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a partnership in trade under the name of Harris & Morrill. He furnished $2500, as cash capital for which the firm paid six per cent annual interest, and the profits of the business were then equally divided. Our customers soon furnished large additional sums to the firm at six per cent annual interest, which enabled the firm to pay cash for merchandise instead of buying on the usual credit of six months — a very considerable advantage.
The firm was prosperous, as was, it seems, almost the rule in those days of rapid growth and ebullient activity. When Harris & Morrill opened their doors, Jackson was in power and the tide of expansion was running at its full. Immigration poured in, deluging some of the older communities and surging out to the new lands of the West. Those were days when new communities were springing up in Illinois, Indiana, and Michigan as they did half a century later at the opening of the Indian lands of Dakota and Oklahoma. The populations of Western States were being doubled from year to year. In the sixteen years between 1821 and 1837, Michigan's population increased twentyfold, and that of Illinois grew from 60,000 to 400,000. The prosperity that burst into bloom over the whole country justified John Quincy Adams's description, “as large and liberal as the indulgence of Heaven has ever granted to the imperfect state of man upon earth.” Vermont shared generously in the national prosperity. Her population when she was admitted to the Union in 1791 was 85,000, which had grown in 1810, the year of Morrill's birth, to 217,000. In 1830, when he began business for himself, it had swelled to 280,000 and was still increasing at more than a thousand a year in spite of the numbers who were drawn off by the lure of the newer lands of the West and the furor of the development of the prairie.
Thus, under cloudless skies and under conditions extraordinarily favorable, before he was yet of age, Morrill began
his career as a merchant. His youth, his inexperience, and the fact that everybody knew him with the familiarity of village life were attended by disadvantages; there was the usual disposition to trade on youth and intimacy. But Morrill, with all his urbanity, which one feels he must have inherited, for he never seems to have been without it, and, as was said of him at the end of his career, was never known “to show anger or enmity toward any person,” was nevertheless of an unyielding firmness. He established a fixed rule of credit to which he adhered with Spartan rigidity, and which, together with his unfailing courtesy, was probably the most potent factor in his success. His business, like that of his fellow-merchants, was chiefly done on credit, but he required all book accounts to be settled at the first of January of each year and any unpaid balances to be put into six per cent notes with a fixed term.
The store was well placed in the heart of the Lower Village where the roads met — the most conspicuous and accessible point in the place. It was also the most convenient to the mine at Copperas Hill, a mile and a half away, where copper ores had been discovered in 1793, and where, at this time and for some years afterwards, from fifty to two hundred workmen were employed. In the absence of railroads, when all forms of transportation were costly and freight from Boston was hauled on six-horse wagons at $1.25 a hundred pounds, many
local industries flourished which were doomed to perish when the lower-cost products were more readily distributed. As Morrill once remarked in a rare reminiscence of his early days, “Near my town was a copperas mine, large enough to supply mankind, I might say, but to get the product to Boston cost more money than to bring it across the Atlantic.” Meantime, however, in the thirties it cost still more to bring Lake Superior copper to Vermont and the local interests flourished. The general store in a town like
Strafford was an anticipation in miniature of the great department stores of to-day. It was the general provider, mart and exchange for the community. Everything was to be found there and every sort of trading was done, from cash sales to the most primitive sort of barter. It was one of the best training-schools for an economist that ever were devised; here one was brought face to face with the basic processes of production, distribution, and exchange; in fact the storekeeper was the god of the machine who directed the entire manifold performance. The general store was more than that; it was the center of the common life, the clearinghouse for news and gossip, and the forum for public debate.
This was the sphere in which Morrill moved as the presiding genius for the next seventeen years. Undoubtedly it was a narrow and restricted life that he led during this period. The daily routine of trading, much of it petty, the many blank hours; the walk to and fro on the village street where every rut and stone was familiar; the daily greetings and conversation with men whose every response and reaction could be predicted with a high degree of certainty; the closed circle of landscape, interests, and occupation would have become oppressive if not intolerable to a less calm and equable nature. But he had grown up in that atmosphere of unhurried and moderate activity. He loved the place and the people; he loved the shrewd play of their minds in a trading contest; he loved the familiar if limited harmonies of the village sounds, whose deepest tones were given by the strokes of his father's triphammer at one end of the little town and his uncle's at the other. In all the customary interests and diversions he took his part; he attended church in the bare, square meeting-house on Sundays and the infrequent meetings of the Lyceum, when they came, at the same place. He loved books.
His talent as a merchant was undeniable and it grew with
exercise. His first journey to Boston to purchase goods for the firm, in the spring of 1831, had demonstrated his soundness of judgment, and it appears that he continued to make the customary half-yearly visits on which he was entrusted with the purchases for all the stores in which he and his partners became interested. The business expanded until at one time the partners were operating four stores, one in Strafford, two in neighboring villages, and one in Derby Line, eighty miles away on the very border of Canada. .
In the spring of 1840, he joined with his old friend and partner Judge Harris and N. S. Young in forming a new partnership under the name of Morrill, Young & Co., and at this time moved up to the Upper Village, taking over Judge Harris's old store in which he had worked as a boy. The spot was full of memories for him; it was close to the house where he was born, and there he continued as long as he remained in business. There also, in the close vicinity, he built his house and had his home as long as he lived. So careful, methodical, and prudent a merchant could not fail to prosper. As the years went by, he added to his accumulations, so that by 1848 he felt that he had acquired enough to live on and he sold his interest in the store preparatory to withdrawing entirely from business.,
ENTRANCE INTO POLITICS WHEN he retired from storekeeping Morrill was only thirty-eight. He was still a young man — far younger than he felt. For twenty years he had been immersed in business; he had now finished that stage; he had reached a turningpoint, and he felt, as many a man does, as if the turn were the end of the journey. Absorbed in the great concerns of winning a competence, first nurturing, expanding, and developing his business, then disposing of it, he had thrust into second place and shut his eyes to that deep prevailing love of politics which he shared with all Americans of his time. Two forces had combined to bring about this result: one was a positive shrinking from the vulgar and self-seeking struggle for office; the other was his admiration for Judge Harris — upon whom, it is clear to his biographer, the younger partner, however unconsciously, had modeled himself. The Judge was preëminently a man of affairs and a landowner who, when he turned aside from storekeeping, found his greatest satisfaction in directing a great farm and making it the best farm in the State. But Morrill's prevailing bent was neither to business nor to farming, but to books and public affairs. In thinking that he could be content to follow the way of life taken by his guide and mentor the Judge, he was mistaken. But it is pleasant to consider him for a moment as he rested and contemplated a quiet future.
His early ambition fulfilled, a competence won, his friends and neighbors about him, he felt he had settled down in peace and comfort to enjoy a well-earned repose among flowers and books. He had reached his happy haven and