A Disposition to Be Rich: How a Small-Town Pastor's Son Ruined an American President, Brought on a Wall Street Crash, and Made Himself the Best-Hated Man in the United States
Geoffrey C. Ward
Ferdinand Ward was the greatest swindler of the Gilded Age. Through his unapologetic villainy, he bankrupted Ulysses S. Grant and ran roughshod over the entire world of finance. Now, his compelling, behind-the-scenes story is told—told by his great-grandson, award-winning historian Geoffrey C. Ward.
Ward was the Bernie Madoff of his day, a supposed genius at making big money fast on Wall Street who turned out to have been running a giant pyramid scheme—one that ultimately collapsed in one of the greatest financial scandals in American history. The son of a Protestant missionary and small-town pastor with secrets of his own to keep, Ward came to New York at twenty-one and in less than a decade, armed with charm, energy, and a total lack of conscience, made himself the business partner of the former president of the United States and was widely hailed as the “Young Napoleon of Finance.” In truth, he turned out to be a complete fraud, his entire life marked by dishonesty, cowardice, and contempt for anything but his own interests.
Drawing from thousands of family documents never before examined, Geoffrey C. Ward traces his great-grandfather’s rapid rise to riches and fame and his even more dizzying fall from grace. There are mistresses and mansions along the way; fast horses and crooked bankers and corrupt New York officials; courtroom confrontations and six years in Sing Sing; and Ferdinand’s desperate scheme to kidnap his own son to get his hands on the estate his late wife had left the boy. Here is a great story about a classic American con artist, told with boundless charm and dry wit by one of our finest historians.
began to slow, then fall back. A carriage was coming the other way. Webster Constable Joseph C. Love happened to be out for a morning drive. Seeing the runabout hurtling toward him with a stranger holding his hand over a small boy’s mouth, he assumed the child had been hurt in an accident and pulled off the road to let them pass. But Fred Green, coming right behind, stood in the carriage, waving his free arm and shouting that the boy was being kidnapped. Love wheeled his buggy around, made room
little that is as yet apparent.… Much apparent good I do not see.… It is labouring in hope.”a The Wards left Madras to see if several more weeks in Bangalore would again improve their spirits and restore their health. When they returned, Ferdinand was startled to find that Dr. Anderson had responded to his letter expressing his wish to be allowed to come home by writing to Rev. Winslow rather than to him. It was clear from his letter that, while Ferdinand had claimed to have told Winslow of his
theologically Old School Presbyterian.”26 But Ferdinand preferred that the shift toward orthodoxy be gradual—funds still had to be raised, the teachers had to be brought gradually into line—and Rev. Lloyd turned out to be rash and intractable. He sought to remove from the board anyone connected with the White Church because of its distant link to the New School synod, and even proposed that academy students be forbidden to attend services there for fear of being exposed to what he deliberately
believe that he and Ferd had each contributed $100,000 to capitalize the firm when they had not. But from now on, Ferd would have to make sure Fish remained as deeply in the dark about the true nature of the business he was doing—or pretending to be doing—as were his intended victims. Since the contracts didn’t exist, he needed to come up with a plausible reason why his partner must keep secret every detail of the firm’s supposed dealings with the government. “Now, as to grain orders,” he wrote
former senator Chaffee, into turning over to the firm bonds worth $500,000 on which to raise still more money. “As there were great profits in prospect it would be better to use the money of our friends than to borrow from those for whom we did not care,” Buck remembered Ferd telling him; besides, Ferd was now so rich, young Grant told Chaffee, that he would safeguard him against even the possibility of loss.a Democratic senator Allen G. Thurman of Ohio suggested that since young Ward was “the