Thursday, May 9, 2019

Edmund Richard "Dick" Taylor, Father of the Greenback, businessman, politician, and soldier from Illinois.

Edmund Richard "Dick" Taylor
Born Edmund Richard Taylor (1804-1891) in Lunenburg County, Virginia, son of Giles Y Taylor (1766–1830) and Francine "Sina" Stokes. In later years, he preferred to use his middle name rather than his first name, and used it in its short form. Thus he became known as "Dick" Taylor, and his middle initial was written "D" in formal documents.

Dick Taylor was an Indian trader in his youth. In the fall of 1823, he began general merchandising with Colonel John Taylor in Springfield, Illinois. On September 18, 1829, he married Margaret Taylor (born December 28, 1813 in Kentucky), the daughter of Col. John Taylor and Elizabeth (Burkhead) Taylor.

In 1830, he was elected to the Illinois State Legislature, representing Sangamon County. In 1832 he was re-elected, defeating several challengers including Abraham Lincoln. Taylor was the only man to defeat Lincoln in a direct election. In 1834 he was elected to the Illinois Senate from Sangamon County.

In 1835, he was appointed by President Andrew Jackson as Receiver of Public Moneys in Chicago, where he was in charge of substantial sales of federal land. After holding this position for four years, he returned to the private sector. He continued to play a leading role in Democratic Party politics in Illinois.
Excerpt from "Herndon's Lincoln: The True Story of a Great Life.
Among the Democratic orators who stumped the county in the late1830s was one Taylor commonly known as Col. Dick Taylor. He was a showy, bombastic man, with a weakness for fine clothes and other personal . adornments. Frequently he was pitted against Lincoln, and indulged in many bitter flings at the lordly ways and aristocratic pretensions of the Whigs. He had a way of appealing to "his horny-handed neighbors," and resorted to many other artful tricks of a demagogue. When he was one day expatiating in his accustomed style, Lincoln, in a spirit of mischief and, as he expressed it, "to take the wind out of his sails," slipped up to the speaker's side, and catching his vest by the lower edge gave it a sharp pull. The latter instantly opened and revealed to his astonished hearers a ruffled shirt-front glittering with watch-chain, seals, and other golden jewels. The effect was startling. The speaker stood confused and dumbfounded, while the audience roared with laughter. When it came Lincoln's turn to answer he covered the gallant colonel over in this style:
"While Colonel Taylor was making these charges against the Whigs over the country, riding in fine carriages, wearing ruffled shirts, kid-gloves, massive gold watch-chains with large gold-seals, and flourishing a heavy gold-headed cane, I was a poor boy, hired on a flat-boat at eight dollars a month, and had only one pair of breeches to my back, and they were buckskin. Now if you know the nature of buckskin when wet and dried by the sun, it will shrink; and my breeches kept shrinking until they left several inches of my legs bare between the tops of my socks and the lower part of my breeches; and whilst I was growing taller they were becoming shorter, and so much tighter that they left a blue streak around my legs that can be seen to this day. If you call this aristocracy I plead guilty to the charge."
Taylor was a pioneer of the coal industry in Illinois. In 1823 he took an interest in coal and opened the West End Shaft, also known as West End Coal Mine. In 1856, he sank a shaft in La Salle County, Illinois, operating as the Northern Illinois Coal and Iron Company. He also owned other mines in that area. On February 18, 1863, at a convention in Chicago of the coal operators in Illinois, Edmund was appointed Chairman.

Taylor played an important role in Illinois in promoting and bringing about "internal improvements" (canals, railroads, and other transportation infrastructure). General Usher F. Linder stated "If any man deserves more credit than another for the completion of the Illinois and Michigan Canal, it is Col. Edmund D. Taylor." When the Galena and Chicago Union Railroad was incorporated on January 16, 1836, Taylor was appointed commissioner and director. On January 18, 1837, at Russell's Saloon in Chicago, supporters of internal improvements held a mass meeting. William H. Brown was called to the chair and William Stuart appointed Secretary, Francis Payton stated the objects of the meeting. A committee of five was appointed namely: Edmund D. Taylor, Captain J. B. F. Russell, Francis Payton, John Harris Kinzie (eldest son of John Kinzie), and Joseph N. Balestier. The meeting declared in favor of the immediate construction of the Illinois Central Railroad and general system of improvement.

On February 5, 1857, the Chicago Merchants' Exchange company was incorporated by: Edmund D. Taylor, Thomas Hall, George Armour, James Peck, John P. Chapin, Walter S. Gurnee, Edward Kendall Rogers, Thomas Richmond, Julian Sidney Rumsey, Samuel B. Pomeroy, Elisha Wadsworth, Walter Loomis Newberry, Hiram Wheeler and George Steele.

Taylor had several tours of military service. During the Winnebago War of 1827, he enlisted as a private in Captain Bowling Green's Company of the militia on July 20, 1827, and was honorably discharged on August 27th. During the Black Hawk War of 1832 he was commissioned as a colonel in the state militia on June13th by governor John Reynolds. He was also Aide-de-camp to Brigadier General Joseph Duncan of the Brigade of Mounted Volunteers, in service of the United States. During the Civil War (1861-1865), Taylor was again commissioned a colonel. He did not serve in the field, but was employed very extensively by President Lincoln as a confidential messenger.

By late 1861, it was clear that the Civil War was going to be much more costly than anyone had expected, and that the Union would have to raise or find or borrow vast amounts of money. Taylor had the idea that the Union could pay its expenses with newly created money in the form of paper currency ("greenbacks").
Image of a one dollar "Greenback," first issued in 1862.
Taylor mentioned his idea for greenbacks at General Ulysses S. Grant's headquarters in Cairo, Illinois. On January 16, 1862, Taylor met privately with President Abraham Lincoln at his request. Taylor suggested the issuance of treasury notes bearing no interest and printed on the best banking paper. Taylor said "Just get Congress to pass a bill authorizing the printing of full legal tender treasury notes... and pay your soldiers with them and go ahead and win your war with them also. If you make them full legal tender... they will have the full sanction of the government and be just as good as any money; as Congress is given the express right by the Constitution." In a letter dated December 16, 1864, President Lincoln named Col. Edmund D. Taylor as "the father of the present greenback." Taylor cited his suggestion of the greenback in his 1887 petition to Congress for reimbursement of his out-of-pocket expenses and he included the 1864 letter from Abraham Lincoln. In February of 1888, he added a more recent letter from General John McClernand, who had been at Cairo at the time, and confirmed Taylor's account.
My dear Colonel Dick:
I have long determined to make public the origin of the greenback and tell the world that it was Dick Taylor’s creation. You had always been friendly to me. and when troublous times fell on us, and my shoulders, though broad and willing, were weak, and myself surrounded by such circumstances and such people that I knew not whom to trust, then I said in my extremity, ‘I will send for Colonel Taylor — he will know what to do.' I think it was in January 1862, on or about the 16th, that I did so. Said you: ‘Why, issue treasury notes bearing no interest, printed on the best banking paper. Issue enough to pay off the army expenses and declare it legal tender.' Chase thought it a hazardous thing, but we finally accomplished it, and gave the people of this Republic the greatest blessing they ever had — their own paper to pay their debts. It is due to you, the father of the present greenback, that the people should know it and I take great pleasure in making it known. How many times have I laughed at you telling me, plainly, that I was too lazy to be anything but a lawyer. 
Yours Truly,
A. Lincoln
During the Civil War, Taylor had spent considerable sums from his own pocket for travel on government business and in raising and equipping Union troops. At the time, he asked for no reimbursement. But in 1887, he applied to Congress to be repaid $15,000 of his expenses. Taylor retained considerable standing in Chicago's business community. His petition included a supporting memorial signed by 56 prominent men of Chicago and Illinois. Taylor's petition was considered by the Committee on War Claims, but it was rejected for want of documentation. Taylor renewed his petition in 1890, but it was again rejected.

Taylor was ruined by the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, which destroyed 14 stores owned by him. He had insurance, but it was with Chicago firms that were overwhelmed by the disaster.
Worn Head Stones for Edmund D. Taylor and his wife Margaret Taylor.
Taylor died in Chicago, Illinois, on December 4, 1891. He is buried at Oak Ridge Cemetery in Springfield, Sangamon County, Illinois.

Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D.

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