The Revolutionary War Savior
The Revolutionary War Savior : Robert Morris, Jr. was America’s richest man in 1776. The stroke of his pen sent waves of currencies and coins bounding over oceans, lapping every shore, spilling in and out of vaults, enriching merchants, planters, friends, family—and above all himself.
His money bought and sold gold, silver, tea, tobacco, grains, ores, timber, cotton, cannons, cannon balls, rifles, and land—60 million acres of land—often without his personally acquiring any tea, tobacco or anything else he bought
What Morris did acquire was money—lots of it; more than any other American then. And he used it to finance trade, letting others buy, sell, and store things, while he bought, sold, and stored capital.
His money financed traffic in every imaginable commodity on a fleet of ships that sent the first American ship to China to trade. To safeguard his capital and speed its flow around the universe, he founded America’s first national bank to hold, invest, or lend it, and lay the foundation of American free enterprise and capitalism.
In his most important investment, however, Robert Morris invested his capital to ensure America’s political liberties by financing George Washington’s Army in the War of Independence.
Morris was not only a daring American capitalist, he was a daring American patriot, risking his life with fifty-five other intrepid Founding Fathers who signed the Declaration of Independence—a treasonous act in British America, punishable by death.
Morris then risked his business empire, his fleet of ships, his three palatial homes, and his personal fortune to purchase and smuggle military supplies for Washington’s army and free thirteen North American colonies from British rule.
Driven when pursuing wealth, Morris was one of the most easy-going Founding Fathers–warm, jolly, hospitable, a loving husband, doting father of seven, and an unswervingly loyal friend.
With wife Mary, he welcomed an endless parade of American and foreign notables to his mansions in Philadelphia and the nearby countryside. Their most frequent visitors—indeed, their closest friends—were George and Martha Washington. At private suppers, Mary and Martha giggled together like school-aged sisters.
Though Washington’s false teeth pained him too much to giggle, he and Robert were equally close and often went fishing or hunting together.
Born in 1734 in the filth and poverty of Liverpool, England’s waterfront slums, Morris sailed to America at thirteen. With no formal education, he worked Philadelphia’s docks, educated himself in a library, and mastered every element of domestic and international trade.
Absorbing every sight and sound on the piers, Morris discovered a trading flaw that would make him rich: why, he asked, spend capital to acquire and store goods you plan to sell? Answering his own question, he defied principles of the world’s governing economic system—mercantilism—with what we now call capitalism.
Mercantilism motivated kings to exhaust national treasuries conquering foreign lands to acquire resources.
Morris undermined mercantilism with efficient, less costly types of trade that dispensed with wars of conquest and used capital instead of cannons to amass national and private wealth. Instead of accumulating, storing, and protecting resources, he sold or traded them—before he even owned them–freeing his capital to amass ever more wealth.
In the end, Morris’s economic machinations stripped the British crown of its dominion over American wealth and resources and allowed American free enterprise to stage an industrial revolution that would make the United States and its people the richest on earth.
Harlow Giles Unger is the author of 27 books, including 10 biographies of the Founding Fathers—among them, Patrick Henry (Lion of Liberty); James Monroe (The Last Founding Father); the award winning Lafayette; and The Unexpected George Washington: His Private Life.
The Revolutionary War Savior
Edited by Alexander Fleiss