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Samuel F. B. Morse, His Letters and Journals by Samuel F. B. Morse

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Bishop Stevens, of Pennsylvania, written many years later:--

"The last days of the last session of that Congress were about to close.
A bill appropriating thirty thousand dollars for my purpose had passed
the House, and was before the Senate for concurrence. On the last day of
the session [3d of March, 1843] I had spent the whole day and part of the
evening in the Senate chamber, anxiously watching, the progress of the
passing of the various bills, of which there were, in the morning of that
day, over one hundred and forty to be acted upon before the one in which
I was interested would be reached; and a resolution had a few days before
been passed to proceed with the bills on the calendar in their regular
order, forbidding any bill to be taken up out of its regular place.

"As evening approached there seemed to be but little chance that the
Telegraph Bill would be reached before the adjournment, and consequently
I had the prospect of the delay of another year, with the loss of time,
and all my means already expended. In my anxiety I consulted with two of
my senatorial friends--Senator Huntington, of Connecticut, and Senator
Wright, of New York--asking their opinion of the probability of reaching
the bill before the close of the session. Their answers were
discouraging, and their advice was to prepare myself for disappointment.
In this state of mind I retired to my chamber and made all my
arrangements for leaving Washington the next day. Painful as was this
prospect of renewed disappointment, you, my dear sir, will understand me
when I say that, knowing from experience whence my help must come in any
difficulty, I soon disposed of my cares, and slept as quietly as a child.

"In the morning, as I had just gone into the breakfast-room, the servant
called me out, announcing that a young lady was in the parlor wishing to
speak with me. I was at once greeted with the smiling face of my young
friend, the daughter of my old and valued friend and classmate, the
Honorable H.L. Ellsworth, the Commissioner of Patents. On my expressing
surprise at so early a call, she said:--

"'I have come to congratulate you.'

"'Indeed, for what?'

"'On the passage of your bill.'

"'Oh! no, my young friend, you are mistaken; I was in the Senate chamber
till after the lamps were lighted, and my senatorial friends assured me
there was no chance for me.'

"'But,' she replied, 'it is you that are mistaken. Father was there at
the adjournment at midnight, and saw the President put his name to your
bill, and I asked father if I might come and tell you, and he gave me
leave. Am I the first to tell you?'

"The news was so unexpected that for some moments I could not speak. At
length I replied:--

"'Yes, Annie, you are the first to inform me, and now I am going to make
you a promise; the first dispatch on the completed line from Washington
to Baltimore shall be yours.'

"'Well,' said she, 'I shall hold you to your promise.'"

This was the second great moment in the history of the Morse Telegraph.
The first was when the inspiration came to him on board the Sully, more
than a decade before, and now, after years of heart-breaking struggles
with poverty and discouragements of all kinds, the faith in God and in
himself, which had upheld him through all, was justified, and he saw the
dawning of a brighter day.

On what slight threads do hang our destinies! The change of a few votes
in the House, the delay of a few minutes in the Senate, would have doomed
Morse to failure, for it is doubtful whether he would have had the heart,
the means, or the encouragement to prosecute the enterprise further.

He lost no time in informing his associates of the happy turn in their
affairs, and, in the excitement of the moment, he not only dated his
letter to Smith March 3, instead of March 4, but he seems not to have
understood that the bill had already been signed by the President, and
had become a law:--

"Well, my dear Sir, the matter is decided. _The Senate has just passed my
bill without division and without opposition_, and it will probably be
signed by the President in a few hours. This, I think, is news enough for
you at present, and, as I have other letters that I must write before the
mail closes, I must say good-bye until I see you or hear from you. Write
to me in New York, where I hope to be by the latter part of next week."

And to Vail he wrote on the same day:--

"You will be glad to learn, doubtless, that my bill has passed the Senate
without a division and without opposition, so that now the telegraphic
enterprise begins to look bright. I shall want to see you in New York
after my return, which will probably be the latter part of next week. I
have other letters to write, so excuse the shortness of this, which, IF
SHORT, IS SWEET, at least. My kind regards to your father, mother,
brothers, sisters, and wife. The whole delegation of your State, without
exception, deserve the highest gratitude of us all."

The Representatives from the State of New Jersey in the House voted
unanimously for the bill, those of every other State were divided between
the yeas and the nays and those not voting.

Congratulations now poured in on him from all sides; and the one he,
perhaps, prized the most was from his friend and master, Washington
Allston, then living in Boston:--

"_March 24, 1843._ All your friends here join me in rejoicing at the
passing of the act of Congress appropriating thirty thousand dollars
toward carrying out your Electro-Magnetic Telegraph. I congratulate you
with all my heart. Shakespeare says: 'There is a tide in the affairs of
men that, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune.' You are now fairly
launched on what I hope will prove to you another Pactolus. _I pede

"This has been but a melancholy year to me. I have been ill with one
complaint or another nearly the whole time; the last disorder the
erysipelas, but this has now nearly disappeared. I hope this letter will
meet you as well in health as I take it you are now in spirits."

Morse lost no time in replying:--

"I thank you, my dear sir, for your congratulations in regard to my
telegraphic enterprise. I hope I shall not disappoint the expectations of
my friends. I shall exert all my energies to show a complete and
satisfactory result. When I last wrote you from Washington, I wrote under
the apprehension that my bill would not be acted upon, and consequently I
wrote in very low spirits.

"'What has become of painting?' I think I hear you ask. Ah, my dear sir,
when I have diligently and perseveringly wooed the coquettish jade for
twenty years, and she then jilts me, what can I do? But I do her
injustice, she is not to blame, but her guardian for the time being. I
shall not give her up yet in despair, but pursue her even with lightning,
and so overtake her at last.

"I am now absorbed in my arrangements for fulfilling my designs with the
Telegraph in accordance with the act of Congress. I know not that I shall
be able to complete my experiment before Congress meets again, but I
shall endeavor to show it to them at their next session."


MARCH 15, 1848--JUNE 13, 1844

Work on first telegraph line begun.--Gale, Fisher, and Vail appointed
assistants.--F.O.J. Smith to secure contract for trenching.--Morse not
satisfied with contract.--Death of Washington Allston.--Reports to
Secretary of the Treasury.--Prophesies Atlantic cable.--Failure of
underground wires.--Carelessness of Fisher.--F.O.J. Smith shows cloven
hoof.--Ezra Cornell solves a difficult problem.--Cornell's plan for
insulation endorsed by Professor Henry.--Many discouragements.--Work
finally progresses favorably.--Frelinghuysen's nomination as
Vice-President reported by telegraph.--Line to Baltimore completed.--
First message.--Triumph.--Reports of Democratic Convention.--First
long-distance conversation.--Utility of telegraph established.--Offer to
sell to Government.

Out of the darkness of despair into which he had been plunged, Morse had
at last emerged into the sunlight of success. For a little while he
basked in its rays with no cloud to obscure the horizon, but his respite
was short, for new difficulties soon arose, and new trials and sorrows
soon darkened his path.

Immediately after the telegraph bill had become a law he set to work with
energy to carry out its provisions. He decided, after consultation with
the Secretary of the Treasury, Hon. J.C. Spencer, to erect the
experimental line between Washington and Baltimore, along the line of
railway, and all the preliminaries and details were carefully planned.
With the sanction of the Secretary he appointed Professors Gale and
Fisher as his assistants, and soon after added Mr. Alfred Vail to their
number. He returned to New York, and from there wrote to Vail on March

"You will not fail, with your brother and, if possible, your father, to
be in New York on Tuesday the 21st, to meet the proprietors of the
Telegraph. I was on the point of coming out this afternoon with young Mr.
Serrell, the patentee of the lead-pipe machine, which I think promises to
be the best for our purposes of all that have been invented, as to it can
be applied '_a mode of filling lead-pipe with wire_,' for which Professor
Fisher and myself have entered a caveat at the Patent Office."

Vail gladly agreed to serve as assistant in the construction of the line,
and, on March 21 signed the following agreement:--

PROFESSOR MORSE,--As an assistant in the telegraphic experiment
contemplated by the Act of Congress lately passed, I can superintend and
procure the making of the _Instruments complete_ according to your
direction, namely: the registers, the correspondents with their magnets,
the batteries, the reels, and the paper, and will attend to the procuring
of the acids, the ink, and the preparation of the various stations. I
will assist in filling the tubes with wire, and the resinous coating, and
I will devote my whole time and attention to the business so as to secure
a favorable result, and should you wish to devolve upon me any other
business connected with the Telegraph, I will cheerfully undertake it.

Three dollars per diem, with travelling expenses, I shall deem a
satisfactory salary.

Very respectfully, your ob't ser't,

Professor Fisher was detailed to superintend the manufacture of the wire,
its insulation and its insertion in the lead tubes, and Professor Gale's
scientific knowledge was to be placed at the disposal of the patentees
wherever and whenever it should be necessary. F.O.J. Smith undertook to
secure a favorable contract for the trenching, which was necessary to
carry out the first idea of placing the wires underground, and Morse
himself was, of course, to be general superintendent of the whole

In advertising for lead pipe the following quaint answer was received
from Morris, Tasker & Morris, of Philadelphia:--

"Thy advertisements for about one hundred and twenty miles of 1/2 in.
lead tube, for Electro Magnetic Telegraphic purposes, has induced us to
forward thee some samples of Iron Tube for thy inspection. The quantity
required and the terms of payment are the inducement to offer it to thee
at the exceeding low price here stated, which thou wilt please keep _to
thyself undivulged to other person_, etc., etc."

As iron tubing would not have answered Morse's purpose, this decorous
solicitation was declined with thanks.

During the first few months everything worked smoothly, and the prospect
of an early completion of the line was bright. Morse kept all his
accounts in the most businesslike manner, and his monthly accounts to the
Secretary of the Treasury were models of accuracy and a conscientious
regard for the public interest.

One small cloud appeared above the horizon, so small that the
unsuspecting inventor hardly noticed it, and yet it was destined to
develop into a storm of portentous dimensions. On May 17, he wrote to
F.O.J. Smith from New York:--

"Yours of the 27th April I have this morning received enclosing the
contracts for trenching. I have examined the contract and I must say I am
not exactly pleased with the terms. If I understood you right, before you
left for Boston, you were confident a contract could be made far within
the estimates given in to the Government, and I had hoped that something
could be saved from that estimate as from the others, so as to present
the experiment before the country in as cheap a form as possible.

"I have taken a pride in showing to Government how cheaply the Telegraph
could be laid, since the main objection, and the one most likely to
defeat our ulterior plans, is its great expense. I have in my other
contracts been able to be far within my estimates to Government, and I
had hoped to be able to present to the Secretary the contract for
trenching likewise reduced. There are plenty of applicants here who will
do it for much less, and one even said he thought for one half. I shall
do nothing in regard to the matter until I see you."

A great personal sorrow came to him also, a short time after this, to dim
the brilliance of success. On July 9, 1843, his dearly loved friend and
master, Washington Allston, died in Boston after months of suffering.
Morse immediately dropped everything and hastened to Boston to pay the
last tributes of respect to him whom he regarded as his best friend. He
obtained as a memento one of the brushes, still wet with paint, which
Allston was using on his last unfinished work, "The Feast of Belshazzar,"
when he was suddenly stricken. This brush he afterwards presented to the
National Academy of Design, where it is, I believe, still preserved.

Sorrowfully he returned to his work in Washington, but with the
comforting thought that his friend had lived to see his triumph, the
justification for his deserting that art which had been the bond to first
bring them together.

On July 24, in his report to the Secretary of the Treasury, he says:--

"I have also the gratification to report that the contract for the wire
has been faithfully fulfilled on the part of Aaron Benedict, the
contractor; that the first covering with cotton and two varnishings of
the whole one hundred and sixty miles is also completed; that experiments
made upon forty-three miles have resulted in the most satisfactory
manner, and that the whole work is proceeding with every prospect of a
successful issue."

It was at first thought necessary to insulate the whole length of the
wire, and it was not until some time afterwards that it was discovered
that naked wires could be successfully employed.

On August 10, in his report to the Secretary, he indulges in a prophecy
which must have seemed in the highest degree visionary in those early

"Some careful experiments on the decomposing power at various distances
were made from which the law of propulsion has been deduced, verifying
the results of Ohm and those which I made in the summer of 1842, and
alluded to in my letter to the Honorable C.G. Ferris, published in the
House Report, No. 17, of the last Congress.

"The practical inference from this law is that a telegraphic
communication on my plan may with certainty be established across the

"Startling as this may seem now, the time will come when this project
will be realized."

On September 11, he reports an item of saving to the Government which
illustrates his characteristic honesty in all business dealings:--

"I would also direct the attention of the Honorable Secretary to the
payment in full of Mr. Chase, (voucher 215), for covering the wire
according to the contract with him. The sum of $1010 was to be paid him.
In the course of the preparation of the wire several improvements
occurred to me of an economical character, in which Mr. Chase cheerfully
concurred, although at a considerable loss to him of labor contracted
for; so that my wire has been prepared at a cost of $551.25, which is
receipted in full, instead of $1010, producing an economy of $458.75."

The work of trenching was commenced on Saturday, October 21, at 8 A.M.,
and then his troubles began. Describing them at a later date he says:--

"Much time and expense were lost in consequence of my following the plan
adopted in England of laying the conductors beneath the ground. At the
time the Telegraph bill was passed there had been about thirteen miles of
telegraph conductors, for Professor Wheatstone's telegraph system in
England, put into tubes and interred in the earth, and there was no hint
publicly given that that mode was not perfectly successful. I did not
feel, therefore, at liberty to expend the public moneys in useless
experiments on a plan which seemed to be already settled as effective in
England. Hence I fixed upon this mode as one supposed to be the best. It
prosecuted till the winter of 1843-44. It was abandoned, among other
reasons, in consequence of ascertaining that, in the process of inserting
the wire into the leaden tubes (which was at the moment of forming the
tube from the lead at melting heat), the insulating covering of the wires
had become charred, at various and numerous points of the line, to such
an extent that greater delay and expense would be necessary to repair the
damage than to put the wire on posts.

"In my letter to the Secretary of the Treasury, of September 27, 1837,
one of the modes of laying the conductors for the Telegraph was the
present almost universal one of extending them on posts set about two
hundred feet apart. This mode was adopted with success."

The sentence in the letter of September 27, 1837, just referred to, reads
as follows: "If the circuit is laid through the air, the first cost
would, doubtless, be much lessened. Stout spars, of some thirty feet in
height, well planted in the ground and placed about three hundred and
fifty feet apart, would in this case be required, along the tops of which
the circuit might be stretched."

A rough drawing of this plan also appears in the 1832 sketch-book.

It would seem, from a voluminous correspondence, that Professor Fisher
was responsible for the failure of the underground system, inasmuch as he
did not properly test the wires after they had been inserted in the lead
pipe. Carelessness of this sort Morse could never brook, and he was
reluctantly compelled to dispense with the services of one who had been
of great use to him previously. He refers to this in a letter to his
brother Sidney of December 16, 1843:--

"The season is against all my operations, and I expect to resume in the
spring. I have difficulties and trouble in my work, but none of a nature
as yet to discourage; they arise from neglect and unfaithfulness (_inter
nos_) on the part of Fisher, whom I shall probably dismiss, although on
many accounts I shall do it reluctantly. I shall give him an opportunity
to excuse himself, if he ever gets here. I have been expecting both him
and Gale for three weeks, and written, but without bringing either of
them. They may have a good excuse. We shall see."

The few months of sunshine were now past, and the clouds began again to

December 18, 1843.

DEAR SIDNEY,--I have made every effort to try and visit New York. Twice I
have been ready with my baggage in hand, but am prevented by a pressure
of difficulties which you cannot conceive. I was never so tried and never
needed more your prayers and those of Christians for me. Troubles cluster
in such various shapes that I am almost overwhelmed.

And then the storm of which the little cloud was the forerunner burst in

December 30, 1843.

DEAR SIDNEY,--I have no heart to give you the details of the troubles
which almost crush me, and which have unexpectedly arisen to throw a
cloud over all my prospects. It must suffice at present to say that the
unfaithfulness of Dr. Fisher in his inspection of the wires, and
connected with Serrell's bad pipe, is the main origin of my difficulties.

The trenching is stopped in consequence of this among other reasons, and
has brought the contractor upon me for damages (that is, upon the
Government). Mr. Smith is the contractor, and where I expected to find a
_friend_ I find a FIEND. The word is not too strong, as I may one day
show you. I have been compelled to dismiss Fisher, and have received a
very insolent letter from him in reply. The lead-pipe contract will be
litigated, and Smith has written a letter full of the bitterest malignity
against me to the Secretary of the Treasury. He seems perfectly reckless
and acts like a madman, and all for what? Because the condition of my
pipe and the imperfect insulation of my wires were such that it became
necessary to stop trenching on this account alone, but, taken in
connection with the advanced state of the season, when it was impossible
to carry on my operations out of doors, I was compelled to stop any
further trenching. This causes him to lose his profit on the contract.
_Hinc illae lachrymae._ And because I refused to accede to terms which, as
a public officer, I could not do without dishonor and violation of trust,
he pursues me thus malignantly.

Blessed be God, I have escaped snares set for me by this arch-fiend, one
of which a simple inquiry from you was the means of detecting. You
remember I told you that Mr. Smith had made an advantageous contract with
Tatham & Brothers for pipe, and had divided the profits with me by which
I should gain five hundred dollars. You asked if it was all right and, if
it should be made public, it would be considered so. I replied, 'Oh! yes;
Mr. Smith says it is all perfectly fair' (for I had the utmost confidence
in his fair dealing and uprightness). But your remark led me to think of
the matter, and I determined at once that, since there was a doubt, I
would not touch it for myself, but credit it to the Government, and I
accordingly credited it as so much saved to the Government from the

And now, will you believe it! the man who would have persuaded me that
all was right in that matter, turns upon me and accuses me to the
Secretary as dealing in bad faith to the Government, citing this very
transaction in proof. But, providentially, my friend Ellsworth, and also
a clerk in the Treasury Department, are witnesses that that sum was
credited to the Government before any difficulties arose on the part of

But I leave this unpleasant matter. The enterprise yet looks lowering,
but I know who can bring light out of darkness, and in Him I trust as a
sure refuge till these calamities be overpast.... Oh! how these troubles
drive all thought of children and brothers and all relatives out of my
mind except in the wakeful hours of the night, and then I think of you
all with sadness, that I cannot add to your enjoyment but only to your
anxiety. ... Love to all. Specially remember me in your prayers that I
may have wisdom from above to act wisely and justly and calmly in this
sore trial.

While thus some of those on whom he had relied failed him at a critical
moment, new helpers were at hand to assist him in carrying on the work.
On December 27, he writes to the Secretary of the Treasury: "I have the
honor to report that I have dismissed Professor James C. Fisher, one of
my assistants, whose salary was $1500 per annum.... My present labors
require the services of an efficient mechanical assistant whom I believe
I have found in Mr. Ezra Cornell, and whom I present for the approval of
the Honorable Secretary, with a compensation at the rate of, $1000 per
annum from December 27, 1843."

Cornell proved himself, indeed, an efficient assistant, and much of the
success of the enterprise, from that time forward, was due to his energy,
quick-wittedness, and faithfulness.

Mr. Prime, in his biography of Morse, thus describes a dramatic episode
of those trying days:--

"When the pipe had been laid as far as the Relay House, Professor Morse
came to Mr. Cornell and expressed a desire to have the work arrested
until he could try further experiments, but he was very anxious that
nothing should be said or done to give to the public the impression that
the enterprise had failed. Mr. Cornell said he could easily manage it,
and, stepping up to the machine, which was drawn by a team of eight
mules, he cried out: 'Hurrah, boys! we must lay another length of pipe
before we quit.' The teamsters cracked their whips over the mules and
they started on a lively pace. Mr. Cornell grasped the handles of the
plough, and, watching an opportunity, canted it so as to catch the point
of a rock, and broke it to pieces while Professor Morse stood looking on.

"Consultations long and painful followed. The anxiety of Professor Morse
at this period was greater than at any previous hour known in the history
of the invention. Some that were around him had serious apprehensions
that he would not stand up under the pressure."

Cornell having thus cleverly cut the Gordian knot, it was decided to
string wires on poles, and Cornell himself thus describes the solution of
the insulation problem:--

"In the latter part of March Professor Morse gave me the order to put the
wires on poles, and the question at once arose as to the mode of
_fastening the wires to the poles_, and the insulation of them at the
point of fastening. I submitted a plan to the Professor which I was
confident would be successful as an insulating medium, and which was
easily available then and inexpensive. Mr. Vail also submitted a plan for
the same purpose, which involved the necessity of going to New York or
New Jersey to get it executed. Professor Morse gave preference to Mr.
Vail's plan, and started for New York to get the fixtures, directing me
to get the wire ready for use and arrange for setting the poles.

"At the end of a week Professor Morse returned from New York and came to
the shop where I was at work, and said he wanted to provide the
insulators for putting the wires on the poles upon the plan I had
suggested; to which I responded: 'How is that, Professor; I thought you
had decided to use Mr. Vail's plan?' Professor Morse replied: 'Yes, I did
so decide, and on my way to New York, where I went to order the fixtures,
I stopped at Princeton and called on my old friend, Professor Henry, who
inquired how I was getting along with my Telegraph.

"'I explained to him the failure of the insulation in the pipes, and
stated that I had decided to place the wires on poles in the air. He then
inquired how I proposed to insulate the wires when they were attached to
the poles. I showed him the model I had of Mr. Vail's plan, and he said,
"It will not do; you will meet the same difficulty you had in the pipes."
I then explained to him your plan which he said would answer.'"

However, before the enterprise had reached this point in March, 1844,
many dark and discouraging days and weeks had to be passed, which we can
partially follow by the following extracts from letters to his brother
Sidney and others. To his brother he writes on January 9, 1844:--

"I thank you for your kind and sympathizing letter, which, I assure you,
helped to mitigate the acuteness of my mental sufferings from the then
disastrous aspect of my whole enterprise. God works by instrumentalities,
and he has wonderfully thus far interposed in keeping evils that I feared
in abeyance. All, I trust, will yet be well, but I have great
difficulties to encounter and overcome, with the details of which I need
not now trouble you. I think I see light ahead, and the great result of
these difficulties, I am persuaded, will be a great economy in laying the
telegraphic conductors.... I am well in health but have sleepless nights
from the great anxieties and cares which weigh me down."

"_January 13._ I am working to retrieve myself under every disadvantage
and amidst accumulated and most diversified trials, but I have strength
from the source of strength, and courage to go forward. Fisher I have
dismissed for unfaithfulness; Dr. Gale has resigned from ill-health;
Smith has become a malignant enemy, and Vail only remains true at his
post. All my pipe is useless as the wires are all injured by the _hot
process_ of manufacture. I am preparing (as I said before, under every
disadvantage) a short distance between the Patent Office and Capitol,
which I am desirous of having completed as soon as possible, and by means
of it relieving the enterprise from the heavy weight which now threatens

To his good friend, Commissioner Ellsworth, he writes from Baltimore on
February 7:--

"In complying with your kind request that I would write you, I cannot
refrain from expressing my warm thanks for the words of sympathy and the
promise of a welcome on my return, which you gave me as I was leaving the
door. I find that, brace myself as I will against trouble, the spirit so
sympathises with the body that its moods are in sad bondage to the
physical health; the latter vanquishing the former. For the spirit is
often willing and submits, while the flesh is weak and rebels.

"I am fully aware that of late I have evinced an unusual sensitiveness,
and exposed myself to the charge of great weakness, which would give me
the more distress were I not persuaded that I have been among real
friends who will make every allowance. My temperament, naturally
sensitive, has lately been made more so by the combination of attacks
from deceitful associates without and bodily illness within, so that even
the kind attentions of the dear friends at your house, and who have so
warmly rallied around me, have scarcely been able to restore me to my
usual buoyancy of spirit, and I feel, amidst other oppressive thoughts,
that I have not been grateful enough for your friendship. But I hope yet
to make amends for the past.... I have no time to add more than that I
desire sincere love to dear Annie, to whom please present for me the
accompanying piece from my favorite Bellini, and the book on Etiquette,
after it shall have passed the ordeal of a mother's examination, as I
have not had time to read it myself."

On March 4, he writes to his brother:--

"I have nothing new. Smith continues to annoy me, but I think I have got
him in check by a demand for compensation for my services for seven
months, for doing that for him in Paris which he was bound to do. The
agreement stipulates that I give my services for '_three months and no
longer_,' but, at his earnest solicitation, I remained seven months
longer and was his agent in 'negotiating the sale of rights,' which by
the articles he was obliged to do; consequently I have a right to
compensation, and Mr. E. and others think my claim a valid one. If it is
sustained the tables are completely turned on him, and he is debtor to me
to the amount of six or seven hundred dollars. I have commenced my
operations with posts which promise well at present."

"_March 23._ My Telegraph labors go on well at present. The whole matter
is now critical, or, as our good father used to say, 'a crisis is at
hand.' I hope for the best while I endeavor to prepare my mind for the
worst. Smith, if he goes forward with his claim, is a ruined man in
reputation, but he may sink the Telegraph also in his passion; but, when
he returns from the East, where he fortunately is now, we hope through
his friends to persuade him to withdraw it, which he may do from fear of
the consequences. As to his claims privately on me, I think I have him in
check, but he is a man of consummate art and unprincipled; he will,
therefore, doubtless give me trouble."

"_April 10._ A brighter day is dawning upon me. I send you the
Intelligencer of to-day, in which you will see that the Telegraph is
successfully under way. Through six miles the experiment has been most
gratifying. In a few days I hope to advise you of more respecting it. I
have preferred reserve until I could state something positive. I have my
posts set to Beltsville, twelve miles, and you will see by the
Intelligencer that I am prepared to go directly on to Baltimore and hope
to reach there by the middle of May."

"_May 7._ Let me know when Susan and the two Charles arrive [his son and
his grandson] for, if they come within the next fortnight, I think I can
contrive to run on and pay a visit of two or three days, unless my
marplot Smith should prevent again, as he is likely to do if he comes on
here. As yet there is no settlement of that matter, and he seems
determined (_inter nos_) to be as ugly as he can and defeat all
application for an appropriation if I am to have the management of it. He
chafes like a wild boar, but, when he finds that he can effect nothing by
such a temper, self-interest may soften him into terms.

"You will see by the papers that the Telegraph is in successful operation
for twenty-two miles, to the Junction of the Annapolis road with the
Baltimore and Washington road. The nomination of Mr. Frelinghuysen as
Vice-President was written, sent on, and the receipt acknowledged back in
two minutes and one second, a distance of forty-four miles. The news was
spread all over Washington one hour and four minutes before the cars
containing the news by express arrived. In about a fortnight I hope to be
in Baltimore, and a communication will be established between the two
cities. Good-bye. I am almost asleep from exhaustion, so excuse abrupt

This was the first great triumph of the telegraph. Morse and Vail and
Cornell had worked day and night to get the line in readiness as far as
the Junction so that the proceedings of the Whig Convention could be
reported from that point. Many difficulties were encountered--crossing of
wires, breaks, injury from thunder storms, and the natural errors
incidental to writing and reading what was virtually a new language. But
all obstacles were overcome in time, and the day before the convention
met, Morse wrote to Vail:--

"Get everything ready in the morning for the day, and do not be out of
hearing of your bell. When you learn the name of the candidate nominated,
see if you cannot give it to me and receive an acknowledgment of its
receipt before the cars leave you. If you can it will do more to excite
the wonder of those in the cars than the mere announcement that the news
is gone to Washington."

The next day's report was most encouraging:--

"Things went well to-day. Your last writing was good. You did not correct
your error of running your letters together until some time. Better be
deliberate; we have time to spare, since we do not spend upon our stock.
Get ready to-morrow (Thursday) as to-day. There is great excitement about
the Telegraph and my room is thronged, therefore it is important to have
it in action during the hours named. I may have some of the Cabinet
to-morrow.... Get from the passengers in the cars from Baltimore, or
elsewhere, all the news you can and transmit. A good way of exciting
wonder will be to tell the passengers to give you some short sentence to
send me; let them note time and call at the Capitol to verify the time I
received it. Before transmitting notify me with (48). Your message to-day
that 'the passengers in the cars gave three cheers for Henry Clay,'
excited the highest wonder in the passenger who gave it to you to send
when he found it verified at the Capitol."

In a letter to his friend, Dr. Aycrigg of New Jersey, written on May 8,
and telling of these successful demonstrations, this interesting sentence
occurs: "I find that the ground, in conformity with the results of
experiments of Dr. Franklin, can be made a part of the circuit, and I
have used one wire and the ground with better effect for one circuit than
two wires."

On the 11th of May he again cautions Vail about his writing: "Everything
worked well yesterday, but there is one defect in your writing. Make a
_longer_ space between each letter and a still longer space between each
word. I shall have a great crowd to-day and wish all things to go off
well. Many M.C.s will be present, perhaps Mr. Clay. Give me news by the
cars. When the cars come along, try and get a newspaper from Philadelphia
or New York and give items of intelligence. The arrival of the cars at
the Junction begins to excite here the greatest interest, and both
morning and evening I have had my room thronged."

And now at last the supreme moment had arrived. The line from Washington
to Baltimore was completed, and on the 24th day of May, 1844, the company
invited by the inventor assembled in the chamber of the United States
Supreme Court to witness his triumph. True to his promise to Miss Annie
Ellsworth, he had asked her to indite the first public message which
should be flashed over the completed line, and she, in consultation with
her good mother, chose the now historic words from the 23d verse of the
23d chapter of Numbers--"What hath God wrought!" The whole verse reads:
"Surely there is no enchantment against Jacob, neither is there any
divination, against Israel: according to this time it shall be said of
Jacob and of Israel, What hath God wrought!" To Morse, with his strong
religious bent and his belief that he was but a chosen vessel, every word
in this verse seemed singularly appropriate. Calmly he seated himself at
the instrument and ticked off the inspired words in the dots and dashes
of the Morse alphabet. Alfred Vail, at the other end of the line in
Baltimore, received the message without an error, and immediately flashed
it back again, and the Electro-Magnetic Telegraph was no longer the wild
dream of a visionary, but an accomplished fact.

Mr. Prime's comments, after describing this historic occasion, are so
excellent that I shall give them in full:--

"Again the triumph of the inventor was sublime. His confidence had been
so unshaken that the surprise of his friends in the result was not shared
by him. He knew what the instrument would do, and the fact accomplished
was but the confirmation to others of what to him was a certainty on the
packet-ship Sully in 1832. But the result was not the less gratifying and
sufficient. Had his labors ceased at that moment, he would have
cheerfully exclaimed in the words of Simeon: 'Lord, now lettest thou thy
servant depart in peace, for mine eyes have seen thy salvation.'

[Illustration: FIRST FORM OF KEY]

[Illustration: IMPROVED FORM OF KEY]

[Illustration: EARLY RELAY
The two keys and the relay are in the National Museum, Washington]

The Washington-Baltimore instrument is owned by Cornell University]

"The congratulations of his friends followed. He received them with
modesty, in perfect harmony with the simplicity of his character. Neither
then nor at any subsequent period of his life did his language or manner
indicate exultation. He believed himself an instrument employed by Heaven
to achieve a great result, and, having accomplished it, he claimed simply
to be the original and only instrument by which that result had been
reached. With the same steadiness of purpose, tenacity and perseverance,
with which he had pursued the idea by which he was inspired in 1832, he
adhered to his claim to the paternity of that idea, and to the merit of
bringing it to a successful issue. Denied, he asserted it; assailed, he
defended it. Through long years of controversy, discussion and
litigation, he maintained his right. Equable alike in success and
discouragement, calm in the midst of victories, and undismayed by the
number, the violence, and the power of those who sought to deprive him of
the honor and the reward of his work, he manfully maintained his ground,
until, by the verdict of the highest courts of his country, and of
academies of science, and the practical adoption and indorsement of his
system by his own and foreign nations, those wires, which were now
speaking only forty miles from Washington to Baltimore, were stretched
over continents and under oceans making a network to encompass and unite,
in instantaneous intercourse, for business and enjoyment, all parts of
the civilized world."

It was with well-earned but modest satisfaction that he wrote to his
brother Sidney on May 31:--

"You will see by the papers how great success has attended the first
efforts of the Telegraph. That sentence of Annie Ellsworth's was divinely
indited, for it is in my thoughts day and night. 'What hath God wrought!'
It is his work, and He alone could have carried me thus far through all
my trials and enabled me to triumph over the obstacles, physical and
moral, which opposed me.

"'Not unto us, not unto us, but to thy name, O Lord, be all the praise.'

"I begin to fear now the effects of public favor, lest it should kindle
that pride of heart and self-sufficiency which dwells in my own as well
as in others' breasts, and which, alas! is so ready to be inflamed by the
slightest spark of praise. I do indeed feel gratified, and it is right I
should rejoice, but I rejoice with fear, and I desire that a sense of
dependence upon and increased obligation to the Giver of every good and
perfect gift may keep me humble and circumspect.

"The conventions at Baltimore happened most opportunely for the display
of the powers of the Telegraph, especially as it was the means of
correspondence, in one instance, between the Democratic Convention and
the first candidate elect for the Vice-Presidency. The enthusiasm of the
crowd before the window of the Telegraph Room in the Capitol was excited
to the highest pitch at the announcement of the nomination of the
Presidential candidate, and the whole of it afterwards seemed turned upon
the Telegraph. They gave the Telegraph three cheers, and I was called to
make my appearance at the window when three cheers were given to me by
some hundreds present, composed mainly of members of Congress.

"Such is the feeling in Congress that many tell me they are ready to
grant anything. Even the most inveterate opposers have changed to
admirers, and one of them, Hon. Cave Johnson, who ridiculed my system
last session by associating it with the tricks of animal magnetism, came
to me and said: 'Sir, I give in. It is an astonishing invention.'

"When I see all this and such enthusiasm everywhere manifested, and
contrast the present with the past season of darkness and almost despair,
have I not occasion to exclaim 'What hath God wrought'? Surely none but
He who has all hearts in his hands, and turns them as the rivers of
waters are turned could so have brought light out of darkness. 'Sorrow
may continue for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.' Pray for me
then, my dear brother, that I may have a heart to praise the great
Deliverer, and in future, when discouraged or despairing, be enabled to
remember His past mercy, and in full faith rest all my cares on Him who
careth for us.

"Mr. S. still embarrasses the progress of the invention by his
stubbornness, but there are indications of giving way; mainly, I fear,
because he sees his pecuniary interest in doing so, and not from any
sense of the gross injury he has done me. I pray God for a right spirit
in dealing with him."

The incident referred to in this letter with regard to the nomination for
the Vice-Presidency by the Democratic Convention is worthy of more
extended notice. The convention met in Baltimore on the 26th of May, and
it was then that the two-thirds rule was first adopted. Van Buren had a
majority of the votes, but could not secure the necessary two thirds, and
finally James K. Polk was unanimously nominated. This news was instantly
flashed to Washington by the telegraph and was received with mingled
feelings of enthusiasm, disappointment, and wonder, and not believed by
many until confirmed by the arrival of the mail.

The convention then nominated Van Buren's friend, Senator Silas Wright,
of New York, for the Vice-Presidency. This news, too, was immediately
sent by wire to Washington. Morse at once informed Mr. Wright, who was in
the Capitol at the time, of his nomination, but he refused to accept it,
and Morse wired his refusal to Vail in Baltimore, and it was read to the
convention only a few moments after the nomination had been made. This
was too much for the credulity of the assembly, and they adjourned till
the following day and sent a committee to Washington to verify the
dispatch. Upon the return of the committee, with the report that the
telegraph had indeed performed this wonder, this new instrumentality
received such an advertisement as could not fail to please the most

Then a scene was enacted new in the annals of civilization. In Baltimore
the committee of conference surrounded Vail at his instrument, and in
Washington Senator Wright sat beside Morse, all others being excluded.
The committee urged Wright to accept the nomination, giving him good
reasons for doing so. He replied, giving as good reasons for refusing.
This first long-distance conversation was carried on until the committee
was finally convinced that Wright was determined to refuse, and they so
reported to the convention. Mr. Dallas was then nominated, and in
November of that year Polk and Dallas were elected.

On June 3, Morse made his report to the Honorable McClintock Young, who
was then Secretary of the Treasury _ad interim_. It was with great
satisfaction that he was able to say: "Of the appropriation made there
will remain in the Treasury, after the settlement of outstanding
accounts, about $3500, which may be needed for contingent liabilities and
for sustaining the line already constructed, until provision by law shall
be made for such an organization of a telegraphic department or bureau as
shall enable the Telegraph at least to support itself, if not to become a
profitable source of revenue to the Government."

In the course of this report mention is also made of the following
interesting incidents:--

"In regard to the _utility_ of the Telegraph, time alone can determine
and develop the whole capacity for good of so perfect a system. In the
few days of its infancy it has already casually shown its usefulness in
the relief, in various ways, of the anxieties of thousands; and, when
such a sure means of relief is available to the public at large, the
amount of its usefulness becomes incalculable. An instance or two will
best illustrate this quality of the Telegraph.

"A family in Washington was thrown into great distress by a rumor that
one of its members had met with a violent death in Baltimore the evening
before. Several hours must have elapsed ere their state of suspense could
be relieved by the ordinary means of conveyance. A note was dispatched to
the telegraph rooms at the Capitol requesting to have inquiry made at
Baltimore. The messenger had occasion to wait but _ten minutes_ when the
proper inquiry was made at Baltimore, and the answer returned that the
rumor was without foundation. Thus was a worthy family relieved
immediately from a state of distressing suspense.

"An inquiry from a person in Baltimore, holding the check of a gentleman
in Washington upon the Bank of Washington, was sent by telegraph to
ascertain if the gentleman in question had funds in that bank. A
messenger was instantly dispatched from the Capitol who returned in a few
minutes with an affirmative answer, which was returned to Baltimore
instantly, thus establishing a confidence in a money arrangement which
might have affected unfavorably (for many hours, at least) the business
transactions of a man of good credit.

"Other cases might be given, but these are deemed sufficient to
illustrate the point of utility, and to suggest to those who will reflect
upon them thousands of cases in the public business, in commercial
operations, and in private and social transactions, which establish
beyond a doubt the immense advantages of such a speedy mode of conveying

While such instances of the use of the telegraph are but the commonplaces
of to-day, we can imagine with what wonder they were regarded in 1844.

Morse then addressed a memorial to Congress, on the same day, referring
to the report just quoted from, and then saying:--

"The proprietors respectfully suggest that it is an engine of power, for
good or for evil, which all opinions seem to concur in desiring to have
subject to the control of the Government, rather than have it in the
hands of private individuals and associations; and to this end the
proprietors respectfully submit their willingness to transfer the
exclusive use and control of it, from Washington City to the city of New
York, to the United States, together with such improvements as shall be
made by the proprietors, or either of them, if Congress shall proceed to
cause its construction, and upon either of the following terms."

Here follow the details of the two plans: either outright purchase by the
Government of the existing line and construction by the Government of the
line from Baltimore to New York, or construction of the latter by the
proprietors under contract to the Government; but no specific sum was
mentioned in either case.

This offer was not accepted, as will appear further on, but $8000 was
appropriated for the support of the line already built, and that was all
that Congress would do. It was while this matter was pending that Morse
wrote to his brother Sidney, on June 13:--

"I am in the crisis of matters, so far as this session of Congress is
concerned, in relation to the Telegraph, which absorbs all my time.
Perfect enthusiasm seems to pervade all classes in regard to it, but
there is still the thorn in the flesh which is permitted by a wise Father
to keep me humble, doubtless. May his strength be sufficient for me and I
shall fear nothing, and will bear it till He sees fit to remove it. Pray
for me, as I do for you, that, if prosperity is allotted to us, we may
have hearts to use it to the glory of God."


JUNE 28, 1844--OCTOBER 9, 1846

Fame and fortune now assured.--Government declines purchase of
telegraph.--Accident to leg gives needed rest.--Reflections on ways of
Providence.--Consideration of financial propositions.--F.O.J. Smith's
fulsome praise.--Morse's reply.--Extension of telegraph proceeds slowly.
--Letter to Russian Minister.--Letter to London "Mechanics' Magazine"
claiming priority and first experiments in wireless telegraphy.--Hopes
that Government may yet purchase.--Longing for a home.--Dinner at Russian
Minister's.--Congress again fails him.--Amos Kendall chosen as business
agent.--First telegraph company.--Fourth voyage to Europe.--London,
Broek, Hamburg.--Letter of Charles T. Fleischmann.--Paris.--Nothing
definite accomplished.

Morse's fame was now secure, and fortune was soon to follow. Tried as he
had been in the school of adversity, he was now destined to undergo new
trials, trials incident to success, to prosperity, and to world-wide
eminence. That he foresaw the new dangers which would beset him on every
hand is clearly evidenced in the letters to his brother, but, heartened
by the success which had at last crowned his efforts, he buckled on his
armor ready to do battle to such foes, both within and without, as should
in the future assail him. Fatalist as we must regard him, he believed in
his star; or rather he went forward with sublime faith in that God who
had thus far guarded him from evil, and in his own good time had given
him the victory, and such a victory! For twelve years he had fought on
through trials and privations, hampered by bodily ailments and the deep
discouragements of those who should have aided him. Pitted against the
trained minds and the wealth of other nations, he had gone forth a very
David to battle, and, like David, the simplicity of his missile had given
him the victory. Other telegraphs had been devised by other men; some had
actually been put into operation, but it would seem as if all the nations
had held their breath until his appeared, and, sweeping all the others
from the field, demonstrated and maintained its supremacy.

From this time forward his life became more complex. Honors were showered
upon him; fame carried his name to the uttermost parts of the earth; his
counsel was sought by eminent scientists and by other inventors, both
practical and visionary.

On the other hand, detractors innumerable arose; his rights to the
invention were challenged, in all sincerity and in insincerity;
infringements of his patent rights necessitated long and acrimonious
lawsuits, and, like other men of mark, he was traduced and vilified. In
addition to all this he took an active interest in the seething politics
of the day and in religious questions which, to his mind and that of many
others, affected the very foundations of the nation.

To follow him through all these labyrinthine ways would require volumes,
and I shall content myself with selecting only such letters as may give a
fair idea of how he bore himself in the face of these new and manifold
trials, of how he sometimes erred in judgment and in action, but how
through all he was sincere and firm in his faith, and how, at last, he
was to find that home and that domestic bliss which he had all his life
so earnestly desired, but which had until the evening of his days been
denied to him.

Having won his great victory, retirement from the field of battle would
have best suited him. He was now fifty-three years of age, and he felt
that he had earned repose. To this end he sought to carry out his
long-cherished idea that the telegraph should become the property of the
Government, and he was willing to accept a very modest remuneration. As I
have said before, he and the other proprietors joined in offering the
telegraph to the Government for the paltry sum of $100,000. But the
Administration of that day seems to have been stricken with unaccountable
blindness, for the Postmaster-General, that same wise and sapient Cave
Johnson who had sought to kill the telegraph bill by ridicule in the
House, and in despite of his acknowledgment to Morse, reported: "That the
operation of the Telegraph between Washington and Baltimore had not
satisfied him that, under any rate of postage that could be adopted, its
revenues could be made equal to its expenditures." Congress was equally
lax, and so the Government lost its great opportunity, for when, in after
years, the question of government ownership again came up, it was found
that either to purchase outright or to parallel existing lines would cost
many more millions than it would have taken thousands in 1844.

The failure of the Government to appreciate the value of what was offered
to them was always a source of deep regret to Morse. For, while he
himself gained much more by the operation of private companies, the evils
which he had foretold were more than realized.

But to return to the days of '44, it would seem that in the spring of
that year he met with a painful accident. Its exact nature is not
specified, but it must have been severe, and yet we learn from the
following letter to his brother Sidney, dated June 23, that he saw in it
only another blessing:--

"I am still in bed, and from appearances I am likely to be held here for
many days, perhaps weeks. The wound on the leg was worse than I at first
supposed. It seems slow in healing and has been much inflamed, although
now yielding to remedies. My hope was to have spent some weeks in New
York, but it will now depend on the time of the healing of my leg.

"The ways of God are mysterious, and I find prayer answered in a way not
at all anticipated. This accident, as we are apt to call it, I can
plainly see is calculated to effect many salutary objects. I needed rest
of body and mind after my intense anxieties and exertions, and I might
have neglected it, and so, perhaps, brought on premature disease of both;
but I am involuntarily laid up so that I must keep quiet, and, although
the fall that caused my wound was painful at first, yet I have no severe
pain with it now. But the principal effect is, doubtless, intended to be
of a spiritual character, and I am afforded an opportunity of quiet
reflection on the wonderful dealings of God with me.

"I cannot but constantly exclaim, 'What hath God wrought!' When I look
back upon the darkness of last winter and reflect how, at one time
everything seemed hopeless; when I remember that all my associates in the
enterprise of the Telegraph had either deserted me or were discouraged,
and one had even turned my enemy, reviler and accuser (and even Mr. Vail,
who has held fast to me from the beginning, felt like giving up just in
the deepest darkness of all); when I remember that, giving up all hope
myself from any other source than his right arm which brings salvation,
his salvation did come in answer to prayer, faith is strengthened, and
did I not know by too sad experience the deceitfulness of the heart, I
should say that it was impossible for me again to distrust or feel
anxiety, undue anxiety, for the future. But He who knows the heart knows
its disease, and, as the Good Physician, if we give ourselves
unreservedly into his hands to be cured, He will give that medicine which
his perfect knowledge of our case prescribes.

"I am well aware that just now my praises ring from one end of the
country to the other. I cannot take up a paper in which I do not find
something to flatter the natural pride of the heart. I have prayed,
indeed, against it; I have asked for a right spirit under a trial of a
new character, for prosperity is a trial, and our Saviour has denounced a
woe on us 'when all men speak well of us.' May it not then be in answer
to this prayer that He shuts me up, to strengthen me against the
temptations which the praises of the world present, and so, by meditation
on his dealings with me and reviewing the way in which He has led me,
showing me my perfect helplessness without Him, He is preparing to bless
me with stronger faith and more unreserved faith in Him?

"To Him, indeed, belongs all the glory. I have had evidence enough that
without Christ I could do nothing. All my strength is there and I
fervently desire to ascribe to Him all the praise. If I am to have
influence, increased influence, I desire to have it for Christ, to use it
for his cause; if wealth, for Christ; if more knowledge, for Christ. I
speak sincerely when I say I fear prosperity lest I should be proud and
forget whence it comes."

Having at length recovered from the accident which had given him, in
spite of himself, the rest which he so much needed, Morse again devoted
himself to his affairs with his accustomed vigor. The Government still
delaying to take action, he was compelled, much to his regret, to
consider the offers of private parties to extend the lines of the
telegraph to important points in the Union. He had received propositions
from various persons who were eager to push the enterprise, but in all
negotiations he was hampered by the dilatoriness of Smith, who seemed
bent on putting as many obstacles in the way of an amicable settlement as
possible, and some of whose propositions had to be rejected for obvious
reasons. Before Congress had finally put the quietus on his hopes in that
direction, he considered the advisability of parting with his interest to
some individual, and, on July 1, 1844, he wrote to Mr. David Burbank from

"In reply to your query for what sum I would sell my share of the patent
right in the Telegraph, which amounts to one half, I frankly say that, if
_one hundred and ten thousand dollars_ shall be secured to me in cash,
current funds in the United States, or stocks at cash value, such as I
may be disposed to accept if presented, so that in six months from this
date I shall realize that sum, I will assign over all my rights and
privileges in the Telegraph in the United States.

"I offer it at this price, not that I estimate the value of the invention
so low, for it is perfectly demonstrable that the sum above mentioned is
not half its value, but that I may have my own mind free to be occupied
in perfecting the system, and in a general superintendence of it,
unembarrassed by the business arrangements necessary to secure its utmost
usefulness and value."

A Mr. Fry of Philadelphia had also made an offer, and, referring to this,
he wrote to Smith from New York, on July 17: "A letter from Mr. Fry, of
Philadelphia, in answer to the proposals which you sent, I have just
received. I wish much to see you, as I cannot move in this matter until I
know your views. I am here for about a fortnight and wish some
arrangements made by which our business can be transacted without the
necessity of so much waiting and so much writing."

All these negotiations seem to have come to nothing, and I have only
mentioned them as showing Morse's willingness to part with his interest
for much less than he knew it was worth, in order that he might not prove
an obstacle in the expansion of the system by being too mercenary, and so
that he might obtain some measure of freedom from care.

Mr. F.O.J. Smith, while still proving himself a thorn in the flesh to
Morse in many ways, had compiled a Telegraph Dictionary which he called:
"The Secret Corresponding Vocabulary, adapted for Use to Morse's
Electro-Magnetic Telegraph, and also in conducting Written Correspondence
transmitted by the Mails, or otherwise." The dedication reads as follows:

_To Professor Samuel F.B. Morse, Inventor of the Electro-Magnetic

Sir,--The homage of the world during the last half-century has been, and
will ever continue to be, accorded to the name and genius of the
illustrious American philosopher, Benjamin Franklin, for having first
taught mankind that the wild and terrific ways and forces of the electric
fluid, as it flies and flashes through the rent atmosphere, or descends
to the surface of the earth, are guided by positive and fixed laws, as
much as the movements of more sluggish matter in the physical creation,
and that its terrible death-strokes may be rendered harmless by proper
scientific precautions.

To another name of another generation, yet of the same proud national
nativity, the glory has been reserved of having first taught mankind to
reach even beyond the results of Franklin, and to subdue in a modified
state, into the familiar and practical uses of a household servant who
runs at his master's bidding, this same once frightful and tremendous
element. Indeed the great work of science which Franklin commenced for
the protection of man, you have most triumphantly subdued to his
convenience. And it needs not the gift of prophecy to foresee, nor the
spirit of personal flattery to declare, that the names of Franklin and
Morse are destined to glide down the declivity of time together, the
equals in the renown of inventive achievements, until the hand of History
shall become palsied, and whatever pertains to humanity shall be lost in
the general dissolution of matter.

Of one thus rich in the present applause of his countrymen, and in the
prospect of their future gratitude, it affords the author of the
following compilation, which is designed to contribute in a degree to the
practical usefulness of your invention, a high gratification to speak in
the presence of an enlightened public feeling.

That you may live to witness the full consummation of the vast revolution
in the social and business relations of your countrymen, which your
genius has proved to be feasible, under the liberal encouragement of our
national councils, and that you may, with this great gratification, also
realize from it the substantial reward, which inventive merit too seldom
acquires, in the shape of pecuniary independence, is the sincere wish of

Your most respectful and obedient servant
The Author.

This florid and fulsome eulogy was written by that singular being who
could thus flatter, and almost apotheosize, the inventor in public, while
in secret he was doing everything to thwart him, and who never, as long
as he lived, ceased to antagonize him, and later accused him of having
claimed the credit of an invention all the essentials of which were
invented by others. No wonder that Morse was embarrassed and at a loss
how to reply to the letter of Smith's enclosing this eulogy and, at the
same time, bringing up one of the subjects in dispute:--

New York, November 13, 1844.

Dear Sir,--I have received yours of the 4th and 5th inst., and reply in
relation to the several subjects you mention in their order.

I like very well the suggestion in regard to the presentation of a set of
the Telegraph Dictionary you are publishing to each member of Congress,
and, when I return to Washington, will see the Secretary of the Treasury
and see if he will assent to it.

As to the dedication to me, since you have asked my opinion, I must say I
should prefer to have it much curtailed and less laudatory. I must refer
it entirely to you, however, as it is not for me to say what others
should write and think of me.

In regard to the Bartlett claim against the Government and your plan for
settling it, I cannot admit that, as proprietors of the Telegraph, we
have anything to do with it. I regret that there has been any mention of
it, and I had hoped that you yourself had come to the determination to
leave the matter altogether, or at least until the Telegraph bill had
been definitely settled in Congress. However much I may deprecate
agitation of the subject in the Senate, to mar and probably to defeat all
our prospects, it is a matter over which I have no control in the aspect
that has been given to it, and therefore--"the suppression of details
which had better not be pushed to a decision"--does not rest with me.

In regard, however, to such a division of the property of the Telegraph
as shall enable each of us to labor for the general benefit without
embarrassment from each other, I think it worthy of consideration, and
the principle on which such a division is proposed to be made might be
extended to embrace the entire property. The subject, however, requires
mature deliberation, and I am not now prepared to present the plan, but
will think it over and consult with Vail and Gale and arrange it, perhaps
definitely, when I see you again in Washington.

I have letters from Vail at Washington and Rogers at Baltimore stating
the fact that complete success has attended all the transmission of
results by Telegraph, there not having been a failure in a single
instance, and to the entire satisfaction of both political parties in the
perfect impartiality of the directors of the Telegraph.

While the success of the Telegraph had now been fully demonstrated, and
while congratulations and honors were showered on the inventor from all
quarters, negotiations for its extension proceeded but slowly. Morse
still kept hoping that the Government would eventually purchase all the
rights, and it was not until well into 1845 that he was compelled to
abandon this dream. In the mean time he was kept busy replying to
enquiries from the representatives of Russia, France, and other European
countries, and in repelling attacks which had already been launched
against him in scientific circles. As an example of the former I shall
quote from a letter to His Excellency Alexander de Bodisco, the Russian
Minister, written in December, 1844:--

"In complying with your request to write you respecting my invention of
the Electro-Magnetic Telegraph, I find there are but few points of
interest not embraced in the printed documents already in your
possession. The principle on which, my whole invention rests is the power
of the electro-magnet commanded at pleasure at any distance. The
application of this power to the telegraph is original with me. If the
electro-magnet is now used in Europe for telegraphic purposes, it has
been subsequently introduced. All the systems of electric telegraphs in
Europe from 1820 to 1840 are based on the _deflection of the magnetic
needle_, while my system, invented in 1832, is based, as I have just
observed, on the electro-magnet....

"Should the Emperor be desirous of the superintendence of an experienced
person to put the Telegraph in operation in Russia, I will either engage
myself to visit Russia for that purpose; or, if my own or another
government shall, previous to receiving an answer from Russia, engage my
personal attendance, I will send an experienced person in my stead."

As a specimen of the vigorous style in which he repelled attacks on his
merits as an inventor, I shall give the following:--

Messrs. Editors,--The London "Mechanics' Magazine," for October, 1844,
copies an article from the Baltimore "American" in which my discovery in
relation to causing electricity to cross rivers without wires is
announced, and then in a note to his readers the editor of the magazine
makes the following assertion: "The English reader need scarcely be
informed that Mr. Morse has in this, as in other matters relating to
magneto telegraphs, only _re_discovered what was previously well known in
this country."

More illiberality and deliberate injustice has been seldom condensed
within so small a compass. From the experience, however, that I, in
common with many American scientific gentlemen, have already had of the
piratical conjoined with the abusive propensity of a certain class of
English _savans_ and writers, I can scarcely expect either liberality or
justice from the quarter whence this falsehood has issued. But there is,
fortunately, an appeal to my own countrymen, to the impartial and
liberal-minded of Continental Europe, and the truly noble of England

I claim to be the original inventor of the Electro-Magnetic Telegraph; to
be the first who planned and operated a really practicable Electric
Telegraph. This is the broad claim I make in behalf of my country and
myself before the world. If I cannot substantiate this claim, if any
other, to whatever country he belongs, can make out a previous or better
claim, I will cheerfully yield him the palm.

Although I had planned and completed my Telegraph unconscious, until
after my Telegraph was in operation, that even the words "Electric
Telegraph" had ever been combined until I had combined them, I have now
made myself familiar with, I believe, all the plans, abortive and
otherwise, which have been given to the world since the time of Franklin,
who was the first to suggest the possibility of using electricity as a
means of transmitting intelligence. With this knowledge, both of the
various plans devised and the time when they were severally devised, I
claim to be the first inventor of a really practicable telegraph on the
electric principle. When this shall be seriously called in question by
any responsible name, I have the proof in readiness.

As to English electric telegraphs, the telegraph of Wheatstone and Cooke,
called the Magnetic Needle Telegraph, inefficient as it is, was invented
five years after mine, and the printing telegraph, so-called (the title
to the invention of which is litigated by Wheatstone and Bain) was
invented seven years after mine.

So much for my _re_discovering what was previously known in England.

As to the discovery that electricity may be made to cross the water
without wire conductors, above, through, or beneath the water, the very
reference by the editor to another number of the magazine, and to the
experiments of Cooke, or rather Steinheil, and of Bain, shows that the
editor is wholly ignorant of the nature of my experiment. I have in
detail the experiments of Bain and Wheatstone. They were merely in effect
repetitions of the experiments of Steinheil. Their object was to show
that the earth or water can be made one half of the circuit in conducting
electricity, a fact proved by Franklin with ordinary electricity in the
last century, and by Professor Steinheil, of Munich, with magnetic
electricity in 1837. Mr. Bain, and after him Mr. Wheatstone, in England
repeated, or (to use the English editor's phrase) rediscovered the same
fact in 1841. But what have these experiments, in which _one wire_ is
carried across the river, to do with mine _which dispenses with wires
altogether_ across the river? I challenge the proof that such an
experiment has ever been tried in Europe, unless it be since the
publication of my results.

The year 1844 was drawing to a close and Congress still was dilatory.
Morse hated to abandon his cherished dream of government ownership, and,
while carrying on negotiations with private parties in order to protect
himself, he still hoped that Congress would at last see the light. He
writes to his brother from Washington on December 30:--

"Telegraph matters look exceedingly encouraging, not only for the United
States but for Europe. I have just got a letter from a special agent of
the French Government, sent to Boston by the Minister of Foreign Affairs,
in which he says that he has seen mine and 'is convinced of its
superiority,' and wishes all information concerning it, adding: 'I
consider it my duty to make a special report on your admirable

And on January 18, 1845, he writes:--

"I am well, but anxiously waiting the action of Congress on the bill for
extension of Telegraph. Texas drives everything else into a corner. I
have not many fears if they will only get it up. I had to-day the
Russian, Spanish, and Belgian Ministers to see the operation of the
Telegraph; they were astonished and delighted. The Russian Minister
particularly takes the deepest interest in it, and will write to his
Government by next steamer. The French Minister also came day before
yesterday, and will write in its favor to his Government.... Senator
Woodbury gave a discourse before the Institute a few nights ago, in the
Hall of the House of Representatives, in which he lauded the Telegraph in
the highest terms, and thought I had gone a step beyond Franklin! The
popularity of the Telegraph increases rather than declines."

The mention of Texas in this letter refers to the fact that Polk was
elected to the Presidency on a platform which favored the annexation of
that republic to the United States, and this question was, naturally,
paramount in the halls of Congress. Texas was admitted to the Union in
December, 1845.

Writing to his daughter, Mrs. Lind, in Porto Rico on February 8, he

"The Telegraph operates to the perfect satisfaction of the public, as you
perhaps see by the laudatory notices of the papers in all parts of the
country. I am now in a state of unpleasant suspense waiting the passage
of the bill for the extension of the Telegraph to New York.

"I am in hopes they will take it up and pass it next week; if they should
not, I shall at once enter into arrangements with private companies to
take it and extend it.

"I do long for the time, if it shall be permitted, to have you with your
husband and little Charles around me. I feel my loneliness more and more
keenly every day. Fame and money are in themselves a poor substitute for
domestic happiness; as means to that end I value them. Yesterday was the
sad anniversary (the twentieth) of your dear mother's death, and I spent
the most of it in thinking of her...."

"_Thursday, February 12._ I dined at the Russian Ambassador's Tuesday. It
was the most gorgeous dinner-party I ever attended in any country.
Thirty-six sat down to table; there were eleven Senators, nearly half the
Senate.... The table, some twenty or twenty-five feet long, was decorated
with immense gilt vases of flowers on a splendid plateau of richly chased
gilt ornaments, and candelabra with about a hundred and fifty lights. We
were ushered into the house through eight liveried servants, who
afterward waited on us at table.

"I go to-morrow evening to Mr. Wickliffe's, Postmaster General, and,
probably, on Wednesday evening next to the President's. The new
President, Polk, arrived this evening amid the roar of cannon. He will be
inaugurated on the 4th of March, and I presume I shall be there.

"I am most anxiously waiting the action of Congress on the Telegraph. It
is exceedingly tantalizing to suffer so much loss of precious time that
cannot be recalled."

This time there was no eleventh-hour passage of the bill, for Congress
adjourned without reaching it, and while this, in the light of future
events, was undoubtedly a tactical error on the part of the Government,
it inured to the financial benefit of the inventor himself. The question
now arose of the best means of extending the business of the telegraph
through private companies, and Morse keenly felt the need of a better
business head than he possessed to guide the enterprise through the
shoals and quicksands of commerce. He was fortunate in choosing as his
business and legal adviser the Honorable Amos Kendall.

Mr. James D. Reid, one of the early telegraphers and a staunch and
faithful friend of Morse's, thus speaks of Mr. Kendall in his valuable
book "The Telegraph in America":--

"Mr. Kendall is too well known in American history to require
description. He was General Jackson's Postmaster General, incorruptible,
able, an educated lawyer, clear-headed, methodical, and ingenious. But he
was somewhat rigid in his manners and methods, and lacked the dash and
_bonhomie_ which would have carried him successfully into the business
centres of the seaboard cities, and brought capital largely and
cheerfully to his feet. Of personal magnetism, indeed, except in private
intercourse, where he was eminently delightful, he had, at this period of
his life, none. This made his work difficult, especially with railroad
men. Yet the Telegraph could not have been entrusted to more genuinely
honest and able hands. On the part of those he represented this
confidence was so complete that their interests were committed to him
without reserve."

Professor Gale and Alfred Vail joined with Morse in entrusting their
interests to Mr. Kendall's care, but F.O.J. Smith preferred to act for
himself. This caused much trouble in the future, for it was a foregone
conclusion that the honest, upright Kendall and the shifty Smith were
bound to come into conflict with each other. The latter, as one of the
original patentees, had to be consulted in every sale of patent rights,
and Kendall soon found it almost impossible to deal with him.

At first Kendall had great difficulty in inducing capitalists to
subscribe to what was still looked upon as a very risky venture. Mr.
Corcoran, of Washington, was the first man wise in his generation, and
others then followed his lead, so that a cash capital of $15,000 was
raised. Mr. Reid says: "It was provided, in this original subscription,
that the payment of $50 should entitle the subscriber to two shares of
$50 each. A payment of $15,000, therefore, required an issue of $30,000
stock. To the patentees were issued an additional $30,000 stock, or half
of the capital, as the consideration of the patent. The capital was thus
$60,000 for the first link. W.W. Corcoran and B.B. French were made
trustees to hold the patent rights and property until organization was
effected. Meanwhile an act of incorporation was granted by the
legislature of the State of Maryland, the first telegraphic charter
issued in the United States."

The company was called "The Magnetic Telegraph Company," and was the
first telegraph company in the United States.

Under the able, if conservative, management of Mr. Kendall the business
of the telegraph progressed slowly but surely. Many difficulties were
encountered, many obstacles had to be overcome, and the efforts of
unprincipled men to pirate the invention, or to infringe on the patent,
were the cause of numerous lawsuits. But it is not my purpose to write a
history of the telegraph. Mr. Reid has accomplished this task much better
than I possibly could, and, in following the personal history of Morse,
the now famous inventor, I shall but touch, incidentally on all these

On the 18th of July, 1845, the following letter of introduction was sent
to Morse from the Department of State:--

To the respective Diplomatic and Consular Agents of the United States in

SIR,--The bearer hereof, Professor Samuel F.B. Morse, of New York,
Superintendent of Electro Magnetic Telegraphs for the United States, is
about to visit Europe for the purpose of exhibiting to the various
governments his own system, and its superiority over others now in use.
From a personal knowledge of Professor Morse I can speak confidently of
his amiability of disposition and high respectability. The merits of his
discoveries and inventions in this particular branch of science are, I
believe, universally conceded in this country.

I take pleasure in introducing him to your acquaintance and in bespeaking
for him, during his stay in your neighborhood, such attentions and good
offices in aid of his object as you may find it convenient to extend to

I am, sir, with great respect,
Your obedient servant,
_Secretary of State._

[Illustration: S.F.B. Morse
From a portrait by Daniel Huntington]

With the assurance that he had left his business affairs in capable
hands, Morse sailed from New York on August 6, 1845, and arrived in
Liverpool on the 25th. For the fourth time he was crossing from America
to Europe, but under what totally different circumstances. On previous
occasions, practically unknown, he had voyaged forth to win his spurs in
the field of art, or to achieve higher honors in this same field, or as a
humble petitioner at the courts of Europe. Forced by circumstances to
practise the most rigid economy, he had yet looked confidently to the
future for his reward in material as well as spiritual gifts. Now, having
abandoned his art, he had won such fame in a totally different realm that
his name was becoming well-known in all the centres of civilization, and
he was assured of a respectful hearing wherever he might present himself.
Freed already from pecuniary embarrassment, he need no longer take heed
for the morrow, but could with a light heart give himself up to the
enjoyment of new scenes, and the business of proving to other nations the
superiority of his system, secure in the knowledge that, whatever might
betide him in Europe, he was assured of a competence at home.

His brother Sidney, with his family, had preceded him to Europe, and
writing to Vail from London on September 1, Morse says:--

"I have just taken lodgings with my brother and his family preparatory to
looking about for a week, when I shall continue my journey to Stockholm
and St. Petersburg, by the way of Hamburg, direct from London.

"On my way from Liverpool I saw at Rugby the telegraph wires of
Wheatstone, which extend, I understood, as far as Northampton. I went
into the office as the train stopped a moment, and had a glimpse of the
instrument as we have seen it in the 'Illustrated Times.' The place was
the ticket-office and the man very uncommunicative, but he told me it was
not in operation and that they did not use it much. This is easily
accounted for from the fact that the two termini are inconsiderable
places, and Wheatstone's system clumsy and complicated. The advantage of
recording is incalculable, and in this I have the undisputed superiority.
As soon as I can visit the telegraph-office here I will give you the
result of my observation. I shall probably do nothing until my return
from the north."

Nothing definite was accomplished during his short stay in London, and on
the 17th of September he left for the Continent with Mr. Henry Ellsworth
and his wife. Mr. Ellsworth, the son of his old friend, had been
appointed attache to the American Legation at Stockholm. Morse's letters
to his daughter give a detailed account of his journey, but I shall give
only a few extracts from them:--

"_Hamburg, September 27, 1845._ Everything being ready on the morning of
the 17th instant, we left Brompton Square in very rainy and stormy
weather, and drove down to the Custom-house wharf and went on board our
destined steamer, the William Joliffe, a dirty, black-looking, tub-like
thing, about as large but not half so neat as a North River wood-sloop.
The wind was full from the Southwest, blowing a gale with rain, and I
confess I did not much fancy leaving land in so unpromising a craft and
in such weather; yet our vessel proved an excellent seaboat, and,
although all were sick on board but Mr. Ellsworth and myself, we had a
safe but rough passage across the boisterous North Sea."

Stopping but a short time in Rotterdam, the party proceeded through the
Hague and Haarlem to Amsterdam, and from the latter place they visited
the village of Broek:--

"The inn at Broek was another example of the same neatness. Here we took
a little refreshment before going into the village. We walked of course,
for no carriage, not even a wheelbarrow, appeared to be allowed any more
than in a gentleman's parlor. Everything about the exterior of the houses
and gardens was as carefully cared for as the furniture and
embellishments of the interior. The streets (or rather alleys, like those
of a garden) were narrow and paved with small variously colored bricks
forming every variety of ornamental figures. The houses, from the highest
to the lowest class, exhibited not merely comfort but luxury, yet it was
a selfish sort of luxury. The perpetually closed door and shut-up rooms
of ceremony, the largest and most conspicuous of all in the house, gave
an air of inhospitableness which, I should hope, was not indicative of
the real character of the inhabitants. Yet it seemed to be a deserted
village, a place of the dead rather than of the living, an ornamental
graveyard. The liveliness of social beings was absent and was even
inconsistent with the superlative neatness of all around us. It was a
best parlor out-of-doors, where the gayety of frolicking children would
derange the set order of the furniture, or an accidental touch of a
sacrilegious foot might scratch the polish of a fresh-varnished fence, or
flatten down the nap of the green carpet of grass, every blade of which
is trained to grow exactly so.

"The grounds and gardens of a Mr. Vander Beck were, indeed, a curiosity
from the strange mixture of the useful with the ridiculously ornamental.
Here were the beautiful banks of a lake and Nature's embellishment of
reeds and water plants, which, for a wonder, were left to grow in their
native luxuriance, and in the midst a huge pasteboard or wooden swan, and
a wooden mermaid of tasteless proportions blowing from a conchshell. In
another part was a cottage with puppets the size of life moving by
clock-work; a peasant smoking and turning a reel to wind off the thread
which his 'goed vrow' is spinning upon a wheel, while a most sheep-like
dog is made to open his mouth and to bark--a dog which is, doubtless, the
progenitor of all the barking, toy-shop dogs of the world. Directly in
the vicinity is a beautiful grapery, with the richest clusters of grapes
literally covering the top, sides and walls of the greenhouse, which
stands in the midst of a garden, gay with dahlias and amaranths and every
variety of flowers, with delicious fruits thickly studding the
well-trained trees. Everything, however, was cut up into miniature
landscapes; little bridges and little temples adorned little canals and
little mounds, miniature representations of streams and bills.

"We visited the residence of the burgomaster. He was away and his
servants permitted us to see the house. It was cleaning-day. Everything
in the house was in keeping with the character of the village. But the
kitchen! how shall I describe it? The polished marble floor, the dressers
with glass doors like a bookcase, to keep the least particle of dust from
the bright-polished utensils of brass and copper. The varnished mahogany
handle of the brass spigot, lest the moisture of the hand in turning it
should soil its polish, and, will you believe it, the very pothooks as
well as the cranes (for there were two), in the fireplace were as bright
as your scissors!

"Broek is certainly a curiosity. It is unique, but the impression left
upon me is not, on the whole, agreeable. I should not be contented to
live there. It is too ridiculously and uncomfortably nice. Fancy a lady
always dressed throughout the day in her best evening-party dress, and
say if she could move about with that ease which she would like. Such,
however, must be the feeling of the inhabitants of Broek; they must be in
perpetual fear, not only of soiling or deranging their clothes merely,
but their very streets every step they take. But good-bye to Broek. I
would not have missed seeing it but do not care to see it again."

Holland, which he had never visited before, interested him greatly, but
he could not help saying: "One feels in Holland like being in a ship,
constantly liable to spring a leak."

Hamburg he found more to his taste:--

"_September 26._ Hamburg, you may remember, was nearly destroyed by fire
in 1842. It is now almost rebuilt and in a most splendid style of
architecture. I am much prepossessed in its favor. We have taken up our
quarters at the Victoria Hotel, one of the splendid new hotels of the
city. I find the season so far advanced in these northern regions that I
am thinking of giving up my journey farther north. My matters in London
will demand all my spare time."

"_September 30._ The windows of my hotel look out upon the Alster Basin,
a beautiful sheet of water, three sides of which are surrounded with
splendid houses. Boats and swans are gliding over the glassy surface,
giving, with the well-dressed promenaders along the shores, an air of
gayety and liveliness to the scene."

It will not be necessary to follow the traveller step by step during this
visit to Europe. He did not go to Sweden and Russia, as he had at first
planned, for he learned that the Emperor of Russia was in the South, and
that nothing could be accomplished in his absence. He, therefore,
returned to London from Hamburg. He was respectfully received everywhere
and his invention was recognized as being one of great merit and
simplicity, but it takes time for anything new to make its way. This is,
perhaps, best summed up in the words of Charles T. Fleischmann, who at
that time was agent of the United States Patent Office, and was
travelling through Europe collecting information on agriculture,
education, and the arts. He was a good friend of Morse's and an
enthusiastic advocate of his invention. He carried with him a complete
telegraphic outfit and lost no opportunity to bring it to the notice of
the different governments visited by him, and his official position gave
him the entree everywhere. Writing from Vienna on October 7, he says:--

"There is no doubt Morse's telegraph is the best of that description I
have yet seen, but the difficulty of introducing it is in this
circumstance, that every scientific man invents a similar thing and,
without having the practical experience and practical arrangement which
make Morse's so preferable, they will experiment a few miles' distance
only, and no doubt it works; but, when they come to put it up at a great
distance, then they will find that their experience is not sufficient,
and must come back ultimately to Morse's plan. The Austrian Government is
much occupied selecting out of many plans (of telegraphs) one for her
railroads. I have offered Morse's and proposed experiments. I am
determined to stay for some time, to give them a chance of making up
their minds."

Two other young Americans, Charles Robinson and Charles L. Chapin, were
also travelling around Europe at this time for the purpose of introducing
Morse's invention, but, while all these efforts resulted in the ultimate
adoption by all the nations of Europe, and then of the world, of this
system, the superiority of which all were compelled, sometimes
reluctantly, to admit, no arrangement was made by which Morse and his
co-proprietors benefited financially. The gain in fame was great, in
money nil. It was, therefore, with mixed feelings that Morse wrote to his
brother from Paris on November 1:--

"I am still gratified in verifying the fact that my Telegraph is ahead of
all the other systems proposed. Wheatstone's is not adopted here. The
line from Paris to Rouen is not on his plan, but is an experimental line
of the Governmental Commission. I went to see it yesterday with my old
friend the Administrator-in-Chief of the Telegraphs of France, Mr. Poy,
who is one of the committee to decide on the best mode for France. The
system on this line is his modification.... I have had a long interview
with M. Arago. He is the same affable and polite man as in 1839. He is a
warm friend of mine and contends for priority in my favor, and is also
partial to my telegraphic system as the best. He is President of the
Commission and is going to write the History of Electric Telegraphs. I
shall give him the facts concerning mine. The day after to-morrow I
exhibit my telegraphic system again to the Academy of Sciences, and am in
the midst of preparations for a day important to me. I have strong hopes
that mine will be the system adopted, but there may be obstacles I do not
see. Wheatstone, at any rate, is not in favor here....

"I like the French. Every nation has its defects and I could wish many
changes here, but the French are a fine people. I receive a welcome here
to which I was a perfect stranger in England. How deep this welcome may
be I cannot say, but if one must be cheated I like to have it done in a
civil and polite way."

He sums up the result of his European trip in a letter to his daughter,
written from London on October 9, as he was on his way to Liverpool from
where he sailed on November 19, 1845:--

"I know not what to say of my telegraphic matters here yet. There is
nothing decided upon and I have many obstacles to contend against,
particularly the opposition of the proprietors of existing telegraphs;
but that mine is the best system I have now no doubt. All that I have
seen, while they are ingenious, are more complicated, more expensive,
less efficient and easier deranged. It may take some time to establish
the superiority of mine over the others, for there is the usual array of
prejudice and interest against a system which throws others out of use."


DECEMBER 20, 1845--APRIL 18, 1849

Return to America.--Telegraph affairs in bad shape.--Degree of LL.D. from
Yale.--Letter from Cambridge Livingston.--Henry O'Reilly.--Grief at
unfaithfulness of friends.--Estrangement from Professor Henry.--Morse's
"Defense."--His regret at feeling compelled to publish it.--Hopes to
resume his brush.--Capitol panel.--Again disappointed.--Another
accident.--First money earned from telegraph devoted to religious
purposes.--Letters to his brother Sidney.--Telegraph matters.--Mexican
War.--Faith in the future.--Desire to be lenient to opponents.--Dr.
Jackson.--Edward Warren.--Alfred Vail remains loyal.--Troubles in
Virginia.--Henry J. Rogers.--Letter to J.D. Reid about O'Reilly.--F.O.J.
Smith again.--Purchases a home at last.--"Locust Grove," on the Hudson,
near Poughkeepsie.--Enthusiastic description.--More troubles without, but
peace in his new home.

Having established to his satisfaction the fact that his system was
better than any of the European plans, which was the main object of his
trip abroad, Morse returned to his native land, but not to the rest and
quiet which he had so long desired. Telegraph lines were being pushed
forward in all directions, but the more the utility of this wonderful new
agent was realized, the greater became the efforts to break down the
lawful rights of the patentees, and competing lines were, hurriedly built
on the plea of fighting a baleful monopoly by the use of the inventions
of others, said to be superior. Internal dissensions also arose in the
ranks of the workers on the Morse lines, and some on whom he had relied
proved faithless, or caused trouble in other ways. But, while these
clouds arose to darken his sky, there was yet much sunshine to gladden
his heart. His health was good, his children and the families of his
brothers were well and prosperous. In the year 1846 his patent rights
were extended for another period of years, and he was gradually
accumulating a competence as the various lines in which he held stock
began to declare dividends. In addition to all this his fame had so
increased that he was often alluded to in the papers as "the idol of the
nation," and honorary degrees were conferred on him by various
institutions both at home and abroad. Of these the one that, perhaps,
pleased him the most was the degree of LL.D. bestowed by his _alma
mater_, Yale. He alludes to it with pride in many of his letters to his
brother Sidney, and once playfully suggests that it must mean "Lightning
Line Doctor."

One of the first letters which he received on his return to America was
from Cambridge Livingston, dated December 20, 1845, and reads as

"The Trustees of the New York and Boston Magnetic Telegraph Association
are getting up a certificate of stock, and are desirous of making it neat
and appropriate. It has seemed to me very desirable that one of its
decorations should be your coat of arms, and if you will do me the favor
to transmit a copy, or a wax impression of the same, I shall be much

To this Morse replied:--

"I send you a sketch of the Morse coat of arms, according to your
request, to do as you please with it. I am no advocate of heraldic
devices, but the _motto_ in this case sanctions it with me. I wish to
live and die in its spirit:--

"'_Deo non armis fido._'"

I have said that many on whom Morse relied proved faithless, and, while I
do not intend to go into the details of all these troubles, it is only
right that, in the interest of historical truth, some mention should be
made of some of these men. The one who, next to F.O.J. Smith, caused the
most trouble to Morse and his associates, was Henry O'Reilly. Mr. Reid,
in his "Telegraph in America," thus describes him:--

"Henry O'Reilly was in many respects a wonderful man. His tastes were
cultivated. His instincts were fine. He was intelligent and genial. His
energy was untiring, his hopefulness shining. His mental activity and
power of continuous labor were marvellous. He was liberal, generous,
profuse, full of the best instincts of his nation. But he lacked prudence
in money matters, was loose in the use of it, had little veneration for
contracts, was more anxious for personal fame than wealth. He formed and
broke friendships with equal rapidity, was bitter in his hates, was
impatient of restraint. My personal attachment to him was great and
sincere. We were friends for many years until he became the agent of
F.O.J. Smith, and my duties threw me in collision with him."

It was not until some years after his first connection with the
telegraph, in 1845, that O'Reilly turned against Morse and his
associates. This will be referred to at the proper time, but I have
introduced him now to give point to the following extract from a letter
of his to Morse, dated December 28, 1845:--

"Do you recollect a person who, while under your hands for a
daguerreotype in 1840-41, broke accidentally an eight-dollar lens? Tho'
many tho't you 'visionary' in your ideas of telegraphic communication,
that person, you may recollect, took a lively interest in the matter, and
made some suggestions about the propriety of pressing the matter
energetically upon Congress and upon public attention. You seemed then to
feel pleased to find a person who took so lively an interest in your
invention, and you will see by the enclosed circular that that person
(your humble servant) has not lost any of his early confidence in its
value. May you reap an adequate reward for the glorious thought!"

It was one of life's little ironies that the man who could thus call down
good fortune on the head of the inventor should soon after become one of
the chief instruments in the effort to rob him of his "adequate reward,"
and his good name as well. Morse had such bitter experiences with several
persons, who turned from friends to enemies, that it is no wonder he
wrote as follows to Vail some time after this date:--

"I am grieved to say that many things have lately come to my knowledge in
regard to ---- that show double-dealing. Be on your guard. I hope it is
but appearance, and that his course may be cleared up by subsequent

"I declare to you that I have seen so much duplicity in those in whom I
had confided as friends, that I feel in danger of entertaining suspicions
of everybody. I have hitherto thought you were too much inclined to be
suspicious of people, but I no longer think so.

"Keep this to yourself. It may be that appearances are deceptive, and I
would not wrong one whom I had esteemed as a real friend without the
clearest evidence of unfaithfulness. Yet when appearances are against, it
is right to be cautious."

The name of the person referred to is left blank in the copy of this
letter which I have, so I do not know who it was, but the sentiments
would apply to several of the early workers in the establishment of the

I have said that Morse, being only human, was sometimes guilty of errors
of judgment, but, in a careful study of the facts, the wonder is great
that he committed so few. It is an ungracious task for a son to call
attention to anything but the virtues of his father, especially when any
lapses were the result of great provocation, and were made under the firm
conviction that he was in the right. Yet in the interest of truth it is
best to state the facts fairly and dispassionately, and let posterity
judge whether the virtues do not far outweigh the faults. Such an error
was committed, in my judgment, by Morse in the bitter controversy which
arose between him and Professor Joseph Henry, and I shall briefly sketch
the origin and progress of this regrettable incident.

In 1845, Alfred Vail compiled and published a "History of the American
Electro-Magnetic Telegraph." In this work hardly any mention was made of
the important discoveries of Professor Henry, and this caused that
gentleman to take great offense, as he believed that Morse was the real
author of the work, or had, at least, given Vail all the materials. As a
matter of fact he had given Vail only his notes on European telegraphs
and had not seen the proofs of the work, which was published while he was
absent in Europe. As soon as Morse was made aware of Henry's feelings, he
wrote to him regretting the omission and explaining his innocence in the
matter, and he also draughted a letter, at Vail's request, which the
latter copied and sent to Henry, stating that he, Vail, had been unable
to obtain the particulars of Henry's discoveries, and that, if he had
offended, he had done so innocently.

Henry was an extremely sensitive man and he paid no attention to Vail's
letter, and sent only a curt acknowledgment of the receipt of Morse's.
However, at a meeting somewhat later, the misunderstanding seemed to be
smoothed over, on the assurance that, in a second edition of Vail's work,
due credit should be given to Henry, and that whenever Morse had the
opportunity he would gladly accord to that eminent man the discoveries
which were his. There never was a true second edition of Vail's book, but
in 1847 a few more copies were struck off from the old plates and the
date was, unfortunately, changed from 1845 to 1847. Henry, naturally,
looked upon this as a second edition and his resentment grew.

Morse's opportunity to do public honor to Henry came in 1848, when
Professor Sears C. Walker, of the Coast Survey, published a report
containing some remarks on the "Theory of Morse's Electro-Magnetic
Telegraph." When Professor Walker submitted this report to Morse the
latter said: "I have now the long-wished-for opportunity to do justice
publicly to Henry's discovery bearing upon the telegraph. I should like
to see him, however, previously, and learn definitely what he claims to
have discovered. I will then prepare a paper to be appended and published
as a note, if you see fit, to your Report."

This paper was written by Morse and sent to Professor Walker with the
request that it be submitted to Professor Henry for his revision, which
was done, but it was not included in Professor Walker's report, and this
naturally nettled Morse, who also had sensitive nerves, and so the breach
was widened. In this paper, after giving a brief history of electric
discoveries bearing on the telegraph, and of his own inventions, Morse
sums up:--

"While, therefore, I claim to be the first to propose the use of the
_electro-magnet for telegraphic purposes_, and the _first_ to _construct
a telegraph on the basis of the electro-magnet_, yet to Professor Henry
is unquestionably due the honor of the _discovery of a fact in science_
which proves the practicability of exciting magnetism through a long coil
or at a distance, either to _deflect a needle_ or _to magnetize soft

I wish he had never revised this opinion, although he was sincere in
thinking that a more careful study of the subject justified him in doing

A few years afterwards Morse and his associates became involved in a
series of bitterly contested litigations with parties interested in
breaking down the original patent rights, and Henry was called as a
witness for the opponents of Morse.

He gave his testimony with great reluctance, but it was tinged with the
bitterness caused by the failure of Vail to do him justice and his
apparent conviction that Morse was disingenuous. He denied to the latter
any scientific discoveries, and gave the impression (at least, to others)
that Henry, and not Morse, was the real inventor of the telegraph. His
testimony was used by the enemies of Morse, both at home and abroad, to
invalidate the claims of the latter, and, stung by these aspersions on
his character and attainments, and urged thereto by injudicious friends,
Morse published a lengthy pamphlet entitled: "A Defense against the
Injurious Deductions drawn from the Deposition of Professor Joseph
Henry." In this pamphlet he not only attempted to prove that he owed
nothing to the discoveries of Henry, but he called in question the
truthfulness of that distinguished man.

The breach between these two honorable, highly sensitive men was now
complete, and it was never healed.

The consensus of scientific opinion gives to Henry's discoveries great
value in the invention of the telegraph. While they did not constitute a
true telegraph in themselves; while they needed the inventions and
discoveries, and, I might add, the sublime faith and indomitable
perseverance of Morse to make the telegraph a commercial success; they
were, in my opinion, essential to it, and Morse, I think, erred in
denying this. But, from a thorough study of his character, we must give
him the credit of being sincere in his denial. Henry, too, erred in
ignoring the advances of Morse and Vail and in his proud sensitiveness.
Professor Leonard D. Gale, the friend of both men, makes the following
comment in a letter to Morse of February 9, 1852: "I fear Henry and I
shall never again be on good terms. He is as cold as a polar berg, and, I
am informed, very sensitive. It has been said by some busybody that his
testimony was incompatible with mine, and so a sort of feeling is
manifested as if it were so. I have said nothing about it yet." It would
have been more dignified on the part of Morse to have disregarded the
imputations contained in Henry's testimony, or to have replied much more
briefly and dispassionately. On the other hand, the provocation was great
and he was egged on by others, partly from motives of self-interest and
partly from a sincere desire on the part of his friends that he should
justify himself.

In a long letter to Vail, of January 15, 1851, in which he details the
whole unfortunate affair, he says: "If there was a man in the world, not
related to me, for whom I had conceived not merely admiration but
affection, it was for Professor Joseph Henry. I think you will remember,
and can bear me witness, that I often expressed the wish that I was able
to put several thousand dollars at his service for scientific
investigation.... The whole case has saddened me more than I can express.
I have to fight hard against misanthropy, friend Vail, and I have found
the best antidote to be, when the fit is coming on me, to seek out a case
of suffering and to relieve it, that the act in the one case may
neutralize the feeling in the other, and thus restore the balance in the

In taking leave for the present of this unfortunate controversy I shall
quote from the "Defense," to show that Morse sincerely believed it his
duty to act as he did, but that he acted with reluctance:--

"That I have been slow to complain of the injurious character of his
testimony; that I have so long allowed, almost entirely uncontradicted,
its distortions to have all their legal weight against me in four
separate trials, without public exposure and for a space of four years of
time, will at least show, I humbly contend, my reluctance to appear
opposed to him, even when self-defence is combined with the defence of
the interests of a large body of assignees.... Painful, therefore, as is
the task imposed upon me, I cannot shrink from it, but shall endeavor so
to perform it as rather to parry the blows that have been aimed at me
than to inflict any in return. If what I say shall wound, it shall be
from the severity of the simple truth itself rather than from the manner
of setting it forth."

In the year 1846 there still remained one panel in the rotunda of the
Capitol at Washington to be filled by an historical painting. It had been
assigned to Inman, but, that artist having recently died, Morse's
friends, artists and others, sent a petition to Congress urging the
appointment of Morse in his place. Referring to this in a letter to his
brother Sidney, dated March 28, he says:--

"In regard to the rotunda picture I learn that my friends are quite
zealous, and it is not improbable that it may be given me to execute. If
so, what should you say to seeing me in Paris?

"However, this is but castle-building. I am quite indifferent as to the
result except that, in case it is given me, I shall be restored to my
position as an artist by the same power that prostrated me, and then
shall I not more than ever have cause to exclaim: 'Surely Thou hast led
me in away which I knew not'? I have already, in looking back, seen
enough of the dealings of Providence with me to excite my wonder and
gratitude. How singularly has my way been hedged up in my profession at
the very moment when, to human appearance, everything seemed prosperously
tending to the accomplishment of my desire in painting a national
picture. The language of Providence in all his dealings with me has been
almost like that to Abraham: 'Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac whom
thou lovest, and offer him for a burnt offering,' etc.

"It has always seemed a mystery to me how I should have been led on to
the acquirement of the knowledge I possess of painting, with so much
sacrifice of time and money, and through so many anxieties and
perplexities, and then suddenly be stopped as if a wall were built across
my path, so that I could pursue my profession no longer. But, I believe,
I had grace to trust in God in the darkest hour of trial, persuaded that
He could and would clear up in his own time and manner all the mystery
that surrounded me.

"And now, if not greatly deceived, I have a glimpse of his wonderful,
truly wonderful, mercy towards me. He has chosen thus to order events
that my mind might be concentrated upon that invention which He has
permitted to be born for the blessing, I trust, of the world. And He has
chosen me as the instrument, and given me the honor, and at the moment
when all has been accomplished which is essential to its success, He so
orders events as again to turn my thoughts to my almost sacrificed

In this, however, he did not read the fates aright, for a letter from his
friend, Reverend E. Goodrich Smith, dated March 2, 1847, conveys the
following intelligence: "I have just learned to-day that, with their
usual discrimination and justice, Congress have voted $6000 to have the
panel filled by young Powell. He enlisted all Ohio, and they all
electioneered with all their might, and no one knew that the question
would come up. New York, I understand, went for you. I hope, however, you
may yet yourself resume the pencil, and furnish the public the most
striking commentary on their utter disregard of justice, by placing
somewhere 'The Germ of the Republic' in such colors that shall make them
blush and hang their heads to think themselves such men."

But, while he was to be blessed in the fulfilment, of a long cherished
dream, it was not the dream of painting a great historic picture. He
never seriously touched a brush again, for all his energies were needed
in the defence of himself and his invention from defamation and attack.

In the summer of 1846 he met with another accident giving him a slight
period of rest which he would not otherwise have taken. He writes of it
to his brother on July 30: "On Monday last I had the misfortune to fall,
into one of those mantraps on Broadway, set principally to break people's
legs and maim them, and _incidentally_ for the deposit of the coal of the

Vail refers jestingly to this mishap in a letter of August 21: "I trust
your unfortunate and unsuccessful attempt to get down cellar has not been
a serious affair."

And Morse replies in the same vein: "My _cellar experiment_ was not so
unsuccessful as you imagine. I succeeded to my entire satisfaction in
taking three inches of skin, a little of the flesh and a trifle of bone
from the front of my left leg, and, as the result, got one week's entire
leisure with my leg in a chair. The experiment was so satisfactory that I
deem it needless to try it again, having established beyond a doubt that

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