On American Independence Day, did you know that a Liverpudlian, known as the “Financier of the Revolution”, signed the Declaration of Independence and other key documents?
The Financier of the Revolution
His name was Robert Morris, Jr. (January 20, 1734 – May 8, 1806), and he was born in Liverpool, living there until his teens. He was a Founding Father of the United States, serving as a member of the Pennsylvania legislature, the Second Continental Congress, and the United States Senate, and he was a signer of the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, and the United States Constitution. From 1781 to 1784, he served as the Superintendent of Finance of the United States, becoming known as the “Financier of the Revolution.” Along with Alexander Hamilton and Albert Gallatin, he is widely regarded as one of the founders of the financial system of the United States.
Morris became a partner in a successful shipping firm based in Philadelphia. In the aftermath of the French and Indian War, Morris joined with other merchants in opposing British tax policies such as the 1765 Stamp Act. His anti-British sentiments came to the fore after the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War, helping procure arms and ammunition for the revolutionary cause, and in late 1775 he was chosen as a delegate to the Second Continental Congress.
As a member of Congress, he served on the Secret Committee of Trade, which handled the procurement of supplies, the Committee of Correspondence, which handled foreign affairs, and the Marine Committee, which oversaw the Continental Navy. Morris was a leading member of Congress until he resigned in 1778. Out of office, Morris refocused on his merchant career and won election to the Pennsylvania Assembly, where he became a leader of the “Republican” faction that sought alterations to the Pennsylvania Constitution.
Superintendent of Finance
Facing a difficult financial situation in the ongoing Revolutionary War, in 1781 Congress established the position of Superintendent of Finance to oversee financial matters. Morris accepted appointment as Superintendent of Finance and also served as Agent of Marine, from which he controlled the Continental Navy. He helped provide supplies to the Continental Army under General George Washington, enabling Washington’s decisive victory in the Battle of Yorktown.
Bank of North America
Morris also reformed government contracting and established the Bank of North America, the first bank to operate in the United States. Morris believed that the national government would be unable to achieve financial stability without the power to levy taxes and tariffs, but he was unable to convince all thirteen states to agree to an amendment to the Articles of Confederation. Frustrated by the weakness of the national government, Morris resigned as Superintendent of Finance in 1784.
In 1787, Morris was selected as a delegate to the Philadelphia Convention, which wrote and proposed a new constitution for the United States. Morris rarely spoke during the convention, but the constitution produced by the convention reflected many of his ideas. Morris and his allies helped ensure that Pennsylvania ratified the new constitution, and the document was ratified by the requisite number of states by the end of 1788. The Pennsylvania legislature subsequently elected Morris as one of its two inaugural representatives in the United States Senate.
Morris or Hamilton
Morris declined Washington’s offer to serve as the nation’s first Treasury Secretary, instead suggesting Alexander Hamilton for the position. In the Senate, Morris supported Hamilton’s economic program and aligned with the Federalist Party. During and after his service in the Senate, Morris went deeply into debt speculating on land. Unable to pay his creditors, he was confined in debtors’ prison from 1798 to 1801. After being released from prison, he lived a quiet, private life in a modest home in Philadelphia until his death in 1806.
So, will we have a new musical called “Morris” to rival “Hamilton”? Probably not.