1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Crédit Mobilier of America
CRÉDIT MOBILIER OF AMERICA, a construction company whose operations in connexion with the building of the Union Pacific Railroad gave rise to the most serious political scandal in the history of the United States Congress. The company was originally chartered as the Pennsylvania Fiscal Agency in 1859. In March 1864 a controlling interest in the stock was secured by Thomas Durant, vice-president of the Union Pacific Railroad Company, and the Pennsylvania legislature authorized the adoption of the name Crédit Mobilier of America. Durant proposed to utilize it as a construction company, pay it an extravagant sum for the work, and thus secure for the stockholders of the Union Pacific, who now controlled the Crédit Mobilier, the bonds loaned by the United States government. The net proceeds from the government and the first mortgage bonds issued to the construction company were $50,863,172.05, slightly more than enough to pay the entire cost of construction. According to the report of the Wilson Congressional Committee, the Crédit Mobilier received in addition, in the form of stock, income bonds, and land grant bonds, $23,000,000—a profit of about 48%. The defenders of the company assert that several items of expense were not included in this report, and that the real net profit was considerably smaller, although they admit that it was still unusually large. The work extended over the years 1865–1867. During the winter of 1867–1868, when adverse legislation by Congress was feared, it is alleged that Oakes Ames (q.v.), a representative from Massachusetts and principal promoter of the Crédit Mobilier, distributed a number of shares among congressmen and senators to influence their attitude. Shares were sold at par when a few dividends repaid a purchaser at this price. Some in fact received dividends without any initial outlay at all. As the result of a lawsuit between Ames and H. S. McComb, some private letters were brought out in September 1872 which gave publicity to the entire proceedings. The House appointed two investigating committees, the Poland and the Wilson committees, and on the report of the former (1873) Ames and James Brooks of New York were formally censured by the House, the former for disposing of the stock and the latter for improperly using his official position to secure part of it. Charges were also made against Schuyler Colfax, then vice-president but Speaker of the House at the time of the transaction, James A. Garfield, William D. Kelley (1814–1880), John A. Logan, and several other members either of the House or of the Senate. The Senate later appointed a special committee to investigate the charges against its members. This committee, on the 27th of February 1873, recommended the expulsion from the Senate of James W. Patterson, of New Hampshire; but as his term expired within five days no action was taken. The evidence was exaggerated by the Democrats for partisan purposes, but the investigation showed clearly that many of those accused were at least indiscreet if not dishonest. The company itself was merely a type of the construction companies by which it was the custom to build railways between 1860 and about 1880.