On a bright September morning in downtown Manhattan, at an address that symbolized the restless, beating heart of American capitalism, a terrorist explosion ripped through buildings, shattering glass and ending lives. The 1920 Wall Street blast killed 38 and injured hundreds. Among the victims were employees of the Morgan Bank, whose iconic limestone headquarters at 23 Wall St. was pockmarked by shrapnel. The explosion was widely presumed to be the work of anarchists lashing out against the financial elite, of which the “House of Morgan” was pre-eminent. The perpetrators were never identified. But Jack Morgan, son of J. Pierpont Morgan and arguably the age’s most powerful financier, had his own predetermined ideas about who was responsible: “the Jews.”
There’s no mystery about the terrorist attack that struck downtown Manhattan 81 Septembers later. Self-avowed Islamic extremists giddily claimed credit. But I thought of Morgan as arguments raged over the location of mosques in New York and around the country. Some Americans are outraged at a plan for a mosque near the World Trade Center site. Others express fear that America’s 2.6 million Muslims are preparing to impose sharia law on their 348 million fellow citizens—painting a portrait of an awesomely enterprising minority. Speaking within sight of the Statue of Liberty, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg last week asserted that the right of Americans to practice their religion could not be bounded or constrained. I wonder what Jack Morgan would have made of the occasion. Like us, he was a creature of his time, so it’s doubtful he gave much thought to Muslims or mosques. But a Jewish mayor? Jack must be spinning in his narrow, gilded grave.
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