Arresting Flagler

The current protests against capitalists by the Occupy movement isn’t a new phenomena. At the end of the 19th century, the progressives initiated a number of reforms to curtail the abuses of big business and the “robber barons”. One of those reforms was the Sherman Anti-Trust Act of 1890. Although the act’s purpose was to curtail monopolies and cartels which stifled competition, it was a new kind of trust agreement that was being used as cover to those practices which gave the act its name. That trust agreement was first devised by an attorney for the Standard Oil Company of Ohio.

Over in Texas, James S. Hogg, the state’s populist governor who had earlier made a name for himself as Attorney General by taking on – and beating – the out-of-state railroad companies operating in Texas, found that Standard Oil had some conflicting interests in the state. Using the anti-trust laws, he ordered the arrest of every Standard Oil Company officer he could get his hands on. In 1894, he ordered the arrest of Florida’s Henry Flagler and sent extradition papers to Florida’s governor for action.

Henry M. FlaglerHenry Flagler, who with John D. Rockefeller built the Standard Oil Company, had left the day-to-day operation of the company in 1885 to move to Florida and build a luxury hotel in St. Augustine. That project led to the development of the Florida East Coast Railway which not only brought patrons to his new hotel, but over the years opened up the entire east coast of Florida to tourism and development. He did, however, remain on the board of Standard Oil. Being both a Standard Oil official and a railroad man made Flagler a prime target for Governor Hogg.

Florida’s Governor Mitchell routinely signed the extradition papers which then set off a storm that would make a hurricane pale in comparison. Flagler’s many friends immediately called on Governor Mitchell to reconsider. His office was flooded with letters and telegrams from Floridians who benefited from Flagler’s presence in the state. The pressure was intense and it wasn’t long before the governor rescinded the order. It was too late to save his political career.

The kicker in this story is that Henry Flagler had never been to Texas which meant he could not be the fugitive from justice that Texas’ governor made him out to be.

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