“SHINED A SEARCHLIGHT INTO EVERY MURKY CORNER OF WALL STREET”
PECORA, Ferdinand. Wall Street Under Oath. New York: Simon and Schuster, (1939). Octavo, original blue cloth. $3800.
First edition of Pecora’s electrifying account of his key role as chief counsel in the dramatic 1930s Senate hearings on Wall Street’s role in the 1929 Stock Market Crash, hearings that, in Pecora’s own words, “cast a vivid light upon the uninhabited mores and methods of Wall Street,” ranked with Watergate in their impact, laying the groundwork for long term financial reform and prompting FDR to name Pecora a commissioner of the newly formed SEC.
"For 16 months in the depths of the Great Depression, Ferdinand Pecora, a former New York prosecutor turned Senate inquisitor, captivated the country. He chronicled how, in the run up to the 1929 crash, Wall Street's elite financiers manipulated stocks, dodged taxes and collected enormous bonuses for peddling shoddy securities to unsuspecting Americans." As Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Ron Chernow notes, "Pecora was the perfect foil to the posh bankers who paraded before the microphones… When he was hired for $255 per month by the Senate committee, Pecora was earning less money than most Wall Street mandarins disbursed weekly in pocket change. Pecora was meticulous in preparation and legendary in stamina, mastering reams of material and staying up half the night before interrogations… The hearings started in a modest committee room, but as the public was swept up in the drama, they shifted to a stately caucus room, illuminated by chandeliers and flashbulbs. As it gained momentum, the inquiry expanded until it shined a searchlight into every murky corner of Wall Street. Pecora exposed a stock market manipulated by speculators to the detriment of small investors who could suddenly attach names and faces to their losses… On Black Thursday of 1929, the nation had applauded a seemingly heroic attempt by major bankers, including Albert Wiggin of Chase and Charles Mitchell of National City, to stem the market decline. Pecora showed that Wiggin had actually shorted Chase shares during the crash, profiting from falling prices. He also revealed that Mitchell and top officers at National City had helped themselves to $2.4 million… By the time Pecora got through with the bankers, Senator Burton Wheeler of Montana was likening them to Al Capone and the public referred to them as 'banksters,' rhyming with gangsters.
"With a public aching for retribution, Pecora was playing with combustible chemicals, and Wall Street complained that he was destroying confidence. President Franklin Roosevelt retorted that the bankers 'should have thought of that when they did the things that are being exposed now… In implacable style, Pecora badgered [House of] Morgan partners into admitting that they had paid no taxes for 1931 and 1932—an incendiary revelation when the country was undertaking huge public works projects to combat unemployment… No less inflammatory was exposure of Morgan's 'preferred list' by which the bank's influential friends participated in stock offerings at steeply discounted rates… One Morgan partner, George Whitney, lamely explained that the intent was to safeguard small investors by preventing them from assuming such risk. To which Pecora responded tartly in his best-selling book, Wall Street Under Oath, 'Many there were who would gladly have helped them share that appalling peril!"
Donald Ritchie, the associate historian for the Senate, ranks "the Pecora committee as one of the most effective among congressional inquiries, second perhaps to the Watergate hearings 'in terms of its impact on the nation… The Pecora hearings laid the groundwork for financial reform legislation… The Securities Act of 1933, the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933 and the Securities Exchange Act of 1934—all addressed abuses exposed by Pecora" (New York Times). In 1934 FDR appointed Pecora one of the first commissioners of the newly formed Securities Exchange Commission. "After serving only six months, however, he was appointed by New York governor Herbert Lehman to the state supreme court in 1935. In that same year he was elected to a full 14-year term and was reelected in 1949" (ANB). In 1939 Pecora published Wall Street Under Oath to remind the nation "what Wall Street was like before Uncle Sam stationed a policeman at its corner, lest, in time to come, some attempt be made to abolish that post" (xi). First edition with "no printing or edition notice" on copyright page (Zempel & Verkler, 407). With one page of publisher's advertisements at rear; without very scarce dust jacket. Evidence of inkstamp to half title, title page recto and verso, and rear free endpaper.
Text fresh and clean, expert restoration to endpapers and title pages, cloth fresh with one minor spot of restoration on spine. An extremely good copy.