The following appeared in The Independent magazine, April 17, 1913
John H. Patterson
A Defense of the President of the National Cash Register Company
By Frank Crane, D.D.
A unique situation developed in the flood situation at Dayton, Ohio, when it became known that John H. Patterson had become the acting head of the stricken city, supplanting the Mayor and having authority even over the militia, who are in charge under martial law.—New York World, March 31.
One of the most striking dramas of recent years is J. M. Barrie's Admirable Crichton, in which he depicts a modern typical English family, with all their snobbish feeling of caste, shipwrecked upon an uninhabited island, where it is soon discovered that the real man, the natural, resourceful leader, is their servant Crichton. Face to face with sheer necessity and Nature's uncompromising dangers, it is he who takes charge and becomes a little autocrat, until they are rescued, and under the false conventions of society he drops back into his former servile position.
The United States has just witnessed a more powerful drama played in actual life, upon a vast scale, teaching the same lesson.
Some time ago the Government, anxious to make a trust-busting record, moved heaven and earth to convict John H. Patterson under the Sherman law, and had him sentenced to jail.
I am not going to discuss that trial and verdict. I couldn't do justice to it in print without getting into trouble with the postal authorities. Patterson does not complain. When the business world of Dayton, including Patterson's business opponents, held a mass meeting and wanted to pass a resolution condemning the court, it was Patterson who plead with them and induced them not to do it. That showed symptoms of a real man.
Now comes the most widespread disaster the Middle West has ever known. The city of Dayton is suddenly submerged by a flood. City government is paralyzed. Lives are in danger. It is one of those crises where the artificialities of civilization are rudely brushed away and men stand face to face with destruction.
At this juncture the entire community turns to one man. He has no office nor title. He is not mayor, governor nor military commander. He is a man whom the court has declared to be upon a level with chicken thieves and porch climbers. But by one common accord, without a dissenting voice, the city and state authorities, the leading business men and the entire body of the common people turn to this man and place their lives and fortunes in his hands.
He is chosen temporary king and dictator as naturally as two and two make four.
In no conceivable way could it be better shown how profound the confidence and respect a whole state has in its foremost citizen.
Patterson, sixty-three years of age, gives his entire manufacturing plant over to the stricken people. The hungry are fed, the sick are tended. He organizes the mob of bewildered citizens with the skill of a field marshal. He sends his own daughter to nurse the sick, his own son to rescue the drowning. He himself is busy night and day, untiringly efficient.
The Governor of Ohio openly declares that the entire community is under a load of obligation to John H. Patterson.
When the head of the United States army comes to the field he recognizes the rule of Patterson and cooperates. Soldiers seize automobiles and put upon them a placard that they are to be used for public service until released by order of John H. Patterson.
It might not be a bad thing for the people of this country to know the kind of a trust magnate this man Patterson is. He has not taken his profits and hiked to Europe, he has not devoted himself to gathering bric-a-brac nor to endowing colleges and churches. He has devoted all his money and energy to improving the conditions of his work-people, and of spreading the gospel of decent wages and human treatment of all work-people.
In what is called "welfare work," that is, humane consideration for operatives, Patterson is the one man in America who ranks with the Krupps of Essen, the Cadburys of Birmingham and Sir William Lever of Liverpool.
I do not want to criticize our courts, nor do I want to palliate in any wise the crimes of corporations, but it is certainly going to be an odd spectacle when such a man is marched to jail.
The court had its say; it said, this man is a public menace, lock him up.
Nature, danger, death and primeval chaos have risen suddenly up and have had their say. And what they say is that of all the people this is the one man who should not be locked up. In such panic moments the moral air is cleared. The people of that community where Patterson's life has been spent swept aside the technicalities of the law, they turned to him as naturally as a child to its father, as a wife to her husband, for they knew him, they believed in him and into his care they committed themselves and all they have. The whole people have reversed and remanded the court's decision.
It may be said that Patterson's actions in the floods have nothing to do with his "crime." I somehow think they have a deal to do with it. The sum total of any man s life has a bearing upon any one of his deeds.
They may put John H. Patterson in jail, but if they do the people of Dayton will rebuild it as a king's palace, and his cell will be a throne room where the rich and poor, high and low, will be proud to do homage to a real man.
The silly attempt to cure the evils of the system under which all modern business is conducted by making a scapegoat of one man may please the mob who have the old mob-madness for the blood of a scapegoat; the zigzag lightning of the law may strike the old man dead; but
…... this Duncan Hath borne his faculties so meek, hath been
So clear in his great office, that his virtues
Will plead like angels trumpet-tongued against
The deep damnation of his taking off.
New York City.