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Tony Libri
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The Originator of Greenback Currency

Colonel Edmund Dick Taylor

 



In the pioneer era of its history, the State of Illinois was prolific of interesting historical characters; of men of braved perils and endured hardships in laying the foundations of a great commonwealth; of strong, courageous, self-reliant and resourceful men; of broad-minded, far-seeing and sagacious men, an of men who seemed to be peculiarly adapted to the conditions of frontier life.

Col. Edmund Dick Taylor – whose death in Chicago December 5, 1891, attracted for the time being the attention of the press of the country, and through which prominent mention was made of some of his most notable achievements was one of the last survivors of the pioneer era, and among all those whose names will always be identified with the formative period of the State’s History,  there was no more interesting, no more picturesque character.

Although not much in public life at least not many years in official life – he was instrumental in bringing before the public some of the men who became in later years, arbiters of a nation’s destinies and whose achievements gave them a place among the most conspicuous characters of American history. Contemplating his career one must regard him as a kind of modern king maker.  A man of rare discernment, he recognized the elements of greatness in men like Stephen A. Douglas and Abraham Lincoln, while they were still struggling in obscurity, and to him both are indebted largely for the fame which they subsequently achieved.

Politically, he affiliated with Douglas and shaped the influences and operated the agencies which carried him not public life.  To Lincoln he was antagonistic politically, prior to the war period, but took a keen interest in seeing the great emancipator start on his career – was always his warm personal friend and adviser, and, not infrequently, his active coadjutor in campaigns where only state or local issues were involved. With all the men who have been prominent in public life in Illinois, he was more or less intimately acquainted and associated. The first governor of the territory of Illinois was Ninian Edwards, an appointee of President Madison, who held the office from 1809 to 1818, and was governor of the State after its admission to the Union. Beginning with Governor Edwards, Col. Taylor enjoyed the acquaintance and friendship of all his successors down to Governor Fifer, the present incumbent of the office.  He was more or less intimately acquainted with every president of the United States, from President Andrew Jackson, down to President Benjamin Harrison, and he had met nearly all the famous old time Whig, Democratic and Republican statesman who came into prominence within the thirty years preceding the war period, as well as those who were most conspicuously identified with the suppression of the rebellion.

Having lived through a period which gave to our national history its most thrilling, its most tragic, and its most eventful chapters; having been familiar to a great extent with the causes which operated to promote political discord; having been in position to understand the passions which swayed the minds of political leaders, and having known personally the actors in the great national drama which culminated in establishing the sovereignty of the general government of the United States, Col “Dick” Taylor, as he was generally known throughout the West, could not have been other than a most attractive character in the later years of his life. Then, when one considers the fact that, in addition to having had these experiences and associations, he had the figure and manners of the old-school Southern gentleman, with just a touch of western brusqueness, and that “holding his life an open book” he was always ready to turn page after page for the information and entertainment of those who sought his company, it is easy to understand that he occupied so unique a position among historical personages, as to make the story of his life one of rare interest.

Edmund Dick Taylor was born in Fairfax Court House, Virginia, October 18, 1802.  He was the son of Giles Taylor, a Virginia planter, who was brother to Col. Richard Taylor, the father of General Zachary Taylor, twelfth president of the United States.  While still an infant, Taylor’s father removed from Virginia to Christian County, Kentucky, where he lived until 1814, when he became one of the pioneer settlers of Shawneetown, Illinois.  Giles Taylor died soon afterward leaving his family with limited means of support, by reason of his having made some unfortunate investments.  The son was thrown practically upon his own resources at twelve or thirteen years of age, and the necessity for engaging in some employment which would contribute to his own support and that of the family, cut short his early education and sent him out into the world to seek knowledge in the great school of experience.  That he was an apt pupil was demonstrated by the fact that while still a mere boy, he began managing business ventures of considerable magnitude, and in the conduct of these affairs was able to command the confidence and capital of some of the leading men of Shawneetown.  Early in life he demonstrated his capacity for operating on a large scale as an Indian and frontier trader.  His first venture of this kind was set on foot with a capital of two hundred and fifty dollars.  He interested with him a wealthy salt manufacturer of Shawneetown, who furnished additional capital to the amount of eight thousand dollars and together they loaded a flat boat with goods of various kinds, with which he started down the Ohio River. Disposing of these goods among the Indians of the Arkansas country, he returned to St. Louis with furs and poultry which brought him, in that market, thirty two thousand dollars.  His share of profits of this trading expedition gave him a confortable start in life , and he soon afterward removed to Springfield, Illinois where he engaged in the mercantile business with Col. John Taylor the first sheriff of Sangamon County.  Col. John Taylor was also from Kentucky, having removed from Crab Orchard to Edwardsville, Illinois and later settled on a tract of land which now constituents a considerable portion of the city of Springfield.  He was a distinguished pioneer citizen, who laid out the towns  of Taylorsville and Petersburg, Illinois, and filled among other important positions, that of Receiver of the Land Office at Springfield, by appointment of President Andrew Jackson.

In 1829, E. D. Taylor, married Margaret, one of the four daughters of Col. John Taylor, and established his home in Springfield.  Prior to his marriage, however he had been attracted to the Galena lead-mining district, and had left his business at Springfield in charge of his partner, while he “took a turn at mining.”

In this he was quite as successful as he had been in Indian trading.  The first claim he located which he named in honor of General Jackson proved to be paying mine, and after realizing a handsome sum from the output, he sold the property to General Henry Dodge, and returned to Springfield to resume merchandising.  When the Black Hawk War broke out in 1831, he was appointed by Governor Duncan to a colonelcy, and served with Jefferson Davis, General George Jones, General Henry Dodge, and other notable men who participated in the frontier warfare of that period. In 1832 he was elected to the lower branch of the State Legislature, and after serving a term in the House of Representatives, he ran for the Senate, and was elected, defeating the famous Methodist revivalist, Peter Cartwright.  One of the questions being agitated at the time was the removal of the State Capitol from Vandalia to Springfield, and Colonel Taylor promised his constituents, that, if elected, he would put through a bill providing for the removal. To accomplish this he joined forces with Abraham Lincoln, then a member of the House of Representatives, and to the efforts of these two men, Springfield is mainly indebted for the enactment of the law which made that city the capital of Illinois. 

Col. Taylor first became acquainted with Lincoln when the latter was doing business as a country storekeeper in a log cabin, in the town of New Salem.  A short acquaintance convinced him that Lincoln was a man of more than ordinary ability, and he advised him to study law.  Lincoln’s answer to this proposition was that he could not afford to purchase the books necessary for a proper course of study, and to relieve him of this embarrassment, Taylor secured for him a nominal connection with the law office of Judge Stephen Logan, one of the most noted members of the Illinois bar, which gave him the privilege of using the Judge’s law library.  It was this action of Col. Taylor which started Lincoln on the read to fame as a lawyer and statesman.

He became acquainted with Stephen A. Douglas when the latter was teaching school in southern Illinois, and took the same interest in advising him to prosecute his law studies that he took in assisting and advising Lincoln.  He was older than either of these men, was a prosperous man of affairs, had begun to wield an important influence as a public man, and his friendship was unquestionably of inestimable advantage to them.

It is not probable that it ever occurred to him in those days that he was “coaching” two future candidates for the presidency of the United States, but he nevertheless showed rare discernment in going out of his way to put two struggling young men in the way of reaching positions of such remarkable eminence in after years.

In 1835 Col. Taylor was appointed Receiver of Public Moneys at Chicago, and at once removed to what had been known up to that time only as a frontier trading post.  Upon being sworn into office, he was required to give binds in the sum of thirty thousand dollars, that amount being deemed sufficient to secure all the money likely to come into his hands, at any time at the new Land Office, to the surprise and astonishment of the authorities at Washington, however, he realized from the first sale of lands after the office was opened at prices ranging from one dollar and twenty five to one dollar and fifty cents per acre, four hundred and thirty two thousand dollars .  This money he sent by boat to the sub treasury at Detroit, and forwarded his report to Washington.  President Jackson was amazed at the results of the sale and wanted to know “where on earth all that money came from.”  Col. Taylor’s reply was that it had been received from every civilized nation on the globe, and upon the occasion of his next visit to Washington, he was given a public banquet, at which high government officials testified to their appreciation of his remarkable succession conducting a government land sale. 

While holding the office of Receiver of Public Moneys in Chicago, he also took an active interest in business enterprises, establishing the first wholesale dry goods store in the city which so suddenly spring into existence.  He was one of the commissioners appointed to receive subscriptions for the pioneer railroad of Northern Illinois, and at a later date materially aided the Michigan Central Railroad Company in the work of pushing the Chicago end of its line to completion. After remaining some years in Chicago, he removed to Michigan City, Indiana, where he engaged in banking, building up one of the famous financial institutions of the West.  As a banker, his rare financial ability became more than ever apparent, and he was frequently called upon to aid other monetary institutions in extricating themselves from embarrassments.  At one time,  a noted pioneer bank of Milwaukee, being hard pressed for funds on account of a “run” which had been systematically planned to bring about its overthrow, appealed to Col. Taylor for assistance.   Without the least hesitation he dispatched fifty thousand dollars, on a lake vessel, to Milwaukee, and thereby saved his friends from bankruptcy.  While living in Indiana, he was as conspicuously identified with politics and public affairs as he had previously been in Illinois.  In 1850 he was elected a delegate to the convention which framed the present constitution of that State, and served as a member of that body with Thomas A. Hendricks, William H. English, W.S. Holman, General A. P. Hovey and other men of national prominence.  He left Michigan City with a large fortune, which he  had accumulated through his banking and other operations, and again located in Chicago, where he had extensive realty interests.

In Illinois he again assumed his old position as one of the recognized leaders of the Democratic party and the staunch friend and supporter of his former protégé, Stephen A. Douglas.  On one occasion only, prior to the war, did he waver in his allegiance to the Democratic organization, and that was in 1856 when he supported Col. William H. Bissell, for governor, on account of a state issue involved in the canvass, concerning which he was in hearty sympathy with the Republican nominee.  On this occasion he stumped  the state with Lincoln and won a gold watch from General John A. Logan, as the result of a wager on Bissell’s election.

In 1860 he stumped the State against Lincoln, but when the rebellion was precipitated by the result of the election, his patriotism was aroused, and he unhesitatingly gave to the policy of the administration his unqualified support and endorsement.  That Lincoln had great confidence in the wisdom and sagacity of his old friend, is unquestionably true, and that he was summoned to Washington for consultation concerning the impending financial crisis in 1862, is affirmed by those who should know whereof they speak.  That at this consultation he suggested and persistently advocated the issue of the “Greenback” currency, and that the President endorsed the suggestion seems to be so credibly proven as to entitle him to the distinction of being recognized as “The Father of the Greenback.”  During the war he contributed liberally of his large means to aid in its prosecution.  He spend nearly all his time during the four eventful years of its duration, either in Washington or “at the front,” and he was frequently the bearer of important messages which passed between the President and Generals Grant and Sherman, and other leaders of the Union armies.

Not only were the services which have been mentioned, and those rendered in furnishing clothing and supplies to the troops sent out from Illinois in the early part of the war, such as to command the high regard of all those who esteem true patriotism, but the influence which he wielded in bringing to the support of Lincoln’s administration the masses of the Democratic party in Illinois, was of incalculable benefit to the Union cause.  After the war, although he retained his connection with the Democratic party to the end of his life, he took a less active interest in politics.  His attention was given chiefly to various business enterprises.  At LaSalle he opened the first coal mines operated in Northern Illinois, and was the pioneer in developing the vast mineral wealth of this region.

The Chicago fire of 1871 affected his fortune most disastrously, sweeping away in fact the greater part of it.  From 1876, up to the time of his death, he spend most of his time at Mendota, Illinois, but looked upon Chicago as his home – the great city which had grown up on land which he sold at government prices in 1835.

Col. Taylor died in Chicago at the residence of his daughter, Mrs. I. W. Rogers, and the funeral which took place was attended by prominent citizens of Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin and, other western States.  One of the most distinguished of those present was his lifelong friend, General George W. Jones, one of the first United States Senators from Iowa, who delivered a brief, but touching eulogy over the remains of the noted pioneer.

Col. Taylor’s wife, with whom he had lived nearly sixty-two years, two sons and two daughters are the surviving members of one of the most notable pioneer families in Illinois.

This story was excerpted from The National Magazine A Journal Devoted to American History, Volume 16 written by Howard Louis Conard.  Published for April through November 1892 New York, The National History Company, 132 Nassau Street.

 

Side Note:

The green ink that has been used since 1862 to print U.S. banknotes was invented in 1857 by Thomas Sterry Hunt while he was a professor at McGill University in Montreal. Hunt was the staff analytical chemist of the Canadian Geological Survey and it was during his time in this position that he started becoming familiar with chromium-containing minerals. For the banknote ink he proposed the use of chromium sesquioxide, also known as chromium trioxide.

The green ink is the reason why so many counterfeiters are unsuccessful at reproducing U.S. currency. This green ink also cannot be destroyed by acid, base or any other agent. The green ink has another very important characteristic: it cannot be copied by photography.

 

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