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Thomas Nast cartoon, Harper’s Weekly, March 15, 1873

In this cartoon, the figure of Justice accuses the press, which exposed congressmen bribed with Crédit Mobilier stock, of hypocrisy.

Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Thomas Nast cartoon, Harper’s Weekly, March 15, 1873

The End of an Era 1867-1872

Priorities changed quickly after the Civil War and during Reconstruction. The generation that had fought against slavery now turned its attention to the nation’s economic growth. Deals involving the transcontinental railroad, however, illustrated the potential for corruption as the nation rapidly grew.

The Union Pacific Railroad had created the fraudulent Crédit Mobilier Company to build its stretch of the cross-country line at inflated cost. To ensure political support for the venture, Representative Oakes Ames, an agent for Crédit Mobilier, gave shares in the company to members of Congress. Ames later reported back to the company that he had distributed this stock “where it will produce most good to us.” Press reports exposed the scandal in 1872, ruining several political careers.