Right now, if you buy a new membership to the History Center or “gift” someone with a membership, you can receive a copy of George R. Mather’s “Frontier Faith” or Susan Lee Guckenberg’s “Hugh McCulloch: Father of Modern Banking”. We’ve already profiled Mather’s book in our series on immigration (that being just one of the parts of Fort Wayne history that the book covers) and now we’re moving on to Hugh McCulloch.
Since studying history via biography and autobiography has been one of my interests since elementary school (because I find the people far more interesting than any other aspect of history), I concentrated on Hugh the person in writing this post, not Hugh the financial guru that he became. However, there’s one quote from McCulloch that in today’s financial climate should probably be recirculated again because he really hit the nail on the head with this one.
From Guckenberg’s book:
“In December of 1863, Hugh circulated a letter to bank officials as a guide in the management of the new national banks. He emphasized that every banker under the national system should feel that the reputation of the system depended upon the manner in which his particular institution was conducted. He urged bankers to manage their banks as a business and to let no ‘political partiality or prejudice influence your judgment or actions.’ The national currency system was intended for a nation, not for a party. He urged no speculation and attributed the failure of any national bank to ‘those in charge of its affairs’ violating the law. If they obey the law strictly the depositors would be safe.”
The letter was reproduced and circulated in 1923 by the American Exchange National Bank of New York. “It was referred to as a contribution to banking literature so plain, profound and wholesome that it could be regarded as safe a guide in 1923 as it had been sixty years earlier.”
Although trained as an attorney, McCulloch became manager and cashier of the State Bank of Indiana. He regularly traveled between Indianapolis and Fort Wayne with large sums of money. “Fort Wayne was three days away from Indianapolis and for fifteen years he made this trip alone on horseback without the slightest fear of being robbed. He stayed at taverns or cabins along the way and it was well known that he carried great sums with him and always rode unarmed.”
McCulloch was the first Comptroller of the Currency and later served as Secretary of the Treasury.
“Hugh took the work (Comptroller of the Currency) to heart. His labors were ‘severe and incessant.’ He was proud to put into operation a banking system ‘admirably adapted to our republican institutions.’ He was also satisfied about the security it gave to the bank note circulation. Hugh’s appointment as the first comptroller was an honor that his family thought he valued more than his later appointment as treasury secretary. It also ascribed to him the title, ‘Father of the National Banking System.’”
McCulloch gave a not so flattering portrait of Indiana prior to moving here and in his first years in our city.
“I can make a living in my profession in: I can do the same in Maine (he was born in Kennebunk and descendants of McCulloch still live there). But this is not enough. I shall never be satisfied with it, until I am confident that I can do no better. I have no strong desire to be rich, but I am determined not to die poor…the people in the western states are more ignorant and consequently are more inclined to litigation, and more apt to get entangled in the intricacies of the law. Professional men are more scarce, and are looked upon as persons of some considerable importance.”
His opinions of Fort Wayne weren’t much better.
“He saw Fort Wayne as being, ‘about as uninviting in every respect, except its site, as any of the towns through which I had passed.’ But it proved to be the end of his journey, ‘which had been long and solitary, but by no means lonesome and tedious.’”
In another description of Fort Wayne, he said: “the ‘morals of the place…have been low,’ but were rapidly changing for the better. There are ‘many fine families’ and ‘no lack of meetings’ which were generally held at the courthouse, alternately by the Presbyterians and Methodists.”
McCulloch and his first wife lived on the corner of Main and Barr, not far from what is now the History Center, in a two-story frame house. Eunice died at age 26 on February 29, 1836. “She was buried in the ‘old burying ground’ which was later McCulloch Park. In 1860, when Lindenwood Cemetery was started, her grave was transferred.”
He remarried Susan Maria Man. Together they would “raise four children; two others would not survive. While doing so, he would contribute to the growth of the city and become one of those, ‘professional men….who are looked upon as persons of some considerable importance.’”
McCulloch helped form the Young Men’s Literary Society in 1846 and was one of its most popular speakers. He helped select works for the public library and the library established by the Literacy Society. He was a leader in organizing the Methodist College in 1846. This institution became Taylor University.
He was a strong supporter of education and served as one of the first trustees of the school system in 1853. The first public school building in Fort Wayne was on Lafayette between Main and Berry.
“In an address given at the graduation of St. Augustine’s Female Seminary on 22 July 1852, he described education as the business of life.”
In 1859, he was one of twelve who purchased a tract of land that was developed into Lindenwood Cemetery. Many family members’ graves were moved there and he expected to be buried there, but is interred at Rock Creek Cemetery in Washington DC along with Susan.
McCulloch was among thirty men present at a speech given by Stephen A Douglas on July 4, 1860 at the Rockhill House. These men, “the ‘Old Settlers’ of Fort Wayne who had settled in Fort Wayne on or before 1840, were each given a cane made from timber saved from the old fort.”
See John Beatty’s article in the Old Fort News, Volume 72:2, 2009 “The Douglas Has Come! Stephen A Douglas and the Presidential Campaign of 1860 in Fort Wayne, Indiana” as well as Walter Font’s article in Volume 74:1, 2011 “News from the Past: True Tales by a Pioneer. John Fairfield Reminiscences of Early Days.”
McCulloch served in the administrations of Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson.
“During the politically troubled backdrop of the Johnson Administration, Hugh McCulloch stood out as one who did not adhere to party politics above his practical, sound financial principles. In the words of Henry Brooks Adams, the famous historian and great-grandson of John Adams, ‘he had been spared the gluttonous selfishness and infantile jealousy which are the commoner results of early political education.’ Therefore, he did not cave into increasing pressure to rescind the authority granted to him to enforce the policy of contraction.
“In the year 1868, Matthew Brady photographed Hugh in a standing position, in his Washington studio. The photograph served as a model for one the participants in the famous painting by Alonze Chappel entitled, ‘The Last Hours of Lincoln.’ The photograph and painting are part of the collection of the Chicago Historical Society. It is the only full-length photograph taken of Hugh McCulloch.
In Spring 1866, McCulloch and his wife began building a home in Washington DC after renting for a number of years. They had a “late life” child named Mary when Susan was 48. They then moved to London in 1870 for Hugh to work in a joint banking venture.
“Mary McCulloch was three years old at the time and would play in the garden of Kensington Palace with a girl who would become Queen Mary, wife of George V. At the time she was little Princess Mary of Teck. She was also three years old having been born on 26 May 1867. Mary McCulloch later remembered her own house as large compared to their home in America. It faced a square that contained a railed-in garden. The householders around the garden were furnished with keys to open the garden gates. She distinctly recalled being locked in this garden ‘where even a small child could come to no harm.’”
“In May (1871), Hugh and Susan were invited to attend the Queens Ball on Friday, the 19th at 10:00 at Buckingham Palace. Susan attended without Hugh as he was ‘unwilling to wear stockings and knee breeches.’ Susan wore a plum colored velvet and lace dress that had a long train. She wore a headdress of braided strands of pearls. Later the train was cut off to make a short jacket. The dress and headdress are now in the possession of the Brick Store Museum in Kennebunk. Even though the dress was made to fit, Susan’s ‘great annoyance’ was that she could not get a pair of shoes in England that fit. The ones she ended up wearing were ‘made for English feet.’ Standing so long that night in the Great Hall was very fatiguing with poorly fitting shoes. Some of the women were very elegantly dressed, while others wore their oldest gowns and laces, as they expected to have them all torn to pieces due to the immense crowd. Susan had a coachman and footman who were liberally fed in the servants quarters with cold roast beef, breads, cheeses, and ale. After the ball, they were loud in their praises of royalty. After being received by the Queen, Susan left the palace and happened upon former Union Generals Philip Sheridan and James Forsyth who escorted her to her carriage.”
McCulloch returned to Fort Wayne for a visit in July, 1874 and was interviewed by one of the local newspapers.
“The reporter described him as a man of commanding personal appearance. Tall, portly (weighing 224 pounds), with a large head firmly set on a pair of broad shoulders, full face, a keen piercing eye, high forehead, his head lightly silvered over with gray hair, light side whiskers, mouth and nose indicating power and firmness. He would be picked out as a man of authority in any crowd and any circumstance. Time had touched him lightly during his sixty-five years. He seemed to be in the ‘very zenith of his powers, and undoubtedly has yet a long career of usefulness and distinction before him.’”
Hugh and Susan McCulloch celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary on March 21, 1888 in their Washington DC home. By then, McCulloch had retired from public service and the business world.
“The next couple of years Hugh submitted articles for various periodicals including the New York Times and Washington Post. Subjects would range from free trade, the folly of maintaining a protective tariff, restoration of the foreign marine service, and the character of George Washington. Little is known about the last four years of his life spent in solitude at Holly Hills (his country home). On Friday, 24 May 1895 at 2:40 A.M. Hugh McCulloch died at the age of 86. ….The cause of death was listed as kidney failure and lung disease.”
McCulloch was buried in Rock Creek Cemetery in Washington on Thursday, May 30. His grave is marked:
“Hugh McCulloch Dec. 7 1808-May 24, 1895
Comptroller of the Currency 1863
Secretary of the Treasury 1865 to 1869, and in 1884
‘Justice and Judgment are the habitation of Thy Throne.
Mercy and Truth shall go before Thy face.’”
“On the day he was buried, the Treasury Department neglected to lower the flag. It did not go unnoticed by Kate Field, ‘The Treasury flag hung high yesterday morning when I looked out my window. It is difficult to believe one’s own eyes in these days of topsy turvy, and I rubbed mine to remove the night’s cobwebs before relying on them. There was no doubt about it. Though Hugh McCulloch was to be buried at 11 o’clock the Treasury Department had forgotten the fact. The mistake was rectified later in the day and the old rag that answers for an American flag flew at half-mast.’”
Susan lived until July 25, 1898, devoting her remaining years to writing her autobiography “The Recollections of Susan Man McCulloch”. In 1981, they were presented to the Allen County-Fort Wayne Historical Society.
Not long before she died, she described Hugh as “a husband second to none in nobleness of aim and unselfishness of nature. Ready at all times to help and comfort those who were in need or sorrow, and who never closed his ears to any word save the breath of slander.”