A Disposition to Be Rich: How a Small-Town Pastor's Son Ruined an American President, Brought on a Wall Street Crash, and Made Himself the Best-Hated Man in the United States
Geoffrey C. Ward
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Ferdinand Ward was the greatest swindler of the Gilded Age. Through his unapologetic villainy, he bankrupted Ulysses S. Grant and ran roughshod over the entire world of finance. Now, his compelling, behind-the-scenes story is told—told by his great-grandson, award-winning historian Geoffrey C. Ward.
Ward was the Bernie Madoff of his day, a supposed genius at making big money fast on Wall Street who turned out to have been running a giant pyramid scheme—one that ultimately collapsed in one of the greatest financial scandals in American history. The son of a Protestant missionary and small-town pastor with secrets of his own to keep, Ward came to New York at twenty-one and in less than a decade, armed with charm, energy, and a total lack of conscience, made himself the business partner of the former president of the United States and was widely hailed as the “Young Napoleon of Finance.” In truth, he turned out to be a complete fraud, his entire life marked by dishonesty, cowardice, and contempt for anything but his own interests.
Drawing from thousands of family documents never before examined, Geoffrey C. Ward traces his great-grandfather’s rapid rise to riches and fame and his even more dizzying fall from grace. There are mistresses and mansions along the way; fast horses and crooked bankers and corrupt New York officials; courtroom confrontations and six years in Sing Sing; and Ferdinand’s desperate scheme to kidnap his own son to get his hands on the estate his late wife had left the boy. Here is a great story about a classic American con artist, told with boundless charm and dry wit by one of our finest historians.
affecting injuriously financial confidence. Yet your demeanor shows no repentance whatever. I simply content myself with passing judgment upon you that you be confined in the State Prison at hard labor for ten years.41 Shortly after two that afternoon, a closed carriage stopped in front of the Forty-second Street entrance to Grand Central Depot. Four men got down and hurried inside. Two were lawmen—Sheriff Alexander Davidson of New York County, and Warden Kiernan. Ed Doty, carrying a black box
furnishings were drab and worn, shabby testimony to the truth of his mother’s teaching: no one should expect virtue, no matter how conspicuous, ever to be rewarded in this world. Will and the two sailors captured with him were imprisoned for six weeks before they were exchanged, long enough for him to develop intermittent fevers and persistent diarrhea. When they got back to the Choctaw, Daniel Kemp remembered, “the two boys seemed as happy and healthy as if they had been on a picnic and …
may be assured that what is lacking in this direction will be fully made up by Mrs. Ward, my dear Mrs. Dr. Brinton of Phila., and others in my large household. I have but one daughter and she is very dear to me—as I doubt not this second will soon become. I am quite ready to pledge to you and Mrs. Green all I can do to make your dear child happy. She will, as F has, I presume, told you, be introduced to a large circle.… We are a united household—not an element in the least divisive—and are all
sufficient for their comfortable support if the worst comes. $50,000 is less than a quarter’s income to F & yet $50,000—at 6 per cent—[would be] enough to support F & E comfortably in a village like Geneseo [and] 2.) use what they give us in a way that shall be permanently beneficial.… But enough upon all this. Let us be grateful—joyous & hopeful.37 Ferd professed to admire his father, but he rarely paid attention to anything he said. He never even considered putting away money in order to
communities,” which were interested in improving themselves and willing to put up the money to make it happen. To that end, he was already working to provide gas lighting to the people of his own hometown of Geneseo, had helped underwrite a new salt mine in Warsaw, New York, and was president of companies that were going to provide clean drinking water to the Kansas City suburbs of Wyandotte and Armourdale. Fish spoke of his partner’s “sagacity,” his remarkable ability to make money for himself