The Hour of Fate | Susan Berfield

Summary of: The Hour of Fate: Theodore Roosevelt, J.P. Morgan, and the Battle to Transform American Capitalism
By: Susan Berfield


Embark on a journey through turn-of-the-20th-century America, as Susan Berfield’s book ‘The Hour of Fate’ delves into the clash between President Theodore Roosevelt and financier JP Morgan. Witness their fight for the future of capitalism as they navigate antitrust and labor disputes, reshaping the country’s economic landscape. Explore the tumultuous world of railroad companies and their impact on the nation’s wealth and opportunity, as well as the competitiveness and corruption that led to economic instability and financial collapses. With a keen eye for personal drama and an expert handling of complex concepts, Berfield masterfully unravels the roots and implications of contemporary economic issues.

The Battle for America’s Economic Future

Susan Berfield’s book recounts the epic clash between president Theodore Roosevelt and financier JP Morgan in turn-of-the-20th-century America. Through vivid storytelling, Berfield highlights how their fight against monopolies and labor exploitation would reshape the country’s economic landscape. Beyond its historical context, the book offers valuable insights into contemporary issues such as inequality, plutocracy, and the role of government in regulating business. With a masterful blend of big-picture analysis and personal anecdotes, Berfield’s work is a must-read for anyone seeking to understand the origins of modern capitalism and its enduring challenges.

Railroad Companies’ Dominance

During the latter half of the 19th century, railroad corporations comprised 80% of the listings on the New York Stock Exchange and held about one-eighth of America’s overall wealth. Railroads transformed the probability of economic opportunity for towns and cities, creating prosperous and impoverished localities. Berfield explains that brutal and often corrupted competition escalated economic instability, leading to financial collapses and periodic recessions. 191 railroad companies failed from 1893 to 1894, representing one-quarter of the nation’s rail system. The impact triggered a financial crisis accompanied by 158 bank closures and 15% unemployment. Railroad practices are viewed as the catalyst for anti-elite, anti-urban, and anti-East Coast populism.

The Power of JP Morgan

In “The Power of JP Morgan,” Berfield showcases the rise of JP Morgan, a banking mogul who wielded unparalleled influence on Wall Street during his time. Through trusts and consolidation of companies such as United States Steel and Standard Oil, Morgan believed in controlling and propping up the country’s financial and business structure. Berfield presents Morgan’s strategy of absorbing struggling railroad companies into voting trusts controlled by him and his loyal trustees, resulting in “Morganized” railroads earning an extraordinary sum of money within a few years. Berfield’s book provides insight into JP Morgan’s legacy and the lasting impact of his methods on the US economy.

Roosevelt vs. Morgan

Theodore Roosevelt is portrayed as a reformer who challenged the American capitalist system. After assuming presidency following the assassination of President McKinley, Roosevelt clashed with J.P. Morgan over the regulation of trusts. In 1902, Roosevelt’s administration pursued a legal case against Morgan’s railroad holding company under the Sherman Antitrust Act, which Morgan vehemently opposed. Despite Morgan’s argument that trusts promote competition and lower prices, federal courts and the Supreme Court ruled against him in 1904. The book sheds light on Roosevelt’s push for a more meritocratic society and the conflict it sparked with one of America’s wealthiest businessmen.

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