John Murray Forbes (American National Biography)

John Lauritz Larson, "Forbes, John Murray," American National Biography Online, February 2000,
In the decades that bracketed the Civil War, Forbes served as the financial wizard on a team of specialists in western railroading. Attorney Joy and engineer Brooks mastered the legal, political, and technical aspects while Forbes lined up investors, floated securities, and plotted commercial strategies. Forbes's team gathered together four small Illinois lines and in 1856 organized the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy (CB&Q), which became the flagship of their railroad empire in the post-Civil War era. To the west stretched the Hannibal & St. Joseph in Missouri and the Burlington & Missouri River in Iowa--both lines pushing ahead of demand, force-fed on government land grants--which Forbes picked up for the CB&Q to secure feeder traffic from the next tier of states. Forbes hated such defensive investments in hypothetical railroads because they flooded security markets, deranged settlement patterns, and prematurely introduced competition and rate distortions. Nevertheless, he learned to play an aggressive game of competitive railroad building that continued for decades after the Civil War.

The Civil War tested Forbes's energy and convictions in behalf of American liberty. Ideologically disposed to believe in a free entrepreneurial society, Forbes despised plutocrats as unproductive parasites; accordingly, he saw black slavery as an evil tending to perpetuate an antimodern planter aristocracy that stifled ambition and opportunity for white Americans in the South. In the 1850s Forbes drifted into abolitionist circles, funneling money and arms through the New England Immigrant Aid Society, helping to organize the new Republican party in Massachusetts, and once sheltering the fugitive John Brown.
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