Daniel McCormick (banker)

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Daniel McCormick (1739/40 – 1834) was a Scottish-born businessman who lived most of his life in New York City, where he was a founding director of the Bank of New York, and was well known in circles that included Alexander Hamilton (to whom he was distantly related by marriage), John Jay (first Chief Justice of the United States from 1789 to 1795), John Adams (first vice president of the United States (1789–1797), and second president of the United States (1797–1801)), and the artist Gilbert Stuart.

Early life[edit]

Daniel was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, in either 1739 or 1740. He had a brother named Edward, who married Joanna Hamilton, a cousin of Alexander Hamilton. Hamilton and Daniel were neighbors in New York City in 1789; Hamilton had an office at 58 Wall Street and Daniel lived at 57 Wall Street.

It is unknown when Daniel arrived in the United States – possibly some time in the 1760s, when he was in his twenties. He served as a lieutenant in the patriot militia until the British occupation of New York City. As a recognized neutral during the occupation he escaped confiscation of his property and as early as 1784 had won election to the newly formed Chamber of Commerce. After the occupation he worked for an auctioneering company named Moore, Lynsen and Company and made a fortune in the sale of prizes during the Revolutionary War.[1]

New York City became temporary capital of the US in 1785, and formal capital in September 1788. It remained capital until 1790 when it was replaced by Philadelphia.

Life on Wall Street[edit]

Some time after the war, Daniel established a business at 39 Wall Street, close to Federal Hall (26 Wall Street). The latter served as the meeting place for the US Congress between 1785 and 1789 under the Articles of Confederation. It was remodeled in 1788 under the direction of Pierre Charles L’Enfant (later designer of Washington DC), and renamed Federal Hall when it became the first Congress of the U.S. under the new constitution in 1789. George Washington was inaugurated as president in front of Federal Hall in April 1789, and the Bill of Rights was adopted there in September 1789.

Life at Daniel's house in 1789-90 was described as follows:

Little went on in Federal Hall without his comment, if not his knowledge. And when Congress dismissed for the day, and statesmen and socialites took their Wall Street airing, Mr. McCormick and his cronies had a word about each. Let the Secretary of War lumber past that observatory stoop, and the latest quip would be whispered concerning General Knox’s unfortunate bulk – “Mrs John Adams’ daughter says ‘he is not half so fat as he was’; she means before he wore stays”. And when chubby John Adams himself strutted by “like a monkey just put into breeches”, the stoop recalled how Senator Izard proposed that the Vice-President be titled “His Rotundity”.[2]

Bank of New York[edit]

The Bank of New York was founded as a result of a meeting of New York merchants on 23 February 1784; it was the first bank created in the independent United States, and its prime organizer, and author of its constitution, was Alexander Hamilton. The board of directors was elected on 15 March, and included Daniel McCormick, Alexander Hamilton, Samuel Franklin, Isaac Roosevelt, and John Vanderbilt.[3] When the Bank of New York was incorporated in 1791, a total of 723 shares worth $500 each were issued. With a holding of 15 shares (worth $7500), Daniel was one of the three biggest shareholders. Aaron Burr owned three shares and Alexander Hamilton owned 1½.[4] In 1792 it became the first corporate stock to be traded on the New York Stock Exchange, which was founded in May 1792.

The Macomb Purchase[edit]

Alexander Macomb (1748–1831) was a Belfast-born merchant who had made money during the war as a fur trader in Michigan and then moved to New York to become a land speculator and shipping magnate. In 1788 he built a large mansion at 39 Broadway, which in 1790 was leased to become George Washington’s presidential residence. In 1791, Macomb bought a tract of 3.6 million acres (15,000 km2) in upper New York state that became known as "Macomb's Purchase". He bought it for eight cents an acre with no down payment, and agreed to pay off the amount in six annual instalments. Macomb was actually just the front man for the purchase, which was made by a group that included Daniel McCormick and William Constable, another merchant who had also made his money in the fur trade and was one of the first Americans to trade with China. The purchase covered about one-tenth of New York state, and included all of present-day Lewis county, and large parts of Oswego, St. Lawrence, Franklin, and Jefferson counties. It contained only a few squatters, and consisted of good farmland.

The land was put up for sale, with Constable even going to Europe to try to make sales there. During the gubernatorial election of 1792 there were charges that Governor George Clinton stood to benefit from the transaction because of his friendship with Daniel, who allegedly held a third of the tract and planned to transfer part of it to Clinton; Daniel denied this. Besides, he was a federalist when Clinton was an anti-federalist. Sales did not keep up with the due dates for payments on the loan, and during the Panic of 1792 Macomb was sent to debtor’s prison with debts of more than $300,000, a fortune at the time. The land was divided among Daniel, Constable, and the creditors, and was sold and re-sold during the 1790s. Clinton sued his accusers for libel, and won the case.

Daniel was a friend of the artist Gilbert Stuart, famous for his full-length portrait of George Washington (the Lansdowne portrait), painted in the fall of 1796.

Final years[edit]

In 1801, Daniel was appointed a trustee of the New York Society Library. The character of his closing years is described by Walter Barrett as follows:

Mr. McCormick was a glorious sample of the old New Yorker. He stuck to Wall Street to the last. Death alone could get him out of it. He died in 1834, and from 1792 until that date he never budged an inch out of the honored old street. He witnessed the removal of his neighbors one by one, year after year, until all had gone. He saw offices and business crowding into the cellar and floors and garrets of the vacated buildings; he saw new buildings put up for offices; but he was firm, and finally was left alone, the only gentleman who continued to reside in his own house, in the good old fashioned style. He never changed his habits. He stuck to short breeches and white stockings and buckles to the last. He wore hair-powder as long as he lived, and believed in curls. He was without a stain upon his character. He was fond of his friends, and they loved him, although he saw nearly all of them enter the grave. He gave good dinner parties, and had choice old wines upon the table. In his invitations for dinner he invited three, or five, or seven persons to dine with him, but never an even number; and he was always anxious to have those come that he invited, so that ill-luck might not chance by one not coming, thus giving the unlucky even number of persons to entertain. After dinner came a good old game of whist for one or two tables, according as he invited more or less. He was fond of the game, and his friends also were good whist player[s]. He owned a large landed property, and when he died was very rich. On those days, and for years, the great topic of conversation was Bonaparte.[5]

Daniel died in 1834, and his house was torn down not long afterwards, and in 1836-42 the merchant's exchange was built at 55-57 Wall Street. This failed in mid-century, and the building was home to the New York Stock Exchange for 12 years. In 1863 it became the Custom House, and in 1899 was bought by National City Bank, which had it remodelled. It later became the Regent Wall Street Hotel, until 2004. The exterior of the building was designated a New York City landmark in 1965.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Julius L. Goebel, The Law Practice of Alexander Hamilton: Documents and Commentary (Columbia University Press, 1980), p. 131.
  2. ^ Frank Monaghan, Marvin Lowenthal, This Was New York, the Nation's Capital in 1789 (Ayer Publishing, 1970), pp. 33-34.
  3. ^ Chauncey Mitchell Depew, One Hundred Years of American Commerce (New York: D O Haynes, 1895), p. 2.
  4. ^ Henry Williams Domett, A History of the Bank of New York, 1784-1884: Compiled from Official Records and Other Sources at the Request of Directors (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1884), pp. 132-135.
  5. ^ Walter Barrett, The Old Merchants of New York City (New York: Greenwood Press, 1968; first published in 1870 by Carleton), pp. 252-253.