Skip to main content
Select Source:

Morris, Robert (1734-1806)

Robert Morris (1734-1806)

Merchant, financier, and statesman

Sources

Early Career. Robert Morris was born in Liverpool, England. His father, also called Robert, was engaged in exporting tobacco, and at the age of thirteen young Robert left England to join his father in Maryland. After a brief period in a Philadelphia school the boy started work for the Willings, a firm of substantial shipping merchants. At the age of fifteen Morris inherited a modest estate when his father was accidentally killed. Four years later the young man entered into partnership with his former employers son, Thomas. Morris kept an interest in the firm of Willing and Morris for thirty-nine years and was an active director for much of that time. In 1769 he married Mary White of Maryland, a sister of William White, who became bishop in the American Episcopal Church. They had five sons and two daughters.

Revolutionary Career. Robert Morris served the Revolution in many financial, administrative, and political capacities. After the Stamp Act of 1765 he participated in Philadelphias nonimportation agreement even though his firm did substantial business with British traders. He joined a committee of citizens that forced the citys stamp tax collector to cease performing his duties. Morris was not fully committed to the patriot cause when the First Continental Congress met in 1774 but became fully so after the Battle of Lexington in April 1775. From 1775 to 1778 Morris was a delegate to the Continental Congress, where he served on several important committees including the Committee of Secret Correspondence (later called the Foreign Affairs Committee and then the Committee of Commerce). He was also in charge of procuring munitions and frequently acted as a banker of Congress, both of which he accomplished to his advantage primarily through his firm, Willing and Morris. Although his mercantile activities were widely known, many members of Congress admired his financial and administrative abilities and overlooked the conflict of interest. He has vast designs in the mercantile way, John Adams wrote of him, And no doubt pursues mercantile ends, which are always gain; but he is an excellent Member of our Body. In 1776 Morris initially voted against the Declaration of Independence because he still hoped for a reconciliation with Great Britain, but he signed it a month later. When Congress fled Philadelphia for Baltimore in December of that year, Morris stayed behind to carry on his committee work. Despite grave difficulties, he managed to buy supplies for the army and sent funds borrowed in his own name to George Washington. Morris retired from Congress in 1778 but remained active in the Pennsylvania assembly. His frequent mixing of private gain and public duty angered some of his congressional colleagues and members of the public. In January 1779 Thomas Paine publicly criticized him, and later that year Henry Laurens, the former president of the Congress, charged Willing and Morris with conducting fraudulent transactions. A congressional committee investigated Morris and cleared him of all charges. In May 1779 a mass meeting in Philadelphia appointed a committee to investigate his conduct; again he was cleared of all charges. Although he lost some of his former popularity, Morris was reelected to the Pennsylvania assembly in November 1780 and served until June 1781.

Financier of Congress. With the collapse of the currency, military defeats in the South, and Congresss inability to raise adequate supplies for the army, many delegates began to feel that the Articles of Confederation (adopted in 1777) were inadequate. Something had to be done to make Congress more effective. In September 1780 Alexander Hamilton suggested that all of the committees charged with handling the countrys finances be consolidated and that Morris be appointed the superintendent of finance. Congress reorganized its committees in early 1781 and appointed Morris to the new and uniquely powerful position. Before agreeing to fill the post, Morris stipulated that Congress recognize his right to continue operating as a private trader and to have primary control over his personnel. Congress hesitated but eventually approved Morriss request. Once in office, Morris used his considerable commercial reputation to save that of the bankrupt Congress. In January 1782 he declared that his personal Credit, which thank Heaven I have preserved throughout all the tempests of the War, has been substituted for that which the Country lost ... if I can regain for the United States the Confidence of Individuals so as that they will trust their property and exertions in the hands of Government, our Independence and Success are certain but without that Confidence we are nothing.

Reforms. Morris attempted both short-term fixes and longer-term reforms. He imposed thrift on the executive departments by abolishing the system of commissaries and buying supplies for the army himself. In order to keep the government running he issued $1.4 million of Morris notes backed by his own credit and borrowed substantial amounts from his business acquaintances. He took great financial risks in order to fund the Yorktown campaign that ended in Gen. Charles Cornwalliss defeat. Just as important, Morris set about reorganizing the countrys finances by proposing a series of permanent reforms. He sought to fund the countrys outstanding debt by issuing bonds to investors. Morris proposed levying taxes on the states to be paid in specie that would in turn be used to pay interest on the debt. He also tried to have the articles amended so that the Confederation could levy a 5-percent duty on imports. Thanks to a loan from France, Morris was able to accomplish one of his goals, the formation of the Bank of North America, which began operations in January 1782. Morris reasoned that once Congresss finances were on a secure footing, it would have less trouble borrowing money and would attract investors to its bonds. But except for the bank Morriss ambitious program for strengthening the national government failed. Despite his efforts to convince them, the states did not contribute their share and would not agree to his funding plan for Congress. In 1783 Morris was still unable to pay off Congresss debts. Discouraged, he offered his resignation, but Congress ordered it to be kept secret until January 1784. Although Morris assured the public that he would be personally responsible for all liabilities assumed during his administration, he was severely criticized in the press for resigning. Morris stayed on because no one else could fill his role. A loan from the Netherlands negotiated by Adams carried the government through until Morris finally left in November 1784.

Political Legacy. Morris had a talent for serving both his country and himself and was frequently criticized for mixing his public duties with private interests. Nevertheless Morris succeeded in leaving a distinctive mark on the American political system. He and Roger Sherman of Connecticut were the only men to sign all three revolutionary documents: the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, and the Constitution. Along with the first two secretaries of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton and Albert Gallatin, Morris helped to lay the financial and political foundations of the United States. Throughout his administration he tried to strengthen the powers of the national government and to tie the interests of business people more closely to it. Unlike men such as Thomas Jefferson, Morris did not subscribe to the prevailing republican belief that there was an inherent conflict between public and private interest and between business and government. Instead he sought to tie these interests together through deal making and by appealing to peoples monetary self-interest. Although Morriss nationalizing program failed to accomplish the constitutional reform he wanted, his policies helped to galvanize a coalition of leaders who agreed with his political and commercial vision. In 1786 Morris was a delegate to the Annapolis convention that met to discuss interstate trade regulations. The following year he sat in the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. Morris was offered but declined the position of secretary of the treasury. Instead he recommended Alexander Hamilton, who shared and successfully implemented many of Morriss political ideas. Morris was elected one of Pennsylvanias first two senators, and he served in the new Congress from 1789 to 1795. During that time he supported most of Hamiltons financial programs. In 1790 Morris helped to broker the political deal wherein Virginia voted for the federal resumption of state debts in exchange for locating the permanent national capital on the Potomac River, the site of present-day Washington, D.C.

Later Mercantile Career. On his retirement from the Continental Congress in 1784, Morris continued to take large business risks. He engaged in trade with the East Indies and China, sending the first American ship to the port of Canton. Morris also continued to expand the French and Dutch ties he had established during the war. In 1785 he negotiated a contract with the French Farmers-General that gave him the monopoly of the American tobacco trade with France. The move aroused considerable antagonism among Virginia tobacco traders, and Morris suffered large financial losses when the Marquis de Lafayette and Jefferson, the minister to France, intervened to nullify the contract. Morris also speculated on great tracts of land in western New York and elsewhere, including (with a partner) a large portion of present-day Washington, D.C. He was building a mansion designed by Pierre LEnfant, the architect of the new capital, when the market collapsed. Morris could not meet interest payments and taxes, and in February 1798 a small creditor had him arrested. He was incarcerated in Prune Street, Philadelphias debtors prison, for three-and-one-half years. In 1801 he was released following the passage of a federal bankruptcy law. For the remaining five years of his life he lived on a small pension that his cousin, Gouverneur Morris, had arranged for his wife, Mary. The financier of the Revolution ended his days in a small house in Philadelphia, where he died at age seventy-three.

Sources

E. James Ferguson, The Power of the Purse (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1961);

Clarence L. Ver Steeg, Robert Morris, Revolutionary Financier (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1954).

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Morris, Robert (1734-1806)." American Eras. . Encyclopedia.com. 24 Jun. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Morris, Robert (1734-1806)." American Eras. . Encyclopedia.com. (June 24, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/morris-robert-1734-1806

"Morris, Robert (1734-1806)." American Eras. . Retrieved June 24, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/morris-robert-1734-1806

Robert Morris

Robert Morris

An American merchant, financial expert, land speculator, and banker, Robert Morris (1734-1806) performed a valuable service for the new republic as superintendent of finance for the Continental Congress.

Robert Morris was born on Jan. 31, 1734, in Liverpool, England. At the age of 13 he was taken to America by his father, a tobacco agent who settled in Maryland. Several years later Morris was sent to Philadelphia as an apprentice to the merchant Charles Willing. Morris proved adept, and eventually he became a full partner in Willing and Morris, a firm with important connections abroad. With Thomas Willing, Morris invested in ships and land on a large scale and conducted far-flung operations that began to yield high profits. His magnificent Philadelphia town house was a social center run by his wife, Mary White, whom he had married in 1769.

Entry into Politics

Essentially a political conservative, Morris crept toward an open break with England while more headstrong Americans were running. On the Pennsylvania delegation to the Continental Congress, Morris opposed independence but later signed the Declaration of Independence. He served in Congress from 1775 to 1778 and sat intermittently in the Pennsylvania Assembly from 1775 to 1781. His capacity for work, attention to detail, and commitment to the American cause were impressive.

At the same time, Morris used his political power for personal gain. As chairman of the secret congressional Committee of Trade, he diverted large sums for his own firm's use, and at least $80,000 was never accounted for. His agents transported private cargoes in naval vessels and traded on their own account for profits while their zeal for public business often lagged.

Morris's attitude in these ventures was explained in a letter to one partner, Silas Deane: "I shall continue to discharge my duty faithfully to the Public and pursue my Private Fortune by all such honorable and fair means as the time will admit of." Public criticism of these activities led to a congressional investigation in 1779. Morris's integrity was upheld by the committee's report.

Morris therefore suffered little inconvenience from the war. His abilities so impressed other congressmen that in May 1781 they despairingly dumped the chaotic and penniless Treasury Office in Morris's lap. His firmness and bold measures as superintendent of finance restored confidence, and aided mainly by foreign loans and the American victory at Yorktown, Va., Morris was able to effect much-needed reforms in the tottering bureaucratic structure. His improved system encompassed naval supplies, public credit, military contracts, and army garrisons. Morris founded the Bank of North America, partly with public money, and issued bank notes to maintain cash payments on government business.

Unquestionably, Morris managed public finances superbly and under the most trying conditions. When he left office in 1784, the Treasury had $20,000. Morris was convinced that the new nation could survive only with a centralized financial system. He urged the sound-money faction to press for a Federal revenue program and a consolidated national debt that would undergird the total economy. Assumption of the wartime debt by the national government was a key part of his program.

Return to Business

Morris returned to the business world, signed a tobacco-supply contract with the French monopoly, ventured into the growing China trade, and began reckless purchases of land. He was elected a delegate to the Constitutional Convention, where he apparently never entered the debates but probably spoke out in private sessions. He must have supported plans to build a strong navy and create a powerful central government. After ratification of the Constitution, Morris was elected a senator from Pennsylvania. He worked with Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton on details of the first revenue act and the bill for assumption of state debts.

Morris retired from the Senate in 1795, but his enemies sniped away at his failure to settle wartime accounts with the government. In 1796 Morris gave bonds for $93,312 to clear his ledger of these debts. At that time he was widely regarded as the richest American alive. Behind the facade of immense land holdings, however, there was a dwindling supply of cash.

Imprudently, Morris joined with James Greenleaf and John Nicholson in grandiose schemes for developing the newly designated capital at Washington, buying over 7,000 lots. They also acquired millions of acres beyond the Ohio River, in western New York, and in several southern states. With his partners, Morris combined all his holdings so that more than 6 million acres of land seemed sufficient collateral for all his ventures. But rumors of his impending ruin grew, and after a London bank failure Morris was drained of £124,000. He was never able to recover his financial equilibrium. A joint-stock company scheme failed; Morris was land-rich but headed for bankruptcy. Hounded by bill collectors and process servers, he retreated to a country home.

In February 1798 Morris was taken to a Philadelphia debtors' prison and jailed until a reform bankruptcy act permitted his release in August 1801. Court records showed that he owed $3 million. A thoroughly humbled man, Morris lived thereafter on the charity of friends and died on May 8, 1806.

Further Reading

A project to gather and publish Morris's papers is under way, guided by E. James Ferguson. The standard biographies are William Graham Sumner, The Financier and the Finances of the American Revolution (1891), and Ellis P. Oberholtzer, Robert Morris, Patriot and Financier (1903). Clarence L. Ver Steeg, Robert Morris (1954), and E. James Ferguson, The Power of the Purse: A History of American Public Finance, 1776-1790 (1961), are analytical works of unusual merit. The sketch of Morris in Howard Swiggett, The Forgotten Leaders of the Revolution (1955), challenges some past assumptions.

Additional Sources

Chernow, Barbara Ann, Robert Morris, land speculator, 1790-1801, New York: Arno Press, 1978, 1974.

Wagner, Frederick, Robert Morris, audacious patriot, New York: Dodd, Mead, c 1976. □

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Robert Morris." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 24 Jun. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Robert Morris." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (June 24, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/robert-morris

"Robert Morris." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Retrieved June 24, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/robert-morris

Morris, Robert (1734–1806, American merchant)

Robert Morris, 1734–1806, American merchant, known as the "financier of the American Revolution," and signer of the Declaration of Independence, b. Liverpool, England. Morris emigrated to America in 1747 and was soon apprenticed to the merchant Charles Willing in Philadelphia. He showed an unusual aptitude for business and by 1754 became a partner in the firm with the son, Thomas Willing, after the elder Willing's death. He opposed British restrictions prior to the Revolution and served (1775–78) as a member of the Continental Congress. Morris voted against the original motion for independence in July, 1776, as premature, but signed the declaration in August. A member of various committees in Congress, Morris was particularly important in obtaining munitions and other supplies and in borrowing money to finance George Washington's army. Although Morris's vast mercantile interests profited greatly from his congressional activities, both he and his firm were acquitted by Congress of charges of fraud. After leaving Congress, Morris expanded his mercantile and investment operations independently of Willing and by 1781 was almost universally acknowledged as the most prominent merchant in America. The collapse of public credit led to his being appointed superintendent of finance (1781–84) by Congress. Morris labored hard and well in this office; he pressed the states for contributions, retrenched expenditures, took steps toward the establishment of a national mint, guided the organization of a national bank, and extensively used his personal credit to raise funds for the government. He framed, but failed to get Congress to approve, a fiscal program including funding at par of the national debt and the assumption of state debts; it paralleled Alexander Hamilton's program of 1790. Morris was later a member of the U.S. Constitutional Convention (1787) and served (1789–95) as U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania. His private business, continued in his terms of office, ultimately ended in bankruptcy as a result of the collapse of extensive land speculation. Morris was in debtors' prison from 1798 to 1801 and never recovered his fortune.

See biographies by E. P. Oberholtzer (1903, repr. 1968) and C. Rappleye (2010); W. G. Sumner, The Financier and the Finances of the American Revolution (1891, repr. 1968); C. L. Ver Steeg, Robert Morris, Revolutionary Financier (1954, repr. 1972).

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Morris, Robert (1734–1806, American merchant)." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 24 Jun. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Morris, Robert (1734–1806, American merchant)." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (June 24, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/morris-robert-1734-1806-american-merchant

"Morris, Robert (1734–1806, American merchant)." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved June 24, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/morris-robert-1734-1806-american-merchant

Morris, Robert

Morris, Robert (1734–1806), signer of the Declaration of Independence, Articles of Confederation, and U.S. Constitution; “financier of the Revolution.”Born in Liverpool, Morris came to America in 1747. As active partner of the trading firm of Willing, Morris & Co. of Philadelphia, Morris integrated his European and West Indian commercial network into the Revolutionary War effort in 1775.

A shrewd entrepreneur and energetic administrator, Morris became vice president of Pennsylvania's revolutionary governing body, the Council of Safety, in 1775, and organized the state's defenses. After election to the Second Continental Congress in November 1775, he became chairman of the Secret Committee of Trade and managed international procurement and naval affairs. He also participated in supply contracts and often disguised public ventures as private ones to facilitate secrecy and economy. The potential conflict of interest produced much controversy.

Morris retired from Congress in 1778, becoming an agent for supplying French forces in the United States and greatly augmenting his wealth and credit. When Congress was faced with financial and military collapse in 1781, it turned to Morris, by now the most prominent merchant in America, for help. As superintendent of finance, from February 1781 to November 1784, he raised money and supplies for the Yorktown campaign, then struggled to reestablish public credit by measures that included controlling the budget, founding the nation's first bank, settling the public debt, advocating a funding plan and mint, administering foreign loans, and replacing staff departments with military contracts. His administrative and financial skills are considered to have been indispensable to military success in the Revolutionary War.
[See also Revolutionary War: Domestic Course.]

Bibliography

Clarence L. Ver Steeg , Robert Morris, Revolutionary Financier, 1954; repr. 1972.
E. James Ferguson, et al., eds., The Papers of Robert Morris, 1781–1784, 9 vols., 1973–99.

Elizabeth Nuxoll

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Morris, Robert." The Oxford Companion to American Military History. . Encyclopedia.com. 24 Jun. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Morris, Robert." The Oxford Companion to American Military History. . Encyclopedia.com. (June 24, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/morris-robert

"Morris, Robert." The Oxford Companion to American Military History. . Retrieved June 24, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/morris-robert

Morris, Robert (1931–, American artist)

Robert Morris, 1931–, American artist, b. Kansas City, Mo. He settled in New York City in 1960 and was allied in his early work with the simple, impersonal forms of minimalism, e.g., an untitled 1965 work consisting of four blocks of gray fiberglass. He also often used mirrored surfaces in his sculpture. Implicit in his work is the idea that art can be made of anything. Morris's style and media have changed many times during his career. He has used nonrigid materials such as felt and even steam—precluding reproducible forms and emphasizing the process of art—and was also involved in conceptual art and land art. He is known for his enormous multipart sculptures of the 1980s, which include a wide variety of materials, notably casts of body parts and skeletons. Morris has also experimented in performance art, incorporating dance, theater, and the plastic arts. He is a rigorous theorist of art and an influential teacher.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Morris, Robert (1931–, American artist)." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 24 Jun. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Morris, Robert (1931–, American artist)." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (June 24, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/morris-robert-1931-american-artist

"Morris, Robert (1931–, American artist)." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved June 24, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/morris-robert-1931-american-artist

Morris, Robert

Morris, Robert (c.1702–54). English theorist of the second Palladian Revival, his Essay in Defence of Ancient Architecture (1728), Lectures on Architecture (1734), Essay on Harmony (1739), Art of Architecture (1742), Rural Architecture (1750), and Architectural Remembrancer (1751) were significant in augmenting Palladio's work with an aesthetic theory powerful enough to command attention and respect (e.g. from Jefferson). As an architect he was of small importance, but may have designed the south front of Culverthorpe, Lincs. (c.1730–5).

Bibliography

Colvin (1995);
E. Harris (1990);
E. Kaufmann (1955);
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004);
Summerson (ed.) (1993)

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Morris, Robert." A Dictionary of Architecture and Landscape Architecture. . Encyclopedia.com. 24 Jun. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Morris, Robert." A Dictionary of Architecture and Landscape Architecture. . Encyclopedia.com. (June 24, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/morris-robert

"Morris, Robert." A Dictionary of Architecture and Landscape Architecture. . Retrieved June 24, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/morris-robert

Morris, Robert

MORRIS, ROBERT


Robert Morris (17341806), possibly America's wealthiest man in the earliest years of the Republic, died penniless and in disgrace. Known as the "financier of the American Revolution," Morris played a role in the highest circles of the new American government, but he spent three years near the end of his life in debtor's prison.

Born in Liverpool, England, on January 31, 1734, Morris emigrated to the American colonies at age twelve. His father, a British tobacco merchant and a part-time resident of Maryland, died from a cannon misfire in a shipboard accident, leaving his son, a teenager, with a small estate.

Morris came under the care of a Philadelphia merchant, Charles Willing. When he also died, Morris and Willing's son, Thomas, formed Willing, Morris and Company, a trading company with three ships and contacts in Spain, Portugal and the West Indies. In the years immediately preceding the American Revolution (17751783), the firm traded wheat, flour, tobacco, and other products in a triangular route between Europe, the West Indies, and America.

Through Willing, Morris, and Company, Morris became one of the wealthiest menif not the wealthiest manin the American colonies. He did not immediately support the revolutionary cause against the British, though he had opposed Britain's levying of additional taxes under the Stamp Act of 1765 and had signed the Non-Importation Agreement opposing it. In June 1774 he became a member of the Pennsylvania Committee of Safety and a delegate to the Continental Congress, where he was named a member of the Select Committee on Trade. Hoping that a way would be found to avoid war with Britain, he did not sign the Declaration of Independence immediately but waited until several weeks after the historic document had been adopted.


In his capacity as chairman or member of several trade-related congressional committees, Morris was in charge of provisioning the Revolutionary Army. He blatantly used the office to his own advantage, selling to the new government material from companies he formed himself. Morris stayed on in Philadelphia when the war forced the Congress to vacate the city in December of 1776 and, during that time, acted with some courage in his role as the army's provisioner. He became banker for the Committee of Commerce in 1777, signed the Articles of Confederation as a Pennsylvania delegate the next year, and became chairman of the Congressional Committee on Finance. Morris left the Continental Congress in November of 1778 to attend to his private business affairs but remained in the Pennsylvania Assembly.

As a member of the Continental Congress, Morris became even wealthier. He used inside information and his network of international connections to profit himself. As a key part of his income, he maintained a very lucrative privateering operation: a state-sanctioned commercial venture wherein pirates seized the ships of enemies. Between 1775 and 1777, the Secret Committees on Trade and Commerce, headed by Morris, spent $3.3 million. Of this amount Morris and his associates pocketed $846,000.

Yet, historians differ about whether Morris was a scoundrel or a hero. In 1781 George Washington (17321799) urged Morris to reenter the national government as superintendent of finance. The war was still underway and the new nation's money was virtually worthless, but Morris had the nation operating on a hard-money basis before the end of the war, a formidable accomplishment. Funds that Morris was able to borrow from France, supplemented with money from his own pocket, made it possible for Washington to move his armies from New York to Yorktown, where the British general, Cornwallis, surrendered.

Morris resigned his position as superintendent of finance when the states refused to agree to his taxation policy and blocked the national financial system he advocated. He turned his attention to land speculation and such ventures as turnpikes, iron works, and trade with China. Acting on credit, he bought huge sections of western New York and Virginia. He spent $1 million on the first stage of building an ostentatious mansion in Philadelphia. Suddenly, the bottom fell out of the land speculation business. Many individual investors and land companies failed. Morris, whose fortune was vastly overextended, was never able to recover. He was confined in debtors prison for three years until his release in 1801 and died, five years later, still destitute.

See also: American Revolution, Stamp Act, Triangular Trade


FURTHER READING

Chernow, Barbara Ann. Robert Morris, Land Speculator, 17901801. New York: Arno, 1978.

Ferguson, James E., ed. The Papers of Robert Morris, 17811784. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1973.

Ingham, John. Biographical Dictionary of American Business Leaders H-M. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1983, s.v. "Morris, Robert."

Van Steeg, Clarence Lester. Robert Morris, Revolutionary Financier. New York: Octagon, 1972.

Wagner, Frederick. Robert Morris, Audacious Patriot. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1976.

Willoughby, Jack. "What Your Country Can Do for You." Forbes, October 23, 1989.

known as the "financier of the american revolution," morris played a role in the highest circles of the new american government, but he spent three years near the end of his life in debtor's prison.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Morris, Robert." Gale Encyclopedia of U.S. Economic History. . Encyclopedia.com. 24 Jun. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Morris, Robert." Gale Encyclopedia of U.S. Economic History. . Encyclopedia.com. (June 24, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/morris-robert-0

"Morris, Robert." Gale Encyclopedia of U.S. Economic History. . Retrieved June 24, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/morris-robert-0

Morris, Robert

Morris, Robert (1734–1806) US politician. He emigrated from England in 1747 and became a wealthy merchant in Philadelphia. As a member of the Continental Congress he signed the Declaration of Independence. Appointed superintendent of finance (1781–84), he regulated military purchasing and organized the first bank, the Bank of North America (1781). In 1798 he was made bankrupt and imprisoned.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Morris, Robert." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. 24 Jun. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Morris, Robert." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. (June 24, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/morris-robert

"Morris, Robert." World Encyclopedia. . Retrieved June 24, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/morris-robert