skin, flesh and bone are no match against wood, iron and stone. I am entirely well of it and enjoyed my visit to the western lines very much.”
It was characteristic of Morse that the first money which he received from the actual sale of his patent rights ($45 for the right to use his patent on a short line from the Post-Office to the National Observatory in Washington) was devoted by him to a religious purpose. From a letter of October 20, 1846, we learn that, adding $5 to this sum, he presented $25 to a Sunday School, and $25 to the fund for repairs.
The attachment of the three Morse brothers to each other was intense, and lasted to the end of their lives. The letters of Finley Morse to his brother Sidney, in particular, would alone fill a volume and are of great interest. Most of them have never before been published and I shall quote from them freely in following Morse’s career.
Sidney and his family were still in Europe, and the two following extracts are from letters to him:–
“_October 29, 1846._ I don’t know where this will find you, but, as the steamer Caledonia goes in a day or two, and as I did not write you by the last steamer, I thought I would occupy a few moments (not exactly of leisure) to write you…. Charles has little to do, but does all he can. He is desirous of a farm and I have made up my mind to indulge him…. I shall go up the river in a day or two and look in the vicinity of Po’keepsie….
“Telegraph matters are every day assuming a more and more interesting aspect. All physical and scientific difficulties are vanquished. If conductors are well put up there is nothing more to wish for in the facilities of intercourse. My operators can easily talk with each other as fast as persons usually write, and faster than this would be faster than is necessary. The Canadians are alive on the subject, and lines are projected from Toronto to Montreal, from Montreal to Quebec and to Halifax. Lines are also in contemplation from Toronto to Detroit, on the Canada side, and from Buffalo to Chicago on this side, so that it may not be visionary to say that our first news from England may reach New York via Halifax, Detroit, Buffalo and Albany….
“The papers will inform you of the events of the war. Our people are united on this point so far as to pursue it with vigor to a speedy termination. However John Bull may sneer and endeavor to detract from the valor of our troops, his own annals do not furnish proofs of greater skill and more fearless daring and successful result. The Mexican race is a worn-out race, and God in his Providence is taking this mode to regenerate them. Whatever may be the opinions of some in relation to the justness or unjustness of our quarrel, there ought to be but one opinion among all good men, and that should be that the moment should be improved to throw a light into that darkened nation, and to raise a standard there which, whatever may become of the Stars and Stripes, or Eagle and Prickly Pear, shall be never taken down till all nations have flocked to it. Our Bible and Tract Societies and missionaries ought to be in the wake of our armies.”
“_January 28, 1847._ Telegraph matters are becoming more and more interesting. The people of the country everywhere are desirous of availing themselves of its facilities, and the lines are being extended in all directions. As might be expected then, I have my plans interfered with by mercenary speculators who threaten to put up rival telegraphs and contest my patent. _I am ready for them._ We have had to apply for an injunction on the Philadelphia and Pittsburg line. The case is an aggravated one and will be decided on Monday or Tuesday at Philadelphia in Circuit Court of United States. I have no uneasiness as to the result. [It was decided against him, however, but this proved only a temporary check.]
“There are more F.O.Js. than one, yet not one quite so bad. I think amid all the scramble I shall probably have enough come to my share, and it does not matter by what means our Heavenly Father chooses to curtail my receipts, for I shall have just what he pleases, none can hinder it, and more I do not want…. House and his associates are making most strenuous efforts to interfere and embarrass me by playing on the ignorance of the public and the natural timidity of capitalists. I shall probably have to lay the law on him and make an example before my patent is confirmed in the minds of the public. It is the course, I am told, of every substantial patent. It has to undergo the ordeal of one trial in the courts….
“Although I thus write, you need have no fears that my operations will be seriously affected by any schemes of common letter printing telegraphs. I have just filed a caveat for one which I have invented, which as far transcends in simplicity and efficiency any previous plan for the purpose, as my telegraph system is superior to the old visual telegraphs. I will have it in operation by the time you return.”
Apropos of the attacks made upon him by would-be infringers, the following from a letter of his legal counsel, Daniel Lord, Esq., dated January 12, 1847, may not come amiss: “It ought to be a source of great satisfaction to you to have your invention stolen and counterfeited. Think what an acknowledgment it is, and what a tribute to its merits.”
Referring to this in a letter to Mr. Lord of a later date, Morse answers: “The plot thickens all around me; I think a _denouement_ not far off. I remember your consoling me under these attacks with bidding me think that I had invented something worth contending for. Alas! my dear sir, what encouragement is there to an inventor if, after years of toil and anxiety, he has only purchased for himself the pleasure of being a target for every vile fellow to shoot at, and, in proportion as his invention is of public utility, so much the greater effort is to be made to defame, that the robbery may excite the less sympathy? I know, however, that beyond all this is a clear sky, but the clouds may not break away until I am no longer personally interested whether it be foul or fair. I wish not to complain, but I have feelings and cannot play the stoic if I would.”
It was a new experience for Morse to become involved in the intricacies of the law, and, in a letter to a friend, Henry I. Williams, Esq., dated February 22, 1847, he naively remarks: “A student all my life, mostly in a profession which is adverse in its habits and tastes from those of the business world, and never before engaged in a lawsuit, I confess to great ignorance even of the ordinary, commonplace details of a court.”
His desire to be both just and merciful is shown in a letter to Mr. Kendall, written on February 16, just before the decision was rendered against him: “I have been in court all day, and have been much pleased with the clearness and, I think, conclusiveness of Mr. Miles’s argument. I think he has produced an evident change in the views of the judge. Yet it is best to be prepared for the worst, and, even if we succeed in getting the injunction, I wish as much leniency as possible to be shown to the opposing parties. Indeed, in this I know my views are seconded by you. However we may have ‘spoken daggers,’ let us use none, and let us make every allowance for honest mistake, even where appearances are at first against such a supposition. O’Reilly may have acted hastily, under excitement, under bad advisement, and in that mood have taken wrong steps. Yet I still believe he may be recovered, and, while I would use every precaution to protect our just rights, I wish not to take a single step that can be misconstrued into vindictiveness or triumph.”
It was well that it was his invariable rule to be prepared for the worst, for, writing to his brother Sidney on February 24, he says: “We have just had a lawsuit in Philadelphia before Judge Kane. We applied for an injunction to stay irregular and injurious proceedings on the part of Western (Pittsburg and Cincinnati) Company, and our application has been _refused_ on technical grounds. I know not what will be the issue. I am trying to have matters compromised, but do not know if it can be done, and we may have to contest it in _law_. Our application was in court of equity. A movement of Smith was the cause of all.”
Another sidelight is thrown on Morse’s character by the following extract from a letter to one of his lieutenants, T.S. Faxton, written on March 15: “We must raise the salaries of our operators or they will all be taken from us, that is, all that are good for anything. You will recollect that, at the first meeting of the Board of Directors, I took the ground that ‘it was our policy to make the office of operator desirable, to pay operators well and make their situation so agreeable that intelligent men and men of character will seek the place and dread to lose it.’ I still think so, and, depend upon it, it is the soundest economy to act on this principle.”
Just about this time, to add to Morse’s other perplexities, Doctor Charles T. Jackson began to renew his claims to the invention of the telegraph, while also disputing with Morton the discovery of ether as an anaesthetic, then called “Letheon,” and claiming the invention of gun-cotton and the discovery of the circulation of the blood. Morse found a willing and able champion in Edward Warren, Esq., of Boston, and many letters passed between them. As Jackson’s wild claims were effectually disposed of, I shall not dwell upon this source of annoyance, but shall content myself with one extract from a letter to Mr. Warren of March 23: “I wish not to attack Dr. Jackson nor even to defend myself in _public_ from his _private_ attacks. If in any of his publications he renews his claim, which I consider as long since settled by default, then it will be time and proper for me to notice him…. The most charitable construction of the Dr’s. conduct is to attribute it to a monomania induced by excessive vanity.”
While many of those upon whom he had looked as friends turned against him in the mad scramble for power and wealth engendered by the extension of the telegraph lines, it is gratifying to turn to those who remained true to him through all, and among these none was more loyal than Alfred Vail. Their correspondence, which was voluminous, is always characterized by the deepest confidence and affection. In a long letter of March 24, Vail shows his solicitude for Morse’s peace of mind: “I think I would not be bothered with a directorship in the New York and Buffalo line, nor in any other. I should wish to keep clear of them. It will only tend to harass and vex when you should be left quiet and undisturbed to pursue your improvements and the enjoyment of what is most gratifying to you.”
And Morse, writing to Vail somewhat later in this same year, exclaims: “You say you hope I shall not forget that we have spent many hours together. You might have added ‘happy hours.’ I have tried you, dear Vail, as a friend, and think I know you as a zealous and honest one.”
Still earlier, on March 18, 1845, in one of his reports to the Postmaster-General, Cave Johnson, he adds: “In regard to the salary of the ‘one clerk at Washington–$1200,’ Mr. Vail, who would from the necessity of the case take that post, is my right-hand man in the whole enterprise. He has been with me from the year 1837, and is as familiar with all the mechanism and scientific arrangements of the Telegraph as I am myself…. His time and talent are more essential to the success of the Telegraph than [those of] any two persons that could be named.”
Returning now to the letters to his brother Sidney, I shall give the following extracts:–
“_March 29, 1847._ I am now in New York permanently; that is I have no longer any official connection with Washington, and am thinking of _fixing_ somewhere so soon as I can get my telegraphic matters into such a state as to warrant it; but my patience is still much tried. Although the enterprise looks well and is prospering, yet somehow I do not command the cash as some business men would if they were in the same situation. The property is doubtless good and is increasing, but I cannot use it as I could the money, for, while everybody seems to think I have the wealth of John Jacob, the only sum I have actually realized is my first dividend on one line, about fourteen hundred dollars, and with this I cannot purchase a house. But time will, perhaps, enable me to do so, if it is well that I should have one…. I have had some pretty threatening obstacles, but they as yet are summer clouds which seem to be dissipating through the smiles of our Heavenly Father. House’s affair I think is dead. I believe it has been held up by speculators to drive a better bargain with me, thinking to scare me; but they don’t find me so easily frightened. In Virginia I had to oppose a most bigoted, narrow, illiberal clique in a railroad company, which had the address to get a bill through the House of Delegates giving them actually the monopoly of telegraphs, and ventured to halloo before they were out of the woods. Mr. Kendall went post-haste to Richmond, met the bill and its supporters before the Committee of the Senate, and, after a sharp contest, procured its rejection in the Senate, and the adoption, by a vote of 13 to 7, of a substitute granting me _right of way_ and _corporate powers_, which bill, after violent opposition in the House, was finally passed, 44 to 27. So a mean intrigue was defeated most signally, and I came off triumphant.”
“_April 27._ This you will recognize by the date is my birthday; 36 years old. Only think, I shall never be 26 again. Don’t you wish you were as young as I am? Well, if _feelings_ determined age I should be in reality what I have above stated, but that leaf in the family Bible, those boys and that daughter, those nieces and nephews of younger brothers, and especially that _grandson_, they all concur in putting twenty years more to those 36. I cannot get them off; there they are 56!…
“There is an underhand intrigue against my telegraph interests in Virginia, fostered by a friend turned enemy in the hope to better his own interests, a man whom I have ever treated as a friend while I had the governmental patronage to bestow, and gave him office in Baltimore. Having no more of patronage to give I have no more friendship from him. Mr. R. has proved himself false, notwithstanding his naming his son after me as a proof of friendship.”
The Mr. R. referred to was Henry J. Rogers, and, writing of him to Vail on April 26, Morse says: “I am truly grieved at Rogers’s conduct. He must be conscious of doing great injustice; for a man that has wronged another is sure to invent some cause for his act if there has been none given. In this case he endeavors to excuse his selfish and injurious acts by the false assertion that ‘I had cast him overboard.’ Why, what does he mean? Was I not overboard myself? Does he or anyone else suppose I have nothing else to do than to find them places, and not only intercede for them, which in Rogers’s case and Zantziger’s I have constantly and perseveringly done to the present hour, but I am bound to force the companies, over which I have no control, to take them at any rate, on the penalty of being traduced and injured by them if they do not get the office they seek? As to Rogers, you know my feelings towards him and his. I had received him as a _friend_, not as a mere employee, and let no opportunity pass without urging forward his interests. I recollected his naming his son for me, and had determined, if the wealth actually came which has been predicted to me, that that child should be remembered.”
Always desirous of being just and merciful, Morse writes to Vail on May 1: “Rogers is here. I have had a good deal of conversation with him, and the result is that I think that some circumstances which seemed to inculpate him are explicable on other grounds than intention to injure us.”
But he was finally forced to give him up, for on August 7 he writes: “You cannot tell how pained I am at being compelled to change my opinion of R. Your feelings correspond entirely with my own. I was hoping to do something gratifying to him and his family, and soon should have done it if he would permit it; but no! The mask of friendship covered a deep selfishness that scrupled not to sacrifice a real friendship to a shortsighted and overreaching ambition. Let him go. I wished to befriend him and his, and would have done so from the heart, but as he cannot trust me I have enough who can and do.”
The case of Rogers was typical, and I have, therefore, given it in some detail. It was always a source of grief to Morse when men, whom in his large-hearted way he had admitted to his intimacy, turned against him; and he was called upon to suffer many such blows. He has been accused of having quarrelled with all his associates. This, of course, is not true, for we have only to name Vail, and Gale, and Kendall, and Reid, and a host of others to prove the contrary. But, like all men who have achieved great things, he made bitter enemies, some of whom at first professed sincere friendship for him and were implicitly trusted by him. However, a dispassionate study of all the circumstances leading up to the rupture of these friendly ties will prove that, in practically every case he was sinned against, not sinning.
A letter to James D. Reid, written on December 21, will show that the quality of his mercy was not strained: “You may recollect when I met you in Philadelphia, on the unpleasant business of attending in a court to witness the contest of two parties for their rights, you informed me of the destitute condition of O’Reilly’s family. At that moment I was led to believe, from consultation with the counsel for the Patentees, that the case would undoubtedly go in their (the Patentees’) favor. Your statement touched me, and I could not bear to think that an innocent wife and inoffensive children should suffer, even from the wrong-doing of their proper protector, should this prove to be the case. You remember I authorized you to draw on me for twenty dollars to be remitted to Mr. O’Reilly’s family, and to keep the source from whence it was derived secret. My object in writing is to ask if this was done, and, in case it was, to request you to draw on me for that amount.”
In an earlier letter to his brother he remarks philosophically: “Smith is Smith yet and so likely to be, but I have become used to him and you would be surprised to find how well oil and water appear to agree. There must be crosses and the aim should be rather to bear them gracefully, graciously, and patiently, than to have them removed.”
While thus harassed on all sides by those who would filch from him his good name as well as his purse, his reward was coming to him for the patience and equanimity with which he was bearing his crosses. The longing for a home of his own had been intense all through his life and now, in the evening of his years, this dream was to be realized. He thus announces to his brother the glorious news:–
POUGHKEEPSIE, NORTH RIVER,
July 30, 1847.
In my last I wrote you that I had been looking out for a farm in this region, and gave you a diagram of a place which I fancied. Since then I was informed of a place for sale south of this village 2 miles, on the bank of the river, part of the old Livingston Manor, and far superior. _I have this day concluded a bargain for it._ There are about one hundred acres. I pay for it $17,500.
I am almost afraid to tell you of its beauties and advantages. It is just such a place as in England could not be purchased for double the number of pounds sterling. Its “capabilities,” as the landscape gardeners would say, are unequalled. There is every variety of surface, plain, hill, dale, glens, running streams and fine forest, and every variety of different prospect; the Fishkill Mountains towards the south and the Catskills towards the north; the Hudson with its varieties of river craft, steamboats of all kinds, sloops, etc., constantly showing a varied scene.
[Illustration: HOUSE AT LOCUST GROVE, POUGHKEEPSIE, N.Y.]
I will not enlarge. I am congratulated by all in having made an excellent purchase, and I find a most delightful neighborhood. Within a few miles around, approached by excellent roads, are Mr. Lenox, General Talmadge, Philip Van Rensselaer, etc., on one side; on the other, Harry Livingston, Mrs. Smith Thomson (Judge Thomson’s widow, and sister to the first Mrs. Arthur Breese), Mr. Crosby, Mr. Boorman, etc., etc. The new railroad will run at the foot of the grounds (probably) on the river, and bring New York within two hours of us. There is every faculty for residence–good markets, churches, schools. Take it all in all I think it just the place _for us all_. If you should fancy a spot on it for building, I can accommodate you, and Richard wants twenty acres reserved for him. Singularly enough this was the very spot where Uncle Arthur found his wife. The old trees are pointed out where he and she used to ramble during their courtship.
On September 12, after again expatiating on the beauties and advantages of his home, he adds: “I have some clouds and mutterings of thunder on the horizon (the necessary attendants, I suppose, of a lightning project) which I trust will give no more of storm than will suffice, under Him who directs the elements, to clear the air and make a serener and calmer sunset.”
On October 12, he announces the name which he has given to his country place, and a singular coincidence:–
“_Locust Grove._ You see by the date where I am. Locust Grove, it seems, was the original name given to this place by Judge Livingston, and, without knowing this fact, I had given the same name to it, so that there is a natural appropriateness in the designation of my home. The wind is howling mournfully this evening, a second edition, I fear, of the late destructive equinoctial, but, dreary as it is out-of-doors, I have comfortable quarters within.”
In the world of affairs the wind was howling, too, and the storm was gathering which culminated in the series of lawsuits brought by Morse and his associates against the infringers on his patents. The letters to his brother are full of the details of these piratical attacks, but throughout all the turmoil he maintained his poise and his faith in the triumph of justice and truth. In the letter just quoted from he says: “These matters do not annoy me as formerly. I have seen so many dark storms which threatened, and particularly in relation to the Telegraph, and I have seen them so often hushed at the ‘Peace, be still’ of our covenant God, that now the fears and anxieties on any fresh gathering soon subside into perfect calm.”
And on November 27, he writes: “The most annoying part of the matter to me is that, notwithstanding my matters are all in the hands of agents and I have nothing to do with any of the arrangements, I am held up by name to the odium of the public. Lawsuits are commenced against them at Cincinnati and will be in Indiana and Illinois as well as here, and so, notwithstanding all my efforts to get along peaceably, I find the fate of Whitney before me. I think I may be able to secure my farm, and so have a place to retire to for the evening of my days, but even this may be denied me. A few months will decide…. You have before you the fate of an inventor, and, take as much pains as you will to secure to yourself your valuable invention, make up your mind from my experience now, in addition to others, that you will be robbed of it and abused into the bargain. This is the lot of a successful inventor or discoverer, and no precaution, I believe, will save him from it. He will meet with a mixed estimate; the enlightened, the liberal, the good, will applaud him and respect him; the sordid, the unprincipled will hate him and detract from his reputation to compass their own contemptible and selfish ends.”
While events in the business world were rapidly converging towards the great lawsuits which should either confirm the inventor’s rights to the offspring of his brain, or deprive him of all the benefits to which he was justly and morally entitled, he continued to find solace from all his cares and anxieties in his new home, with his children and friends around him. He touches on the lights and shadows in a letter to his brother, who was still in England, dated New York, April 19, 1848:–
“I snatch a moment by the Washington, which goes to-morrow, to redeem my character in not having written of late so often as I could wish. I have been so constantly under the necessity of watching the movements of the most unprincipled set of pirates I have ever known, that all my time has been occupied in defense, in putting evidence into something like legal shape that I am the inventor of the Electro-Magnetic Telegraph!! Would you have believed it ten years ago that a question could be raised on that subject? Yet this very morning in the ‘Journal of Commerce’ is an article from a New Orleans paper giving an account of a public meeting convened by O’Reilly, at which he boldly stated that I had ‘_pirated my invention from a German invention_’ a great deal better than mine. And the ‘Journal of Commerce’ has a sort of halfway defense of me which implies there is some doubt on the subject. I have written a note which may appear in to-morrow’s ‘Journal,’ quite short, but which I think, will stop that game here.
“A trial in court is the only event now which will put public opinion right, so indefatigable have these unprincipled men been in manufacturing a spurious public opinion.
“Although these events embarrass me, and I do not receive, and may not receive, my rightful dues, yet I have been so favored by a kind Providence as to have sufficient collected to free my farm from mortgage on the 1st of May, and so find a home, a beautiful home, for me and mine, unencumbered, and sufficient over to make some improvements….
“I do not wish to raise too many expectations, but every day I am more and more charmed with my purchase. I can truly say I have never before so completely realized my wishes in regard to situation, never before found so many pleasant circumstances associated together to make a home agreeable, and, so far as earth is concerned, I only wish now to have you and the rest of the family participate in the advantages with which a kind God has been pleased to indulge me.
“Strange, indeed, would it be if clouds were not in the sky, but the Sun of Righteousness will dissipate as many and as much of them as shall be right and good, and this is all that should be required. I look not for freedom from trials; they must needs be; but the number, the kind, the form, the degree of them, I can safely leave to Him who has ordered and will still order all things well.”
JANUARY 9, 1848–DECEMBER 19, 1849
Preparation for lawsuits.–Letter from Colonel Shaffner.–Morse’s reply deprecating bloodshed.–Shaffner allays his fears.–Morse attends his son’s wedding at Utica.–His own second marriage.–First of great lawsuits.–Almost all suits in Morse’s favor.–Decision of Supreme Court of United States.–Extract from an earlier opinion.–Alfred Vail leaves the telegraph business.–Remarks on this by James D. Reid.–Morse receives decoration from Sultan of Turkey.–Letter to organizers of Printers’ Festival.–Letter concerning aviation.–Optimistic letter from Mr. Kendall.–Humorous letter from George Wood.–Thomas R. Walker.– Letter to Fenimore Cooper.–Dr. Jackson again.–Unfairness of the press. –Letter from Charles C. Ingham on art matters.–Letter from George Vail.–F.O.J. Smith continues to embarrass.–Letter from Morse to Smith.
The year 1848 was a momentous one to Morse in more ways than one. The first of the historic lawsuits was to be begun at Frankfort, Kentucky,– lawsuits which were not only to establish this inventor’s claims, but were to be used as a precedent in all future patent litigation. In his peaceful retreat on the banks of the Hudson he carefully and systematically prepared the evidence which should confound his enemies, and calmly awaited the verdict, firm in his faith that, however lowering the clouds, the sun would yet break through. Finding relaxation from his cares and worries in the problems of his farm, he devoted every spare moment to the life out-of-doors, and drank in new strength and inspiration with every breath of the pure country air. Although soon to pass the fifty-seventh milestone, his sane, temperate habits had kept him young in heart and vigorous in body, and in this same year he was to be rewarded for his long and lonely vigil during the dark decades of his middle life, and to enter upon an Indian Summer of happy family life.
While spending as much time as possible at his beloved Locust Grove, he was yet compelled, in the interests of his approaching legal contests, to consult with his lawyers in New York and Washington, and it was while in the latter city that he received a letter from Colonel Tal. P. Shaffner, one of the most energetic of the telegraph pioneers, and a devoted, if sometimes injudicious, friend. It was he who, more than any one else, was responsible for the publication of Morse’s “Defense” against Professor Henry.
The letter was written from Louisville on January 9, 1848, and contains the following sentences: “We are going ahead with the line to New Orleans. I have twenty-five hands on the road to Nashville, and will put on more next week. I have ten on the road to Frankfort, and my associate has gangs at other parts. O’Reilly has fifteen hands on the Nashville route and I confidently expect a few fights. My men are well armed and I think they can do their duty. I shall be with them when the parties get together, and, if anything does occur, the use of Dupont’s best will be appreciated by me. This is to be lamented, but, if it comes, we shall not back out.”
Deeply exercised, Morse answers him post-haste: “It gives me real pain to learn that there is any prospect of physical collision between the O’Reilly party and ours, and I trust that this may arrive in time to prevent any movement of those friendly to me which shall provoke so sad a result. I emphatically say that, if _the law_ cannot protect me and my rights in your region, I shall never sanction the appeal to force to sustain myself, however conscious of being in the right. I infinitely prefer to suffer still more from the gross injustice of unprincipled men than to gain my rights by a single illegal step…. I hope you will do all in your power to prevent collision. If the parties meet in putting up posts or wires, let our opponents have their way unmolested. I have no patent for putting up posts or wires. They as well as we have a right to put them up. It is the use made of them afterwards which may require legal adjustment. The men employed by each party are not to blame. Let no ill-feeling be fomented between the two, no rivalry but that of doing their work the best; let friendly feeling as between them be cherished, and teach them to refer all disputes to the principals. I wish no one to fight for me physically. He may ‘speak daggers but use none.’ However much I might appreciate his friendship and his motive, it would give me the deepest sorrow if I should learn that a single individual, friend or foe, has been injured in life or limb by any professing friendship for me.”
He was reassured by the following from Colonel Shaffner:–
_”January 27._ Your favor of the 21st was received yesterday. I was sorry that you allowed your feelings to be so much aroused in the case of contemplated difficulties between our hands and those of O’Reilly. They held out the threats that we should not pass them, and we were determined to do it. I had them notified that we were prepared to meet them under any circumstances. We were prepared to have a real ‘hug,’ but, when our hands overtook them, they only ‘yelled’ a little and mine followed, and for fifteen miles they were side by side, and when a man finished his hole, he ran with all his might to get ahead. But finally, on the 24th, we passed them about eighty miles from here, and now we are about twenty-five miles ahead of them without the loss of a drop of blood, and we shall be able to beat them to Nashville, if we can get the wire in time, which is doubtful.”
There were many such stirring incidents in the early history of the telegraph, and the half of them has not been told, thus leaving much material for the future historian.
But, while so much that was exciting was taking place in the outside world, the cause of it all was turning his thoughts towards matters more domestic. On June 13, he writes to his brother: “Charles left me for Utica last evening, and Finley and I go this evening to be present at his marriage on Thursday the 15th.”
It was at his son’s wedding that he was again strongly attracted to his young second cousin (or, to be more exact, his first cousin once removed), the first cousin of his son’s bride, and the result is announced to his brother in a letter of August 7: “Before your return I shall be again married. I leave to-morrow for Utica where cousin (second cousin) Sarah Elizabeth Griswold now is. On Thursday morning the 10th we shall (God willing) be married, and I shall immediately proceed to Louisville and Frankfort in Kentucky to be present at my first suit against O’Reilly, the pirate of my invention. It comes off on the 23d inst. So far as the justice of the case is concerned I am confident of final success, but there are so many crooks in the law that I ought to be prepared for disappointment.”
Continuing, he tells his brother that he has been secretly in love with his future wife for some years: “But, reflecting on it, I found I was in no situation to indulge in any plans of marrying. She had nothing, I had nothing, and the more I loved her the more I was determined to stifle my feelings without hinting to her anything of the matter, or letting her know that I was at all interested in her.”
But now, with increasing wealth, the conditions were changed, and so they were married, and in their case it can with perfect truth be said, “They lived happy ever after,” and failed by but a year of being able to celebrate their silver wedding. Soon a young family grew up around him, to whom he was always a patient and loving father. We his children undoubtedly gave him many an anxious moment, as children have a habit of doing, but through all his trials, domestic as well as extraneous, he was calm, wise, and judicious.
[Illustration: SARAH ELIZABETH GRISWOLD Second wife of S.F.B. Morse]
But now the first of the great lawsuits, which were to confirm Morse’s patent rights or to throw his invention open to the world, was begun, and, with his young bride, he hastened to Frankfort to be present at the trial. To follow these suits through all their legal intricacies would make dry reading and consume reams of paper. Mr. Prime in a footnote remarks: “Mr. Henry O’Reilly has deposited in the Library of the New York Historical Society more than one hundred volumes containing a complete history of telegraphic litigation in the United States. These records are at all times accessible to any persons who wish to investigate the claims and rights of individuals or companies. The _testimony_ alone in the various suits fills several volumes, each as large as this.”
It will, therefore, only be necessary to say that almost all of these suits, including the final one before the Supreme Court of the United States, were decided in Morse’s favor. Every legal device was used against him; his claims and those of others were sifted to the uttermost, and then as now expert opinion was found to uphold both sides of the case. To quote Mr. Prime:
“The decision of the Supreme Court was unanimous on all the points involving the right of Professor Morse to the claim of being the original inventor of the Electro-Magnetic Recording Telegraph. A minority of the court went still further, and gave him the right to the motive power of magnetism as a means of operating machinery to imprint signals or to produce sounds for telegraphic purposes. The testimony of experts in science and art is not introduced because it was thoroughly weighed and sifted by intelligent and impartial men, whose judgment must be accepted as final and sufficient. The justice of the decision has never been impugned. Each succeeding year has confirmed it with accumulating evidence.
“One point was decided against the Morse patent, and it is worthy of being noticed that this decision, which denied to Morse the exclusive use of electromagnetism for recording telegraphs, has never been of injury to his instrument, because no other inventor has devised an instrument to supersede his.
“The court decided that the Electro-Magnetic Telegraph was the sole and exclusive invention of Samuel F.B. Morse. If others could make better instruments for the same purpose, they were at liberty to use electromagnetism. Twenty years have elapsed since this decision was rendered; the Morse patent has expired by limitation of time, but it is still without a rival in any part of the world.”
This was written in 1873, but I think that I am safe in saying that the same is true now after the lapse of forty more years. While, of course, there have been both elaboration and simplification, the basic principle of the universal telegraph of to-day is embodied in the drawings of the sketch-book of 1832, and it was the invention of Morse, and was entirely different from any form of telegraph devised by others.
I shall make but one quotation from the long opinion handed down by the Supreme Court and delivered by Chief Justice Taney:–
“Neither can the inquiries he made, nor the information or advice he received from men of science, in the course of his researches, impair his right to the character of an inventor. No invention can possibly be made, consisting of a combination of different elements of power, without a thorough knowledge of the properties of each of them, and the mode in which they operate on each other. And it can make no difference in this respect whether he derives his information from books, or from men skilled in the science. If it were otherwise, no patent in which a combination of different elements is used could ever be obtained. For no man ever made such an invention without having first obtained this information, unless it was discovered by some fortunate accident. And it is evident that such an invention as the Electro-Magnetic Telegraph could never have been brought into action without it. For a very high degree of scientific knowledge, and the nicest skill in the mechanic arts, are combined in it, and were both necessary to bring it into successful operation. _And the fact that Morse sought and, obtained the necessary information and counsel from the best sources, and acted upon it, neither impairs his rights as an inventor, nor detracts from his merits._”
The italics are mine, for it has over and over been claimed for everybody who had a part in the early history of the telegraph, either by hint, help, or discovery, that more credit should be given to him than to Morse himself–to Henry, to Gale, to Vail, to Doctor Page, and even to F.O.J. Smith. In fact Morse used often to say that some people thought he had no right to claim his invention because he had not discovered electricity, nor the copper from which his wires were made, nor the brass of his instruments, nor the glass of his insulators.
I shall make one other quotation from the opinion of Judge Kane and Judge Grier at one of the earlier trials, in Philadelphia, in 1851:–
“That he, Mr. Morse, was the first to devise and practise the art of recording language, at telegraphic distances, by the dynamic force of the electro-magnet, or, indeed, by any agency whatever, is, to our minds, plain upon all the evidence. It is unnecessary to review the testimony for the purpose of showing this. His application for a patent, in April, 1838, was preceded by a series of experiments, results, illustrations and proofs of final success, which leave no doubt whatever but that his great invention was consummated before the early spring of 1837. There is no one person, whose invention has been spoken of by any witness, or referred to in any book as involving the principle of Mr. Morse’s discovery, but must yield precedence of date to this. Neither Steinheil, nor Cooke and Wheatstone, nor Davy, nor Dyar, nor Henry, had at this time made a recording telegraph of any sort. The devices then known were merely _semaphores_, that spoke to the eye for a moment–bearing about the same relation to the great discovery before us as the Abbe Sicard’s invention of a visual alphabet for the purposes of conversation bore to the art of printing with movable types. Mr. Dyar’s had no recording apparatus, as he expressly tells us, and Professor Henry had contented himself with the abundant honors of his laboratory and lecture-rooms.”
One case was decided against him, but this decision was afterwards overruled by the Supreme Court, so that it caused no lasting injury to his claims.
As decision after decision was rendered in his favor he received the news calmly, always attributing to Divine Providence every favor bestowed upon him. Letters of congratulation poured in on him from his friends, and, among others, the following from Alfred Vail must have aroused mingled feelings of pleasure and regret. It is dated September 21, 1848:–
I congratulate you in your success at Frankfort in arresting thus far that pirate O’Reilly. I have received many a hearty shake from our friends, congratulating me upon the glorious issue of the application for an injunction. The pirate dies hard, and well he may. It is his privilege to kick awhile in this last death struggle. These pirates must be followed up and each in his turn nailed to the wall.
The Wash. & N.O. Co. is at last organized, and for the last three weeks we have received daily communications from N.O. Our prospects are flattering. And what do you think they have done with me? Superintendent of Washington & N.O. line all the way from Washington to Columbia at $900!!!!!
This game will not be played long. I have made up my mind to leave the Telegraph to take care of itself, since it cannot take care of me. I shall, in a few months, leave Washington for New Jersey, family, kit and all, and bid adieu to the subject of the Telegraph for some more profitable business….
I have just finished a most beautiful register with a _pen lever key_ and an expanding reel. Have orders for six of the same kind to be made at once; three for the south and three for the west.
I regret you could not, on your return from the west, have made us at least a flying visit with your charming lady. I am happy to learn that your cup of happiness is so full in the society of one who, I learn from Mr. K., is well calculated to cheer you and relieve the otherwise solitude of your life…. My kindest wishes for yourself and Mrs. Morse, and believe me to be, now as ever,
Mr. James D. Reid in an article in the “Electrical World,” October 12, 1895, after quoting from this letter; adds:–
“The truth is Mr. Vail had no natural aptitude for executive work, and he had a temper somewhat variable and unhappy. He and I got along very well together until I determined to order my own instruments, his being too heavy and too difficult, as I thought, for an operator to handle while receiving. We had our instruments made by the same maker–Clark & Co., Philadelphia. Yet even that did not greatly separate us, and we were always friends. About some things his notions were very crude. It was under his guidance that David Brooks, Henry C. Hepburn and I, in 1845, undertook to insulate the line from Lancaster to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, by saturating bits of cotton cloth in beeswax and wrapping them round projecting arms. The bees enjoyed it greatly, but it spoiled our work.
“But I have no desire to criticize him. He seemed to me to have great opportunities which he did not use. He might have had, I thought, the register work of the country and secured a large business. But it went from him to others, and so he left the field.”
This eventful year of 1848 closed with the great telegraph suits in full swing, but with the inventor calm under all his trials. In a letter, of December 18, to his brother Sidney, who had now returned to America, he says: “My affairs (Telegraphically) are only under a slight mist, hardly a cloud; I see through the mist already.”
And in another part of this letter he says: “I may see you at the end of the week. If I can bring Sarah down with me, I will, to spend Christmas, but the weather may change and prevent. What weather! I am working on the lawn as if it were spring. You have no idea how lovely this spot is. Not a day passes that I do not feel it. If I have trouble abroad, I have peace, and love, and happiness at home. My sweet wife I find, indeed, a rich treasure. Uniformly cheerful and most affectionate, she makes sunshine all the day. God’s gifts are worthy of the giver.”
It was in the early days of 1849 that a gift of another kind was received by him which could not fail to gratify him. This was a decoration, the “Nichan Iftikar” or “Order of Glory,” presented to him by the Sultan of Turkey, the first and only decoration which the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire had conferred upon a citizen of the United States. It was a beautiful specimen of the jeweller’s art, the monogram of the Sultan in gold, surrounded by 130 diamonds in a graceful design. It was accompanied by a diploma (or _berait_) in Turkish, which being translated reads:–
IN THE NAME OF HIM
SULTAN ABDUL HAMID KHAN
Son of Mahmoud Khan, son of Abdul Hamid Khan–may he ever be victorious!
The object of the present sovereign decoration of Noble Exalted Glory, of Elevated Place, and of this Illustrious World Conquering Monogram is as follows:
The bearer of this Imperial Monogram of exalted character, Mr. Morse, an American, a man of science and of talents, and who is a model of the Chiefs of the nation of the Messiah–may his grade be increased–having invented an Electrical Telegraph, a specimen of which has been exhibited in my Imperial presence; and it being proper to patronize knowledge and to express my sense of the value of the attainments of the Inventor, as well as to distinguish those persons who are the Inventors of such objects as serve to extend and facilitate the relations of mankind, I have conferred upon him, on my exalted part, an honorable decoration in diamonds, and issued also this present diploma, as a token of my benevolence for him.
Written in the middle of the moon Sefer, the fortunate, the year of the Flight one thousand two hundred and sixty-four, in Constantinople the well-guarded.
The person who was instrumental in gaining for the inventor this mark of recognition from the Sultan was Dr. James Lawrence Smith, a young geologist at that time in the employ of the Sultan. He, aided by the Reverend C. Hamlin, of the Armenian Seminary at Bebek, gave an exhibition of the working of the telegraph before the Sultan and all the officers of his Government, and when it was proposed to decorate him for his trouble and lucid explanation, he modestly and generously disclaimed any honor, and begged that any such recognition should be given to the inventor himself. Other decorations and degrees were bestowed upon the inventor from time to time, but these will be summarized in a future chapter. I have enlarged upon this one as being the first to be received from a foreign monarch.
As his fame increased, requests of all sorts poured in on him, and it is amazing to find how courteously he answered even the most fantastic, overwhelmed as he was by his duties in connection with the attacks on his purse and his reputation. Two of his answers to correspondents are here given as examples:–
January 17, 1849.
Gentlemen,–I have received your polite invitation to the Printers’ Festival in honor of Franklin, on his birthday the 17th of the present month, and regret that my engagements in the city put it out of my power to be present.
I thank you kindly for the flattering notice you are pleased to take of me in connection with the telegraph, and made peculiarly grateful at the present time as coming from a class of society with whom are my earliest pleasurable associations. I may be allowed, perhaps, to say that in my boyhood it was my delight, during my vacations, to seek my pastime in the operations of the printing-office. I solicited of my father to take the corrected proofs of his Geography to the printing-office, and there, through the day for weeks, I made myself practically acquainted with all the operations of the printer. At 9 years of age I compiled a small volume of stories, called it the ‘Youth’s Friend,’ and then set it up, locked the matter in its form, prepared the paper and worked it off; going through the entire process till it was ready for the binder. I think I have some claim, therefore, to belong to the fraternity.
The other letter was in answer to one from a certain Solomon Andrews, President of the Inventors’ Institute of Perth Amboy, who was making experiments in aviation, and I shall give but a few extracts:–
“I know by experience the language of the world in regard to an untried invention. He who will accomplish anything useful and new must steel himself against the sneers of the ignorant, and often against the unimaginative sophistries of the learned….
“In regard to the subject on which you desire an opinion, I will say that the idea of navigating the air has been a favorite one with the inventive in all ages; it is naturally suggested by the flight of a bird. I have watched for hours together in early life, in my walks across the bridge from Boston to Charlestown, the motions of the sea-gulls…. Often have I attempted to unravel the mystery of their motion so as to bring the principle of it to bear upon this very subject, but I never experimented upon it. Many ingenious men, however, have experimented on air navigation, and have so far succeeded as to travel in the air many miles, but always with the current of wind in their favor. By _navigating_ the atmosphere is meant something more than dropping down with the tide in a boat, without sails, or oars or other means of propulsion…. Birds not only rise in the air, but they can also propel themselves against the ordinary currents. A study, then, of the conditions that enable a bird thus to defy the ordinary currents of the atmosphere seems to furnish the most likely mode of solving the problem. Whilst a bird flies, whilst I see a mass of matter overcoming, by its structure and a power within it, the natural forces of gravitation and a current of air, I dare not say that air navigation is absurd or impossible.
“I consider the difficulties to be overcome are the combining of strength with lightness in the machine sufficient to allow of the exercise of a force without the machine from a source of power within. A difficulty will occur in the right adaptation of propellers, and, should this difficulty be overcome, the risks of derangement of the machinery from the necessary lightness of its parts would be great, and consequently the risks to life would be greater than in any other mode of travelling. From a wreck at sea or on shore a man may be rescued with his life, and so by the running off the track by the railroad car, the majority of passengers will be saved; but from a fall some thousands, or only hundreds, of feet through the air, not one would escape death….
“I have no time to add more than my best wishes for the success of those who are struggling with these difficulties.”
These observations, made nearly sixty-five years ago, are most pertinent to present-day conditions, when the conquest of the air has been accomplished, and along the very lines suggested by Morse, but at what a terrible cost in human life.
That the inventor, harassed on all sides by pirates, unscrupulous men, and false friends, should, in spite of his Christian philosophy, have suffered from occasional fits of despondency, is but natural, and he must have given vent to his feelings in a letter to his true friend and able business agent, Mr. Kendall, for the latter thus strives to hearten him in a letter of April 20, 1849:–
“You say, ‘Mrs. Morse and Elizabeth are both sitting by me.’ How is it possible, in the midst of so much that is charming and lovely, that you _could_ sink into the gloomy spirit which your letter indicates? Can there be a Paradise without Devils in it–Blue Devils, I mean? And how is it that now, instead of addressing themselves first to the woman, they march boldly up to the man?
“Faith in our Maker is a most important Christian virtue, but man has no right to rely on Faith alone until he has exhausted his own power. When we have done all we can with pure hands and honest hearts, then may we rely with confidence on the aid of Him who governs worlds and atoms, controls, when He chooses, the will of man, restrains his passions and makes his bad designs subservient to the best of ends.
“Now for a short application of a short sermon. We must do our best to have the Depositions and Affidavits prepared and forwarded in due time. This done we may have _Faith_ that we will gain our cause. Or, if with our utmost exertions, we fail in our preparations, we shall be warranted in having Faith that no harm will come of it.
“But if, like the Jews in the Maccabees, we rely upon the Lord to fight our battles, without lifting a weapon in our defence, or, like the wagoner in the fable, we content ourselves with calling on Hercules, we shall find in the end that ‘Faith without Works is dead.’ … The world, as you say, is ‘_the world_’–a quarrelling, vicious, fighting, plundering world–yet it is a very good world for good men. Why should man torment himself about that which he cannot help? If we but enjoy the good things of earth and endure the evil things with a cheerful resignation, bad spirits–blue devils and all–will fly from our bosoms to their appropriate abode.”
Another true and loyal friend was George Wood, associated with Mr. Kendall in Washington, from whom are many affectionate and witty letters which it would be a pleasure to reproduce, but for the present I shall content myself with extracts from one dated May 4, 1849:–
“It does seem to me that Satan has, from the jump, been at war with this invention of yours. At first he strove to cover you up with a F.O.G. of Egyptian hue; then he ran your wires through leaden pipe, constructed by his ‘pipe-laying’ agents, into the ground and ‘all aground.’ And when these were hoisted up, like the Brazen Serpent, on poles for all to gaze at and admire, then who so devout a worshipper as the Devil in the person of one of his children of darkness, who came forward at once to contract for a line reaching to St. Louis–_and round the world_–upon that principle of the true construction of _constitutions_, and such like _contracts_, first promulgated by that ‘Old Roman’ the ‘Hero of two Wars,’ and approved by the ‘whole hog’ Democracy of the ‘first republic of the world,’ and which, like the moral law is summarily comprehended in a few words–‘The constitution (or contract) is what I understand it to be.’
“Now without stopping to show you that O’Reilly was a true disciple of O’Hickory, I think you will not question his being a son of Satan, whose brazen instruments (one of whom gave his first born the name of Morse) instigated by the Gent in Black, not content with inflicting us with the Irish Potato Rot, has recently brought over the Scotch Itch, if, perhaps, by plagues Job was never called upon to suffer (for there were no Courts of Equity and Chancery in those early days) the American inventor might be tempted to curse God and die. But, Ah! you have such a sweet wife, and Job’s was such a vinegar cruet.”
It is, perhaps, hardly necessary to explain that F.O.J. Smith was nicknamed “Fog” Smith, and that the “Scotch Itch” referred to the telegraph of Alexander Bain, which, for a time, was used by the enemies of Morse in the effort to break down his patent rights. The other allusions were to the politics of the day.
Another good friend and business associate was Thomas R. Walker, who in 1849 was mayor of Utica, New York. Mr. Walker’s wife was the half-sister of Mrs. Griswold, Morse’s mother-in-law, so there were ties of relationship as well as of friendship between the two men, and Morse thought so highly of Mr. Walker that he made him one of the executors of his will.
In a letter of July 11, 1849, Mr. Walker says: “The course pursued by the press is simply mercenary. Were it otherwise you would receive justice at their hands, and your fame and merits would be vindicated instead of being tarnished by the editorials of selfish and ungenerous men. But– _’magna est veritas et prevalebit_.’ There is comfort in that at any rate.”
It would seem that not only was the inventor forced to uphold his rights through a long series of lawsuits, but a great part of the press of the country was hostile to him on the specious plea that they were attempting to overthrow a baleful monopoly. In this connection the following extract from a letter to J. Fenimore Cooper, written about this time, is peculiarly apt:–
“It is not because I have not thought of you and your excellent family that I have not long since written to you to know your personal welfare. I hear of you often, it is true, through the papers. They praise you, as usual, for it is praise to have the abuse of such as abuse you. In all your libel suits against these degraded wretches I sympathize entirely with you, and there are thousands who now thank you in their hearts for the moral courage you display in bringing these licentious scamps to a knowledge of their duty. Be assured the good sense, the intelligence, the right feeling of the community at large are with you. The licentiousness of the press needed the rebuke which you have given it, and it feels it too despite its awkward attempts to brave it out.
“I will say nothing of your ‘Home as Found.’ I will use the frankness to say that I wish you had not written it…. When in Paris last I several times passed 59 Rue St. Dominique. The gate stood invitingly open and I looked in, but did not see my old friends although everything else was present. I felt as one might suppose another to feel on rising from his grave after a lapse of a century.”
An attack from another and an old quarter is referred to in a letter to his brother Sidney of July 10, also another instance of the unfairness of the press:–
“Dr. Jackson had the audacity to appear at Louisville by _affidavit_ against me. My _counter-affidavit_, with his original letters, contradicting _in toto_ his statement, put him _hors de combat_. Mr. Kendall says he was ‘completely used up.’ … I have got a copy of Jackson’s affidavit which I should like to show you. There never was a more finished specimen of wholesale lying than is contained in it. He is certainly a monomaniac; no other conclusion could save him from an indictment for perjury.
“By the Frankfort paper sent you last week, and the extract I now send you, you can give a very effective shot to the ‘Tribune.’ It is, perhaps, worthy of remark that, while all the papers in New York were so forward in publishing a _false_ account of O’Reilly’s success in the Frankfort case, not one that I have seen has noticed the decision just given at Louisville _against_ him in every particular. This shows the animus of the press towards me. Nor have they taken any pains to correct the false account given of the previous decision.”
Although no longer President of the National Academy of Design, having refused reelection in 1845 in order to devote his whole time to the telegraph, Morse still took a deep interest in its welfare, and his counsel was sought by its active members. On October 13, 1849, Mr. Charles C. Ingham sent him a long letter detailing the trials and triumphs of the institution, from which I shall quote a few sentences: “‘Lang syne,’ when you fought the good fight for the cause of Art, your prospects in life were not brighter than they are now, and in bodily and mental vigor you are just the same, therefore do not, at this most critical moment, desert the cause. It is the same and our enemies are the same old insolent quacks and impostors, who wish to make a footstool of the profession on which to stand and show themselves to the public…. Now, with this prospect before you, rouse up a little of your old enthusiasm, put your shoulder to the wheel, and place the only school of Art on all this side of the world on a firm foundation.”
Unfortunately the answer to this letter is not in my possession, but we may be sure that it came from the heart, while it must have expressed the writer’s deep regret that the multiplicity of his other cares would prevent him from undertaking what would have been to him a labor of love.
Although Alfred Vail had severed his active connection with the telegraph, he and his brother George still owned stock in the various lines, and Morse did all in his power to safeguard and further their interests. They, on their part, were always zealous in championing the rights of the inventor, as the following letter from George Vail, dated December 19, 1849, will show:–
“Enclosed I hand you a paragraph cut from the ‘Newark Daily’ of 17th inst. It was evidently drawn out by a letter which I addressed to the editor some months ago, stating that I could not see what consistency there was in his course; that, while he was assuming the championship of American manufactures, ingenuity, enterprise, etc., etc., he was at the same time holding up an English inventor to praise, while he held all the better claims of Morse in the dark,–alluding to his bespattering Mr. Bain and O’Reilly with compliments at our expense, etc.
“I would now suggest that, if you are willing, we give _Mr. Daily_ a temperate article on the rise and progress of telegraphs, asserting claims for yourself, and, as I must father the article, give the Vails and New Jersey all the ‘sodder’ they are entitled to, and a little more, if you can spare it.
“Will you write something adapted to the case and forward it to me as early as possible, that it may go in on the heels of this paragraph enclosed?”
F.O.J. Smith continued to embarrass and thwart the other proprietors by his various wild schemes for self-aggrandizement. As Mr. Kendall said in a letter of August 4: “There is much _Fog_ in Smith’s letter, but it is nothing else.”
And on December 4, he writes in a more serious vein: “Mr. Smith peremptorily refuses an arbitration which shall embrace a separation of all our interests, and I think it inexpedient to have any other. He is so utterly unprincipled and selfish that we can expect nothing but renewed impositions as long as we have any connection with him. He asks me to make a proposition to buy or sell, which I have delayed doing, because I know that nothing good can come of it; but I have informed him that I will consider any proposition he may make, if not too absurd to deserve it. I do not expect any that we can accede to without sacrifices to this worse than patent pirate which I am not prepared to make.”
Mr. Kendall then concludes that the only recourse will be to the law, but Morse, always averse to war, and preferring to exhaust every effort to bring about an amicable adjustment of difficulties, sent the following courteous letter to Smith on December 8, which, however, failed of the desired result:–
“I deeply regret to learn from my agent, Mr. Kendall, that an unpleasant collision is likely to take place between your interest in the Telegraph and the rest of your coproprietors in the patent. I had hoped that an amicable arbitrament might arrange all our mutual interests to our mutual advantage and satisfaction; but I learn that his proposition to that effect has been rejected by you.
“You must be aware that the rest of your coproprietors have been great sufferers in their property, for some time past, from the frequent disagreements between their agent and yourself, and that, for the sake of peace, they have endured much and long. It is impossible for me to say where the fault lies, for, from the very fact that I put my affairs into the hands of an agent to manage for me, it is evident I cannot have that minute, full and clear view of the matters at issue between him and yourself that he has, or, under other circumstances, that I might have. But this I can see, that mutual disadvantage must be the consequence of litigation between us, and this we both ought to be desirous to avoid.
“Between fair-minded men I cannot see why there should be a difference, or at least such a difference as cannot be adjusted by uninterested parties chosen to settle it by each of the disagreeing parties.
“I write this in the hope that, on second thought, you will meet my agent Mr. Kendall in the mode of arbitration proposed. I have repeatedly advised my agent to refrain from extreme measures until none others are left us; and if such are now deemed by him necessary to secure a large amount of our property, hazarded by perpetual delays, while I shall most sincerely regret the necessity, there are interests which I am bound to protect, connected with the secure possession of what is rightfully mine, which will compel me to oppose no further obstacle to his proceeding to obtain my due, in such manner as, in his judgment, he may deem best.”
MARCH 5, 1850–NOVEMBER 10, 1854
Precarious financial condition.–Regret at not being able to make loan.– False impression of great wealth.–Fears he may have to sell home.– F.O.J. Smith continues to give trouble.–Morse system extending throughout the world.–Death of Fenimore Cooper.–Subscriptions to charities, etc.–First use of word “Telegram.”–Mysterious fire in Supreme Court clerk’s room.–Letter of Commodore Perry.–Disinclination to antagonize Henry.–Temporary triumph of F.O.J. Smith.–Order gradually emerging.–Expenses of the law.–Triumph in Australia.–Gift to Yale College.–Supreme Court decision and extension of patent.–Social diversions in Washington.–Letters of George Wood and P.H. Watson on extension of patent.–Loyalty to Mr. Kendall; also to Alfred Vail.– Decides to publish “Defense.”–Controversy with Bishop Spaulding.–Creed on Slavery.–Political views.–Defeated for Congress.
While I have anticipated in giving the results of the various lawsuits, it must be borne in mind that these dragged along for years, and that the final decision of the Supreme Court was not handed down until January 30, 1854. During all this time the inventor was kept in suspense as to the final outcome, and often the future looked very dark indeed, and he was hard pressed to provide for the present.
On March 5, 1850, he writes to a friend who had requested a loan of a few hundred dollars:–
“It truly pains me to be obliged to tell you of my inability to make you a loan, however small in amount or amply secured. In the present embarrassed state of my affairs, consequent upon these never-ending and vexatious suits, I know not how soon all my property may be taken from me. The newspapers, among their other innumerable falsehoods, circulate one in regard to my ‘enormous wealth.’ The object is obvious. It is to destroy any feeling of sympathy in the public mind from the gross robberies committed upon me. ‘He is rich enough; he can afford to give something to the public from his extortionate monopoly,’ etc., etc.
“Now no man likes to proclaim his poverty, for there is a sort of satisfaction to some minds in being esteemed rich, even if they are not. The evil of this is that from a rich man more is expected in the way of pecuniary favors (and justly too), and consequently applications of all kinds are daily, I might say for the last few months almost hourly, made to me, and the fabled wealth attributed to me, or to Croesus, would not suffice to satisfy the requests made.”
And, after stating that, of the 11,607 miles of telegraph at that time in operation, only one company of 509 miles was then paying a dividend, he adds: “If this fails I have nothing. On this I solely depend, for I have now no profession, and at my age, with impaired eyesight, I cannot resume it.
“I have indeed a farm out of which a farmer might obtain his living, but to me it is a source of expense, and I have not actually, though you may think it strange, the means to make my family comfortable.”
In a letter to Mr. Kendall of January 4, 1851, he enlarges on this subject:–
“I have been taking in sail for some time past to prepare for the storm which has so long continued and still threatens destruction, but with every economy my family must suffer for the want of many comforts which the low state of my means prevents me from procuring. I contrived to get through the last month without incurring debt, but I see no prospect now of being able to do so the present month…. I wish much to know, and, indeed, it is indispensably necessary I should be informed of the precise condition of things; for, if my property is but nominal in the stocks of the companies, and is to be soon rendered valueless from the operations of pirates, I desire to know it, that I may sell my home and seek another of less pretension, one of humbler character and suited to my change of circumstances. It will, indeed, be like cutting off a right hand to leave my country home, but, if I cannot retain it without incurring debt, it must go, and before debt is incurred and not after. I have made it a rule from my childhood to live always within my means, to have no debts; for if there is a terror which would unman me more than any other in this world, it is the sight of a man to whom I owed money, however inconsiderable in amount, without my being in a condition to pay him. On this point I am nervously sensitive, to a degree which some might think ridiculous. But so it is and I cannot help it….
“Please tell me how matters stand in relation to F.O.G. I wish nothing short of entire separation from that unprincipled man if it can possibly be accomplished….I can suffer his frauds upon myself with comparative forbearance, but my indignation boils when I am made, _nolens volens_, a _particeps criminis_ in his frauds on others. I will not endure it if I must suffer the loss of all the property I hold in the world.”
The beloved country place was not sacrificed, and a way out of all his difficulties was found, but his faith and Christian forbearance were severely tested before his path was smoothed. Among all his trials none was so hard to bear as the conduct of F.O.J. Smith, whose strange tergiversations were almost inconceivable. Like the old man of the sea, he could not be shaken off, much as Morse and his partners desired to part company with him forever. The propositions made by him were so absurd that they could not for a moment be seriously considered, and the reasonable terms submitted by Mr. Kendall were unconditionally rejected by him. It will be necessary to refer to him and his strange conduct from time to time, but to go into the matter in detail would consume too much valuable space. It seems only right, however, to emphasize the fact that his animosity and unscrupulous self-seeking constituted the greatest cross which Morse was called upon to bear, even to the end of his life, and that many of the aspersions which have been cast upon the inventor’s fame and good name, before and after his death, can be traced to the fertile brain of this same F.O.J. Smith.
While the inventor was fighting for his rights in his own country, his invention, by the sheer force of its superiority, was gradually displacing all other systems abroad. Even in England it was superseding the Cooke and Wheatstone needle telegraph, and on the Continent it had been adopted by Prussia, Austria, Bavaria, Hanover, and Turkey. It is worthy of note that that broad-minded scientist, Professor Steinheil, of Bavaria, who had himself invented an ingenious plan of telegraph when he was made acquainted with the Morse system, at once acknowledged its superiority and urged its adoption by the Bavarian Government. In France, too, it was making its way, and Morse, in answer to a letter of inquiry as to terms, etc., by M. Brequet, thus characteristically avows his motives, after finishing the business part of the letter, which is dated April 21, 1851:–
“To be frank with you, my dear sir (and I feel that I can be frank with you), while I am not indifferent to the pecuniary rewards of my invention (which will be amply satisfactory if my own countrymen will but do me justice), yet as these were not the stimulus to my efforts in perfecting and establishing my invention, so they now hold but a subordinate position when I attempt to comprehend the full results of the Telegraph upon the welfare of my fellow men. I am more solicitous to see its benefits extended world-wide during my lifetime than to turn the stream of wealth, which it is generating to millions of persons, into my own pocket. A few drops from the sea, which may not be missed, will suffice for me.”
In the early days of 1852 death took from him one of his dearest friends, and the following letter, written in February, 1852, to Rufus Griswold, Esq., expresses his sentiments:–
“I sincerely regret that circumstances over which I have no control prevent my participation in the services commemorative of the character, literary and moral, of my lamented friend the late James Fenimore Cooper, Esq.
“I can scarcely yet realize that he is no longer with us, for the announcement of his death came upon me most unexpectedly. The pleasure of years of close intimacy with Mr. Cooper was never for a moment clouded by the slightest coolness. We were in daily, I can truly say, almost hourly, intercourse in the year 1831 in Paris. I never met with a more sincere, warm-hearted, constant friend. No man came nearer to the ideal I had formed of a truly high-minded man. If he was at times severe or caustic in his remarks on others, it was when excited by the exhibition of the little arts of little minds. His own frank, open, generous nature instinctively recoiled from contact with them. His liberalities, obedient to his generous sympathies, were scarcely bounded by prudence; he was always ready to help a friend, and many such there are who will learn of his departure with the most poignant sorrow. Although unable to be with you, I trust the Committee will not overlook me when they are collecting the funds for the monument to his genius.”
It might have been said of Morse, too, that “his liberalities were scarcely bounded by prudence,” for he gave away or lost through investments, urged upon him by men whom he regarded as friends but who were actuated by selfish motives, much more than he retained. He gave largely to the various religious organizations and charities in which he was interested, and it was characteristic of him that he could not wait until he had the actual cash in hand, but, even while his own future was uncertain, he made donations of large blocks of stocks, which, while of problematical value while the litigation was proceeding, eventually rose to much above par.
While he strove to keep his charities secret, they were bruited abroad, much to his sorrow, for, although at the time he was hard pressed to make both ends meet, they created a false impression of great wealth, and the importunities increased in volume.
It is always interesting to note the genesis of familiar words, and the following is written in pencil by Morse on a little slip of paper:–
“_Telegram_ was first proposed by the Albany ‘Evening Journal,’ April 6, 1852, and has been universally adopted as a legitimate word into the English language.”
On April 21, 1852, Mr. Kendall reports a mysterious occurrence:–
“Our case in the Supreme Court will very certainly be reached by the middle of next week. A most singular incident has occurred. The papers brought up from the court below, not entered in the records, were on a table in the clerk’s room. There was no fire in the room. One of the clerks after dark lighted a lamp, looked up some papers, blew out the lamp and locked the door. Some time afterwards, wishing to obtain a book, he entered the room without a light and got the book in the dark. In. the morning our papers were burnt up, and _nothing else_.
“The papers burnt are all the drawings, all the books filed, Dana’s lectures, Chester’s pamphlet, your sketchbook (if the original was there), your tag of type, etc., etc. But we shall replace them as far as possible and go on with the case. _Was_ your original sketch-book there? If so, has any copy been taken?”
The original sketch-book was in this collection of papers so mysteriously destroyed, but most fortunately a certified copy had been made, and this is now in the National Museum in Washington. Also, most fortunately, this effort on the part of some enemy to undermine the foundations of the case proved abortive, if, indeed, it was not a boomerang, for, as we have seen, the decision of the Supreme Court was in Morse’s favor. In the year 1852, Commodore Perry sailed on his memorable trip to Japan, which, as is well known, opened that wonderful country to the outside world and started it on its upward path towards its present powerful position among the nations. The following letter from Commodore Perry, dated July 22, 1852, will, therefore, be found of unusual interest:–
I shall take with me, on my cruise to the East Indias, specimens of the most remarkable inventions of the age, among which stands preeminent your telegraph, and I write a line by Lieutenant Budd, United States Navy, not only to introduce him to your acquaintance, but to ask as a particular favour that you would give him some information and instruction as to the most practicable means of exhibiting the Telegraph, as well as a daguerreotype apparatus, which I am also authorized to purchase, also other articles connected with drawing.
I have directed Lieutenant Budd to visit Poughkeepsie in order to confer with you. He will have lists, furnished by Mr. Norton and a daguerreotype artist, which I shall not act upon until I learn the result of his consultation with you.
I hope you will pardon this intrusion upon your time. I feel almost assured, however, that you will take a lively interest in having your wonderful invention exhibited to a people so little known to the world, and there is no one better qualified than yourself to instruct Lieutenant Budd in the duties I have entrusted to his charge, and who will fully explain to you the object I have in view.
I leave this evening for Washington and should be much obliged if you would address me a line to that place.
Most truly and respectfully yours
It was about this time that the testimony of Professor Joseph Henry was being increasingly used by Morse’s opponents to discredit him in the scientific world and to injure his cause in the courts. I shall, therefore, revert for a moment to the matter for the purpose of emphasizing Morse’s reluctance to do or say anything against his erstwhile friend.
In a letter to H.J. Raymond, editor of the New York “Times,” he requests space in that journal for a fair exposition of his side of the controversy in reply to an article attacking him. To this Mr. Raymond courteously replies on November 22, 1852: “The columns of the ‘Times’ are entirely at your service for the purpose you mention, or, indeed, for almost any other. The writer of the article you allude to was Dr. Bettner, of Philadelphia.”
Morse answers on November 30:–
“I regret finding you absent; I wished to have had a few moments’ conversation with you in relation to the allusion I made to Professor Henry. If possible I wish to avoid any course which might weaken the influence for good of such a man as Henry. I will forbear exposure to the last moment, and, in view of my duty as a Christian at least, I will give him an opportunity to explain to me in private. If he refuses, then I shall feel it my duty to show how unfairly he has conducted himself in allowing his testimony to be used to my detriment.
“I write in haste, and will merely add that, to consummate these views, I shall for the present delay the article I had requested you to insert in your columns, and allow the various misrepresentations to remain yet a little longer unexposed, at the same time thanking you cordially for your courteous accordance of my request.”
A slight set-back was encountered by Morse and his associates at this time by the denial of an injunction against F.O.J. Smith, and, in a letter to Mr. Kendall of December 4, the long-suffering inventor exclaims:–
“F.O.J. crows at the top of his voice, and I learned that he and his man Friday, Foss, had a regular spree in consequence, and that the latter was noticed in Broadway drunk and boisterously huzzaing for F.O.J. and cursing me and my telegraph.
“I read in my Bible: ‘The triumph of the wicked is short.’ This may have a practical application, in this case at any rate. I have full confidence in that Power that, for wise purposes, allows wickedness temporarily to triumph that His own designs of bringing good out of evil may be the more apparent.”
Another of Morse’s fixed principles in life is referred to in a letter to Judge E. Fitch Smith of February 4, 1858: “Yours of the 31st ulto. is this moment received. Your request has given me some trouble of spirit on this account, to wit: My father lost a large property, the earnings of his whole life of literary labor, by simply endorsing. My mother was ever after so affected by this fact that it was the constant theme of her disapprobation, and on her deathbed I gave her my promise, in accordance with her request, that _I never would endorse a note_. I have never done such a thing, and, of course, have never requested the endorsement of another. I cannot, therefore, in that mode accommodate you, but I can probably aid you as effectually in another way.”
It will not be necessary to dwell at length on further happenings in the year 1853. Order was gradually emerging from chaos in the various lines of telegraph, which, under the wise guidance of Amos Kendall, were tending towards a consolidation into one great company. The decision of the Supreme Court had not yet been given, causing temporary embarrassment to the patentees by allowing the pirates to continue their depredations unchecked. F.O.J. Smith continued to give trouble. To quote from a letter of Morse’s to Mr. Kendall of January 10, 1853: “The Good Book says that ‘one sinner destroyeth much good,’ and F.O.J. being (as will be admitted by all, perhaps, except himself) a sinner of that class bent upon destroying as much good as he can, I am desirous, even at much sacrifice (a desire, of course, _inter nos_) to get rid of controversy with him.”
Further on in this letter, referring to another cause for anxiety, he says: “Law is expensive, and we must look it in the face and expect to pay roundly for it…. It is a delicate task to dispute a professional man’s charges, and, though it may be an evil to find ourselves bled so freely by lawyers, it is, perhaps, the least of evils to submit to it as gracefully as we can.”
But, while he could not escape the common lot of man in having to bear many and severe trials, there were compensatory blessings which he appreciated to the full. His home life was happy and, in the main, serene; his farm was a source of never-ending pleasure to him; he was honored at home and abroad by those whose opinion he most valued; and he was almost daily in receipt of the news of the extension of the “Morse system” throughout the world. Even from far-off Australia came the news of his triumph. A letter was sent to him, written from Melbourne on December 3, 1853, by a Mr. Samuel McGowan to a friend in New York, which contains the following gratifying intelligence:–
“Since the date of my last to you matters with me have undergone a material change. I have come off conqueror in my hard fought battle. The contract has been awarded to me in the faces of the representatives of Messrs. Wheatstone and Cooke, Brett and other telegraphic luminaries, much to their chagrin, as I afterwards ascertained; several of them, it appears, having been leagued together in order, as they stated, to thwart a speculating Yankee. However, matters were not so ordained, and I am as well satisfied. I hope they will all live to be the same.”
In spite of his financial difficulties, caused by bad management of some of the lines in which he was interested, he could not resist the temptation to give liberally where his heart inclined him, and in a letter of January 9, 1854, to President Woolsey of Yale, he says:–
“Enclosed, therefore, you have my check for one thousand dollars, which please hand to the Treasurer of the College as my subscription towards the fund which is being raised for the benefit of my dearly loved _Alma Mater_.
“I wish I could make it a larger sum, and, without promising what I may do at some future time, yet I will say that the prosperity of Yale College is so near my heart that, should my affairs (now embarrassed by litigations in self-defence yet undecided) assume a more prosperous aspect, I have it in mind to add something more to the sum now sent.”
The year 1854 was memorable in the history of the telegraph because of two important events–the decision of the Supreme Court in Morse’s favor, already referred to, and the extension of his patent for another period of seven years. The first established for all time his legal right to be called the “Inventor of the Telegraph,” and the second enabled him to reap some adequate reward for his years of privation, of struggle, and of heroic faith. It was for a long time doubtful whether his application for an extension of his patent would be granted, and much of his time in the early part of 1854 was consumed in putting in proper form all the data necessary to substantiate his claim, and in visiting Washington to urge the justice of an extension. From that city he wrote often to his wife in Poughkeepsie, and I shall quote from some of these letters.
“_February 17._ I am at the National Hotel, which is now quite crowded, but I have an endurable room with furniture hardly endurable, for it is hard to find, in this hotel at least, a table or a bureau that can stand on its four proper legs, rocking and tetering like a gold-digger’s washing-pan, unless the lame leg is propped up with an old shoe, or a stray newspaper fifty times folded, or a magazine of due thickness (I am using ‘Harper’s Magazine’ at this moment, which is somewhat a desecration, as it is too good to be trampled under foot, even the foot of a table), or a coal cinder, or a towel. Well, it is but for a moment and so let it pass.
“Where do you think I was last evening? Read the invitation on the enclosed card, which, although forbidden to be _transferable_, may without breach of honor be transferred to my other and better half. I felt no inclination to go, but, as no refusal would be accepted, I put on my best and at nine o’clock, in company with Mr. and Mrs. Shaffner (the latter of whom, by the by, is quite a pleasant and pretty woman, with a boy one year older than Arthur and about as mischievous) and Mr. and Mrs. John Kendall.
“I went to the ladies’ parlor and was presented to the ladies, six in number, who did the honors (if that is the expression) of the evening. There was a great crowd, I think not less than three hundred people, and from all parts of the country–Senators and their wives, members of the House and their wives and daughters, and there was a great number of fine looking men and women. I was constantly introduced to a great many, who uniformly showered their compliments on your _modest_ husband.”
The card of invitation has been lost, but it was, perhaps, to a President’s Reception, and the “great” crowd of three hundred would not tax the energies of the President’s aides at the present day.
The next letter is written in a more serious vein:–
“_February 26._ I am very busily engaged in the preparation of my papers for an extension of my patents. This object is of vital importance to me; it is, in fact, the moment to reap the harvest of so many years of labor, and expense, and toil, and neglected would lose me the fruits of all…. F.O.J. Smith is here, the same ugly, fiendlike, dog-in-the-manger being he has ever been, the ‘thorn in the flesh’ which I pray to be able to support by the sufficient grace promised. It is difficult to know how to feel and act towards such a man, so unprincipled, so vengeful, so bent on injury, yet the command to bless those that curse, to pray for those who despitefully use us and persecute us, to love our enemies, to forgive our enemies, is in full force, and I feel more anxious to comply with this injunction of our blessed Saviour than to have the thorn removed, however strongly this latter must be desired.”
“_March 4._ You have little idea of the trouble and expense to which I am put in this ‘extension’ matter…. I shall have to pay hundreds of dollars more before I get through here, besides being harassed in all sorts of ways from now till the 20th of June next. If I get my extension then I may expect some respite, or, at least, opposition in another shape. I hope eventually to derive some benefit from the late decision, but the reckless and desperate character of my opponents may defeat all the good I expect from it. Such is the reward I have purchased for myself by my invention….
“Mr. Wood is here also. He is the same firm, consistent and indefatigable friend as ever. I know not what I should do in the present crisis without him. I could not possibly put my accounts into proper shape without his aid, and he exerts himself for me as strongly as if I were his brother…. Mr. Kendall has been ill almost all the time that I have been here, which has caused me much delay and consumption of time.”
It was not until the latter part of June that the extension of his patents was granted, and his good friend, alluded to in the preceding letter, Mr. George Wood, tells, in a letter of June 21st, something of the narrow escape it had:–
“Your Patent Extension is another instance of God’s wonder working Providence towards you as expressed in the history of this great discovery. Of that history, of all the various shapes and incidents you may never know, not having been on the spot to watch all its moments of peril, and the way in which, like many a good Christian, it was ‘scarcely saved.’
“In this you must see God’s hand in giving you a man of remarkable skill, energy, talent, and power as your agent. I refer to P.H. Watson, to whom mainly and mostly, I think, this extension is due. God works by means, and, though he designed to do this for you, he selected the proper person and gave him the skill, perseverance and power to accomplish this result. I hope now you have got it you will make it do for you all it can accomplish pecuniarily. But as for the money, I don’t think so much as I do the effect of this upon your reputation. This is the apex of the pyramid.”
And Mr. Watson, in a letter of June 20, says: “We had many difficulties to contend with, even to-day, for at one time the Commissioner intended to withhold his decision for reasons which I shall explain at length when we meet. It seemed to give the Commissioner much pleasure to think that, in extending the patent, he was doing an act of justice to you as a great public benefactor, and a somewhat unfortunate man of genius. Dr. Gale and myself had to assure him that the extension would legally inure to your benefit, and not to that of your agents and associates before he could reconcile it with his duty to the public to grant the extension.”
Morse himself, in a letter to Mr. Kendall, also of June 20, thus characteristically expresses himself:–
“A memorable day. I never had my anxieties so tried as in this case of extension, and after weeks of suspense, this suspense was prolonged to the last moment of endurance. I have just returned with the intelligence from the telegraph office from Mr. Watson–‘Patent extended. All right.’
“Well, what is now to be done? I am for taking time by the forelock and placing ourselves above the contingencies of the next expiration of the patent. While keeping our vantage ground with the pirates I wish to meet them in a spirit of compromise and of magnanimity. I hope we may now be able to consolidate on advantageous terms.”
It appears that at this time he was advised by many of his friends, including Dr. Gale, to sever his business connection with Mr. Kendall, both on account of the increasing feebleness of that gentleman, and because, while admittedly the soul of honor, Mr. Kendall had kept their joint accounts in a very careless and slipshod manner, thereby causing considerable financial loss to the inventor. But, true to his friends, as he always was, he replies to Dr. Gale on June 30:–
“Let me thank you specially personally for your solicitude for my interests. This I may say without disparagement to Mr. Kendall, that, were the contract with an agent to be made anew, I might desire to have a younger and more healthy man, and better acquainted with regular book-keeping, but I could not desire a more upright and more honorable man. If he has committed errors, (as who has not?) they have been of the head and not of the heart. I have had many years experience of his conduct, think I have seen him under strong temptation to do injustice with prospects of personal benefit, and with little chance of detection, and yet firmly resisting.”
Among the calumnies which were spread broadcast, both during the life of the inventor and after his death, even down to the present day, was the accusation of great ingratitude towards those who had helped him in his early struggles, and especially towards Alfred Vail. The more the true history of his connection with his associates is studied, the more baseless do these accusations appear, and in this connection the following extracts from letters to Alfred Vail and to his brother George are most illuminating. The first letter is dated July 15, 1854:–
“The legal title to my Patent for the American Electro-Magnetic Telegraph of June 20th, 1840, is, by the late extension of said patent for seven years from the said date, now vested in me alone; but I have intended that the pecuniary interest which was guaranteed to you in my invention as it existed in 1838, and in my patent of 1840, should still inure to your benefit (yet in a different shape) under the second patent and the late extension of the first.
“For the simplification of my business transactions I prefer to let the Articles of Agreement, which expired on the 20th June, 1854, remain cancelled and not to renew them, retaining in my sole possession the _legal title;_ but I hereby guarantee to you two sixteenths of such sums as may be paid over to me in the sale of patent rights, after the proportionate deductions of such necessary expenses as may be required in the business of the agency for conducting the sales of said patent rights, subject also to the terms of your agreement with Mr. Kendall.
“Mr. Kendall informs me that no assignment of an interest in my second patent (the patent of 1846) was ever made to you. This was news to me. I presumed it was done and that the assignment was duly recorded at the Patent Office. The examination of the records in the progress of obtaining my extension has, doubtless, led to the discovery of the omission.”
After going over much the same ground in the letter to George Vail, also of July 15th, he gives as one of the reasons why the new arrangement is better: “The annoyances of Smith are at an end, so far as the necessity of consulting him is concerned.”
And then he adds:–
“I presume it can be no matter of regret with Alfred that, by the position he now takes, strengthening our defensive position against the annoyances of Smith, he can receive _more pecuniarily_ than he could before. Please consult with Mr. Kendall on the form of any agreement by which you and Alfred may be properly secured in the pecuniary benefits which you would have were he to stand in the same legal relation to the patent that he did before the expiration of its original term, so as to give me the position in regard to Smith that I must take in self-defense, and I shall cheerfully accede to it.
“Poor Alfred, I regret to know, torments himself needlessly. I had hoped that I was sufficiently known to him to have his confidence. I have never had other than kind feelings towards him, and, while planning for his benefit and guarding his interests at great and almost ruinous expense to myself, I have had to contend with difficulties which his imprudence, arising from morbid suspicions, has often created. My wish has ever been to act towards him not merely justly but generously.”
In a letter to Mr. Kendall of July 17, 1854, Morse declares his intention of publishing that “Defense” which he had held in reserve for several years, hoping that the necessity for its publication might be avoided by a personal understanding with Professor Henry, which, however, that gentleman refused:–
“You will perceive what injury I have suffered from the machinations of the sordid pirates against whom I have had to contend, and it will also be noticed how history has been falsified in order to detract from me, and how the conduct of Henry, on his deposition, has tended to strengthen the ready prejudice of the English against the American claim to priority. An increasing necessity, on this account, arises for my ‘Defense,’ and so soon as I can get it into proper shape by revision, I intend to publish it.
“This I consider a duty I owe the country more than myself, for, so far as I am personally concerned, I am conscious of a position that History will give me when the facts now suppressed by interested pirates and their abettors shall be known, which the verdict of posterity, no less than that of the judicial tribunals already given, is sure to award.”
While involved in apparently endless litigation which necessitated much correspondence, and while the compilation and revision of his “Defense” must have consumed not only days but weeks and months, he yet found time to write a prodigious number of letters and newspaper articles on other subjects, especially on those relating to religion and politics. Although more tolerant as he grew older, he was still bitterly opposed to the methods of the Roman Catholic Church, and to the Jesuits in particular. He, in common with many other prominent men of his day, was fearful lest the Church of Rome, through her emissaries the Jesuits, should gain political ascendancy in this country and overthrow the liberty of the people. He took part in a long and heated newspaper controversy with Bishop Spaulding of Kentucky concerning the authenticity of a saying attributed to Lafayette–“If ever the liberty of the United States is destroyed it will be by Romish priests.”
It was claimed by the Roman Catholics that this statement of Lafayette’s was ingeniously extracted from a sentence in a letter of his to a friend in which he assures this friend that such a fear is groundless. Morse followed the matter up with the patience and keenness of a detective, and proved that no such letter had ever been written by Lafayette, that it was a clumsy forgery, but that he really had made use of the sentiment quoted above, not only to Morse himself, but to others of the greatest credibility who were still living.
In the field of politics he came near playing a more active part than that of a mere looker-on and humble voter, for in the fall of 1854 he was nominated for Congress on the Democratic ticket. It would be difficult and, perhaps, invidious to attempt to state exactly his political faith in those heated years which preceded the Civil War. In the light of future events he and his brothers and many other prominent men of the day were on the wrong side. He deprecated the war and did his best to prevent it.
“Sectional division” was abhorrent to him, but on the question of slavery his sympathies were rather with the South, for I find among his papers the following:–
“My creed on the subject of slavery is short. Slavery _per se_ is not sin. It is a social condition ordained from the beginning of the world for the wisest purposes, benevolent and disciplinary, by Divine Wisdom. The mere holding of slaves, therefore, is a condition having _per se_ nothing of moral character in it, any more than the being a parent, or employer, or ruler, but is moral or unmoral as the duties of the relation of master, parent, employer or ruler are rightly used or abused. The subject in a national view belongs not, therefore, to the department of Morals, and is transferred to that of Politics to be politically regulated.
“The accidents of the relation of master and slave, like the accidents of other social relations, are to be praised or condemned as such individually and in accordance with the circumstances of every case, and, whether adjudged good or bad, do not affect the character of the relation itself.”
On the subject of foreign immigration he was most outspoken, and replying to an enquiry of one of his political friends concerning his attitude towards the so-called “Know Nothings,” he says:–
“So far as I can gather from the public papers, the object of this society would seem to be to resist the aggression of foreign influence and its insidious and dangerous assaults upon all that Americans hold dear, politically and religiously. It appears to be to prevent injury to the Republic from the ill-timed and, I may say, unbecoming tamperings with the laws, and habits, and deeply sacred sentiments of Americans by those whose position, alike dictated by modesty and safety, to them as well as to us, is that of minors in training for American, not European, liberty.
“I have not, at this late day, to make up an opinion on this subject. My sentiments ‘On the dangers to the free institutions of the United States from foreign immigration’ are the same now that I have ever entertained, and these same have been promulgated from Maine to Louisiana for more than twenty years.
“This subject involves questions which, in my estimation, make all others insignificant in the comparison, for they affect all others. To the disturbing influence of foreign action in our midst upon the political and religious questions of the day may be attributed in a great degree the present disorganization in all parts of the land.
“So far as the Society you speak of is acting against this great evil it, of course, meets with my hearty concurrence. I am content to stand on the platform, in this regard, occupied by Washington in his warnings against foreign influence, by Lafayette, in his personal conversation and instructions to me, and by Jefferson in his condemnation of the encouragement given, even in his day, to foreign immigration. If this Society has ulterior objects of which I know nothing, of these I can be expected to speak only when I know something.”
As his opinions on important matters, political and religious, appear in the course of his correspondence, I shall make note of them. It is more than probable that, as he differed radically from his father and the other Federalists on the question of men and measures during the War of 1812, so I should have taken other ground than his had I been born and old enough to have opinions in the stirring _ante-bellum_ days of the fifties. And yet, as hindsight makes our vision clearer than foresight, it is impossible to say definitely what our opinions would have been under other conditions, and there can, at any rate, be no question of the absolute sincerity of the man who, from his youth up, had placed the welfare of his beloved country above every other consideration except his duty to his God.
It would take a keen student of the political history of this country to determine how far the opinions and activities of those who were in opposition on questions of such prime importance as slavery, secession, and unrestricted immigration, served as a wholesome check on the radical views of those who finally gained the ascendancy. The aftermath of two of these questions is still with us, for the negro question is by no means a problem solved, and the subject of proper restrictions on foreign immigration is just now occupying the attention of our Solons.
That Morse should make enemies on account of the outspoken stand he took on all these questions was to be expected, but I shall not attempt to sit in judgment, but shall simply give his views as they appear in his correspondence. At any rate he was not called upon to state and maintain his opinions in the halls of Congress, for, in a letter of November 10, 1854, to a friend, he says at the end: “I came near being in Congress at the late election, but had _not quite votes enough_, which is the usual cause of failure on such occasions.”
JANUARY 8, 1856–AUGUST 14, 1856
Payment of dividends delayed.–Concern for welfare of his country.– Indignation at corrupt proposal from California.–Kendall hampered by the Vails.–Proposition by capitalists to purchase patent rights.–Cyrus W. Field.–Newfoundland Electric Telegraph Company.–Suggestion of Atlantic Cable.–Hopes thereby to eliminate war.–Trip to Newfoundland.–Temporary failure.–F.O.J. Smith continues to give trouble.–Financial conditions improve.–Morse and his wife sail for Europe.–Feted in London.– Experiments with Dr. Whitehouse.–Mr. Brett.–Dr. O’Shaughnessy and the telegraph in India.–Mr. Cooke.–Charles H. Leslie.–Paris.–Hamburg.– Copenhagen.–Presentation to king.–Thorwaldsen Museum.–Oersted’s daughter.–St. Petersburg.–Presentation to Czar at Peterhoff.
I have said in the preceding chapter that order was gradually emerging from chaos in telegraphic matters, but the progress towards that goal was indeed gradual, and a perusal of the voluminous correspondence between Morse and Kendall, and others connected with the different lines, leaves the reader in a state of confused bewilderment and wonder that all the conflicting interests, and plots and counterplots, could ever have been brought into even seeming harmony. Too much praise cannot be given to Mr. Kendall for the patience and skill with which he disentangled this apparently hopeless snarl, while at the same time battling against physical ills which would have caused most men to give up in despair. That Morse fully appreciated the sterling qualities of this faithful friend is evidenced by the letter to Dr. Gale in the preceding chapter, and by many others. He always refused to consider for a moment the substitution of a younger man on the plea of Mr. Kendall’s failing health, and his carelessness in the keeping of their personal accounts. It is true that, because of this laxity on Mr. Kendall’s part, Morse was for a long time deprived of the full income to which he was entitled, but he never held this up against his friend, always making excuses for him.
Affairs seem to have been going from bad to worse in the matter of dividends, for, while in 1850 he had said that only 509 miles out of 1150 were paying him personally anything, he says in a letter to Mr. Kendall of January 8, 1855:–
“I perceive the Magnetic Telegraph Company meet in Washington on Thursday the 11th. Please inform me by telegraph the amount of dividend they declare and the time payable. This is the only source on which I can calculate for the means of subsistence from day to day with any degree of certainty.
“It is a singular reflection that occurs frequently to my mind that out of 40,000 miles of telegraph, all of which should pay me something, only 225 miles is all that I can depend upon with certainty; and the case is a little aggravated when I think that throughout all Europe, which is now meshed with telegraph wires from the southern point of Corsica to St. Petersburg, on which my telegraph is universally used, not a mile contributes to my support or has paid me a farthing.
“Well, it is all well. I am not in absolute want, for I have some credit, and painful as is the state of debt to me from the apprehension that creditors may suffer from my delay in paying them, yet I hope on.”
Mr. Kendall was not so sensitive on the subject of debt as was Morse, and he was also much more optimistic and often rebuked his friend for his gloomy anticipations, assuring him that the clouds were not nearly so dark as they appeared.
Always imbued with a spirit of lofty patriotism, Morse never failed, even in the midst of overwhelming cares, to give voice to warnings which he considered necessary. Replying to an invitation to be present at a public dinner he writes:–
GENTLEMEN,–I have received your polite invitation to join with you in the celebration of the birthday of Washington. Although unable to be present in person, I shall still be with you in heart.
Every year, indeed every day, is demonstrating the necessity of our being wide awake to the insidious sapping of our institutions by foreign emissaries in the guise of friends, who, taking advantage of the very liberality and unparalleled national generosity which we have extended to them, are undermining the foundations of our political fabric, substituting (as far as they are able to effect their purpose) on the one hand a dark, cold and heartless atheism, or, on the other, a disgusting, puerile, degrading superstition in place of the God of our fathers and the glorious elevating religion of love preached by his Son.
The American mind, I trust, is now in earnest waking up, and no one more rejoices at the signs of the times than myself. Twenty years ago I hoped to have seen it awake, but, alas! it proved to be but a spasmodic yawn preparatory to another nap. If it shall now have waked in earnest, and with renewed strength shall gird itself to the battle which is assuredly before it, I shall feel not a little in the spirit of good old Simeon– “Now let thy servant depart in peace, for mine eyes have seen thy salvation.”
Go forward, my friends, in your patriotic work, and may God bless you in your labors with eminent success.
It has been shown, I think, in the course of this work, that Morse, while long-suffering and patient under trials and afflictions, was by no means poor-spirited, but could fight and use forceful language when roused by acts of injustice towards himself, his country, or his sense of right. Nothing made him more righteously angry than dishonesty in whatever form it was manifested, and the following incident is characteristic.
On June 26, 1855, Mr. Kendall forwarded a letter which he had received from a certain Milton S. Latham, member of Congress from California, making a proposition to purchase the Morse patent rights for lines in California. In this letter occur the following sentences: “For the use of Professor Morse’s patent for the State of California in perpetuity, with the reservations named in yours of the 3d March, 1855, addressed to me, they are willing to give you $30,000 in their stock. This is all they will do. It is proper I should state that the capital stock of the California State Telegraph in cash was $75,000, which they raised to $150,000, and subsequently to $300,000. The surplus stock over the cash stock was used among members of the Legislature to procure the passage of the act incorporating the company, and securing for it certain privileges.”
Mr. Kendall in his letter enclosing this naive business proposition, remarks: “It is an impressive commentary on the principles which govern business in California that this company doubled their stock to bribe members of the State Legislature, and are now willing to add but ten per cent to be relieved from the position of patent pirates and placed henceforth on an honest footing.”
Morse more impulsively exclaims in his reply:–
“Is it possible that there are men who hold up their heads in civilized society who can unblushingly take the position which the so-called California State Telegraph Company has deliberately taken?
“Accept the proposition? Yes, I will accept it when I can consent to the housebreaker who has entered my house, packed up my silver and plated ware, and then coolly says to me–‘Allow me to take what I have packed up and I will select out that which is worthless and give it to you, after I have used it for a few years, provided any of it remain!’
“A more unprincipled set of swindlers never existed. Who is this Mr. Latham that he could recommend our accepting such terms?”
In addition to the opposition of open enemies and unprincipled pirates, Morse and Kendall were sometimes hampered by the unjust suspicions of some of those whose interests they were striving to safeguard. Referring to one such case in a letter of June 15, 1855, Mr. Kendall says:–
“If there should be opposition I count on the Vails against me. Alfred has for some time been hostile because I could not if I would, and would not if I could, find him a snug sinecure in some of the companies. I fear George has in some degree given way to the same spirit. I have heard of his complaining of me, and when, before my departure for the West, I tendered my services to negotiate a connection of himself and brother with the lessees of the N.O. & O. line, he declined my offer, protesting against the entire arrangements touching that line.
“Having done all I could and much more than I was bound to do for the benefit of those gentlemen, I shall not permit their jealousy to disturb me, but I am anxious to have them understand the exact position I am to occupy in relation to them. I understood your purpose to be that they should share in the benefits of the extension, whether legally entitled to them or not, yet nothing has been paid over to them for sales since made. All the receipts, except a portion of my commissions, have been paid out on account of expenses, and to secure an interest for you in the N.O. & O. line.”
It is easy to understand that the Vails should have been somewhat suspicious when little or nothing in the way of cash was coming in to them, but they seem not to have realized that Morse and Kendall were in the same boat, and living more on hope than cash. Mr. Kendall enlarges somewhat on this point in a letter of June 22, 1855:–
“Most heartily will I concur in a sale of all my interests in the Telegraph at any reasonable rate to such a company as you describe. I fully appreciate your reasons for desiring such a consummation, and, in addition to them, have others peculiar to my own position. Any one who has a valuable patent can profit by it only by a constant fight with some of the most profligate and, at the same time, most shrewd members of society. I have found myself not only the agent of yourself and the Messrs. Vail to sell your patent rights, but the soldier to fight your battles, as well in the country as in the courts of justice. Almost single-handed, with the deadly enmity of one of the patentees, and the