I Can Hire Half the Working Class To Fight the Other Half

Jay Gould? John Livingston? Delmore Schwartz? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: In the 19th-century a class of powerful industrialists were accused of unethical business practices, and the critical epithet “robber baron” appeared in journals and newspapers. The following incendiary remark has been attributed to the wealthy railroad magnate Jay Gould:

I can hire one half of the working class to kill the other half.

Would you please explore the provenance of this expression?

Quote Investigator: The earliest pertinent citation located by QI appeared in a letter from an agrarian organizer that was published in October 1891 in a Topeka, Kansas newspaper. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

The truth of Jay Gould’s assertion that he “could buy the vote of a farmer member of the legislature for the price of a bull calf, about seven dollars and a half,” was clearly disproved at Topeka last January, where not a single People’s party member of the Kansas House could be bought at any price.

It is my prayer to God that all farmers and other toilers will now unite in one solid phalanx, so that the other characteristic remark of the same gentleman, that he “could hire one-half the farmers to shoot the other half to death,” shall also show him to have overestimated the power of his money, supplemented though it may be by Satanic cunning,

John Livingston,
President New York State Farmers’ Alliance.
Campville, Tioga Co., N.Y., Oct 21, 1891.

Gould died shortly afterward in 1892. This early instance of the quotation referred to “farmers” instead of the “working class”. The modern version evolved over time.

Livingston employed the phrase “characteristic remark” which signaled he had not heard the remark directly. Also, Livingston was clearly a forceful political adversary of Gould.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading I Can Hire Half the Working Class To Fight the Other Half


  1. 1891 October 28, The Advocate, Letter from John Livingston, Quote Page 1, Column 3, Topeka, Kansas. (Newspapers_com)

I Believe the Market Is Going to Fluctuate

John Pierpont Morgan? John D. Rockefeller? William Rockefeller? Jay Gould? Jesse Livermore?

Dear Quote Investigator: The best-known prediction for investors is also the most humorously vacuous. According to legend a young person approached one of the top businessmen in the U.S. and asked with an undertone of desperation for guidance in the stock market. The prominent man looked gravely at his questioner and replied:

I believe the market will fluctuate.

Who crafted this unerringly accurate and perfectly useless forecast? I have heard it attributed to the powerful financier J. P. Morgan and the major industrialist John D. Rockefeller.

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence located by QI appeared in an anecdote credited to Henry Poor in the pages of the Wall Street Journal in October 1922. Today, Henry Poor is remembered as the founder of the firm which became the powerhouse financial analysis company called Standard & Poor’s. He died in 1905 several years before the article presenting the tale was published.

In this version of the story Poor was inquiring about a set of companies called Standard Oils. There were several Standard Oil companies, e.g., Standard Oil of Ohio and Standard Oil of New Jersey, even before the breakup mandated by anti-trust regulators in 1911. The companies were linked together through a trust structure, and John D. Rockefeller was the most powerful owner and executive of the Standard Oil Trust: 1

Henry Poor used to tell this story: He walked down to the financial district with John D. Rockefeller one morning and tried to elicit some information as to the market for Standard Oils. The latter passed two blocks before giving an answer and then said slowly, “I think they will fluctuate.” During the next few days they dropped over 30 points.

In 1924 another instance of the story was printed in the Washington Post. The questioner was an unidentified young person: 2

A smart young man is said to have approached Mr. Rockefeller with the question, “Mr. Rockefeller, what do you think Standard Oil stocks will do?” After ponderous deliberation, the reply was, “Young man, I think they will fluctuate.”

In 1926 the book “Security Speculation: The Dazzling Adventure” was published, and the author presented a variant of the anecdote featuring John Pierpont Morgan instead of Rockefeller. The inquiry concerned the overall stock market and not specific securities. Also, the label “legend” was already being employed: 3

Legend avers that an alert young man once found himself in the immediate presence of the late Mr. J. P. Morgan. Seeking to improve the golden moment, he ventured to inquire Mr. Morgan’s opinion as to the future course of the stock market. The alleged reply has become classic: “Young man, I believe the market is going to fluctuate.”

It did. It always has. Perhaps it always will. In the main, security prices are always and eternally going somewhere.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading I Believe the Market Is Going to Fluctuate


  1. 1922 October 18, Wall Street Journal, What of the Market?, Quote Page 2, Column 5, New York. (ProQuest)
  2. 1924 December 31, Washington Post, Straight Talks About Money: Acting on Financial Tips by Mary Elizabeth Allen, Quote Page 10, Column 5, Washington D.C. (ProQuest)
  3. 1926, Security Speculation: The Dazzling Adventure by Laurence H. Sloan (Laurence Henry Sloan), Quote Page 17, Harper & Brothers, New York and London. (Verified on paper)