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The Unsuspecting Congressman

August 28, 2019

On Monday September 9, 1872, while returning from an official trip to the West, a certain Congressman made a startling discovery.  That night he wrote the following in his diary.

“The political campaign has been waged with unparalleled bitterness and acrimony during the 30 days I have been absent.  I find my own name dragged into some story which I do not understand but see only referred to in the newspapers.”

Although the front page story in the September 4 edition of the New York Sun mentioned Crédit Mobilier several times, the Congressman did not indicate to his diary that he knew what this was.  Neither did he mention the term in that day’s diary entry.

But he did know something about this and eventually had his memory refreshed by an old friend who had advised him years earlier to be wary.  This friend reminded the Congressman that he had been offered Crédit Mobilier stock by a deceptive character and had at first declined the offer.  He was ultimately persuaded to take the stock on credit, but still did not know there was any connection between Crédit Mobilier and the Union Pacific Railroad.  When he subsequently tried to settle his indebtedness, the Congressman was told the stock had performed so well that his indebtedness was covered.  There was even a positive balance, around $300, which the Congressman received.   Then, sometime in 1869 or 1870 the Congressman became aware that reception of the money equaled a conflict of interest.  According to the old friend’s recollection, the Congressman then returned the money.

That should have been the end of the matter, but when the Congressman appeared before the investigating committee, he told a different story.




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