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The War on the Rebate

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THE WAR ON THE REBATE apathy and inaction which naturally flow from a great defeat lay over the Oil Regions of North western Pennsylvania long after the compromise with John D. Rockefeller in 188o, followed, as it was, by the combination with the Standard of the great independent seaboard pipe-line which had grown up under the oil men's encouragement and patronage. Years of war with a humiliating outcome had inspired the producers with the conviction that fighting was useless, that they were deal ing with a power verging on the superhuman—a power car rying concealed weapons, fighting in the dark, and endowed with an altogether diabolic cleverness. Strange -as the state ment may appear, there is no disputing that by 1884 the Oil Regions as a whole looked on Mr. Rockefeller with super stitious awe. Their notion of him was very like that which the English common people had for Napoleon in the first part of the i9th century, which the peasants of Brittany have even to-day for the English—a dread power, cruel, omnis cient, always ready to spring.

This attitude of mind, altogether abnormal in daring, im petuous, and self-confident men, as those of the Oil Regions were, was based on something more than the series of bold and admirably executed attacks which had made Mr. Rocke feller master of the oil business. The first reason for it was the atmosphere of mystery in which Mr. Rockefeller had succeeded in enveloping himself. He seems by nature to dislike the public eye. In his early years his home, his office, and the Baptist church were practically the only places which saw him. He did not frequent clubs, theatres, public meet ings. When his manoeuvres began to bring public criticism upon him, his dislike of the public eye seems to have in creased. He took a residence in New York, but he was unknown there save to those who did business with him or were interested in his church and charities. His was per haps the least familiar face in the Standard Oil Company. He never went to the Oil Regions, and the Oil Regions said he was afraid to come, which might or might not have been true. Certainly the Oil Regions never hesitated to express opinions about him calculated to make a discreet man keep his distance.

Even in Cleveland, his home for twenty-five years, Mr. Rockefeller was believed to conceal himself from his towns men. It is certain that the operations of his great business were guarded with the most jealous care. The New York Sun sent an "experienced observer" to Cleveland in 188z to write up the Standard concern. He speaks with amazement in his letters of the atmosphere of secrecy and mystery which he found enveloping everything connected with Mr. Rocke feller. You could not get an interview with him, the observer complained; even his home papers had ceased to go to the Standard offices to inquire about the truth of rumours which reached them from the outside. The hundreds of employees of the trust in the town were as silent as their master in all that concerned the business, and if one talked—well, he was not long an employee of Mr. Rockefeller. There was between the Standard Oil Company and the town and press of Cleve land none of the camaraderie, the mutual good-will and pride and confidence which usually characterise the relations between great businesses and their environment.

In Cleveland, as in the Oil Regions, Mr. Rockefeller's care ful effort to cover up his intentions and his tracks had been at first met with jeers and blunt rebuffs, but he had finally succeeded in silencing and awing the people. It is worth noting that while all of the members of the Standard Oil Company followed Mr. Rockefeller's policy of saying noth ing, there was no such popular dread of any other one of them. In the Oil Regions, for instance, there was a bitter hatred of the Standard Oil Company as an organisation, but for the most part the people liked the men who served it, and certainly had no awe of them, for these men circulated freely among their fellow-townsmen; they were active in all the pleasures and enterprises of the communities in which they lived; they were generous, able, cordial, and whatever the people said of the concern they served, they generally qualified it by expressing their personal likings for the men themselves.

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