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Robert Morris (merchant)

Robert Morris (merchant)

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Robert Morris, Jr. was a British-born American merchant, and signer of the Declaration of Independence
United States Declaration of Independence
The Declaration of Independence was a statement adopted by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776, which announced that the thirteen American colonies then at war with Great Britain regarded themselves as independent states, and no longer a part of the British Empire. John Adams put forth a...

, the Articles of Confederation
Articles of Confederation
The Articles of Confederation, formally the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union, was an agreement among the 13 founding states that legally established the United States of America as a confederation of sovereign states and served as its first constitution...

, and the United States Constitution
United States Constitution
The Constitution of the United States is the supreme law of the United States of America. It is the framework for the organization of the United States government and for the relationship of the federal government with the states, citizens, and all people within the United States.The first three...

. He was elected to the Pennsylvania Assembly, became the Chairman of the Pennsylvania Committee of Safety
Committee of Safety (American Revolution)
Many Committees of Safety were established throughout Colonial America at the start of the American Revolution. These committees started to appear in the 1760s as means to discuss the concerns of the time, and often consisted of every male adult in the community...

, and was chosen as a delegate to the Second Continental Congress
Second Continental Congress
The Second Continental Congress was a convention of delegates from the Thirteen Colonies that started meeting on May 10, 1775, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, soon after warfare in the American Revolutionary War had begun. It succeeded the First Continental Congress, which met briefly during 1774,...

, where he served as chairman of the "Secret Committee of Trade" and as a member of the Committee of Correspondence
Committee of correspondence
The Committees of Correspondence were shadow governments organized by the Patriot leaders of the Thirteen Colonies on the eve of American Revolution. They coordinated responses to Britain and shared their plans; by 1773 they had emerged as shadow governments, superseding the colonial legislature...

. From 1781 to 1784, he served as the powerful Superintendent of Finance
Superintendent of Finance of the United States
The post of Superintendent of Finance of the United States was one of three executive offices created by the Congress of the Confederation in 1781. Another office, Agent of the Marine, was also create was not directly filled but devolved on to the Superintendent.The only person to hold the office...

, managing the economy of the fledgling United States. As the central civilian in the government, Morris was, next to General George Washington
George Washington in the American Revolution
George Washington commanded the Continental Army in American Revolutionary War , and was the first President of the United States, serving from 1789 to 1797. Because of his central role in the founding of the United States, Washington is often called the "Father of his Country"...

, "the most powerful man in America." His successful administration led to the sobriquet, "Financier of the Revolution." At the same time he was Agent of Marine, a position he took without pay, and from which he controlled the Continental Navy
Continental Navy
The Continental Navy was the navy of the United States during the American Revolutionary War, and was formed in 1775. Through the efforts of the Continental Navy's patron, John Adams and vigorous Congressional support in the face of stiff opposition, the fleet cumulatively became relatively...

. He was one of Pennsylvania's original pair of US senators, serving from 1789 to 1795. Unwise land speculation right before the Panic of 1796-1797 led to his bankruptcy in 1798 and he spent several years in debtors prison.

Early life


Morris was born to Robert Morris, Sr. and Elizabeth Murphet in Liverpool
Liverpool
Liverpool is a city and metropolitan borough of Merseyside, England, along the eastern side of the Mersey Estuary. It was founded as a borough in 1207 and was granted city status in 1880...

, England, on January 20, 1734. At the age of thirteen Morris emigrated to Oxford, Maryland
Oxford, Maryland
Oxford is a waterfront town and former colonial port in Talbot County, Maryland, United States. The population was 771 at the 2000 census.-History:Oxford is one of the oldest towns in Maryland...

, to live with his father, a tobacco factor
Factor (agent)
A factor, from the Latin "he who does" , is a person who professionally acts as the representative of another individual or other legal entity, historically with his seat at a factory , notably in the following contexts:-Mercantile factor:In a relatively large company, there could be a hierarchy,...

. The younger Morris was provided a tutor, but he quickly learned everything that his teacher had to impart. His father then arranged for him to go to Philadelphia, where he stayed with Charles Greenway, a family friend. Greenway arranged for young Robert to become an apprentice at the shipping and banking firm of Philadelphia merchant (and then mayor) Charles Willing
Charles Willing
Charles Willing was a successful Philadelphia merchant, trader and politician; twice he served as Mayor of Philadelphia, from 1748 to 1749 and again in 1754.-Family:...

. A year later, Robert's father died as the result of being wounded by the wadding
Wadding
Wadding is a disc of material used in guns to seal gas behind a projectile or to separate powder from shot.Wadding can be crucial to a gun's efficiency, since any gas that leaks past a projectile as it is being fired is wasted. A harder or more carefully designed item which serves this purpose is...

 of a ship's gun that was fired in his honor. When Charles Willing died in 1754, his son Thomas Willing
Thomas Willing
Thomas Willing was an American merchant and financier and a Delegate to the Continental Congress from Pennsylvania....

 made Morris his partner. They established the prominent shipping-banking firm of Willing, Morris & Co. on May 1, 1757. The partnership lasted until about 1779.

Personal and family life


On March 2, 1769, at 35 years old, Morris married 20-year-old Mary White. Together they had five sons and two daughters. White came from a prominent family in Maryland; her brother was the well-known Bishop William White
William White (Bishop of Pennsylvania)
The Most Reverend William White was the first and fourth Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, USA , the first Bishop of the Diocese of Pennsylvania , and the second United States Senate Chaplain...

.

Morris worshiped in Philadelphia at St Peter's Church
St. Peter's Church, Philadelphia
St. Peter's Church is a historic church located on the corner of Third and Pine Streets in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It opened for worship on September 4, 1761 and served as a place of worship for many of the United States Founding Fathers during the period of the Continental Congresses. The...

 on Pine Street and Christ Church
Christ Church, Philadelphia
Christ Church is an Episcopal church located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It was founded in 1695 by members of the Church of England, who built a small wooden church on the site by the next year. When the congregation outgrew this structure some twenty years later, they decided to erect a new...

 on 2nd Street, both of which were run by his brother-in-law, Bishop William White. Morris remained a constant worshiper and supporter at this Anglican Church for his entire life. Both Morris and his brother in law William White are buried at Christ Church Philadelphia in the churchyard located at Second and Market. Because of the location and reputation of Christ Church and St. Peter’s Church in Philadelphia, it served as a place of worship for a number of the notable members of the Continental Congress, sometimes including George Washington.

The Business of Shipping Including Slavery


In 1757 Morris became a business partner with Thomas Willing. Their partnership was merchant firm with interests in shipping, real estate, and other lines of business. The partnership was forged just after the Seven Years' War
Seven Years' War
The Seven Years' War was a global military war between 1756 and 1763, involving most of the great powers of the time and affecting Europe, North America, Central America, the West African coast, India, and the Philippines...

 began (1756–1763). The Seven Years War did hinder the usual supply of new indentured servants. Potential immigrants were conscripted to fight in Europe and the contracts for those already in America were expiring. Indentured servants could legally break their contracts to join the British forces against the French and their Indian allies. At the same time, the British Crown wanted to encourage the slave trade and enrich the King's friends. While Morris was a junior partner and Willing was pursuing a political career, the company Willing, Morris & Co. co-signed a petition calling for the repeal of Pennsylvania's tariff. (About 500 slaves were imported into Philadelphia in 1762, the height of the trade, most of whom were brought in by Rhode Islanders Messers D’Wolf, Aaron Lopez
Aaron Lopez
Aaron Lopez , born Duarte Lopez, was a Jewish merchant and philanthropist. He became the wealthiest person in Newport, Rhode Island, in British America. In 1761 and 1762, Lopez unsuccessfully sued the Colony of Rhode Island for citizenship....

, and Jacob Rivera.)

Willing, Morris & Co funded its own slave-trading voyage. The ship didn't carry enough to be profitable and, during a second trip, was captured by French privateers. The firm did handle seven slave auctions for other importers, offering a total of twenty three slaves. In 1762 there is one instance, where advertising was for an agency sale in Wilmington, Delaware for over 100 gold coast slaves, the ship docked in Wilmington to avoid tariff. In 1765 on their last reported agency deal (out of a total of eight), the firm advertised seventy slaves who were brought in from Africa on the ship Marquis de Granby, but records indicate that the slaves were not sold in Philadelphia, and instead the owner took the ship and all the slaves to Jamaica.

Both partners supported the non-importation agreements that marked the end of all trade with Britain, including the British importation of slaves. They also became advocates for free trade which would end the kind of trade restrictions that gave rise to the business. As time went on, Morris tried to tax the domestic slave trade and to lay a head tax on the slaves payable by the owner. His efforts were not appreciated by the Southerners who then proceeded to fight all his measures. While Morris's fortune did not come from the slave trade or from slave labor, he may have owned one or two slaves who worked as household servants. Pennsylvania began a gradual abolition of slavery in 1780. Philadelphia County has no slave registrations making it impossible to determine who in Philadelphia owned slaves in 1780.

Morris had invested in a plantation called "Orange Grove" along the Mississippi. According to the plan, Morris would remain a passive investor and the plantation was to be managed by Willing's brother, and Oliver Pollock and worked by 100 slaves. However, the place was never operated. In addition, in 1783 with the Treaty of Paris
Treaty of Paris
Treaty of Paris could refer to a number of treaties which have been negotiated and signed in Paris, France, including:*Treaty of Paris , ended the Albigensian Crusade*Treaty of Paris , between Henry III of England and Louis IX of France...

 the Spanish confiscated all property on both sides of the Mississippi River below the Ohio River including "Orange Grove". Morris noted that the plantation was for the growing of indigo, and that his investment in the property had cost him money and not resulted in any profit .

The shipping business of Willing, Morris & Co. had ventures to India, the Levant, the West Indies, Spanish Cuba, Spain, and Italy. The firm's business of import, export, and general agency made it one of the most prosperous in Pennsylvania. In 1784 Morris, with other investors, underwrote the voyage of the ship,The Empress of China
Empress of China (1783)
The Empress of China was a three-masted, square-rigged sailing ship, initially built in 1783 for service as a privateer. After the Treaty of Paris brought a formal end to the American Revolutionary War, the vessel was refitted for commercial purposes...

, the first American vessel to visit the Chinese mainland. Among the investors were Samuel Miles
Samuel Miles
Samuel Miles was an American military officer and politician, active in Pennsylvania before, during, and after the American Revolutionary War....

, who built a sugar refinery in Philadelphia; John Holker, French Agent; and Daniel Parker, merchant. The ship embarked from New York harbor for China on General Washington's birthday, February 22, 1784.

In 1786 Washington wrote to Morris wherein he shares his hope that the democratic process would bring about freedom for the slaves, and this letter is taken as the first reference to the underground railroad. The 1790 census is the first place in Philadelphia County where we can see who owns slaves. The 1790 Census lists a Robert Morris Merchant at 190 Market Street, Philadelphia PA
Market Street (Philadelphia)
Market Street, originally known as High Street, is a major east–west street in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. For the majority of its length, it serves as Pennsylvania Route 3....

 with 4 all other free persons in his household, but no slaves.

Conflict with Britain


The Stamp Act
Stamp Act 1765
The Stamp Act 1765 was a direct tax imposed by the British Parliament specifically on the colonies of British America. The act required that many printed materials in the colonies be produced on stamped paper produced in London, carrying an embossed revenue stamp...

 of 1765-1766 was a tax on all legal documents, yet the lawyers did not act to oppose it. However the merchants banded together to end what they saw as an unconstitutional tax. Morris began his public career in 1765 by serving on a local committee of merchants organized to protest the Stamp Act. He mediated between a mass meeting of protesters and the Stamp Tax collector, whose house they threatened to pull down "brick by brick" unless the collector promised not to execute his job. Morris remained loyal to Britain, but he believed that the new laws constituted taxation without representation and violated the colonists' rights as British citizens. In the end, the stamp tax was lifted.

Morris was also a warden of the port. When the Tea Tax was passed and the tea ship Polly was in the lower Delaware Bay, orders were given that no pilot should bring it to port. Captain Ayers, of the Polly, followed a ship up the channel and set off a protest. At least 20% of the population filled the street when Captain Ayers was escorted to the State House. A meeting with Ayers and the wardens, including Morris, was held and Ayers agreed to leave Philadelphia without delivering any taxed tea. Bostonians handled the matter quite differently.

Morris was elected to the Pennsylvania Council of Safety (1775–1776), the Committee of Correspondence
Committee of correspondence
The Committees of Correspondence were shadow governments organized by the Patriot leaders of the Thirteen Colonies on the eve of American Revolution. They coordinated responses to Britain and shared their plans; by 1773 they had emerged as shadow governments, superseding the colonial legislature...

, the Provincial Assembly (1775–1776), and the Pennsylvania legislature
Pennsylvania General Assembly
The Pennsylvania General Assembly is the state legislature of the U.S. state of Pennsylvania. The legislature convenes in the State Capitol building in Harrisburg. In colonial times , the legislature was known as the Pennsylvania Provincial Assembly. Since the Constitution of 1776, written by...

 (1776–1778).

Continental Congress


Morris was also elected to represent Pennsylvania in the Second Continental Congress
Second Continental Congress
The Second Continental Congress was a convention of delegates from the Thirteen Colonies that started meeting on May 10, 1775, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, soon after warfare in the American Revolutionary War had begun. It succeeded the First Continental Congress, which met briefly during 1774,...

 from 1775 to 1778.

In 1775 the Continental Congress contracted with Morris's company to import arms and ammunition.

Morris was Chairman of the Secret Committee of Trade after 14 March 1776, where he devised a system to smuggle war supplies from France a year before Independence was declared. He handled much of its financial business, contracting with merchants and business firms to obtain needed war matériel and purchasing commodities for export to pay for it.

He served with John Adams
John Adams
John Adams was an American lawyer, statesman, diplomat and political theorist. A leading champion of independence in 1776, he was the second President of the United States...

 on the committee that wrote the Model Treaty
Model Treaty
The Model Treaty, or the Plan of 1776, was created during the American Revolution and was an idealistic guide for foreign relations and future treaties between the new American government and other nations.-Creation:...

. The Model Treaty incorporated his long held belief in Free Trade. It was an outgrowth of his trading system, and acted as the basis for the 1778 Treaty with France.
Treaty of Alliance (1778)
The Treaty of Alliance, also called The Treaty of Alliance with France, was a defensive alliance between France and the United States of America, formed in the midst of the American Revolutionary War, which promised military support in case of attack by British forces indefinitely into the future...



He served on the Marine and Maritime Committees and sold his best ship, The Black Prince, to the Continental Congress. It became USS Alfred (1774)
USS Alfred (1774)
The Alfred was a man-of-war in the Continental Navy of the United States. She was built as Black Prince, named for Edward, the Black Prince, and served as Alfred.-As Black Prince:...

, the first ship in the Continental Navy. John Barry, a captain who sailed for his company, became the Captain of the Alfred.

Morris used his extensive international trading network as a spy network and gathered intelligence on British troop movements. One of his spies sent the information that allowed the Americans to defend Fort Moultrie near Charleston, South Carolina
Charleston, South Carolina
Charleston is the second largest city in the U.S. state of South Carolina. It was made the county seat of Charleston County in 1901 when Charleston County was founded. The city's original name was Charles Towne in 1670, and it moved to its present location from a location on the west bank of the...

.

On July 1, 1776, Morris voted against the Congressional motion for independence, causing the Pennsylvania delegation, which was split 4-3, to cast its vote in the negative. The following day, Morris and John Dickinson agreed to abstain, allowing Pennsylvania to vote for independence. The final vote was therefore 12 states in favor and no states opposed. (New York's delegates voted later.) On August 2 Morris signed the Declaration of Independence
Declaration of independence
A declaration of independence is an assertion of the independence of an aspiring state or states. Such places are usually declared from part or all of the territory of another nation or failed nation, or are breakaway territories from within the larger state...

 saying "I am not one of those politicians that run testy when my own plans are not adopted. I think it is the duty of a good citizen to follow when he cannot lead."

During the War



He loaned £10,000 to pay Washington’s troops. This helped to keep the Army together just before the battles of Trenton and Princeton. He subsequently paid from his own funds the troops via Morris notes to continue Washington's ability to wage war.

In March 1778 Morris signed the Articles of Confederation
Articles of Confederation
The Articles of Confederation, formally the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union, was an agreement among the 13 founding states that legally established the United States of America as a confederation of sovereign states and served as its first constitution...

 as a representative of Pennsylvania.

Morris's wealth increased thanks to privateer
Privateer
A privateer is a private person or ship authorized by a government by letters of marque to attack foreign shipping during wartime. Privateering was a way of mobilizing armed ships and sailors without having to spend public money or commit naval officers...

s that seized the cargo of English ships during the war. Morris owned an interest in many privateer ships, and also helped to sell off the English spoils as they came into port. While he was seen as profiting handsomely from this activity he wrote a friend that he lost over 150 ships during the war and so came out "about even." In fact he had lost one of the largest private navies in the world during the Revolutionary War, but he never asked for reimbursement. It should be noted that Morris acquired this large private navy in the course of privateering during the war. He used money gained from that pursuit to buy shares in a variety of ships that waged an economic war on Britain. During this period he acted as a commercial agent for John Holker, a French national who was one of many military contractors who dealt with the French and American forces.

Immediately after serving in the Congress Morris served two more terms in the state legislature, from 1778 to 1781. While he was in the Pennsylvania Assembly Morris worked to restore checks and balances to the state constitution, and to overturn the religious test laws, thus restoring voting rights to 40% of the citizens including Quakers, Jews, and Mennonites. During this time Thomas Paine
Thomas Paine
Thomas "Tom" Paine was an English author, pamphleteer, radical, inventor, intellectual, revolutionary, and one of the Founding Fathers of the United States...

, Henry Laurens
Henry Laurens
Henry Laurens was an American merchant and rice planter from South Carolina who became a political leader during the Revolutionary War. A delegate to the Second Continental Congress, Laurens succeeded John Hancock as President of the Congress...

, and others criticized him and his firm for alleged war profiteering. A congressional committee acquitted Morris and his firm on charges of engaging in improper financial transactions in 1779, but his reputation was damaged after this incident.

On October 4, 1779, an angry mob, who supported the "Constitutionalist" faction in opposition to Morris and his allies, attempted to chase James Wilson
James Wilson
James Wilson was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States and a signer of the United States Declaration of Independence. Wilson was elected twice to the Continental Congress, and was a major force in drafting the United States Constitution...

 from his home in Philadelphia. According to some sources Morris was in Wilson's house at the time. The mob was in the process of aiming a cannon at Wilson's home when the First City Troop came to his rescue. Five men were killed in the battle of "Fort Wilson." This event is often associated with complaints about Morris's supposed "war profiteering", but it was part of a long term policy of the Constitutionalists in Pennsylvania to run their political opposites from the state, and take their property. James Wilson went on to argue against slavery, defend Haym Solomon
Haym Solomon
Haym Solomon was a Spanish and Portuguese Jew who immigrated to New York from Poland during the period of the American Revolution, and who became a prime financier of the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War against Great Britain.-Early years:Descended from Jewish refugees from...

 from fraud, sign the Constitution and become a Supreme Court justice.

Morris and his allies supplied the majority of war materials to the troops when the state failed to act. Pennsylvania went bankrupt in 1780 due to Constitutionalist policies which mandated state controlled markets and self-imposed embargoes. Ultimately the state called on Morris to restore the economy. He did so by opening the ports to trade, and allowing the market to set the value of goods and the currency.

Superintendent of Finance of the United States


In 1781 the US was in a crisis. The British controlled the coast line from the sea, two major cities, and the western frontier. The treasury was in debt by $25 million and public credit
Credit (finance)
Credit is the trust which allows one party to provide resources to another party where that second party does not reimburse the first party immediately , but instead arranges either to repay or return those resources at a later date. The resources provided may be financial Credit is the trust...

 had collapsed. With the failure of their own policies staring them in the face Congress changed from the committee systems they had used for years and created the first executive offices in American history. Morris held two of them, Finance and Marine. His detractors worried he was gaining "dictatorial powers." In a unanimous vote, Congress appointed Morris to be Superintendent of Finance of the United States
Superintendent of Finance of the United States
The post of Superintendent of Finance of the United States was one of three executive offices created by the Congress of the Confederation in 1781. Another office, Agent of the Marine, was also create was not directly filled but devolved on to the Superintendent.The only person to hold the office...

 from 1781 to 1784. In defending himself from would-be critics Morris insisted Congress allow him to continue his private endeavors while serving in a related public office. He was not active in private business during this term but remained a silent partner in various companies.,

Three days after becoming Superintendent of Finance Morris proposed the establishment of a national bank. This led to the creation of the first financial institution chartered by the United States, the Bank of North America
Bank of North America
The Bank of North America was a private business chartered on December 31, 1781 by the Congress of the Confederation and opened on January 7, 1782, at the prodding of Superintendent of Finance Robert Morris. This was thus the nation's first de facto central bank. It was succeeded in its role as...

, in 1782. The bank was funded in part by a significant loan Morris had obtained from France in 1781. The initial role of the bank was to finance the war against Britain.,

As Superintendent of Finance Morris instituted several reforms, including reducing the civil list, significantly cutting government spending by using competitive bidding for contracts, tightening accounting procedures, and demanding the federal government's full share of support (money and supplies) from the States.,

Morris obtained supplies for the army of Nathanael Greene
Nathanael Greene
Nathanael Greene was a major general of the Continental Army in the American Revolutionary War. When the war began, Greene was a militia private, the lowest rank possible; he emerged from the war with a reputation as George Washington's most gifted and dependable officer. Many places in the United...

 in 1779, and from 1781-1783.

He took an active role in getting Washington from New York State to Yorktown Virginia. He was in Washington's camp the day the action was initiated. He acted as quartermaster for the trip and supplied over $1,400,000 in his own credit to move the Army. He was also Agent of Marine and coordinated with the French Navy to get Washington's Army to the Battle of Yorktown (1781). After Yorktown Morris noted the war had changed from a war of bullets to a war of finances.

At times he took out loans from friends and risked his personal credit by issuing notes on his own signature to purchase items such as military supplies; for example, in 1783 Morris issued $1,400,000 in his own notes to pay the soldiers. He did this during the same year that New Hampshire contributed only $3000 worth of beef toward the war effort, and all the states combined contributed less than $800,000. This extensive use of his personal credit strained his own fortune.

During his tenure as Superintendent, Morris was assisted by his friend and assistant Gouverneur Morris
Gouverneur Morris
Gouverneur Morris , was an American statesman, a Founding Father of the United States, and a native of New York City who represented Pennsylvania in the Constitutional Convention of 1787. He was a signatory to the Articles of Confederation. Morris was also an author of large sections of the...

 (no relation). He proposed a national economic system in a document called "On Public Credit". This acted as the basis for Hamilton's plan of the same name submitted much later. The Morrises also proposed to make the American currency a decimal currency, an idea that was unique at the time.

He was thought to be one of the main conspirators in the Newburgh Conspiracy
Newburgh conspiracy
The Newburgh Conspiracy was unrest in 1783 among officers of the American Continental Army due to many officers and men of the Army not receiving pay for many years. Commander-in-Chief George Washington stopped any serious talk by appealing successfully to his officers to support the supremacy of...

 in 1783. However, the source of that accusation was Morris's lifelong enemy Arthur Lee (diplomat)
Arthur Lee (diplomat)
Dr. Arthur Lee was an American diplomat during the American Revolutionary War. He was the son of Hon. Thomas Lee and Hannah Harrison Ludwell...

. The real author of the Newburgh letter was Major Armstrong, a partisan for the faction that opposed Morris's policies in the Pennsylvania state house; a faction that often allied itself with A. Lee.

On January 15, 1782 Morris drafted a proposal that he later presented to the Continental Congress
Continental Congress
The Continental Congress was a convention of delegates called together from the Thirteen Colonies that became the governing body of the United States during the American Revolution....

 to recommend the establishment of a national mint
Mint (coin)
A mint is an industrial facility which manufactures coins for currency.The history of mints correlates closely with the history of coins. One difference is that the history of the mint is usually closely tied to the political situation of an era...

 and decimal coin
Coin
A coin is a piece of hard material that is standardized in weight, is produced in large quantities in order to facilitate trade, and primarily can be used as a legal tender token for commerce in the designated country, region, or territory....

age. However, the United States Mint
United States Mint
The United States Mint primarily produces circulating coinage for the United States to conduct its trade and commerce. The Mint was created by Congress with the Coinage Act of 1792, and placed within the Department of State...

 was not established until 1792, after further proposals by Hamilton
Alexander Hamilton
Alexander Hamilton was a Founding Father, soldier, economist, political philosopher, one of America's first constitutional lawyers and the first United States Secretary of the Treasury...

 and Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson was the principal author of the United States Declaration of Independence and the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom , the third President of the United States and founder of the University of Virginia...

.

Morris House


Robert Morris's home in Philadelphia, where he lived during much of his career as Superintendent, where he lived while he (as Agent of Marine) ran the Continental Navy (1781–1784), and where he lived while he served as host to Washington and a member of the Constitutional Convention (1789), was subsequently used as the Executive Mansion
White House
The White House is the official residence and principal workplace of the president of the United States. Located at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW in Washington, D.C., the house was designed by Irish-born James Hoban, and built between 1792 and 1800 of white-painted Aquia sandstone in the Neoclassical...

 by Presidents George Washington
George Washington
George Washington was the dominant military and political leader of the new United States of America from 1775 to 1799. He led the American victory over Great Britain in the American Revolutionary War as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army from 1775 to 1783, and presided over the writing of...

 and John Adams
John Adams
John Adams was an American lawyer, statesman, diplomat and political theorist. A leading champion of independence in 1776, he was the second President of the United States...

. Morris initially offered his city home to Washington for free, but to avoid the appearance of improper influence he rented the house to the city of Philadelphia to be used as the presidential home, while Philadelphia was the temporary US capital 1790-1800 during the construction of Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C., formally the District of Columbia and commonly referred to as Washington, "the District", or simply D.C., is the capital of the United States. On July 16, 1790, the United States Congress approved the creation of a permanent national capital as permitted by the U.S. Constitution....

. He moved next door, into another he owned on the corner of 6th and High St. The President's House
President's House (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)
The President's House in Philadelphia at 524-30 Market Street was the third Presidential mansion. It was occupied by President George Washington from November 1790 to March 1797 and President John Adams from March 1797 to May 1800....

 no longer exists, but a site on the block has become a national memorial that oddly excludes Morris in the interpretation, and instead focuses on the first two Presidents
President of the United States
The President of the United States of America is the head of state and head of government of the United States. The president leads the executive branch of the federal government and is the commander-in-chief of the United States Armed Forces....

, their families, and the nine enslaved Africans who worked in Washington's presidential household.

Later political career


Morris was elected to the Constitutional Convention
Philadelphia Convention
The Constitutional Convention took place from May 14 to September 17, 1787, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to address problems in governing the United States of America, which had been operating under the Articles of Confederation following independence from...

 in 1787. He managed to get Gouverneur Morris
Gouverneur Morris
Gouverneur Morris , was an American statesman, a Founding Father of the United States, and a native of New York City who represented Pennsylvania in the Constitutional Convention of 1787. He was a signatory to the Articles of Confederation. Morris was also an author of large sections of the...

 onto the Pennsylvania delegation. Although Robert Morris said little at the Convention, his former assistant, Gouverneur, and his lawyer, James Wilson
James Wilson
James Wilson was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States and a signer of the United States Declaration of Independence. Wilson was elected twice to the Continental Congress, and was a major force in drafting the United States Constitution...

, were two of the three most talkative men there. Both opposed slavery during the Convention. Gouverneur Morris actually wrote the polished draft of the Constitution. While it was widely known at the time that Morris was active behind the scenes, his only significant role of record during the Convention was to nominate his friend George Washington as its President.

Washington wanted to appoint Morris Secretary of the Treasury in 1789, but Morris declined (suggesting instead Alexander Hamilton
Alexander Hamilton
Alexander Hamilton was a Founding Father, soldier, economist, political philosopher, one of America's first constitutional lawyers and the first United States Secretary of the Treasury...

 who was a supporter of his policies). He served as a United States Senator
United States Senate
The United States Senate is the upper house of the bicameral legislature of the United States, and together with the United States House of Representatives comprises the United States Congress. The composition and powers of the Senate are established in Article One of the U.S. Constitution. Each...

 from 1789 to 1795. Morris was on 41 Senatorial committees and reported for many of them. He focused on using his position in the Legislature to support the Federalist economic program, which included internal improvements like canals and lighthouses to aid commerce. As Senator he generally supported the Federalist
Federalist Party (United States)
The Federalist Party was the first American political party, from the early 1790s to 1816, the era of the First Party System, with remnants lasting into the 1820s. The Federalists controlled the federal government until 1801...

 party and backed Hamilton's economic proposals. Hamilton's proposals were, in actuality, a rework of Morris's report "On Public Credit", submitted some 10 years earlier.

As a senator from Pennsylvania, Morris is credited with helping to bring the Federal Government to Philadelphia in 1790, for a 10-year period while Washington, D.C. was under construction. He gave up his home to be used by President Washington as the Executive Mansion
President's House (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)
The President's House in Philadelphia at 524-30 Market Street was the third Presidential mansion. It was occupied by President George Washington from November 1790 to March 1797 and President John Adams from March 1797 to May 1800....

, 1790-97. It was later used by President John Adams, 1797–1800, prior to the move to the White House
White House
The White House is the official residence and principal workplace of the president of the United States. Located at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW in Washington, D.C., the house was designed by Irish-born James Hoban, and built between 1792 and 1800 of white-painted Aquia sandstone in the Neoclassical...

.

Later life





Morris founded several canal companies, a steam engine company, and launched a hot air balloon from his garden on Market Street. He had the first iron rolling mill in America. His icehouse was the model for one Washington installed at Mount Vernon. He backed the new Chestnut Street Theater, started the Horticultural Society and had a green house with lemon trees in it.

On March 12, 1791 he contracted with Massachusetts to purchase what is now essentially all of Western New York
Western New York
Western New York is the westernmost region of the state of New York. It includes the cities of Buffalo, Rochester, Niagara Falls, the surrounding suburbs, as well as the outlying rural areas of the Great Lakes lowlands, the Genesee Valley, and the Southern Tier. Some historians, scholars and others...

 west (sic, east
Red Jacket
Red Jacket was a Native American Seneca orator and chief of the Wolf clan...

) of the Genesee River
Genesee River
The Genesee River is a North American river flowing northward through the Twin Tiers of Pennsylvania and New York. The river provided the original power for the Rochester area's 19th century mills and still provides hydroelectric power for downtown Rochester....

 for $333,333.33. The land, which had been a substantial portion of the Phelps and Gorham Purchase
Phelps and Gorham Purchase
The Phelps and Gorham Purchase was the purchase in 1788 of the pre-emptive right to some 6,000,000 acres of land in western New York State for $1,000,000 . This was all land in western New York west of Seneca Lake between Lake Ontario and the Pennsylvania border...

, was conveyed to Morris in five deeds on May 11, 1791.

His son Thomas settled the peace with the Six Nations, who had sided with the British during the Revolution. Then Morris sold most of the vast tract to the Holland Land Company
Holland Land Company
The Holland Land Company was a purchaser of the western two-thirds of the western New York land tract known as the Phelps and Gorham Purchase. This tract was known thereafter as The Holland Purchase...

 in 1792-1793.

In 1794 he began construction of a mansion on Chestnut Street in Philadelphia designed by Pierre Charles L'Enfant
Pierre Charles L'Enfant
Pierre Charles L'Enfant was a French-born American architect and civil engineer best known for designing the layout of the streets of Washington, D.C..-Early life:...

. The unfinished mansion became known as "Morris's folly", and the land eventually became Sansom Street
Jewelers' Row, Philadelphia
Jewelers' Row, located in the Center City section of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, is composed of more than 300 retailers, wholesalers, and craftsmen on Sansom Street, between Seventh and Eighth streets, and on Eighth Street between Chestnut and Walnut streets....

. Marbles from this house were purchased by Latrobe and adorn buildings and monuments from Rhode Island
Rhode Island
The state of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, more commonly referred to as Rhode Island , is a state in the New England region of the United States. It is the smallest U.S. state by area...

 to Charlestown, SC.

Morris was later heavily involved in unsuccessful land speculations, investing in the District of Columbia
Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C., formally the District of Columbia and commonly referred to as Washington, "the District", or simply D.C., is the capital of the United States. On July 16, 1790, the United States Congress approved the creation of a permanent national capital as permitted by the U.S. Constitution....

, and purchasing over 6,000,000 acres (24,000 km²) in the rural south. An expected loan from Holland never materialized because England and the Dutch declared war on Revolutionary France. The subsequent Napoleonic Wars
Napoleonic Wars
The Napoleonic Wars were a series of wars declared against Napoleon's French Empire by opposing coalitions that ran from 1803 to 1815. As a continuation of the wars sparked by the French Revolution of 1789, they revolutionised European armies and played out on an unprecedented scale, mainly due to...

 ruined the market for American lands and Morris's highly leveraged company collapsed. The financial markets of England, the United States, and the Caribbean were also suffering from the deflation associated with the Panic of 1797
Panic of 1797
The Panic of 1796–1797 was a series of downturns in Atlantic credit markets that led to broader commercial downturns in both Britain and the United States. In the U.S., problems first emerged when the Bubble of land speculation burst in 1796...

. Thus Morris was "land rich and cash poor" (he owned more land than any other American at the time, but didn't have enough hard money to pay his creditors).

Although he attempted to avoid his creditors by remaining at "The Hills", his country estate on the Schuylkill River
Schuylkill River
The Schuylkill River is a river in Pennsylvania. It is a designated Pennsylvania Scenic River.The river is about long. Its watershed of about lies entirely within the state of Pennsylvania. The source of its eastern branch is in the Appalachian Mountains at Tuscarora Springs, near Tamaqua in...

 in Philadelphia, his creditors literally pursued him to his gate. After he was sued by a former partner, a fraud who at that time was serving time in debtor's prison himself, he was arrested and imprisoned
Debtor's prison
A debtors' prison is a prison for those who are unable to pay a debt.Prior to the mid 19th century debtors' prisons were a common way to deal with unpaid debt.-Debt bondage in ancient Greece and Rome:...

 for debt in Prune Street prison in Philadelphia from February 1798 to August 1801.
Morris's economic failure reduced the fortunes of many other prominent Federalists who had invested in his ventures (e.g., Henry Lee). Morris's political adversaries used his bankruptcy to gain political power in Pennsylvania. Governor Thomas McKean
Thomas McKean
Thomas McKean was an American lawyer and politician from New Castle, in New Castle County, Delaware and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. During the American Revolution he was a delegate to the Continental Congress where he signed the United States Declaration of Independence and the Articles of...

 was elected and refined the art of political patronage in America. McKean’s party then picked the Pennsylvania members of the electoral college
Electoral college
An electoral college is a set of electors who are selected to elect a candidate to a particular office. Often these represent different organizations or entities, with each organization or entity represented by a particular number of electors or with votes weighted in a particular way...

 for the election of 1800, and this helped Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson was the principal author of the United States Declaration of Independence and the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom , the third President of the United States and founder of the University of Virginia...

 become president.

The US Congress passed its first bankruptcy legislation, the temporary Bankruptcy Act of 1800, in part, to get Morris out of prison.

After his release, and suffering from poor health, Morris spent the rest of his life in retirement. He was assisted by his wife, who had supported him throughout his misfortune. Morris died on May 8, 1806, in Philadelphia, and is buried in the family vault of Bishop William White, his brother-in-law, at Christ Church
Christ Church, Philadelphia
Christ Church is an Episcopal church located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It was founded in 1695 by members of the Church of England, who built a small wooden church on the site by the next year. When the congregation outgrew this structure some twenty years later, they decided to erect a new...

. His plaque honoring his life reads "ROBERT MORRIS signer of the Constitution of the United States of America. Deputy from Pennsylvania to Federal Constitutional Convention May 25, 1787- September 17, 1787 Erected by the Pennsylvania Constitution Commemorative Committee "

Legacy


  • Morris's work, "On Public Credit" submitted during the Revolution, to the Continental Congress in 1781, supplied the basis for Hamilton's economic plan submitted in 1790 under the curious title First Report on the Public Credit
    First Report on the Public Credit
    The First Report on Public Credit was the first of three major reports on economic policy issued by American Founding Father and first United States Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton on the request of Congress. The report analyzed the financial standing of the United States of America and made...

    . In his plan Morris laid out a national funding plan, but its nationalist nature and its reliance on direct taxation, including a head tax on slaves, were some of the reasons it was set aside and reconfigured by Hamilton under a national government. Along with Alexander Hamilton
    Alexander Hamilton
    Alexander Hamilton was a Founding Father, soldier, economist, political philosopher, one of America's first constitutional lawyers and the first United States Secretary of the Treasury...

     and Albert Gallatin
    Albert Gallatin
    Abraham Alfonse Albert Gallatin was a Swiss-American ethnologist, linguist, politician, diplomat, congressman, and the longest-serving United States Secretary of the Treasury. In 1831, he founded the University of the City of New York...

    , Morris is considered one of the key founders of the financial system in the United States.

  • Morris' portrait appeared on US $1000 notes from 1862 to 1863 and on the $10 silver certificate
    Silver Certificate
    Silver Certificates are a type of representative money printed from 1878 to 1964 in the United States as part of its circulation of paper currency. They were produced in response to silver agitation by citizens who were angered by the Fourth Coinage Act, which had effectively placed the United...

    s from 1878 to 1880.

  • Morris and Roger Sherman
    Roger Sherman
    Roger Sherman was an early American lawyer and politician, as well as a founding father. He served as the first mayor of New Haven, Connecticut, and served on the Committee of Five that drafted the Declaration of Independence, and was also a representative and senator in the new republic...

     were the only two people to sign the three significant founding documents of the United States, the Declaration of Independence
    Declaration of independence
    A declaration of independence is an assertion of the independence of an aspiring state or states. Such places are usually declared from part or all of the territory of another nation or failed nation, or are breakaway territories from within the larger state...

    , the Articles of Confederation
    Articles of Confederation
    The Articles of Confederation, formally the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union, was an agreement among the 13 founding states that legally established the United States of America as a confederation of sovereign states and served as its first constitution...

    , and the U.S. Constitution.

  • Morris's legacy is unique because he is the only signer whose house is the site of a national memorial in a National Park, yet the National Park Service has chosen not to interpret his life or career at the site of his own home.

  • The Dollar Sign
    Dollar sign
    The dollar or peso sign is a symbol primarily used to indicate the various peso and dollar units of currency around the world.- Origin :...

     ("$") was in common use among private merchants during the middle of the 18th century. It referred to the two columns draped with scrolls on the Spanish Milled Dollar
    Spanish dollar
    The Spanish dollar is a silver coin, of approximately 38 mm diameter, worth eight reales, that was minted in the Spanish Empire after a Spanish currency reform in 1497. Its purpose was to correspond to the German thaler...

    , which predated the US Dollar. Morris was the first to use that symbol in official documents and in official communications with Oliver Pollock
    Oliver Pollock
    Oliver Pollock was a merchant and financier of the American Revolutionary War, of which he has long been considered a historically undervalued figure...

    . The US Dollar was directly based on the Spanish Milled Dollar
    Spanish dollar
    The Spanish dollar is a silver coin, of approximately 38 mm diameter, worth eight reales, that was minted in the Spanish Empire after a Spanish currency reform in 1497. Its purpose was to correspond to the German thaler...

     when, in the Coinage Act of 1792, the first Mint Act, its value was "fixed" (per the U.S. Constitution, Article I, Section 8, clause 1 power of the United States Congress
    United States Congress
    The United States Congress is the bicameral legislature of the federal government of the United States, consisting of the Senate and the House of Representatives. The Congress meets in the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C....

     "To coin Money, regulate the Value thereof, and of foreign Coin, and fix the Standard of Weights and Measures") as being "of the value of a Spanish milled dollar as the same is now current, and to contain three hundred and seventy-one grains and four sixteenth parts of a grain of pure, or four hundred and sixteen grains of standard silver."


Institutions named in honor of Morris include:
  • Robert Morris University
    Robert Morris University
    Robert Morris University is a private, coeducational university in suburban Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, United States. Founded in 1921, the school was named for Robert Morris, who signed the Declaration of Independence, and helped finance the ensuing war with the British.-History:Robert Morris...

    , Pennsylvania
  • Robert Morris University (Illinois)
  • Robert Morris Elementary School, Batavia
    Batavia (city), New York
    Batavia is a city in Genesee County, Western New York, USA, located near the middle of Genesee County, entirely within the Town of Batavia. Its population as of the 2000 census was 16,256...

    , New York.
  • Robert Morris Elementary School #27, Scranton, Pennsylvania
  • Robert Morris Elementary, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  • Robert Morris School South Bound Brook, New Jersey

  • Mount Morris, New York
    Mount Morris, New York
    Mount Morris, New York refers to:*Mount Morris , New York*Mount Morris , New York*Marcus Garvey Park, also called Mount Morris Park, in Harlem, New York*Mount Morris Park Historic District, the area surrounding Marcus Garvey Park...

    , location of a large flood control dam on the Genesee River
    Genesee River
    The Genesee River is a North American river flowing northward through the Twin Tiers of Pennsylvania and New York. The river provided the original power for the Rochester area's 19th century mills and still provides hydroelectric power for downtown Rochester....

    , was named in honor of Robert Morris.

  • A number of ships in the United States Navy
    United States Navy
    The United States Navy is the naval warfare service branch of the United States Armed Forces and one of the seven uniformed services of the United States. The U.S. Navy is the largest in the world; its battle fleet tonnage is greater than that of the next 13 largest navies combined. The U.S...

     and the United States Coast Guard
    United States Coast Guard
    The United States Coast Guard is a branch of the United States Armed Forces and one of the seven U.S. uniformed services. The Coast Guard is a maritime, military, multi-mission service unique among the military branches for having a maritime law enforcement mission and a federal regulatory agency...

     have been named USS Morris
    USS Morris
    USS Morris may refer to:, was a ship in service from 1778 until wrecked in 1779, was a schooner acquired in 1779 which operated on the Mississippi River during the American Revolutionary War...

     or USRC Morris
    USRC Morris (1831)
    The United States Revenue Cutter Morris was one of 13 cutters of the Morris-Taney Class to be launched. Named after Secretaries of the Treasury and Presidents of the United States, these cutters were the backbone of the Service for more than a decade...

     for him.

  • A small town, Morrisville, Pennsylvania
    Morrisville, Bucks County, Pennsylvania
    Morrisville is a borough in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, United States. The population was 8,728 at the 2010 census.-Geography:Morrisville is located at . It is situated on the Delaware River directly across from Trenton, New Jersey...

    , was named in honor of Robert Morris. A statue of him is in the town square.

  • The Robert Morris Inn in Oxford, Maryland
    Oxford, Maryland
    Oxford is a waterfront town and former colonial port in Talbot County, Maryland, United States. The population was 771 at the 2000 census.-History:Oxford is one of the oldest towns in Maryland...

     was also named after him.

Further reading

  • Ferguson, E. James. The power of the purse: A history of American public finance, 1776-1790 (1961)
  • Rappleye, Charles. Robert Morris: Financier of the American Revolution (2010)
  • Ver Steeg, Clarence L. Robert Morris, Revolutionary Financier. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1954 (ISBN 0-374-98078-0).
  • Ver Steeg, Clarence L. "Morris, Robert" in American National Biography Online 2000.

Primary sources

  • Ferguson, James (editor): The Papers of Robert Morris 1781-1784 (9 volumes): University of Pittsburgh Press, 1978; (1995 reprint: ISBN 0-8229-3886-3).

External links