UPDATE: The amazing, untold story of Wall Street's other trailblazing Hamilton
There were a few other notable black businessmen at the time, and the way Hamilton differs from them is telling. A man named Thomas Downing owned a popular oyster restaurant where a lot of rich and influential white people ate. He didn't allow blacks into his establishment, but he otherwise tried to fight segregation, writing checks for civil-rights causes. He was caught between his own views and what his business demanded. Hamilton wasn't like that. He had nothing to do with other African-Americans, and, while he took in some charity cases, they were all white. He had servants, but they were Irish. He lived in a white world, with a white wife, white friends and a white business. He had as little contact with the African-American population as any other rich white guy on Wall Street did.
MW: How do you see Hamilton as a reflection on what Wall Street is currently like?
S.W.: There's a lot about his conduct that seems familiar. Hamilton operated pools of money, where people would give him money and he would invest it for them. It was kind of a forerunner to hedge funds. He used their money ruthlessly--if he made a profit, he would keep it, and if he made a loss he would spread that loss around. He only gave away enough of his profits that he could keep getting clients.
Beyond him, there was a form of gambling called "insuring the lottery." The lottery was banned in New York in 1843, so people would gamble on what the numbers would be in Delaware, New Jersey and Maryland. It took a few hours for the numbers to come, so some people--call them entrepreneurs, capitalists or crooks--spent $6,000 to have people stand on hillsides and flash a symbol of what the numbers were. They were able to get the numbers in 20 minutes doing this, and then they made even more money selling both fake numbers and the correct numbers. When I learned about this I thought about the Michael Lewis book "Flash Boys," which is about how trading firms would spend all this money so they could execute a trade a microsecond faster. Wall Street has always been ruthless.
See:Michael Lewis may write about Trump next (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/michael-lewis-may-next-write-about-trump-and-the-government-of-ignorance-2017-04-27)
-Ryan Vlastelica; 415-439-6400; AskNewswires@dowjones.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires