Robert Morris, one of the greatest of patriots and future signer of the Declaration of Independence, was born in January 1733 in Lancashire, England. His father was a Liverpool merchant who engaged extensively in trading with the American colonists. His father moved to America when Robert was a very young child, leaving him in the care of his grandmother and moved to America. He settled on the eastern shore of Chesapeake Bay in a place called Oxford. Robert was thirteen years old when his father finally brought him to America.
Robert went to school in Philadelphia, but he apparently knew nearly as much as his teacher. At fifteen years of age he started working in a counting room for one of the leading merchants in Philadelphia, Mr. Charles Willing. He became an orphan about this same time when his father passed away from an infection on his arm. He died several days after being hit by the "wad" fired from one of the guns on one of his ships. I found no mention of his mother.
Mr. Willing liked Robert and "gave him every advantage his business afforded." By the time Mr. Willing passed away, Robert had become a merchant. He started a mercantile business with a Mr. Thomas Willing in 1754, and the firm soon became very successful and prosperous. Even though the Stamp Act, the Tea Act, and non-importation agreements caused them to lose much business, they "cheerfully" supported the regulations and did everything they could to convince other merchants to do the same.
Robert married Mary White of Pennsylvania in 1769. They were married and had "uninterrupted domestic happiness" for 37 years before his death.
The British attack at Lexington caused great indignation among the colonists, and "extinguished all hope of reconciliation" with England. Robert then became involved in public affairs, and he was elected by the Pennsylvania legislature as a delegate to the General Congress in November 1775. His talents as a businessman were quickly recognized. He became a member of a "secret committee" (responsible for managing the financial affairs of the government) as well as a "committee to devise ways and means for providing a naval armament." He was assigned by Congress in the spring of 1776 to "negotiate bills of exchange, and to take other measures to procure money for the Government."
He was elected for a second term in Congress on July 18, 1776, fourteen days after the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, and he signed the document on August 2, 1776. He continued to labor diligently in Congress with the confidence that the patriots would finally achieve peace and independence. He was so confident in the final victory that he personally loaned $10,000.00 to General George Washington after he and his half-starved, half-naked soldiers retreated across New Jersey in late 1776. Robert financial support helped Washington to recruit and pay the soldiers who later crossed the Delaware River and achieved victory in the battle at Trenton.
There were numerous other times when the government was unable to procure finances that Robert arranged for the money on his own good name and character and then applied the money for public benefit. In the darkest period of the war in 1781, Robert joined with other citizens to organize a new bank in Philadelphia. The purpose of the new bank was to issue paper money that the public could accept with confidence because the "government bills were becoming almost worthless." The plan had the desired effect and greatly helped the cause of liberty.
During that same year, Congress convinced Robert to accept an appointment to be general financial agent of the United States. Today we call the position the Secretary of the Treasury. Robert was probably the only man in country who had the business talents and extensive ability to get credit, either domestic or foreign. Congress recognized his great abilities and urgently solicited his help. Congress at the time could not obtain loans for even one thousand dollars, but Robert could get loans on his own credit for tens of thousands. The Bank of North America became a successful operation, and the patriotic service of Robert Morris probably kept the Continental Army in business.
Robert was able to raise great amounts of money to support the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War. Because of his abilities, he became known as "the financier of the American Revolution." In fact, it has been stated that: "If it were not demonstrable by official records, posterity would hardly be made to believe that the campaign of 1781, which resulted in the capture of Cornwallis, and virtually closed the Revolutionary War, was sustained wholly on the credit of an individual merchant." It is stated that George Washington had only to tell Robert Morris how much money he needed, and Morris raised the money on his own responsibility.
After the Revolutionary War was over and peace established, Robert served two terms in the legislature of Pennsylvania. He attended almost every session of the Constitutional Congress of 1787 but played a minor part there. He was one of only six people who signed both the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution.
Robert was elected as a Senator for Pennsylvania to the first meeting of Congress under the new government. When President George Washington was selecting members of his Cabinet, he was very anxious to have Robert as the Secretary of the Treasury, but Morris declined. When Washington asked for suggestions for the position, Morris immediately mentioned Alexander Hamilton.
Morris served another term in the U.S. Senate and then retired from public life. By the time he left the Senate, he had invested heavily in the unsettled land throughout the new nation. His credit however collapsed by the late 1790's, and he was sent to debtor's prison in 1798. He was released from prison in 1801 and spent his remaining years in poverty. His financial situation bothered him a great deal. He also suffered from asthma. He died on May 8, 1806 at age 72.
Facts are from Lives of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence, pp. 93-98, and World Book Encyclopedia, Vol. 13, p. 817. Quotes are from Signers.
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