CHAPTER V. ANDREW V. STOUT.
There are few men in the city of New York who have won more fairly their proud positions in the mercantile world than he whose name stands at the top of this page. For more than forty years he has carried on a large and increasing business with an energy, skill, and probity which could not fail of success.
Andrew V. Stout was born in the city of New York, at No. 6 Canal Street, or, as it was then called, Pump Street, about the year 1814. When he was scarcely more than a child he was left fatherless, and thrown upon his own resources for a living. He was a manly little fellow, and, young as he was, was fully alive to the importance of the position he was compelled to assume. He was resolved not only to support himself, but also to acquire a good education, and by studying hard while most boys are at play, mastered the ordinary English branches by the time he was twelve years old.
He had a mother and sister to support, and applied himself manfully to the task of accomplishing this. He was well grown for his age, and was generally supposed to be several years older than he really was. When he was fourteen years old he applied for and received a position as assistant teacher of the English branches in one of the public schools of the city. The trustees of the school supposed he was at least eighteen or nineteen years old. Had his true age been known to them, it is probable he would not have received the appointment. He was not questioned upon the subject, and he was wise enough to keep his own counsel. He performed the duties of his position to the entire satisfaction of the school officials, and made such a good impression on his friends that at the age of sixteen he was made assistant principal in one of the most important and popular private schools of the day, taught by Shepherd Johnson, a name well known to the old residents of New York.
He was very young to fill this position, and, as may be supposed, it was peculiarly trying to one whose learning was mainly self-acquired. He was determined to succeed, however, and he applied himself energetically to master the course he was teaching. He studied harder and more constantly than any of his pupils, and was always fresh on the lessons for the day.
When he was sixteen years old he was so well grown and so mature that he passed for twenty. Having succeeded so well in the management of his English classes, he was offered the position of instructor of Latin, with an increase of his salary. The offer at first dismayed him. He was thoroughly ignorant of the Latin language, and utterly unprepared for the duties demanded of him. He was very anxious to have the place, however, for he needed the increase of salary offered him, and, after hesitating a little while, accepted it. He purchased a Latin grammar, and engaged a private tutor. He studied hard, and soon mastered the rudiments of the language. In this way he managed to keep ahead of his classes. If a question was asked him which he could not answer, he postponed his reply, looked into the matter at night, and explained it the next morning. By such hard study and patient efforts did this boy, himself a mere novice, turn out what was admitted by all to be the best drilled Latin class Shepherd Johnson's school had ever boasted of.
When he was eighteen years old he was made principal of Public School No. 2 of New York. He was living at Bushwick, where he resided with his mother and sister in a cozy little cottage, the garden of which was his pride, since he tended it with his own hands. It was his custom to rise every morning at four o'clock, and work in his garden until seven. Then he rode into the city, and attended to his school duties until four o'clock, when he returned home.
He was now in possession of a comfortable living; but he was not satisfied to do this and nothing more. He was anxious to win fortune, to enter upon a more active and stirring pursuit, and he kept himself always on the watch for an opening. About the time he became the head of the public school we have referred to, he commenced to engage in various ventures of a commercial nature, devoting to them his evenings, and the hours of the day not demanded by his school.
One of his relatives was a builder, with a fair trade, and had made some money by erecting houses in New York. Young Stout, who had saved a little money, proposed to him that they should take out a contract for building a number of dwellings on the then fashionable thoroughfare of East Broadway. The elder man was pleased with the plan, and at once consented to it. The houses were built at a handsome profit; others followed them, and by attending closely to this business, as well as his other duties, Andrew Stout, by the time he was twenty years old, had saved seventeen thousand dollars—a very large sum in those steady-going days.
He was greatly aided by the custom of doing business on time, which then prevailed, but he never allowed one of his notes to be protested, and never asked for an extension. When he began business, he did so with the firm resolve that he would conduct his most insignificant transaction as a Christian man of honor. If he could not make money honestly, he would remain poor. Every body saw the energy and judgment with which he conducted his affairs, and the strict integrity which marked them all, and he was not long in building up a reputation as a business man of which any one might have been proud. The promptness and apparent ease with which he met every contract, and took up every note, caused it to be generally believed that he was a very rich man. Further than this, it was known that he was a zealous and earnest Christian, one who carried his religion into his business, and who lived up to his professions. He was an active member of the Methodist Church, and the business man of the congregation to which he belonged. In his hands its finances prospered as they had never done before. Such was the reputation of this young man, who had not yet attained his majority.
He held his position in the public school for several years after his appointment to it, but the requirements of his business at length compelled him to relinquish it.
In the midst of his prosperity Mr. Stout made one mistake. A friend with whom he had been interested in building wished to procure some money from the bank, and Mr. Stout was induced, with considerable reluctance, to indorse his note for five thousand dollars. One false step in business, as in other affairs of life, leads to another, and, in order to save this money, Mr. Stout was forced to renew his indorsements until his liabilities amounted to twenty-three thousand dollars. To his dismay he was now informed by the builder for whose sake he had incurred this risk, that he (the builder) had failed, without making provision for the payment of the notes, and that Mr. Stout would have to account to the bank for them.
"Several methods of relief were open to Mr. Stout. He was worth seventeen thousand dollars, which he had earned by nights of toil, by economy, and by daily and earnest attention to business. To pay the notes would not only sweep away every penny that he had, but would leave him six thousand dollars in debt. He had never realized one cent from the money, and his name was used simply to accommodate the builder. Besides, he was not of age, though nobody suspected that fact, and he could repudiate his debts as a minor. He took no counsel, made no statement of his affairs to any one, shut himself up in his own room, and considered thoughtfully what he should do, and then followed out the decision that he had reached. Having become bankrupt in money, he concluded he would not be so in character. He had earned seventeen thousand dollars, and could earn seventeen thousand dollars more. He did confide in one friend. He went to a relative, and asked him to lend him six thousand dollars, the sum necessary to take up all the notes. The relative was astonished at the request, and insisted upon knowing the facts in the case. Mr. Stout made a full and frank statement. It was met with the remark, 'Well, Andrew, I thought you would be a rich man, but if this is the way you do your business, you will never be worth any thing,' But Mr. Stout did not want preaching, he wanted money; and as the relative seemed to hesitate about loaning the money, as no security was offered, Mr. Stout curtly told him he could do as he pleased about it; he could get the money somewhere, and pay the notes. The money was promised, and he went on his way.
"The bank watched the young financier with a great deal of interest. The whole matter had been discussed often in the bank, and the wonder was how young Stout would meet the blow. It was supposed that he would ask for an extension; and it was agreed to give it to him, and to make the time of payment convenient to his ability. Had he proposed to compromise the matter by paying one-half, the bank would have accepted it. That would have left him a capital of nearly eight thousand dollars for a fresh start. Had he offered his seventeen thousand dollars on condition that he was released from all liability, the notes would have been canceled with alacrity. He did neither. He proposed no compromise, asked no extension, and attempted to negotiate no settlement. When the first note became due, he paid it. He did the same with the second and third. After the third payment, he was called into the office of the president. Reference was made to the notes, and to the fact that he had obtained no benefit from the money. The president told him the bank was ready to renew the notes, and to give him any accommodation that he might ask. Mr. Stout simply replied that the blow was a heavy one, but that having assumed the obligation, he should discharge it; that he asked no favors, and as the notes matured he should take them up. He paid every dollar due, and every one was certain that his wealth must be very large. His manliness, pluck, and integrity, which carried him through that crisis, became the sure foundation-stone on which his great fortune was laid. He took the front rank among successful financiers, and his honorable course in that crisis established his fame as an honest man, in whom it would be safe to confide. Years of earnest and active business life have not changed that character, nor allowed a blot or stain to cloud that reputation."[C]
Some years later, Mr. Stout became a merchant. He established a wholesale boot and shoe store, and engaged actively in that business. He brought to his new calling the energy, prudence, and integrity which had distinguished him all through his life, and was successful from the first. He worked hard. His business hours were from seven in the morning until six in the evening. During his busy season, four months in the year, he worked until ten, and often until twelve, paying his employés extra wages for labor performed after the regular business hours. Sometimes he worked until four in the morning, but that did not deter him from being in the store at the usual hour for opening. He was always the last to go home, never leaving the store until the business of the day was over and the house was closed. He extended his operations into dry goods, meeting with equal success in this department. As his business expanded, he was compelled to form various partnerships, but in all these arrangements he reserved to himself, like Stewart, the exclusive management of the finances.
About eighteen years ago, the shoe and leather merchants of the city decided to organize a bank, in which their interests should be the principal consideration. Mr. Stout engaged in the effort with great enthusiasm, and the Shoe and Leather Bank of New York was at length organized under the most auspicious circumstances. Mr. Stout was the largest stockholder in the new bank, and was elected one of its directors. His influence was potent in directing its first operations, and the next year he was elected vice-president, in which position he really had the control of the enterprise left to him. A year later he was elected president of the bank, a position which he still holds, being in point of service the oldest bank president in New York. Upon questions of banking and finance, his views are listened to with great respect by his associates, who have proof of their soundness in the splendid success of the institution over which he presides; and it may be truly said that there are few men in the city who enjoy so large a share of the public confidence as is bestowed upon him.
As a citizen, he is public-spirited and liberal. Some years ago, he held the office of city chamberlain, and during his administration of it a difficulty arose in regard to paying the police force their wages. Knowing that the men and their families would suffer if the money were not promptly paid them, Mr. Stout generously advanced the necessary sum from his private means, looking to the city to reimburse him. In grateful acknowledgment of this practical sympathy for them, the force presented him with a handsome testimonial. His fortune is immense, and is used liberally in behalf of the cause of the Christian religion. His charities are said to be large, but one rarely hears of them, so quietly are they done. He is married and has a family.
No man's career holds out more encouragement to young men seeking to rise than that of Andrew V. Stout. It shows that courage, patient industry, and business capacity will bring fortune to any honest worker. His uniform success speaks volumes in favor of a young man's striving to lead a Christian life in the midst of his business cares and struggles. God's blessing follows such an one at every step, and he will succeed in the end, whatever trials may beset his path at first. It is a great mistake to suppose that a man's success depends on his "sharpness." Shrewdness is a valuable quality, but it must be coupled with a plain, practical honesty, or it will amount to nothing in the end. A man must be faithful to his God if he would have his work stand.