Eccles #2 - The Patriarch
A contemporary relative of our Marriner Stoddard Eccles just might find herself in the building that bears Eccles’ name. Who is she? What’s her connection to the former Fed Chairman? All that and the story of Marriner Eccles father on today’s episode!
This is Alexander Bagehot, and you’re listening to The Bankster Podcast, the only podcast dedicated to the fascinating and ever more consequential world of central banking.
I'm going to use the outline of a traditional season one episode for today's show. An article from the Centralverse that I read this week sparked a worthwhile look into the past. So we’ll take the first few minutes of the episode to discuss the recent news, then we’ll dive into the news’ connection to the past. And as the title of the episode indicates, this is the second part of The Bankster Podcast’s ongoing research into the life and work of Marriner Stoddard Eccles. So without delay, let’s dive in!
“The most powerful bank regulatory job in the world” was the lead off to a recent Wall Street Journal article. Part of the Dodd Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, the financial regulatory act passed in response to the Great Recession, created a new position on the Board of Governors. Well, better put, the Act designated one of the open positions on the Board of Governors as the “Vice Chair of Supervision”. I’m sure when the Act was passed Obama assumed that he would be able to get someone in this seat. However, seven years to the date (literally to the day - Dodd Frank was passed on July 21, 2010), the Vice Chair of Supervision position has been vacant. Obama made a number of appointments to the Board of Governors, but this position was never confirmed by the Senate.
So next week, after 7 years, a nominee will go before the Senate for confirmation. President Trump has nominated Randal Quarles as a Governor and the Vice Chair of Supervision. As the Wall Street Journal suggested, this is truly a very powerful position, with responsibilities over the regulatory arm of the Federal Reserve. However, for today’s episode I’m actually not going to talk about the position or responsibilities of this new nominee for Governor. There was something else about Quarles that caught my eye towards the end of the article.
“Mr. Quarles is married to Hope Eccles, who is a relative of Marriner Eccles, the New Deal-era Fed chairman whose name is on the building where Mr. Quarles would have his office.” (link)
Wow! How cool is that? I’m diving into research about Marriner Eccles and now a relative of his is going to be back in Washington in the very space that Eccles defined and forever changed.
So how is this Hope Eccles Quarles related to our Marriner Eccles? A little bit of genealogy research and I traced the Eccles family tree, connecting Hope back to Marriner. She is the grandniece of Marriner. Or in other words, she is the granddaughter of Marriner’s younger brother Spencer.
This was a fun connection to make. The Eccles family has been one of the wealthiest families in Utah and in the Intermountain West for over a century. Their philanthropy and endowments sponsor a large portion of the arts in the area and there’s at least one or two buildings bearing the Eccles name in just about every city and on every campus in Utah.
Our Marriner Stoddard Eccles was the second generation of this industrious and entrepreneurial family. Marriner’s family was large, complex, and incredibly fascinating. Today I will introduce you to the original American patriarch of the Eccles family - David Eccles, Marriner Eccles’ father.
Marriner Eccles describes the place of his father’s childhood as, “the lowest depth of life in the slums of Glasgow, Scotland”. It was the mid 1800’s and life in urban poverty was challenging for all but especially rough for the children. David was working to help provide for his family at the age of 8 years old. Marriner says, “he leaped to the role of a breadwinner without stopping for games or schooling...the need for income from his labor shoved all other things aside.”
David was born to a Scottish father who spent most of his adult life with cataracts blinding both of his eyes and a Northern Irish mother who Marriner says, “was not of the sort who suffer in heroic silence. Since food was scarce, she often fed herself and others on complaints.”
To scrape out a meager living and to keep the family alive, David and his siblings would hawk hand carved wooden utensils that their father had carved on the streets of the slums of Glasgow. But David, born with what we now call the entrepreneurial spirit, had one other form of income. He would take week long trips into a different part of Glasgow where he could buy little trinkets for a shilling a piece. When he returned to the slums he would then sell the trinkets for two shillings. It was the money from these small investments that Marriner says gave the Scottish Eccleses their “hard cash”. All of this kept David busy until near the time of his 14th birthday.
The family had converted to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints a few years previously and decided that they would, as Marriner would describe it, “[leave] for an American adventure.”
The Mormon Church, a nickname for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints taken from their sacred text The Book of Mormon, had a program to help families immigrate across the ocean to join their fellow Mormons settling the wild west. The program was called the Perpetual Immigration Fund and worked as a sort of pay it forward loan. The Eccles family would receive enough money to get the family across the ocean and out to Utah. Then, once they were settled and established, they would pay back the money into the fund that would then help more families make the journey.
Now I’m going to pause the story of David Eccles here for just a moment because while Marriner is describing this story about his father, he inserts a paragraph about his parents faith. But Marriner is writing this nearly 90 years after his father converted to the Mormon church so I think he is probably projecting his own views onto his father at least in part. And this brings me to one of the big questions that I have about Marriner Eccles, “Where does he go with his faith? How if at all does it affect his work? Does he stay active in the Mormon Church?” Anyways, at my infant stage of research I don’t have a lot of answers to these questions. But the couple of paragraphs I’m about to read you are one of the hints I’ve picked up on. So here’s what he has to say about his parents decision to convert to Mormonism.
“My father’s family alone would refute the common charge that the Mormons only cared to convert handsome women. There was nothing alluring about the Eccles family. It consisted of a half-blind male adult who could work a wood lathe; a talentless female adult; and a brood of seven children, totaling nine people, who stood one thread away from nakedness and one crust from starvation. Yet, oddly, the strength of the Mormons came from families such as the Eccleses who were drawn into the western sunlight from the lowest depths of life in Europe and America. Men cast out or held in suspicion by the well-bred and the well-born, men who had nothing and were giving something, even if it was nothing more than hope, could face incredible hardships and accept extraordinary internal discipline to get what had been promised or to hold what had been given.
“At the time of their conversion, I doubt whether the Eccles family or thousands like them asked objective questions about the Book of Mormon any more than the Israelites asked whether the Tables of the Law were in fact written by God on top of Mount Sinai. If they scoffed at what was said about the gold plates Joseph Smith had found, then they’d be stuck in places like Paisley and Glasgow. If they believed what was said, then there was a Promised Land in Utah where they could prove by their material advancement that they had at last found favor in the eyes of the Lord.”
You can hear Eccles admiration and gratitude for the faith that brought his father out of the depths of poverty in Europe to the light, freedom, and wealth of America. However, he then quickly turns to questioning how deep the faith of his father’s family went. He questions how much deeper their motivations for emigrating went beyond the opportunism of a new life.
I’m not sure what all of this means. It’s but one small puzzle piece in what I’m sure will be a great work when I’m done. But it’s a good start and a really interesting insight into not only the incredible story of David Eccle’s journey out of Scotland, but also a look into the religious thoughts of Marriner Eccles.
As with most new families to arrive to the Great Salt Lake Valley, David’s family was assigned a town or area to settle and develop. Huntsville was the small town that the Eccles were assigned to call home. The community was small and young, with the first Mormon settlers having first arrived in the area three years previously.
Now on a future episode I’ll talk about the business adventures of David Eccles - for David was not lacking in excellent business ventures! But for today’s episode I want to keep it to family. The next big family event for David was his marriage to Bertha Jensen in 1875. Bertha would give birth to 12 children.
At this time there were some members of the Mormon faith that were asked by the leaders of the church to practice polygamy. There are volumes and volumes written about polygamy in the Mormon Church, so I don’t want to go into too much detail here. But I want to at least give an overview because David actually marries a second wife ten years after his first, in 1885. This second wife’s first child would be named Marriner, after the church leader that married them.
Polygamy was practiced for the first half century of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. It was not practiced by all members or families in the church but was common in the early days. The church has a section of their website www.lds.org that summarizes the practice of polygamy in the early church which I will link to in the show notes of this episode.
In 1890 the church announced that it would no longer perform polygamous marriages. This original announcement would be reiterated in 1904 with stricter punishments for members that did not adhere to the new guidelines.
The more that I dive into the experiences of the Eccles family the more fascinating they become. Just look at the life of Marriner Eccles father David. He was born in urban slums of Scotland to a blind father and a feisty Irish mother. His family becomes one of the earliest European converts to Mormonism. They emigrate to America. Trek across the United States. Settle in a tiny town in Utah (30 years before Utah even became a state). David marries, has 12 kids with his first wife, then marries a second time ten years later, just before polygamy ends in the Mormon church.
What an incredible life! And we’re only beginning to scratch the surface. But in order to get to know Marriner Eccles better we need to know where he came from. And his father is a key part of that story. There’s lots more to talk about, so The Bankster Podcast will keep on studying!
Today’s episode was written, edited, and produced by me, Alexander Bagehot. Reach out with your feedback, comments, and questions on twitter or via my website www.thebanksterpodcast.com. Leave a rating and share the podcast with your coworkers and classmates. Thanks to all of you for listening, and I’ll see you next time on The Bankster Podcast!