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During the Civil War, New Englander Jim Fisk, the "Barnum of Peddlers," and his confidence game partners, Nick Boyd and Luke, make a fortune smuggling Southern cotton but discover later that their profits, which Luke had converted into Confederate bonds, are worthless. Down but not beaten, Fisk devises a scheme whereby the bonds can be used to finagle the pious but greedy Daniel Drew into selling his shipping business and turn a profit for themselves. To celebrate their Wall Street triumph, Fisk, Boyd and Luke attend a French musical revue, where Fisk meets Josie Mansfield, the beautiful maid to the show's star. Mesmerized by the aspiring actress, Fisk dedicates himself to bankrolling a show for her, which annoys the equally infatuated, jealous Boyd. Drew, meanwhile, having been ridiculed by his longtime business rival, Cornelius Vanderbilt, approaches Fisk with a plan to prevent Vanderbilt from buying out his Erie railroad company, which Fisk cleverly expands upon to his own financial advantage. Vanderbilt's attempts at blocking Fisk's railroad stock manipulations fail, but infuriated investors chase Fisk and company all the way to New Jersey, where he establishes a military style stronghold. At the opening of her show, the New York audience, many of whom have lost money due to Fisk's schemes, turns on Josie, who, out of gratitude, has accepted Fisk's marriage proposal. Disenchanted and heartbroken over Josie, Boyd finally deserts his partner, whose lust for power and money culminates in a singlehanded attempt at cornering the gold market and leads to Black Friday. By releasing the government's gold supply to the public market, President Ulysses S. Grant finally stops Fisk's outrageous Wall Street manipulations. Shot by an angry, riotous investor, the defeated Fisk gives Josie and Boyd his blessing and dies.