Men of Mark in America/Volume 1/Paul Morton

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PAUL MORTON

 

PAUL MORTON, secretary of the United States navy, brought to that position the efficiency and resourcefulness which are often developed in so high a degree in the great educational training-school of the railway systems of our country. His early interest as a boy, he says, centered "in transportation," and after a short period of schooling, in his sixteenth year he went directly into the land office of the Burlington and Missouri River Railroad, at Burlington, Iowa, at a salary of sixteen dollars a month. He is a conspicuous example of the continuous mental growth which steady application to the problems of transportation, both in the passenger and freight departments, and to all the related business of the great highway's of commerce and travel, develops in a man endowed with good natural capacity. The dispatch and accuracy, the foresight and the unremitting attention, which railroad work demands in all its branches is a constant stimulus to the brain and the will. The harmonious management of the work as a whole, calls for an insight on the part of leading minds which is akin to genius. Our railroads have developed many men of fine powers. Like a highly graded school or college they train men for advanced work by the thorough mastery of the work in hand, and they constantly make way for those who are capable of going higher, giving enterprising men broader scope in their official work as they prove themselves capable of larger tasks.

Mr.Morton's career has been one of steady advancement.

He has always taken advanced views in regard to the relation and the duties of the railroads to the public. He has advocated reasonable rates and has been opposed to preferential rates. And he urged in railroad conferences and elsewhere that, first of all, the freight rates of the country should be adjusted on a basis which all competent railroad men could maintain—without discrimination between individuals. He is a believer in coōperation, and holds that the laws of trade are inexorable, and like the laws of nature will in time prevail over attempted regulations which are contrary to the inherent necessities of trade and commerce. He does not disapprove of combinations that are properly organized, and managed with justice; and he believes in publicity as to all corporations in whose securities the people are asked to invest. He is a western man with broad views of the country's needs. He has had an exceptionally wide experience in dealing with affairs on a large scale. The kind of business life he has led has obliged him to travel more than fifty thousand miles a year, on an average, during the last ten years, and his contact with men and affairs has given him a comprehensive knowledge of the methods of carrying on business, and of the laws which govern commercial relations.

He was born in Detroit, May 22, 1857. His father, J. Sterling Morton, and his mother, Caroline French Joy, were married in Michigan in the fall of 1854, and at once went to Nebraska City to reside, where they established the present Morton homestead, "Arbor Lodge." J. Sterling Morton took a prominent part in the development and upbuilding of the country west of the Missouri River. His authorship of the legislation establishing the anniversary of "Arbor Day," and his successful administration of the duties of secretary of agriculture under President Cleveland, have made him well known to the public.

Paul Morton is one of four brothers, Joy, Paul, Mark and Carl. The death of his youngest brother, Carl, in January, 1901, was a severe blow to their father, who survived him little more than a year.

In May, 1873, Mr. Morton, who had been in its land office for a year, was transferred to the General Freight Office of the Burlington and Missouri River Railroad, at Plattsmouth, Nebraska, receiving a salary of twenty-five dollars per month. He remained in this office about two years, when he removed to Chicago and became a clerk in the General Freight Office of the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad. He remained in the service of the latter corporation seventeen years, and when he resigned from it he had been successively chief clerk, assistant general freight agent, general passenger agent, and general freight agent. He left the C, B. & Q., in 1890, to become vice-president of the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company, and connected himself with other coal properties in the West, remaining in the coal business six years.

Mr. Morton became vice-president of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fé Railroad System, January 1, 1896, and was in charge of the commercial interests of the road and of its entire traffic, until called to take the position of secretary of the navy. His long-standing connection with the transportation business and with many other lines of commercial enterprise has given him a very wide personal acquaintance throughout the United States. He has never been active in politics, but had usually voted the national Democratic ticket until 1896, when the attitude of that party on the silver question led him to vote for President McKinley; and he has been in sympathy with the Republican party since that date. In personal and business relations he is frank and outspoken.

He has always been much interested in the reclamation of the arid lands of the United States, and has actively and intelligently studied the question of irrigation. He deems the law wise under which the receipts from the sale and disposal of public lands in certain states and territories are set aside and used in the construction of irrigation works, and he believes that it is a wise policy for the United States Government to appropriate money for building reservoirs to conserve the flood-waters which now go to waste, and cause so much damage along our great western rivers. He maintains that an intelligent administration of our already existing irrigation laws will reclaim millions of dollars' worth of land which is now practically worthless, and avert the disasters which have been occurring annually in the south along the Mississippi, and on other western rivers.

Mr. Morton's early home life in the growing state of Nebraska, the character of his parents, who steadily supported all action which was noble, enterprising and good—his own industry and application, together with the natural powers of a well-endowed mind, and the discipline which comes from filling responsible positions, have combined to make him the forceful and intelligent man needed for the important places he has recently filled.

Secretary Morton was married May 13, 1880, to Miss Charlotte Goodridge, of Chicago. They have had two daughters and one son, the latter dying in infancy. The oldest daughter married in 1901, Mr. William C. Potter.

On July 1, 1905, Mr. Morton's resignation from the cabinet took effect. He then became the acting head of the Equitable Life Assurance Society, of New York, to reorganize that important corporation, and on the twenty-sixth of the same month, at a regular meeting of the board of directors, he was elected its president.