Colonial Hall -- Biographies of America's Founding Fathers

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Page 5

Robert Morris


   In the year 1781, Mr. Morris was appointed by congress, superintendent of finance, an office then for the first time established. This appointment was unanimous. Indeed it is highly probable that no other man in the country would have been competent to the task of managing such great concerns as it involved, or possessed, like himself, the happy expedient of raising supplies, or deservedly enjoyed more, if equal, public confidence among his fellow-citizens, for punctuality in the fulfillment of his engagements.
   Some idea may be formed of them, when it is known that he was required to examine into the state of the public debts, expenditures, and revenue; to digest and report plans for improving and regulating the finances; and for establishing order and economy in the expenditure of public money. To hint was likewise committed the disposition, management, and disbursement of all the loans received from the government of France, and various private persons in that country and Holland; the sums of money received from the different States; and of the public funds for every possible source of expense for the support of government, civil, military, and naval; the procuring supplies of every description for the army and navy; the entire management and direction of the public ships of war; the payment of all foreign debts; and the correspondence of our ministers at European courts, on subjects of finance. In short, the whole burden of the money operations of government was laid upon him. No man ever had more numerous concerns committed to his charge, and few to greater amount; and never did any one more faithfully discharge the various complicated trusts with greater dispatch, economy, or credit, than the subject of this sketch."
   Never was an appointment more judicious than the appointment of Mr. Morris as financier of this country. At this time the treasury was more than two millions and a half in arrears, and the greater part of the debt was of such a nature that the payment could not be avoided, or even delayed, and therefore, Dr. Franklin, then our minister in France, was under the necessity of ordering back from Amsterdam monies which had been sent thither for the purpose of being shipped to America. If he had not taken this step, the bills of exchange drawn by order of congress must have been protested, and a vital stab given to the credit of the government in Europe. At home, the greatest public as well as private distress existed; public credit had gone to wreck, and the enemy built their most sanguine hopes of overcoming us, upon this circumstance; and the treasury was so much in arrears to the servants in the public offices, that many of them could not, without payment, perform their duties, but must have gone to jail for debts they had contracted to enable them to live. To so low an ebb was the public treasury reduced, that some of the members of the board of war declared to Mr. Morris that they had not the means of sending an express to the army. The pressing distress for provision among the troops, has already been mentioned. The paper bills of credit were sunk so low in value, as to require a burdensome mass of them to pay for an article of clothing.

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Last modified January 31, 2004