THE COMPROMISE OF 188o the indictment of Mr. Rockefeller in the spring of 1879 seemed to him the work of malice and spite. By seven years of persistent effort he had worked out a well-conceived plan for con trolling the oil business of the United States. Another year and he had reason to believe that the remnant of refiners who still rebelled against his intentions would either be con vinced or dead and he could rule unimpeded. But here at the very threshold of empire a certain group of people—"people with a private grievance," "mossbacks naturally left in the lurch by the progress of this rapidly developing trade," his col leagues described them to the Hepburn Commission—stood in his way. "You have taken deliberate advantage of the iniquitous practices of the railroads to build up a monopoly," they told him. "We combined to overthrow those practices so far as the oil business was concerned. You not only refused to support us in this contention, you persuaded or forced the railroads to make you the only recipient of their illegal favours; more than that, you developed the unjust practices, forcing them into forms unheard of before. Not only have you secured rebates of extraordinary value on all your own shipments, you have persuaded the railroads to give you a commission on the oil that other people ship. You are guilty of plotting against the prosperity of an industry." And they indicted him with eight of his colleagues for con spiracy.
The evidence on which the oil men based this serious charge has already been analysed. At the moment they brought their suit for conspiracy what was their situation? They had several months before driven the commonwealth of Penn sylvania to bring suits against four railroads operating within its borders and against the Standard pipe-lines for infringing their duties as common carriers. Partial testimony had been taken in the case against the Pennsylvania road and in that against the United Pipe Lines. These suits, though far from finished, had given the Producers' Union the bulk of the proof on which they had secured the indictment of the Stand ard officials for conspiracy. Now, since the railroads and the pipe-lines were the guilty ones—that is, as it was they who had granted the illegal favours, and as they were the only ones that could surely be convicted, it seems clear that the only wise course for the producers would have been to prosecute energetically and exclusively these first suits. But
evident as the necessity for such persistency was, and just after Mr. Cassatt had startled the public and given the Union material with which it certainly in time could have compelled the commonwealth to a complete investigation, the producers interrupted their work by bringing their spectacular suit for conspiracy—a suit which perhaps might have been properly instituted after the others had been completed, but which, introduced now, completely changed the situation, for it gave the witnesses from whom they were most anxious to hear a loophole for escape.
For instance, the officials of the Standard pipe-lines had been instructed to appear on the izi.th of May, 1879, to answer questions which earlier in the trial they had refused to answer "on advice of counsel." Now the president of the United Pipe Lines, J. J. Vandergrift, and the general man ager, Daniel O'Day, were both included in the indictment for conspiracy. The evening before the interrogatory the producers' counsel received a telegram from the attorney general of the state, announcing that the pipe-line people were complaining that the testimony which they would be called on to give on the morrow would be used against them in the conspiracy trial—as it undoubtedly would have been— and that he thought it only fair that their hearing be post poned until after that suit. And so the defendants gained time —the chief desideratum of defendants who do not wish to fight.
Soon after, the conspiracy case was again used to excellent advantage by the Standard people in the investigation which was being conducted in New York before the Hepburn Com mission. Mr. Bostwick, the Standard Oil buyer, whose order to buy immediate shipment oil only at a discount had been one of the oil men's chief grievances for a year and a half, was summoned as a witness; but Mr. Bostwick too was under indictment for conspiracy, and when the examiners began to put questions to him which the producers were eager to have answered, he asked: "How can I, a man soon to be tried for conspiracy, be expected to answer these questions? I shall incriminate myself." He was sustained in his plea, and about all the Hepburn Commission got out of him was, "I refuse to answer, lest I incriminate myself." This. then, was the first fruit of the producers' hasty and vindictive suit. It had shut the mouths of the important Standard witnesses.