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Page 6

Robert Morris

1733-1806


   But the face of things soon began to change through the exertions of Mr. Morris. Without attempting to give the history of his wise and judicious management, it will be sufficient to say, in the language of an elegant historian of the American war, "certainly the Americans owed and still owe, as much acknowledgment to the financial operations of Robert Morris, as to the negotiations of Benjamin Franklin, or even the arms of George Washington."
   To Mr. Morris, also, the country was indebted for the establishment of the bank of North America, and for all the public benefits which resulted from that institution. By means of this, public credit was greatly revived; internal improvements were promoted, and a general spring was given to trade. "The circulating medium was greatly increased by the circulation of its notes, which being convertible at will into gold or silver, were universally received equal thereto, and commanded the most unbounded confidence. Hundreds availed themselves of the security afforded by the vaults of the bank, to deposit their cash, which, from the impossibility of investing it, had long been hid from the light; and the constant current of deposits in the course of trade, authorized the directors to increase their business and the amount of their issues, to a most unprecedented extent. The consequence of this was, a speedy and most perceptible change in the state of affairs, both public and private."
   We now come to an event, on account of the interest in which the name of Robert Morris should be remembered with gratitude by the American people, while republican America shall last. The campaign of 1781, respected the reduction of New-York; this was agreed upon by Washington and the French general, Count Rochambeau, and it was expected that tile French fleets, under De Barras and De Grasse, would co-operate. Judge the surprise when, on the arrival of the French fleet, it was announced to Washington, that the French admiral would not enter the bay of New-York, as was anticipated, but would enter and remain for a few weeks in the Chesapeake.
   This necessarily altered all the arrangements respecting the campaign. It was now obvious to Washington, that the reduction of New-York would be impracticable. In this state of things, it is hinted by Dr. Mease, in his biographical sketch of Mr. Morris, in the Edinburgh Encyclopedia, to which article we are greatly indebted, that Mr. Morris suggested to Washington the attack on Cornwallis, which put a finishing stroke to the war. Whether this be so or not, certain it is, that until the news was communicated to Washington, that the French fleet would not come into New-York bay, the project of a southern campaign had not been determined upon by the commander in chief. But when, at length, it was determined upon, whether at the suggestion of Robert Morris or not, we are unable to say, it is certain that he provided the funds which enabled General Washington to move his army towards the south, and which led to the decisive battle which terminated the war.
   The length to which this article is already extended, forbids any further account of the services of this distinguished patriot.
   "It adds not a little, however," says Dr. Mease, "to the merit of Mr. Morris, to be able to say, that notwithstanding his numerous engagements as a public or private character, their magnitude, and often perplexing nature, he was enabled to fulfil all the private duties which his high standing in society necessarily imposed upon him. His house was the seat of elegant, but unostentatious hospitality, and he regulated his domestic affairs with the same admirable order which had so long proverbially distinguished his counting-house, and the offices of the secret committee of congress, and that of finance. The happy manner in which he conducted his official and domestic concerns, was owing, in the first ease, to his own superior talents for dispatch and method in business, and, in the last, to the qualifications of his excellent partner, the sister of the esteemed bishop of Pennsylvania, Dr. White. An introduction to Mr. Morris was a matter of course, with all the strangers in good society, who, for half a century, visited Philadelphia, either on commercial, public, or private business; and it is not saying too much to assert, that during a certain period, it greatly depended upon him to do the honors of the city; and certainly no one was more qualified, or more willing to support them. Although active in the acquisition of wealth as a merchant, no one more freely parted with his gains, for public or private purposes of a meritorious nature, whether these were to support the credit of the government, to promote the objects of humanity, local improvement, the welfare of meritorious individuals in society, or a faithful commercial servant. The instances in which he shone on all these occasions were numerous. Some in reference to the three former particulars, have been mentioned, and more of his disinterested generosity in respect to the last could be given, were the present intended to be any thing more than a hasty sketch. The prime of his life was engaged in discharging the most important civil trusts to his country that could possibly fall to the lot of any man; and millions passed through his hands as a public officer, without the smallest breath of insinuation against his correctness, or of negligence amidst "the defaulters of unaccounted thousands," or the losses sustained by the reprehensible carelessness of national agents.
   From the foregoing short statement, we may have some idea of the nature and magnitude of the services rendered by Mr. Morris to the United States. It may be truly said, that few men acted a more conspicuous or useful part; and when we recollect, that it was by his exertions and talents, that the United States were so often relieved from their difficulties, at times of great depression and pecuniary distress, an estimate may be formed of the weight of obligations due to him from the people of the present day. The length to which this article is already extended, forbids any further particulars respecting this distinguished man. It may be proper to add, however, that the latter part of his life was rendered unhappy, by an unfortunate scheme of land speculation, in which he engaged, and by which his pecuniary affairs became exceedingly embarrassed; yet amidst his severest trials, he maintained a firmness and an independence of character, which in similar circumstances belong to but few.
   At length, through public labor, and private misfortune, his constitution was literally worn out, and like a shock of corn fully ripe, he came to his end on the 8th of May, 1806, in the seventy-third year of his age.

Source: Rev. Charles A. Goodrich Lives of the Signers to the Declaration of Independence. New York: William Reed & Co., 1856. Pages 233-244. (Some minor spelling changes may have been made.)

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