His Early Life
Robert Morris was born in Lancashire, England, in 1733. His father was a Liverpool merchant who traded in America for years. When he was a boy, his father moved to America. Later, his father sent for his son, who arrived when he was thirteen years old.
Morris attended school in Philadelphia. One day, his father expressed his dissatisfaction with the little progress he made in school. Morris replied, “Sir, I have learned all that he can teach me.”
Unfortunately, his father died when he was fifteen. His father was fatally injured when his ship captain fired a complimentary shot in the Chesapeake Bay. The wad of the gun accidentally hit and killed his father.
Morris entered an apprenticeship under Charles Willing, a Philadelphia merchant. After two years, Morris entered into a business partnership with Thomas Willing for the next thirty-nine years. As an importer, his business was hit hard by the Stamp Act, causing harsh feelings against the British.
His Revolutionary Spirit
Robert Morris was celebrating Saint George’s Day at the city tavern when news of Lexington’s massacre reached Philadelphia. Morris acknowledged that independence from Great Britain was the only solution to the atrocity.
The legislature of Pennsylvania elected Morris to the Second Continental Congress on November 3, 1775. The Congress soon enlisted Morris to committees to procure arms and ammunition, outfit a navy, and raise and manage the Congress’s finances. Because of his business expertise and reputation, Morris raised the necessary funds for General Washington. In 1776, Morris voted with the Pennsylvania delegation for independence from Great Britain. During the Revolutionary War, Morris supplied the army with four or five thousand barrels of flour on his own private credit.
In 1780, the army’s needs were so dire that it threatened the dissolution of the cause of independence. Upon learning this, Morris immediately proposed establishing a Bank to supply the army with provisions. Morris enlisted 96 subscribers who signed promissory notes, obliging them to pay the debt themselves if they were not repaid. Morris headed the list with a subscription of 10,000 pounds; the total raised was 300,000 pounds.
In 1781, the Continental Congress unanimously appointed Morris superintendent of finance. At this time, the treasury was more than two million and a half in arrears. Once again, Morris set up the Bank of North America, raising the needed funds and credit to continue financing the revolution.
Following the war, Morris was a delegate to the Constitutional Convention in 1787. After the Constitution was ratified, Morris served as a Senator. In 1789, President George Washington appointed Morris Secretary of the Treasury. However, Morris declined and suggested Alexander Hamilton instead. Morris completed his office as Senator and retired from public service. He never recovered the wealth that he enjoyed before the revolution. What was left of his fortune was soon lost to land speculation in the New York state’s western part. He died in 1806, in relative poverty, at the age of 73.
Morris never recovered the wealth he had before the revolution. Robert Morris died in poverty at the age of 73 in 1806.