The Men Behind the American Revolution: Robert Morris
by: Rick Brainard
In America, hard currency was scarce. Because of this, it forced and the 13 colonies to print paper money, to supplement this scarcity in gold specie. Even the Continental Congress printed money to pay for its expenses. However, this paper money was highly depreciated, and the merchants and other people in business, would not accept this paper money, especially when the British would pay with hard cash.
There was to be no common currency until the drafting and approval of the Constitution of the United States. Thus this problem, combined with profiteering, selfishness and mismanagement, the committee of finance was hard pressed to retain their superintendents. This committee went through several superintendents until 1781 when Robert Morris took over the superintendent's chair.
Known in American history as "the Financier of the Revolution," Robert Morris earned this title by his success in raising money to support George Washington's army. Morris, a key congressman, specialized in financial affairs and military procurement.
Although he and his firm profited handsomely, had it not been for his assiduous labors the Continental Army would probably have been forced to demobilize. He worked closely with General Washington, wheedled money and supplies from the states, borrowed money in the face of overwhelming difficulties, and on occasion even obtained personal loans to further the war cause. (1)
Morris was born on Jan. 31, 1734, in Liverpool, England. When he was 13, he left England and joined his father in Maryland. At the age of 20, he became a partner in a large banking and importing firm in Philadelphia. In 1765, he joined in the opposition to the Stamp Act, though it would not be until the outbreak of the war did he fully commit himself and his fortune to the Revolution.
In 1775, citizens of Philadelphia elected him to the Second Continental Congress. He voted against the Declaration of Independence because he considered that "it was an improper time," but upon the adoption of the Declaration of Independence he signed it. From 1776 to 1778, he was a member of the finance committee of Congress.
From 1781 to 1784, he was superintendent of finance. During this period, the Congress gave Morris dictatorial powers, which gave in to his one condition, to allow him to continue his personal
commercial enterprises. "He slashed all governmental and military expenditures, personally purchased army and navy supplies, tightened accounting procedures, prodded the states to fulfill quotas of money and supplies, and when necessary strained his personal credit by issuing notes over his own signature or borrowing from friends."
"He slashed all governmental and military expenditures, personally purchased army and navy supplies, tightened accounting procedures, prodded the states to fulfill quotas of money and supplies, and when necessary strained his personal credit by issuing notes over his own signature or borrowing from friends."(2)
Morris used in part, the above method and a loan from France to fund Washington's Yorktown campaign. He used a portion of this loan and his own personal fortune to fund, and charter the First Bank of North America that same year.
In 1782, Morris opened the Bank of North America in Philadelphia, the first financial institution chartered by the United States. In 1787, he was a member of the Constitutional Convention and signed the Constitution for Pennsylvania. Washington offered him the Cabinet treasury post, but Morris refused it. From 1789 to 1795, he served as senator from Pennsylvania.
To learn more about Robert Morris and his contributions to the Revolution, visit these Web sites.
Delegates to the Constitutional Convention: Pennsylvania
The 1783 Nova Constellatio Set
Complete Internet: Oxford Points of Interest
The Declaration of Independence: Transcription
Article: Creation of the U.S. Constitution