything, was sharpened by his new experience in France. He responded to the toastmaster's call with such topics as: "Law and Diplomacy," "Foreign Policy," "The Peace of the World," and "Arbitration." His interest in the last subject extended back to the Alabama claims. He had followed the entire procedure in that case, and later, in one of a series of articles entitled, "Hatred of England," Horace Porter stated that arbitration could be used successfully by civilized powers.
It was rather natural that Porter, with such diplomatic experience and knowledge of arbitration, should be sent in company with Joseph H. Choate and Uriah A. Rose to the second Peace Conference of The Hague in 1907. It was fortunate for the United States that it had two able ex‑ambassadors as representatives at the conference, for there was featured old‑world diplomacy at its best — and worst, as Professor James T. Shotwell puts it.
"The use to which Porter put his knowledge of diplomatic procedure and his native quickness of wit may be illustrated by one incident," said his daughter. "When Germany submitted plans for an international prize court, the Americans were taken by surprise. Not to be left behind, General Porter took a blank sheet of foolscap, folded it, and wrote on the outside 'American Proposal for an International Court of Prize.' Obtaining the floor, he expressed the interest of his country in the project, and delivered his paper at the secretary's desk. He gravely explained that the sheet was blank, for he did not have the detailed plan with him at the moment, but assured the assembly that it would be forthcoming when needed. The act was a characteristic piece of Yankee bluff, p301 but it gave the Americans the recognition they desired when the matter was discussed in committee."
Porter's special duty at the Conference was responsibility for the proposal that a government should not use force in collecting debts due its nationals from another country.
". . . The question had been a very serious source of controversy for many years. Sometimes nations had almost come to blows, and very bitter feelings had been excited by a resort to force by creditor nations, even in the case of the inability to pay, and the first creditor nation (which) grabbed the customs or territory or other resources of a debtor nation, was deemed to have the preference in any solution or settlement that might ensue."
This vital question of debt payments had been brought to the attention of the nations through a dispatch written by Dr. Luis M. Drago, Minister of Foreign Affairs for Argentina. Choate has this to say of Porter's excellent work on the matter:
"From the moment of its introduction until its final adoption, General Porter . . . devoted his entire energies to carrying this important measure. It was a work of the greatest difficulty and delicacy, because it ran counter to the settled convictions and practices of many of the nations, and to the general objections to obligatory arbitration in any form, and also because the friends of the principle of the measure were divided in their views. To reconcile these differences required all the ability of a most experienced diplomatist, and as every word in the convention, as finally adopted, was subjected to close criticism before the actual phraseology finally arrived at could be adopted, the wonder is that he was able to succeed at all."
The Industrial Revolution had brought an unprecedented era of prosperity to all the Western world. People everywhere felt that they were living in a golden age. There would be no more war. Coöperation between nations would increase. But p302 Porter had no such confidence. He returned from The Hague Conference convinced that Roosevelt was right. The threat of the "big stick" was the only power that could make nations respect each other. Naturally his insistence that peace could be had only in conjunction with preparedness made him the target of considerable acid comment, and often he was forced to defend himself. In the spring of 1909 when he was elected one of the vice-presidents of the Peace Society of the City of New York, a peace advocate, protesting his election, called Porter a "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde." Andrew Carnegie, the presiding officer, came to his rescue with the retort: "General Porter is a many-sided man. No doubt it is one of his better sides that has been elected here this afternoon."
Carnegie himself was a "peace and preparedness" advocate. His remarks that afternoon were in part: "Never in our day has the world's peace been so seriously threatened, never were nations so busy as today in the hopeless task of becoming 'too powerful to be attacked.' Britain has just discovered in Germany a menace to her existence. Germany, having equal rights upon the sea, fails to recognize the right of Britain to be 'mistress of the seas.' But even if a collision be miraculously (author's italics) avoided, the guiltless, peace-loving nations of the world in turn will have been compelled to embark upon the building of excessive navies, many of these obtained and maintained only by extorting millions from people already bordering upon starvation."
Samuel Butler's saying, "There's but the twinkling of star between a man of peace and war," was lived by Porter. Four years later, Porter explained at the same Navy League how and why the proceedings at the The Hague Conference had converted him to the cause of preparedness:
"Now I have been on both sides of this question of peace and war. I began my career by helping to make man 'downright,' and afterward in diplomacy I took up the more difficult task of trying to make him 'upright.' At the South Dakota Hague Conference, p303 which was the first great international peace assembly in the world, the first one in which every nation in the world was represented, and represented by very able men, we labored in the interests of peace for four months and a week, in season and out of season, by day and by night. What did we accomplish? Why, before we got there we were notified in writing by the Great Powers that if the question of reduction of armaments was mentioned they would leave the conference. Russia at the conference eight years before had made that one of the paramount topics to be discussed; now it could not be mentioned. After all our labors we had hardly turned our backs when this flame of war was seen in every direction, leading finally into this destructive war in the Balkans. Well, this taught us many lessons. It taught us that in the great emergency a nation may be saved by guns but never by tongues. It was said by many that the only peace that the powers there knew of was how to get a piece of another country's territory, and that the peace conference was composed of delegates who discussed the subject of peace in the brief intervals between wars. It taught us that you cannot go without armament and say to a nation, 'Please don't shoot.' You cannot get down on your knees and apologize. You can never gain ground by eating dirt. You can make treaties. Well, we have a good many instances of treaties that did not hold and they seldom hold longer than the necessities which brought them about. Treaties in fact are like sausages; the more you know about how they are made, the less you are apt to like them."
During the great war, Porter's health failed rapidly. He still talked strongly of preparedness and, when the war was ended, said of the League of Nations that it was idealistic and unworkable. His words were: "The idea of the League of Nations is good, so was the idea of The Hague Conference . . . The large nations predominate and they are going to have things their own way. America had better keep out as it stands today . . . At present the spirit is wrong. Until the delegates from all nations meet in a true spirit of conciliation, talk of self-determination, justice, and lasting peace will be nothing but — talk."
Porter when he grew old did not lament the "good old p304 days" of his youth. He worked hard, thought much, and remained true to the high purpose with which he entered young manhood. "He enjoyed being in public life. It is true that he did not find in that life anything that unified it for him by commanding his complete devotion. The careers that lay open to him — money-making, creative business, public office — could not command it. So it is easy to see why in his estimation, no experience of his life ever equaled his experience during the Civil War. But he did attain, to an unusual degree, the freedom which he prized, and he had great enjoyment out of the uses to which he put it. He liked to meet people; he liked to make speeches; he liked to see pictures, to hear music, and to go to the theater; he liked the hard work that he put into the various enterprises which he freely undertook. And, as time went on, he had the happiness of knowing that his fellow-citizens counted on him more and more, and that they did not count in vain."
He took pleasure in his accumulated honors of military medals and LL. D.'s from Union and Princeton, though later in life he said, ". . . but all that doesn't count for so much in the long run. What really counts is to be at peace with oneself. A clear conscience is what is most conducive to sound sleep. I'm sitting here waiting for taps, and when it is sounded they'll find me ready." Taps came on May 27, 1921, at the age of 84.
a The inclusion of Semmes is odd, and if warranted, would have benefited by an explanation. Oliver John Semmes was a cadet from Alabama, three classes behind Porter, and thus an unlikely companion. He disappeared from the rolls of the Academy in that critical year 1861. He was the son of Confederate admiral Raphael Semmes, and though he seems to have served in the Confederate armed forces in some capacity, he was by no means a key player; I suspect he is mentioned here by a sort of confusion with his famous father, or possibly with his cousin Paul Jones Semmes who commanded a brigade of McLaws' division and was killed at Gettysburg: neither of whom were West Pointers.
b A rather detailed short history of the West Shore Railroad — if from the hostile standpoint of the New York Central, which eventually absorbed it — is presented in Alvin Harlow, Road of the Century, p321‑334.
d Chicago philanthropist and opera festival organizer Ferdinand Wythe Peck.
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