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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

A Bad American Type

By William Walter Phelps (1839–1894)

[From a Speech at the Eads Banquet, St. Louis, 24 March, 1874.]

HE was without education, culture, or morality. He had respect neither for God nor man. He had no faith in the purity of women or the honor of his fellows. But he had the ambition of wealth, and he determined to get money at any cost. The markets of a country demoralized by a long war gave the opportunity, and he seized it, unscrupulously using all the agencies which the experience of centuries had discovered. He gained a fortune by robbery and went unpunished. With it he bought men and women, until finally he sat in his gilded palace, boasting—believing that he owned the legislature that made, the courts that interpreted, and the governor that executed the laws of his State. On the base of a great railway, which he took from its owners by fraud, he built a pyramid of splendid profligacy so high that the world saw and wondered. The luxury of Sardanapalus, the vices of Nero, were his. The peddler drove his four-in-hand. The coward marched at the head of a noble regiment. He who knew not his own tongue controlled the artists of the continent. In his own theatre he sought rest, and watched the evolutions of dancing girls and listened to the voices of singing men and singing women. He sent his own steamers out of port and enticed into their lavish hospitality many of the great of the land. He even hired assassins to maim his enemies, and drove in the sunlight surrounded by a bevy of his mistresses. This man debauched the moral sense of the young, disgraced his country, and died as the fool dies—shot by a profligate rival for a wanton’s charms. He died and left nothing except the contempt of the good and the execrations of the weak whom his example had ruined. A bad type of American civilization, one of the worst products of our soil and institutions.