Robert Morris 

 

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Robert MorrisMorris, ROBERT, financier, and a signer of the Declaration of Independence; born in England, January 20, 1734; came to America at the age of thirteen years; entered the mercantile house of Charles Willing, of Philadelphia, and in 1754 entered into partnership with his son. At the beginning of the Revolution it was the largest commercial house in Philadelphia. Mr. Morris espoused the cause of the colonies, and was a member of the Continental Congress in 1775. On July 2, 1776, he voted against the resolution for independence, and on the 4th he refused to vote on the Declaration because he considered the movement premature. When it was adopted, he signed it.

Hard money was lacking to pay the bounties offered by the Congress when George Washington attempted to recruit his army (December, 1776). It was an urgent necessity at a critical moment. The Congress had just ordered the issue of $5,000,000 in paper money, but the credit of that body was already so low that many good republicans refused to take that currency. Washington applied to Morris, whose credit stood high as well as his skill as a financier, for a large sum in hard money. Morris doubted his ability to raise it. In a desponding mood he left his counting-room at a late hour, musing, as he walked, on the subject of the requisition. He met a wealthy member of the Society of Friends, to whom he made known his wants. "Robert, what security canst thou give?" asked the Friend. "My note and my honor," Morris replied. " Thou shalt have it!" was the response of the Quaker; and the next day Morris wrote to Washington, "I was up early this morning to dispatch a supply of $50,000 to your Excellency."

He served in Congress at different times during the war, and at the same time was largely engaged in managing the financial affairs of the country, making use of his personal credit to support the public credit. With other citizens he established a bank in Philadelphia in 1780, by which means the army was largely sustained. In 1781 he supplied almost everything to carry on the campaign against Cornwallis. When Washington received a letter from Count de Grasse saying that he could not yet leave the West Indies, Morris was at headquarters at Dobb's Ferry with Richard Peters, secretary of the board of war. The commander-in-chief was sorely disappointed, for he saw little chance of success against the British at New York without the aid of a French fleet. He instantly conceived the campaign against Cornwallis. Turning to Peters, he said, "What can you do for me?" " With money, everything; without it, nothing," replied the secretary, at the same time turning an anxious look towards Morris, who comprehended the expression. "Let me know the sum you want," said the superintendent of finance. Washington soon handed him estimates. Morris borrowed $20,000 from the French commander, promising to repay it in October. The arrival of Colonel Laurens (August 25) at Boston with a part of the subsidy of over $1,000,000 from France for which he had negotiated enabled Morris to keep his engagement.

Appointed superintendent of finance and Secretary of the Treasury under the Confederation in 1781, he served until 1784, when the fiscal affairs of the country were placed in the hands of three commissioners. As superintendent of finance he proposed a scheme for funding the public debt of the United States in 1782, and to provide for the regular payment of the interest on it. For these purposes he proposed a very moderate land-tax, a poll-tax, and an excise on distilled liquors. He also proposed to add to the sum thus raised 5 per cent. of the duties on imports, if the States would consent to it, and to reserve the back public lands as security for new loans in Europe. This plan, if carried out, it was thought, would establish the public credit. But the jealous States would not give their consent.

He assisted in framing the national Constitution, and was chosen the first United States Senator for Pennsylvania under it. Washington offered him the Secretaryship of the Treasury, but he declined it. In 1784 he, in partnership with Gouverneur Morris, sent to Canton, China, the first American ship ever seen in that port. Entering into land speculations in his old age, he lost his fortune, and was in prison for debt for some time. He died in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, May 8, 1806.

 

 

 

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