It was a late afternoon on August 10, 1865 when Cornell Weston and Hugh Jeffries greeted one another on the sidewalk near the entrance of the Eagle Nest Publican House on Boylston Street, just a stone’s throw from the southwest corner of Boston Common and less than one mile from the city’s burgeoning financial district. The city’s cobblestone streets were drenched with humidity and the sun was hanging low in the sky.
Carpenters working on the final phases of Boston’s City Hall on School Street were beginning their long trek home, through the Common toward Dorchester or somewhere else in South Boston. Many of the sweat-stained workers wandered into the Eagle Nest for a well-deserved pint after a long day of labor. Although horse carriages lined both sides of Boylston, the workers could rarely afford the fares after consuming several pints of bitter.
Weston and Jefferies were regulars at the working-class pub, and they spent many long hours at their favorite corner table near the back of the tavern. Here, they debated politics, interpreted philosophy and romanticized about the prospects of their career paths as newly minted members of the Commonwealth Bar. For them, mingling with the commoners added to their sense of superiority among their fellow man.
“After you,” Jeffries told Weston, holding back the oak door of the pub’s entrance, and tipping his felt Bowler hat to his colleague.
“Delighted by your grace,” Weston replied with a sly grin and returning the gesture.
“Always the consummate gentleman,” Jeffries said as he followed his friend inside the tavern.
Cornell Weston was 25 years old. He was lanky with wavy brown hair and deep-set eyes. A native of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, Weston’s family had amassed a small fortune in the export business that loaded seafaring vessels with textile goods while also investing in shipbuilding endeavors. Cornell was the first member of his family to attend post-graduate school. His father, an accountant, was determined that his son would attend both Boston Latin and Harvard.
Cornell was hired after graduation by Fidelity Reserve, one of the nation’s largest import-export companies. Fidelity operated offices in four states, including Virginia, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and New York. Cornell was a brash and opinionated man who was less than satisfied with his current position as deputy general counsel at Fidelity Reserve. He believed himself to be ready for the bench or some other more noble cause. He feared that his legal talents were being fettered away as he spent his days revising and reviewing shipping and manifest contracts.
The bright spot in his career was this: Frazier Randolph, general counsel at Fidelity Reserve, was a portly man, 52 years of age and generally in poor health with an incessant cough. When Randolph died, which Cornell assumed would be any day now, Cornell’s pay would triple and he would have the title of General Counsel.
Hugh Jeffries was much shorter than his best friend, and his girth suggested that he rarely waved away fine cheeses or breads. His curly blond hair and piercing blue eyes belied the true man that he was, giving him an outwardly impish appearance.
Unlike Weston, Jeffries came from old money, and he still lived with his parents at their Central Square mansion in Cambridge. Upon graduation, Jeffries immediately accepted a position at Stewart, Kindley & Smythe, one of Boston’s most prestigious law firms. He worked in the firm’s Real Estate & Trust Bureau, and he fully expected to become a partner in less than two years’ time.
Being one of the most popular publican houses in Back Bay, the long wooden tables at the Eagles Nest were being quickly filled by thirsty men, seeking some small measure of relief on such a hot and humid day.
For the most part, Weston and Jeffries ignored the other men in the tavern. They spent several minutes chatting about current events, their respective careers and Laura Whittermore, the woman Weston had fancied for more than three months. Despite his intense feelings for Miss Whittemore, and her seemingly in-kind inclinations, Weston had uttered no more than four phrases to her, usually in passing on the way home to his Dartmouth Street apartment.
The two men were now near halfway through their second round when Jeffries could sense that Weston was troubled, watching in puzzlement as his best friend remained silent, staring forlornly toward the window overlooking the busy street.
“Why so glum? Has Miss Whittemore become engaged?” Jeffries laughed.
Weston barely acknowledged the question, toying gently with the stein in front of him. After a moment of pause, he turned from his stare out the window and looked directly into his friend’s eyes.
“Do you ever feel as if we our idling our time away?” he asked.
Jeffries was taken aback. “Heavens, man. Our lives are before us, the streets paved with marble for our bare feet. It’s been a little more than a year since graduation. What possible regrets could you have now?”
“This is hardly what I envisioned,” Weston said, ignoring the growing throng of customers and returning his gaze toward the window.
“Well, what do you envision then?” Jeffries asked with a mixture of curiosity and dread, almost afraid of the answer and its implications for his own dreams.
“I envision us to be captains of industry, masters of our destiny,” said Weston, a bit more clearly, as he finally took a swig of his ale.
“Well, we are certainly on our way,” Jeffries replied, somewhat heartened that his friend was regaining his normal composure and bluster.
“At a damn snail’s pace,” Weston almost barked. If not for the size of the crowd and the din of happy drinkers, Weston’s tone and tenure may have caused a curious glance. Instead, his remarks were lost deep within the conversations of other boisterous men.
“Am I to assume that you have a proposal to adjust our fates?” Jeffries asked with a grin. “Some grand scheme, perhaps?”
Weston’s eyes narrowed, and he leaned over the table, setting his elbows firmly in place as he stared again at his friend. “How many times over the course of these last few months have we discussed the death of our president?” Weston asked.
Jeffries shrugged. “I dare say countless times,” he responded.
“And where would the Union be today if Booth’s master plan had manifested itself more completely?”
“We can only thank the Lord that the Union was preserved,” Jeffries said, wishing the conversation would take a more pleasant tone; perhaps arguing about Adams’ defense of the British troops during the Boston Massacre or opining about the works of Ralph Waldo Emerson. After all, they were Harvard men, required to engage in deep thought and question, but certainly not to ponder the demise of the nation.
“Are you then content to be a clerk?” Weston snapped.
Now it was Jeffries who could feel his face redden. “I am hardly a clerk, sir! Need I remind you that I am poised to become a partner in one of the nation’s most prestigious law firms in less than two years hence?”
“Would you bank your parents’ money on that?” Weston asked, leaning back in his chair, satisfied that he had the full attention of his friend.
Jeffries took another swig of ale, motioning the barmaid to bring another round, though he could feel his fists clenching. He turned sideways to his friend, while raising his arm to the barmaid. “You’ve never held my family’s good fortune against me before. Why now?”
“I ask it only as a rhetorical question, my friend,” Weston said before draining his stein. “I am simply asking you to think about the possibilities – about the future.”
Jeffries was puzzled, and he paused while the barmaid filled their steins. “The future?”
“Yes, my good friend. The future. It is on precipitous ground.”
“Nonsense,” Jeffries replied. “The rebellion was crushed. The war is over. The men gathered in this tavern are nearly complete in building a new City Hall. Within a manner of weeks, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology will be opening its doors on the other side of the Charles, only blocks from where I live. The Pacific Railroad is nearly complete and will connect our two coastlines. America’s future has never been brighter.”
“But our president was taken; and who is to say that another rebellion is no just around the corner?”
“Perhaps it is the ale that impairs my judgment,” Jeffries replied. “But I dare say you are taking the pessimist’s view of our current state of affairs.”
“My good friend, it is not the ale, nor the rantings of a madman,” Weston said, fully animated now. “We are Harvard men. We have a God-given obligation to our fellow man. We must see the opportunities before us even before they have clarity. We must seize on these opportunities.”
“I confess that I am complexed,” said Jeffries. “On the one hand, you speak of doom and gloom. In the very next breath, you are speaking of opportunities to be seized. Perhaps you could enlighten me as to the basis of your logic.”
“It’s really quite elementary,” Weston exclaimed, throwing up his arms for dramatic effect. “There are countless firms, individuals and organizations around the globe, most of them rattled by the war and its associated discontent; its air of unpredictability. We can help those clients hedge against the potential of another upheaval in these United States.”
“And, my friend, how do we do this?” Jeffries asked, waving his forefinger at his own chest and toward Weston.
Weston slapped his hands on the table so hard that the two steins of beer shook. “We start our own law firm. A firm dedicated to the principles of preserving the Union forever more. You and I shall be partners.”
Jeffries chortled. “Partners? In our own firm?”
“Yes,” Weston said without flinching. We become partners. We pool our resources and chart our own destiny. Imagine not having to pore over wills and trusts? After all, within two years hence, you may as well be drafting your own will and testament because Stewart, Kindley & Smythe will be surely the death of you.”
“I would require time to contemplate such a proposal,” Jeffries said, unable to face his friend and staring down at the table.
Weston ignored the obvious doubt in his friend’s tone. “Splendid,” he said. “We shall meet here again on Friday. I will bring along someone I have to come to respect at Fidelity. His name is Donald Kendall. He’s British, an Oxford man who studied at the London School of Economics. We will need a third man, someone with international expertise because we cannot limit our future to the borders of our own nation.”
“Very well,” Jeffries replied. “Bring this Kendall fellow, and I promise to give your proposal serious consideration.”
“Splendid,” Weston said, standing from the table and reaching over to shake his friend’s hand.
Jeffries paused. “We’re not shaking on a deal.”
“Of course not,” Weston beamed. “We are simply setting the stage for a future conversation; one which I assure you will forever change the world.”
The small corner table was barely able to accommodate the three men and their steins. Donald Kendall silently wondered why Weston and Jeffries would frequent such a roughhouse. He glanced at the stairs behind the table, wondering where those steps led. To what devices were those second floor rooms used?
Mr. Kendall desperately wanted to wash his hands.
Weston, however, was brimming with excitement. “Lads, we are looking down the barrel of a golden opportunity,” he said taking a long swallow of ale to punctuate his words.
“I might agree with the looking down the barrel part of your sentence,” Jeffries said, trading nervous glances with Kendall and feeling more and more ill at ease.
“My dear, chap,” Kendall said. “I am only here this eve because you promised me two free pints.”
Weston ignored both men. “It will be an equal partnership,” he proclaimed. We need each to invest no more than $500. I already have an office flat picked out on Tremont Street, a prestigious address for a prestigious firm.”
“Do I still get my two free pints?” Kendall smirked.
But Jeffries was close to being livid with his friend. “You are already choosing office space and have yet to hear our consent,” Jeffries said, refusing to hide his incredulity.
“Our purpose is more noble and grand than our own selfish interests,” Weston replied, darting his eyes back and forth at the two men. “The way I see things, Mr. Kendall, is that you will promptly return to London to open our offices there. Hire two or three associates and offer them handsome salaries. We will then have offices in Boston and London – an international firm — and our clients will soon be flocking for our services rendered.”
Jeffries and Kendall traded glances, both men filled with doubt and hardy moved by Weston’s enthusiasm.
“You would have me leave the colonies, after being here less than a year?” Kendall asked. “And you want me to resign a job of means based on nothing more than a handshake in a brothel?”
Weston flinched in his seat. “Two points, Mr. Kendall. Firstly, these are no longer colonies. Britain lost the war.”
“Great Britain,” Kendall interrupted.
“Yes, yes,” Weston said, annoyed and shaking his head in frustration. “And secondly – perhaps most importantly – The Eagle Nest is a fine establishment and beyond your poorly conceived ideas about its purpose.”
The minutes turned to hours and it was now well past midnight. Weston knew that both Jeffries and Kendall shared his insatiable ambition, if not for money then for prestige. Weston’s calculation paid off as other two men allowed their imaginations to roam over several pints of bitter ale. Within an hour more, Kendall and Jeffries were weakened. Their ambition, coupled with Weston’s fiery rhetoric, finally subdued all their protests.
Thus, the foundation of Boston’s newest law firm was laid. Each of the men would deliver to their respective employers a thirty-day notice of employment termination. All three knew that they would be dismissed immediately. After much haggling and ample discussion, they drafted a copy of their new firm’s Intent & Purpose:
To serve the nation and the people of the United States, and to all those who have interests therein, whether they be foreign or domestic, in a manner that demands the highest standards of integrity, trust and discretion. And above all else: an unparalleled measure of loyalty amongst ourselves to – through force of law — quell insurrection and to dislodge tyrants in all their forms.
Both Weston and Kendall were required to secure individual lines of credit, along with loans of $200 apiece from their respective families.
Jeffries, however, had his own means through an inheritance he received from his late grandfather.
Over the next fifteen years and with the recruitment of several Harvard classmates, the firm of Jeffries, Weston & Kendall flourished. They had established offices in Boston, Philadelphia, Washington DC, London and Paris.
Their practice areas focused on political consulting, risk analysis and financial management.
Although the firm started small — recruiting local candidates for the Boston City Council, the Massachusetts Assembly and other local races — they became trusted advisors to members of Congress in 12 states, including six members of the U.S. Senate. On the international front, Donald Kendall provided advice and counsel to firms that were planning investments in the states, including imports and exports and advising the British Parliament about tariff policies and the expected reaction in the States.
The firm soon found itself investing its clients’ resources in private security firms and providing insurance for sailing vessels and railroads. But the centerpiece of Jeffries, Weston & Kendall was solidly rooted in their ability to provide political stability with carefully, handpicked candidates who would provide the firm’s clients with a certain measure of predictability.
The ambition of the firm’s partners was insatiable, and there was no predicting their limitations.
But on a rainy evening in early July 1881, the firm was about to face its first real test of power and influence.
President James Garfield was assassinated by Charles J. Guiteau, a drifter with a troubled past and a history of erratic behavior.
Hugh Jeffries offered to attend the trial. He was nervous about the political implications. A second assassination of a United States president did not bode well for the firm or its partners. Clearly, the financial markets would be rattled. Was the United States stable enough to attract greater investment from around the world?
The trial began on November 14 in Washington, D.C, and Jeffries had arranged for himself a prominent seat in the court galley and a room only three blocks from the courthouse. During each day of the trial, Jeffries took copious notes and then dutifully mailed them each evening to his partner in Boston.
But Jeffries’ had an epiphany of sorts a little more than two weeks into the trial.
It was an especially cold night in Washington, and Jeffries dined with some other attorneys at the end of the day. He tried to put on a show of confidence as he sipped Cognac and smoked cigars, but inwardly he was reeling.
By the time, he returned to the inn, his stomach was in knots. The embers burning in the fireplace of his suite gave the ample room a soft glow. Jeffries reached to the nightstand for another swig of his Irish whiskey in an attempt to calm his racing mind and remove the chill of the night air.
He pulled another woolen blanket over himself, speculating which way the trial would go. If Guiteau escaped the force of law by reason of insanity, then the work he and his partners had executed would be foiled. The young nation would again be viewed as unstable and unable to control its population.
That outcome, of course, was troubling, meaning that any wretch with a pistol could throw the nation into chaos and disrupt the normal course of events, including multitudes of commerce.
Sleep seemed impossible, and Hugh Jeffries was as restless as he could ever remember. But there was another gnawing thought upon his brain as he lay awake on that damp evening in late November. At first, the idea lacked clarity but did not take long to cement itself, and he seized upon it with force.
If it were true that any wretch – especially one so malleable – could disrupt the nation and its associated activities of commerce, who was the real tyrant? Who deserved to die? Depending on one’s perspective, there were two sides of this particular coin.
Perhaps, Jeffries thought, this trial was much more an opportunity than a setback for Jeffries, Weston & Kendall. With the slightest bit of manipulation, the central question of this trial could well become who was the tyrant: Garfield or Guiteau? The answer would seem obvious to most men, but Hugh Jeffries was not most men. His firm was prospering beyond all expectations and yet his ambition continued to consume him.
Could someone daring and bold enough hold such a coin and give equal consideration to both sides?
If Garfield was a threat to the nation, then should there not be a more expedient way of removing him from office rather than the drawn-out process of impeachment. But who would decide? Who would judge the tyrant?
If Jeffries, Weston and Kendall was proficient in placing men of high caliber into positions of power and influence, should it not retain the means to remove those same men if it became necessary? Perhaps not with a pistol, especially since Jeffries abhorred violence, but there were many other methods of dealing with tyrants.
Jeffries was able to rationalize his epiphany with one simple sentence. Stability and the greater good of the nation must be preserved, and it is incumbent upon men of good will to ensure that the government would not undo the greater good for which it was created.
Now, Jeffries could hardly wait for his return to Boston so that he could confer his ideas with Weston. Such thoughts, he reasoned, should never be committed to parchment. He would abandon the trial and leave for Boston on the morning train.
What Jeffries could not imagine that night was how his single coin theory would forever change the course of human events, and make his growing law firm one of the most powerful and influential in the world.
He drifted off to a deep sleep with a smile on his face, thinking not of his bride or young children but rather the delight in meeting again with his partner and best friend, Cornell Weston.
There was much to discuss and contemplate. And the dreams came quickly.