, September 24 1869, also known as the Fisk-Gould Scandal
, was a financial panic in the United States caused by two speculators’ efforts to corner the gold market on the New York Gold Exchange. It was one of several scandals that rocked the presidency of Ulysses S. Grant
. During the American Civil War
, the United States government
issued a large amount of money that was backed by nothing but credit. After the war ended, people commonly believed that the U.S. Government would buy back the “greenbacks
” with gold. In 1869, a group of speculators, headed by James Fisk
and Jay Gould
, sought to profit off this by cornering the gold market. Gould and Fisk first recruited Grant’s brother-in-law, a financier named Abel Corbin
. They used Corbin to get close to Grant in social situations, where they would argue against government sale of gold, and Corbin would support their arguments. Corbin convinced Grant to appoint General Daniel Butterfield as assistant Treasurer
of the United States. Butterfield agreed to tip the men off when the government intended to sell gold.
In the late summer of 1869, Gould began buying large amounts of gold. This caused prices to rise and stocks to plummet. After Grant realized what had happened, the federal government sold $4 million in gold. On September 20, 1869, Gould and Fisk started hoarding gold, driving the price higher. On September 24 the premium on a gold Double Eagle (representing one troy ounce of gold bullion at $20) was 30 percent higher than when Grant took office. But when the government gold hit the market, the premium plummeted within minutes. Investors scrambled to sell their holdings, and many of them, including Corbin, were ruined. Fisk and Gould escaped significant financial harm.
Subsequent Congressional investigation into the scandal was limited because Virginia Corbin and First Lady Julia Grant were not permitted to testify. However, Butterfield resigned from the U.S. Treasury. Henry Adams, who believed that President Ulysses S. Grant had tolerated, encouraged, and perhaps even participated in corruption and swindles, attacked Grant in an 1870 article entitled The New York Gold Conspiracy.
- E. Benjamin Andrews. History of the United States from the Earliest Discovery of America to the Present Day, Volume IV (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1895), courtesy of Clipart ETC
- Ackerman, Kenneth D. (1988). The Gold Ring: Jim Fisk, Gould, and Black Friday, 1869. New York: Dodd, Mead & Co.